Shanghai International Settlement - History of The Shanghai International Settlement - The Municipal Council

The Municipal Council

On 11 July 1854 a committee of Western businessmen met and held the first annual meeting of the Shanghai Municipal Council, ignoring protests of consular officials, and laid down the Land Regulations which established the principles of self-government. The aims of this first Council were simply to assist in the formation of roads, refuse collection, and taxation across the disparate 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. The French concession remained independent and the Chinese retained control over the original walled city and the area surrounding the foreign enclaves. This would later result in sometimes absurd administrative outcomes, such as needing three drivers' licenses to travel through the complete city.

By the late-1860s Shanghai's official governing body had been practically transferred from the individual concessions to the Shanghai Municipal Council (工部局, literally "Works Department", from the standard English local government title of 'Board of works'). The British Consul was the de jure authority in the Settlement, but he had no actual power unless the ratepayers (who voted for the Council) agreed. Instead, he and the other consulates deferred to the Council.

The International Settlement was wholly foreign-controlled, with staff of all nationalities, including British, Americans, Danes, and Germans. In reality, the British held the largest number of seats on the Council and headed all the Municipal departments (British included Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, Newfoundlanders, and South Africans whose extraterritorial rights were established by the United Kingdom treaty). The only department not chaired by a Briton was the Municipal Orchestra, which was controlled by an Italian.

No Chinese residing in the International Settlement were permitted to join the council until 1928. Amongst the many members who served on the council, its chairman during the 1920s, Stirling Fessenden, is possibly the most notable. An American, he served as the settlement's main administrator during Shanghai's most turbulent era, and was considered more "British" than the council's British members. He oversaw many of the major incidents of the decade, including the May 30th Movement and the White Terror that came with the Shanghai massacre of 1927.

The International Settlement maintained its own fire-service, police force (the Shanghai Municipal Police), and even possessed its own military reserve in the Shanghai Volunteer Corps (萬國商團). Following some disturbances at the British concession in Hankow in 1927, the defences at Shanghai were augmented by a permanent battalion of the British Army, which was referred to as 'The Shanghai Defence Force' (SDF or SHAF), and a contingent of US Marines. Other armed forces would arrive in Shanghai; the French Concession had a defensive force of Annamite troops, the Italians also introduced their own marines, as did the Japanese (whose troops eventually outnumbered the other countries' many times over).

By the mid-1880s, the Council had become a practical monopoly over the city's businesses. It bought up all the local gas-suppliers, electricity producers and water-companies, then — during the 20th-century — took control over all non-private rickshaws and the Settlement tramways. It also regulated opium sales and prostitution until their banning in 1918 and 1920 respectively.

Until the late-1920s, therefore, the SMC and its subsidiaries, including the police, power station, and public works, were British dominated (though not controlled, since Britain itself had no authority over the Council). Some of the Settlement's actions during this period, such as the May 30th Movement, in which Chinese demonstrators were shot by members of the Shanghai Municipal Police, did embarrass and threaten the British Empire's position in China even though they were not carried out by "Britain" itself.

In summary, the International Settlement was not a British possession in the sense that Hong Kong or Weihaiwei were, and was instead ruled as a self-governing treaty port under the terms of the Treaty of Nanking 1842. Chinese sovereignty still prevailed on the territory, but individuals who were not Chinese and were members of the Fourteen Favoured Nations (Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, France, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States) enjoyed extraterritoriality. The SMC did however exercise a considerable degree of political autonomy over both foreign and Chinese within its borders.

Read more about this topic:  Shanghai International Settlement, History of The Shanghai International Settlement

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