Asia House, London, 3 February 2015: From Peking to Paris: China and the First World War

Penguin China WW1 boxsetA number of contributors to the Penguin China Specials series ‘World War One 100h Anniversary’, including myself, will be speaking at Asia House, London, on 3 February 2015.

Details of the event, from the Asia House website (where bookings can be made):

During the First World War, 95,000 Chinese farm labourers volunteered to leave their remote villages and work for Britain. They were labelled “the forgotten of the forgotten”, as their stories failed to form part of the public record on the War. This is just one example of many of the lesser known stories relating to China and the Great War. But these stories are now starting to be addressed.

To mark the centenary of the First World War, Penguin China has published a series of short histories on the economic and social costs it brought to China and the Chinese. Each book – written by a leading expert in the field – tells a fascinating tale which will fill the gaps of your China and WWI knowledge, including the only land battle in East Asia fought by Japan and Britain against the German concession in Shandong.

Asia House is pleased to host a panel with several of these authors, who will all talk on their chosen subjects.

Speakers include:

Best-selling author and historian Paul French, the chair of the panel (Betrayal in Paris: How the Treaty of Versailles Led to China’s Long Revolution)

Journalist, best-selling author and China analyst Jonathan Fenby (The Siege of Tsingtao)

Senior Lecturer in English Literature and Cultural Studies, Dr Anne Witchard, from the University of Westminster (England’s Yellow Peril: Sinophobia and the Great War)

Professor of History at University of Bristol, Robert Bickers, (Getting Stuck in For Shanghai: Putting the Kibosh on the Kaiser from the Bund)

Curator of Chinese collections at the British Library, Frances Wood (Picnics Prohibited: Diploma in a Chaotic China during the First World War)

Join us to hear the fascinating and all too often forgotten stories of the Great War.

A drinks reception will follow, with signed copies of the books available to purchase.

Venue: Asia House, 63 New Cavendish St London, W1G 7LP

Time: 18.30-20.00

Tickets can be purchased from here.

Lost monuments and memorials on the Shanghai Bund, 3: the Iltis monument, 1898

IltisThe Kaiser approved. Well, at least, his favourite sculptor Rheinhold Begas did, the man whose florid creations littered the sites of Wilhelmine power in Germany, and had oversight of the creation of the first German memorial erected in Shanghai. The Iltis Monument — the Iltis Denkmal, 伊尔底司碑 — commemorated the 77 dead German naval personnel, whose ship, the gunboat SMS Iltis, had foundered off the Shandong coast in July 1896. As the vessel sank the men were reported to have gathered around the mast and sung a hymn: ‘Now thank we all our God’. Three days earlier the ship’s officers had entertained Shanghai society at a reception on board, and so it seemed only proper that the International Settlement should host a memorial. The German seizure of Jiaozhou Bay (‘Kiaochow’), and the development of what became the city of Qingdao did not take place until 1897, and Shanghai hosted the largest community of the ‘China Germans’, who were inscribed as such — Die Deutschen Chinas — on the memorial itself.

Iltis drawingThree and a tons of bronze were cast into the shape of a broken mast, around which was wrapped a flag on a staff. A broken mast was a common funerary device, given added piquancy in this case by the facts of the Shandong disaster. The design was sketched by a German naval officer, and then the monument was designed by August Kraus. It was cast in Germany and shipped out to China where it was placed on the Bund, not far from the entrance to the Public Garden and close to the German Club Concordia.

Unveiling of the memorial, 21 November 1898

Unveiling of the memorial, 21 November 1898

It was unveiled by Prinz Albert Wilhelm Heinrich von Preußen (Crown Prince Henry of Prussia) on 21 November 1898. A German naval band played the hymn the crew had sung. Even more than the Allied War Memorial unveiled a quarter of a century later, the Iltis Monument came to serve a ceremonial function. The visual life of the structure online attests to this — for there seem to be many more postcards and other images of this monument than any of the others that were erected, and so more collateral records of it have survived. It came to be a common ritual for visiting German dignitaries or military personnel to pay a formal visit to the site and to lay a wreath, and this is recorded in photographs and postcards.

Count Walldersee pays his respects, 1900

Count Walldersee pays his respects, 1900

If the monument acquired a life as a nationalistic symbol, it was also much lauded as a symbol of Anglo-German friendship. The memorial was situated on a piece of the Bund foreshore that the British firm Jardine Matheson & Co. had residual rights to, but the company had pointedly acceded with alacrity to the request to allow the monument to be sited there. The interests of treaty port Germans and Britons were increasingly closely intertwined at this point. They formed companies together, hosted each other at their clubs, collaborated in running Shanghai’s International Settlement and Race Club, saluted each others’ monarchs, and cemented their commercial relations through marriage. Respecting and honouring the dead of the Iltis disaster was a part of this.

Breaking apart these ties when the lengthening war demanded it in 1914 proved difficult. But the Lusitania sinking in May 1915 and the ‘Roll of Honour’ published in the British Shanghai press started to have a tangible impact. With the allied victory in November 1918 debate immediately commenced about the Iltis monument. Why, demanded some, was a nationalist monument  ever allowed to be erected on the internationalised Bund. But why should triumph change our past view, others countered, of the heroism of the men it honoured: ‘Is victory to turn us into Huns?’ asked one British woman? But the debate proved irrelevant, for a large contingent of French sailors, aided by others, pulled the memorial over on the evening of 1-2 December 1918 and made off with the flagstaff. Nobody saw a thing, funnily enough.

The memorial after it was pulled over, 2 December 1918

The memorial after it was pulled over, 2 December 1918

But the monument survived (and even the flagstaff was anonymously returned). The structure was placed in storage, and in 1929 it was restored to the German community and re-erected in the grounds of the German school in the west of the settlement. There it resumed a ceremonial role, as a site for annual Volkstrauertag — memorial day — ceremonies on 16 March. These were steadily Nazified after 1934 as ‘Heroes’ Day’ (Heldengedenktag). The Iltis made the longest journey of the mobile stone and bronze memorials that were erected on the Bund, and proved the most potent of symbols, to its friends and to its enemies. It was tied up both with the rising imperialism and nationalism of the Wilhelmine state, the Nazification of the Shanghai Germans after 1933, and of course the unforgiving belligerence of the victorious allies. But for some the attack on the monument broke a taboo: foreign power in China was rooted in solidarity, even when the imperialist states jockeyed for advantage and position with each other. The destruction of the memorial set a very bad example, some argued — German and Briton alike in 1914 — for who alone, ultimately, stood to gain from the internecine strife of the Europeans, if not the Chinese.

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 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

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.

 

Getting Stuck in for Shanghai: new book out in May

getting-stuck-in-for-china-coverThis is a handsome cover, I think, for my just about to be published account of the impact of the Great War on the British at Shanghai. As well as exploring how Britons in the city reacted, and negotiated the awkwardness of living in a neutral country with their new enemies, many of whom they were closely connected with in the business, public and even private lives, it follows 110 men who sailed off together in October 1914 to join the army.