Italian Concession

Map drawn in November 1901 by the coastguard Filippo Vanzini. In Vincenzo Fileti, La Concessione Italiana di Tien-tsin, (Genova: Barabino e Graeve, 1921), p.13.With the signing of the ‘Final Protocol for the Settlement of the Disturbances of 1900’ on 7th September 1901, following the repression of the Boxers’ Rebellion, Italy received an allotment of 5.91% of the Boxers’ indemnity [26,617,005 haiguan taels -equal to 99,713,769 gold lire]. The country also received extraterritoriality privileges in the Legation Quarter in Beijing, and the concession, in perpetuity, of a small zone on the northern bank of the Haihe (Hai River) in Tianjin. The Italian concession, which measured 447,647 square meters in all, was set between the Austro-Hungarian and the Russian concessions, the left bank of the Haihe, the Beijing-Mukden (today’s Shenyang) railway track, and the Chinese territory.

The Sino-Italian agreement regarding the concession was signed by the Director of the Chinese Maritime Customs Tang Shaoyi and the Italian Ambassador Giovanni Gallina. The concession was meant ‘to promote the development of Italian trade in the northern part of China, and in the Zheli (Chi-li) province in particular’. The emphasis on the fact that: ‘The Italian Government will exercise full jurisdiction in the same way established for the concessions obtained by the other foreign powers’, corresponded to the acknowledgment of the long sought after equal treatment of Italy on the same level of the other colonial powers in China.

After a difficult start, the concession, with the new streets layout and European style villas, progressively assumed ‘the role of showcase of Italian art, with the import of decorating and building materials from the motherland’, especially for ‘the most representative objects, like the public buildings and the monumental fountain located at the centre for Queen Elena Square’ (Cardano, Porzio, 2004: 34).

The so-called ‘the aristocratic concession’ (Borgnino, 1936, 363-366; Pistolese, 1935: 306). attracted both other foreigners and high-ranking Chinese residents. Among them: political theorist Liang Qichao, Tianjin Mayors Zhang Tinge, Cheng Ke, and Zhou Longguang, journalist Liu Ranggong, playwright Cao Yu, calligrapher Hua Shikui, the infamous 1923-24 ‘bribing president’ Cao Kun, warlord general Tang Yulin, 1921 Minister of Interior Qi Yaoshan, military and civil governor of Heilongjiang Bao Guiqin, Wang Guangyuan, and wealthy silk businessman Meng Yangxuan, all resided in Italian buildings in the concession’s area.

By 1943 the concession still had a garrison of circa 600 Italian troops, but on 10 September 1943 it was occupied by Japan; since Mussolini's Italian Social Republic relinquished the concession to the Japanese sponsored Chinese National Government (which was neither recognized by the Kingdom of Italy, nor by the Republic of China). On 10 February 1947 it was formally ceded back to China by post-war Italy.