Thursday, August 19, 2010

Forgotten Imperial Outpost

In 1902, during the reign of the ambitious King Leopold II, Belgium obtained a concession in Tianjin, China. It was the smallest of all the international concessions and the Belgian government never invested in the property to the same extent as those of the other powers. The building and development that did go on was nowhere near as extensive as those of their neighbors and sadly no buildings remain from the era of Belgian rule. In 1904 a contract was agreed to by Belgium, the Chinese Empire and the Compagnie de Tramways et d’Eclairage de Tientsin which gave that body a monopoly on providing electricity in the Belgian concession. This led, in 1906, to the creation of a tramway system by the company which extended throughout all the foreign concessions in Tianjin which made that city the first in all of China to have a modern transportation network, Shanghai only having a similar system two years later.

Belgium produced the carriages for this system though the electrical equipment came from Germany. The provision of electricity and the trolley system proved extremely profitable for the original Belgian investors. In 1937 the Japanese army confiscated the property of the company. Japan took complete control in 1943 and the Belgian workers along with their families were taken captive by the Japanese and sent to prison camps. After World War II ended the Japanese, knowing their control was lost, offered control of the company to the Republic of China. This was done and the owners of the company, in Brussels, tried by legal means to obtain compensation from the Chinese for their lost property by the success of the communists put an end to all such efforts. The Belgian trolley network was later expanded and continued in operation until 1972.


  1. I have not forgotten it! I have linked from my latest post on the foreign concessions of Belgium in China, Africa and America. Perhaps when the western world gets tired of being the economic vassal of Communist China we will unite against them and all the countries will get their colonies and concessions back!

  2. For all my sympathy with monarchism, I would have chosen some other term to describe Leopold II other than "ambitious." The man was a monster. And the fact that he wore a crown in no way diminishes that unhappy fact. He did great harm to millions of people and the institution of monarchy. Thank God for his heir King Albert who restored the honor of his House.

  3. I have discussed Leopold II in some detail previously -this was not the place for it. I would not call him a "monster" nor do I try to whitewash his reputation. I would suggest taking a more skeptical attitude about popular portrayals of virtually anyone and take a look at what I have already said about the man.

  4. Leopold II was no monster, that is all hyperbole and propaganda. The fact is that he never harmed anyone himself, he never gave orders for others to harm anyone, he did not use the wealth he gained to enrich himself but poured it back into his country. Just as he promised he made his country more secure, more prosperous, more powerful and more grand than when he came to the throne.

    MM, I know we have had this argument before, but I think you are too critical overall also. Leopold II was a great man, not a perfect man but a great king.

  5. We have had this discussion before, I think I've been very fair and this is not the time to go into it again. The post was not about the King but about the Belgian concession.


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