Tianjin - Diamond of the Bohai Gulf
Tianjin, also known as the diamond of the Bohai Gulf and the gateway to the to Beijing is the fourth largest city in China only after Beijing and Shanghai.
Historical changes in past 600 years have made Tianjin a unique place, mingling both ancient and the modern Chinese and Western styles.
Historians first began etching Tianjin into their posterity scrolls during the Sui dynasty (581-618). Though short in duration, the Sui leaders engineered an unusually ambitious six-year canal digging project, extending and eventually connecting China's Grand Canal (It currently swirls as the longest in the world at 1,114 miles long) with the Bohai Gulf. Though unintended, it gave birth to Tianjin. It was originally named "Zhigu," and gained immediate stature as a major military outpost. The extending of the Grand Canal into the Bohai Gulf made Beijing, China's capitol (about 80 kilometers inland), vulnerable to foreign invasion. Hence, Zhigu quickly became the most eminent fortress in China.
During the Tang dynasty (618-907) the city took advantage of its canal and sea location by expanding from a mere military outpost into a transportation hub. Most of China's food and silk passed through Zhigu, helping to consolidate the nation's economy.
Evolution from a settlement into a major city did not begin until 1398 under the Ming dynasty. Emperor troops were ordered south to squash a growing rebellion. They crossed the Hai River at Zhigu and subsequently marched on to an easy triumph. Giddy from the headiness of victory, they decided to honor their conquest by renaming Zhigu "Tianjin," which cleverly translates into "the place where the emperor crossed the river." In 1404, Yongle, the new Ming emperor, began upgrading Tianjin from a fortress into a city. Tianjin's growth was immediate and it quickly established itself as the economic center of China.
Its significance did not go unnoticed by the west, especially during the 1800s. Tianjin profited heavily from trading with Great Britain, but tensions arose in 1836 when Qing emperor, Daoguang, deemed opium as a public detriment and attempted to eradicate it from Chinese society. China's new opium vigilantism, however, vexed Great Britain, especially after Chinese officials blockaded factories, grabbed 250 foreign hostages, and seized more than 20,000 chests of opium from British ships docked in Chinese harbors. This resulted in the first Opium War (1840-1842), which ended in ugly defeat for China. The subsequent Treaty of Nanjing (1842) opened various Chinese ports to British trade and residence and began a long lasting distrust of the west that still simmers today.
Tensions with Great Britain again flared in 1856 setting off the Second Opium War. Unfortunately for China, it also resulted in a second defeat. The Treaty of Tianjin's (1858) concessions were steep, forcing China, among other things, to open 11 more port cities to western interests and sanction the legalization of Christianity. This would forever alter the face of Tianjin, especially after other nations such as Russia, France, Italy, Belgium, Japan, and the United States signed similar treaties of accessibility.
Western and Russian architecture became the foremost manifestations of a foreign presence in Tianjin. Despite the "indignity" of this, the city prospered economically under new open trade policies. By 1900, its population topped 300,000.
Tianjin's boom stalled in the first half of the 20th century due to the gloom and stench of war and constant political upheaval. The Democratic Revolution (1911) and Anti-Japanese War (1937-1945) greatly gummed Tianjin's economic pace.
Following Japan's ouster the nation was gripped in a Civil War between Mao Zedong's Chinese Communist Party and Chiang Kai-Shek's Nationalist Party. In 1948, under the tutelage of Tianjin resident, Zhou Enlai (The Zhou Enlai and Deng Yingchao Memorial Hall details his life), Mao's Communist Party claimed victory in 1948.
It was not until after Mao's ill-fated Cultural Revolution ended in 1969 that Tianjin began to return to normalcy. But in 1976, a devastatingly strong earthquake with more then 260,000 deaths again stalled Tianjin's progress.