Hankou (漢口 / 汉口, also Hankow, now part of Wuhan) was from the 1860s to the 1930s the industrial and logistical hub of the interior of China, often compared to the role Chicago occupied in the United States. Located in Hebei Province, it was on the banks of the mighty, navigable Yangtze River, just below its junction with the Han River, and it first became a major trading hub at the beginning of the 18th century.
In the wake of the Second Opium War (1856-60), the Convention of Peking permitted European powers to set up concessions, or commercial bases, throughout China where they could carry out trade with low or no taxes or duties, with their citizens enjoying extra-territorial rights. Given China’s resources and its large internal market, the business potential of the country was (as it is today) unlimited. While most of these so-called ‘treaty ports’ were established along or near the coasts (ex. Shanghai), the creation of a concession in Hankow became one of Britain’s top priorities in China.
In 1862, Britain set up a consulate and established a 115-acre concession in Hankow. The greatest trading firms of Hong Kong and India flooded into the city, making swift and large profits from the vibrant Yangtze economy. Britain was later joined by the other main powers who established their concessions adjacent to the British zone, forming the ‘Foreign Settlement’, including France, in 1886 (on a lot of 60 acres); Russia, also in 1886 (24 acres); Germany, in 1895 (40 acres); and Japan, in 1898 (32 acres).
Amazingly, even though China was often rocked by extreme political instability, for years the foreign concessions managed to flourish. Until World War I, the various European concessions, while rivals, often worked together on lucrative business deals and fostered the capital investment that made the Hankow area into one of the most industrialized and prosperous regions of China. The small foreign communities created their own complete mini-societies in Hankow, with their own clubs, church groups, schools and stores, with lifestyles completely separate from the greater Chinese realm.
The completion of the Peking–Hankow Railway, in 1906, cemented Hankou’s role as one of China’s great logistics hubs, with its railyards being among the busiest in Asia.
The Revolution of 1911, that brought an end to imperial rule in China, commenced in one of Hankow’s two sister cities, Wuchang, just up and across the Yangtze (the third city was Hanyang, located just to the south of Hankow, across the Han River). The new Republican regime, while wanting to preserve economic relations with the foreign powers, was nevertheless eager to reassert China’s sovereignty, even as the country splintered into factions, leading to a confusing series of rebellions and civil conflicts.
World War I hailed the beginning of the end of the foreign concessions in Hankow. The German Concession was seized by the Chinese authorities in March 1917, when China entered the conflict on the Entente side; the concession was then designated as the ‘Special Administrative District No. 1’, or ‘S.A.D. No. 1’. The Russian concession was likewise taken over during the Russian Revolution, in November 1920, with the area formally coming under complete Chinese control 1924, pursuant to a Chinese-Soviet agreement (the former concession was then known for a time as the ‘Special Administrative District No. 2’, or ‘S.A.D. No. 2’).
In September 1926, one of the main Chinese factions, the Nationalists (Kuomintang), mounted the Northern Campaign in an attempt to reunite China. While they were not opposed to the continued Western presence in the country, they also wished to restore Chinese sovereignty, and they occupied all Hankow in September 1926.
The British Concession as abolished on January 3, 1927, but pursuant to the Chen-O’Malley Agreement (February 3, 1927) the British were to retain their property and commercial rights in the city. The former British zone was redesignated as the ‘Special Administrative District No. 3’ (or ‘S.A.D. No. 3’) and was to be governed by the ‘Committee of Six’ commissioners (3 being British, and 3 Chinese), with a director, appointed by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, representing the tie vote, essentially giving the Chinese a veto. During the same period, the Chinese authorities abolished the Special Administrative Districts Nos. 1 and 2, placing them fully under their civil authority. Yet, the Chinese had little interest in interfering with the British and foreign commercial activities, from which they earned a great deal of desperately needed revenue. Only the French and Japanese Concessions still remained (they would both be dissolved in 1943).
In early 1929, the Chinese government dissolved the Special Administrative District No. 3 (the former British Concession) and brought the neighbourhood under direct and complete Chinese rule. Once again, however, the business interests of the Britain and the other foreign powers in the city were permitted to operate without interference, as they did before, for the Chinese did not want to lose the great investment and revenues they provided. In early 1931, Hankou had population of 804,000, with only 3,515 residents being foreigners (including 2,041 Japanese, 496 Britons, 292 Russians, 258 Americans, 207 Germans, 76 Italians and 52 French).
In the summer of 1931, Hankow and much of central and eastern China were hit by the catastrophic Yangtze-Huai River Floods. The high-water mark of the deluge occurred on August 19, when the Yangtze’s level peaked at 53 feet above the average at Hankow. While this caused much destruction to the city, especially to the native Chinese quarters, many of the key buildings of the European and Japanese districts were saved (or salvaged from total destruction) due to the valiant efforts of the local authorities and businesses.
The Foreign Settlement at Hankow continued to thrive until the autumn of 1938, when the city fell to the Japanese Army, during the Sino-Japanese War (1937-45), which dovetailed into World War II. The British, French and American interests had to vacate Hankow, leaving most of their assets behind. While some efforts were made to rebuild the Western presence in Hankow in the wake of the conflict, the Communist takeover in 1949 hailed the end of the foreign presence in China, at least for the next four decades. Also, upon the takeover, the new regime amalgamated Hankow, Hanyang and Wuchang to form the mega-city of Wuhan.
The foreign presence in Wuhan was gradually revived following China’s reformation under Deng Xiaoping which commenced in 1979. Today, Wuhan, with a population of 11 million, is one of the anchors of China’s economy and the focus of billions of dollars of foreign investment.
The Present Map in Focus
The present map showcases Hankou, in amazing detail, during a critical time, in 1925-6, just before the Kuomintang government sought to gain Chinse sovereign control over the entire city. While the map does not feature an imprint or date, on both stylistic grounds and its similarities to a map citied in online catalogues, we gather that it was published in Wuchang (just across the Yangtze River form Hankou) by the press of the Assin Society, a local printer that specialized in bright, colourful cartography.
The present map embraces all of Hankou, as it lies along the northern banks of the Han and Yangtze Rivers, and clearly draws its cartography from the best official sources, likely municipal cadastral plans. The city’s different zones are colour-coded, and their labelling reveals the dating of the map. The areas long under sovereign Chinese control are shaded in light Yellow, with the older Chinese quarter, with its dense warren of streets, occupying the central and western reaches of the urbanized area. By contrast, the current and former foreign concessions, which lined the Yangtze to the east, generally had orderly grid street plans.
The British -Concession is shaded in pink; to its right is the former Russian Concession (abolished in 1924), here now labelled as the ‘Special Administrative District No. 2’, shaded in dark yellow; further still is the French Concession, shaded in green; to its right is the former German Concession (abolished in 1917), here now called the ‘Special Administrative District No. 1’; while finally is the Japanese Concession. Thus, at the time that the present map was issued, only three of the five foreign concessions still survived, with the Russian and German Concessions having been annexed to direct Chinese control. However, the Kuomintang government, determined to regain sovereignty of as much of Hankou as possible, abolished the British Concession in early 1927 (although British businesses and subjects retained their special commercial and legal rights). Thus, the present map was published in 1925 – 1926, during the brief period between the abolition of the Russian and British Concessions.
The map carefully delineates and names every street and depicts the mainline and the spurs of the vital Peking-Hankow Railway. Impressively, the map outlines major buildings and built-up blocks, especially in the foreign neigbourhoods, and labels dozens of businesses and institutions, including numerous named commercial stores, or ‘Godowns’ (the Indian-East Asian term for warehouse), as the local British community called them; factories; consulates; churches; temples; hotels; clubs; government bureaus, and police stations, etc. Dozens of named jetties, most often owned by private firms, line the Han and Yangtze, especially along The Bund, the quaysides of the foreign districts. There is a wealth of information regarding the manufacturing, tea and logistics industries that were the lifeblood of the local economy, which given the city’s importance, were of national consequence. Recreational facilities are also marked, such as the two large racetracks in the interior that were the nucleus of social life in the city.
The inset, in the lower left corner, 武漢三鎮圖 [‘Three Towns in Wuhan’], shows Hankou’s location in relation to the neighbouring cities of Wuchang and Hanyang, which in 1949 would be merged to form modern Wuhan.
The large inset in the lower right showcases the Peking–Hankow Railway yards and related facilities, located downriver from Hankou, that were critically important to China’s logistics systems.
Despite Hankow being one of the most important international commercial centres in China for three generations, surprisingly few good maps detailing the city survive. This is likely since most of these were ephemeral works, like the present map; the survival rate of which is very low.
The present map is extremely rare. WoldCat lists a map of a very similar description but does not indicate the institution which holds it. Apart from that, we cannot trace even a reference to the map.
The present map, with its large format and great level of detail, is thus a valuable artefact of ‘Roaring Twenties’ Hankow, worthy of further academic study.
References: OCLC: 811939822.