Weihaiwei Territory, one of the least lustrous gems in Queen Victoria's imperial tiara, was a 285-square-mile leasehold located on the northeastern coast of Chinas Shantung Province near the tip of the peninsula.
The prevailing view continues to be that the British commandeered the Weihaiwei leasehold as a "counter-poise" to Russia's occupation of Port Arthur, a strategically formidable anchorage some 90 miles to the north.(9) Russian interest in Manchuria and northern China had intensified in the last decade of the nineteenth century with the construction of the Trans-Siberian railroad across eastern Russia and Siberia to Vladivostok.
Whether the inner circle of British officialdom in Whitehall actually believed in Weihaiwei's strategic importance remains highly questionable.
Acquiring Weihaiwei was a step in the wrong direction, they argued, away from "our sphere of influence" in the Yangtze river region.(17) MacDonald's considered judgment, in fact, was that the move might do more harm than good.
Weihaiwei appears to have been taken, in short, without firm conviction that its acquisition would have much effect on Russian policy in northern China.
Once in possession, the British found Weihaiwei to be what most had predicted: militarily worthless.
The British were even more cavalier when it came to the economic development of Weihaiwei. Arthur Balfour ridiculed in Parliament those "foolish enough" to look for profit out of the leasehold.(24) His sarcasm reflected what the government had been told about Weihaiwei prior to its acquisition, namely that it was "absolutely of no value commercially."(25) By all accounts, northeastern Shantung was one of the poorest areas in China, and its barren terrain yielded up only two exports of note: salted fish and peanuts.(26) Blighted by a rugged topography, the region had been effectively isolated for centuries from the rest of the peninsula by a combination of high interior hills and primitive communications.
But any chance for a commercial transformation for Weihaiwei disappeared at the outset when the Salisbury cabinet in April 1898, in pursuit of German goodwill, formally assured Berlin that "since Wei-Hai-Wei cannot be made a commercial port ...
The Beiyang Fleet--of two battleships, ten cruisers, and two torpedo boats--lost a sea battle to the Japanese in September 1894 and withdrew to Weihaiwei, a strongly fortified harbor on the northern Shandong coast.
Tyler, who was on board the Chinese flagship at Weihaiwei in 1895, characterized the navy as "a monstrously disordered epicydic heterogeneity."