What shall we call Chiang Kai-shek?

Tortoise? Leech? Snake? In the later 1930s, and especially during the 1941-45 Pacific War, Chiang Kai-shek was ‘the Generalissimo’, and was routinely and even fulsomely praised by British and US commentators. He and his wife, Song Meiling, graced the cover of Time magazine at least a dozen times. This positive view somewhat declined towards the end of the war — though not in Time — , and then dramatically so thereafter, as perceptions of incompetence and corruption amongst the Nationalist elite started to take root. Back in 1926-27, however, there was no love lost between British observers and Chiang. His diaries show his own hatred in this period for the British, who had intervened militarily at Canton, where Chiang and the Nationalist Party were building up the revolutionary base from which they would set out on the ‘Northern Expedition’ to unite China. British, as well as French, marines and armed volunteers, had killed over 70 National Revolutionary Army cadets and Nationalist supporters during the 23 June 1925 ‘Shakee massacre’ . Chiang was the ‘Red General’, the British felt, and a Russian stooge to boot, subject in their eyes to the authority of the leading Comintern operative in Canton, Mikhail Borodin.

T. P. Givens, SMP

T. P. Givens, SMP

In late January 1927, the issue of how to portray Chiang became urgent for staff in the Intelligence Office (later Special Branch), of the Shanghai Municipal Police. They were working loosely in alliance with the anti-Nationalist forces who controlled the city, who Chiang’s army was moving on to confront. Chief Detective Inspector Pat Givens, a Tipperary man, had a chat with his Chinese staff, and filed a report to Scotsman William Armstrong, Director of Criminal Intelligence.

The Chinese attached to the Intelligence Office … believe that the wickedness of General Chiang Kia [sic] Shek can only be brought home to the lower, uneducated classes by representing him as an unscrupulous, avaricious and blood thirsty traitor.

To really hammer home the message they felt it was

essential to disseminate cartoons representing him alternately as a tortoise, a leech, a cobra, a wolf and a “running dog”.

Armstrong forwarded the note to the Commissioner of Police, E. I. M. Barrett, remarking that ‘This form of propaganda is that employed by the Nationalists themselves’, and that it was ‘very effective and is easily understood by those whom it is intended to reach’. The report was written in response to a newspaper article describing posters with caricatures like this being pasted up all over the city, and which argued that they were too crude and merely amusing people.

It is not explicitly clear from the file containing this note that the police force itself was behind the campaign, but it is quite strongly implied, and it was all in a day’s work for a Shanghai policeman during a revolution that they opposed. However, attitudes amongst the British changed rapidly once Chiang purged communists and leftists from the party in a series of bloody manoeuvres later that Spring, after his forces had taken the Chinese-governed parts of the city. Givens, a later account noted, was ‘the first official of the Settlement to welcome General Chiang Kai-shek’ (North China Herald, 25/03/1936). The Shanghai Municipal Police would work very closely in the 1930s with the Nationalist policing authorities, as they waged a quite successful campaign against the Chinese Communist Party and Soviet and Comintern agents. T. P. Givens rose steadily within the force. William Armstrong perhaps felt too compromised by his close collaboration with the anti-Nationalist forces, and quickly left Shanghai, retiring in June 1927. And so it went on: enemies had turned allies, and allies turned enemies as Chiang’s forces crushed the Communist Party and the Comintern teams fled. And so the Chinese wolf lay down with the British lion.

Source: SMP Special Branch files, US National Archives and Records Administration, NARA RG263, file IO7563, 27 January 1927.

Shanghai 1940, from the top of the bus

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Bus on the Nanjing Road, Shanghai, 1930s

Really, if you have ever wondered what the streets of Shanghai looked like from the top of a double-decker bus, in 1940 — and I expect you may have done — try checking out the sequence in this German home-movie, which is available for viewing from the commercial site AKH Agentur Karl Höffkes. You will need to move it along nearly to the end to start at 10:45:08, the sequence is captioned ‘Shanghai im Kriege 1940’, but then why not sit back and enjoy the ride through these strangely empty streets.

 

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?

Shanghai: World City Redux

Empire made me cover This is the title of a Radio 3 programme by Rana Mitter, produced by Phil Tinline, to which I contributed, and in which Maurice Tinkler’s open-mouthed arrival in Shanghai in 1919 gets an airing. As well as still being available on BBC iPlayer until — it says here — 2099, you can catch that particular sequence from it on Radio 4’s Pick of the Week.

There are some great moments in the programme, especially when a pre-revolution film star chats with some contemporary Shanghai women in a coffee shop, ‘Wow, Mo-deng’, one of them says: ‘Wow, modern!’. The jazz is fun too. There’s more on Tinkler and his journey through this world in my book Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai (Penguin).

Shanghai policemen and their novels

Drums of AsiaA recent post on the blog Sikhs in Shanghai drew attention to a little known fact: Captain Edward Ivo Medhurst Barrett, C.I.E., Commissioner of the Shanghai Municipal Police, well known Hampshire cricketer, and the target for a bolt of lightning which struck Aldeburgh golf course in summer 1932, had also been a novelist.  Barrett was fired for reasons that were never quite made clear in 1929, and was to die in 1950 when he was knocked off his bicycle. The novel, a secret agent thriller, Drums of Asia, was published by Lovat Dickson in 1934, the author being given as Charles Trevor.

Barrrett had been recruited from the Malay States Guides to head the SMP’s Sikh Branch in 1907. Various records show him to be an important collaborator with Government of India intelligence activities in Shanghai aimed at countering Indian nationalist activities there. To find that he had written a novel which commences with German diplomats in Shanghai plotting to entice some Indian activists to organise a plot against the British in the pre-era was an enticing thought. ‘Herr Von Truebb-Blaich, German Consul-General in Shanghai was deep in thought’ it begins, as all such thrillers should. From the Consulate-General’s views of the Astor House Hotel and the ‘Whangpoo’ river, the plot ranges across the globe and fetches up with a finale in a barely disguised Afghanistan where it all unravels and the British Secret Service triumphs, predictably. What unexpected light, though, might it shed on Barrett’s role in Shanghai? How much was this a roman à clef? I had long wondered if Barrett was not in fact an intelligence agent of some sort, and perhaps this might shed light on that.

A file in the India Office Records noticed by Sikhs in Shanghai’s blogger promised some answers: entitled “Drums of Asia by Captain E I M Barrett alias Charlie Trevor: India Office correspondence with publishers on suggested changes prior to publication” (IOR/L/PJ/12/469, File 657/33), it details attempts by the India Office in London, liaising with MI5, and the Government of India, to thwart the book’s publication, or, as that was deemed impossible, to ‘shape’ the text. After all, one official notes, surely the India Office could not allow it to be alleged that British Secret Service agents operated under cover in foreign countries, could it? Well, another — perhaps more worldly colleague — remarked, it would not exactly be an entirely new fictional scenario. As you can see, Captain Barrett is identified as the author in the catalogue, and the file does have some interesting comments about him. He had, noted one man, ‘an ‘intimate knowledge of Indian political movements and individuals connected therewith’, and even though he was ‘very well known as a keen officer who did much for the Government of India in Shanghai’,  he was also ‘impetuous and indiscreet’.

Alarms bells rang; the drums of Whitehall were beaten: memos were exchanged. New Delhi was contacted; MI5 was called on. A lengthy list was drawn up of troublesome passages and characterisations in the manuscript. Even though the nationalists who were named as plotters were now dead, officials worried that the characterisations would ‘give much offence in nationalist circles in India’. It could also prove difficult for relations with Afghanistan. In fact, publisher and author were actually to ‘behave in the most wonderfully accommodating manner’. The publisher, Lovat Dickson had brought the issue to the attention of officials himself, calling on them in early July 1933, pointing out that Barrett had supplied the facts, while the book had then been written up by a professional writer, by the name of Broadbridge. Much of the material was actually in the public domain, Dickson later argued, but he and Barrett proved more than happy to change plot details, names and locales, and generally defuse the book’s more worrisome factual elements.

Early memos and notes in the file show officials trying to work out who Barrett was, and how much he might really know. Someone clearly managed to find an old China hand who could oblige, and a month after the file was opened a note on Barrett was entered into the file, indicating also that he left the Shanghai police in those somewhat unclear circumstances and that he was now living in Aldeburgh. On 25 August, Dixon and Barrett called by arrangement on Sir Malcolm Seton, Deputy Under Secretary of State, to clarify how things stood. There must have been a perplexing phase in the discussion, for Barrett stated that he had never been in Shanghai in his life, and that his ‘only Eastern experience’ had been service with the West Kent Regiment on India’s North West frontier during the First World War.

Indeed it proved true: this was and has been a wild goose chase. India Office worries about security leaks and offending nationalist sentiment had been heightened by the belief that one of their own, with ‘intimate‘ knowledge of Government of India intelligence activities, was supplying the facts on which the ghost writer was preparing his text. Those of us interested in the colonial and anti-colonial politics of Shanghai had been bemused and pleased to find a prominent figure in that world writing what was presented as a lightly fictionalised account of events and personalities concerned. But the India Office cataloguers had finalised their summary of the file’s contents without getting to the bottom of its convoluted narrative. They had, we had, the wrong Barrett.

So we are left with Barrett the cricketer (that’s him, 3rd from left in this photograph on Sikhs in Shanghai) , rugby player, Sikh branch commander and police chief, and golfer, but not Captain Barrett, C.I.E., the novelist. However, we are also left with a previously unnoticed 1930s thriller partly set in Shanghai, and an interesting account in the file of the engagement of the British intelligence establishment and popular culture. But never fear: all is not in fact lost — that is, for those of us looking for novels written by Shanghai’s police commanders. Captain Alan Maxwell Boisragon, who held the post of Captain Superintendent in 1901 to 1906 obliges instead: his book for boys, Jack Scarlett: Sandhurst Cadet, was published in 1915. Was the War Office warned, we wonder?

Narrow maxims of antiquity: who owned my books part 2, Mayers, The Chinese Government

Mayers, The Chinese Government, 3rd edition, (1897)

Mayers, The Chinese Government, 3rd edition, (1897)

This is a battered survivor. I acquired this much-annotated volume from the family of a retired British consular officer, J.F. Ford. Someone, I think Ford, has copied out from p.125 the phrase I use here in the blog title: ‘Narrow maxims of antiquity!’, turning it, with that exclamation mark, back on its author, F. M. Mayers, as a reflection on a particular vein of thought about Chinese culture.

Joe Ford hardly shared that view. He joined the consular service in the 1930s, and was a Vice-Consul in Shanghai when Maurice Tinkler was killed in 1939. As I recount in Empire Made Me, Joe was despatched across the Huangpu river to Pudong, where Tinkler was held in the local headquarters of the Naval Landing party after after his altercation with  Japanese marines in the China Printing and Finishing Company mill. In fact, Mr Ford can be seen in the grainy newspaper clipping on p. 285, peering at bullets recovered from Tinkler’s gun. Tinkler was at that stage slowly dying. Ford left without being able to persuade the Japanese to release Tinkler, and it was only late that night that he was transferred, too late, to a hospital in the international settlement.

Ford was at least the third owner of this copy of William Fredeick Mayer’s The Chinese Government: A Manual of Chinese Titles, categorically arranged and explained, first published in 1877. This was a copy of G.M.H. Playfair’s revised edition, published in Shanghai by Kelly & Walsh in 1897. While Ford had not inscribed his name in it, ‘L.G.C. Graham’ had, and so too had an ‘A. Schmidt’.

Mayers signatures Lance Gerald Cloete Graham was a ‘student interpreter’, a consular language trainee, who is not listed in P.D. Coates’s comprehensive survey, The China Consuls, but who is pictured in this photograph, dated 1900, of the consular student interpreters at the British Legation in Peking (second from left in the middle row), and in this one, with pony, in 1902. L.G.C. Graham was one of the few men transferred from the China consular service into the wider general service, leaving China in 1904. By 1906, however, he was at the British Legation in Tehran; in 1908 he was Acting Consul-General in Algeria. Perhaps his language studies had not proved that fruitful, although his son entered the China consular service, and later served in the 1950s as British ambassador to Libya.

As likely as not the A. Schmidt who crossed out Graham’s name was a German member of the Imperial Maritime Customs. Schmidt had joined as a ‘Watcher’ in June 1882, and was one of a number of men transferred from the ‘Outdoor’ staff into the ‘Indoor’ staff by July 1896. He rose to be Deputy Commisisoner at Shanghai before his dismissal, with all other German and Austrian staff, in 1917. Schmidt woudl have needed Mayers’s guide to the structure of Qing government, its system of ranks and appointments etc. Schmidt was married to an Englishwoman, and surfaces in the North China Herald in connection with attempts to get sequestered funds released after 1918. They seem to have lived in Niuzhuang (Newchwang, Yingko) after 1917 at least, where Mrs Schmidt, sister of a British trader, William J. Lister, died on 17 June 1926. So the book seems to represent also the pre-war closeness of Anglo-German ties in China, an intimte relationship largely obscured by the First World War.

Perhaps Joe Ford acquired the book when he too began his language studies in Peking in the 1930s, but it would have been of historical interest only in the republic. Like many consuls and customs men, however, Ford also developed a scholarly interest in China. In later life he worked with the late Professor Ying-wan Zheng  on a project to translate into English the journal of Feng Ling, a ‘travelling naval observer’ sent to Europe in 1894-7. Feng spent over a year in Britain, and it was his British diary that the collaborators worked on. Ford came across the diary by chance on a road-side bookstall in Chongqing in 1944. It had been published in 1904 and then reprinted by Feng’s son in 1929.

Mayers died long before Feng Ling set sail, falling fatally ill at Shanghai in 1878, en route from Peking where he was Chinese Secretary, to take leave in Britain. He was an ‘excellent Chinese scholar, a fluent and polished writer, and an indefatigable worker’, in the words of the North China Herald, part of whose legacy was this training manual for newcomers to the Chinese language and the Qing political system, passed on from consul to customs man, and back to consul, and perhaps held and used by others in between, a book which has clearly done service in its time.

Tex O’Reilly, Shanghai Policeman

O'ReillyTwo correspondents recently drew my attention to a obscure Shanghai police memoir I had not heard of: Roving and Fighting: Adventures under Four Flags (1918). In this and his later Born to Raise Hell Tex’ O’Reilly, also known as ‘Major’ Edward S. O’Reilly (1880-1946), recounts a mercenary life in Asia and central America at the turn of the nineteenth and twnetieth centuries. In between his military escapades (one of those ‘four flags’ — China’s — employed him for but a few weeks at most) he was a language teacher in Japan, and a policeman in the International settlement at Shanghai.
I have no record of his police service, which in his telling lasted ten months in 1901, but short-serving men leave fewer records, and often do not appear in annually published staff lists. The yarn deals with much of the predictable stuff of salacious exposes and popular fictions of the coast, but also has a ring of truth to some of it. O’Reilly was later a journalist, so knew how to mix the two. Although he delivers as his own experience an account of dealing with the settlement’s Wheelbarrow riots — which actually took place in 1897 — he later names a man who left the police with him to serve as a bodyguard for a local Chinese official, and a man of the same surname did actually leave the Shanghai Municipal Police in 1902. A ‘T.E. Reilly’ sailed out of Shanghai for Nagasaki, as Tex says he did, on 26 February 1902. O’Reilly made his name later in the Mexican revolution and as a journalist, but there seems to be no reason to doubt he was for some short time a Shanghai policeman, despite his reputation as a spinner of tall, tall tales.