1902 Encyclopedia > Shanghai


SHANGHAI, a city of China. The native city of Shanghai is situated in 31° 15’ N. and 121° 27’ E. Long., and stands on the or western bank of the Hwang-p’u river, about twelve miles from the point where that river empties itself into the estuary of the Yang-tsze-kiang. The walls which surround it are about 3 1/2 miles in circumference, and are pierced by seven gates.

The streets and thoroughfares may be said to illustrate all the worst features of Chinese cities -- dirt, closeness, and absence of all sanitary arrangements; while the want of any building of architectural or antiquarian interest robs the city of any redeeming traits. On the eastern face of the city, between the walls and the river, stands the principal suburb, off which the native shipping lies anchored. The native town has thus nothing to recommend it except its geographical position. Situated in the extreme eastern portion of he province of Kiang-soo, and possessing a good and commodious anchorage as well as an easy access to the ocean, it forms the principal port of central China.

From the western wall of the city there stretches away a rich alluvial plain extending over 45,000 square miles, which is intersected by numerous waterways and great chains of lakes. The products of this fertile district, as well as the teas and silks of more distant regions, find their natural outlet at Shanghai. The looms of Soochow and the tea plantations of Gan-hwu, together with the rice of this "garden of China" have for many years before treaty days supplied the Shanghai junks with their richest freight.

But though thus favourably situated as an emporium of trade Shanghai did not attract the attention of foreign diplomatists until the outbreak of the war of 1841, when the inhabitants purchased protection from the bombarding propensities of Admiral Parker by the payment of a ransom of one million taels. In the Nanking treaty, which was signed in the following year , Shanghai was included among the four new ports which were thrown open to trade by the terms of that document.

Map of Shanghai

Map of Shanghai
(Date: circa 1888)

In 1843 Sir George Balfour, then Captain Balfour, was appointed British consul, and it was on his motion that the site of the present English settlement, which is bounded on the north by the Soochow creek, on the south by the Yang-king canal, and on the east by the river, was chosen. The site, thus defined on its three sides (on the west no boundary was marked out), is three-fifths of a mile in length, and was separated from the native city by a narrow strip of land which was subsequently selected as the site of the French settlement.

Later again the Americans established themselves on the other side of the Soochow creek, on a piece of land fronting on the river, which there makes a sharp turn in an easterly direction.

At first merchants appeared disinclined to take advantage of the opportunities offered them at Shanghai. At the end of the first year of its history as an open port Shanghai could count only 23 foreign residents and families, 1 consular flag, 11 merchants’ houses, and 2 Protestant missionaries. Only forty-four foreign vessels had arrived during the same period. By degrees, however, the manifold advantages as a port of trade possessed by Shanghai attracted merchants of all nationalities; and from the banks of the Hwang-p’u arose lines of hongs and handsome dwelling-houses, which have converted a reed-covered swamp into one of the finest cities in the East.

The number of foreigners, other than English, who took up their abode in the English settlement at Shanghai made it soon necessary to adopt some more catholic form of government than that supplied by an English consul who had control only over British subjects, and by common agreement a committee of residents, consisting of a chairman and six members, was elected by the renters of land for the purposes of general municipal adminstration.

It was expected when the council was formed that the three settlements-the British, French, and Americans – would have been incorporated into one municipality, but international jealousy prevented the fulfillment of the scheme, and it was not until 1863 that the Americans threw in their lot with the British.

In 1853 the prosperity of the settlements received a severe check in consequence of the capture of the native city by a band of insurgents, who held possession of the walls from September in that year to February 1855.

This incident, though in many ways disastrous, was the exciting cause of the establishment of the foreign customs service, which has proved of such inestimable advantage to the Chinese Government. The confusion into which the customs system was thrown by the occupation of the city by the rebels induced the Chinese authorities to request the consuls of Great Britain, France, and the United States to nominate three officers to superintend the collection of the revenue.

This arrangement was found to work so well that on the re-occupation of the city the native authorities proposes that it should be made permanent, and Mr H. N. Lay, of H. M.’s consular service, was in consequence appointed inspector of the Shanghai customs. The results of Mr Lay’s administration proved so successful that when arranging the terms of the treaty of 1858 the Chinese willingly assented to the application of the same system to all the treaty ports, and Mr Lay was thereupon appointed inspector-general of maritime customs. On the retirement of Mr Lay in 1862 Sir Robert Hart was appointed to the post, which he still (1886) occupies.

During the period from 1856 to 1864 the trade of Shanghai increased be leaps and by bounds, and its prosperity culminated between 1860 and 1864, when, in addition to the ordinary commerce, the influx of Chinese into the foreign settlement in consequence of the advance eastward of the Tai-p’ing rebels added enormously to the value of land and to the profits of the leaseholders. Both in 1860 and again in 1861 the rebels advanced to the walls Shanghai, and both occasions were driven back in confusion by the British troops and volunteers, aided by the naval forces of England and France.

It was connection with this resistance to the rebels at Shanghai that General Gordon assumed the command of the Chinese force, which under his direction gave a meaning and reality to the hitherto somewhat boastful title of "ever-victorious army" it had assumed under the generalship of the two American adventurers Ward and Burgevine.

To Shanghai the successful operations of Gordon against the rebels brought temporarily disastrous consequences. With the disappearance of the T’ai-p’ings the refugees who had sought safety in the foreign settlements returned to their homes, leaving whole streets and quarters deserted and empty. The loss thus inflicted on the municipality was very considerable, and was intensified by a commercial crisis in the markets of cotton and tea, in both of which articles there had been a great deal of over-speculation.

But, though the abnormal prosperity produced by extraordinary circumstances was thus suddenly brought to an end, the genuine trade of the port has steadily advanced, subject of course to occasional fluctuations. For example, between the years 1878 and 1881 the gross value of the trade increased from 110,956,274 taels to 141,291,357 taels. In 1883, however, this amount fell to 110,433,531 taels, while in 1884 it rose again to 113,215,520 taels, although at this time, as will be remembered, hostilities were being carried on between France and China.

In the same year, 53,562 bales of silk were exported, as against 47,807 bales in 1883, and 27,084,675 lb of green tea, as against 25,336,041 lb in 1883. In black tea there was a falling off, the respective figures being 43,813,058 and 48,251,637 lb.

The total burthen of foreign steamers which entered and cleared at Shanghai during 1884 was 3,145,242 tons. Of this amount 2,238,433 tons were British, 500,222 were American, 188,484 were Japanese, 93,226 were German, 88,983 were French 24,572 were Russian, and 11,322 were Danish.

According to the latest estimate the native population of the city and suburbs of Shanghai amounts to 156,000. when to this number the boat population, amounting to 11,000, and the mixed inhabitants of the foreign settlements, numbering 135,500, are added, a total is reached of 312,500 souls.

The vastness of English interests in China and the large British population at Shanghai gave in 1865 to the establishment of a British supreme court for China and Japan, -- Sir Edmund Hornby, who was then the judge of the British court at Constantinople, being the first judge appointed to the new office. The court thus constituted not only exercises jurisdiction over the British subjects at Shanghai but acts as a court of appeal from all British consular courts in China and Japan. All charges against Chinamen within the settlement are tried before a mixed court, which sits daily, presided over by a Chinese official and an officer of the consular service. During the year 1884 2,304 criminal cases were tried before this tribunal, and 99 civil cases, -- in 85 of which cases no less a sum than £60,000 was involved.

A handsome bund runs along the rover frontage of the three foreign settlements, and the public buildings, especially in the British settlement, are large and fine. The cathedral, which is built in the Gothic style, is a notable example of Sir Gilbert Scott’s skill as an architect, and the municipal offices, club-house, and hospitals are all admirable in their way.

Shanghai is now connected with Peking by a telegraph, which will doubtless before long be supplemented by a railway. Some years ago a short railway was laid down between Shanghai and Woosung by some foreigners who wished to force the pace at which China was progressing. But the time had not come when such a step would be adopted by the Chinese, and after a few weeks' existence the plant was bought by the native authorities and shipped to Formosa, where it has since been allowed to rust and rot.

The climate of Shanghai is essentially unhealthy. It lies low, and though the early winter is enjoyable, snow and ice being occasionally seen, the summer months are swelteringly hot. Fever, dysentery, and cholera are unfortunately common complaints, and it is only by frequent trips to Japan and Chefoo that the residents are able to preserve health and strength.

But, notwithstanding every disadvantage, the position occupied by Shanghai as a center of trade, situated as it is at the mouth of the Yang-tsze-kiang, in the immediate neighborhood of the richest silk and tea districts, and in proximity to Japan and the newly-opened ports of Corea [Korea], insures for it an increasing volume of commerce and a widening prosperity in the future. ( R. K. D.)

The above article was written by: Robert Kennaway Douglas, Keeper of Oriental Printed Books and MSS. at the British Museum; Professor of Chinese, King's College, London; China Consular Service, 1858; Assistant in charge of Chinese Library, British Museum, 1865; author of The Language and Literature of China; Confucianism and Taoism; China; A Chinese Manual; and The Life of Li Hung-Chang.

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