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The Legation Cities, formally referred to as the International Mandate for the Concessions, Settlements and Legations in China are an international authority which encompasses the cities of Shanghai, Tianjin, Hong Kong, Ningbo, Fuzhou, Shantou, and a number of smaller inland concessions, established in the aftermath of the Shanghai Conference in summer 1928. Conceived as a solution to years of conflict in China and over the British Empire's former possessions as well as a means of ensuring equal and open access to the Chinese market, the Mandate is formally governed by a council of ambassadors representing the seven treaty-powers with constituent concessions; the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Russia, Japan, Flanders-Wallonia, and Austria-Hungary. This council is notoriously indecisive, and as a result a great deal of authority has been left in the hands of each city's governor or municipal council.

The Mandate's borders were established with the intent to create a thirty-mile "neutral zone" surrounding selected "strategic" coastal cities, into which no Chinese forces may enter under arms, though these zones and the concessions themselves legally remain a part of China. Within China, the Legation Cities border the League of Eight Provinces and the regions directly administered by the Central Government.


The Shanghai Scramble

The collapse of the British Empire and the subsequent withdrawal of the China Station to Australasia in 1925 placed its Chinese concessions in an uncomfortable position, and none more so than Hong Kong. As soon as its vulnerability became apparent, the nationalist Kuomintang in Guangzhou declared their intent to retake the city. With forces massing in preparation for the Northern Expedition the nationalists had an opportunity to make good on their promises and open their campaign with an unprecedented propaganda victory. The mere sixty miles separating Guangzhou and Hong Kong meant that Governor Claud Severn had to act quickly and, in keeping with the informal policy of mutual-assistance observed by the great powers in China, he sent a personal request to the German Guangzhouwan garrison for a guarantee of protection. The Germans were happy to comply, and within a matter of days over 3,000 German troops had taken up positions in Kowloon and the New Territories, with the prospect of prompt reinforcement from Indochina.

Berlin soon unilaterally extended this offer of protection to all of Britain’s concessions in China until the restoration of “responsible British Government” could be ensured, an offer soon echoed by virtually every power with a presence in the country. In what soon came to be called the “Shanghai Scramble”, German and Japanese troops began a series of standoffs across the remaining concessions, re-igniting tensions ostensibly extinguished with the Tsingtau Accord only three years prior. The American “China Marines” and 15th Infantry Regiment soon joined the bloodless struggle, later followed by token forces from Austria and Russia. Though Austrian and Russian forces departed after only two months, this general state of affairs persisted for nearly two years, as the respective sides delineated informal areas of control and regularly butted heads; interrupted only briefly by the Northern Expedition’s attempt to take the city in 1926.

The Jade Wind Incident

By 1928, Zhili forces had defeated the Kuomintang, installed Qing Emperor Xuantong, and begun another war against their former Fengtian allies in the north. As Sun Chuanfang’s divisions moved to the front and the economy took a turn for the worse, a certain level of lawlessness returned to areas of Eastern China, quickly exploited by KMT remnants, bandits, and other unsavory elements. Foreigners became frequent targets, and when a train travelling from Shanghai to Nanjing was derailed outside Suzhou and its occupants kidnapped, the Japanese garrison in Shanghai unilaterally seized the opportunity to mount an ostensible rescue expedition. Due to the absence of any warning and the ongoing war to the north, Chinese and Japanese forces quickly escalated into a shooting war before superiors in Nanjing, Shanghai, or Tokyo were notified. Germany, with a vested interest in supporting the Chinese, and its garrison still silently facing off against Japanese marines, threatened to intercede. For nearly forty eight hours the conflict looked likely to escalate even further as the sides assessed the situation and officials in Berlin and Tokyo frantically aimed to avoid war.

A solution emerged when the United States offered to mediate and organize a ceasefire for the areas surrounding Shanghai, if at a price. The Americans insisted on a “permanent solution” to the balance of power conflict in East Asia in addition to the desired de-escalation of the immediate crisis. Despite reservations, both Germany and Japan were eager to avoid a larger conflict, and organized a conference in Shanghai involving those powers with treaty commitments in China. Soon, what had begun as an attempt to merely resolve conflict further developed into a comprehensive restructuring of the relationship between China and the international powers, heavily shaped by an American insistence on “Open Doors” through which all nations could trade equally with China. The success of the agreement, creating an International Mandate for the Chinese Concessions, was dependent on Japan’s hopes to avoid further international isolation, German desires to expand influence in China without further significant military commitment, and American aspirations to preserve their own position despite a public with little desire for military adventurism.

The Creation of the International Mandate

The new Mandate, commonly referred to as the “Legation Cities” after the Legation Quarter in Beijing where its existence was formally declared, is now an expanded and modified version of the earlier “International Settlement” in Shanghai; each city retaining its historic national districts but operating under a shared governor or local municipal council, themselves in turn theoretically subordinate to the “Consular Council” representing the interests of each member state. Despite the peace brought to China by the subsequent armistice between warring Chinese factions, this new order was soon challenged.

Shanghai had long been the symbolic heart of China’s leftist movement, and with the failure of the Northern Expedition to take the city several years ago, insurrectionist forces had retreated into hiding; conserving their strength and waiting for a new and better opportunity. By 1932 a combination of restlessness and disgust at blatant corruption had spurred these forces back into action, and in alignment with agrarian KMT remnants in the countryside, they launched a general uprising in and around Shanghai; sparking similar risings in Nanjing, Wuhan, and several cities along the Southeastern Coast. Though the movement floundered and failed within a matter of weeks it highlighted a few important developments, chief among them the difficulty in defending the Mandate itself.

The Consular Council proved too slow to react to the rapidly growing threat, as its members feared sparking a crisis between still-hostile German and Japanese troops, and the Shanghai Municipal Council found its volunteer forces inadequate to effectively secure the entire thirty-miles of the “Neutral Zone” surrounding the city. After some time and despite fierce Japanese protest, LEP troops were permitted to enter the zone under the command of German officers, with the German diplomatic corps arguing that this made them “German” and not “Chinese”. Though this solution ended the uprising, it set a precedent for increasingly direct German interference in Chinese affairs, enraged the Japanese, and deeply embarrassed the Legation authorities.


Shanghai and Tianjin

Together the cities of Shanghai and Tianjin dominate China's commercial, financial, and industrial scenes; in turn serving as the political and economic axis around which the other cities function. The German seizure of the large French Concession in 1919 invited a new class of German businessmen, riding the victory of the Weltkrieg, and all too happy to cash in on Anglo-French misery; buying up stocks, investments, and businesses wherever available. These were soon met by a growing number of Japanese, their government keen to counter the increased German presence, and though the French Concession is now German, the Hongkou district is known as “Little Tokyo”. While Americans were also quick to flood into Shanghai, especially during the Weltkrieg, the long years of the depression and their country’s overall isolationism have made them less competitive than they might otherwise be. All the same, Shanghai is still in large part an Anglo-American city, with many of its older elite riding out the turmoil of last decade from their penthouse suites; benefiting from local accounts more isolated from international markets, as well as a consistently favorable exchange rate.

Shanghai's bustling waterfront, known locally as "The Bund".

Behind the scenes, the criminal elements that had long called Shanghai their home have seen a period of consolidation under the dominant Green Gang, and play their own role in the city’s power dynamics, extending influence over the Municipal Council and throughout the lower Yangtze Valley; building connections necessary to facilitate a thriving trade in opium and other smuggled goods. For every cent made legitimately, three are made on the grey or black markets, and the city exhibits a wide selection of brothels, gambling houses, and dive bars, earning it a disreputable reputation in more conservative circles. Its bright neon lights cannot conceal a shadow behind every celebrity, and to get anywhere or be anyone, you need the right friends or better yet the right money.

The city of Tianjin bears a number of similarities to Shanghai, its informal rival, coming only second within China in terms of wealth and industrialization. However, in contrast, it might be considered a slower and more “dignified” city by European standards. Unlike Shanghai’s winding back-streets and alleyways, Tianjin’s core was restructured at the start of the century by the occupying Eight Nation Alliance, resulting in wider streets and fairly modern utilities. Instead of the bustling Bund dedicated to commerce and industry, Tianjin’s concessions boast elaborate mansions, many dating back to late last century, and nearby lies China’s largest (by Tianjin’s own reckoning) banking sector. Instead of the wealthy remittance men who famously crowd Shanghai’s hotels and entertainment, Tianjin traditionally houses the aristocratic and powerful; fallen Manchu princes, disgraced politicians, and exiles from the defeated European empires. Though it may not be Beijing, widely considered an “old style” city, the hustle, bustle, and bright lights of Shanghai are met in Tianjin with a slower pace, and never quite the same high-speed brush with modernity.

A general view of the Japanese concession around 1920

However, beyond the old concessions and the banking sector lie the city’s industrial districts; born out of Tianjin’s role as Northern China’s largest railway junction, its extensive dockyards, and its proximity to the capital in Beijing. Here the Green Gang rules, albeit not so thoroughly as in Shanghai, and the city’s extensive light industry finds its labor unions as tied to organized crime as they are to syndicalist revolutionaries. Though the city is by no means as crime ridden as Shanghai, its darker side is hard to ignore, and numerous crackdowns over the past several years have failed to displace any number of known and unknown undesirables.

The Southeastern Concessions

The Mandate concessions along China’s Southeast coast bear little resemblance to the rest, being in large part leftovers from an earlier colonial era; a time when travel was slower and China’s interior remained mostly impenetrable. Originally intended to provide access to smaller regional markets and inland prospecting, the cities of Fuzhou, Wenzhou, and Shantou are by no means industrial or financial centers, and instead deal mostly in commerce. This isn’t to say that they lack any industry at all. Indeed they possess more than some Chinese cities combined, but this pales in comparison to the other coastal concessions, and even some inland cities like Wuhan, Beijing, and Nanjing.

Additionally, while the creation of the Legation Cities and the neutral zone surrounding each extended their boundaries considerably, all three concessions were formerly very small. As such relatively few foreigners and even less foreign investment have made their way far beyond the old limits. This has left their foreign populations small and their garrisons even smaller, making them questionably worthwhile to defend in the event of war.

Hong Kong

Originally a small British trading concession, Hong Kong grew with major waves of Chinese immigration during both the Taiping Rebellion in the 1850s and the Bubonic Plague pandemic that ravaged China and India in the 1890s. The result is a large and thriving city, but not one tied to any provincial or ethnic identity. Indeed one of Hong Kong’s richest men, Robert Hotung, would make the statement that no part of Hong Kong was “truly indigenous”. That didn’t stop him being a sponsor of the Xinhai Revolution with his considerable wealth of course. Despite the collapse of the British Empire, Hong Kong under German protection has continued steady growth and stands at just under a million people in 1936.

Hong Kong as seen from Victoria Bay

Hong Kong’s government is run by the Legislative and Executive Councils of Hong Kong, established in 1843 by Queen Victoria, as of 1888 the governor of Hong Kong is also the president of the Legislative Council and must act with the advice and consent of said council. The legislative council consists of a variable number of members, half of whom are government officials in the Hong Kong Civil Service and half of whom are “Unofficial Members” appointed by the governor. The Executive Council is similar, albeit comprised of only six “Official” members and six “Unofficial” members. In particular the Hong Kong-Shanghai Banking Corporation and the Taipan of Jardines are two of those unofficial members. In other words Hong Kong is at the center of the interests of the Anglo business community, even as Shanghai grows larger and more successful than it.

The Inland Concessions

The Inland concessions, like those along the Southeastern Coast, date from an earlier era. Most were originally intended to host waystations, warehouses, and Christian missions, and have minuscule populations and almost no defensibility whatsoever. The only exception to this rule are the concessions in Wuhan, which are somewhat larger, if little more defensible. During the siege of Wuhan in 1926, most of the foreign population fled down-river to Shanghai and, while they have since returned, most would be quick to repeat the exercise if again threatened. Even Wuhan, despite its size and position near one of China’s larger industrial centers, is not all that profitable compared to its major coastal cousins which profit from transoceanic trade and finance.


International Mandate

The only change in leadership in the Legation Council's short history has been the replacement of Stirling Fessenden with his chosen successor, Nelson Trusler Johnson. Then, in the heyday of the Cities in 1932, there was no doubt in any ambassador's mind that a continued American presence was needed, and the transfer of power was smooth.

After 4 years of instability in the United States, the Germans and Japanese delegations, each of which were receiving constant communications from their government instructing them to secure the post of High Commissioner, argued constantly that their opposite number and America were both incapable of protecting the consular powers interests in the Far East, and that only their nation could successfully keep the peace. However, the British ambassador has dealt with differences with the United States, potentially forging a partnership and ruling the Council in the future.

But the representatives of the United States and the United Kingdom have their own problems. Johnson himself appeared quite worn out, and the voice of America in the chamber was mostly provided by Patrick Jay Hurley, the current Deputy Commissioner. As a well-known lawyer in Shanghai, Cornell Franklin assisted them. Norman Lockhart Smith, both Governor of Hong Kong and British representative, has been loyal to the Crown but has local connections and may prefer to act independently. Cecil Clementi, the former governor of Hong Kong, had overseen Smith, but to little effect. So the Britishs prefer Mark Aitchison Young, a more loyal civil servant stationed in the West Indies Federation, to take his position.

In addition, Austria-Hungary, Russia and Flanders-Wallonia were exerting their weak influence over the Council. Erwin von Zach was the Austro-Hungarian delegate, he was trying to play a neutral mediator role. Pyotr Genrikhovich Tiedemann as Russian representative and Tony Snyers as Flemish-Walloon representative did their best to preserve the paltry interests of their respective countries.

Representatives to the Legation Council

Nation Representatives
United States

Nelson Trusler Johnson

Patrick Jay Hurley

Cornell Franklin

United Kingdom

Norman Lockhart Smith

Mark Aitchison Young

Cecil Clementi


Siegmund Bodenheimer


Katsuo Okazaki


Erwin von Zach


Pyotr Genrikhovich Tiedemann

Flanders-Wallonia Tony Snyers

The Legation Cities Defense Force

The Legations Cities are guaranteed protection from The German Empire, Austria, Japan, The United States, and the remnants of the British Empire.

International Volunteer Corps

The Legation cities have a defense force made up of a handful of divisions under it's control to defend them in case of an immeditate attack. The International Volunteer Corps is formed from expats and foreign volunteers who are willing to sign up to protect the Legation Cities.

Foreign Relations


The depression suffered by the United States and many other countries left China largely unscathed, and the inconclusive end to the last Zhili-Fengtian conflict has allowed Tianjin and Shanghai to serve as an economic bridge between the prosperous Northeast and the rest of China. Shanghai in particular thrives as the second largest city in East Asia and a cultural capital of the world, drawing performers, writers, and artists of every variety. However, this outward economic success betrays immense social and economic inequality along racial lines. The country also has robust banking sector.


its capital of Shanghai has drawn many writers and artists over the years, while the port of Hong Kong has become a safe haven for British Exiles.

See also