Concessions in China

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China 1910.jpg

Concessions in China were a group of concessions within China, governed and occupied by foreign powers, that are frequently associated with colonialism.

Most had extraterritoriality and were enclaves inside key cities that became treaty ports. Other than other minor extraterritorial regions, these concessions no longer exist. The sovereignty of the last two European territories in China, Hong Kong and Macau, although not concessions but rather colonies, were transferred to the government of the People's Republic of China in 1997 and in 1999 respectively.


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 "Unequal 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 preceding this period was Macau, which had been leased in 1557 to the Kingdom of Portugal, during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).

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. Ironically, some of these concessions eventually had more advanced architecture of each originating culture than most cities back in the countries of the foreign powers origin.

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 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 foreign concessions continued in the Republic of China period (1912–49). 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 (1937–45), the standing army in the Japanese concessions would be used against the Republic of China and Chinese forces.

See also[edit]


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

External links[edit]