About the Project

The ESRC funded 3-year research project entitled ‘Colonialism in comparative perspective: Tianjin under nine flags, 1860-1949’ started on 1st September 2008. The research is being conducted by a group of eight scholars based at the University of Bristol and Swansea.

The research team is led by Professor Robert Bickers (University of Bristol) and Professor Nicola Cooper ( University of Swansea).

Between 1860 and 1945, the Chinese port city of Tianjin was the site of up to nine foreign-controlled concessions, as well as, temporarily, a multi-national military government (1900-02), and a series of evolving municipal administrations.

Tianjin provides an exemplary model for the study of comparative colonial practices. Tianjin was opened as a treaty port as a consequence of the 18 October 1860 Conventions of Beijing. The British, the French, and the American concessions were the earliest to be created in Tianjin, in 1860. By the mid nineteenth century, Tianjin was opened up to foreign trade, and the importance of Tianjin was further enhanced by the railway system connecting the city with Beijing on the one hand (since 1897) and with Shanhaiguan and Manchuria on the other. Situated close to the imperial capital, and, crucially, at the crossroads between the advances of European and Japanese imperialisms, Tianjin's economic and strategic importance necessarily drew the attention of all the major international powers: by 1901, nine separate foreign concessions had been secured within Tianjin.

The research aims at producing a comparative and trans-national analysis of the identities, practices and rivalries of five of the major powers established in Tianjin: Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia. The project will provide powerful new insights into the understanding of colonial history, as well as the history of China, and will produce work with crossover value between a variety of different subfields of history and political science. The publication output will consist of: three international conferences, three monographs, two edited collections of papers and a number of journal articles.