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Shanghai International Settlement

Last modified: 2020-07-31 by ian macdonald
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[Shanghai international settlement]
image by Željko Heimer and Antonio Martins

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Shanghai International Settlement

"The Shanghai International Settlement (Chinese: 上海公共租界; Japanese: 上海共同租界; French: Concession Internationale de Changhai; Russian: Шанхайский международный сеттльмент) began originally as a purely
British settlement. It was one of the original five treaty ports which were established under the terms of the Treaty of Nanking at the end of the first opium war in the year 1842. American and French involvement followed close on the heels, and distinct areas of settlement for the Americans and the French were drawn out to the north and south of the  British settlement respectively. In 1854 a united municipal council was created to serve all three settlements, but in 1862, the French concession dropped out of the arrangement. The following year the British and American settlements formally united to become the Shanghai International Settlement.
As more foreign powers entered into treaty relations with China, their nationals also became part of the administration of the settlement, but it always remained a predominantly British affair, at least until the late 1930s when Japan's involvement became of increasing importance. Unlike the colonies of Hong Kong and Weiheiwei which were sovereign British territories, the Shanghai International Settlement always remained Chinese sovereign territory. Hence when the British declared war against Germany in 1939, German nationals continued to operate freely within the territory of the international settlement.
The international settlement came to an abrupt end in December 1941 when Japanese troops stormed in immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor. In early 1943, new treaties signed by Chiang Kaishek's free Chinese government with Britain and British India on the one hand, and with the United States on the other hand, brought to an end the extraterritorial privileges which had been enjoyed by British subjects and American citizens for one hundred years."
I found a better image for Shanghai International Settlement.
Esteban Rivera, 08 April 2012

Only Hong Kong Island, Stonecutters Island and Kowloon formed a Crown Colony. The New Territories in Hong Kong and Weiheiwei were on lease from China.
David Prothero, 08 April 2012

For the New Territories at least, although on lease from China, it was governed as part of the Crown Colony of Hong Kong all the same.
Miles Li, 09 April 2012

The Flag

There were three municipalities in Shanghai. The international settlement, represented by the flag above, was governed by a municipal council elected by the acceptable foreign, and later Chinese, ratepayers. France ended its special status in 1946 in exchange for the Chinese evacuation of the northern parts of Vietnam
Phil Abbey, 28 October 1997

The motto means "All Joined in One", which referred to the multinational participation in the Shanghai International Settlement.
Miles Li, 14 June 2006

I make the Chinese characters to be 工部局.
Jonathan Dixon, 26 June 2006

The phrase is pronounced (in Mandarin) "Gong Bu Ju".
It means "Works Department", indicating the Shanghai Municipal Council's main role (in the eyes of the Chinese population) of maintaining the public infrastructure within the Shanghai International Settlement.
Miles Li, 27 June 2006

The lettering "工部局" reads in pinyin (with tone marks) "gōngbůjú".
António Martins- Tuválkin, 29 October 2007

Origins of the flag

Some time ago I shared with this group the flag used by the International Settlement at Shanghai. The following link describes it in full. For those with weak web access I have included the text. Tales of Old Shanghai


From the North China Herald, July 8, 1916

The following notes from a correspondent of antiquarian tastes will be of interest to many who have wondered how the Municipal Seal came into existence.

The Municipal Seal at present in use was designed by Mr. Oliver, the then Municipal Engineer, was approved by the Council in December, 1868 and brought into use in April, 1869.

At that time 11 countries had treaties with China. These, in the order of the dates of their treaties, are as follows: Russia, Great Britain, America, France, Belgium, Sweden and Norway, Germany (i.e. Prussia), Denmark, Netherlands, Spain, Italy.

With the exception of Belgium the flags of all these countries are included, whereas Austria and Portugal are represented, although they apparently had no treaties.

The flags represented are as follows:

Top left hand shield: Great Britain, America, France, Germany.

Top right hand shield: Russia, Denmark, Italy, Portugal.

Lower Shield: Norway and Sweden, Austria, Spain, Holland.

Countries having treaties with China but whose flags are not represented on the shield are: Belgium, Japan, Cuba, Brazil.

There is a considerable amount of contortion of the flags although this is apparently unavoidable. This can only be detected by noting from which side each flag is supposed to be hung. The system adopted has been that, looking from the centre, the flag pole is supposed to be on the left of the flag.

There was a considerable amount of objection to the design of the seal, and in 1870 Mr. Oliver prepared another in the form of a Shield with four quarters showing a railway train opposite a pagoda, a steamer opposite to a junk, and the word "Priress" underneath. This together with a heterogeneous assortment of other designs was exhibited, but at the Ratepayers Meeting which followed it was agreed that none of the new designs proved entirely satisfactory, and, on the motion of Mr. T. W. Kingsmill, it was decided that "the present seal shall remain as the common seal of the Council until the production of a more satisfactory design."

In 1895 Mr. Mayne pointed out that the council of the seal is faulty, but the Council decided that as it had been in use so long no change was desirable.

Phil Abbey, 15 November 1998

My father (now 80 yrs.) and step mom were both residents of the Shanghai International Settlement during the Japanese occupation years. He has a slightly different version of the municipal seal used on the flag, one that is missing the German flag and is simply a white space where the flag would have been. He tells me this modification was a protest against the German European aggression of the time. He has more information regarding this, as the seal was used on other items such as school tie pins and probably the school flag, too. The area schools were not co-educational, so the girls school may well have a different but similar flag design.
Andy Kliene, 5 December 2000

Dubious depiction

I have an interesting image, scanned from the book Shanghai Girl Gets All Dressed Up by Beverley Jackson (Ten Speed Press, 2005) which shows the seal of the Shanghai International Settlement on the hoist side of a yellow pennant, with the Chinese Imperial dragon on the fly, facing the hoist. This was from a label promoting the Astor House, one of the premier Western hotels in that city during the 1920's and 1930's.
Roger Moyer, 11 December 2005

I believe this dragon flag was not a "real" flag: it had a sloped bottom, as is the norm for western-style burgees, not the traditional Chinese-style flag with a horizontal bottom.
But there's more to this flag. The Italian flag on the emblem was shown as red-white-red, not green-white-red. Also the dragon had only four claws on each foot; the designer of this flag must have known that it was a capital offence for a Chinese commoner to display five-clawed dragons (although this would not really matter for the designer, since the Shanghai Municipality enjoyed extraterritoriality)
I must however point out that it was common for early 20th Century Chinese printed matters to feature flags, which were often portrayed quite liberally.
Miles Li, 18 December 2005

Shanghai Russian Regiment

Shanghai Russian Regiment
image by Miles Li, 25 December 2015

The Shanghai Volunteer Corps was raised by the Shanghai Municipal Council on April 4, 1854, as an expatriates' militia to defend the Shanghai International Settlement. Although not formally part of any national army, it has always been subjected to heavy British (and to a lesser extent US) military influences. By the time of the Japanese invasion of the Settlement in 1941, it had grown into a modern force of over 2000 men, divided into volunteer companies on racial lines: British, American, Eurasian, Chinese, Jewish, etc.. Also included was the Shanghai Russian Regiment, a battalion-sized, professional/standing unit of Russian émigrés who settled in Shanghai after the Russian Revolution. However in 1941, just before the Japanese invasion of the Settlement, this regiment was re-formed as the Russian Auxiliary Detachment of the Shanghai Municipal Police.
Now to the minute details of this magnificent flag: it was unlike any traditional Russian military colour, this being the modern Russian national flag (white-blue-red horizontal tricolour) in proportions 3:4, defaced at the centre with an eight-pointed, 168-rayed golden star, its diameter being 2/3 of the width of the flag, bearing a disc very similar in design to the SMC seal, but with golden Chinese letters, with the legend "SHANGHAI RUSSIAN REGIMENT" in golden English capital letters, and without any motto; the diameter of the inner ring of the legend should be 1/3 the width of the flag. The flag has a golden fringe, 1/18 the width of the flag; a hollow golden spearhead finial, its height being 2/15 the width of the flag, its width in turn being 2/3 its height, bearing the Russian Cross motif; and two pairs of streamers, one being black bearing two white stripes, with white tassels at the ends, the other being red bearing two white stripes, with golden tassels at the ends.
Source: Jin dai Shanghai fan hua lu (Record of Prosperity of Shanghai of the Recent Era), Commercial Press (Hong Kong) 1993, ISBN 9620751582, page 49, photo 22.
Miles Li, 28 October 2007

The fourth quarter left blank and reserved for Germany in the Shanghai International Settlement flag, above, is here filled up with the Prussian flag.I wonder if the Chinese characters here read "Gong Bu Ju" as in the Shanghai International Settlement flag (as you say meaning Works Department, which I find quite unusual.
Željko Heimer, 28 October 2007

The image of the Shanghai Volunteer Corps emblem, was was identical to that of the Shanghai Russian Regiment apart from the legend and a few minor artistic details.
Miles Li, 29 October 2007

It is slightly improved flag image of the colour of Shanghai Russian Regiment.
Miles Li, 11 November 2014

Now that a coloured image of the flag becomes available, the description needs to be corrected.
Miles Li, 11 December 2015