The Grand Tour II-8: Heavenly Ford…Tientsin (天津)

Bank Building in the French Concession.

Bank Building in the French Concession.

Of all the cities on this Grand Tour of the Far East, Tientsin (spelled Tianjin in pinyin) is my favourite by far, for three reasons.

First – unlike any other treaty port in China, Korea or Japan, Tientsin consists of 8 separate foreign concessions, each with their own unique aspects.  Second – most of the architecture in all of these foreign concessions has miraculously remained intact and is immaculately restored, making for a magical and nostalgic experience.  Third – Tientsin itself remains off the beaten path, whether it be for foreigners or Chinese – and it is thus a remarkably pleasant (and remarkably clean) city to take in.

The treaty port of Tientsin was not one of the original five treaty ports, but part of a second wave of 11 treaty ports that were forced open by the 1858-60 Treaties of Tientsin, which ended the Second Opium War, and called, over and above the treaty ports, for the opening of the Foreign Legation quarter in Peking.

The earliest of the Imperial powers to set up shop in the city were the British and the French in 1860.  The rest soon followed suit.  Of all of these concessions, the British, French and Japanese concessions were the largest and the most dense.  The German, Austro-Hungarian and Italian concessions were small, but their respective imperial powers invested heavily into architecture and infrastructure.  The Belgian and Russian concessions, in contrast, were not really invested in and today, remain the least architecturally interesting.

The list of concessions and how long they lasted, is as follows:

The British Concession (1860 – 1943)

The British Concession centred around Victoria Square and Gordon Hall - this is a contemporary construction of a New York-style hotel atop the original Gordon Hall building.

The British Concession centred around Victoria Square and Gordon Hall – this is a contemporary construction of a New York-style hotel atop the original Gordon Hall building.

The French Concession (1860 – 1946) – see above image.

The Japanese Concession (1898 – 1945)

Quaint low-rise shophouses and residences typify the Japanese Concession.

Quaint low-rise shophouses and residences typify the Japanese Concession.

The German Concession (1899 – 1917)

Sweeping view of the German Concession.

Sweeping view of the German Concession.

The Austro-Hungarian Concession (1901 – 1917)

The restored waterfront of the Austro-Hungarian Concession.

The restored waterfront of the Austro-Hungarian Concession.

The Italian Concession (1901 – 1947)

Cathedral in the Italian Concession.

Cathedral in the Italian Concession.

The Belgian Concession (1902 – 1931)

The Belgians didn't bother developing their concession at all. These are contemporary apartments.

The Belgians didn’t bother developing their concession at all. These are contemporary apartments.

The Russian Concession (1903 – 1920)

The Russian Consulate was the only structure built by the Russians in their Concession.

The Russian Consulate was the only structure built by the Russians in their Concession.

Today’s Tianjin is an enormous city that, like the capital Beijing, also has province status. Alongside the old town, a new city of skyscrapers has been erected that is as modern and architecturally interesting (also) as Tokyo, Yokohama or Seoul.

Unfortunately, the city authorities have also decided to erect a faux-European city in and over the old town itself, expertly recreating the architecture of time past such that in many instances, one is unclear where heritage ends, and mimicry begins.

I’m not sure that that is the right way to go, from a purist’s standpoint.  But I have to say that the new architecture has more or less been tastefully done, and doesn’t offend, well… not really, anyway.

The White River - showing modern Tianjin - a mix of skyscrapers and faux-European architecture.

The White River – showing modern Tianjin – a mix of skyscrapers and faux-European architecture.

The next few posts takes the grand tourist through a walking tour of the major concession areas in the city.

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, Travel & Mobility and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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