The History of Sport Played in China's Treaty Ports

The Flag if the International Settlement incorporating the flags of the principal Treaty Powers.

Sports struggled on after the Communists had liberated Shanghai. These oarsmen from the Shanghai Rowing Club were rowing on Suzhou Creek  in late December 1950. 

  While they were incarcerated, the foreign concessions were handed back to the Chinese ending 100 years of Treaty Port Shanghai. 

The post War years saw foreigners in Shanghai adjusting to life as visitors to a foreign land, for the first time under the jurisdiction of Chinese law.

  Life remained uncertain as the Civil war raged in China. Things became clearer in May 1949 when Communist troops entered Shanghai. Within a few years most foreigners had left Shanghai leaving most of their possessions behind and for many three or four generations of ancestors in its cemeteries.

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The Stewards of the Paper Hunt Club were part of the social elite of Shanghai. Many were also involved in the  founding and running of the early Shanghai Football Clubs.

Along the Bund in the early 1900s the incongruous sight of a British 'Bobby' keeping an eye on the river.

An early map from the 1872 Hong List (Business Directory) showing how quickly Shanghai had developed in thirty years. The street layout in this part of Shanghai is virtually identical today. 

  Many foreign men left Shanghai during World War One to fight for their country but otherwise Shanghai was largely unaffected by the War.

  The 1920s saw sport in Shanghai continue to flourish benefitting from the influx of military personnel in Shanghai sent to protect the foreign powers interests from the growing nationalism of the Chinese, expressed most vociferously in the 30th May Incident in 1925.

  In the 1930s  foreigners were spectators of the Japanese aggression in China firstly in 1932 when Japan attacked the Chinese Zhabei district of Shanghai  during the first battle of Shanghai and then in 1937 when bombs fell on the International Settlement killing hundreds of Chinese who had sought refuge there.

  In December 1941 the Japanese invaded the International Settlement eventually sending foreigners to prison in Civil Assembly Centres.


  In 1848 the original area had already became too small and so land was allocated on the other size of Suzhou creek becoming the American Settlement. The French arrived in 1849 and negotiated their own settlement area in between the walled Chinese city and the British Settlement.

  When Shanghai was threatened by the Taiping Rebellion in 1853, huge numbers of Chinese fled into the International Settlements to relative safety. When the danger had passed they stayed. It had not been envisaged that native Chinese would reside in the Settlements but this was the catalyst for the extraordinary success of Shanghai as a Treaty Port and its source of wealth. The American and British areas joined together in 1863 to become the International Settlement. The French declined the offer of unity and maintained their independence. 

  To further protect the International Settlement the first Shanghai Volunteer Corps (SVC) was formed in 1853 and fought Qing Government troops in the Battle of Muddy Flat in 1854. Later that year the Shanghai Municipal Council was inaugurated and oversaw the development of the International Settlement.

  From the early 1860s life was settled enough for time to be spent on activities other than business and the securing the security of the concessions. Sporting clubs started sprouting up and intellectual pursuits such as the Amateur Dramatic Company and the Royal Asiatic Society were formed. 

  City amenities improved with the International Settlement's first park opening in 1868, a telephone exchange and electricity were first seen in 1882, and in 1883 the Shanghai Waterworks opened. Cars arrived in Shanghai in 1901, the Trams in 1908 and the first manned aeroplane flight in 1911.

 Shanghai's became a large manufacturing base in the 1880s drawing on the large influx of Chinese refugees desperate for work. When China lost the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 it became a Treaty Power and built hundreds of factories in the Hongkew district.

   The Mixed Court Riots in 1905 were a very visible sign that the Chinese population comprising more than 95% of the people in the International Settlement were willing and able to express their grievances forcefully.

   Shanghai owes its existence to its close proximity to the mighty Yangtze River. The Huang Pu river, alongside which the now famous Bund was built, heads downstream to Woosung where it meets the Yangtze river and shortly after the East China Sea and the World. Upstream on the Yangtze from Woosung lies the vast hinterland of China.

   Shanghai existed long before European Traders first visited it in 1832 and recognised its value as port. Shanghai was upgraded from a village to a market town in 1074 and became a county seat of the Songjiang prefecture in 1292. A city wall was built in 1554 to protect it from Japanese pirates. The increased security allowed trade to flourish.

  It was therefore a natural choice to become a Treaty Port in 1842. A small area of mud outside the city walls was given to the newly appointed British Consul and from this piece of land the Treaty Port of Shanghai grew. 

Shanghai