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An extremely rare and high-quality map of Tianjin, captured during the height of its 1920s-’30s ‘Golden Era’ when it was one of the most economically and culturally vibrant cities in Asia, with largely bilingual (Chinese-English) text, the map provides a highly detailed record of the entire city, shown divided into the Old Chinese town, and the various colour-coded foreign concessions; published in Tianjin by the Chung-Tung Litho Works.


Colour lithograph with original printed paper slipcase (Very good, some very faint staining along outer parts of horizontal centerfold and some light wear along folds, paper slipcase a toned and a bit stained and chipped at edges with some loss), 80 x 53 cm (31.5 x 21 inches).


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Tianjin is today one of China’s premier metropolises, a major centre of commerce and science, home to over 14 million residents.  However, until the 1860s, it was a relatively unimportant place, despite that fact that it occupied a strategic location between Beijing and the sea.  Following the Second Opium War (1856-60) and the Treaty of Tianjin (arranged 1858, ratified 1860) Tianjin became a treaty port, home to foreign concessions, with the British and French being the first to establish their sovereign districts.  The city grew rapidly, buoyed by its role as the gateway to trade in mid-northern China.


Following additional external interventions around the turn of the century, further foreign concessions were established in Tianjin, including those of Japan, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, Belgium and Italy.  Tianjin’s commerce boomed, even as the some of the concessions were expelled by the end of World War I.


During the 1920s and much of the ’30s, Tianjin enjoyed an unprecedented economic and cultural flowering, making it perhaps the most stylish and vibrant city in China, after only Shanghai.  Grand European-style edifices lined the main avenues, while the city was home to swank restaurants, nightclubs and boutiques catering to a well-healed polyglot crowd.  The present map was issued in 1930, during the height of this boom.


In 1937, during the Second Anglo-Japanese War (1937-45), which dovetailed into World War II, Japan conquered Tianjin.  While this represented an immediate nightmare for the local Chinese population, as Japan was not yet at war with the Allies (this would not occur until December 1941), the occupying regime allowed the ‘good times’ to continue in the foreign concessions for a little while longer.  However, in 1939, the Japanese and the officials in charge of the British concession started to quarrel, which almost broke out into armed conflict (the British left Tianjin in 1940 to avoid such an outcome).  A small contingent of American troops remained in Tianjin until Japan and the Allies came to war and were taken captive as POWs.  The Italian and (Vichy) French concessions were allowed to exist for the duration of the conflict.


Japan was expelled from Tianjin, and all of China, when it lost the war in late summer of 1945.  The city was then controlled by the Chinese Nationalists for some time before being taken by the Communists in 1949.  While it fared better than most Chinese cities, Tianjin’s economy suffered under Mao’s rule.  On July 28, 1976, the city was hit by a major earthquake that killed many thousands of people and destroyed 60% of its buildings.  However, Tianjin came roaring back like never before beginning in the 1990s.


The Present Map in Focus


This attractive, highly detailed map provides a stellar overview of the city in its swinging heyday.  It was issued in Tianjin by the Chung-Tung Litho Works, as is part of a regularly updated sequence of plans of the city that commenced in 1912.  Chung-Tung is also known for printing a well-regarded and attractive map of Beijing, Map of Peking (1914).


The preset edition of the map is largely bilingual (Chinese-English), made to ensure its accessibility to Tianjin’s large foreign communities.  The city’s various districts are colour-coded, with the ‘Hai Ho’ (Hai River) and several canals snaking through the cityscape, while all streets of any note are delineated and labelled.  The railway lines, which played a major role in Tianjin’s prosperity, snake down the eastern side of the city.


The rectangular Old Chinse city, shaded in orange, in the upper right, is indicative of how small Tianjin was prior to the 1860s.


The foreign concessions (both current and former) hug the Hai River, with the Japanese Concession (1898–1945), shaded pink; while the French Concession (1860–1946) lies to is south, is shaded purple; the British Concession (1860–1943) shaded blue, is further south; while further down still is the former German Concession (1899–1917), shaded orange.  Across the river, shaded yellow, is the former Russian Concession (1900–1920), while on the bend to the north is the Italian Concession (1901–1943), shaded orange, and the Austro-Hungarian Concession (1901–1917), shaded green.


One will immediately notice that the foreign concessions tended to follow geometrical urban plans, with broad avenues, squares and large parks, while the Chinese areas, both old and new, are composed of dense warrens of streets.  Indeed, true to the nature of imperialism, the foreign concessions were home to some of Asia’s most affluent communities, while the Chinese majority lived in relative poverty.


Making the map an important resource for scholars of Tianjin history, the map carefully labels and specifically names innumerable key buildings and sites, such as consulates, schools, businesses, hospitals, social clubs, hotels, theatres, newspaper offices, recreation sites, foreign army barracks (ex. the American Barracks in the Former German Concession), etc.  Indeed, very few historical maps of Tianjin record so many details, let alone in two languages.


The inset map in the lower left corner, 天津日租界圖 (‘Map of the Tianjin Japanese Concessions’), while diminutive in size, provides an amazingly detailed picture of that important district, outlining hundreds of numbered cadastral lots.


A Note on Rarity


The present edition of the map is extremely rare, we cannot trace any references to it, let alone the location of another example.  This is not so surprising, as the survival rate of such Chinese ephemeral works is very low.  All the other editions of map seem to be quite rare; we can locate 4 institutional examples of the 1912 edition (which is drafted on larger scale than the present issue), while we aware of a sales record from some years ago for what appears to be a 1927 edition (drafted on the same scale as the present work).


References: N/A – No other examples of the 1930 edition traced.  Cf. (re: 1912 edition:) Library of Congress: G7824.T5 1912 .T5, OCLC: 52748001.

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