Concessions in China

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China in 1910

Concessions in China were a group of concessions that existed during the late Imperial China and the Republic of China, which were governed and occupied by foreign powers, and are frequently associated with colonialism and imperialism.

The concessions had extraterritoriality and were enclaves inside key cities that became treaty ports. All the concessions have been dissolved in the present day.


Imperial China period[edit]

Imperial China granted the concessions during the latter Qing Dynasty period (1644–1911), as a result of the series of "Unequal Treaties". They began in 1842's Treaty of Nanjing with the United Kingdom. Under each treaty, China was usually obligated to open more treaty ports for trade and lease out more territory as part of the concession or surrender it completely. The one exception that preceded this period was Macau, which had been leased in 1557 to the Kingdom of Portugal, during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644); Portugal continued to pay rent up to 1863 to stay in Macau.[1]

There were a varying number of concessions in each city. For example, the concessions in Tianjin reached a total of nine at the height of the era. The concessions were usually under the control of a single Western power or the Empire of Japan. However, in the Shanghai International Settlement, the United Kingdom and the United States merged their concessions, while the French retained their separate French Concession.


In these concessions, the citizens of each foreign power were given the right to freely inhabit, trade, do missionary reductions, and travel. They developed their own sub-cultures, isolated and distinct from the intrinsic Chinese culture, and colonial administrations attempted to give their concessions "homeland" qualities. Churches, public houses, and various other western commercial institutions sprang up in the concessions. In the case of Japan, its own traditions and language naturally flourished. Some of these concessions eventually had a more advanced architecture of each originating culture than most cities back in the countries of the origin of the foreign powers. Over time, and without formal permission, Britain, France, Japan and the United States established their own postal systems within their concession and trade areas.[2] Following Chinese complaints over the loss of postal revenue and the lack of customs inspections, all of them were abolished at the end of 1922.[3]

Chinese were originally forbidden from most of the concessions, but to improve commercial activity and services, by the 1860s most concessions permitted Chinese, but treated them like second-class citizens as they were not citizens of the foreign state administering the concession. They eventually became the majority of the residents inside the concessions. Non-Chinese in the concessions were generally subject to consular law, and some of these laws applied to the Chinese residents.


Each concession also had its own police force and different legal jurisdictions with their own separate laws. Thus, an activity might be legal in one concession but illegal in another. Many of the concessions also maintained their own military garrison and a standing army. Military and police forces of the Chinese government were sometimes present. Some police forces allowed Chinese, others did not.

Republic of China period[edit]

The Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, built in 1923 and The Customs House, built in 1927, Shanghai

The foreign concessions continued in the mainland Republic of China (1912–1949) period. In major cities like Shanghai and Tianjin, because there were so many jurisdictions, criminals could commit a crime in one jurisdiction and then easily escape to another. This became a major problem during the Republic of China period, with the rise of post–Imperial Warlord era and the collapse of central authority in the 1920s–30s. Crime often flourished, especially organized crime by different warlord groups.

Some efforts were made by the foreign powers to have the different police forces cooperate and work together, but not with significant success. The image of gangsters and Triad societies connected with the major cities and concessions of the period is often due to extraterritoriality within the cities.

At the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945), the standing army in the Japanese concessions would be used against the mainland Republic of China and Chinese forces.

List of concessions[edit]

Country Concession Location (modern name) Year established Year dissolved Note
International Shanghai International Settlement Shanghai 1863 1945 Formed from the British and American concessions
Beijing Legation Quarter Beijing 1861 1945
Gulangyu Island Xiamen 1903 1945
 Austria-Hungary Austro-Hungarian concession in Tianjin Tianjin 1902 1917
 Belgium Belgian concession in Tianjin Tianjin 1902 1931 [4]
 France Kwang-Chou-Wan leased territory Zhanjiang 1898 1946 [5]
French Concession Shanghai 1849 1946
French Concession in Shamian Island, Guangzhou Guangzhou 1861 1946
French Concession in Hankou Hankou 1896 1946
French concession in Tianjin Tianjin 1861 1946
French Railway, Kunming Kunming 1904 1940 After the French, WWII saw a significant influx of American troops.
 Germany Kiautschou Bay leased territory Qingdao 1898 1914
German concession in Hankou Hankou 1895 1917
German concession in Tianjin Tianjin 1895 1917
 Italy Italian concession in Tianjin Tianjin 1901 1947
 Japan Kwantung Leased Territory/South Manchuria Railway Zone Dalian 1905 1945 Obtained from Russia
Kiautschou Bay leased territory Qingdao 1914 1922 Obtained from Germany
Japanese concession in Tianjin Tianjin 1898 1943
Japanese concession in Hankou Hankou 1898 1943
Japanese concession in Chongqing Chongqing 1897 1943
Japanese concession in Suzhou Suzhou 1897 1943
Japanese concession in Hangzhou Hangzhou 1897 1943
Japanese concession in Shashi Shashi 1898 1943
 Portugal Portuguese Macau Macau 1557 1999
 Russia Russian Dalian Dalian 1898 1905
Russian concession in Tianjin Tianjin 1900 1924
Russian concession in Hankou Hankou 1896 1924
Chinese Eastern Railway, Harbin Harbin 1896 1952
 Soviet Union Soviet concession in Dalian Dalian 1945 1955
 United Kingdom New Territories, Hong Kong Hong Kong 1898 1997
Weihaiwei leased territory Weihai 1898 1930 Liugong Island remained under British control as a separate territory until 1940
Liugong Island Weihai 1930 1940 Formerly part of Weihaiwei leased territory since 1898[6]
British concession in Tianjin Tianjin 1860 1943
British concession in Hankou Hankou 1861 1927
British concession in Jiujiang Jiujiang 1861 1927
British concession in Zhenjiang Zhenjiang 1861 1929
British concession in Shamian Island, Guangzhou Guangzhou 1861 1945
British concession in Amoy Xiamen 1852 1930
British concession in Dalian Dalian 1858 1860
British concession in Shanghai Shanghai 1846 1863 Merged to form Shanghai International Settlement
Trading warehouses at Tengchong (Tengyue) Yunnan Late 19th/early 20th century. Still standing, with bullet holes. British diplomat Augustus Margary was murdered here in 1875. Consulate built 1921.
 United States American concession in Shanghai Shanghai 1848 1863 Merged to form Shanghai International Settlement
American concession in Tianjin Tianjin 1860 1902 Merged to form British concession in Tianjin

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Joseph Timothy Haydn (1885). Dictionary of dates, and universal reference. [With] (18 ed.). Oxford University. p. 522. MACAO (in Quang-tong, S. China) was given to the Portuguese as a commercial station in 1586 (in return for their assistance against pirates), subject to an annual tribute, which was remitted in 1863. Here Camoens composed part of the "Lusiad."
  2. ^ U.S. Postal Agency in Shanghai
  3. ^ Unequal Treaties and China (Volume 1)
  4. ^ Anne-Marie Brady; Douglas Brown (2013). Foreigners and Foreign Institutions in Republican China. Routledge. p. 27. ISBN 978-0-415-52865-8.
  5. ^ Geoffrey C. Gunn (1 November 2016). Wartime Macau: Under the Japanese Shadow. Hong Kong University Press. p. 28. ISBN 978-988-8390-51-9.
  6. ^ Fiona de Londras; Siobhán Mullally (4 December 2014). Irish Yearbook of International Law. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 24. ISBN 978-1-84946-975-3.


  • Nield, Robert (2010). The China Coast: Trade and the First Treaty Ports. Hong Kong: Joint Publishing Company. ISBN 9789620429873.

Further reading[edit]

  • Panikkar, K. M. (1953). Asia and Western dominance, 1498–1945, by K.M. Panikkar. London: G. Allen and Unwin.

External links[edit]