Shameen Island – the British and French Concessions in Canton

La Poste Française, French Concession, Shameen Island

La Poste Française, French Concession, Shameen Island

After the Thirteen Factories were razed to the ground in 1856, and Canton occupied by British forces in the aftermath of the Second Opium War, another site had to be identified for the reconstruction of the new foreign settlement.

This was Shameen Island, a small sandbank to the west of the Thirteen Factories’ site; then home to thousands of boat people. Two years of land reclamation and major foundation works later, a man-made island rose from the swampy ground, separated by a narrow canal from the mainland of Canton.

The island was then split – four-fifths of it fell under British administration, while one-fifth came under the French, in accordance with the proportions by which the two imperial powers had financed the development of the island.   In legal terms, Shameen became a foreign concession (租界 in Chinese) “a territory within a country that is administered by an entity other than the state which holds sovereignty over it” (Source: Wikipedia).

Shameen miraculously survived World War II and the cultural revolution, and is today gazette in its totality as a historic site by city authorities. And so it remains, as a somewhat incongruous and out-of-place world-within-a-world in the behemoth that is modern-day Guangzhou.

Strolling its verdant tree-lined streets, largely car-free, and flanked by dozens of beautifully restored European residences, bank headquarters, merchant houses and places of worship, one is flung back into the past; to a time when Canton was part of a larger global network of port cities that strung from London to Aden to Singapore and Yokohama.

This walking tour has two parts: the first takes in the smaller and more intimate French Concession in the East; and the second takes in the larger British Concession to the west of the island, where are also situated the foreign consulates of other imperial powers, the Russians, the Germans, the Americans and even the Siamese.

Documentation is patchy and in most instances I depend on the labelling the Canton authorities have stuck onto the buildings to identify what these were.  Not all the buildings were so-labelled, and so there are quite a few buildings here which are “anonymous.”

The best thing about walking Shameen Island is that it is somewhat undiscovered, even by the Chinese themselves, and so one is almost guaranteed of a quiet stroll on one’s own in the early mornings and late afternoons. A rare treat in over-crowded China.

The French Concession

The Gendarmerie

The Gendarmerie

Residence of Indian Nationals (probably a barracks for the Annamite guards in the French Concession)

Residence of Indian Nationals (probably a barracks for the Annamite guards in the French Concession)

A wedding shoot taking place at the Imperial Maritime Customs Building.

A wedding shoot taking place at the Imperial Maritime Customs Building.

The Banque de L'Indochine

The Banque de L’Indochine

The French Consulate.

The French Consulate.

The former Czech Consulate.

The former Czech Consulate.

Offices along the same street as the Czech Consulate.

Offices along the same street as the Czech Consulate.

Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral

Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral

The British Concession

The verdant tree-lined Central Avenue is the central spine of Shameen Island.

The verdant tree-lined Central Avenue is the central spine of Shameen Island.

Another wedding shoot taking place.

Another wedding shoot taking place.

Unidentified blue building.

Unidentified blue building.

The HSBC building is today's West Wing of the Guangdong Victory Hotel, and one of the best preserved and most iconic structures on the island.

The HSBC building is today’s West Wing of the Guangdong Victory Hotel, and one of the best preserved and most iconic structures on the island.

The Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China (the forerunner of Standard Chartered Bank).

The Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China (the forerunner of Standard Chartered Bank).

The Yokohama Specie Bank.

The Yokohama Specie Bank.

The Bank of Taiwan

The Bank of Taiwan

Unidentified yellow building.

Unidentified yellow building.

The British Consultate

The British Consultate

The headquarters of Butterfield & Swire.

The headquarters of Butterfield & Swire.

Arnhold, Karberg & Co

Arnhold, Karberg & Co

REsidential quarters of HSBC staff

REsidential quarters of HSBC staff

Dodwell & Co (probably)

Dodwell & Co (probably)

Hong Kong Dairy Farm Ice and Cold Storage

Hong Kong Dairy Farm Ice and Cold Storage

The Siamese Club

The Siamese Club

The Russian Consulate

The Russian Consulate

The German Consulate

The German Consulate

The Japanese Consulate

The Japanese Consulate

Gallery

Gallery

Princess Wedding

Princess Wedding

Beautiful brick and granite building

Beautiful brick and granite building

Almost Dickensian

Almost Dickensian

Romanesque

Romanesque

Christchurch Canton

Christchurch Canton

View across the canal to Shameen Island, shrouded by towering, 100-year old Camphor trees.

View across the canal to Shameen Island, shrouded by towering, 100-year old Camphor trees.

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About Kennie Ting

I am a wandering cityophile and pattern-finder who is pathologically incapable of staying in one place for any long period of time. When I do, I see the place from different perspectives, obsessive-compulsively.
Gallery | This entry was posted in Art & Architecture, China, Cities & Regions, Culture & Lifestyle, Landmarks & History, Photography, Sociology & Urban Studies, Travel & Mobility and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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