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Shanghai International Settlement

Last modified: 2006-07-22 by phil nelson
Keywords: china | shanghai |
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[Shanghai international settlement]
Željko Heimer and Antonio Martins

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Flag of the Shanghai international settlement

There were three municipalities in Shanghai. The international settlement, represented by the flag above, was governed by a municipal council elected by the acceptable foreign, and later Chinese, ratepayers. France ended its special status in 1946 in exchange for the Chinese evacuation of the northern parts of Vietnam
Phil Abbey, 28 October 1997

The motto means "All Joined in One", which referred to the multinational participation in the Shanghai International Settlement.
Miles Li, 14 June 2006

I make the Chinese characters to be 工部局.
Jonathan Dixon, 26 June 2006

The phrase is pronounced (in Mandarin) "Gong Bu Ju".

It means "Works Department", indicating the Shanghai Municipal Council's main role (in the eyes of the Chinese population) of maintaining the public infrastructure within the Shanghai International Settlement.
Miles Li, 27 June 2006

Origins of the flag

Some time ago I shared with this group the flag used by the International Settlement at Shanghai. The following link describes it in full. For those with weak web access I have included the text. Tales of Old Shanghai


From the North China Herald, July 8, 1916

The following notes from a correspondent of antiquarian tastes will be of interest to many who have wondered how the Municipal Seal came into existence.

The Municipal Seal at present in use was designed by Mr. Oliver, the then Municipal Engineer, was approved by the Council in December, 1868 and brought into use in April, 1869.

At that time 11 countries had treaties with China. These, in the order of the dates of their treaties, are as follows: Russia, Great Britain, America, France, Belgium, Sweden and Norway, Germany (i.e. Prussia), Denmark, Netherlands, Spain, Italy.

With the exception of Belgium the flags of all these countries are included, whereas Austria and Portugal are represented, although they apparently had no treaties.

The flags represented are as follows:

Top left hand shield: Great Britain, America, France, Germany.

Top right hand shield: Russia, Denmark, Italy, Portugal.

Lower Shield: Norway and Sweden, Austria, Spain, Holland.

Countries having treaties with China but whose flags are not represented on the shield are: Belgium, Japan, Cuba, Brazil.

There is a considerable amount of contortion of the flags although this is apparently unavoidable. This can only be detected by noting from which side each flag is supposed to be hung. The system adopted has been that, looking from the centre, the flag pole is supposed to be on the left of the flag.

There was a considerable amount of objection to the design of the seal, and in 1870 Mr. Oliver prepared another in the form of a Shield with four quarters showing a railway train opposite a pagoda, a steamer opposite to a junk, and the word "Priress" underneath. This together with a heterogeneous assortment of other designs was exhibited, but at the Ratepayers Meeting which followed it was agreed that none of the new designs proved entirely satisfactory, and, on the motion of Mr. T. W. Kingsmill, it was decided that "the present seal shall remain as the common seal of the Council until the production of a more satisfactory design."

In 1895 Mr. Mayne pointed out that the council of the seal is faulty, but the Council decided that as it had been in use so long no change was desirable.

Phil Abbey, 15 November 1998

My father (now 80 yrs.) and step mom were both residents of the Shanghai International Settlement during the Japanese occupation years. He has a slightly different version of the municipal seal used on the flag, one that is missing the German flag and is simply a white space where the flag would have been. He tells me this modification was a protest against the German European aggression of the time. He has more information regarding this, as the seal was used on other items such as school tie pins and probably the school flag, too. The area schools were not co-educational, so the girls school may well have a different but similar flag design.
Andy Kliene, 5 December 2000

Dubious depiction

I have an interesting image, scanned from the book Shanghai Girl Gets All Dressed Up by Beverley Jackson (Ten Speed Press, 2005) which shows the seal of the Shanghai International Settlement on the hoist side of a yellow pennant, with the Chinese Imperial dragon on the fly, facing the hoist. This was from a label promoting the Astor House, one of the premier Western hotels in that city during the 1920's and 1930's. The image is 618KB, I would be happy to send it to anyone offlist. I find it a very striking image.
Roger Moyer, 11 December 2005

I believe this dragon flag was not a "real" flag: it had a sloped bottom, as is the norm for western-style burgees, not the traditional Chinese-style flag with a horizontal bottom.

But there's more to this flag. The Italian flag on the emblem was shown as red-white-red, not green-white-red. Also the dragon had only four claws on each foot; the designer of this flag must have known that it was a capital offence for a Chinese commoner to display five-clawed dragons (although this would not really matter for the designer, since the Shanghai Municipality enjoyed extraterritoriality)

I must however point out that it was common for early 20th Century Chinese printed matters to feature flags, which were often portrayed quite liberally.
Miles Li, 18 December 2005