Yes – guilty as charged – we have written about French Concession hundreds of times here. But we hope you will agree - it is difficult to resist the temptation of this dreamy area. However, despite its die-hard fame, it wasn’t the first settlement for foreigners in Shanghai.
#1 foreign concession in town was the British one and here is its history in a nutshell:
1.On 29 August , 1842, the United Kingdom and the Qing dynasty of China signed the peace treaty – the Treaty of Nanking , which ended the First Opium War (1839–42). It was the first of what the Chinese later called ‘the unequal treaties on the ground that Britain had no obligations in return’.
2. As a result of the above mentioned treaty, 5 treaty ports opened for foreign trade : Canton, Xiamen, Fuzhou, Ningbo and Shanghai. foreign merchants were allowed to trade with anyone they wished. Britain also gained the right to send consuls to the treaty ports, which were given the right to communicate directly with local Chinese officials. Therefore on 8 November, 1843 Captain George Balfour of the East India Company's Madras Artillery arrived as Britain's first consul in Shanghai.
3.Consulare General of United Kingdom was located at what is now No. 33 Bund and served its role till 8 December 1941 when the Japanese occupied the Shanghai International Settlement at the beginning of the Pacific War. After the war, the Consulate-General returned to the site and remained until 1949 when Britain withdrew its consular staff with the communist occupation of Shanghai. The consulate re-opened in 1954 and was closed again in 1967 during the Cultural Revolution.
4. British Settlement stretched from Yang-ching-pang Creek ( also known as The Yangjing Ban – ancient canal that turned into today’s Yan’an Road) to Suzhou Creek.
5. In 1844 Us and China signed the Treaty of Wanghia and a Massachusetts politician Caleb Cushing was dispatched to Shanghai. The order was to "save the Chinese from the condition of being an exclusive monopoly in the hands of England" as a consequence of the 1842 Nanking treaty.
Americans gained the same rights as those enjoyed by the British in China's treaty ports. It also contained a clause that effectively carved out Shanghai as an extraterritorial zone within Imperial China, though it did not actually give the American government a true legal concession.
6. In 1845 that Britain signed a land-deal to allow Britons to rent land in Shanghai in perpetuity.
7. The land on which the Foreign Settlement of Shanghai was created was only leased to the British Government. All the landowners had to pay ground rent to the Chinese Government.
8. During the Taiping Rebellion – a civil war in China that lasted from 1850 – 1864 - the Western residents of the Shanghai International Settlement, known as "Shanghailanders", refused to pay taxes to the Chinese government except for land and maritime rates. They also claimed the right to exclude Chinese troops from the concession areas. At the same time, a large number of Chinese were finally allowed to move into the International Settlement to escape the Taipings or seek better economic opportunities. Chinese entry was subsequently legalised and continued to grow. In 1932 there were 1,040,780 Chinese living within the International Settlement.
9. On July 11, 1854 a committee of Western businessmen got together and held the first annual meeting of the Shanghai Municipal Council. They ignored the protests of consular officials and laid down the Land Regulations which established the principles of self-government. The aims of this first Council were simply to assist in the formation of roads, refuse collection, and taxation across the disparate Concessions.
10. In 1863 the American concession - land fronting the Huangpu River to the north-east of Suzhou Creek - officially joined the British Settlement to become the Shanghai International Settlement.
Shànghǎi Gōnggòng Zūjiè上海公共租界 (Zånhae Konkun Tsyga in Shanghainese)
The International Settlement was wholly foreign-controlled, with staff of all nationalities, including British, Americans, Danes, Italians and Germans. In reality, the British held the largest number of seats on the Council and headed all the Municipal departments (British included Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, Newfoundlanders, and South Africans whose extraterritorial rights were established by the United Kingdom treaty). The Settlement also maintained its own fire-service, police force (the Shanghai Municipal Police), and even possessed its own military reserve in the Shanghai Volunteer Corps.
11.The International Settlement did not have a unified legal system, however Britain and the United States established formal court systems in China to try cases. In cases involving foreigners of other nationalities, a foreign assessor, usually a consular officer, would sit with the Chinese magistrate and in many cases acted like a judge.
12.The currency situation was even more complicated as there was no unified system either. There was one important unit, though and it was called ‘tael’ - a measurement of weight with several different definitions. These included: Customs Taels (for foreign trade), Cotton Taels (for cotton trade), etc. Shanghai had its own tael, which was very similar in weight to the Customs Tael and therefore popular for international business.
13. Anglo-American influence effectively ended after 8 December 1941, when the Imperial Japanese Army entered and occupied the British and American controlled parts of the city in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The French and Americans surrendered without a shot, while the only British riverboat in Shanghai, HMS Peterel, refused to surrender and was sunk although nobody was killed.
14.In February 1943, the International Settlement was returned to the Chinese as part of the British–Chinese Treaty for the Relinquishment of Extra-Territorial Rights in China and American–Chinese Treaty for Relinquishment of Extraterritorial Rights in China with the Nationalist Government of the Republic of China under Chiang Kai-shek. However, because Shanghai was under Japanese control, this was unenforceable. In reply, in July 1943, the Japanese retroceded the Shanghai Municipal Council to the City Government of Shanghai, which was then in the hands of the pro-Japanese Wang Jingwei Government.
15.The new treaty of 1943 was only signed on behalf of the United Kingdom, colonies and British India. After the war and the liberation of the city from the Japanese, a Liquidation Commission fitfully met to discuss the remaining details of the handover. In 1949 the Communist troops occupied the city and The Mayor of Shanghai took over the full control.