Concessions in Tianjin

Map of the concessions

The Concessions in Tianjin were concession territories ceded by the Chinese Qing dynasty to a number of European countries, the U.S. and Japan within the city of Tianjin. At that time, Tianjin was also transliterated as Tientsin (sometimes spelled Tien-Tsin). There were nine concessions in old Tianjin altogether. These concessions also contributed a lot to the rapid development of Tianjin from the early to mid-20th century. The first concessions in Tianjin were granted in 1860. The last concession was ceded back to China in 1947.

General context

Prior to the 19th century, the Chinese were concerned that European trade and missionary activity would upset the order of the empire. Strictly controlled and subject to import tariffs, European traders were limited to operating in Canton and Macao. Following a series of military defeats against Britain and France, the Qing were slowly forced to permit extraterritoriality for foreign nationals and even cessions of Chinese sovereignty over certain ports and mineral rights.

Western ships anchored alongside the European concessions in 1874
Troops of the Eight-Nation Alliance, Tianjin 1900

Tianjin's position at the intersection of the Grand Canal and the Peiho River connecting Beijing to the Bohai Bay made it one of the premier ports of northern China. Foreign trade was approved there for the British and French by the 1860 Peking Convention. Its importance increased even further when it was connected to the Tangshan coal fields by the Kaiping Tramway, the railroad that eventually connected all of northern China and Manchuria. Between 1895 and 1900, the two original powers were joined by Japan, Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Italy and Belgium  countries without concessions elsewhere in China  in establishing self-contained concessions each with their own prisons, schools, barracks and hospitals. The European settlements covered 5 square miles (13 km2) in all, the riverfront being governed by foreign powers. After decades, the Japanese, French, and British concessions (which were situated on the right bank of the Peiho River) became the most prosperous ones.

With the overthrow of the Chinese Qing dynasty, the new Republic of China managed a restructuring of Chinese domestic and foreign relations, allowing it to recognize European states as equals. In turn, the concessions in Tianjin were dismantled in the early to mid-20th century with successful recognition of the European states of the Republic of China, which gave European property owners equality before Chinese officials. However, World War II disrupted this nascent development: the Japanese seized the concessions of powers allied against it during its occupation of the country. Soon after the war, all foreign powers relinquished their concessions in China, including in Tianjin.

Austro-Hungarian concession (1901–1917)

Austro-Hungarian naval corps in Tianjin c. 1903-04.

Austria-Hungary participated in the Eight-Nation Alliance that suppressed the Boxer rebellion (1899-1901). Austria-Hungary together with Italy sent the smallest force of the Eight-Nation Alliance. Four cruisers and 296 Hungarian enlisted soldiers were dispatched.[1]

On September 7, 1901, Austria-Hungary gained a concession zone in Tianjin as part of the reward for its contribution to the Alliance. The Austro-Hungarian concession zone was 150 acres (0.61 km2) in area, situated next to the Pei-Ho river and outlined by the Imperial channel and the Tianjin-Peking railway track. Its population was around 30,000 people. Order was maintained by 40 Austro-Hungarian marines and 70 Chinese militia (Shimbo).

The self-contained concession had its own thermae, theatre, pawnshop, school, barracks, prison, cemetery and hospital. It also contained the Austro-Hungarian consulate and its citizens were under Austro-Hungarian, not Chinese rule. However, despite its relatively short life-span (only 16 years in all), the Austrians have left their mark on that area of the city, as can be seen in the wealth of Austrian architecture, that stands in the city to this day.

The administration was done by a town council composed of local high-class noblemen and headed by the Austro-Hungarian consul and the military commander, the two of them had a majority vote. The focus of the juridical system was on smaller crimes and it was based on Austro-Hungarian law. If a Chinese person committed a crime on Chinese soil he could be tried in their own courts.[2]

View of the Peiho River and Chin-Tang Bridge of the Austro-Hungarian Concession.
Yuan's Mansion in the Austro-Hungarian Concession, built in 1908-1918

Austria-Hungary was, due to World War I, unable to maintain control of its concession. The concession zone was swiftly occupied by China at the Chinese declaration of war on the Central powers and on 14 August 1917 the lease was terminated, along with that of the larger German concession in the same city.[3] Austria finally abandoned all claim to it on September 10, 1919 (Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye), Hungary made a similar recognition on June 4, 1920 (Treaty of Trianon). The former Austro-Hungarian concession, renamed the "Second Special District", was placed under the permanent administration of the Chinese government.[4] In 1919 Italy requested the Austrian concession but was denied. When Tianjin became in danger of being stormed by warring factions during the civil war of 1927-1928, Italian and other foreign units temporarily occupied the Second Special District in June 1928 to protect the city's power station and main railway station. They withdrew after a short while.[5]

List of consuls

Belgian concession (1902–1931)

The Belgian Concession was established in 1902 after Belgian envoy Maurice Joostens claimed the parcel in the negotiations following the defeat of the Boxer rebels. Located on the eastern bank of the Hai River (Hai He), the Belgian government and business community did not invest in development of the concession. The concession was nominal and of little value, so in 1929 Belgium gave it back to China.[6]

Belgian concession main street, 1907

Much more important were contracts involving railways, electric power systems and tramways built and partly operated by Belgian private companies. In 1904, China and Belgium signed a contract with Compagnie de Tramways et d'Éclairage de Tientsin, which stated that "this company has the exclusive right to produce and maintain the electric light and trolley systems for a term of 50 years." In 1906, with the opening of the first route of the trolley system, Tianjin became the first city in China with a modern public transportation system (Shanghai had to wait until 1908 to get electric tramways). The supply of electricity and lighting and the trolley business were profitable ventures. All the rolling stock was supplied by Belgian industries, with a small exception: the original electrical equipment came from Germany. By 1914, the network was covering the Chinese city and the Austrian, French, Italian, Japanese and Russian concessions.

The Compagnie de Tramways et d'Éclairage de Tientsin was taken over by the Japanese army in 1943 and the members of the Belgian staff, often with their families, were sent to internment camps. Following the end of World War II, the Chinese authorities took over the network. The Brussels-based company tried to get compensation, but the success of the revolution in 1949 left them without any indemnity. Two more lines were built under Chinese administration, but the network was finally closed around 1972.

List of consul-generals

British concession (1860–1943)

Gordon Hall, 1907
British Indian troops on parade in Tianjin in the 1920s.

The British concession, which contained the trade and financial centres, was situated on the right bank of the river Haihe below the native city, occupying some 200 acres (0.81 km2). It was held on a lease in perpetuity granted by the Chinese government to the British Crown, which sublet plots to private owners in the same way as was done at Hankou.

The British concession was blockaded by the Japanese during the Tientsin incident in June 1939, causing a major diplomatic crisis.

The local management was entrusted to a municipal council organized on lines similar to those in Shanghai. The seat of government was the stately Gordon Hall, situated on the financial street called Victoria Road (now Jiefang Lu).

The Japanese occupied the British concession upon their declaration of war against Britain on 7 December 1941 until the end of the war.

The British concession in Tianjin was formally returned to China with the Sino-British Treaty for the Relinquishment of Extra-Territorial Rights in China, ratified on 20 May 1943, although the Chinese could not take possession until the end of the war ended the Japanese occupation.

HSBC Building on Victoria Road, built in 1925 
Yokohama Specie House on Victoria Road, built in 1926 
Russo-Asiatic House on Victoria Road, built in 1896 
Victoria Restaurant, built in 1940, is now Kiessling Restaurant 
All Saints' Church, or Episcopal Church, built in 1936 
Astor Hotel on Victoria Road, built in 1886, was one of the oldest structure in British Concession. 
British Consul-General's Mansion, built in 1937 
Auditorium of Tienchin Kung Hsueh (now Yaohua High School) in 1940s 
Tientsin Synagogue, built in 1940 
Prince Ching's Mansion in Extra Rural Extension 

List of consul-generals

French concession (1860–1946)

Bastille Day in 1911
Rue de France, French concession

The French concession was established in 1860. After more than 100 years, almost every prominent building in the original concession is still extant, including the French Consulate, the Municipal Council, the French Club, the Catholic Cathedral, the French Garden and many others. Many of the bank buildings along the financial street (currently Jiefang Lu, formerly the Rue de France) are still in existence today.

French armoured car in Tianjin during the 1928 troubles

The villas around the Garden Road are beautiful and diverse. The dome of the French Cathedral was the subject of unwanted attention during the Cultural Revolution: some young Red Guards climbed to the top of the dome to destroy the cross, though later the Tianjin government not only repaired the cross, but also renovated the entire church. Many French celebrities lived in Tianjin. Among them, Paul Claudel (consul from 1906 till 1909), and the natural scientist Father Emile Licent who conducted research in Tianjin from 1914 to 1939. He founded the Musee Hoang-Ho Pai-Ho (Museum of Yellow River and Peiho River) and left it 20,000 specimens of animals, plants and fossils, as well as 15,000 books. In 1998, the Tianjin government invested and rebuilt the Tianjin Nature Museum.

List of consuls

Executive Office of French Concession, built in 1929, is a national historical and cultural site now. 
Municipal Council of French Concession on Rue de France, built in 1934 
International Bridge, or Settlement Bridge, built in 1927, was a movable bridge and one of the historical landmarks in Tianjin. 
Banque de l'Indochine Building on Rue de France, built in 1912 
Gulf Building (or Po Hai Building), built in 1937, was the tallest building in Tientsin before 1960s. Tianjin World Financial Center can be seen behind. 
The National Commercial Bank, Tientsin branch building, built in 1921. 
Exhibition of Industrial Encouragement, built in 1928, was one of the largest department stores and historical landmarks in Tianjin. 
Church of St. Louis, built in 1872, was one of the oldest structure in French Concession. 
Industial and Commercial Bank of Franco-Chinese building on Rue de France built in 1933 
Li Chi-fu's Mansion near French Garden, built in 1918, is now served as the seat of Heping District Government. 

German concession (1899–1917)

By the late 1870s, Germany was on a course of extensive economic involvement in several Chinese provinces, among them the Tianjin area. The German enclave south of the Hai River was situated between the British and one of the Japanese concessions. In July 1877 xenophobic groups threatened the life and property of German merchants in Tianjin. Local unrest intensified, mainly due to poor harvests and resulting famine, and Tianjin business interests requested armed protection. The German admiralty then dispatched the corvette SMS Luise to China. This initial show of support eventually evolved into a permanent presence in Chinese waters by initially modest German naval forces.

Street of the German concession on the eve of World War I.

After Germany acquired the Kiautschou Bay region in 1898 with a 99-year lease, a further concession was negotiated for the Tianjin enclave and economic growth escalated with infrastructure improvements. Major trading houses and diverse enterprises established themselves, including a branch of the Deutsch-Asiatische Bank. The Boxer rebellion of 1900 initially laid siege to the foreign concessions in Tianjin, but the city was secured and used as a staging area for the eventual march on Peking by the eight-nation international relief forces.

China swiftly occupied the German concession after it declared war on the Central Powers in August 1917. In 1919, the former concession, renamed the "First Special District", was placed under the permanent administration of the Chinese government. The United States 15th Infantry was billeted in the former German barracks from 1917 until 1938, departing only after the Japanese Army entered Tianjin.

List of consuls

German Club on Wilhelm Strass 
The United States 15th Infantry barracks 
Pei-Ho Conservancy Commission, built in 1911 
Tung Kuang Building on Wilhelm Strass 
Queue General's Mansion, built in 1899 

Italian concession (1901–1947)

Map of the Italian concession

On September 7, 1901, Italy was granted a concession in Tianjin from the Chinese government. On June 7, 1902, the Italians took control of the concession, which was to be administered by an Italian consul. It became the headquarters[7] of the Italian Legione Redenta (an "Italian legio" made of irredentist troops in the defeated Austro-Hungarian empire), that fought in 1919 against Lenin's Soviet troops in Siberia and Manchuria.[8]

In 1919, the Italian government tried to obtain from the Paris Peace Conference the former Austro-Hungarian concession — that bordered its own concession — as a leased territory to be joined to the Italian concessions and forts in China. But the request was refused and the former concession was placed under the administration of the Chinese government.

British and Italian units marching in Tianjin

In 1935, the Italian Concession had a population of about 6,261, including about 536 foreigners. The Regia Marina (Italian Royal Navy) stationed some vessels in Tianjin. During World War II, the concession had a garrison of approximately 600 Italian troops. On September 10, 1943, when Italy signed an armistice with the Allies, the concession was occupied by the Imperial Japanese Army. Later in 1943, the Italian Social Republic (RSI) ceded the concession to Wang Jingwei's Japanese-sponsored Chinese puppet state, the Reorganized National Government of China which, like the RSI in Axis-held northern Italy, was not recognized by the Kingdom of Italy, the Republic of China, or most other nations. The Wang Jingwei government fell when the Empire of Japan was defeated.

On June 2, 1946, the Kingdom of Italy became the Italian Republic and on February 10, 1947, by virtue of the peace treaty with Italy, the Italian concession was formally ceded to the Republic of China.

The Italian World War I monument and the Piazza Regina Elena.

List of governors/podesta/consuls

Italian Consulate, built in 1916 
Italian Barracks, built in 1916 
Current statue and houses on Piazza Regina Elena, which is a national historical and cultural site now. 
North China Conservancy Commission 
Sacred Heart Church, built in 1922 

Japanese concession (1898–1945)

Zhang Garden or Villa Chang (张园), where the former emperor Puyi lived from 1925 to 1927.
Jing Garden aka. Garden of Serenity (静园), where the former emperor Puyi lived from 1927 to 1931.[9][10]

The Japanese concession was initially established in 1898 in the aftermath of the First Sino-Japanese War and additional areas were added in 1900-1902 after the Boxer Rebellion. In 1937, the Japanese army occupied the entire city of Tianjin excluding the foreign concessions. These were occupied in 1941 and in 1943. The Japanese concession ceased to exist with the capitulation of Japan in 1945.

Two preserved buildings attract visitors' attention: the Zhang Garden and the Jing Garden of the abdicated emperor Puyi.

In 1924, the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty, Puyi, was forced to leave the Forbidden City in Beijing and lived in Tianjin until 1931 when he was forcibly taken by the Japanese army to Dalian. The imperial concubine Wenxiu divorced Puyi in Tianjin, which was the first time in Chinese dynastic history that an imperial concubine divorced an emperor.

List of consul-generals

Butoku Hall, one of the latest structures in Japanese concession 
Tsao Ju-lin's House 
Matsushima Girls' Business School 
Old Silk Company 
Lu Chung-lin's House 

Russian concession (1900–1920)

Former Russian consulate in Tianjin, circa 1912.

A treaty granting a concession to the Russian Empire in Tianjin was signed 31 December 1900. Even before the official treaty was signed, the general in charge of the Russian forces in the city since the Boxer Rebellion had already laid claim to the future concession by right of conquest and Russian troops had already begun placing boundary markers. The concession, on the left bank of the Peiho River, was larger than any of the other foreign concessions, which according to the agreement was due to "Russian trade at Tientsin being on the increase".[11] In reality, Russian economic involvement in Tientsin was insignificant and became even more so after the Russian defeat in the Russo-Japanese War. For this reason, the concession remained largely underdeveloped.

The 398 hectares (3.98 km2) concession was divided into two non-contiguous districts (east and west). In 1920 the Chinese Beiyang government retook the land and concession from the Russian SFSR and in 1924, the Soviet Union renounced its claim on the concession.

List of consul-generals

American concession (1869–1902)

The United States never requested or received extraterritorial rights in Tianjin, but a de facto concession was administered from 1869 until 1880, principally under the aegis of the British mission. In 1902 this informal American territory became part of the British concession. The United States maintained a permanent garrison at Tianjin, provided from January 1912 until 1938 by the 15th Infantry, US Army, and then by the US Marine Corps until December 8, 1941, the day the United States entered the Second World War and all territories of the US and the British Empire in Asia and the Pacific faced the threat of attack by the Empire of Japan.

Tianjin. The 15th Infantry on parade, 1931.

Lloyd Horne recalls of his time there in the 1930s "I was detailed with the 15th Infantry to rescue missionaries that were being trapped there. It was like they were prisoners — they couldn't even come out of their billets without getting fired on or having rocks thrown at them."[12]


  1. Magyar Királyi Központi Statisztikai Hivatal (1907) [Composed 1901]. "A magyar korona területén kivül tartózkodott magyar honos katonák a cs. és kir. közös hadügyminiszter által megküldött számlálólapok alapján, összeirási (tartózkodási) helyük szerint" [The number of Hungarian nationality soldiers dispatched abroad according to the re-enlisting papers emitted by the Royal and Imperial joint Minister of Military affairs sorted by their place of enlisting (dispatchment)]. A magyar szent korona országainak 1901. évi népszámlálása : Harmadik rész. A népesség részletes leirása [Census of 1901 in the countries of the Holy Crown : Volume III. The detailed description of the population.] (scan) (census). Magyar statisztikai közlemények (in Hungarian). 5 (new ed.). Budapest: Pesti Könyvnyomda-Részvénytársaság. p. 31. Retrieved January 19, 2011.
  2. Géza Szuk (1904). "A mi Kis Khinánk" [Our Little China] (PDF). Vasárnapi Ujság. 18 (51): 292–294. Retrieved 2011-01-19.
  3. 1 2 Jens Budischowsky (May 28, 2010). "Die family der wirtschaftswissenschafters Joseph Alois Schumpeter im 19. und 20. jahrhundert" [The family of economic scientists, Joseph Alois Schumpeter in the 19th and 20th century] (PDF) (in German). Retrieved January 20, 2011.
  4. The former German, Austro-Hungarian and Russian concessions, respectively renamed the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Special Districts, survived as distinct administrative entities administered by the Chinese government under a regime similar to that of the remaining foreign concessions.
  5. "Il Battaglione Italiano in Cina". Retrieved 23 November 2014.
  6. Anne-Marie Brady; Douglas Brown (2012). Foreigners and Foreign Institutions in Republican China. Routledge. p. 27.
  7. Headquarter building of Italy in Tientsin Archived March 23, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. Sabina Donati, Italy’s Informal Imperialism in Tianjin during the Liberal Epoch, 1902-1922, The Historical Journal, Cambridge University Press, 2016, available on CJO2016, doi:10.1017/S0018246X15000461.
  9. "Quietness Garden". Retrieved 23 November 2014.
  10. "Between Development and Heritage". Retrieved 23 November 2014.
  12. Eileen Wilson (30 May 2011). "World War II vet recalls battle on two fronts".

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