A concession to the French

Conceding to the French is not a common activity, but that’s what the Chinese did in the 1843. Actually, to be fair it was more the British they conceded to. After the British won the first Opium war China let Britain grab Hong Kong, and agreed to open up four its ports, including Shanghai.

The French and Americans followed the British in setting up trading settlements. These ‘concessions’ were part Special Economic Zone (SEZs) – fostering free trade and foreign direct investment – and part Charter City – their currency, government, laws etc. all came from a foreign power. They helped make Shanghai wealthy and enhanced its reputation as the fashion capital of China because of the influx of Western goods. They also, one imagines, reduced colonial powers’ ambitions of taking a greater slice of China.

I also wonder whether their history was part of what made China think of SEZs as a way to begin opening its economy in the 1970s. Incidentally I had only heard of SEZs in the Chinese context, but they’re actually all over the world, and sometimes mooted as a way to spur investment in Australia’s north.


When the Qing dynasty needed to suppress a local rebellion they pitched in for the emperor and were granted sovereignty over their ‘concessions’ in exchange. It stayed that way for about a hundred years until the Japanese conquered all in the 1940s.

Today it is only the French Concession that remains as an observable part of modern Shanghai. It’s a pretty part of town with leafy boulevards and the occasional cobbled street. It also hosts a couple of nice markets. They’re probably aimed mostly at tourists, but they’re still very nice.


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