First uploaded February 1, 1997 - Revised and uploaded April 9, 2005.
Copywrite 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2005 by Philip R. Abbey - Permission to use for educational purposes granted provided credit is given and copywrite holder notified by email to of intended use and user.
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[ Goldbar ]




During the century of strong foreign commercial and political influence in China between 1842 and 1942, foreign power emanated from treaty ports. These were tiny enclaves of foreign influence and government located throughout much of coastal and eastern China. A few were in such isolated regions as Tibet, Mongolia and Sinkiang.

Treaty ports were of three primary types: Treaty Port, Settlement and Concession. The general term, treaty port, applied to all cities, usually on the coast or along navigable waterways, that were open to foreign commerce. These "ports" contained a foreign administered Chinese Maritime Customs office. In many instances these towns and cities had no de jure foreign district although foreign residents tended to congregate together in one or two areas. After 1860, foreigners were legally free to travel anywhere in China. Direct commercial activities, residence and property rights were restricted to designated treaty ports and other specified cities open to foreign trade. Missionaries had the right to live, own or lease property, and work anywhere in China. The other two types of treaty ports, settlements and concessions were true enclaves of foreign control.

Settlements were usually designated districts under the control of the resident foreign consuls and, normally, an organized municipal council that provided the local government. Settlements were separate municipalities from the surrounding Chinese cities. They provided the normal municipal services of public safety, streets and other services paid for by the ratepayers. Both foreigners and Chinese were allowed to lease or own property, live in the settlement area, and generally have open access. Without exception the settlements' municipal councils were dominated by foreign nationals. Chinese nationals began serving on many councils by the late 1920s. By the 1930's nearly all municipal councils had Chinese representation. Settlements were generally considered Chinese soil governed by foreigners.

Concessions were de jure colonies of the nation leasing the property. Most were organized with a local municipal council but, in all instances, the local consul had the ultimate administrative and political authority over the concession. Legally, as leased foreign soil, Chinese and nationals of other countries could be individually excluded from entry, residence, and property ownership. Other than those small differences they operated much the same as a settlement.

As a practical matter the overwhelming population of nearly all settlement and concession areas was Chinese. Even when the number of foreigners in the French Concession and International Settlement at Shanghai exceeded 60,000 in the late 1920s, and again in the late 1930s, the Chinese population within those two areas was more than 300,000 and the overall population of the metropolitan area was well over 3,000,000.

Even in small, closely confined concessions, such as Canton's Shameen Island (84 acres/30 hectares), and at Hankow (less than 1 sq. mi.), foreign residents were less than half the population.

Located within treaty ports were the foreign consulates, local offices of foreign business concerns, and other manifestations of Western and, later, Japanese influence. Within the concessions and settlements foreign courts, foreign officered and staffed police forces and, in some instances, military formations provided security. The larger settlements and concessions were blessed with reliable public utilities, responsible government, and civic amenities such as race courses, upscale clubs, tidy public parks and well kept streets, not usually available in the surrounding Chinese cities.

None of these settlement or concession areas were large. The International Settlement at Shanghai, the largest single settlement, was approximately 8.73 square miles (5,583 acres). The adjoining and separately administered French Concession was just under 4 square miles (3.95 square miles - 2,525 acres). Shameen Island, at Canton, was about 84 acres, divided between the British (62 acres/25 hectares) and French Concessions (12 acres/5 hectares). The Kulangsu International Settlement at Amoy contained approximately 1.5 square miles (970 acres/390 hectares) and had a 1930 population of 32,750 of which only 250 were foreigners.

The impact of settlements and concessions, as foreign administered territory, was of much greater impact than their small size would indicate. Treaty areas provided a semi-safe haven beyond the easy reach of central government authorities for revolutionary elements during the Qing Era and later to other dissidents as well as criminals. After the Japanese occupation of northern China, Chinese banks and customs authorities continued to function for a time in the foreign controlled areas generating revenue and doing business for the Chinese government beyond the reach of the Japanese.



From the beginning of foreign contact with China the status of foreigners residing in or doing business with China was a puzzle for the Chinese government in Peking as well as the foreign traders attempting to do business. The Chinese government wanted to keep the western barbarians outside of China and did not want to administer their own internal disagreements. The first treaty with Russia signed in 1689 specified that each nation would be responsible for its own subjects along the ill-defined border..

In European eyes Chinese courts under the Ming and Qing (Manchu) emperors operated with different objectives than they were accustomed to. Punishments meted out were highly variable and frequently less humane than the accepted European norms. What developed was the principle of Extraterritoriality. Under this principle nationals of treaty nations were subject to the laws of their home nation rather than the laws of China. This was to avoid unpleasantness and misunderstanding between the traders and the Chinese Government.

From 1760 until 1842 foreign traders were legally restricted to the trading factories at Canton during the Trading Season and the Portuguese settlement at Macau during the time the factories were closed. As time passed and commerce developed, this restricted interchange began to fray around the edges. By the beginning of the 19th Century smuggling, with the connivance of local officials had become widespread along the coast.

By the beginning of the 20th Century, eighteen nations had treaties with China that established consular court jurisdiction over their nationals. These nations; Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, and the United States were highly jealous of these special rights. This situation lead to much discord as a modernizing China began to assert its self in the family of nations.

The concept of extraterritoriality is not unique to foreign relations in China. The Ottoman Empire and its dependencies, Japan, and Thailand (Siam) had treaties with some Western nations giving the western nationals special protection from local laws and courts. There were undoubtedly other instances through history. The last American Consular Court, in Morocco, was abolished in 1956.

Some aspects of extraterritoriality continue today. A status of forces treaty that puts foreign military forces under some or all of their home nation's laws while serving in a friendly country is common among allies. In addition, diplomats, their families and staff, and diplomatic premises are nearly always accorded diplomatic immunity by the host nation.



[ Map of Shanghai International Settlement and French Concession ] Map of Shanghai showing the International Settlement, the French Concession and the surrounding Chinese city. The International Settlement contained approximately 5,583 acres (8.73 square miles) while the French Concession was approximately one half that area with 2,525 acres (3.95 square miles).
[ Thumbnal map of Canton showing Shameen Island ]

[ Shameen Island Concessions - 1935

Shameen Island British and French Concessions 1935
Tiny Shameen Island at Canton contained two concessions established in 1856 and occupied between 1859 and 1861. They were built on a marshy sandbar not far from the site of the 13 former foreign trading factories created in the 18th Century. The developers involved spent a considerable sum making the area habitable. 

Both French and British concessions were separately administered but had closely cooperating municipal services. In 1930 the French Concession contained 12 acres with a foreign population of 316 and a Chinese population of 316 also. The British Concession contained 62 acres and had a foreign population of 587 with 1,186 Chinese residents.

On June 23, 1925 concession security forces fired on rioters that appeared to be attempting to storm the barricaded bridge entrance. This event helped to trigger a nation-wide boycott of British goods that lasted until approximately 1927.

In 1938 the concessions were the only significant areas of Canton not destroyed by the attacking Japanese forces.

[ Amoy - Xiamen ] At Amoy (Xiamen) the foreign settlements were confined to Kulangsu Island in the harbor. There were separate British, Japanese, and American areas and the Kulangsu International Settlement which generally included the American area. In 1938-39 the Japanese attempted to take over the foreign settlements but were forestalled as British and American warships sent landing parties ashore to protect the integrity of the settlements. Great Britain surrendered its concession on September 17, 1930.

[ Hankow Bund 1926 ]
Hankow Bund -1926
The concessions at Hankow were five in number. The British had the largest (115 acres) and most established. There were also French (60 acres), Russian, German and Japanese concessions. During and immediately following World War I the German and Russian areas became Special Administrative areas under the control of the Chinese Government.

Following anti-British (or pro-Nationalist) riots in early January 1927, the British Government agreed to relinquish its concessions at Hankow and Kuikiang under the terms of the Chen- O'Malley Agreement. This became effective on January 1, 1929. The French didn't surrender their concession until 1943/46. The Japanese followed at the close of World War II.

Tientsin Concessions in 1937 Tientsin was unique in that there were eight active concessions between the Boxer Rebellion and China's entry into World War I in April of 1917.

Great Britain, France and the United States took small concessions in 1860. The United States turned its concession back to Chinese administration in 1880 while retaining some residual rights. 

In the late 1890's Japan and Germany took small concessions. Following the Boxer Rebellion; Belgium, Italy, Russia and Austria-Hungary joined the list of concession holders. France, Great Britain, Germany, and Japan also took advantage of the post-war situation and enlarged their districts.

In 1917 China terminated the leases of Germany and Austria-Hungary. The districts were converted into Special Areas with a separate administration from the rest of Tientsin. In 1920 Russia's concession was terminated. Following much negotiation Belgium relinquished its concession in August 1929.


[ Flag of the International Settlement's Shanghai Municipal Council ]Shanghai's Municipal Council was composed of elected representatives of the qualified foreign ratepayers. As the city grew and the population became overwhelmingly Chinese, a minority representation from the Chinese community was added in the 1920's. Originally almost wholly British in character, the Municipal Council included members from the most prominent nations having substantial numbers of residents. The council functioned semi-independently of any national government until Japanese occupation of the settlement in December 1941. Legally the council was responsible to the ratepayers and to the Ministers of the treaty powers. The council was abolished by the Japanese in 1943 and legally abolished by the Nationalist Government at the end of World War II.




[United Kingdom] [France][german Empire][Russian Empire][ Republic of Portugal after 1910 ][Japan]

During the colonial era six foreign nations had possessions in addition to concessions and treaty ports.



(1) Japanese occupation from Christmas of 1941 through the middle of August, 1945. British Civil government re-established approximately August 14th, 1945 using surviving civil servants released from prisoner of war camps. The British Navy arrived August 30-31, 1945.
(2) France remained neutral in the war with Japan and maintained nominal civil control over Kwangchowan during the war despite Japanese occupation. It relinquished its lease to China in 1946. 
(3) During World War II Portugal remained neutral and maintained at least nominal civil administration over Macau. 
(4)  As a result of the Sino-Japanese War in 1894-95 Japan obtained the island of Taiwan (Formosa) which it governed, first as an occupied territory, then a colony, and finally as a partially integrated appendage of the Japanese Home Islands. This status ended with the end of World War II when the Nationalist Government brutally occupied Taiwan in 1945.



[ Austria-Hungary ]
[ Belgium ]
[ Brazil ]
[German Empire]
Great Britain
[United Kingdom]
[Kingdom of Italy]
[Kindom of Portugal - until 1910]
United States
[United States of America]



The first nations to relinquish treaty rights were Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1917. China had declared war on these two powers in April 1917, and terminated their special treaty arrangements while maintaining some of the extraterritorial features of the former concessions. This termination was confirmed in the peace treaties following World War I. The Soviet Union formally relinquished its any special arrangements with China in 1924. China had terminated Russia's treaty rights in 1920 as its agreements were with the Russian Empire and China did not recognize the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

On January 1, 1929, the British concessions at Hankow and Kiukiang reverted to full Chinese control. The German and Russian Concessions had been converted to Special Administrative Districts in 1917 and 1920 respectively. Anti-foreign riots in January of 1927 had prompted the British to relinquish its leases after a nearly two year transition. France maintained its lease until 1943/46 and Japan until 1945. Hankow remained the headquarters of British business within the Yangtze Valley and prospered without the need for special protection or naval gunboats until the advent of the 1937 Japanese War.

Soviet Russia repudiated its treaty rights in 1919 and 1920. There continued to be some disagreements over the status of Russian nationals residing in China (White Russians). In 1924 the Soviet Union formally relinquished its treaty rights and concessions except for the Chinese Eastern Railway across Manchuria.

In 1929 Mexico relinquished its special treaty rights.

On August 31, 1929 Belgium terminated its concession at Tientsin while retaining extraterritoriality for its nationals.

During the late 1920s and early 1930s several treaty powers relinquished their extraterritorial status. In 1940 Italy, Japan, the United States, France, and Great Britain retained their privileges.

The United States and Great Britain formally ended extraterritoriality January 11, 1943.

Japan had its treaty rights terminated at the end of World War II.

Vichy France, remaining neutral in the war with Japan, maintained a nominal control over its concessions at Tientsin and Shanghai and the Kwangchowan leased area until 1943. This relinquishment was not recognized by the Free French Government-in-exile. France re-relinquished its special treaty rights and leased areas to China in 1946 in exchange for the Chinese Nationalist Army evacuating Tonkin in what is now northern Vietnam.

In 1943 Italy surrendered its treaty rights in cooperation with the Japanese controlled puppet Nanking government. Italy surrendered its special treaty rights, including its concession at Tientsin, and rights in the international settlements at Shanghai and Amoy (Xiamen) in its peace treaty with the Allies in 1945. By the end of 1946 the only remaining foreign settlements, the last two treaty ports, were Hong Kong and Macau.

[Soviet Union]The Soviet Union leased a naval base and surrounding area at Port Arthur (Darien) in 1945. The naval base was technically a jointly used facility. The Soviet Union recognized Chinese sovereignty over the leased area however. In 1954 the Soviet Union removed its naval base staff and terminated its lease. Depending upon the state of relations between the two nations, Soviet naval ships continued to visit Chinese ports on goodwill and training missions until the demise of the Soviet Union.

[British Crown Colony of Hong Kong]
On July 1, 1997 Hong Kong reverted to China. It is now a Special Administrative Region with its own currency, police, legal system, regional flag, and civil administration. According to the agreement between the United Kingdom and China this special status will be maintained for 50 years.  [Hong Kong Special Administrative Region]
In December 1999, Macau, under Portuguese administration since at least 1557, reverted to Chinese governance as a Special Administrative Region with its own currency, police, legal system, regional flag, and civil administration much like Hong Kong. Since the end of WorldWar II Portugal considered Macau an Overseas Province and accorded most Macanese Portuguese citizenship with the right of domicile. This effectively allows Macanese the legal right to live in any nation that is a member of the European Community. [Macau Special Administrative Region]


[Nepalese Flag]
[Tibetian Flag]

Nepal maintained a special extraterritorial relationship with Tibet for merchants from 1856 until 1956. This treaty was between the Kingdom of Gurkha and the Kingdom of Thibet. Following a war between these two states Gurkha, succeeded by Nepal, obtained carefully delimited legal protection for its subjects.

Following the military occupation of Tibet by China in 1950 Nepalese traders retained extraterritoriality and guaranteed access to Tibet until the treaty was terminated in 1956. Nepalese traders have been allowed continuing access to Tibet depending on the variable attitudes of the Chinese government since that time. Depending on one's view of history, this treaty represented a treaty arrangement with Tibet as an independent nation or an illegal special treaty signed between Nepal and a dependency of China without the participation of the Central Government.




[United Stats 48 Star Flag]"Americans in the Far East, prior to the Civil War, played a mixed role. They had been far less truculent toward the Chinese than either the British or French, the other principal powers involved. But thanks to the brilliant diplomacy of the American envoy Cushing, they had gained most favored nation status, enjoying any privileges given others by treaty. This would have profound effect on the lives of Americans in China for another century. Through 'extraterritoriality' they would enjoy the same personal rights and guarantees as if they had been at their own firesides in the United States; Chinese law could not touch them anywhere in China.

Concessions and foreign settlements* had been established which were in practically every sense of the word a piece of of the sovereign territory of the country concerned, and in which the controlling foreign powers retained the rights of policing and governing, delegated to a council of resident merchants."

American commercial interests were ever small players in China. In the 1920s and 1930s American interests were responsible for only 12% of the export traffic emanating from China.


"Subjects of China who may be guilty of any criminal act towards citizens of the United States shall be arrested and punished by the Chinese authorities according to the laws of China, and citizens of the United States who may commit any crime in China shall be subject to be tried and punished only by the Consul or other public functionary of the United States thereto authorized according to the laws of the United States; and in order to secure the prevention of all controversy and disaffection, justice shall be equitably and impartially administered on both sides."


Under the "most favored nation" clause in the treaties all western countries signed with China, the rights obtained by any one country could automatically be claimed by all the others, extra-territoriality included. One of the theories justifying this clause was that all nations could benefit equally and avoid destructive competition. Of course, China itself was left out of the equation.

"* A concession, such as at Hankow, Kuikiang, and Tientsin, was a foreign leasehold where land could not be subleased to Chinese and from which Chinese could be individually denied entry. In a settlement, such as at Shanghai, foreigners might lease land directly from native proprietors, who could as well hold properties for their own use." Except in emergencies access to settlements was open to all comers.

-From Kemp Tolley in Yangtze Patrol. Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute Press. 1971. page 23.




Ohio State University - Modern Chinese Literature & Culture Links
Tales of Old China - Nice Photos - The Jewish Community in Shanghai - The Sand Pebbles - A Film

- Old Tientsin
China Marines as POWs 1941-1945 - China Marine Association
U.S. Army in China - 1900 - 1948
Yangtze Patrol - U.S. Navy in China 1854 - 1949 - Fifteenth Infantry 1912 - 1938
China's Dragon Flags of 1872 & 1890 - China's Flags Since 1912
Window on China - Chinese History - Nagasaki Trading Post



Black's Law Dictionary, Fifth Edition. Henry Campbell Black. St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing Company. 1979.

The Boxer Rebellion. Paul H. Clements. New York: AMS Press, Inc. 1967.

China Yearbook 1921 and 1928. H. G. W. Woodhead, editor. Tientsin: Tientsin Press. 1922 and 1929.

China Yearbook 1931. H. G. W. Woodhead, editor. Shanghai: North China Daily News. 1931. Tientsin Press. 1922.

Hold High The Torch. Kenneth W. Condit & Edwin T. Turnbladh. Washington, D.C.: United States Marine Corps. 1960.

Officially Dead - The Story of Commander C. D. Smith. Quentin Reynolds. New York: Random House. 1945.

Old China Hands. Charles G. Finney. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co, 1961. Greenwood Press. 1973.

Tibet and its History, Second Edition, Revised and Updated. Hugh M. Richardson. Boulder & London: Shambhla. 1984.

The Yangtze Patrol. Kemp Tolley. Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute Press. 1971.


Comments to Phil Abbey at - Copywrite 1997, 1998, 1999, 20000, 2001, 2002, 2005 by Philip R. Abbey