In 1839, at the start of the First Opium War, Shanghai was a major trading port for the Jiangnan region, connecting it with the rest of China. It had first become an important trading center in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), and was given an official government in 1292 during the reign of the Shizu (世祖) Yuan Emperor. Shanghai grew with the Chinese economy, and by the Ming Dynasty was a center for trade, culture, and exchange of ideas. In 1543, under the Ming Emperor Jiajing, Shanghai was given a nine li (3 mile) wall to enclose the city proper and help protect it from pirates and the lawless from the countryside.
In 1842 the British attacked and occupied Shanghai. They used Yu Yuan as a base. It was to prove attractive to both defensive forces and occupiers. It was within the walled city and had walls itself, making it easier to contain and defend. It also had open space for supplies and troops. What they saw when they came to Shanghai was a highly developed intelligentsia and merchant culture. The city, though small by Chinese standards, had a population close to a half million including the supporting countryside.
November 17, 1845 marked the official beginning of the British concession in Shanghai. They occupied a muddy riverbank north of the walled city. The foreign population grew from 90 in 1845 to 265 in 1851. Among the first of the Europeans to build warehouses and offices in Shanghai were Jardine and Matheson, who had helped engineer the Opium War to support their own opium trade. The early fortunes of the new Shanghai, both among the foreigners and the Chinese, were based on opium. Jardine and Matheson, Sassoon and Sons, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, the Chartered Bank, and most of the other great houses on the Bund were largely built upon opium. Many great Chinese fortunes were also made, as they had the connections and understanding of the market to distribute the opium. Only gradually did the Europeans and Americans recognize the true value of Shanghai and develop trade based on the products of the Jiangnan region.
China Index >> History of Shanghai and Suzhou Region >> Yu Yuan
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Last update: February 2007
© Marilyn Shea 1996, 1999, 2002, 2007