In her relations to China, Germany was a latecomer compared to the other major Western powers. The same is true for the German concessions in Tianjin and Hankou, which both were obtained in 1895 as compensation for Germany‘s participation in the intervention against the cession of the Liaodong-Peninsula in the treaty of Shimonoseki after the Sino-Japanese War 1894-95.
After long and complicated negotiations, the treaty for a German concession in Tianjin was signed 30 October 1895. In addition to the general conditions for granting Germany a concession, mainly the question of Chinese residents and Chinese graves in the projected area had caused long debates. The German concession was the first in Tianjin to be conceded by peaceful negotiations, but German claims of a special relationship to China of course have to be seen against the background of rising German ambitions in the era of Weltpolitik.
The establishment of the German concession was soon overshadowed by the acquisition of Jiaozhou Bay, which was developed as the centre of German presence in Eastern Asia with heavy investments by the German government. In contrast, Germany was not willing to invest in the concessions, not even to bear eventual financial risks. Development of the Tianjin concession was therefore handed over to the German-Asiatic Bank, which remained responsible until the takeover of the concession by China in 1917.
The concession developed slowly, and main development started only after the Boxer crisis, after which the German concession was considerably enlarged. Buildings and roads were built after German standards, which made the German concession a favoured living quarter in the city, even long after Germany had lost her treaty rights. It is characteristic for the international character of the Tianjin concessions, that German residents and companies still remained spread over the foreign quarters, although institutions like the German Club became a focus of German cultural life.
Interesting is the strong Chinese presence in the concession. As the first concession in Tianjin, Chinese were granted the right to purchase land and built houses. Mainly in the so-called Extra-Concession, the majority of landowners were Chinese.
De facto, Germany lost the concession in March 1917. After China had declared war on Germany, administration of the concession was taken over by Chinese authorities. The cancellation of the concession treaty was included in article 132 of the Versailles treaty - but as China objected the cession of German privileges in Shandong to Japan, it was never recognized. The formal end for the German concession only came with the Sino-German treaty of 20 May 1921, in which Germany relinquished her rights from the "Unequal Treaties“.