[2] Tianjin Historical Development of River & Water

Development of modern Tianjin- Influence from the Ancient Tianjin

Starting up in Sui Dynasty

“Luhe River in Transport”《潞河督運圖》三岔河口 The drawing depicts the the prosperity of businesses in Sancha Estuary, the foundation and water transport development of Tianjin during the 18th Century.

As the mother river of Tianjin- the starting point of Haihe River, Sancha Estuary is the birthplace of Tianjin. Not only does Sancha Estuary become the political center and transport hub, it occupies an important position in the history of economic development in Tianjin- the birthplace of modern industry and cultural development center.

“Provincial Farmland Organization”《營田圖》
The drawing depicts Tianjin starts planting patty rice in 1130 arcs of farmland, which is the founding basis of settlements in Tianjin in Qing Dynasty.

As early as the Yang Emperor in Sui Dynasty ordered the excavation of Beijing-Hangzhou Great Canal, there was already the first appearance of Tianjin fishermen and salt extraction industry. In Song Dynasty, Sancha Estuary was the earliest settlement in Tianjin. Kublai Khan (忽必烈) founding emperor of Yuan Dynasty started excavation of the Sui Dynasty Great Canal, forming North and South diversion at the Haihe River junction. Along with the shipping of essential food and grains, Sancha Estuary has came naturally formed a comprehensive function of a goods logistics center, an important transport hub, the amphibious dock and bustling town.

The drawing depicts ancient naval fleet of ships transporting goods via Tianjin in Song Dynasty.

Qing Dynasty

Westernised Urban Transformation: Concession and Industrial Development

Tianjin was officially built because of the need of water transport for military supplies to Jincheng (the capital) since Ming Dynasty in December 23, 1404. Since the opening of Tianjin as a trading port in 1860, many western countries have established concession in Tianjin, and the Westernized officials also established industrial business in Tianjin, making Tianjin the forefront and an open metropolitan of northern China, the base of Westernization Movement in modern China. 

Introduction to Modernised Western Urban Planning

Tianjin, due to the development of the concession of Tianjin in modern times, has become one of the earliest cities in China which was introduced the idea of western urban planning and developed and practice. From ancient city building arrangement to modern times fortification of concession, Tianjin has been witnessed with drastic changes. 

Since the opening of Tianjin concession, the Municipal Council managed the city according to its own style – a complete different spatial orientation from that of the old city. The British concession Municipal Councillor, Charles Gordon, was first to import European model into Tianjin city. Without many political powers of bureaucracy, not to mention the physical city wall and city gate to control the order of behaviour of masses in public space, the concession area was aligned in the Victoria Road as the axis, forming a network of center Church, port, city hall and park, which is quite different from the traditional Chinese city space. 

In 1883, the Chinese community in Tianjin established the earliest China municipal agencies — Engineering Bureau, responsible for municipal road construction, dressing street alley in Western way. Since then, most of the streets of the city of Tianjin were transformed into modern western style streets. In November 3, 1888, “China Times” once reported Tianjin, “It was once scattered with disgusting, deep, big and smelly ditches. Now, the disgusting and ugly roads were leveled, straightened, paved and widened with the installation of street lights, which makes people feel comfortable. At the same time,  the accumulation of garbage of several centuries in the moat has been cleared. ” Since then, the width, material and dimensional properties of ‘roads’ in Tianjin have changed, leaving the city with relatively clearer organization for further development.   

River-City Configuration of Tianjin

Map of Great Canals in Sui Dynasty

The site of Tianjin was originally sea, and more than four thousand years ago, the seabed was slowly exposed under the action of the Yellow River’s silt, and the alluvial plain was formed. In ancient the Yellow River, there were three diversions, which entered the sea near Tianjin, 3000 years ago, and entered the sea near Ninghe County, near Huanghua County during Western Han Dynasty and finally Duohuai During Jin Dynasty.

Tianjin: Gathering point of five main tributaries of the Haihe River

Tianjin is located in the five main tributaries of the Haihe River in the North China Plain, the east of Bohai, the Yanshan in the north, the meandering of the river in the city, and the Haihe River is the mother river of Tianjin.

Urban zoning map of 1954 Tianjin

The streets of Tianjin are formed along the Haihe River, meandering twists, like a piece of fishing nets. The net has a basic shape, namely, the inner ring and outer ring of 3 cars and 14 radial lines.



来新夏. “天津近代史.” 南开大学出版社, 1987

天津市地方志编修委员会. “天津通志 – 大事记(1979-2008).” 天津社会科学院出版社, 2009.

天津通志. 大事记 (1979-2008). 天津: 天津社会科学院出版社, 2009. 

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