Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Weihaiwei – The British, Kangaroo Courts and the Llandudno of China!


Weihaiwei, now more simply Weihai, seems to be very popular at the moment with any number of books and papers appearing on the place. Fair enough as it is an interesting place given that it was neither a full colony or a treaty port but rather a leased piece of land – the lease lasted as long as the Russians were in Port Arthur to maintain the balance of Great Power influence (the Americans were very keen for the British to be stationed at Weihaiwei) though China never surrendered sovereignty on the land. Britain then left and returned control in 1930 as part of the deal to extend the lease on the Hong Kong New Territories. The map below shows how the British were able to balance Russian naval power around the Gulf of Chihli.


The administration of Weihaiwei involved several interesting characters including Reginald Johnston (Pu Yi’sold tutor) and JH Stewart Lockhart. Weihaiwei’s legal system including some interesting murder cases is the subject of a new book by Carol Tan of SOAS called British Rule in China: Law and Justice in Weihaiwei: Law and Justice in Weihaiwei 1898 – 1930. Sadly it’s a bit expensive and in hardback only so hopefully you’ve got a decent library near you. Carol also gave an interesting talk to the Royal Asiatic Society in Shanghai recently.


However, I personally wasn’t convinced that anything like an even negligibly acceptable level of justice was available in British Weihaiwei – the jury pool was tiny and meant both the same people constantly being on juries and, inevitably, defendants being known to jurors while lawyers were sparse. Even worse we are presented with the joke of the horrendously self-important Reginald Johnston believing none of this was a problem as he had some sort of Confucian ability to adjudicate without legal training, being a local or any decent juries. Academics are nice people who don’t like to judge – even when looking at history – but of course there is no other conclusion than that the legal system and the British courts in Weihaiwei were nothing more than kangaroo courts and merely devices for maintaining British rule.


One interesting thing I didn’t know was the silly comparisons people made with Weihaiwei. I’ve noted daft foreigners comparing places in China to European locations before in a post and Weihaiwei’s a good addition. Apparently some touted Weihaiwei as China’s Biarritz or Naples –which isn’t too bad. But then others, apparently with straight faces and thinking it might attract people, compared Weihaiwei to Llandudno and Ostend!! Great – not sure the current tourism authorities in Weihai will be keen to make the claim to rival either of those places!


Flags of British Weihaiwei


10 comments:

Molly said...

"Britain then left and returned control in 1930 as part of the deal to extend the lease on the Hong Kong New Territories." Untrue! The lease was never extended and there was never any deal, though Lugard had suggested one in 1909. Where does a canard like this come from? It's not advanced in Tan's book.

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