Hankow (also Hankou, 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 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 of Hankow in September 1926. The British Concession as abolished in 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 need revenue. Only the French and Japanese Concessions still remained. The present map seems to have been made in the wake of the Chen-O’Malley Agreement.
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, Hankow 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 taekover, 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 Xiaopingm which commenced in 1979. Today, despite it being ‘ground zero’ for Coronavirus, 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 ‘whiteprint’ map is a fascinated, highly detailed artefact from the twilight of the Foreign Settlement in Hankow. While undated, its details point to it having been drafted between early 1927 and the beginning of 1929. The ‘give away’ are the names used on the map to describe the former British Concession, which is here labelled as ‘S.A.D. No. 3’, a designation it held only between February 1927 and January 1929.
The was drafted by R.N. Hewitt, Civil Engineers & Architect, one of the city’s most prominent British firms in the field. It was then common for engineers and architects to create maps by the whiteprint method (the opposite of blueprint), a medium that was affordable and easy to execute, but could only produce a small number of copies, usually for private, episodic use.
The map embraces all of the ‘Foreign Settlement’ districts of Hankow and is one of only very few surviving maps to detail the its major buildings and facilities, making it an important historical record from a key period.
The map, executed to a large scale, shows the Foreign Settlement as occupying a strip of territory between the ‘Yang Tsze Kiang’ (Yangtze River) and the ‘Peking Hankow Railway’, the great conduit of commerce completed in 1906. It outlines all urban blocks and names every street, which in the former concessions follow a rough, well-spaced grid, in contrast to the ‘Native City’, or Chinese districts, on the left-hand side of the map, with its dense warren of streets.
Along the Yangtze, is the great thoroughfare and quayside, ‘The Bund’, featuring many named piers owned by commercial shipping firms. The dashed lines coming up from the bottom of the map delimit the boundaries of the former British Concession (described here as ‘S.A.D. No. 3’) occupied the district between ‘Yih Yuen Road’ and ‘Kieh Shien Road’. Also demarcated are the boundaries of the former Russian Concession (here the ‘Ex-S.A.D. no. 2’), located immediately to the right of the British zone, featuring many Russian street names, while further on is the ‘French Concession, with its Gallic-flavoured street names. Even further still is the former German Concession (here the ‘Ex-S.A.D. no. 1’), while to its right is the ‘Japanese Concession’.
Clearly, Hewitt’s made the map to focus upon British business interests, as numerous stores. ‘Godowns’ (the Indian-East Asian term for warehouse) and offices are outlined and named, with the greatest concentration occurring in the former British zone. Most notable are the numerous properties owned by ‘Jardines’, referring to Jardine Mathieson & Co., a colossal Hong Kong-based trading, logistics and commodities empire founded in 1832 (which exists to the present day as multi-billion-dollar behemoth). Jardine Matheson was by far and away the largest Western commercial entity in China, and its dominance over Hankow is capped by the appearance of the massive ‘Jardine Estate’, labelled in the far upper right of the map.
Another major concern was ‘Sassoons’, referring to the trading company, E.D. Sassoon & Co. (founded 1867 by a Baghdadi Jewish family), one of the great movers of the British Empire in Asia. The properties labelled ‘Anhold’ refer to Arnhold & Co., originally established by German entrepreneurs in Canton in 1866, it became a British company during World War I, when it was taken over by the Sassoons. The properties labelled ‘B.C.C.’, refer to the premises of the British and Chinese Corporation, a major civil engineering and railway concern formed in 1898, as a joint investment of Jardines and the Shanghai Banking Corporation. Also notable are the establishments of the Liddell Brothers textile empire.
Other key features include the train ‘Station’, the British ‘Consulate’, the ‘Light & Power’ company, the ‘Church’, the ‘Club’, various banks, the tea factory, ice works, dispensary, timber yard, and the ‘Race Course and Recreation Ground’ which was the epicentre of ex-patriot life in Hankow.
Despite Hankow being one of the most important international commercial centres in China for three generations, surprisingly few good maps of the city survive, with only handful of maps showing Hankow’s Foreign Settlement in detail existing in libraries or archives. This is likely due to the fact that most of the highly quality maps of the international districts were ephemeral works made for the private use of local commercial or administrative entities, often being manuscripts or made through improvised printing techniques (such as the present map); the survival rate of such works is incredible low.
The present map is seemingly unrecorded, which is perhaps not so surprising at it would have been issued by Hewitt in only a very small print run for ‘inhouse use’. It provides a far more detailed rendering of the former British Concession than any other map of which we are aware, making it a valuable artefact of ‘Roaring Twenties’ Hankow, worthy of further academic study.
References: N / A – Seemingly Unrecorded. Cf. [Re: historical background:] Decennial Reports on the Trade Navigation Industries, Etc., of the Ports Open to Foreign Commerce in China and Corea, and on the Conditions and Development of the Treaty Port Provinces (1933), pp. 572-577.
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