SERIES 23 December 4 China VII: Concessions in China - Nine Concessions in Tianjin
Concessions The more familiar meaning of "concession" involves a business contract, where an entity is allowed to lease, for a sum, the premises of another entity for business purposes for the public good, often called a concession stand run by a concessionaire, such as an ice-cream concession in a public park, a barbershop in a hotel lobby, or a newsstand in a subway station.
However, in international law, a concession appears on a grander scale, where territory within one country is leased by treaty to another to be administered by the lessee, most often to his own benefit. Such a concession is usually conceded by a weaker country to a stronger one, although there are cases where both parties believe the concession to be to their mutual benefit.
We are about to see that Qing Dynasty China had an amazing number of foreign concessions. All are gone now, but we'll be discussing many of them. So what others were there in the past outside China? Not many, according to the lists I've consulted. In the 19C, Belgium had one in Guatemala and one in the Sudan. Japan had two in Korea, before the 1910 annexation. The Soviets had one in Finland mid-20C. More important, which ones still exist?
The only notable territorial concession in the world today stands out because it's in the news regularly. The United States leased Guantánamo Bay from Cuba in perpetuity under 1903 and 1934 treaties. That concession only involves a military command, with no civilian administration.
In a very different vein, the United States also has concessions for the numerous cemeteries and monuments administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission in Belgium, Cuba, France, Gibraltar, Italy, Luxemburg, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, the Northern Mariana Islands, Panama, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands, Tunisia, and the UK. The most notable of these are the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France and the John F. Kennedy Memorial at Runnymede, UK. Canada also has a concession for a WWI memorial in France.
Concessions in China In contrast to one country leasing Guantánamo Bay, during the later Qing Dynasty and Republic periods, 10 foreign nations had, according to my count, 35 concessions in China, most spectacularly, almost all of the city of Shanghai. My tally of concessions is: Britain 9, Japan 8, France 5, Russia 4, Germany 3, the United States 2, Portugal 1 (Macau), and one each from three surprising players in this game, Belgium, Italy, and even Austria-Hungary!
How did this come about? Look at it on a smaller scale. You own a shop and some unsavory types show up and say they want to use your back room for their own purposes. What do you do, since you feel a threat of possible violence? You probably capitulate, and that's what Qing Dynasty China did, and the Republic had to continue living with unwanted "boarders living in their house" for many years as well.
They say that history is written by the victors, and perhaps the concession situation in China in this period in Western textbooks has been slanted. In China itself into the 20C, concepts developed to characterize the Chinese experience in the losses of its sovereignty to foreign powers during the 110 years between 1839 and 1949. The term "century of humiliation" developed referring to this period of foreign intervention and imperialism, and the agreements that caused this humiliation began to be referred to in the 20C as the Unequal Treaties. 1839 was chosen as the start of this period because, although Macau had been a type of concession since the mid-1500's, it was the result of First Opium War of 1839-1842, cited in the Hong Kong discussion, that was considered the first Unequal Treaty. It was that treaty that gave Hong Kong island to Britain, with the Chinese feeling they were pressured into doing so against their will. Later treaties in the 19C, including that for the Second Opium War of 1856-1860,and and in the early 20C were also considered unequal in China because the Chinese felt that the treaties, which reduced or negated China's sovereignty over parts of its own territory, were not negotiated as between equals, but were imposed upon China after a war, with the possible threat of further military action.
The Opium War treaties in addition began the requirement of the establishment of treaty ports in China (also Japan and Korea), which allowed these ports to be open to foreign trade, something China had resisted earlier. Eventually there were a total of 80 treaty ports in China alone. Foreigners located themselves in new neighborhoods on the edges of the port cities and enjoyed extraterritoriality, that is, they were not subject to Chinese law, but to the law of the foreign power under consular authorities. They established their own clubs, churches, and racecourses. Foreign missionaries were allowed to reside in China and proselytize.
In the case of the treaty ports, China still retained territorial control, but then things went a step further. Territory was also conceded to the foreign power, usually just by treaty, but sometimes by an outright lease, so that the territory itself was no longer under the control of local governments. I believe that China still had sovereignty in many cases, but not on a practical day-to-day basis. It is difficult to see how these ceded or leased concessions were very different from colonies, and indeed, Macau, Hong Kong, and Taiwan (to Japan) were considered outright colonies.
Most of the unequal treaties creating the treaty ports and concessions were abrogated, or annulled, during the lead-up to WWII in the very late 1930's and during and after the war itself. The establishment of the current regime in China in 1949 is considered the end of the 1839-1949 "century of humiliation". The obvious exceptions are the two places whose status did not revert to China until the 1990's, Macau (1997) and Hong Kong (1999),
Most of the concessions, which will be discussed below plus when we reach them when our itinerary resumes, were simply ceded by treaty. Any exception that was instead leased is referred to as a leased territory, in which even more truly colonial control comes over the concession. Perhaps it was here that China also lost sovereignty, it remains unclear to me. There were five leased territories.
While Hong Kong island itself was a perpetual concession, as was the later Kowloon extension, the ● New Territories were leased. Today's Zhanjiang, on the peninsula facing Hainan island about halfway between the Pearl River Delta and Viet-Nam, included a small enclave that was leased to France as the ● Guangzhouwan Leased Territory (Map by Gd21091993), to serve as an outlier within China of French Indochina. (We have no reason to follow up any further on this concession.)
The next three will be discussed more fully later in the tour narration: ● Today's Qingdao (see below) was leased to Germany as the Kiautschou Bay Leased Territory, and was later taken over by Japan. ● Today's Dalian (see below) was leased to Russia as the Kwantung Leased Territory and was later taken over by Japan. ● Today's Weihai (see below in connection to Dalian) was leased to Britain as the Weihaiwei (Weihai Garrison) Leased Territory as a British military reaction to Russia having leased in the same year Dalian/Port Arthur opposite.
The Nature of Concessions in China These concession territories that were occupied and governed by foreign powers enjoying extraterritoriality varied in size from small enclaves within the treaty port cities to concessions covering most of the city of Shanghai. It was not unusual for a city to have more than one concession, but the most amazing situation involved the city of Tianjin, which at the height of the era encompassed nine concessions (!!!)
Each concession allowed its own citizens to inhabit, trade, travel, and convert others to their own religion. Each concession tried to make its territory look like the home country, so Western architecture was everywhere as well as Western institutions. Originally, race was a factor, and Chinese were forbidden to live inside most of the concessions, similar to practices later in South Africa. But workers and service people were needed, and by the 1860's most concessions eventually permitted Chinese. However, not only were they treated like second-class citizens, the WERE second-class citizens (à la South Africa), since they were not citizens of the concession. However, over time, Chinese finally became the majority of those living in the concessions. The extraterritorial consular law that affected the citizens of the concession applied in part as well to Chinese residents.
Concessions had their own police forces to enforce the consular law of that concession, which means that something might be legal in one concession but illegal in an adjacent concession. In cities that had multiple concessions, like Shanghai and Tianjin, criminals could commit a crime in one concession then walk across the street to another. Even if the activity was also a crime in the next concession, the police could not pursue the criminal across the border, since they had no jurisdiction. This situation led to the flourishing of crime, especially organized crime. Efforts were made to have police forces cooperate, but were not very successful, to the delight of gangsters. Some police forces allowed Chinese members, but others did not.
Some concessions even maintained their own military garrison and army. This led to the highly ironical and disastrous situation when Japanese military action started in the late 1930's and the armies in the Japanese concessions were in an ideal position to be used against Chinese forces—and were, serving as an ideal (for Japan) fifth column within China.
Just as former 20C South African racial policies can help us imagine life in the concessions, so can post-WWII Berlin and Vienna give us some imagery of divided cities. Berlin and Vienna were divided into sectors of post-war occupation (not concessions), but it was the law of the occupying countries that applied, not German law. Before the Berlin Wall was built, people living in the Soviet Sector could escape to the West by walking across the street to another sector. While this was a crime in the Soviet Sector it was perfectly legal in the other sectors. The classic film "The Third Man" describes life in Vienna across sector lines, described to some extent during our return trip to Vienna in 2004.
While most concessions in China ran their full course well into the 20C, there were two instances where one concession was merged into another, and both instances involved the United States wanting less participation in concession life, and in both cases, American interests were turned over to Britain. Shanghai originally had three concessions, French, British, and American, and at the early date of 1863, the US merged its Shanghai concession, held since 1848, with the British concession, so that the resulting concession was known as the Shanghai International Settlement. Therefore, from then on, it's accurate to say Shanghai had two concessions, the French, and the International, but common practice still refers to the French and British concessions, even with occasional reference to the American concession. In addition, of those nine concessions in Tianjin, it was at the early date of 1902 that the American Tianjin concession, held since 1860, merged with the British, so that the US was the first to step away from its Tianjin concession.
Editorial Cartoon In 2012, subsequent to my having met the cartoonist Mike Peters, who, in addition to a regular strip does editorial cartoons (he also did a caricature of me on the spot), I did a piece called "Editorial Cartooning" as part of 2012/5 to describe the importance of the genre and also the contributions to it in the 19C of Thomas Nast. I came across a political cartoon in Wikipedia on the subject of Concessions in China, and it's appropriate we present it here and comment on it.
It's a French cartoon by one Henri Meyer, done in 1898, dealing with Imperialism in China (Cartoon by Henri Meyer). As with any good editorial cartoon, it's point is immediately obvious, depicting all the powers dividing up a pie representing China (Chine) to their benefit and to China's dismay.
Three of the caricatures depicted are of real people and three are symbolic. Seated from the left are Queen Victoria of the UK, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. In the back is a stereotype of a powerless Qing official in full dismay. On the right is a samurai to represent Japan. To the side is Marianne, the symbol of France.
I found there's a lot more here than meets the eye, and had to dig a little further for commentary. Remembering that this is a French cartoon, note that three figures have their knives, and the samurai has his sword on the table, but Marianne has nothing of the sort. She's not even seated at the table. However, she is standing diplomatically behind Tsar Nicholas as a reminder of the Franco-Russian Alliance (1982-1917) to counter Germany.
Of those holding knives, Kaiser Wilhelm is the only one aggressively carving, with an appropriate look on his face. I disagree with the Wikipedia explanation that he's squabbling "over a borderland piece". Nothing of the sort, and if you click to enlarge, you can see with me what he's after. (You have to dig through several of the following spellings to reach this goal.) This being a French cartoon, the piece he wants says in French "Kiao-Tchéou", a French spelling also appearing as "Kiaou-Tchéou". We need to move to the German spelling, "Kiautschou", since that's how it was known internationally, as the Kiautschou Bay Leased Territory, that in the year of the cartoon, 1898, successfully WAS leased to Germany. (The bay in pinyin is "Jiaozhou".) The point is, it's on this bay that the city of Qingdao is located, so the cartoon is saying Germany wanted Qingdao (which they did get). Whew!
If you move over to what Tsar Nicholas is eyeing, you'll see "Port-Arthur", which, with Dalian, is part of the Kwantung Leased Territory that Russia did get that same year.
But wait! We're still not done. I described the pastry they were cutting up as a pie. But pie is a typically American pastry, and as I learned from the accompanying explanation to the cartoon, what they are cutting is actually a king's cake, also known as a three king's cake, typically associated with epiphany, and in some countries, with Mardi Gras and Carnival. The original French caption is En Chine / Le gâteau des Rois et . . . des Empereurs, which includes a double entendre. It's "China / The cake of Kings and . . . of Emperors". It being a king cake works much better than considering it a pie. (I had to dig into French Wikipedia to find that Henri Meyer, who died the year after this cartoon, did cartoons for magazine covers, at least one cartoon about the Dreyfus Affair, and illustrated some works of Jules Verne.)
Summary of the Significant Concessions in China We've said there were, according to my tally, 35 concessions held by 10 foreign powers. We've mentioned which ones were leased, and made a number of comments in passing about specific places, with a promise to elaborate on three of the leased territories. We'll now have a summary of the significant concessions, that is, the most interesting ones. This is a situation where "you can't tell the players without a scorecard", so I've put together a "scorecard" to see what's what, to guide us all.
Once I wrote that, I wondered why that phrase means what it does, at least in American English. While I don't deal with sports, I have nothing against researching language terms relating to sports.
Baseball jerseys over time have had on them team names, perhaps a logo, and often a number, but they haven't always had the player's name on them, making it impossible to identify the players. Before electronic devices appeared, back in a more pencil-and-paper time, hawkers would appear in the stands at baseball games selling scorecards that included not only the number, but the player's name and position. The hawkers chanted "Get your scorecards here! You can't tell the players without a scorecard!" From this we use the phrase generally today to point out that "you're going to need guidance with this".
Let's first put aside the three that were more colonies than just concessions, Macau (Portugal), Hong Kong (Britain, in three stages, the last one leased), and Taiwan (Japan, as a result of the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-5, until 1945), since we've talked about them earlier. We've also mentioned the US merging its two concessions with British ones, so that will come up in passing when discussing Britain.
The following three concessions will be introduced here, but, since all three were visited as part of the trip, they'll be described more fully when the narrative resumes and when the trip reaches each location, in this order.
SHAMIAN ISLAND, GUANGZHOU Starting in 1861, tiny Shamian Island, almost attached to the north shore of the Pearl River in Guangzhou (Canton), housed a larger British concession until 1945 and a smaller French concession until 1946. I bent over backwards to visit Shamian Island, which will be a major part of the narrative later.
SHANGHAI The British Concession in Shanghai existed unilaterally between 1846 and 1863, when it merged with the American Concession to its north to become the Shanghai International Settlement. While the nationals of other foreign powers also became part of the administration of the settlement (hence the use of "international"), it was always primarily a British affair. It lasted until Pearl Harbor in 1941. The French Concession in Shanghai, to the south of the British, always remained apart, and lasted from 1849 to 1946. This part of Shanghai's history is fascinating and was, I felt, pivotal to my visit there.
QINGDAO This city, known at the time by the Wade-Giles version of its name, Tsingtao, is located adjacent to a bay and was the centerpiece of a concession known as the Kiautschou Bay Leased Territory, on the south side of the Shandong Peninsula north of Shanghai (a map will follow in a moment). It was leased to Germany in 1898, and, stereotypical as it may seem, China's leading beer, both domestically and internationally, still spelled Tsingtao, was started by German brewers. But with the outbreak of WWI in 1914, Japan seized the territory from Germany and occupied it, yet only until 1922. Japan occupied it again in relation to WWII from 1937 to 1945. I saw less in Qingdao than I would have liked, but perhaps there isn't that much left to see of the concession.
TIANJIN & MANCHURIA There are two other areas I find of great interest. I'll present them here, and discuss the first right afterward, and the second in the next posting. These two areas, as well as Qingdao, just mentioned, are in the northeast, between Beijing and Korea (Map by Kmusser). We're talking about the Yellow Sea's innermost reaches, Korea Bay and the Bohai Sea. The Bohai Sea's proximity to Beijing makes it one of the busiest seaways in the world. These waters are starkly defined by two peninsulas, the Shandong Peninsula on the left, the easternmost point of Shandong Province, and Liaodong Peninsula on the right, the southernmost point of both Liaodong Province and the former Manchuria. The Bohai Strait separates the peninsulas. Let's get oriented.
You see the just-mentioned Qingdao on the south side of the Shandong Peninsula. Above that, the Huang He (Yellow River), which our train from Qingdao to Beijing crossed in the darkness, empties into the Bohai Sea. To the southeast of Beijing lies Tianjin; Tenggu is the Tianjin neighborhood that includes Tianjin's port.
On the other side, the former Manchuria (important city: Harbin, further north), appears in the form of three modern provinces ending in Liaodong in the south, as well as its Peninsula. Located there is the city of Dalian, and Dalian's district of Lüshun, the former Port Arthur. When the Russians and Japanese were in Dalian, the British became interested in Weihai across the water.
I was first shocked recently when I found that China is actually building a bridge-tunnel for road traffic between Hong Kong and Macau, and I was shocked again to find that China is planning a tunnel under the Bohai Strait to connect the two peninsulas, this one for both rail and road traffic. The plan was updated in July 2013 so that it would run 123 km (76 mi) between Dalian and Yantai (on the map).
The above was for geographic orientation. Now let's talk about concessions.
∆ Tianjin: the city of Tianjin had, at its height, nine concessions within its limits. How could that not be gripping and worth reviewing?
∆ Manchuria: I'd like to put three other concessions under the umbrella category of "Manchuria", that is, Inner Manchuria, the part within China. This will include the construction concession to Russia for the • China Eastern Railway in Manchuria, centered in Harbin (1896-1952), the southern part of which was lost to Japan as the South Manchuria Railway (1905-1945). Today's city of • Dalian, including its district of Lüshun (ex-Port Arthur), was the centerpiece of the concession that was called the Kwantung Leased Territory, leased to Russia between 1898 and 1905, but lost to Japan, who had it between 1905 and 1945 along with the adjacent South Manchuria Railway Zone. Not actually IN Manchuria, but in a military location opposite it, today's city of • Weihai, leased as a concession to Britain as the Weihaiwei (Weihai Garrison) Leased Territory. It was obtained, also in 1898, as a British military reaction to Russia having leased Dalian/Port Arthur opposite, and was kept until 1930.
Concessions in Tianjin The purpose of this section is NOT to show the sleek, modern city of Tianjin today, the fourth largest in population in China after Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou, or whatever ancient history it may have. It's to show what that one historical period was like, where European influence virtually colonized much of the city. During the time of the concessions, Tianjin's name appeared as Tientsin, and each of those concessions had its own government, police, soldiers and barracks, prisons, schools, and hospitals. Although I didn't visit Tianjin, I know that there are many architectural reminders of the period, such as Western churches and villas, because I saw similar buildings in Shamian Island in Guangzhou and in Shanghai dating from their own concession periods. These structures continue to lend an exotic flavor to Tianjin and to the other cities that had concessions.
Tianjin lies on the Hai He (Hai River, or Sea River) cutting diagonally from Beijing on the NW down to the Bohai Sea to the SE. Following we have period pictures of the concession era, often on historic postcards, and a couple of maps, one earlier, one later. Neither of the maps is in English, which will add to the adventure.
The map from the earlier period shows Tianjin in 1912 (Map by Gugganij), and is in Chinese, which will be a unique experience for all of us, including me. (This entire area today is just the center of a large metropolitan area.) What do we see? First the Hai He cuts through from the north to the southeast on its way to the sea. The areas of bright color are the concessions, and the orange area is referred to as the "Chinese City", as I noted on another website. We see the rail line enter from the left and loop around the city, and the other maps confirm that that station on the left is the West Station, on the upper right is the Central Station, and down near the concessions is the East Station.
Click to enlarge the "Chinese City". There is always a lot to learn from street patterns and street grids. See if you become suspicious about a geometric form you might find. I did, and researched it, which we'll discuss in a moment. Let's take a quick look at the concessions here to get a global image of their layout. They line up neatly along the river, four on the north bank and four on the south. On the north bank, left to right, dull blue is Austria Hungary, bright green Italy, brown Russia (split in two by the river bend and the rail yards into a smaller western district and a larger eastern one), dark blue Belgium. On the south bank, bright blue is Japan, violet France, dull green Britain, red Germany; beyond the German concession is a separated district of the Japanese concession. All the concessions together covered 13 sq km (5 sq mi). I'd love to know what percentage of all Tianjin that was, but eyeballing the map, even with the bottom not visible, it looks larger than the "Chinese City".
We need a timeline for the nine concessions. They started in the late 19C, in 1860 or later, running into the first couple of years of the 20C. We can categorize when they ended in three periods. We know that, just as some nations were joining at the turn of the 20C, in ▲ 1902 the ∆ 1860 American Concession retreated, leaving the eight that we usually consider. But four more concessions disappeared ▲ after WWI. After China declared war on the Central Powers in 1917, it swiftly occupied the ∆ 1895 German Concession and the ∆ 1902 Austro-Hungarian Concession, and put them under Chinese administration, the former being renamed the First Special District and the latter the Second Special District. Three years later, China retook the ∆ 1900 Russian Concession, and in 1924, the Soviet Union renounced any claims. It was renamed the Third Special District. Neither the Belgian government nor businesses invested much in the ∆ 1902 Belgian Concession, where little was built. It reverted to China in 1931 as the Fourth Special District. Thus, only four concessions survived into ▲ the 1940s, the ∆ 1860 British, to 1943, the ∆ 1861 French, to 1946, the ∆ 1902 Italian, to 1947, and the 1898 Japanese, to 1943 (although the Japanese army occupied all of Tianjin from 1937 until their defeat in 1945).
Although the American Concession was gone as of 1902, the US 15th Infantry was billeted in the former German barracks from 1917 until the Japanese invasion.
In 1919, at the Paris Peace Conference, Italy tried to get the former Austro-Hungarian Concession, which bordered the Italian Concession, ceded to Italy as a leased territory, but was unsuccessful. Nice try. Shows spunk.
Tianjin Details The other Tianjin map we have is better in details, but harder to read for an overview before clicking, which is why we started with the Chinese map. This map shows Tianjin in 1945 (Map by Maximilian Dörrbecker [Chumwa]). Although it was done by the US Army Map Service, presumably for post-WWII planning, this version is in German. It shows the entire concession area, including the Belgian and separated Japanese area in the south.
Let's start again with the "Chinese City". This map gets very detailed, so you're going to have to flip back and forth between clicking in and clicking out. The three rail stations are here, although I suspect the Central one isn't too central, especially for the concession area. But now you clearly see the rectangle in the middle of the "Chinese City". Why do you suppose the streets form this shape?
My conclusion was that it had to be the area of an original city wall. Many walls in China, including, alas, Beijing's, are gone, but the one in Xi'an, which I visited, remains to illustrate the typical rectangular shape of Chinese city walls. In addition, local names corroborate this. I know "lu" is "street" and "men" is gate (as in Tien'anmen). Look at the four main streets in the walls and the ones on the edge to find our four directions, Nan, Xi (as Hsi—WG, as this is all pre-pinyin), Bei (as Pei), and Dong (as Tung). I looked up "wai", which seems to be "outside", so you find four neighborhoods around the walls with names such as "Nan Men Wai", or "Outside [the] South Gate".
I was reveling in this discovery, both of the walls and of these meanings, when I found out that, during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, tensions between the Chinese and concession nations exploded, to the point where the foreigners actually leveled the walls of the Old City to be able to maintain a closer watch on its residents. Unbelievable.
The inset on these "Konzessionsgebiete" (Concession Areas) gives the disclaimer that "Consulted sources present varying territorial status results", which is understandable given the variety of legal jurisdictions and claims. Let's start again with the Austro-Hungarian Concession, which we now can see lies immediately across the river from the Tung (Dong) Men Wai, the area Outside [the] East Gate. This concession was unusual in that, unlike the others, all its inhabitants gained Austro-Hungarian citizenship. Despite the fact that it existed for only a decade and a half, they left a wealth of Austrian architecture, much of which remains to this day. This is a modern view of an Austrian-style villa in Tianjin (Photo by Teemeah). And what would be more typical than this statue of Johann Strauss (Photo by Teemeah)? Click on the pedestal to see the inscription in Chinese. This inscription typifies what I love, and enjoyed so much, about this aspect of China, the interaction of East and West.
Next is the Italian Concession, and you can understand its unsuccessful interest in trying to annex the adjacent ex-Austro-Hungarian Concession. This is an Italian postage stamp surcharged for use only in Tianjin (Tientsin). Street name details are more clearly seen on this local map. The name of every street in this small concession is shown, right down to the Bianchina d'Italia (Quay of Italy) opposite the Bianchina Giapponese (Japanese Quay) across the river. Note in particular the Via Marco Polo entering the Piazza Regina Elena (Queen Helen Square). And now let's time-travel to the 1930's.
This is a vintage postcard that shows another world, a fantasy Italy located in China. It's the Piazza Regina Elena c 1935 showing Italian-style buildings and a WWI monument surmounted by a Winged Victory. This area suffered in ensuing decades because of war and revolution, but it was not eradicated. Starting in the mid-1990s, a building restoration movement started in the concessions. The missing Winged Victory monument, which hadn't been seen since it was dismantled decades earlier, was reinstated. And as a rather positive and appropriate sign of the times, the square doesn't have the same royal name; the name of the ex-Via Marco Polo has been transferred to it, so today it's Piazza Marco Polo (Photo by 墨色鲜艳). I understand that Italy has cooperated with China to build up several streets of restaurants, hotels, and shops around Piazza Marco Polo that evoke an Italian and European atmosphere.
Moving east on our main map we come to the Russian Concession, where Italian street like Roma and Triento yield to streets called Petrograd, Moscow, and Vladivostok. Continuing past the rail yards—this postcard shows a Russian rail station and street c 1900—we come to the larger part of the district. Directly facing the downtown of the British Concession across the river is the Russian Consulate, shown here c 1912. This plaque (Photo by Xrdtj) in Chinese and English shows the serious nature of today's preservationist atmosphere in China that includes the architecture of the concessions.
Next downstream is the Belgian Concession, but I have no significant information about it, nor any pictures. Remember, not much effort was put into its establishment. We should note that both the Belgian and the immediately adjacent Russian concessions have two tones of color, which accounts for the explanation in the inset box that different sources describe different borders.
On the south bank, adjacent to the Nan Men Wai area of the "Chinese City" is the Japanese Concession, which has another district at the other end, opposite Belgium's. It too is two-tone, with conflicting descriptions of borders. I likewise have little information about this one, but do have this picture of a 1940's street scene there (Photo by 不详).
For the moment let's pass over the adjacent French (two-tone) and British Concessions to the German Concession. By the time of this map, all German street names have been removed (as with the Austrian ones, earlier). But note the main road two blocks in from the river, here called Woodrow Wilson Road, after the US president. I would speculate the road was changed to that in about 1917, right when Germany lost the concession and the US 15th Infantry was billeted in the former German barracks, which, according to my information, were in the large block at the corner of Woodrow Wilson and Soochow. Woodrow Wilson Road before then had been called Kaiser Wilhelmstraße, so you see what I mean. Can you imagine anywhere else in the world besides concession-era China where a German street name gave way to an English street name, which eventually also gave way to the modern Chinese street name, all covering the same few blocks?
This is a view along Kaiser Wilhelmstraße in 1898, with typical German architecture. Germany also constructed many red-tiled Bavarian villas in its concession. This is a postcard published 1910-1912 showing an unnamed street in the German Concession (Image by E. Lee), but which seems to be the same buildings as in the previous photo. Presumably nearby is this modern view of the 1907 former German Club the Club Concordia (Photo by Xrdtj).
Now trace Woodrow Wilson Road/Kaiser Wilhelmstraße north into the British Concession, where it becomes Victoria Street, and then into the French Concession, where it becomes the Rue de France. I'll also ask a similar question as before: can you imagine anywhere in the world besides concession-era China where the same modern Chinese street name once had different sections named in German, English, and French? This road, with, understandably, multiple names, was at the time a vibrant commercial street, and ran through the hub of the concession area, particularly within the British Concession, which was the political and cultural center of all of Tianjin. It remains today a major thoroughfare, called Jie Fang Lu (Lu=Road), the northern part (ex-Rue de France, ex-Victoria Street) is the Jie Fang Bei Lu and the southern part (Kaiser Wilhelmstraße/Woodrow Wilson Road) is the Jie Fang Nan Lu. (Make sure you recognize our directional vocabulary.)
To illustrate the cultural diversity that came to Tianjin along with the concessions we can point out that, in 1912, there were 17 Chinese-language newspapers published there, plus these dailies in three European languages: the China Critic, the Peking and Tientsin Times, The China Times, the China Tribune; L'Echo de Tientsin; the Tageblatt für Nordchina (North China Daily), which was the first German paper in North China. Curiously, in 1930, even though the German-language concessions were gone, the Deutsch-Mandschurische Nachrichten (German-Manchurian News) moved from Harbin to Tianjin, changing its name to the Deutsch-Chinesische Nachrichten (German-Chinese News).
Let's go back to the top end of this road to the ex-Rue de France and have a closer look at the French Concession. Adjacent are typical names such as the Rue de Paris and the Rue du 14 Juillet. Why not? Here's the 14th of July parade celebrating the 1911 Bastille Day in the French Concession. A bit of France in China. But it doesn't look like the postcard was mailed from the French Concession, since it doesn't seem to have French postage. It could have been mailed from the Chinese jurisdiction, since the stamp says in English "Chinese Imperial [Post?]"--once again, the overlapping of cultures.
Talking about the Rue de France, this is it in the early 1920's. It was the financial street, known for its prominent bank buildings, many still in existence today. I understand that almost every prominent building of the time still exists, including the French Consulate, the French Club, and the former Municipal Council Building (Photo by TJArchi-Studio). The French were noted for building elegant chateaus in their concession. There was a park called the French Garden that had a circular drive with beautiful old villas on it. On our map, look down just a few streets from the Rue de France and you'll find it. I found the area today on Google Maps, it still there, and my understanding is that the park and villas are all in good condition. It's also of interest that Paul Claudel, the French poet, dramatist, and diplomat, was consul in the French Concession from 1906 to 1909.
There were two Catholic churches, both still existing. The former French Catholic Church is today Xikai Cathedral, and Notre Dame des Victoires is today Wanghailou Cathedral, but this latter one has an interesting story. Notre Dame des Victoires, built in 1860 and seen here on a glass slide from the US Library of Congress c 1910-15, was attacked by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, who climbed to the roof and destroyed the cross. However, in the 1990s, the Tianjin government not only repaired the cross, but also renovated the entire church. This is Wanghailou Cathedral today (Photo by Wuyouyuan) . Click to read the original name on the façade.
We follow Rue de France to Victoria Street in the British Concession. Review the typical British street names, and also the riverfront road called the British Bund (rhymes with "fund"), opposite the Russian Bund on the other side. We'll discuss this typical British-Asian word when we reach the world-famous Bund along the river in the former British Concession in Shanghai.
While the British also built mansions in their concession, our interest should be concentrated on Victoria Road. I understand this still remains the heart of Tianjin today. Note particularly the locations of Gordon Hall, Victoria Park, the Tientsin Club, and the Astor House Hotel. This 1920s postcard shows Gordon Hall and Victoria Park. Based on the map, this would be a westward view, with the Astor House hard on our right. Gordon Hall, built in 1889 in the style of a faux Scottish castle, was the seat of British administration. The building was a victim of the 1976 Tangshan earthquake (we visited Tangshan, including a factory visit, out of Beijing), which is reportedly the largest earthquake of the 20C by death toll. The report is that only a tiny corner of Gordon Hall remains today.
Based again on our map, this 1902 postcard shows Victoria Road adjacent to Victoria Park (off to the left), with the Astor House Hotel ahead and the Tientsin Club to the right. (The German greeting on the card shows the local internationalism again.)
The hotel was opened in 1863, and I was delighted to find out that, not only was it completely restored in 2010 in its Victorian style, the Astor House Hotel (Photo by Xrdtj) is now a member of the Starwood chain, and this is its "Historical Wing". (Starwood is the chain I get points for for free stays, as in the case of the Sheraton in Hong Kong.)
I hadn't thought it worthwhile to delve into the former American Concession, since it had disappeared earlier. But I knew that the American Concession in Shanghai had been huge, as large as the British, if not larger, so I was curious. Then, pure serendipity led me to a map, and I was shocked—shocked! This is the excerpt of our present map that I found showing the former American Concession (Map by Lubiesque). It was tiny! Miniscule! Just three blocks between Victoria Street and the British Bund! Also, it seems that the Tientsin Club (whose fate I do not know) was in the 1860 American Concession, which, as you recall, was turned over to the British in 1902, and was absorbed into their concession. The red circle to the right shows the barracks where American troops stayed starting in 1917.
Two American names of interest appear connected to Tianjin, but I do not know which, if any, concession they lived in, or if they lived in the "Chinese City". In any case, they both lived in Tianjin for a time. The 31st US president ● Herbert Hoover, an engineer, had worked in China, and lived in Tianjin for a while, I don't know how long. He and his wife were there when the Boxer Rebellion broke out in 1900. Also, the American Pulitzer Prize-winning author ● John Hersey was born in Tianjin in 1914 to missionary parents. (Opening China to missionaries was part of the Unequal Treaties.) Hersey spoke Chinese before he spoke English, and left China at the age of ten. He won the Pulitzer for "A Bell for Adano".
Despite the Cultural Revolution and its Red Guards in the 1960s, there remain in Tianjin today about 2,000 houses and buildings in Western style. Much of this colonial heritage architecture has been placed under protection. It's apparently the streetscapes, the ensemble of all this architecture, that is most engrossing. The ex-concession streets just south of the river are apparently those of most interest, the French chateaus, the British mansions, and the German villas. Since it's streetscapes that enthrall me as I do my urban walking—look at Macau as an example--I know I'd have enjoyed visiting Tianjin. However, I did get my share of delight visiting the concessions in Shamian Island in Guangzhou, and in Shanghai, so my plate was quite full.