The World at War

French Concessions in China 1842 - 1953

French Concessions in China Timeline

1842French Jesuits settle in Shanghai.
1843A French consulate is opened in Macao.
1844A French diplomatic mission led by Théodose Lagrené travels to Whampoa on the Canton River aboard the steamer Archimedes seeking concessions similar to those obtained by the British at Nanking following the Opium War. The mission’s other members include future Shanghai Consul Charles de Montigny, General Inspector of Customs Jules Itier, a doctor, an interpreter and representatives of the Ministry for Trade and Finance and the Chamber of Commerce.
October 24 The Treaty of Whampoa opens the ports of Canton, Shanghai, Ningpo, Amoy and Foochow to French merchants and missionaires. France obtains extraterritorial rights allowing it to maintain a separate legal, judicial, police, and tax system in the treaty ports.
December 24 An edict of tolerance permits Chinese Catholics to freely practice their religion but missionaries are not permitted to stray beyond the treaty ports for more than a day at a time.
1845A French consulate is opened in Canton.
1846A French consulate is opened in Amoy.
1848January 23 Charles de Montigny opens a consulate in Shanghai. The city’s French community numbers about 30 most of whom are Jesuit missionaries.
During the Year Clockmaker and wine merchant, Domenica Remi, recently arrived from Canton, requests the assistance of Consul Charles de Montigny in obtaining an official land concession in Shanghai.
1849April 6 France is granted a 164 acre concession adjacent to the International Settlement established in Shanghai by the British and American under an accord signed by Consul Charles de Montigny and Chinese magistrate Ling Taotai.
1850The College of Saint Ignatius and a meteorological observatory are established by the FrenchJesuits in Shanghai.
1851The Taiping Rebellion sends 20,000 Chinese refugees pouring into Shanghai’s foreign concessions.
1853April 12 The consuls of France, Great Britain and the United States authorize formation of the Shanghai Volunteer Corps as a precautionary measure for the defense of the concessions.
1854China rebuffs French, British and American efforts to gain entry to its northern ports and the interior.
May 13 The Chinese Imperial Government in Shanghai ceases to function due to the chaos caused by the Taiping Rebellion. The French, British and American consuls establish a set of local bylaws under which foreign residents represented by an assembly of landowners choose a Shanghai Municipal Council to set tax rates imposed on the all residents including the Chinese to finance public works and the police force.
1856February 25 French missionary Auguste Chapdelaine is executed by order of Zhang Mingfeng the mandarin of Guangxi.
1857France cites the murder of Father Chapdelaine as cause for joining Great Britain in launching the Second Opium War against China.
1858May The Naval Division of the China Seas under Admiral Charner captures Chefoo, makes a successful landing at Petang and destroys the forts of Pei Ho and Tientsin.
June 27 The Treaty of Tientsin opens 11 more Chinese ports to western commerce. The French gain the right to build churches, hospitals, orphanages, schools and cemeteries. Canton Cathedral is built on the former site of a Confucian temple, in Tientsin a temple is raised to make way for the Church of Notre Dame des Victoires and in Peking another cathedral dominates the Forbidden City.
1860August 17 Taiping rebels attack Shanghai but find the city stoutly defended by British and French troops along with the Shanghai Volunteers. There is desultory, long range fighting but the foreign settlements are not invaded.
September 21 General Charles Cousin-Montauban leads 8,000 French troops to victory over the Manchus at Palikao near Peking. The Summer Palace is sacked afterwards an act that Victor Hugo denounces as, “The profanation of the cathedral of Asia by two gangsters, France and England!”
October 21 The Peking Convention authorizes the western powers to establish legations in Peking and requires China to create a Ministry of Foreign Affairs. European merchant ships and Christian missionaries are allowed to enter the interior by way of the Yangtze Kiang.
October 22 French and British troops assist Imperial Chinese troops in crushing a rebellion at Taiping near Shanghai.
1861The French government refuses to ratify the local by-laws for Shanghai. The French Concession is granted its own municipal council under the direct authority of the consul and remains outside the International Settlement.
A French concession is established in Tientsin on a strip of land between the southwest bank of the Hai He River and the road to Tang Gu. The 21.6 hectare plot is described by a later writer as, “a wretched terrain given up to pools, cabbage gardens, hot pits for storing fruit and vegetables, and a rowdy, sinful, and criminal population.”
A French concession is established in Nanking.
October 29 The French Concession in Shanghai is expanded by 23 acres.
1862May 17 Admiral Auguste Protet, Commander in Chief of the Naval Division of the China Seas, is killed during a withdrawal from Nekio.
During the Year A plan for the development of streets and wharves in the French Concession of Shanghai is approved.
Napoleon III bestows the title Count of Palikao on General Charles Cousin-Montauban.
1863Francois Chasseloup-Laubat proposes the opening of a trade route between China and Indochina.
The municipal council of the French Concession in Shanghai adopts a recommendation of the police to form an official fire brigade to prevent theft when a fire breaks out. The council appropriates 3,000 francs for the purchase of the latest pumps, which arrive at Shanghai in March 1869.
May 17 The fire department of the French Concession in Shanghai is formally established with 29 volunteers.
1864Mixed courts where consular representatives sit beside imperial Chinese judges are established in Shanghai. The concessions, where the Chinese now outnumber Westerners, become true enclaves.
A French consulate is opened in Foochow.
1866The municipal councilors of the French Concession in Shanghai protest the consul’s appointments and high handed management of the police force. The Foreign Ministry imposes a municipal charter under which the council is elected by the French and Western residents and responsible to the consul who has the right to dissolve it.
June A French expedition led by Captain Ernest Doudart de Lagrée departs Saigon in search of a trade route to China via the Upper Mekong.
July 14 The Viceroy of Fukien province, Zuo Zongtang, signs a convention with Lieutenants Aiguebelle and Giquel by which France commits itself establishing a naval arsenal on the River Min, to build seven transports and seven 1,200 ton gunboats in five years and to train Chinese personnel in the techniques of naval shipbuilding.
1868March 12 The French expedition from Saigon reaches the Yangtze basin, where Captain Doudart de Lagrée dies. Lieutenant Francis Garnier succeeds him and leads the party back to Saigon by way of the Yangtze.
1869February 18 The French built 47 hectare Foochow naval arsenal opens under the direction of Lieutenant Giquel. 50 French engineers, foremen and professors instruct some 5,000 Chinese in its shipbuilding, design and apprentice schools.
1870Chinese Imperial troops attack the orphanage of Saint Vincent de Paul in Tientsin killing 21 westerners including the French Consul, his Secretary and 10 Sisters of Mercy.
1874May 3 Construction of new streets through a cemetery in the Ningpo Pagoda district of Shanghai’s French Concession leads to confrontation with the Ningpo Guild, a triad which ensures the maintenance and protection of the tombs. Several Chinese are killed in the ensuing riot. The Chinese authorities agree to pay $37,000 for damage to foreign property. The French agree to pay $7,000 in compensation to the families of the dead Chinese. Both parties agree that the Ningpo Joss House and cemetery shall remain the property of the Guild in perpetuity and that no roads or sewers shall be built through the burial ground.
1880Water mains and sewers are installed in the French Concession of Shanghai.
1884June Chinese troops attack a French column sent to occupy Tonkin at Bac Lé precipitating the Third Franco- Chinese War.
August 23 Admiral Amedee Courbet's squadron destroys the Fukien fleet and the Foochow naval arsenal in a 40 minute battle on the River Min. The French fleet blockades the Yangtze Kiang and 4,000 French troops occupy Taiwan and the Pescadores in the months that follow.
1885June The Second Treaty of Tientsin ends the Third Franco-Chinese War. China renounces its rights in Tonkin and Annam.
1896July The French agree to supervise modernization of the Foochow naval arsenal under an accord negotiated by the Chinese with the French Consul in Shanghai, Paul Claudel.
1897Charles Doyère arrives at Foochow along with a team of 18 French engineers sent to reorganize the naval arsenal. Doyère oversees the construction of seven destroyers for the Chinese Navy over the next seven years.
1898April China recognizes a French sphere of influence in its southernmost provinces, Yunnan, Guangxi and Kwangtung and Hainan.
May France leases the territory of Kwangchowan from China for 99 years along with the right to maintain a garrison.
During the Year The municipal council of the French Concession in Shanghai breaks its 1874 agreement with the Ningpo Guild and approves construction of new streets through the district's Chinese cemetery.
French banks finance a share of the construction of the Trans-Manchurian and Peking-Hankow railways.
1900January 27 The French Concession in Shanghai is expanded by another 171 acres.
April Foreign Minister Theophilus Delcassé and Navy Minister Antoine de Lanester order Rear Admiral Courrejolles, Commander of the Naval Division of the Far East, to place his squadron of four cruisers, two gunboats and a transport sloop at disposal of the French Minister in Peking following an attack on the western legations by the Boxers.
June French troops join a 20,000 man international expedition corps organized to lift the Boxers siege of the Peking legations.
July 30 Ensign Henry is killed while leading 30 French sailors and 10 Italians in defense of 3,000 Chinese Catholics who sought refuge from the Boxers in the Pe-Tang district of Peking.
August 14 The international expeditionary corps ends the Boxers 55 day siege of the Peking legations.
September 15,000 French troops under the command of General Voyron are sent to reinforce the international expeditionary corps.
During the Year The French Concession in Shanghai is expanded with the acquisition of a 145 hectare parcel adjacent to the western edge of the existing grant.
France accounts for only 5% of the China trade.
1901September 7 The western powers impose a settlement of claims arising from the Boxer Rebellion on China. The Bank of Indochina is among the members of a western banking syndicate given control of China’s finances. French civil servants take control of China's postal service.
October 3 The gunboat Olry is detached from the Far East Squadron for a cruise up the Yangtze Kiang. The Olry is accompanied by the steam launch Takiang as far as Chunking before Lieutenant Hourst continues on in a vain search for an inland waterway linking Szechwan with Tonkin.
During the Year French post offices are opened in Canton and Hoi Hao.
The French Concession in Tientsin expands to 171.6 hectares.
1902June A 1,400 man French Occupation Corps in China under the command of General Sucillon is created to replace the expeditionary corps, protect the Christian missions, the legations and the railway connecting Peking with the sea. A second detachment of French troops is sent to defend the Shanghai concession.
Summer The Olry comes to the rescue of Chinese Christians who are under attack by opponents of western influence at Chengdu. Navy Minister Camille Pelletan reproaches Lieutenant Hourst for involving himself in the affair and relieves him of commanded.
1903September Admiral Maréchal is dismissed as Commander of the Naval Division of the Far East after supporting Lieutenant Hourst in the Chengdu Affair. The Olry is henceforth devoted exclusively to hydrographic surveys.
During the Year Aurora University is opened by the Jesuits of Shanghai. It houses departments of literature, philosophy, mathematics and natural science.
French post offices are opened in Mongtseu, Pakoi, Chunking and Yunnan Fou.
1906La Compagnie Française de Tramways et d'Éclairage Électrique (The French Tramway and Electric Lighting Company) is established in Shanghai.
A French post office is opened in Kwangchowan.
1907France abandons attempts to find a waterway linking the interior of China with Tonkin.
The French built naval arsenal at Foochow is closed.
1908The French tramway company opens its first line in Shanghai and is granted a 50 year concession to operate the water system in the French Concession.
1909A second gunboat, the Doudart de Lagrée, joins the Olry on the Yangtze River patrol.
A French pilot, Monsieur Vallon, makes the first airplane flights over China.
1910The French Corps of Occupation in China supports Chinese troops in the repression of a tax revolt in Shantung.
1911May French aviator Vallon’s series of exhibitions comes to an end when the wings of his aircraft collapse during a flight over the Shanghai racetrack. Track management is later criticized for continuing the races after Vallon is carried away. Route Vallon in Shanghai’s French Concession is named in his honor.
1912The wall separating the Chinese city from the French Concession in Shanghai is demolished to make way for construction of the Boulevard of the Two Republics.
1914April 8 The French authorities, having just obtained a 1,000 hectare expansion of the Shanghai Concession, agree to appoint two Chinese advisers to the municipal council. They do not sit at the meetings and are seldom asked to deliver an opinion.
August The Yangtze gunboats Olry and Doudart de Lagrée are disarmed following the outbreak of World War I.
During the Year The Jesuit's Aurora University in Shanghai now includes faculties of Law, Medicine and Civil Engineering.
1915The Yangjingbang, a stream separating the International Settlement and French Concession in Shanghai, is filled in and becomes Avenue Edward VII. West-bound traffic on the Avenue is subject to French regulation while East-bound traffic is controlled by International Settlement police. The drive to the left rule is universal in Shanghai.
1916The Cathedral of Saint Vincent de Paul, a 2,000 seat church modeled after Notre Dame de la Garde in Marseilles, opens in the French Concession of Tientsin.
1917March China enters World War I on the side of the Allies. The French Yangtze gunboats are rearmed.
1918 -24 Kuomintang founder Sun Yat Sen and his wife Madame Song Qingling maintain a residence on the Rue Molière in Shanghai’s French Concession with support of overseas Chinese in Canada.
1919The French post offices in Canton, Hoi Hao, Mongtseu, Pakhoi, Chunking and Yunnan Fou are closed.
ca. 1920 French military officer Brissard-Desmaillets is sent to advise Sun Yat Sen’s Nationalist Chinese Government at Canton in its conflicts with the warlords. The leadership of the Chinese Communist Party including Secretary General Chen Duxiu, a Francophile literature professor, settles in the French Concession of Shanghai. The French authorities tolerate the party’s presence because the Consul believes, "this solution makes it possible for our police force to keep up to date with the actions of the Chinese Communists and their relations with their comrades in the Internationale".
1920s The French Concession becomes Shanghai’s most fashionable district. Avenue de Roi Albert is favored by wealthy Chinese businessmen. White Russian émigrés establish “Little Russia” on the Avenue Joffre. Communist writers, intellectuals fleeing the Kuomintang and European Jews all find refuge in the concession. Du Yue-sheng leader of Shanghai’s Green Gang buys a mansion on the Route Doumer in the French Concession. Du establishes a close relationship with Huang Jinrong, the senior Chinese officer in the French police. Together they take control of the organized crime that earns the Concession a reputation as center for drugs and vice as well as arts and entertainment for the well-heeled.
1921The First Congress of the Chinese Communist Party is held at a girls' school in the French concession of Shanghai.
October 4 Chinese Communist Party Secretary General Chen Duxiu who conducts a language school and distributes Comintern tracts from his house on the Rue Vallon in the French Concession of Shanghai is denounced and arrested on subversion charges.
1922The gunboats Balny and La Grandière join the Yangtze flotilla. The gunboat Argus is assigned to patrols on the Sikiang.
Authorities in the French Concession of Shanghai release Chinese Communist Party Secretary General Chen Duxiu whose arrest has attracted support from French Communists and intellectual fellow travelers including author Henri Barbusse.
1925French gunboats are mobilized for the defense of the Shanghai and Hankow concessions.
The French Tramway and Electric Lighting Company’s 2,000 Shanghai employees form a trade union.
April – July Authorities in the French Concession of Shanghai negotiate a pact under which Du Yuesheng agrees to help maintain order among the Chinese in return for a monopoly on opium trafficking.
May Consul General Meyrier defends restrictions on Chinese involvement in the management of municipal affairs in the French Concession of Shanghai after the International Settlement admits Chinese representatives to its council.
May 30 Police in the International Settlement of Shanghai fire on demonstrators supporting striking workers at a Japanese owned knitting mill killing 13 people. Chinese students in Paris and French Communists call for a strike by sailors sent to protect the Shanghai Concession.
1926April Chinese advisors are made full members of the municipal council of the French Concession in Shanghai. Consul Paul-Emile Naggiar appoints Lu Baihong and Lu Songhou, both members of established French speaking Catholic families, to represent the Chinese residents.
The prestigious Cercle Sportif Français (French Sporting Circle) occupies a new building on the Rue Cardinal Mercier in the Shanghai Concession. The Norman style villa houses a covered swimming pool and ballroom surrounded by gardens. Though most exclusive the Circle is also the first of Shanghai’s European clubs to accommodate wealthy Chinese residents.
1927March 21 The Chinese Communists of Shanghai organize a strike by the General Trade Union.
March 22 The Chinese Communists launch an armed insurrection that topples Shanghai’s ruling warlord Sun Chuanfang. The city’s foreigners fear the approaching Nationalist army as much as the Communists but the French mobilize only one additional company of Annamite soldiers and 300 marine fusiliers from the gunboats cruising the Huangpu. Consul Paul-Emile Naggiar calls for discrete negotiation and collaboration with the Chinese authorities and, if necessary, with the Green Gang who appear to be the only force capable of countering the power of the trade unions. Du Yue-sheng orders his Green Gang to ally themselves with the Nationalists. Their attack the General Trade Union brings a brutal end to the Shanghai Commune. The combined forces of the Green Gang and the Nationalists kill 5,000 Communists. Du is rewarded with an appointment to the Board of the Opium Suppression. French police provide a fulltime guard at his mansion.
1929The gunboat Francis Garnier enters service with the Yangtze Patrol.
Underworld bosses Du Yuesheng and Zhang Xiaolin are appointed as advisors to the municipal council of the French Concession in Shanghai. Du and Zhang conspire with Huang Jinrong, chief of the Chinese detectives on the French police force, to take control of the opium trade and the 60 dens in the concession.
Lin Fengmian an instructor at the Hangzhou School of Fine Arts founds the Artists of the An 18 group which rejects the principle of "art for art". These artists want to use the art of the print to denounce social injustice. The group is expelled from China for communist activities and settles in Shanghai's French Concession.
1930The Nationalist Government of Chiang Kai Shek abolishes extraterritoriality and requires foreign schools to be directed by Chinese nationals.
The French Tramway and Electric Lighting Company replaces its old steam plant with a new generating station housing 5 Swiss built diesel generators capable of producing 20,000 kilowatts. The company's tramlines carry 60,000,000 passengers a year in Shanghai. The trade union representing its 2,000 employees comes under the control mobster Du Yuesheng who puts an end to frequent strikes.
The French Concession on Shameen Island at Canton comprises 12 acres with a foreign population of 316 and a Chinese population of 316.
The French Concession houses 434,707 of Shanghai’s 3,000,000 inhabitants including 12,922 foreigners of whom 1,208 are French nationals.
1932March The French Foreign Office, alarmed by the growing power of Du Yuesheng and other gangsters in the administration of the Shanghai Concession, takes measures to clean up the situation. Du is removed from the municipal council. A number of potential embarrassing witnesses including Consul Koechlin, Commandant Marcaire, municipal councilor Du Pac de Marsoulies and Georges Haart, the recently arrived leader of La Croisiere Jaune (a 12,000 kilometer automobile expedition from France via the Silk Road), turn up dead shortly thereafter.
May 18 Fire sweeps through the Messageries Maritimes steamer Georges Philippar in the Gulf of Aden en route from Shanghai to Marseilles with 900 passengers. Muckraking journalist Albert Londres of Le Petit Journal who is returning from an investigation of organized crime in Shanghai's French Concession and a diplomatic pouch containing a confidential report on the opium trade and measures being considered to clean up corruption in the concession's police force are among the missing.
May 19 Consul Meyrier transmits a duplicate copy of his report on the opium trade and police corruption in the Shanghai concession to the Foreign Ministry in Paris.
During the Year The French Corps of Occupation in China numbers 3,200 men.
A census in the French Concession in Shanghai lists 6,045 Russians, an increase of more than 2,000 émigrés in two years.
1936The French share of the China trade drops to 1.6% of the country’s imports (primarily airplanes from Bréguet and Morane) and 4.3 % of its exports.
1937Shanghai's French Concession has a population of 475,000 of whom only 2,342 are French nationals. The seat of French interests in China is defended by 640 soldiers; 2,235 policemen and the ships of the Naval Division of the Far East. The Concession houses the offices of the Journal de Shanghai; the Messageries Maritime shipping line, the Havas news agency, the Bank of Indochina, the Franco-Chinese Bank and the Franco-Chinese Insurance Company.
Summer Shanghai is occupied by the Japanese. France remains neutral in the Sino-Japanese War. The French Corps of Occupation in China is ordered to stand down in case of a Japanese attack on the concession. The French authorities attempt to prevent the entry of Chinese Nationalists and Communists seeking refuge in the concession in an effort to avoid giving the Japanese a pretext for intervention.
November 6 French Jesuit Father Jacquinot de Besange obtains the agreement of the belligerents in the Sino- Japanese War to create a neutral zone in the Nandao district of Shanghai to house a quarter million Chinese civilians fleeing the war zone. Father de Besange creates and chairs a committee to manage the internal affairs of the, "Jacquinot Refugee Zone" which depends on the solidarity of the Chinese and foreign inhabitants of the city, religious communities and international charities.
During the Year Japanese troops neutralize the French gunboats on the Yangtze.
1938September Japanese aircraft bomb Hainan and declares that the island will be spared further attacks provided France stops the flow of military supplies destined for China through Indochina. The French agree.
1939May 19 Troops of the French Concession in Shanghai including Annamite soldiers, police and sailors from the Whangpoo gunboats join their counterparts from the International Settlement in a display of force intended to warn Japan to keep its hands off the concessions.
June 14 Japan blockades the British and French Concessions in Tientsin. Japanese soldiers are stationed around the Concessions and ordered to search all persons entering or leaving the area. Automobile traffic over the international bridge leading from the French Concession to the main railway station is stopped. An electrified wire, carrying 1,000 volts, is strung around the Concessions to prevent the smuggling of food to the British and French residents.
September Japan demands the withdrawal of all French land and naval forces from China.
1940June 22 The French Corps of Occupation in China, under the command of Colonel Eissautier, is confined to the Shanghai Concession following the Franco-German armistice.
July Ambassador Cosme, the highest ranking French official in the Shanghai concession, remains loyal to Vichy despite the Gaullist sentiments of the population. Cosme hopes to maintain the fiction of French sovereignty in the concession which the Japanese would surely extinguish in the event of a rally to the Free French. The ambassador turns Chinese Nationalists over to the Japanese and opens the concession to the Japanese police who keep watch over Vichy’s Gaullist, Free Mason and Jewish enemies.
1941The French post office in Kwangchowan is closed.
1943July 30 Vichy retro-cedes the French concessions to the Japanese puppet Government of China in Nanking. Consul General Roland de Margerie turns the keys to the French Concession over to the Mayor of Shanghai Cheng Genbo. The Free French refuse to recognize the act.
The Japanese occupy the French Concession of Shanghai and confine the Jewish residents to a ghetto in the Hongkou district of the old American settlement.
1945March The Japanese disarm the French Corps of Occupation in China.
1946February 28 France relinquishes its concessions, special treaty rights and vacates its lease on Kwangchowan in exchange for a withdrawal of the Chinese Nationalist Army from Tonkin.
1948Madame Song Qingling, widow of Sun Yat Sen, dies at her villa on the Avenue Joffre in Shanghai’s French Concession.
1949French Concession Municipal Councilor and crime boss Du Yue-sheng escapes to Hong Kong just ahead of the Communist takeover in Shanghai.
1951The Peoples Republic of China expels the Jesuits from Shanghai.
1953France withdraws from a cooperative agreement with the Peoples Republic of China to operate the electric system in Shanghai.

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