Jie Li


The article illustrates the history of Shamian, which is a small and obscure island located in the very corner of Guangzhou, China. This place had been leased as a concession to Britain until 1943. The history and development of Shamian concession was coincided with the first Sino-British encounter and the opening of China to the West, and it symbolized the imperial partition as well as the social transformation of China. In this article, the author traces back the origin of Shamian, its beautiful environment and surroundings, its European life style, its unique cultural atmosphere, its British-based institutions, its segregation and discriminative policy against Chinese, which led to the upheavals of many Chinese residents culminating in the large Sino-British conflicts and massacre in 1925, when the place was under siege for more than one year. After the incident, both Chinese and British claimed they were ignorant and on the right side of history, and it was the other side should take the responsibility for the occurrence of the tragedy. Such dispute continues to the present as an unsettled historical case. Shamian finally returned to the Chinese rule at the end of World War II, which closed the last chapter of foreign colonialism in Chinese history. After the Communist government took power in 1949, China was closed to the West for almost thirty years, and Shamian became the best teaching example of anti-imperialism for the Red China. Only until Deng Xiaoping, who initiated the new national policy of “openness and reform”, took power in 1978, did Shamian begin to change its outlook which resembled more like its pre-1949 face. Since then, Shamian has been rebuilt with its previous European style architectures and cultural relics. It is a special district of foreign consulates in the city of Guangzhou and it becomes China’s symbol of opening to the whole world. For many Westerners, Shamian arouses their nostalgic feeling of a little mirror of Europe in modern China. But for many Chinese, this place recalled an era of capitulationism and impotence; many labelled it as one of China’s monuments of national humiliation, especially after the outbreak of the incident in 1925, Shamian was increasingly stigmatized by the jingoists as a symbol of foreign imperialism in China. At the end, however, no one can deny that the concession not only contributed to the modernization of Guangzhou, but also set China on the irreversible course of modernity. Under the rule of European and the influence of Western civilization, the former foreign enclave once became a very cosmopolitan place in a backward China. The island had aroused so many romantic memories for the Westerners, and at least it had created a niche in the history of modern China as well as in the history of British Empire.

Як цитувати

Li, J. (2023). A FORGOTTEN CORNER IN THE BRITISH EMPIRE – A CONCISE HISTORY OF SHAMIAN IN MODERN CHINA, 1859–1943. Китаєзнавчі дослідження, (4), 5-12. https://doi.org/10.51198/chinesest2023.04.005
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Ключові слова

Shamian, concession, British empire, foreign imperialism, modern China, European, Guangzhou, massacre, incident

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