Currently the former US Consulate on Yantai Hill is used as a mini museum showcasing the history of Yantai Port. Although it is not as grand as most of the Chinese museums, it does have some interesting artefacts from the period when the Western powers were bullying the Chinese.
Before the foreigners came, Yantai was already an important fortification of the Ming Dynasty, as a forward post to monitor and defend against invading Japanese pirates. In 1398, the government of the Ming Dynasty built the beacon tower 烽火台 here, from which the city derived her name “Yantai”. Today, the beacon tower is the site of a modern lighthouse.
The exhibition is housed in the former US Consulate staff quarters that was built in 1864. All the following commentaries were solely my own interpretation of the confusing strings of events and histories of the area. If any other history buffs notice any inaccuracies, please leave a comment. I will verify the source and correct as such.
During a renovation in 2001, the contractors found an old rubber stamp on the wall left behind by a cheeky American Consulate staff in the 1920s hidden away. You can see vaguely the name of old Yantai – Chefoo – still used on the stamp. I can only imagine it was left behind by a child of the staff staying in the quarters, playing one afternoon, leaving behind a stamp of history.
Right at the entrance was a model of the old regiment that was guarding Chefoo. Called the Qishan Regiment 奇山守御千户所, it was made up around 1,000 soldiers and their families led by a Regiment Officer (Colonel, perhaps) called Qianhu 千户, which literally means literally a “Thousand Household”. The fortification is still around and is now a neighbourhood in modern Yantai called Suocheng District 所城里. That’s for another blogpost.
An old sounding plate that was used as a bell to round up the villages was uncovered during the rebuilding of the city. It dated back to the Qing dynasty when Chefoo was still not part of Qingjiao Dao 青胶道 (or renamed Jiaodong Dao 胶东道 or Coastline of Jiaodong under ROC government). What was interesting was the Denglai District that was mentioned on the plate. This division is like the Coast Guards of today. A famous Qing official Zhou Peigong 周培公 (1632-1701) was once the Daotai 道台, equivalent to the Coast Guards Commander. Chefoo was included into this district when Donghai Customs House 东海关 was set up in 1863, and the Division moved to Yantai.
By Qing dynasty, the fortification was relaxed due to corruption and incompetent officials. You can see in the exhibition an old rusty cannon that was used to “protect” the fortification.
The area around the port was divided by the different powers that had setup trading posts here. Stone markers demarcated the difference divisions for tax and customs purpose. These were all controlled by the Donghai Customs House 东海关, a Qing dynasty organisation but in fact was run by the British.
A table that tells a thousand tales. First to come to Chefoo was the British. Their consulate was established in 1861 and they built the compound on Yantai Hill in 1862. Japan invaded China in 1937 and briefly closed its consulate, but reopened when they conquered this area in 1938. But nobody really cared about the invasion as they were invaders as well. Everything was closed in 1945 when the Nationalist’s government became one of the signing countries of the surrender of Japan, marking the end of WWII. All concessions and treaty ports were returned to Republic of China as such.
The Chaoyang Street area was bustling with trade and strangely they used their own currencies and each subdistrict had their own tax and regulations based on their “protecting” nation. There were more than 17 different nations trading on this one street at one point. One thing to note was that Yantai never had any concessions like Shanghai, but the traders still operate as such.
At the signing of the Treaty of Tianjin, British Consul G.S. Morrison (1830-1893) took the opportunity to replace Dengzhou (modern day Penglai, previously conceded in the First Opium War) with Yantai as a treaty port for its superior geographical location and excellent harbour. The history of Yantai was forged with this change. A road in Chefoo was named after him, a common practice of sucking up to your superiors by the British which was practiced in Singapore as well. BTW, Morrison did the same to the Japanese with the opening of Nagasaki.
You can see from this 1872 map, the prime areas were carved out for the British and French, and many British firms like Hutchison 和记, Sassoon 沙逊, Fergusson 滋大, etc. And Fergusson & Co 滋大洋行 was the most important of them all, setting up shop here in 1867 and its founder T.T. Fergusson was very influential among the political circles. Fergusson was the shipping agent for almost all European liners.
Another interesting way roads were named was by the buildings or feature of the roads themselves. Cross Street 十字街, for example, usually refers to the perpendicular intersection of two major thoroughfares, like Singapore’s Cross Street. In Chefoo, there were two more explanations. Firstly (and most likely), there was a Catholic Cathedral on the street, and because of the cross on the steeple, the locals called it “Cross” Street.
Second explanation – it was the location of the American Red Cross, highly unlikely. But modern day Cross Street has been preserved and consists of artisan shops and a night market selling street foods.
And what was the cause for all these subsequent events and changes to follow? The Opium Wars. The Opium Wars were two conflicts fought in China in the mid-19th century between the forces of Western countries and of the Qing dynasty, under the pretext that “foreign interests” in China were under threats.
The First Opium War (4 September 1839 – 29 August 1842) resulted in the signing of Treaty of Nanjing, which forced open five treaty ports and ceded Hong Kong to the British. But peace was shortlived.
Because it did not satisfy the benefits of the British, a Second Opium War (8 October 1856 – 24 October 1860) was fought, resulting in the signing of Treaty of Tianjin, which opened up Yantai as a treaty port, and Treaty of Beijing, which ceded most of Northeast to foreign powers (Russian, German and Japanese) and Kowloon to the British.
This is the last blogpost of the Chaoyang Street Scenic Area, a really lovely and historical area that has its equal share of irony and tragedy. It was not unlike what’s going on in the world right now, a superpower of that time invading another country for its own economic or political benefits, when Yantai Port was forced open by the invading French and British forces as part of the Treaty of Tianjin (1858).
The same is happening in Ukraine. The exhibition did not fail to remind everyone of this tragic episode in Chinese history. One has to remember what history has taught us. If you do not want to be bullied, you have to get strong.
Visited in Dec 2021