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This article examines the notion of ‘informal imperialism’ in East Asia and extends the related historiographical debate to the Italian case-study by focusing on liberal Italy's concession at Tianjin city port from 1902 through 1922. By doing so, it provides a fresh perspective on Italy's sole concession in China as well as offering specific theoretical insights and historical details that have not been sufficiently discussed in the literature pertaining to Italian expansionism in the liberal years. Within the context of an Italian informal imperial structure at its inception, the study carries out an historical investigation by using the economic lens on the one hand, and the political-administrative one on the other. In this way, it advances the current discussion about informal imperialism(s) in Tianjin by surveying issues pertaining not only to Italian trade, finance, and investments in imperial settings but also to foreign self-government and the establishment of an Italian Municipal Council as tools of imperial power relations. Based on a variety of Italian-language historical sources, archival material, and related academic works, the analysis is further enriched with comparisons drawn from the English-language scholarship on the British and the Japanese informal empires.
I wish to express my gratitude to the two anonymous referees for their useful comments in advising improvements to the final version. This study is dedicated to Professor Andre Liebich, exemplary teacher and mentor; and to the dear memory of Hayat.
1 For a partial exception, see Nicola Labanca, Oltremare: storia dell'espansione coloniale italiana (Bologna, 2002), pp. 19–23, 27–9, where the author briefly mentions the ‘informal’ and ‘formal’ empires of other European powers as well as the commercial influence of pre-unification Italian states as a way of providing the historical context for a full discussion on Italian colonialism in Africa. On Italy's colonial expansion in the African continent see also Angelo Del Boca, Gli italiani in Africa orientale (4 vols., Rome, 1976–86); idem, Gli italiani in Libia: Tripoli bel suol d'amore, 1860–1922 (Trento, 1993); Ruth Ben-Ghiat and Mia Fuller, eds., Italian colonialism (New York, NY, and Basingstoke, 2005); Jacqueline Andall and Derek Duncan, eds., Italian colonialism: legacy and memory (Oxford and Bern, 2005). On Italian expansionism in the East Mediterranean and the Ottoman Empire, see Luca Pignataro, Il Dodecaneso italiano, 1912–1947 (2 vols., Chieti, 2011); and Richard A. Webster, Industrial imperialism in Italy, 1908–1915 (Berkeley, CA, and London, 1975). On Italy in China, see among others Maurizio Marinelli and Giovanni Andornino, eds., Italy's encounters with modern China: imperial dreams, strategic ambitions (New York, NY, 2014); Andrea Francioni, Il ‘banchetto cinese’: l'Italia fra le treaty powers (Siena, 2004); as well as de Courten, Ludovica, ‘L'Italia e le potenze in Cina nel XX secolo: missioni, eserciti e diplomazia’, Clio: Rivista Trimestrale di Studi Storici, 39 (2003), pp. 411–38.
2 See Gallagher, John and Robinson, Ronald, ‘The imperialism of free trade’, Economic History Review, 6 (1953), pp. 1–15; Wolfgang J. Mommsen and Jürgen Osterhammel, eds., Imperialism and after: continuities and discontinuities (London, 1986).
3 See Robert Bickers, Britain in China: community, culture and colonialism, 1900–1949 (Manchester and New York, NY, 1999); Chung, Tan, ‘The unequal treaty system: infrastructure of irresponsible imperialism’, China Report, 17 (1981), pp. 3–33; Peter Duus, Ramon H. Myers, and Mark R. Peattie, eds., The Japanese informal empire in China, 1895–1937 (Princeton, NJ, 1989); Dryburgh, Marjorie, ‘Japan in Tianjin: settlers, state and the tensions of empire before 1937’, Japanese Studies, 27 (2007), pp. 19–34; Forbes, Ian L. D., ‘German informal imperialism in South America before 1914’, Economic History Review, 31 (1978), pp. 384–98.
4 See for example the collection of essays in Robert Bickers and Christian Henriot, eds., New frontiers: imperialism's new communities in East Asia, 1842–1953 (Manchester and New York, NY, 2000); as well as Bickers, Robert, ‘Shanghailanders: the formation and identity of the British settler community in Shanghai, 1843–1937’, Past and Present, 159 (1998), pp. 161–211.
5 Francioni, Il ‘banchetto cinese’; Labanca, Oltremare.
6 Marinelli, Maurizio, ‘The genesis of the Italian concession in Tianjin: a combination of wishful thinking and realpolitik’, Journal of Modern Italian Studies, 15 (2010), pp. 536–56.
7 Marinelli, Maurizio, ‘Self-portrait in a convex mirror: colonial Italy reflects on Tianjin’, Transtext(e)s-Transcultures, 3 (2007), pp. 119–50.
8 Marinelli, Maurizio, ‘Making concessions in Tianjin: heterotopia and Italian colonialism in mainland China’, Urban History, 36 (2009), pp. 399–425; idem, ‘An Italian “neighbourhood” in Tianjin: Little Italy or colonial space?’, in Bryna Goodman and David S. G. Goodman, eds., Twentieth-century colonialism and China: localities, the everyday and the world (London and New York, NY, 2012), pp. 92–107; idem, ‘Projecting italianità on the Chinese space: the construction of the “aristocratic” concession in Tianjin, 1901–1947’, in Marinelli and Andornino, eds., Italy's encounters, especially pp. 7–13.
9 De Angeli, Aglaia, ‘Italian land auctions in Tianjin: Italian colonialism in early twentieth-century China’, Journal of Modern Italian Studies, 15 (2010), pp. 557–72.
10 See Luigi Nuzzo, ‘Italiani in Cina: la concessione di Tien Tsin’, in Aldo Mazzacane, ed., Diritto, economia e istituzioni nell’ Italia fascista (Baden-Baden, 2002), pp. 255–80.
11 Gian Marco Cavallarin and Barbara Henry, eds., Gli ebrei in Cina e il caso di Tien Tsin: convivenze nella Cina moderna (Livorno, 2012).
12 Sabina Donati, ‘Citizenship and identity issues in the Italian concession of Tientsin, 1902–1922’, in Jaci Eisenberg and Davide Rodogno, eds., Ideas and identities: a Festschrift for Andre Liebich (Bern and Oxford, 2014), pp. 43–62.
13 Peter Duus, ‘Japan's informal empire in China, 1895–1937: an overview’, in Duus, Myers, and Peattie, eds., Japanese informal empire, p. xiv.
14 Robert Bickers and Christian Henriot, ‘Introduction’, in idem and idem, eds., New frontiers, p. 4.
15 Jürgen Osterhammel, Colonialism: a theoretical overview, trans. Shelley L. Frisch (Princeton, NJ, 1997), pp. 18–21; Duus, ‘Japan's informal empire’, pp. xiv–vii.
16 See Charles R. Fay, ‘The movement towards free trade, 1820–1853’, in John Holland Rose, Arthur P. Newton, and Ernst A. Benians, eds., The Cambridge history of the British empire (8 vols., Cambridge, 1929–59), ii, p. 399; Gallagher and Robinson, ‘Imperialism of free trade’, pp. 1–15. The latter seminal work has given rise to a dynamic academic dialogue on various accounts of European imperialisms: see, for instance, Forbes, ‘German informal imperialism’, pp. 384–98; Henri L. Wesseling, ‘Imperialism and empire: an introduction’, in Mommsen and Osterhammel, eds., Imperialism and after, pp. 1–10; Jürgen Osterhammel, ‘Semi-colonialism and informal empire in twentieth-century China: towards a framework of analysis’, in Mommsen and Osterhammel, eds., Imperialism and after, pp. 290–314; Locher-Scholten, Elsbeth, ‘Dutch expansion in the Indonesian archipelago around 1900 and the imperialism debate’, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 25 (1994), pp. 91–111.
17 Gallagher and Robinson, ‘Imperialism of free trade’, p. 1.
18 Ibid., p. 7.
19 Duus, ‘Japan's informal empire’, pp. xv–vi.
20 Ibid. As John K. Fairbank reminds us, the term ‘gunboat diplomacy’, shaping the entire historical context of informal imperialism in East Asia, refers to ‘the technique of supporting allegedly legitimate demands for one's treaty rights by the threat of using naval force’. It was characterized by very visible and symbolic actions, as the foreign Powers would demand redress to recalcitrant Chinese authorities by sending a gunboat to the port and threatening to use military and naval force. John K. Fairbank, ‘The creation of the treaty system’, in John K. Fairbank, ed., The Cambridge history of China (15 vols., Cambridge, 1978–2015), x, p. 232. Also, for a discussion on how gunboats and steamships became not just the instruments but also the very symbols of European power in Asia, see Headrick, Daniel R., ‘The tools of imperialism: technology and the expansion of European colonial empires in the nineteenth century’, Journal of Modern History, 51 (1979), pp. 231–63, at pp. 234–44.
21 Osterhammel, ‘Semi-colonialism’, p. 300; Duus, ‘Japan's informal empire’, pp. xviii–ix.
22 This figure is taken from Albert Feuerwerker, ‘The foreign presence in China’, in Fairbank, ed., Cambridge history of China, xii, p. 129.
23 On the formation, developments, and working of extraterritoriality as a legal and historical concept, see the detailed study of Pär Kristoffer Cassel, Grounds of judgment: extraterritoriality and imperial power in nineteenth-century China and Japan (Oxford, 2012).
24 See Fairbank, ‘Creation of the treaty system’, pp. 216–17, 259–60; Feuerwerker, ‘Foreign presence in China’, pp. 128–9, 150–5; Catellani, Enrico, ‘I “settlements” europei e i privilegi degli stranieri nell’ estremo oriente: parte II – sviluppo dei “settlements” e loro ordinamento giuridico’, Atti del Reale Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, 62 (1902–3), pp. 395–405; Santi Romano, Corso di diritto coloniale (2 vols., Rome, 1918), i, pp. 94–6.
25 Fairbank, ‘Creation of the treaty system’, pp. 218–27. The general Chinese nickname of yang guizi (ocean devils) is emphasized in Chung's discussion, ‘Unequal treaty system’, p. 24.
26 Romano, Corso di diritto coloniale, i, pp. 94–9; Gennaro Mondaini, La legislazione coloniale italiana nel suo sviluppo storico e nel suo stato attuale, 1881–1940 (2 vols., Milan, 1941), ii, pp. 896–7; Nuzzo, ‘Italiani in Cina’, pp. 264–8.
27 Chung, ‘Unequal treaty system’, pp. 11–16.
28 Marinelli, Maurizio, ‘The encounter between Italy and China: two countries, multiple stories’, Journal of Modern Italian Studies, 15 (2010), pp. 491–501, at pp. 491–2.
29 On the various diplomatic interventions leading to this treaty, see Corradini, Piero, ‘Italia e Cina: dalle prime relazioni consolari al trattato di pace del 1947’, Mondo Cinese: Rivista Trimestrale, 76 (1991), pp. 7–48, at pp. 8–11; as well as the thorough analysis of Francioni, Il ‘banchetto cinese’, pp. 16–33.
30 Marinelli, ‘Genesis’, pp. 536–7; idem, ‘Making concessions’, pp. 399–400. Also, for a vivid historical portrait of Tianjin as divided into multiple foreign settlements, see the social and urban history of Gail Hershatter, The workers of Tianjin, 1900–1949 (Stanford, CA, 1986), ch. 1. We remind the reader that between 1860 and 1945 the total number of foreign settlements and concessions reached the maximum of nine, as a small area was also identified for the United States. This piece of territory was formally added to the British settlement as its southern extension in 1902. See ‘Colonialism in comparative perspective: Tianjin under nine flags, 1860–1949’, co-directed by Robert Bickers (University of Bristol) and Nicola Cooper (Swansea), at http://www.bristol.ac.uk/tianjin-project/, updated 8 Oct. 2015.
31 Labanca, Oltremare.
32 Daniele Varè, Il diplomatico sorridente, 1900–1940 (Verona, 1941), p. 104.
33 See Labanca, Oltremare, pp. 94–9; Marinelli, ‘Genesis’, pp. 538–9.
34 Labanca, Oltremare, pp. 94–9; Marinelli ‘Genesis’, pp. 538–9.
35 Richard J. B. Bosworth, Italy, the least of the Great Powers: Italian foreign policy before the First World War (Cambridge, 1979), as well as Claudio G. Segré, ‘Il colonialismo e la politica estera: variazioni liberali e fasciste’, in Richard J. B. Bosworth and Sergio Romano, eds., La politica estera italiana, 1860–1985 (Bologna, 1991), pp. 121–46.
36 Carlo Sforza, report Notizie economiche sulla Cina del nord in relazione agli interessi italiani, Oct. 1904, published in Bollettino del Ministero degli Affari Esteri (BMAE), 303 (Dec. 1904), pp. 3–18; as well as the archival document ‘Relazione per il Ministro 1909’, as discussed by De Angeli, ‘Italian land auctions’, pp. 566–8.
37 See Bertinelli, Roberto, ‘Note sulla presenza economica italiana in Cina dal 1900 al 1922’, Atti della Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei. Rendiconti: Classe di Scienze Morali, Storiche e Filologiche, 39 (1984), pp. 199–212, at p. 200.
38 Elio A. Perogio, ‘Italiani e governo in Cina’, in Atti e memorie del convegno di geografi-orientalisti, Macerata, 25–27 settembre 1910 (Macerata, 1911), p. 48; as well as Marinelli, Maurizio, ‘Finding the imagined motherland in China: the Italian experience in Tianjin’, Provincial China, 3 (2011), pp. 80–110, at p. 85.
39 These statistical data, issued by the Chinese Maritime Customs, are taken from Liang-lin Hsiao, China's foreign trade statistics, 1864–1949 (Cambridge, MA, 1974), pp. 23–4, 153–4. Additional figures can also be found in Frank M. Tamagna, Italy's interests and policies in the Far East (New York, NY, 1941), pp. 78–9. In particular, we know that Italian trade with China amounted to 1.88 per cent (imports) and 0.44 per cent (exports) of total Italian trade in 1910, to 1.93 per cent (imports) and 0.26 per cent (exports) in 1914, and to 0.87 per cent (imports) and 0.22 per cent (exports) in 1922. Tamagna, Italy's interests, p. 78.
40 Bertinelli, ‘Note sulla presenza economica italiana’, pp. 204–5.
41 Ibid., p. 209; Guido Samarani, ‘The Italian presence in China: historical trends and perspectives, 1902–1947’, in Marinelli and Andornino, eds., Italy's encounters, p. 61.
42 Sforza, Notizie economiche, pp. 14–15.
43 Bertinelli, ‘Note sulla presenza economica italiana’, pp. 205–7; Corradini, ‘Italia e Cina’, p. 36.
44 For a discussion on the spatial transformation of the concession area and the infrastructural works done during the Italian imperial period, see Marinelli, ‘Making concessions’, pp. 406–12, 416–17; idem, ‘Italian “neighbourhood”’, pp. 97–102; De Angeli, ‘Italian land auctions’, pp. 559–65.
45 The group of Italians amounted to four individuals in 1911 and to fifty-one by the end of the liberal decades. By contrast, the Chinese population, always a majority and far outnumbering the Western residents, was roughly 13,800 in 1903 and 9,900 by 1918. Foreigners holding other European nationalities were about 120 by 1918. Donati, ‘Citizenship and identity issues’, pp. 46–8.
46 This factor was criticized, for example, by a number of industrial, economic, and financial circles of northern Italy at the two ‘Congresses of Italian exporters in the Orient’, organized in Venice in October 1909 and in Milan in November 1910. For further details on these two congresses, see Giancarlo Monina, Il consenso coloniale: le società geografiche e l'Istituto coloniale italiano, 1896–1914 (Rome, 2002), pp. 200–6.
47 De Antonellis, Giacomo, ‘Una banca per la Cina nella prima metà del secolo sostenuta dal Credito Italiano’, Mondo Cinese: Rivista Trimestrale, 91 (1996), pp. 1–8, at p. 2.
48 Archivio Storico Diplomatico del Ministero degli Affari Esteri, Rome (ASDMAE), Fund Serie Politica ‘P’ 1891–1916 (FSPP), box 426, file 360, report by Navy Lieutenant Michelagnoli, Relazione sullo stato della concessione italiana di Tientsin, 24 Dec. 1903.
49 As rightly emphasized by Gabriella Giusti in her research, these repetitive requests were made by Italian authorities who were attentive to the new opportunities created by the vacuum left in East Asia by the disappearance of the defeated Central Powers and of their related commercial relations with China. See Giusti, Gabriella, ‘La penetrazione straniera in Cina nei primi decenni del XX secolo: il caso della “Banca Italiana per la Cina”’, Rassegna Economica: Pubblicazione Trimestrale del Banco di Napoli, 58 (1994), pp. 41–83.
50 Bertinelli, ‘Note sulla presenza economica italiana’, pp. 201–3; De Antonellis, ‘Una banca per la Cina’, p. 2.
51 Bertinelli, ‘Note sulla presenza economica italiana’, p. 203. The Chinese participation in the Sino-Italian Bank was to end in January 1924 when the Chinese stock-holders were paid off and the bank was reorganized under the new name of Banca Italiana per la Cina (Italian Bank for China). See Giusti, ‘La penetrazione straniera in Cina’, pp. 64–5.
52 ASDMAE, Archivio di Gabinetto 1910–20, box 21, file 137, report by Navy Commandant Casanuova, Copia del rapporto del comandante la regia nave ‘Calabria’, 24 Aug. 1910.
53 Bertinelli, Roberto, ‘La presenza italiana in Cina dal 1900 al 1905’, Rivista degli Studi Orientali, 57 (1983), pp. 185–229, at p. 223; Marinelli, ‘Genesis’, pp. 542–5.
54 De Angeli, ‘Italian land auctions’, pp. 557–9.
55 Mark R. Peattie, ‘Japanese treaty port settlements in China, 1895–1937’, in Duus, Myers, and Peattie, eds., Japanese informal empire, pp. 178–81.
56 Ibid., p. 181.
57 Ibid., pp. 178–81.
58 This point is also stressed by Giusti, ‘La penetrazione straniera in Cina’, pp. 60–1, 82.
59 For a full discussion, see Francioni, Il ‘banchetto cinese’.
60 Vincenzo Fileti, La concessione italiana di Tien-Tsin (Genoa, 1921), p. 17.
62 Feuerwerker, ‘Foreign presence in China’, pp. 150–1.
63 See Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, ‘Questioning the modernity of the model settlement: citizenship and exclusion in old Shanghai’, in Merle Goldman and Elizabeth J. Perry, eds., Changing meanings of citizenship in modern China (Cambridge, MA, and London, 2002), pp. 110–32; Robert Bickers, ‘Citizenship by correspondence in the Shanghai International Settlement, 1919–1943’, in Yves Chevrier, Alain Roux, and Xiaohong Xiao-Planes, eds., Citadins et citoyens dans la Chine du XXe siècle: essais d'histoire sociale (Paris, 2010), pp. 227–62; idem, ‘Shanghailanders’, pp. 165–75; idem, Britain in China, pp. 123–37.
64 Bickers, Britain in China, pp. 137–9.
65 Peattie, ‘Japanese treaty port settlements’, pp. 189–92.
66 Catellani, ‘I “settlements” europei’, pp. 422–31.
67 Romano, Corso di diritto coloniale, i, pp. 97–8; Mondaini, La legislazione coloniale italiana, ii, pp. 900–1.
68 ASDMAE, FSPP, box 427, file ‘Concessione di Tientsin – 1906’, report by Fileti, Concessione italiana in Tientsin, 15 Nov. 1906.
69 Ibid., box 426, file 361, report Breve studio sulla concessione italiana di Tientsin, Sept. 1902.
70 See Regia Concessione Italiana in Tientsin (RCIT), Regolamento generale, published in BMAE, 358 (Jan. 1908), p. 19; and RCIT, Regolamento fondamentale, 4 July 1913, in Appendix ii of Enrico Catellani, La penetrazione straniera nell'estremo oriente: sue forme giuridiche ed economiche (Florence, 1915), pp. 476–9.
71 Mondaini, La legislazione coloniale italiana, ii, pp. 900–1.
72 See ASDMAE, FSPP, box 427, file ‘Concessione di Tientsin – 1906’, report by Fileti.
73 See ibid., box 426, file 360, report by Michelagnoli; as well as Sforza, Notizie economiche. Figures pertaining to the indigenous guards vary slightly in the Italian archival documents as the number of Chinese nationals working for the Italian police might certainly have changed throughout the years. For instance in one of Fileti's reports mentioned earlier we can read that there were thirty Shimpoo and sixteen Kanfoo in 1906, ‘chosen within the best elements of the concession’. ASDMAE, FSPP, box 427, file ‘Concessione di Tientsin – 1906’, report by Fileti. Also, thanks to a coeval publication, we know that by 1918 the Chinese garrison increased to fifty-six guards in total. Romano, Corso di diritto coloniale, i, p. 98.
74 Labanca, Oltremare, pp. 385–90.
75 See Statuto municipale e regolamento per la sua applicazione (Tianjin, 1923). Also, Mondaini, La legislazione coloniale italiana, ii, p. 91.
76 See RCIT, Regolamento fondamentale, art. 1.
77 See Statuto municipale.
78 Ibid., artt. 1–24. As a community body, ruling the concession area of an imperial state, the Italian Municipal Council was to function under the supervision of the Italian consulate in Tianjin (the consul was in fact the president), and to govern under the control of the Italian Royal Legation in Beijing and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rome. On the statute, see Mondaini, La legislazione coloniale italiana, ii, pp. 901–5.
79 On Chinese citizens’ voting rights in the Italian concession, see Statuto municipale, artt. 25–30.
80 See, for example, ASDMAE, FSPP, box 426, file 361, report by Biancheri, Lo stato attuale e l'avvenire della concessione italiana di Tientsin, 7 Aug. 1902; ibid., box 426, file 362, letter n. 362/67 by Salvago Raggi to Italian minister of foreign affairs, 18 June 1901; ibid., box 426, file ‘Settlement a Tientsin e Hankow’, letter by Biancheri to Italian minister of foreign affairs, 27 Nov. 1902.
81 See Istituto Coloniale Italiano, Atti del secondo congresso degli italiani all'estero, 11–20 giugno 1911 (2 vols., Rome, 1911), i, pp. 119–35, and ii, pp. 86–90; Catellani, La penetrazione straniera nell'estremo oriente, pp. 226–9; Querci, Emo, ‘I “settlements” stranieri nella Cina e quello italiano in Tientsin’, Rivista di Emigrazione, 6 (1913), pp. 129–39, at p. 135.
82 Istituto Coloniale Italiano, Atti, i, pp. 127–8.
83 Ibid., pp. 126–8; Catellani, La penetrazione straniera nell'estremo oriente, pp. 226–7; Querci, ‘I “settlements” stranieri’, p. 135.
84 Catellani, La penetrazione straniera nell'estremo oriente, pp. 226–9.
85 Istituto Coloniale Italiano, Atti, ii, p. 89; Catellani, La penetrazione straniera nell'estremo oriente, pp. 226–9.
86 Istituto Coloniale Italiano, Atti, ii, p. 87.
87 Marinelli, ‘Colonial Italy’, pp. 135–6; idem, ‘Making concessions’, p. 411.
88 Istituto Coloniale Italiano, Atti, ii, pp. 88–9.
89 Ibid., p. 89.
90 Ibid. This emphasis on Chinese ‘attitude’ and Chinese ‘psychology’ echoes the words of Italian diplomat and later ambassador of Italy in Beijing, Giuseppe Salvago Raggi, who was in China from 1897 through 1901, and who also highlighted this aspect in his memoirs. More particularly, Salvago Raggi referred to the Chinese as having a ‘mentality’ analogous to their political institutions: that is, stagnant, lacking evolution and disregarding any change or renewal. See Giuseppe Salvago Raggi, Ambasciatore del re: memorie di un diplomatico dell’ Italia liberale (Florence, 2011), p. 132.
91 Istituto Coloniale Italiano, Atti, ii, p. 521.
92 Peattie, ‘Japanese treaty port settlements’, pp. 189–92.
93 For further details on the Residents’ Corporation, discussed in reference to settler–state relations in the Japanese concession, see Dryburgh, ‘Japan in Tianjin’, pp. 19–34.
94 Mondaini, La legislazione coloniale italiana, ii, p. 901.
95 Fileti, La concessione italiana, p. 63.
96 Here we are borrowing the use of ‘Lilliputian’ from Webster's analysis of Italian imperialism in the Balkans and the Ottoman Empire before the First World War. Webster, Industrial imperialism, p. 4.
* I wish to express my gratitude to the two anonymous referees for their useful comments in advising improvements to the final version. This study is dedicated to Professor Andre Liebich, exemplary teacher and mentor; and to the dear memory of Hayat.
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