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History of Shanghai

Early History

The first evidence of settlements in the Shanghai region date to 5000 BC, although it wasn't until the 5th to 7th century that Shanghai developed as a small fishing village located in a swampy area where the Suzhou Creek enters the Huangpu River, some 12 miles from the outlet of Yangtze River – the greatest inland water highway of China. Suzhou Creek was then known as the Hu, for the fishing traps in the river, and had its source in the nearby Lake Tai. The name Hu is still in use as a short form to denote the city to this day. During the Tang Dynasty, the Shanghai area was incorporated into the county of Huating in AD 751. By the 12th century, Shanghai was a small market town (zhen). It benefited from its proximity to Hangzhou, the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) and in 1292 it became a county seat (xian).

Ming Dynasty

By the early 1400s, Shanghai was considered important enough for Ming Dynasty engineers to be at work dredging the Huangpu River (also known as shen). In 1553, a city wall was built around what is today's Shanghai's Old Town (Nanshi) as a defence against the depredations of the Wokou (Japanese pirates). In 1603, Shanghai had its first contact with the Jesuits. The great Shanghai scholar-bureaucrat Xu Guangqi, was baptised by the Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci. Xu later bequeathed some of his land in Shanghai, today's Xujiahui, meaning Xu family village, to the Catholic Church. By the end of the Ming Dynasty, in 1664, Shanghai had become a major cotton and textile centre; and its population would soon reach 200,000.

Qing Dynasty

During the late Qing Dynasty, Shanghai's economy began to rival that of the traditionally larger market at Suzhou. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, exports of cotton, silk, and fertiliser reached as far as Polynesia and Persia.

In 1832, the British East India Company explored Shanghai and the Yangzi River as a potential trading centre for tea, silk, and opium, but was rebuffed by local officials. The British then forced the Chinese to import British opium (which it produced in British India) by waging the First Opium War between 1839 and 1842. The Qing military forces that proved no match for the British. The war finally ended with the Treaty of Nanjing and Shanghai was one of five Chinese cities to be opened up to British consuls, merchants, and their families. Soon merchants from France, the USA, Germany and other foreign powers began to move into Shanghai, carving out for themselves sovereign "concessions" where they were not subject to Chinese laws. The British established their concession in 1845, the Americans in 1848 in Hongkou, north of Suzhou Creek, and the French set up their concession in 1849 west of the old Chinese city and south of the British Concession. In 1846, Peter Richards founded Richards' Hotel, the first western hotel in China. It would later become the Astor House. In 1850, the first English-language newspaper in Shanghai, the North China Herald, was launched.

The Taiping Rebellion was the largest of a number of widespread rebellions against the hugely unpopular Qing regime. In 1853, Shanghai was occupied by a triad offshoot of the rebels called the Small Swords Society. The fighting devastated much of the countryside but left the foreign settlements untouched.

In 1854 a group of Western businessmen met and formed the Shanghai Municipal Council to organise road repairs, refuse clearance and tax collection across the concessions. In 1863 the American concession (land fronting the Huangpu River to the north-east of Suzhou Creek) officially joined the British Settlement (stretching from Yang-ching-pang Creek to Suzhou Creek) to become the Shanghai International Settlement. Its waterfront became the internationally-famous Bund. The French concession, to the west of the old town, remained independent and the Chinese retained control over the original walled city and the area surrounding the foreign enclaves. By the late-1860s Shanghai's official governing body had been practically transferred from the individual concessions to the Shanghai Municipal Council. The International Settlement was wholly foreign-controlled with the British holding the largest number of seats on the Council and heading all the Municipal departments. No Chinese residing in the International Settlement were permitted to join the council until 1928.

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