Shenzhen Museum #3 – Modern Shenzhen 现代深圳 (1839 – 1949)

Another permanent exhibition in the Shenzhen Museum of History and Folk Culture looks at the darkest history in the 19th and early 20th century of China and how it affected this “young” metropolis, an economic miracle that made Shenzhen one of the most successful cities in the world in terms of urban development.

Collapse of Qing Dynasty (1849-1900)

Modern Shenzhen exhibition covers Shenzhen from the Qing Dynasty around the time of the Opium Wars (1839) to the British and Western Powers Invasion to Japanese occupation to Liberation of Shenzhen (1949). It’s a difficult period of Chinese history, something that the modern Chinese is not proud of, and also something China would never want to happen again.

The Opium Wars 鸦片战争 (1839-1842, 1856-1860)

The trade deficit with China was really high, with European obsession with Chinese silks, porcelain, tea and other curiosities. However China did not import much since Qing Emperor Qianlong declared that “the Imperial Dynasty has not needs for the Western goods.” In order to balance the trade, the British introduced opium.

V0019154 A busy stacking room in the opium factory at Patna, India. L Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images A busy stacking room in the opium factory at Patna, India. Lithograph after W. S. Sherwill, c. 1850. 1850 By: W. S. SherwillPublished: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Opium was one of the major “export” from the East India Company, but its negative effect to health was devastating. The population was getting really weak from smoking opium, and the officials were seeking solace with this mind-altering drug. In 1838, the number of Chinese opium addicts had grown to between four and twelve million.

Destruction of opium

So Emperor Daoguang ordered the destruction of all opiums in the land, and on 3 June 1829, Lin Zexu 林则徐 collected over 20,000 chests of opium and proceeded to destroy them in Humen Town, Dongguan. This action took 23 days to complete and was referred to historically as “Humen Destruction of Opium” 虎门销烟. Till this day, International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking is a United Nations International Day against drug abuse and the illegal drug trade. It is observed annually on 26 Jun that commemorate Lin Zexu’s effort of dismantling the harmful opium trade in Humen, Guangdong, ending on 25 June 1839.

Kowloon Sea Battle 九龙海战 (1839)

Of course, the British demanded compensation for the destroyed goods, and when they didn’t get it, used this casus belli invoked the First Opium War (1839–1842). On 3 Sep 1839, the first shot of the First Opium War was fired at the Kowloon Sea Battle 九龙海战.

Relics and artefacts from Commander Lai’s Tomb and Ancestral Hall

During the Kowloon Sea Battle, Commander Lai Enjue 赖恩爵 (1795-1848) led the spartan Qing Navy against the British Navy to victory, sinking two British vessels, and killing 17 soldiers. He was awarded the title of “The Bravest Hunter” “呼尔察图巴图鲁” – the highest military honour conferred by the Qing Emperor – for this victory. He led the resistance against the invading British Navy, but died due to illness in 1848. He was a native of Dapeng Garrison 大鹏所城, a true son of Shenzhen.

Treaty of Nanking 南京条约 (1842)

Of course, the British was not the only one eyeing on China. Since the early 19th century, the western capitalistic countries intensified their colonial aggression against China with their modern warships and artillery, using opium trade as their stepping-stone.

A jingal 抬枪 used by the Qing soldiers

The First Opium War (1839-1842) ended with the utter and humiliating defeat of the Chinese, with the signing of the Treaty of Nanking 南京条约 on the HMS Cornwallis, which the Chinese considered a humiliation to the race till this day.

The Signing of Making Treaty with Key, John Platt (artist), John Burnet (engraver), 1846 (Creative common)

In the wake of China’s military defeat, with British warships poised to attack Nanjing, British and Chinese officials negotiated on board HMS Cornwallis anchored at the city. On 29 August, British representative Sir Henry Pottinger and Qing representatives Qiying, Yilibu, and Niu Jian signed the Treaty of Nanking, which consisted of thirteen articles.

Treaty of Nanking 南京条约, 1842

The treaty was ratified by the Daoguang Emperor on 27 October and Queen Victoria on 28 December. Ratification was exchanged in Hong Kong on 26 June 1843. The treaty required the Chinese to pay an indemnity, to cede the Island of Hong Kong to the British as a colony, to essentially end the Canton system that had limited trade to that port and allow trade at Five Treaty Ports

The Wall of Shame

Along the corridor were historical photographs of different characters that were involved in the signing of unequal treaties during the Opium Wars and subsequent “incidents”. Everyone is aware how Hong Kong was ceded to the British after China’s defeat in the First Opium War. Subsequently, more land were ceded to the British.

Cessation of Kowloon Peninsula

The Second Opium War (1856-1860) was a much bigger affair, with eight nations involved all clamouring for the spoils of war. The invading armies ransacked the palaces in Beijing and burnt down the Old Summer Palace 圆明园. The Qing court was forced to vacate Beijing and escaped to Chengdu. After the war, the Convention of Beijing 北京条约 was signed and Kowloon was ceded to the British along with the legalisation of opium trade in China. This led to a slippery path downwards that resulted in the revolt against the Qing Dynasty. But that would still take another 50 years before the end of the era, but the wheels of history have started turning.

Cessation of lands as a result of the Opium Wars

The Qing Dynasty at this point in time was a weak country after years of shutting its borders to outside world and a burgeoning problem with opium addiction. Even Japan had a much more modern armed forces. So as a result of several more wars, the areas around the south of Shenzhen were “rented” to the British in 1898 for 99 years. The British negotiator considered the 99-year lease term to be sufficiently suggestive that the ceded area would be a permanent cession, which was granted rent-free. That area became New Territories with a deadline of 1 Jul 1997. Remember this date.

Six-Day War of 1899 新界六日战

Attempt to occupy Shenzhen

On March 18, 1899, the border town Shatoujiao was divided into two parts — the Chinese section and the British section, according to the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory, a lease signed between the Qing Dynasty government and the United Kingdom.

Lockhart and Wang Chunshan surveying the borders, 1898

Colonial Secretary James Stewart Lockhart wanted to include Shenzhen Market during the surveying, but eventually it was left out of the final border demarcations.

The British were planning to hoist their flag in Tai Po 大埔, a prominent village in the New Territories. The locals, unaware that the Qing Empire had given them away to the British, were staunchly opposed to this sudden change in regime. A conflict ensued. The British sent troops to crush the sizeable rebellion. This was 14 Apr 1899.

The British Empire, having had ample experience in dealing with local “savages” by 1899, had written many widely disseminated military guidebooks on how to deal with insurrections, small scale colonial wars and armed resistance. The short answer was to crush the indigenous combatants as thoroughly and speedily as possible.

It was pretty obvious, despite outnumbering the British, the Chinese militia was no match of the highly discipled and trained British army with their superior fire power. 2,600+ Chinese militia fought against 520+ British police and soldiers. At the end, one British solder was slightly injured. Over 500 Chinese militias were killed in action. The glorious dead were buried in mass graves that still exist today and the respective ancestral halls recorded their names for posterity.

On the 19th of April, the British forces took the surrender of Pat Heung 八鄉, Kam Tin, Yuen Long 元朗, Ping Shan 屛山 and Ha Tsuen 廈村. The people of the New Territories had been soundly defeated. Only the people of Ngan Tin 雁田 continued in their resistance against the British. Lockhart was of the opinion that the British should extend the line to Shenzhen Market 深圳墟, and the forces moved in as far inland as Buji 布吉.

Salisbury’s report to Parliament about the withdrawal of British forces from Shenzhen Market, translated and submitted to the Qing Government as a Foreign Office message, 13 Nov 1899

They took as much territory as they felt they could concievably defend (the “New Territories”) with as small a garrison as possible. They felt that the Shenzhen River offered them a small bit of defence so they withdrew from the Shenzhen Market (modern day Luohu). The perceived barrier wasn’t much defence against the Japanese in 1941, but then again in 1941 the Japanese vastly outnumbered the Allies in Hong Kong so that battle was hopeless from the start.

The Canton Governor writing to the Emperor about the “retreat” of the British from the Shenzhen incursion, Dec 1899

The Chinese took a different view of the incident, writing to praise the bravery of the Chinese militia in standing up to the aggression of the British and successfully forcing a retreat to original agreed lines, according to a missive written to Emperor Guangxi by the Canton Governor.

In the interest of keeping the peace, the war was not highly publicised and subsequently forgotten. A police station was setup in Tai Po to keep peace and stability. This police station remains the oldest police station in Hong Kong.

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