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French concession of Shanghai

Last updated by fabiowzgogo at 2016/12/16

The French concession of Shanghai 上海法租界 (Shànghǎi fǎzūjiè) was a part of the Chinese city which had passed under the governance of France during almost hundred years, between 1849 and 1946; it was progressively expanded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Nowadays buildings of this time located in the area covered by the former French Concession can be seen in the districts of Xuhui (formerly Zi Ka Wei) and Luwan.


The Treaty of Whampoa signed by Théodore de Lagrené and Qiying on October 24, 1844 was a commercial treaty between France and China defining agreements as regards to the entry of foreign products on the Chinese market. This opening of the Chinese market to the international trade concerned five cities of which Shanghai.

French Concession in the Past

French Concession in the Past

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

The area covered by the former French Concession was, for much of the 20th century, the premier residential and retail districts of Shanghai, and was also the centre of Catholicism in Shanghai. Those who worked in the business field were not many. Among them, a storekeeper in wine came to call for the assistance of the consul to be able to expand his clientele.

Neither gardens, nor rice fields in granted lands to French people: uninhabited swamps that is what the French concession was at the beginning.

The French concession was established in the North of the city. While France was entitled to 66 ha of ground, just on its north side was the English concession with a little less than 200 ha. These two concessions were located side by side, separated by the Yang King Pang canal. The French territory was lined on the east by Huang Pu, in the South was the old town and westly, Defense Creek.

Charles de Montigny asked for help out of French religious established in the empire for the supply of products to be sent towards France in order to develop as fast as possible the economy of the concession.

In 1853, Chinese rebels, Xiaodao Hui, a revolted group who fought against the government of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) during 1853-1855 attacked the city of Shanghai. This invasion had incidences on the foreign concessions established in the city. A wall was then set up to protect these territories. In 1856, the French consul, Benoît Edan, had created a municipal guarding of twenty five men.

The French Concession of Shanghai

Seven years later French, British and American concessions raised a militia, the corps voluntaries, in the 1850s to protect the Concession during the Taiping Revolution a massive civil war in southern China from 1850 to 1864, against the ruling Manchu-led Qing Dynasty.

At the head of this armed force was an American Frederick Townsend Ward (29 November 1831 –21 September 1862), an American sailor and soldier of fortune famous for his military victories for Imperial China during the Taiping Rebellion.

While the French initially participated in the Municipal Council of the Shanghai International Settlement, in 1862 a decision was made to exit the Municipal Council in order to preserve the French Concession's independence. From then on, 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 human resources from its nearby colony of Annam.

Due to the invasion of Taipings and of their exactions, more than 20 000 people coming from neighbouring country sides took refuge in the concessions. In 1861, 59 ha were consequently added to the French concession which became connected with the British concession by a bridge. The Chinese population in the French Concession swelled during the Taiping Revolution, reaching about 500,000 just before the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War.

In 1863, the evolution of commercial activities extended with the export of silk fabric towards the city of Lyon. Numerous banking institutions settled down in the concession.

In May 1899, the concession was again enlarged by 68 ha. In the same period, the international concession, which consisted previously of British and American concessions, extended over 760 ha.

Shanghai French Concession

Meanwhile, the violence committed against the Christian community in the Chinese provinces increased on the instigation of the Boxer Rebellion. The Boxer Rebellion, Boxer Uprising or Yihetuan Movement was a violent movement by the Righteous Harmony Society in China between 1899 and 1901. It expressed proto-nationalist sentiments and tried to eradicate opposing foreign imperialism and Christian missions.

Big arrangements were made within the concession until 1940, and main avenues were built. In 1902, the Concession introduced platanes (London Planes) as a roadside tree on Avenue Joffre. Because this tree, now popular as a roadside tree throughout China, was first introduced in the French Concession in Shanghai, it is known in Chinese as the "French Plane".

July 23rd, 1921, congress met in Huangpi Street to form the Chinese communist Party in a grey brick- constructed building from the 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.

Shanghai saw a large influx of Russian émigrés in the wake of the Russian Revolution. 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 the avenue Joffre, and contributed to the development of the musical profession in Shanghai.

During World War II, Japanese forces initially occupied only the Chinese areas, leaving the foreign concessions alone. Residents of the Chinese areas moved into those territories in large numbers.

In February, 1943, the international concession is brought back to China. At the end of July 1943, the French concession is also restituted to the city of Shanghai. The keys of the concession are then handed to the mayor of Shanghai Cheng Gengbo by the Consul General of France, Roland de Margerie. The agreement stipulating this reinstatement was signed only by the beginning of March 1946.

Old map

Old Map of Shanghai French Concession