The Hong Kong 'China' Overprints
British Offices In China 1917 - 1930

Background History

While the postal history of Hong Kong and the Treaty Ports has been extensively studied and researched over the year, the period of 1917 -1930 during which the Hong Kong issues were overprinted ‘China’ has been largely overlooked.  This website attempts to consolidate and expand upon what has previously been known on the subject.

The History of the Treaty Ports and the Crown Colony of Weihaiwei

During the early part of the 19th Century, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States attempted to increase trade with China.  Viewed as barbarians by the Chinese and restricted in both travel and privileges, foreigners were subject to the vagaries and whims of regional governors.  The currency used for the purchase of Chinese goods was, in many cases, opium and the Chinese emperor eventually attempted to put a stop to this trade and the influence of this drug upon his populace.  The situation deteriorated rapidly and resulted in the “Opium Wars”, also known as the Anglo-Chinese Wars. 

The smuggling of opium by merchants from British India resulted in the First Opium War from 1839 to 1842 and further disputes over the treatment of British merchants in Treaty Ports resulted in the Second Opium War from 1856 to 1860.  China was defeated in both wars and Britain forced the Chinese government to sign the Treaty of Nanking and the Treaty of Tianjin (also known as the Unequal Treaties).

The Treaty of Nanking was signed on 29 August 1842 and resulted in Hong Kong becoming a British Crown Colony and, among other things, opened what became known as the Treaty ports of Amoy (Xiaman), Canton (Shameen Island), Foochow (Fuzhou), Ningpo (Ningbo) and Shanghai to allow British merchants to trade with anyone they wished and set fixed tariffs.  In addition, the treaty gave Britain the right to send consuls to these ports and allowed them to communicate directly with local Chinese officials.

The Second Opium War resulted in The Treaty of Tien-Tsin (also known as the Treaty of Tianjin) and involved multiple parties and was signed by the Russian Empire on 13 June 1858; by the United States of America on 18 June 1858; the United Kingdom on 26 June 1859; and, finally the Second French Empire on 27 June 1859.  It was ratified by the Emperor of China at the Convention of Peking in 1860 and, among many other things, opened up the ports of Chefoo (Yantai), Hankow (Hankou) and Hoihow (Haikou).

When the British and French attempted to send ambassadors to Peking under the terms of the Treaty of Tien-Tsin, their landing was opposed by force and so an Allied Force was assembled in 1860 which fought its way to Peking and resulted in the Treaty of Peking which was also ratified by the Emperor of China at the Convention of Peking.  This treaty, again among other things, ceded the ports of Swatow (Shantou) and Tientsin (Tianjin). 1

The Treaty Ports remained in use until 30 November 1922 at which time they reverted to the Chinese.

Meanwhile, in 1895 the Japanese captured the port of Weihaiwei (Weihai), only to evacuate it in 1898.  At that time Russia leased Port Arthur (which was on the opposite coast) from China for a period of 25 years and so, in March 1898, the British obtained a lease which was to exist for as long as the Russians leased Port Arthur.  When the Japanese assumed ownership of Port Arthur in 1905, the British lease was modified to exist as long as the Japanese remained and thus was a British Crown Colony until October 1, 1930.   Weihaiwei was referred to as Port Edward by the British and included the island of Liu Kung Tau.

The humiliation felt by many Chinese due to these and other treaties forced upon them by several other countries contributed to the Taiping and Boxer Rebellions and the downfall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912 and the end of dynastic China.

The Post Offices in the Treaty Ports and the Crown Colony of Weihaiwei

One of the many concessions obtained by Britain as a result of the treaties was the right to form a postal service in each of the Treaty Ports and Weihaiwei.  From the date of the formation of these post offices until January 1, 1917 the stamps of Hong Kong were used and can be identified by their postal markings.   From January 1, 1917 until their closure, however, the ‘China’ overprints were used; which leads us to the area of study for this website.

1 Webb Page 50
2 Image courtesy of Perrin