The principal port of northern China, Tianjin stands where two rivers merge to flow as the Ho Hai 55 km (35 miles) to the Yellow Sea. Tianjin, which is sometimes known by its former English name, Tientsin, is a major route centre. Like Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing, Tianjin is a municipality with provincial status. The city is the fifth largest urban area in China: more than 45% of the population of the municipality live in rural areas.
Tianjin lies in a marshy area that had few settlements until the 12th century when the town of Chih-ku was founded where the Tzuya and Hai rivers come together. The town grew quickly as a port and market centre and by the 14th century had a flourishing salt industry. In 1368 the town became a garrison and was renamed Tienchin-wei (meaning Defence of the Heavenly Ford). Fortifications were built and Tianjin grew as the terminus of the Grand Canal.
By the 17th century Tianjin was the main commercial centre of northern China with trade channelled down the nearby Huang He (Yellow River), China’s second longest navigable river. In the 1850s the Huang He shifted its course and the Grand Canal silted up. Tianjin lost its advantages.
During the Second Opium War (1856-60), China was forced to cede areas of the city to France and Britain for trading posts. In 1860, British and French forces shelled Tianjin, which was declared a free port at the peace of 1860. Resentment at foreign domination led to an uprising in Tianjin in 1870. One after another, after 1895, Japan, Germany, Russia, Austria, Italy and Belgium acquired concessions in Tianjin. Nationalist feelings in the city grew and violent demonstrations in 1900 led to the occupation of Tianjin by European forces and the demolition of the city walls.
Japanese forces occupied Tianjin in 1937 and remained in control until 1945. After World War II the city was in Nationalist hands until taken by the Communists in 1949.
The port of Tianjin is the commercial gateway to Beijing. The navigation channel is being widened and deepened to take ships of up to 100,000 tonnes. The city is the focus of several rail routes and has large railway yards and rolling stock repair facilities. A network of inland waterways still brings goods to the port for export. Following the major Tangshan earthquake of 1976 parts of central Tianjin were reconstructed in the early 1980s. These new buildings contrast with European-style structures that dated from the early 20th century and monumental Communist architecture from the 1950s. Tianjin concentrates on heavy industry including heavy machinery, mining equipment, iron and steel, and shipbuilding and repair. Chemicals and textiles are also important.
Places of Interest
The city’s principal attraction is the Fine Art Museum which has a major collection of historic Chinese paintings. One half of the area of Shuishang Park is lakes in which stand 13 islets crowned by pavilions and temples.