Shanghai French Concession

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A map of Shanghai in 1935, showing the French Concession in red.

The Shanghai French Concession (French: Concession française de Changhaï; Chinese: 上海法租界; pinyin: Shànghǎi Fǎ Zūjiè) was a foreign concession in Shanghai, China from 1849 until 1946, which progressively expanded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The concession came to an end in practice in 1943 when the Vichy French government signed it over to the pro-Japanese puppet government in Nanking. For much of the 20th century, the area covered by the former French Concession remained the premier residential and retail district of Shanghai, and was also the centre of Catholicism in Shanghai. Despite rampant re-development over the last few decades, the area retains a distinct character, and is a popular tourist destination.

History[edit]

A house on Wukang Road (Route Ferguson), a well preserved example of a residential street in the former French Concession
Avenue Joffre in the 1930s: one of the major commercial streets in the French Concession.
The same location (now Huaihai Road) in 2007: many street front buildings have been preserved, but highrises also line the street.

The French Concession was established on 6 April 1849, when the French Consul to Shanghai, Charles de Montigny, obtained a proclamation from the Circuit Intendant or (Tao-tai/Daotai) of Shanghai, which conceded certain territory for a French settlement.

Its borders expanded twice, in 1900 and 1914, then during the 1920s the French Concession was developed into the premier residential area of Shanghai. In 1943, during World War II, the government of Vichy France announced that it would give up its concessions in Tianjin, Hankou and Guangzhou. These were handed over to the Wang Jingwei Government on 5 June 1943, with the Shanghai Concession following on 30 July. After the war, neither Vichy France nor Wang's Nationalist Government were universally recognised as legitimate, but the new post-war government of France acknowledged that it was a fait accompli in the Sino-French Accord of February 1946. This accord, signed by Chiang Kai-shek's ruling Kuomintang led to Chinese troops pulling out of the northern half of French Indochina in exchange for France relinquishing all its foreign concessions in China including Kouang-Tchéou-Wan.

In 1902, the French introduced London planes as a roadside tree on Avenue Joffre (modern day Huaihai Road). Now popular as a roadside tree throughout China, because of its history it is known in Chinese as the "French wutong".

The French Concession remained largely unchanged during the early decades of Communist rule in China. In the late 1980s and the early 1990s, however, largely unregulated re-development of the area tore apart many old neighbourhoods. For example, the London Planes that graced the former Avenue Joffre were removed in the 1990s, only to be later replaced after public outcry. The old French Club building and its gardens, which used to be a sports field in the early days, were gutted and became the base of the high-rise Okura Garden Hotel.

After the 2000s, the government enforced more stringent development and planning controls in this area.

Extent[edit]

A quiet, leafy street in the former French Concession
A house in the former French Concession

The French Concession covered the north-eastern part of today's Xuhui District and the western part of Huangpu District, occupying the centre, south, and west of urban Shanghai. A small strip extended eastward along the rue du Consulat, now the East Jinling Road, to the Quai de France, now East-2 Zhongshan Road, which runs along the Huangpu River to the south of the Bund.

To the south-east of the French Concession was the walled Chinese city. To the north was the British concession, later part of the Shanghai International Settlement. The British and French quarters were separated by several small ancient canals: in the east, this was Yangjingbang, a creek flowing into the Huangpu River. These canals were later filled-in and became Avenue Edward VII in the east and Avenue Foch in the west, both now part of Yan'an Road.

Governance[edit]

The chief French official in charge of the French Concession was the Consul-General of France in Shanghai. While the French initially participated in the Municipal Council of the International Settlement, in 1862 a decision was made to exit the Municipal Council to preserve the French Concession's independence. From then on, a day-to-day governance was carried out by the Municipal Administrative Council (conseil d’administration municipale).

Security in the Concession was maintained by the garde municipale. Just as the British employed a large number of Indian police in the International Settlement, the French deployed a large number of personnel from its nearby colony of Annam. A militia, the corps voluntaires, was first raised in the 1850s to protect the Concession during the Taiping Revolution.

Demography[edit]

A mix of the old and the new in the former French Concession
An example of a building in the Shanghai French Concession

While the French Concession began as a settlement for the French, it soon attracted residents of various nationalities.

In the 1920s, with the expansion of the French Concession, British and American merchants who worked in the International Settlement often chose to build more spacious houses in the newer part of the French Concession. One legacy of this Anglophone presence is the American College on Avenue Pétain (now Hengshan Road), and the nearby Community Church.

Shanghai saw a large influx of Russian émigrés in the wake of the 1917 Russian Revolution. This raised the Russian population in the French Concession from 41 in 1915 to 7,000. This number increased to 8,260 by 1934 after the Japanese occupation of Manchuria. Two Russian Orthodox churches can still be seen in the former French Concession. The Russian community had a large presence on commercial streets such as Avenue Joffre, and contributed to the development of the music profession in Shanghai.

The Chinese population in the French Concession swelled during the Taiping Rebellion, reaching about 500,000 just before the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War. During World War II, Japanese forces initially occupied only the Chinese areas, leaving the foreign concessions alone. Residents of the Chinese areas moved into the French Concession in large numbers, reaching 825,342.

Localities[edit]

The Bibliotheca Zikawei, now a branch of Shanghai Library
  • Lokawei (Chinese: 卢家湾; pinyin: Lújiāwān), "Lu's Bay", an area named after a bend on the Zhaojiabang creek. The main police depot and prison of the French concession was located here. Former Luwan District, today part of Huangpu District, was named after this locality. Since the 1990s, this area has seen high volume residential developments.
  • Zikawei (Chinese: 徐家汇; pinyin: Xújiāhùi), "Xu's Confluence", an area named after the family of Xu Guangqi and the confluence of two local rivers. While Xujiahui was technically not part of the French Concession (lying immediately west of the boundary of the concession), it was the centre of Catholic Shanghai, featuring St Ignatius Cathedral, the Observatory, the Library, and several colleges, all of which were French-dominated. Today, Xujiahui is a busy commercial district. Today's Xuhui District is named after this locality.
  • Avenue Joffre, now Central Huaihai Road, was a boulevard stretching across the French Concession in an east-west direction. The road was renamed after Joseph Joffre in 1916, with the new name unveiled by the marshal himself in 1922. Avenue Joffre was a tram route. Its eastern section featured Shikumen residences. Its western part featured high-end residential developments, including standalone houses and apartment blocks. The central section was - and is - a popular shopping area, with many shops opened by the Russian community. The former Avenue Joffre remains a high-end retail district.
  • Avenue Pétain, now Hengshan Road, was a major boulevard linking Xujiahui with the centre of the French Concession. It represented the centre of the French Concession's high-end residential district and featured a large number of mansions and expensive apartment buildings. Since the 1990s, some of the former houses have been converted into bars and nightclubs, making Hengshan Road one of Shanghai's premier night entertainment districts.

Cultural references[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Maybon, Ch. B (1929) Histoire de la Concession Française de Changhai, Paris: Librairie Plon
  • Cady, J. F. (1942), "The Beginnings of French Imperialism in the Pacific Orient", Journal of Modern History 14 (1): 71–87 
  • Willens, Lilane (2010). Stateless in Shanghai. China Economic Review Pub. (HK) Limited for Earnshaw Books. ISBN 9789881815484. 

External links[edit]