Magnificent remains of a painful past: a glance to colonial architecture in China

By Stefania Danieli

The 19th century was a painful period for the Chinese, an era characterized by the later called “unequal treaties”. Unequal because they were not negotiated by nations treating each other as equals, but was instead imposed on China after a war, and because they violated China’s sovereign rights which reduced the country to semi colonial status. The first unequal treaty was the Treaty of Nanking (Nanjing), signed in 1842 to put an end to the First Opium War (1839-1842). It granted Great Britain an indemnity, the opening of five ports and the cession of Hong Kong Island. Another famous treaty was the Tiantsin (Tianjin) ratified by the Emperor of China in 1860, at the end of the Second Opium War (1856–1860), which formally opened Tianjin to Great Britain and France. Later, Britain and France were joined by Japan, Germany and Russia, and by many other countries such as Austria-Hungary, Italy and Belgium, which did not have any Chinese concession yet. Each of these countries established concessions in the city of Tianjin.

With the 19th-20th century European style architecture concessions streets, numerous churches and villas Tianjin is one of the most glaring evidences of Western semi-colonization of China. We can easily find several other examples of the European presence on the Chinese territory, such as places like Qingdao, Harbin or Xiamen.

Have you ever wondered why the most famous Chinese beer is called Tsingtao? Because Tsingtao (or Qingdao), a coastal city located in Shandong Province became a German concession at the end of 19th century, where the Germans established the Tsingtao Brewery which today is a Chinese-base factory, but still uses German technology. Qingdao is therefore full of remarkable buildings in different European architectural styles, with its typical red roofs and low stored edifices.

The southern city of Xiamen is located in Fujian Province, just in front of Taiwan which became an open port with the Treaty of Nanjing, and the western style architecture is particularly evident especially in the Gulangyu Island, where as many as 13 different countries established consulates, built churches and hospitals.

The history of Harbin is slightly different from the other cities we just mentioned. Harbin used to be a small village in the cold North-Eastern Province of Heilongjiang, but in 1898 it suddenly became a city because the Russian needed an extension to the Trans-Siberian Railway. The Chinese Eastern Railway was supposed to sensibly reduce the travelling time across Northern Manchuria to the Russian port of Vladivostok. As early as 1910, Harbin already was a fully functional “European city”. The city became a metropolis where foreigners from many different countries established any kind of commercial and banking companies, and the Russians even instituted a Russian educational system for their citizens as well as several newspapers in Russian language. In the 30s and 40s most of the Russian population left Harbin after selling the Railway to the Japanese in 1935. After the Second World War when the city’s administration was transferred to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (1946) and became part of the People’s Republic of China (1949), almost all the foreigners left Harbin leaving behind countless architectural traces as a reminder of their temporary settlement.

23632d5Stefania was born and raised in Italy, where she took a BA in Languages and a MA in Business Communication at the University of Perugia. She fluently speaks both Mandarin and English, and by now has been living in China for over two years. Having been raised in a country rich of history and culture like Italy, she has always had a strong interest in art and architecture, which led her right through the Chinese landscape design industry. She is currently working as Marketing Director at Beijing’s based America Leedscape Planning and Design Co. Ltd.

3 responses to “Magnificent remains of a painful past: a glance to colonial architecture in China

  1. Hi Stefania! I’ve enjoyed reading your blog and would also like to add that Western influenced architecture is prevalent throughout Guangdong and Fujian where overseas Chinese returned. Additionally,
    there were many smaller treaty ports throughout southern China that might not have been quite as well known such as Sanshui where renmants of colonial architecture can be found. I’ve been trying to blog about such places in my new blog: !

    • Hi Nathan,
      Thanks for following us!
      I’m checking your blog right now and it seems very interesting, I will read it throughly these days! Thanks :)

  2. Durante curso, aluno aprende a trabalhar com ferramentas de
    designer da Adobe como Photoshop, Flash e Illustrator,
    para a geração dos componentes gráficos.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s