In a city of 20 million, there is always noise. The commotion never stops—the rumble of traffic, the familiar din of the metro line, the early morning staccato of jackhammers. But beyond the cacophony and bright lights there is another Shanghai—the Former French Concession.
When China lost the Opium Wars in 1842, it was forced to open itself to foreign trade, and to cede portions of its cities to colonial powers including the United States, Japan, and various European countries. Shanghai sacrificed much of its territory in a series of concessions where swaths of the city were leased, occupied and governed by these foreign governments. The occupying government’s citizens were given the right to freely inhabit, trade, and travel in these concessions—in some cases Chinese citizens were no longer welcome—making the areas effectively little slices of that foreign country, inserted in the middle of Chinese cities.