Russian Concession

A treaty granting territory in Tianjin to the Russian Empire was signed on December 31st 1900 by Li Hung-Chang, Viceroy of Chihli, and the Russian Minister de Giers. Russian troops present in the city since the Boxer uprising had already begun placing boundary markers. The concession now officially established on the left bank of the Peiho River was larger than any of the others then extant. The preamble to the agreement stated that this was due to “Russian trade at Tientsin being on the increase” the new Russian Consul, Poppé, was perhaps more candid when he admitted to his British counterpart that “although the commercial interests of Russia at Tientsin were not important her political interests were”.

The acquisition of the Tianjin concession was part of a wider and somewhat haphazard Russian policy in East Asia, the direction of which was the subject of bitter infighting between ministries in St. Petersburg. Central to the dispute was the question of whether to proceed mainly by means of economic penetration or through territorial expansion. Some two months before the official treaty the General in charge of the Russian forces in the city had already laid claim to the future concession by right of conquest. Subsequently Consul Poppé stressed that the Russian concession would be run on “the same liberal lines” as the others and foreign interests respected.

The concession was never fully developed, and whatever hopes were nurtured for it were never realised. From its inception amid the fallout of the Boxer uprising, through war with Japan and the revolution of 1905, to the Chinese and Russian revolutions of 1911 and 1917, its short span of existence offers a window onto an extraordinary series of globally significant events. How its inhabitants perceived and reacted to these events, in which they had immediate emotional or material interests, may well provide new perspectives on this turbulent, transitional period in the history of both the Russian and Chinese states.