This paper explores the origin and development of the cadastre in the French Concession in Shanghai (1849–1943). The paper mainly focuses on how the cadastre functioned as an instrument of power in different periods. It argues that the cadastre originated from and was influenced by the cadastre system in France, although it evolved with its own characteristics owing to the complex political and administrative configuration that prevailed in Shanghai. It actually took more than a half-century for the French municipality to make the cadastre the only effective means and instrument for the management of land and land tax. It took several successive land surveys to reveal all the land in the French Concession. Eventually, however, the Cadastral Office in the French Concession cadastre took precedence and dispossessed the Chinese authorities of their initial power over land.