literally means Celestial Ford, reflecting its origin as a place formed by the sedimentation of various rivers entering the sea at Bohai River.  The Yellow River also used to enter the sea at this point.   Tianjin is one of four municipalities found in the People’s Republic of China, and as such, it enjoys provincial-level status and comes directly under the central government.

Tianjin’s urban area is the third largest city in Mainland China.  With a total area of 11,920 square kilometres, Tianjin Municipality borders Hebei province to the north, south and west; the muncipality of Beijing to the northwest and Bohai Gulf of the Pacific Ocean to the east. Tainjin’s urban area is located along the Hai He River.  Its ports are some distance away on Bohai Gulf.


When the Grand Canal of China opened during the Sui Dynasty, Tianjin began to be developed as a trading centre.  Until 1404 Tianjin was called ‘Zhigu’ or Straight Port, but that year Emperor Yongle changed the name to Tinajin or Heaven Ford to mean that the emperor or son of heaven forded the river at that point.  Emperor Yongle had indeed forded the river while trying to take the throne from his nephew.

Tianjin was promoted to a prefecture in 1725.  A few years later in 1731, Tianjin County was established.

An incident took place at Tianjin in 1856 which would eventually help lead to the port’s being opened to foreign trade.  Chinese soldiers boarded The Arrow, a Chinese-owned ship registered in Hong Kong which was flying the British flag.  Those on board were suspected of piracy, smuggling and involvement in the opium trade.  Twelve of the crew were captured and imprisoned.  In response, the British and French sent gunboats under the command of Admiral Sir Michael Seymour to capture the Taku forts near Tianjin in May of 1858.  The first part of the Second Opium War in June of that same year saw the signing of the Treaties of Tianjin, which opened Tianjin to foreign trade. In 1860, the Emperor of China ratified the treaties and Tianjin was official open to the outside world.

In the years leading up to 1900 numerous countries established self-contained concessions in Tianjin, each with its own hospitals, schools, barracks and prisons.  Among the countries present, in addition to Britain and France, were Germany, Japan, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Italy and Belgium.

So much foreign influence was not always conducive to peace.  One of the most violent incidents was the Tianjin Church Incident in June of 1870.  Wanghailou Church, which was built by French missionaries in 1869, was implicated in the kidnapping, death by neglect and improper burial of Chinese children.  The Chinese said that the nuns were making preserves out of children’s eyes, probably because they might have seen small pickled onions in the kitchen.  The magistrate of Tianjin County ordered a showdown on 21 June that escalated into violence between church supporters and non-Christian Tianjin residents.  The protestors eventually burned the church down, along with the nearby French consulate.  Afterwards France and six other Western nations complained to the Qing government, which was made to pay compensation.

In June of 1900, the Boxers took control of much of Tianjin.  On the 26th of that month, European forces heading to Beijing were stopped by the Boxers at Langfang and forced to turn back to Tianjin. Foreign concessions also came under seige for several weeks.

In 1927, Tianjin was named a municipality of China, and ten years later, it fell to the Japanese during the Second Sino-Japanese War.  It was not, however, totally occupied, in accordance with non-foe foreign concessions.  Japanese occupation lasted until August 15, 1945, when the Japanese surrender marked the end of WWII.

After 1945, Tianjin became an American forces military base.  In December of 1946 a Beiping (now Beijing) female university student was raped by an American soldier, sparking protests in Tianjin.  There had been a series of rapes – not necessarily but possibly committed by soldiers -  but which added to the furor felt by locals.  On January 1, 1947, thousands of students held a demonstration against the US military presence, and in June of 1947, American troops left the area.

Following 29 hours of fighting, Communist forces took Tianjin on January 15, 1949.  After the takeover, Tianjin remained a municipality of China, except between 1958 and 1967, when it was reduced to being part of the Hebei province and served as its capital. 

Since the late 1970s, when China began to open up, Tianjin has experienced rapid growth, although it now ranks behind other major cities including Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou.

In 1976, the area was struck with disaster in the form of the Tangshan earthquake which killed 23,938 people and did much structural damage.


Tianjin is at the northern end of the Grand Canal of China, which connects with the Huang He and Yangtze rivers.  It is generally flat, but hilly in the north where the Yanshan Mountains pass through and it is swampy near the coast.  Its highest point is the Jiushanding Peak a the border with Hebei, with an altitude of 1078 meters.

The Hai He River forms within the Municipality at the convergence of the Ziya River, the Daqing River, the Yongding River, the North Grand Canal and the South Grand Canal and the Hai He enters the Pacific Ocean in the Dagu District in the Tianjin Municipality as well.  There are several major reserois including the Beidagang Reservoir in the extreme south and the Yuqiao Reservoir in the extreme north.

Tianjin has hot and humid summers due tot he monsoon and dry, cold winters due to the Siberian anticyclone. Rainy season is in July and August, while spring is usually windy but dry.  Occasionally Tianjin also experiences sandstorms that blow in from the Gobi Desert and sometimes last for several days.  


The nominal GDP for Tianjin was 366.4 billion yuan (45.8 billion USD) in 2005, which is a year-on-year increase of 14.5 percent.  In 2004 the per capita GDP was 31,600 yuan.  Urban disposable income per capita was 11.467 yuan, an 11.2 percent increase from the previous year.  Rural pure income per capita was 6,525 yuan, an 11.3 percent increase from the year before.

Manufacturing is the fastest-growing and largest (53.2 percent) sector of the economy.  Major industries in Tianjin include car manufacturing, metalworking, mechanical industries, petrochemical industries and textiles.  Farming takes up about 40 percent of the land space and the most commonly raised crops are wheat, rice and maize.  Along the coast, fishing is important.

Tianjin also has some 1 billion tonnes of petroleum.  Salt production is also important and geothermal energy is another resource.  The first deposits of manganese and boron to be found in China were found in Tianjin.

In 2009, EADS Airbus will be opening an assembly plant for its A320 series airliners, from which subassemblies will be sent from plants around the world.


The population of Tianjin Municipality was 10.24 million at the end of 2004.  Some 9.33 million of these are permanent residents and of these, 5.56 million are urban and 3.76 are rural.  Most people are Han Chinese although there are very small minority groups including Hui (the largest group at 1.75%), Koreans, Manchus, Mongols. Zhuang and Tujia (the smallest population at 0.037%).


Tianjin people are characterised as being eloquent, open, carefree and humorous.  There is even a term for this kind of person, which translates as ‘the Tianjin mouth’.  This positive stereotype was reinforced by the national popularity of a comedian and entertainer Ma Sanli, who was a longtime Tianjin resident and gave his xiangsheng performances in the Tianjin dialect.

The Tianjin dialect is spoken by Tianjin residents and it falls under the Mandarin subdivision of spoken Chinese. But despite being physically near to Beijing, the Tianjin dialect sounds very different.

Tianjin cuisine is heavy on seafood but prominent menus include the Eight Great Bowls which is a combination of eight mainly meat dishes, and the Four Great Stews which actually number more than four and include chicken, duck, beef and mutton stews as well as seafood stew.  Tianjin is also famous for its snacks like the Goubuli filled steamed buns that are popular throughout China, Guifaxiang twisted bread sticks and Erduoyar fried rice cakes.

Tianjin is a respected home base of Beijing opera, one of the most highly regarded forms of Chinese opera.

Yangliuqing, only about 15 km outside of Tianjin, is famous for its traditional colourful wash paintings based on popular Chinese New Year themes.  Tianjin artisans also produce the famous Zhang clay figurines of a wide range of vivid characters and Wei kites, which can be folded to a fraction of their size.

Tourist Attractions

Some popular attractions within the Tianjin urban area include

Luzutang (Boxer Rebellion Museum)
Guwan Shichang (Antique Market)
Guwenhua Jie (Ancient Culture Street)
Wen Miao (Confucious Temple)
Shuishang Gongyuan (Water Park)
Shijia Dayuan (Shi Family Residence)
Dabeiyuan (Temple of Great Compassion)
Wanghailou Church, site of the 1870 Tianjin Church Incident
Xikai Chruch
Zhou Enlai Memorial Hall

Outside the Tianjin urban area but within the municipality are:

For Dagukous, a Qing Dynasty cannon battlement
Huangyaguan Great Wall
Mount Panshan

Colleges and Universities

There are some 16 universities run under the municipal government, including art, music and medical colleges, and there is also a civil aviation university.  The national Ministry of Education directs two universities, Tianjin University and Nankai University.

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