JI Zhaojin

Banque de l’Indochine was a French bank established in 1875 in Paris with branches in French colonial properties in South and Southeast Asia. From the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Banque de l’Indochine was prevalent in China’s larger cities, especially in the French concessions of Shanghai and Tianjin, as well as in regions of southern China.

Founded in Paris on 21 January 1875, Banque de l’Indochine (Bank of Indochina) was a French bank that managed French colonial properties in South and Southeast Asia. Beginning in the 1890s the bank shifted its main operations from Indochina to China after France established its sphere of influence in southern China. The bank established its Hong Kong branch in 1894 and its Shanghai branch in 1899 under the Chinese name Dongfang Huili Yinhang 东方汇理银行. From 1900 to 1941 the bank represented the interests of the French government in handling the Boxer indemnity and transacted international trade between France and China.

From 1875 to 1890 Banque de l’Indochine, stepping into the vacuum created by China’s lack of a central bank, circulated its own banking notes in various denominations in China. The bank enjoyed the extraterritorial protection afforded foreign businesses, which allowed them to be protected by their own governments’ laws rather than the laws of China.

French Sovereignty over Indochina

The State Department issued a policy paper on postwar Asia on 22 June 1945 that recognized French sovereignty over Indochina.

French policy toward Indochina will be dominated by the desire to reestablish control in order to reassert her prestige in the world as a great power. This purpose will be augmented by the potent influence of the Banque de l’Indochine and other economic interests…

Source: Hunt, M. H. (1996). Crises in U.S. foreign policy: An international history reader. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 319.

Banque de l’Indochine built a banking network in China by setting up other branches in Guangzhou (Canton), Hankou, Shenyang, Beijing, Tianjin, Zhanjiang, and Kunming. The Shanghai branch was primarily responsible for accepting deposits, granting loans, remitting currencies, discounting bills, insuring guarantees and bonds, trading foreign exchange, and handling international trade settlements. A priority of Banque de l’Indochine was financing the infrastructure of the French concession of Shanghai, such as the Shanghai Electric Power Company and Shanghai Railways. By performing commercial banking roles, the bank increased its original paid-up capital from 8 million francs to 48 million francs, with 42 million in accumulated funds by 1910.

After the revolution of 1911 Banque de l’Indochine represented the French government in the International Banking Consortium and underwrote the £25 million reorganization loans of the Republic of China under Yuan Shikai’s regime. The bank’s paid-up capital increased from 48 million francs in 1910 to 72 million in 1919. Banque de l’Indochine became a political symbol, reflecting the French image in China.

The bank closed all branches in China after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Later the bank merged with the French Credit Agricole Indosuez. However, due to Chinese economic and financial reforms, the Credit Agricole Indosuez reentered China and used its old Chinese name, Dongfang Huili Yinhang, to indicate its historical banking ties with China. The bank opened its Shenzhen branch in 1982, its Shanghai branch in 1991, and its Guangzhou branch in 1994, along with its representative office in Beijing. The bank still is the largest and most important French bank in China.

Further Reading

Dongfang Huili Yinhang Jinxi Guan [The present and the past of Banque de l’Indochine]. (1917). Chinese Banker’s Weekly, 17, 18.

Editorial Board. (2003). Almanac of China’s finance and banking. Beijing: Jinrong Chubanshe.

Ji Zhaojin. (2003). A history of modern Shanghai banking: The rise and decline of China’s finance capitalism. New York: M. E. Sharpe.

Wang Jingyu. (1999). Waiguo Ziben zai Jindai Zhongguo de Jinrong Huodong [Foreign capital in modern China’s financial activities]. Beijing: Remin Chubanshe.

Source: Ji, Zhaojin. (2009). Banque de l’Indochine. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 156–157. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

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