All aboard for the war: the Suwa Maru sails from Shanghai, 1914

The photograph below was taken at just after 8.30 on the morning of 16 October 1914, and shows just a part of the estimated 7,000 strong crowd that thronged the Bund at Shanghai, and all possible river-side vantage points to wave off 110 British men who were heading out to board the Japanese mail steamer, the SS Suwa Maru. The men were on the first leg of their journey to Britain, and to the various front lines of what we now know as the First World War. This is the story I tell in Getting Stuck in for Shanghai.

waving off the Suwa Maru from the Shanghai Bund, 16 October 1914

Waving off the Suwa Maru from the Shanghai Bund, 16 October 1914

Some 35 of the men were colleagues of the policeman you can see in the foreground. Others worked for various British trading companies and banks, local department stores, the Shanghai Municipal Council’s Public Works Department, and the Chinese Maritime Customs. Some had been born in China; some had only just arrived to take up posts in Shanghai. One was a policeman from British East Africa, and I have not yet worked out what he was doing in China.

This was possibly just about the largest crowd that had yet ever assembled on the Bund, and it was certainly the noisiest. They hurrahed and sang, competing with the horns and whistles of ships in the harbour, until long after the tender carrying the Shanghai British Contingent had sailed out of sight. A couple of months earlier similar scenes were reported at Shanghai’s North Station, when hundreds of German residents assembled to cheer off 40 military reservists returning to the colours, and entraining for Qingdao, the Germany colony in Shandong. At least two of those had been killed in action before the Suwa Maru reached London in December 1914, others were taken prisoner as Japanese forces captured the city, and were to be placed in POW camps in Japan.

One of the Britons who sailed was 22-year old Albert Rothery, son of a farmer in Patterdale, in the English Lake District. Rothery, apprenticed from school as a plumber, had come to China in 1907 to work for the Shanghai Waterworks Company, a British firm. Earlier this year I helped the Patterdale and Glenridding War Memorial Project find out a little more about Albert, who was listed on the local ‘Roll of Honour’ as a casualty. In fact, as you can see from their webpage about him, Rothery had survived the war, earning a Military Medal and a Military Cross on way, emerging as a Lieutenant in the Tank Corps in 1918. He had first joined the 10th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment, along with about 40 of the Suwa Maru volunteers. Lt. Rothery returned to China and the Waterworks, eventually retiring in 1934, and returning to live near his home, settling 30 miles away in Carlisle.

Part of what drives my research is an interest in the British local history of the relationship with China. Far from being the exotic preserve of an ‘imperial’ British elite, you can find links to China like Rothery’s in the local histories of a great many British localities through the people who went out to work there. The China British certainly included the elite businessmen who went to work for Jardine Matheson & Co — the ‘Princely Hong’ that was at the centre of James Clavell’s 1966 blockbuster Tai-Pan (as the ‘Noble House’, ‘Struan’s)– or the Hongkong & Shanghai Bank. But they included too, in far greater numbers, these drapers and policeman, tobacco and oil salesmen, tidewaiters and public health employees who sailed on the SS Suwa Maru in October 1914, and the staff of the Shanghai Waterworks, men like Albert Rothery, the plumber from the Lake District.

Lost monuments and memorials of the Shanghai Bund 2: Statue of Sir Robert Hart, 1914

I first started writing up this research in 2010 when invited to give a lecture in Shanghai at a meeting of the International Council of Museums. This had been timed to coincide with the Shanghai World Expo, which carved out chunks of the city, south of its former core, and peppered them with dozens of pavilions showcasing international design. Over six months some 73 million visits were made to these sites. Part of the city’s overall pitch was to show how internationalised a place it had become after two decades of ‘reform and opening up. It was now a true world city, cosmopolitan and modern. I have never trusted the word ‘cosmopolitan’, for reasons that I will come to, but I have found the word used more than once to describe these monuments that formerly stood on the city’s Bund — its riverside embankment. In fact they are used to represent Shanghai’s longer history of being a world city: we have always been cosmopolitan, runs the argument, look at the array of artistic styles represented by the monuments which graced our public spaces. One display in which you can find this wording used is in the Bund History Museum underneath one of the current memorials: the Monument to the People’s Heroes (上海市人民英雄纪念碑).

Unveiling of statue of Sir Robert Hart, 25 May 1914

Unveiling of statue of Sir Robert Hart, 25 May 1914

Was this the most ‘cosmopolitan’ of the memorials? The second youngest of the Shanghai monuments at the time of their removal in September 1943 was the statue of Sir Robert Hart, Inspector-General (I. G.) of the Chinese Maritime Customs Service from 1863-1911. Designed by Henry Pegram, R.A., and unveiled on 25 May 1914, the Hart statue (赫德铜像) originally stood on the river-front lawns at the junction of Jiujiang (Kiukiang) Road and the Bund. Ostensibly, yes, it was in many ways the most ‘cosmopolitan’ of the six memorials placed by the Huangpu river. Hart’s organisation was an agency of the Chinese state, but it employed some 11,000 foreign nationals over nearly a century, from 1854 until 1950, and they worked smoothly together, mostly, in what was for its time an institution unusually international in its composition. Half of those men were Britons, like Hart, but the others were American, French, German, Japanese, Russian, and from many more nations besides (including quite a number of Norwegians). Although the initiative to build a memorial came from the service, it was unable to see it through. Hart was the subject of something akin to a cult within the Customs, but its leaders could not use public money to honour their former chief, and not enough money was donated by its staff. It was also felt that it would be politically sensible to have a monument erected not in Peking, where Hart had spent most of the five decades after 1861, but in foreign-controlled Shanghai. So there it was that the statue was unveiled by the Danish Consul-General. Its epitaphs were composed by the President of Harvard University, and its designer was British. A German conducted the Town Band as proceedings got underway. Chinese texts were carved on to the plinth as well, and it was largely paid for by licence fees paid by the Chinese residents of the International Settlement.

Robert Hart statueThe statue shows Hart back bowed with the weight of his responsibilities, so it was hardly a subtle object, but unusually for the Bund memorials it also had a didactic text (see below). Hart, the words on panels attached to the plinth stated, was a ‘True Friend of the Chinese People’. He was ‘Modest, patient, sagacious and resolute’, it continued, ‘He overcame formidable obstacles, and / Accomplished a work of great beneficence for China and the world’. These are the words composed by Harvard’s Charles Eliot. Your ‘true friend of the Chinese people’, might well be my ‘black hand’ of British imperialism of course (to use a Chinese term), but the most controversial aspect of the memorial for some, at least until the Japanese takeover of the city in December 1941, was that the plinth was too small, and that the statue faced the wrong way. As those who Shanghai can see, it was positioned so that Sir Robert looked north, but this put it out of line with most of the other memorials on the Bund which were designed to be viewed with the river behind them, facing the buildings that lined the west side of the road.

In 1927 the statue was moved  a little way north, and placed on a new, much higher plinth (more in proportion with the statue itself, which was designed to be viewed from below), and at the same time the plaques were renewed. The text had been too closely placed together, because of the size of the plinth, and some of it was by then quite indistinct. There were also mistakes in the Chinese inscription. But the main reason for the refurbishment was the deliberate use of Hart’s reputation by his nephew, Sir Frederick Maze, who was to take over Hart’s position as Inspector-General in 1929. The actual occasion was the rebuilding of the Customs House at Shanghai in 1925-27, where Maze was Commissioner. After he took the post, Maze had a glossy brochure published as a Circular (a Customs Service high-level order or announcement) , which was sent to retired former senior officers and many others. Look, Maze aimed to say, Hart and his legacy are safe with me.

statue1928In its new location the statue now faced west, and stood on a traffic island in front of the main entrance to the Shanghai Customs House, with its back to the Customs Examination shed. Presumably it then functioned to shame those sloping off early from work. Perhaps they snuck out the back of the building instead, in order to avoid his gaze. (But as the service also had photographs of Hart officially on display in offices, there was a limit to how far they could avoid the old ‘I. G.’). This was not the only one of the Bund side statues to move, in fact all did so, over the years. We might well be accustomed to thinking about the meanings of memorials shifting (or simply fading), but think less about the fact that the objects themselves, seemingly so rooted, are often shifted. Roads are widened or re-routed; anxieties lead to monuments being re-sited on private, instead of public land; political change demands a cleansing of a cityscape. Hart’s statue, along with all the others on the Bund, was taken down in September 1943, at the insistence of the Japanese authorities in the city.

Removal of statue of Sir Robert Hart, September 1943

Removal of statue of Sir Robert Hart,September 194

Aside from the Shanghai War Memorial, this was the monument that foreign observers seemed most invested in emotionally. In a couple of accounts published in wartime Britain, the statue is pointed to as representing all that was positive about the British presence in China, and what was presented as the selfless contribution of men like Hart to its development. I have discussed the nuances and realities of such thinking in The Scramble for China, and Hart’s role in particular, but it is telling how much this statue came to symbolise what were argued to be the positive aspects of the British presence in modern China, which it became important to articulate after December 1941, when Britain and China were formally allies in the war against Japan. The ‘savagery’ of the Japanese — this was the type of language used — was highlighted in these accounts by the pulling down of the statue of Sir Robert Hart. The sense of a lack of proportion is more telling yet.

In early December 1945, the Customs Service leadership, which had been based in Chongqing since February 1942, started to take back over the organs of the service based in Shanghai which had continued to function under Japanese control during the occupation. One would have thought that with a harbour to rehabilitate, a population to feed, and an economy to help reconstruct, there would be little time or resource to spare to think about a statue. But no: a team was despatched to relocate Sir Robert and get him back on show. The statue and all the side the panels had been transferred to the Shanghai Customs when the memorial was dismantled — I have held in my hands the signed receipt that was issued (such are the things which survive in archives) — but they were now missing. At some point late in the war, as shortages pushed up the price of metal, someone in the Customs House quietly sold them off to a scrap-metal merchant. The investigation team followed the trail to a couple of scrapyards, but there it went cold. Or not so cold: evasive replies from those interviewed at the yards suggested to the team that the deposed Inspector-General and the plaques proclaiming all of his virtues and titles in English and in Chinese had been melted down.

Hart died in England in 1911, and was buried in the pretty Thames-side churchyard at Bisham, near Marlow. In early 2013 with funding from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council,  I worked with fellow-historians to restore the grave of Hart and his wife Hester, which was rededicated in a ceremony in February 2013 (you can find a write up here). Several of Hart’s descendants came to the event, as well as the children and grand-children of Customs staff. I also collaborated with a Bristol-based company on a short film about this process and about Hart’s career and contributions to Britain-China relations (for more on that look here). Hart is also remembered in the name of a primary school in his homeland. The last time I visited the Shanghai History Museum he was just about the first person I saw, in the shape of an actor playing the Inspector-General in the introductory film, but the statue remains conspicuous by its absence, as all the Bund memorials do.

And my beef with that word ‘cosmopolitan’? Well, this was never an innocent word, and it was in general a statement of power for the foreign residents of Shanghai who lauded their little league of nations on the banks of the Huangpu river. It was cosmopolitan on their terms, and those terms were shaped by the power relationships which shaped the city. After all, Chinese residents were forbidden from walking on the Bund lawns on which Sir Robert Hart was placed, and so would not have been able to read those inscriptions, which went through the cosmopolitan motions of speaking in Chinese, but which spoke to a deliberately emptied air.

closeupplaque

 

Lost monuments and memorials of the Shanghai Bund 1: The War Memorial (1924)

It is not what they built. It is what they knocked down.

It is not the houses. It is the spaces in between the houses.

It is not the streets that exist. It is the streets that no longer exist.

James Fenton, ‘A German Requiem’

Old Shanghai’s remaining pre-1949 buildings get all the attention, and so too, to a lesser extent, the buildings that have been swept away by the rapid pace of urban redevelopment in the city over the last decade and a half. But what about the memorials and monuments that also formerly graced the city? In this and forthcoming posts I will draw from my recently published article on the subject, and look at the the stone and bronze memorials that once stood on the Bund at Shanghai, moving north from the last of them, the Allied War Memorial, that was placed at the intersection of what is now Yenan East Road and the Bund, and on the border between the French Concession and the International Settlement. In many classic shots of the 1930s Bund it is used to frame the picture.Allied War Memorial 1924Designed by Henry Fehr, who was responsible also for civic war memorials in Leeds, and in Graaf Reinet in the Eastern Cape, it was unveiled on 16 February 1924, and was the largest and most impressive of the foreign monuments erected on the Bund between 1864 and the Pacific War. Known in Chinese as the ‘European War Victory Memorial’ 欧战胜利纪念碑 or Angel of Peace 和平女神像, it commemorated the over 200 Shanghai foreign residents who were killed whilst serving for the allied armies during 1914-18, whose story I told in my recent book Getting Stuck in for Shanghai. It was unveiled and dedicated at an impressive ceremony attended by large numbers of veterans, servicemen, foreign civic dignitaries, and, as you can  see, Boy Scouts.

Unveiling of the War Memoria

The memorial was thereafter the site of 11 November Remembrance Day ceremonies, and others on ANZAC day, for example. In September 1943 the statuary and side panels were removed by the civi authorities, after Japanese pressure. In 1947 their smashed remains were found in a scrapyard, and transferred to the grounds of the British Consulate-General at the northern end of the Bund.

IMG_0080 edited

Although there were attempts by the United Services Association, which represented British veterans, to have the monument restored, nothing came of this. The memorial was always a site of anxiety. As we shall see, all of the Shanghai monuments were, but as the largest of them, and because of its emotional place in the civic war memory of local Europeans in particular, the Angel of Peace attracted a great deal of attention. The files abound with complains about ‘desecration’, and about Shanghai city people resting in its shade or, even worse in foreign minds, using the shelter from view its massive size offered to urinate against the back. In a city with few public latrines, this was hardly surprising, but European residents, ever quick to spot political slights, often interpreted such acts as politically motivated. Police protection was demanded, or barriers, and harsh punishment for those caught in the act.

It is worth remembering, of course, that China joined the war on the allied side in late 1917. But this was only just remembered in 1924, and resentfully so: China’s ‘late’ arrival on the Allied side was felt by many local foreign residents to be worse than not having joined the conflict at all. However noises were made in public about the need for an addition being made to the monument to recognise the sacrifice of the many Chinese members of Labour Corps who worked for the allied forces. But as far as I can find out, the monument never came to bear any inscription or plaque commemorating the Chinese dead of the Great War. There were plans sketched out by the city authorities after 1943 to rework it as a Chinese war memorial, but these also came to nothing. However, browsing around online I did find this wonderful re-imagining of the plinth, which dates from 1950.

 ‘Qingzhu Zhonghua renmin gonghe guo chengli youxing (Shanghai)’ (Parade celebrating the Founding of the People’s Republic of China (Shanghai)’) [1950], Hangzhou National Art School, published by Mass Fine Art Publishing House

‘庆祝中华人民共和国成立游行 (上海)’ (Parade celebrating the Founding of the People’s Republic of China (Shanghai)’) [1950], Hangzhou National Art School, published by Mass Fine Art Publishing House.

This is a fantasy, of course, but it represents a pragmatic response to the problem of how to deal with the plinth in a view of the Bund. This was needed because while the ‘Angel of Peace’ was removed, the plinth remained. You can glimpse it in many post-war photographs of the Bund, and for some years now I have been trying to work out when it was removed. I assumed it had gone pretty shortly after this poster was published in 1950, but just discovered that it was not removed for another ten years. According to an August 1960 ‘Shanghai Newsletter’ in the South China Morning Post it took a gang of workers two weeks to remove it, as part of a  general remodelling of the entire Bund that had just been completed. It had most recently served to hold up a cinema bill-board.

That provides a nice link to the final image, which came to me courtesy of Jeffrey Wasserstrom, with whom I have in the past written about the history of the Public Garden at the other end of the Bund and the politics of exclusion there. At the Chedun Film Studio’s Shanghai Film Park you can (the website tells me) ‘explore the bustling old Shanghai, take the tram car tour, and roam on the 1930s Nanjing Road, the old streets & alleyways’, and of course, you can have your wedding photographs taken there. Off you go.Shanghai War Memorial

Vanishing Policeman

I get contacted fairly regularly by relatives and descendants of members of the Shanghai Municipal Police (as well as the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, and China coast residents more widely). Sometimes they have found my book, Empire Made Me (and sometimes I have mentioned the men), or they have found the website or other references to the work. I learn a great deal from these contacts, and have often been able to share information accumulated from personnel and other police files in the archives in Shanghai, published staff lists, and newspapers. Some of the information shared with me has gone into my books.

Shanghai lives often have a trajectory of their own in family memories: every Shanghai Sergeant becomes chief of police; every Customs tidewaiter is harbour master; every man who died in service has been killed by armed robbers, instead of typhoid, for example. So often I am the scholarly spoilsport, digging out the death notice and UK National Archives probate file reference. Of course, sometimes they are right, but in general a combination of the very idea of Shanghai — exotic and violent in the Western (and other) imagination — and perhaps the tall tales told by grandfathers and great uncles when home on leave, means that most careers have very greatly improved with a retelling.

Screen Shot 2014-08-23 at 09.41.52A recent exchange highlighted both what can now be found out with relative ease, and the limits to tracing people in the past. What could I tell my correspondent in Australia about her grandfather, Philip James Doylend, killed in service shortly before her grandmother moved with the children from Shanghai to Canada? I found I could tell her quite a lot, for over a decade I had been contacted by other descendants in north America (who were unknown to her), and looked into his career a little. Born in Suffolk in 1880, Doylend had joined the police in 1903, after eight years service in the Royal Navy, and was promoted to Sergeant in 1907. He married a Finnish woman, Johanna Maatanan, in Shanghai in 1908 — when this photograph, left, was taken — and resigned to join the armed forces in 1917. In a common pattern he went on long leave on 23 June 1917, ahead of his contract actually terminating on 2 March 1918. Rather than leave his family in Shanghai, Doylend attempted to return to the UK via Finland, where they would stay until the war was over, heading overland on the Trans-Siberian railway. They ran slap into the Russian revolution: Finland was in turmoil, and they had to return to Shanghai — a much harder journey back across Russia. They arrived in February 1918, exhausted and penniless.

The Shanghai press next takes up part of the story. Far from finding stories of violent death at the hands of Chinese criminals, we find appearances in court in 1922 and 1923 of a couple whose marriage is breaking down. Doylend worked now in a Shanghai department store, and then in a hotel bar. His wife ran a boarding house. She sued him for maintenance and even at one point for the family furniture: when they were still living in the same house. The British judge made unenforcible orders that Doylend make a monthly payment, and attempted to cajole him to do the right thing: ‘I should have thought a great lazy man like you could do something’ to support them, he told Doylend, ‘you ought to feel ashamed of yourself’. The furniture issue gave the proceedings a novelty value, and papers in Hong Kong took up the story as well. In 1925 his wife and the children moved to Canada.

So far, so unexceptional. Except that after the last court appearance in December 1923 Doylend himself disappears entirely from view. He does not resurface in the newspaper, or in any of the databases I can access. New digital family history tools have generally changed the game, especially in the case of a group of men like this, serving overseas. The family history sites have ship passenger lists, for example, and you can trace men and women backwards and forwards, and it helps immensely also if they ever travelled across the United States or Canada. But Doylend’s name — and it is not a common surname surname — does not appear. The story in the north American side of the family was that a former colleague still serving in the Shanghai police delivered news to his family in England, early during the Second World War, that Doylend had recently died in Shanghai. But in fact this man, Alexander Aitkenhead, had also left the police, back in 1912.

The newly available digitalised newspapers and passenger lists mean that a researcher can often now track those who deliberately disappeared. You can trace people and their movements, life events, court appearances etc, through newspapers on sites such as Australia’s Trove, New Zealand’s Papers Past, the Singapore National Library Board’s NewspapersSG, and Hong Kong’s Old HK Newspapers (but not easily in the last, for it is a very poor platform). These are all free to access (you can also find some other resources I have created here). The English-language press in Shanghai can also be searched, but mostly only by those with access to scholarly resources (although an incomplete version of the North China Herald can be found in the international newspapers resources on findmypast). You can find an obituary — as I have — in a small town Canadian newspaper of a Glaswegian which bears no relation to the known facts of his life, but which is eloquent testimony to the power of his own reinvention far from home.

That sort of thing hardly surprises: as they career through life people often lie, dissemble, hide, or flee. Birth dates are often tweaked — for men are too old or too young otherwise for military or other service: Doylend added at least a year to his age on joining the navy, which has his birth in 1879. Men and women change names, invent backgrounds and careers. The Shanghai Municipal Police’s Special Branch files, helpfully scooped up the CIA in 1949, document various tricksters moving their way around East Asia, securing credit or an entree to society with this tall tale or that one. Of course, a patient sleuth could do this before, and such wonderful books as Hugh Trevor-Roper’s Hermit of Peking, about Sir Edmund Backhouse, a liar, fraud, forger and fantasist, living on remittance in Peking for decades a very long way from his family, have emerged from such searches. It does seem, however, to be much easier now than ever before to track people down, even those who hid their tracks. In Doylend’s case perhaps it was as simple as assuming another name, for I can find no trace at all of him, having ransacked all the newspapers, family history websites, city directories, etc. that I know of. Perhaps we should respect his choices, and leave him in whatever obscurity he found. Perhaps I simply have not looked in the right place, and of course the paper archive still dwarfs the digitised one. He might simply be just out of sight and reach.

So while the family tales were incomplete, and had grown fanciful in the telling, a mystery remains: Philip James Doylend, where are you?

Getting Stuck in for Shanghai

My new book has now been published as a very modestly priced ebook, via Amazon UK (the US, and Australia), Google Play, ITunes, and the Penguin Books Australia website.

The cover:Getting Stuck in for Shanghai ebook cover

The blurb: After 1914, between tiffin and a day at the race track, the British in Shanghai enjoyed a life far removed from the horrors of the Great War. Shanghai’s status as a treaty port – with its foreign concessions home to expatriates from every corner of the globe – made it the most cosmopolitan city in Asia. The city’s inhabitants on either side of the conflict continued to mix socially after the outbreak of war, the bond amongst foreign nationals being almost as strong as that between countrymen. But as news of the slaughter spread of the Far East, and in particular the sinking of the Lusitania, their ambivalence turned to antipathy. In this First World War Special, historian Robert Bickers explores the contradictions, patriotic fervour and battlefield experiences of the largest contingent of Shanghai British to fight the Kaiser’s forces in Europe.

More about the book, and the stories it tells can be found on a new section of this website, which I will be adding to over the next few weeks.

 

Shanghai talks, May 12, 15

getting-stuck-in-for-china-coverI’ll be giving two talks in Shanghai this coming week, both about the stories and issues that I have explored in the new book, Getting Stuck in for Shanghai.

Monday, May 12, 2014 from 7:15 PM – 8:30 PM, Wooden Box, 9 Qinghai Lu, nr Nanjing Xi Lu

Talk hosted by The Young China Watchers in Shanghai, sponsored by The Hopkins China Forum. Point your browser here for more details and booking.

Thursday, May 15, 2014 from 7.00 PM, Li Room at the Raddisson Blu Xingguo Hotel, 78 Xingguo Lu

Royal Asiatic Society China in Shanghai lecture. For more details see the RAS China in Shanghai site.

 

Ngram query: Hong Kong or Shanghai

Google’s Ngram viewer offers scope for some interesting experiments. Which city, for example, has had more references in the corpus of English-language books used by the Ngram tool: Shanghai or Hong Kong? The answer is: after a good opening sprint from Hong Kong, which was conceived of as a base for British commercial, diplomatic and military operations in China, Shanghai from 1855 onwards took the lead, and did not relinquish it until 1973. This lead came as its economic role started to overtake the Crown Colony, and then as north China and the Yangzi river were opened to foreign trade and residence after 1858. The key caveat — among others — would be the late 1890s, when a combination of the variants ‘Hong Kong’ and Hongkong would have propelled the British crown colony back into the lead. On the other hand, it is likely that many of those ‘Hongkongs’ will have been in the name ‘Hongkong and Shanghai Bank’. Subtracting those and their linked Shanghais, would probably change things a bit, but the overall trajectory would be the same. Shanghai took over from Hong Kong as the site of key importance to the British (or Anglophone world), and only relinquished it some time after the triumph of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949.

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