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MAGPIE BRIDGE – Chapter One – Table Scars

Rusty water dripped from a sagging ceiling on to a pockmarked table. The droplets pooled and slipped through a crack that ran through the only furniture Soren Anderson owned. Soren dipped a bony forefinger into the ruddy plash. Pipe water resembled blood, and then ink, then blood again from erratic neon light. Transformers buzzed like late summer yellow jackets.

He bought the table along with one rounded back chair from a belly-up bar on Goose Island, just before the Chicago city-state was formed and the island became Satan’s Sanctum, No Care Zone Number Fifty-Six. He needed to write, finish his story, but each time he brought pen to paper a nick in the hard wood caught his attention and his mind wandered. A gang fight, perhaps? A made man’s last mark before two in the head? Or maybe some woman’s boot heel, propped roughly on top for a sloppy screw. Three parallel lines along the table’s left edge resembled fingernail tracks. Cigarette burns formed a swastika in the middle. The table had stories to tell. Just like him. If only it didn’t hurt so much to remember.

Soren ran his hand across the nicked surface, exposing a forearm through his worn trench coat, which doubled as a bathrobe. Fifteen scars starting below his hand’s meaty part led to his bicep. His arm was a fleshy, barren field tilled by a razor’s edge. Each discolored furrow was equally distant, a thumb’s width apart. One final space was left to cut on his other arm, a space to mark the thirty-first year since his heart was stolen. And then he might start on his legs. The worst scar however, wasn’t on his arms. Starting below his jugular notch it ran down his sternum, took a violent turn over his left pectoral muscle and ended at his armpit. The giant, pinkish L-shaped scar made him shiver every time he saw it through the soap scum of his bathroom mirror.

L for love or lost, love lost.

Soren turned back to the yellow notepad and read what he had crossed out with his Uni-Ball.

“It wasn’t my fault. Danni Pan poisoned me.” True, but a boring beginning.

Spilled gin smeared the second sentence, something about foxes and hearts. Skipping to number three, which ran the width of the page to the ninth pale blue line, it was the best he had written yet, but gave too much away.

“I arrived behind the bamboo curtain with nothing more than a cold, one of those slow, comfortable sniffles that carry a husky, after sex voice but light enough to still cough through half a cigarette. And I escaped almost the same way, three years later, a fake Marlboro dangling from my lips, but without my heart.”

Words. That’s all they were. But strung together pained him to read. Instinctively, he reached his right hand to his chest, still wishing, hoping to feel a beat, anything that resembled a pulse.

His veins were silent.

A cool breeze shifted the curtains, turning the jaundiced gauze into a flaming wall heralding spices from the Mexican restaurant across the street. Sometimes through his window, usually in autumn, when the breezes blew just right, he could smell something resembling Norma’s alfalfa fields, in the former state of North Dakota, and the scent would take him on a journey home, to Klara waving proudly from the back of a red convertible after winning the Miss North Dakota Pageant, and to his daughter, whom he hadn’t seen in thirty years.

Ah, Klara. Every single man within a hundred miles wanted to court her in those young days, but she only had eyes for him. She was his first friend, his first love. Before Danni he had only ever kissed Klara. He missed her. Not a day passed when he didn’t wonder about their daughter Vivi, short for Olivia. Stomach cancer had taken Klara’s life nine years ago. He kept track of local events and obituary notices with a subscription to the Kenmare News. Vivi, as far as he knew, was still alive, but probably wanted nothing to do with him. The only photograph he had of her was a wrinkled three by five still folded in his wallet. She was six then, which would make her thirty-six now. If he had the opportunity to see her though, he would, but from a safe distance, just to make sure she was all right. A man in his condition couldn’t afford friends or family. They always died in the end.

His left thumb caressed a groove in the table. It formed the letter C almost perfectly. That looks like a bite mark. But whose Lilliputian mouth could possibly bite the top of a table? He was procrastinating again.

Soren shook his head angrily and forced the pen’s tip through the notebook’s first few pages. Ink leaked from the tip and spread across the page. He was not a writer, but grammatology, like mechanics, always intrigued him. He had a story to tell, although nobody would believe him. They should though, everyone really should. Danni would find him sooner or later and retrieve what she had not taken that terrible night in Three Rivers, China. Already their yips and howls woke him at night. Fox screams had a way of unnerving a man especially in the dead hours of a crowded city.

His hand bumped a hard object under his unwashed, wife beater t-shirt. He gripped it tight and closed his eyes. Is there enough time to finish? The oblong object clung to an iron chain around his neck, and it was his only protection. Toumuk, they called it in the East. In English, it was nothing more than carved peach wood.

Slowly, Soren withdrew the wood from beneath his shirt. The metal links jangled, conjuring hobbles and led balls and weighed unusually heavy in his palm. So far the amulet protected him. When fox demons neared his senses heightened. Air gave him cottonmouth, but if he held his breath deep inside his vision cleared, his muscles tightened and inside, perhaps it was his soul, stirred.

He studied the amulet before slipping it back under his shirt. It was shaped like an Indian arrowhead. A strange, Chinese symbol was engraved in the wood’s center. He guessed it was a charm fox demons didn’t like. The symbol’s top resembled a horned beast with squiggly marks. At the bottom, lines connected by small circles resembled a Galilean star chart. It was the only gift from his one time friend, Little Jack.

“Curse you god,” Soren said. “Curse you to my hell.”

There were no gods. The gods were on a very lengthy vacation. He would live long enough to finish his story and warn the world, hopefully no longer than that. If nobody believed him then fuck them. Fuck them all.

Books at the far end of the table broke the harshest neon beams. Since his escape back to America he had collected every written work he could find on fox demons. The authors were most likely dead now, for he had never known another man like him. First, there was J.J.M. DeGroot, an eighteen ninety-two author of a six-volume series on the supernatural in China. Then there was Pu Songling, a seventeenth-century author who was either infatuated with fox demons or was one himself. In his books fox demons appeared as ghosts or tricksters who ate human hearts and sucked down souls like he drank gin. Sometimes they were benevolent, and helped a righteous king. Interesting reading but neither author offered ways to kill a fox demon. Sun Ce’s book Strategies of the Warring States Period taught him about toumuk, or peach wood, as a protective talisman. Once, in another collection written in Chinese, he read about an especially sinister fox demon named Su Daji who overthrew the Shang Dynasty nearly three thousand years ago. He couldn’t tell if her story was legend or fact, and decided it was a little of both.

Soren shook a last cigarette from his pack of non-filtered Giant Pandas, tried his lighter a dozen times before tossing it across the table and used the gas stove. He filled his lungs with the acrid smoke, enjoying the sensation of muscles tightening against his bones. It was the only pleasure he had. He finished the cigarette in three puffs, burned his lip and cooled the injury with the last of his gin. He needed more if he was to finish his story.

Before unbolting the vertical locks on his door he turned up the trench coat’s collar, slipped on a pair of loafers and cocked a fedora low over his forehead. “Another trip to the trenches.”

Sidewalks and busy streets were his battlefield. He preferred his room’s solitude to dealing with living people. His skin was paler than most, and he wore his trench coat and fedora no matter the weather. People with beating hearts had a way of seeing through the layers and discovering his secrets. Their judgment of him was evident in their eyes, the furtive glances followed by a slight nose wrinkling as they passed. Or maybe it was just his smell. No shower or eau de toilette could rid his faintly sweet scent of cloves.

Soren poked his head from the entrance and waited before being satisfied no one was watching. Eyes glued to the well-worn hardwood floor, he closed the door gently behind him. He didn’t want to alert his neighbor in Two-B, an annoying young woman who had moved into the apartment next to his several months before. She had taken the apartment after Mrs. Papadopoulos’ death last summer of a heat stroke. Mrs.

Papadopoulos spoke no English, but Soren always understood what she said. She had been a sweet, old soul. Two-B, however, was one of those alternative types, with a nose ring and purple hair, some tattoos, probably a lesbian because all her friends were girls.

He peeped through the eyehole the day she moved in and caught her standing at his door, as if contemplating whether to knock. One hand on the railing he hurried down the stairs, turned right outside the tenement apartment and headed toward the nearest store, Mishka’s Liquors.

Soren risked the streets at night, when shadows brightened with flickering bar signs or droning streetlights. It was the best time for anonymity, when most people in his neighborhood were between their drinks, or had their eyes set on short-skirted

streetwalkers who dared breach Satan’s Sanctum relative protection. Prostitution, outside the No Care Zones, was illegal.

Keeping to the sidewalk’s inner edge he evaded protruding stairs and trashcans. He passed dark windows: Chinese herbalists, a fortuneteller’s parlor called Lok Tai Fook, a sex shop with mannequins clad in leather masks, and then he came to an intersection. The Clark Street Bridge was silent.

A late night Cantonese vendor was packing chairs on to an overloaded, motorized three-wheeled bicycle. Behind him on elevated tracks, the first morning El Train rumbled closer. He turned right on Wacker Drive and inhaled the fishy Chicago River from across the street. He held his breath savoring the potent odor and the rippling sensation that coursed through his muscles.

Half a block from Mishka’s Liquors a man in a beanie cap emerged from a narrow alley. An alcoholic stench poured from his skin.

“Excuse me,” Soren said. He immediately regretted speaking for when he exhaled his muscles went limp.

“You got a light?”

“Sorry, no.”

“Hey man.” The man sidestepped to block his path. He spoke like an English man trying yooper English. “Assist a brother out.”

“I don’t have a lighter.”

He stepped closer and reached for his arm. Soren recoiled, as if the hand was an attacking snake. He inhaled deeper and waited for the man’s aura to appear, which always came when he held his breath.

“Listen to me,” the man said. His voice was low and gravelly and he no longer tried to hide his English accent. Shadows hid his face. “You must come with me if you want to live.”

Soren backed up against protruding stairs.

“Eight or nine of ten who behold her are defiled.”

He’d heard those words before. Where?

“Taken in by her beauty they’re defiled.”

He didn’t want to listen.

“Eater of souls, scavenger of hearts, within her arms sanity departs.”

“Shut up.”

The beggar grabbed his forearm. It was his words now that shriveled his testicles to the size of raisins. Breathing in didn’t help distinguish his aura. He had none. Nervously, Soren scanned the street behind his assailant. A drunk staggering across the street glowed light brown. Two women emerging from a parked car had crimson halos. In his experience only the dead and fox demons had no aura.

Soren pushed him back. “Step away from me.”

The man scowled. “You have no bloody idea, do you?”

Soren pushed past, but the man latched on to his shoulder, pivoting him. Streetlights dimmed. A distant car’s horn slowed, mooing like a dying cow. Air around him and within crackled with energy, and it coursed down his arm into his clenched fist and straight into the man’s cheekbone.

The man staggered. The car’s horn ended. Streetlights brightened. The man spat a long stream and wiped his lips before giving a short, disinterested chuckle. Soren readied for the counter punch.

“Not bad for a young pup.” He massaged his jaw.

“Fuck you. What do you want? What are you?”

“What I am is not important.” The man raised his head, revealing a hawkish nose and scraggly beard. His lips were cracked and his teeth stained yellow. Under the sickening layer of stale booze Soren detected a sweeter, familiar scent. “You are the last one. Prince Bigan wishes to meet you.”

“Prince who? I’m not going anywhere.”

“Fool.” He hissed. “Then we’re all bloody well done for.”

He stepped backward into the shadows. “Can’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“Fucking drunk,” Soren said. But his voice shook and he suddenly needed a drink more than ever. Soren reeled away, puzzled about the man’s scent until he reached Mishka’s Liquor’s glass door. The welcoming bell chimed. Punjab, the store’s graveyard shift manager, popped his head from behind a counter. Tobacco’s musky tang rushed outward and he remembered.

The man smelled like cloves.

Japan’s Tientsin – Tientsin at War – Part 1

TIANJINThis is the first article in the “Tientsin at War” series, written as a broad, colorful sweep to the violence that was soon to encompass the world.  The violence, wars, treachery, and plots involved to control Tientsin corrupted all completely.  Innocents, by the tens of thousands, died.  From out of the ashes of a dying dynasty, warlords grappled for Tientsin’s lucrative port tariffs, bustling train tracks, and glittering night life, for to control Tientsin was to hold the key to the north.  A neighboring power, however, had different plans, and like chess pieces moved into place by a master’s hand, Japan baited, bribed, drugged, and plotted, biding its time…     

By C.S. Hagen

TIANJIN, CHINA – The bone-chilling Tientsin winter had passed.  Gobi’s desert breath had done its worst, whipping sand and toxic coal dust down chimneys, caking window cracks and turning skies yellow for days on end.  The quick-tempered year of the tiger gave way to the peace loving – albeit moody – year of the rabbit, and spring, the only truly pleasant time of year in Tientsin, had finally arrived.

Tientsin’s rose bushes bloomed.  The Hai River thawed, sending a fresh stench throughout the Settlement area.  Foreign children within the British and French concessions scrubbed and donned their Sunday’s finest for Easter services on April 9, 1939, while nervous parents feigned smiles after peeking through brocade curtains to survey the streets for roaming Japanese Kempeitai.  Rickshaws and coolies were harassed at concession borders, but a handful still waited alongside the city’s narrow, winding streets to offer rides to one of the many churches inside the Settlement’s relative safety.

A typical scene in Tientsin - 1939

A typical scene in Tientsin – 1939

Tientsin (天津), whose name means Ford of Heaven, is a large port city southeast of Peking (Beijing), the capitol of China.  The Tientsin Concessions stood on 3,475 acres of city land, and were shaped like a dragon’s teardrop oozed from the Hai River, one of China’s foulest rivers, which intersects the city and at one time allowed merchant ships and gunboats into the city’s heart.  Besides being an important commercial city, it also became the nodal point for railways, mining, textiles, furs, matches and salt, according to a 1928 report filed by the old Tientsin British Committee of Information.  The concession lands were relinquished by Qing Emperor Doro Eldengge during the Opium Wars to eight foreign nations.  England and France held the most land; Russia, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Austro-Hungary had their own smaller plots, (some like the Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian had already been retroceded), but Japan, the land of the rising sun, wanted it all.  In 1937 Japan sacked the city, but left the concession areas’ shops, schools, theaters, brothels and businesses to simmer in a fragile peace.

Sporadic battles had destroyed buildings, telegraph lines and the Tientsin-Peking Railway, but on Easter Sunday some semblance of business remained inside the cloistered concessions.

At the southern edge of the British Concession, bordering Nazis in their German mansions, American soldiers of the Marine Legation Guard, known as Devil Dogs by the local press, shook off their hangovers and went about their duties.  The British Volunteer Corps, a mixed group of poorly-trained foreigners, guarded entrances along the Hai River to the east, Racecourse Road to the south, the Rue Saint Louis to the north and as far as Glasgow Road to the west, (near present day Tong Lou).  During shift changes the British, stateless Jews and White Russians, Indian and Greek nationalities comprising the volunteer corps lit local Hatamen cigarettes and wished for gaspers, or unfiltered Woodbines.

Trade had become increasingly difficult as the war between China and Japan progressed.  Earlier in 1938 the West Australian reports Wang Chu-lin, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, was shot dead while entering a motorcar after dining in the French Concession.  He was eighty-one and an advocate of better relations with Japan.  The Fifteenth US Infantry Regiment, which according to newspapers at the time, had been in Tientsin continuously since the Boxer Uprising in 1900, left.  Bombs were thrown into cinemas in the German and French concessions, killing no one but causing thousands of dollars in damage.  The Japanese Black Dragon Society hired two assassins to kill T.L. Chao, headmaster of a British municipal school.  Chao’s bodyguard, although wounded, captured the assailants, but the culprits refused to identify their principals.  Expatriates sucked in their collective breaths when late in 1938 Japanese military authorities ordered all Japanese banks, businesses and nationals to withdraw from the concessions.

The invasion was ready; Japan just needed an excuse.

With nearly five thousand expatriates “sticking it out” in Tientsin, schools kept their doors open.  The French Club at the corner of Rue de Baron

The manager of the Japanese-owned Federal Reserve Bank of North China, assassinated because of his pro-Japanese polices.

The manager of the Japanese-owned Federal Reserve Bank of North China, assassinated because of his pro-Japanese polices.

Gros and Rue de France still offered some of the best entertainment the city had to offer.  Brothels on Bruce and Taku roads were thriving.

Tientsin’s Grand Theatre, which squatted next to the Gentleman’s Club a stone’s throw away from Victoria Park, was still showing movies popular enough to attract the attentions of the manager of the Japanese-owned Federal Reserve Bank of North China, Cheng Hsi-keng, and four Chinese assassins.  Cheng was gunned down inside the theater while watching Gunga Din, starring Cary Grant and George Stevens.

Japan snarled, for Cheng was their prized puppet, but more importantly Japan demanded the disuse of the local fabi currency and demanded all Chinese silver reserves stored in British banks be transferred to the Yokohama Specie Bank.  Great Britain snarled back, adamant that the six Chinese accused of the murder were innocent and refused to discuss Tientsin’s silver reserves.  The United States shook its fist, but Japan, who was biding its time to take the Settlement land and expel all foreigners from China took matters into its own greedy hands.

Japanese gunships poured into the Hai River, blocking off all trade, food, foreign reinforcements and supplies.  Searchlights crisscrossed the skies searching for British planes loaded with much-needed food crates from the aircraft carrier Hermes.  Two US Marines injured Japanese police in an altercation at the Tientsin Railway Station.  Chinese Nationalists attacked the Japanese garrison, losing 1,200 and killing 309 Japanese, and an artillery duel ensued.  Stray bullets killed fifteen people in the French Concession and the Asiatic Petroleum Company was destroyed by fire.  A Chinese mob demolished the offices of the British-owned International Export Company.  Butterfield and Swire, Britain’s largest shipping company, canceled sailings north of Shanghai.  Prices skyrocketed.  Butter, when it could be found, cost nearly $7 a pound, which according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is the equivalent of $117 today in 2014.

Japanese propaganda picture of the strip search - Life Magazine

Japanese propaganda picture of the strip search – Life Magazine

Hell broke loose.  Tientsin was nearing ochlocracy.

Japanese soldiers began strip-searching men and women at the concession barriers.  One Englishman, named H.J. Lord, was ordered to strip.  With proper British pride he refused, and was struck in the face with his passport – three times.

“Thank you,” Lord said each time he was struck.

He lost the battle of wills, however, and was made to stand naked at a busy intersection for fifteen minutes.  Later, five British youths were manhandled and forced to strip, according to the Daily News.  Massive numbers of Chinese refugees were allowed into the British Concession, but were not allowed to leave.  The British escort vessel ironically named Sandwich arrived to help, and other ships scheduled for departure stayed moored.  The concession’s volunteer corps was on full alert.

“All people are treated alike,” a press release from the Japanese military authority said.  “But are dealt with according to their individual merits. Britons are typically arrogant.”

A British merchant named G.A. Smith was beaten and arrested on June 18.  A New Zealander named Cecil Davis, who lived in Tientsin for thirty years was also assaulted by Japanese soldiers.  Three hired Chinese gunmen kidnapped H.F. Dyatt, chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce, but he was found relatively unhurt a month later, gagged and bound and thirty miles east of Tientsin.  A British woman, Mary Anderson, was ordered to disrobe at a barricade, but she evaded the soldiers by running back into the concession.

Japanese officials swore to continue the blockade “as long as Great Britain aids the Chinese.”

“I have decided on all the necessary arrangements to resist the Japanese to the death,” Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek said from the ruins of Chongqing, the third Nationalist capitol.  The Generalissimo’s promises did little to alleviate the suffering of Tientsin’s foreigners and Chinese.

Thirty miles of electrified wire was placed around the British and French concessions, taking one Chinese person’s life near the US Marine barracks on Shansi Road and trapping everyone inside.

The Great Tientsin Flood of 1939

The Great Tientsin Flood of 1939

The Japanese poured more troops into the concession areas and continued to blockade the city for two months.  All expatriates inside the concessions were confined to their houses for fear of the Japanese soldiers prowling the streets.  Temperatures soared.  Japanese soldiers forced eighteen Chinese farmers to kneel by the roadside on June 13, 1939, with petrol lids over their heads.  Six of the farmers died from heat stroke.  British pride was stretched to its breaking point, and in June they released four of the six assassins back to the Japanese military authority to be executed and negotiated a compromise on the silver reserves.

Foreigners breathed a little easier.  Trading resumed once again.  And then in July, the summer rains came and flooded Tientsin for thirty miles in all directions.

“Hordes Drown at Tientsin,” reported the Daily News on August 23, 1939.

“Hundreds have drowned, thousands are missing.”  The concessions lost all power; Japanese soldiers gave up attempts to repair the electric perimeter but delayed foreigners at the barriers.  British troops manned sampans to rescue the endangered.

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported on August 28, 1939 that all foreigners who could possibly leave were evacuated, and that the Japanese blockade of the British concession had been relaxed.  More than 600,000 Chinese were marooned, and upward of 1,000 bodies had been recovered from flooded areas.  White Russian women were seen poling wooden bathtubs through the water-filled streets begging for alms.  Dysentery was rampant, and fungus infections that started in the feet resulted in many cases of blood poisoning.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the flood had affected more than three million people.

“Facing fresh perils of flood, starvation and epidemics, the residents of the British and French concessions at Tientsin are fighting a grim battle against rising waters,” the Sydney Morning Herald reported.  Companies and individuals pooled money and functions were arranged to raise monies for the Tientsin Flood Relief Fund, according to the Singapore-based The Straits Times.

Ada Hanson, a Tientsin journalist for the North China Star at the time, wrote in a letter that the flood was nightmarish.

“That first night was the worst.  Chinese who did not have second-story houses were clinging to roofs shouting for help.  Explosions lit up the water since fires were raging in all parts of the city.”  She and her newborn baby boy survived on goat meat and coarse flour pancakes for a week until the floodwaters subsided.

School buildings, such as the Tientsin Grammar School and the Tientsin Jewish School became shelters for the homeless.  Huge caldrons of gruel

Stopped at a barricade in Tientsin

Stopped at a barricade in Tientsin

were prepared by missionaries to feed those with no food.  US Marines gave out typhoid and cholera shots.  Slowly, the city returned to a normalcy that continued to catch headlines across the world.

First, Japan imposed trade sanctions that according to the Courier-Mail was tantamount to another embargo.  Then, Japanese Zeros bombed the French Indo-China Railway and took the city of Nanning, near Guangdong Province.  Japanese military forces seized American property in Tientsin, and conscripted 500,000 Chinese for slave labor in northern Manchuria, where the puppet Qing Dynasty Emperor Henry Pu reigned.  Imports and exports on sugar, tea, oil, steel, cotton, wool and of course opium, plummeted, threatening the international stock market.

A wave of nationalism spread throughout the Settlements.  Children eagerly joined patriotic groups such as the Noble Order of the British Spitfire, to raise money for the Royal Air Force.  Anthems such as “There’ll Always be an England” replaced hymns at school.  German boys in brown shirts and black shorts swinging swastikas sewn on to their upper arms sang “Horst Wessel” while marching down Victoria Road (now Jiefang Street).   In the schools it was Englander verses the Jerries, but everyone kept a sharp eye out for the Kempeitai.

For nearly two years Japan played a game of cat and mouse with the West, until at dawn, two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese troops quietly entered the British Concession, marched down Victoria Road, seized the Tientsin Volunteer Armory, the Astor Hotel and Gordon Hall.  Japan’s military machine completed its occupation of Tientsin by noon.

Japanese Arisaka rifles and Nambu light machine guns replaced the British Enfields at the concession barriers.   British and Canadian citizens were ordered to wear red armbands with the Chinese character ying (英) printed in black.  Ying stood for England, including Canada, but is also the symbol for hero and brave.  Other “enemy nationals” were assigned similar armbands but with different characters.

When the yellow dust storms came again in 1941, it arrived with the Japanese Imperial Third Fleet, which sunk a British gunboat, and with a warning for all British people to leave, according to a notice in the Peking and Tientsin Times.  Many refused.  A large billboard on Racecourse Road boasted a map of Southeast Asia and the western Pacific with plaques hammered into the countries Japan conquered.  A Japanese truck cruised the concession tirelessly, announcing victory after victory.

Many who had money to leave, left, including

The old Butterfield & Swire offices on Victoria Road - photo by C.S. Hagen

The old Butterfield & Swire offices on Victoria Road – photo by C.S. Hagen

Germans, whose emptied houses left a unique vacuum for Jews escaping pogroms and Hitler’s “Final Solution” to occupy.  White Russians and Hitlerites attempted a Tientsin pogrom, which failed, and Jews were not safe across the Hai River in the former Russian Concession area.

The Japanese Black Dragon Society sought collaborators, assassinated school principals and leaders who were anti-Japanese.  The Talati House, now the First Hotel or Fengguang Restaurant on Victoria Road and Cousins Road, became a hotbed for espionage and counter-espionage as well as the Brooklyn Café on Dickinson Road.  According to recently opened secret documents of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) called the “Tientsin Card Files” Tientsin was filled with unsavory characters, all on a wanted list.

  • Kachiwara – a Japanese disguised as a Chinese person named Ho Wen-chih, who traveled in secret searching for collaborators.
  • Mrs. Minako Nagata – fifty-three years old, but looked twenty-eight, chief of Japanese propaganda
  • K. Kondo – in charge of the Japanese garrison, chief consul for the Japanese Consulate in Peking
  • Masaji Shogi Kageyama – Black Dragon Society, part of an assassination group
  • Second Lieutenant Ito – sponsored and promoted secret organization of the Japanese Military Police, had an assassination group consisting of eleven members
  • First Lietenant Ogawa – of the Tangu-Taku Peace Preservation Corps in Tientsin, formerly worked for the Kempeitai
  • Iocoiama – a lawyer, forty-four years old, married a French woman and was considered third top ranking Japanese spy, receiving special schooling few had ever received

The Japanese had their local recruits as well, like a man named Liu Yingshi, who worked as chief of Foreign Section Chinese Puppet Police.  Liu was wanted on extortion and bribery charges, was forty years old, weighed approximately one hundred-eighty pounds and was extremely wealthy.

Amongst the stateless White Russians, however, the Japanese found their greatest assets.  A Russian fascist group named the “Forty-Seven Group” was originally from Harbin, but traveled back and forth on a train furnished by the Japanese.  Vladimir Goltzeff was one of the Forty-Seven Group, and was helping Japanese dispose of arms, cameras and stashing money, for a hefty fee.

White Russian spies often met at the “Seven Sinners” café and bar in the former Russian Concession, and occasionally clashed with Red Russian spies, as in the altercation that occurred at the intersection of Meadows and Taku roads, (Qufu and Taku North roads) where Ivan Petrovich Kaznoff, a White Russian, choked an unnamed Red Russian to death.  Kaznoff spent three months in jail and then was released to work with the Kempeitai.

Despite the pressures of war, hunger and persecution, there were many more foreigners who would not kowtow to the Japanese occupation

DCI Dennis with British ambassador at Tientsin. Dennis was also one of the investigators into the mysterious Pamela Werner murder in Peking (Beijing).

DCI Dennis with British ambassador at Tientsin. Dennis was also one of the investigators into the mysterious Pamela Werner murder in Peking (Beijing).

troops.  Men like DCI Richard Harry “Dick” Dennis, a former Scotland Yard detective before becoming Tientsin’s Chief of British Municipal Police, stayed true to the end.  The Japanese attempted to break him by throwing him into a small cell, restricting water and food and forcing him to sign a confession before driving him throughout the city for all to see in the back of a truck.

Another hero is Eric Liddell, the “Flying Scotsman,” preacher at Tientsin’s English Anglican Church and gold medalist of the men’s 400 meters at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris.  Along with hundreds of other uncooperative foreigners he was taken in 1943 to the Weihsien Internment Camp in Shandong Province where he died of a brain tumor.  His life was portrayed in the 1981 Best Picture and Best Screenplay film Chariots of Fire.

Angela Cox Elliott was born at the Weihsien Compound, known as the Courtyard of the Happy Way.  Although she doesn’t remember much more than what her mother and friends later told her, the camp created their own laundry, hospital, kitchens, library, a classroom and sanitation crews.

The civilian prisoners even had their own black market where they smuggled letters and messages out through Chinese farmers.  On Victory in Europe Day the camp’s bell clanged at midnight, calling everyone out for roll call.  Searchlights swept the yard.  Guards were shoving and pushing and counting and someone from Block 57 said they were all going to be taken out and shot.

Eric Liddell's victory march after 1924 Olympics - The Guardian

Eric Liddell’s victory march after 1924 Olympics – The Guardian

No one was shot.  On August 17, 1945, after more than two years of incarceration, American paratroopers liberated all 1,400 civilian prisoners, many of whom were old Tientsin hands, in a mission called “Operation Duck.”

By October 1, 1945, Tientsin was liberated.  American soldiers marched once again down Victoria Road, freeing 2,900 Allied captives, disarming more than 232,000 Chinese puppet troops and guarding 200,000 Japanese civilians and soldiers.

On that day, and perhaps one of the only times in Chinese history, tens of thousands of Tientsiners lined the Hai River Bund to welcome American troops.



Tientsin Incident - The Australian Women's Weekly  pictorial

Tientsin Incident – The Australian Women’s Weekly pictorial – 1939

Human Devil – Tientsin at War – Part II

TIANJINThis is the second article in the “Tientsin at War” series, written to remember a mysterious Manchurian spy, presumed dead in 1947.  She was officially executed as a traitor to China by the Kuomintang, but recent evidence suggests that she evaded the final bullet and lived until 1978.  She was a dreamer, a warrior, a bisexual that charmed her way into the inner workings of her many enemies.  Called the Human Devil by the Kuomintang, she was a hailed a heroine by the Japanese.  Pour yourself a cup of coffee, sit back, and enter a world of sexual predators, espionage, murder and betrayal. 

By C.S. Hagen

TIANJIN, CHINA – Some days Eastern Pearl dressed as a young soldier boy.  She wrapped her small breasts with silk, cut her hair and pulled on a uniform.  Other days she wore a hanbok, and became a Korean prostitute, teasing her way up her enemy’s chain of command, almost within reach of the Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek to discover Nationalist secrets.    

The Japanese hailed her a hero, and named her Yoshiko Kawashima.   

“Whenever a section of the Japanese Army found itself in difficulties, the rumor was spread that Yoshiko was on her way,” the Daily News

Eastern Jade wearing summertime men's shirt, pants and tie, with riding boots

Eastern Jade wearing summertime men’s shirt, pants and tie, with riding boots – from online sources

reported on March 22, 1934.  “Flagging troops fought like demons, it is said, and every time her name was invoked it meant victory.”

The Nationalists wanted a bullet between her eyes, and called her the Human Devil.  According to some newspaper reports in the early 1940s, she was stabbed once by an assassin and while convalescing was visited again by Nationalist soldiers disguised as doctors who beat her nearly to death with little hammers.

Weighing no more than ninety-five pounds, lithe and fox clever, skin pale as silken tofu, twenty-three year old Eastern Pearl survived to pursue her dreams with the fleetness of a Mongolian pony.  Born Aisin Gioro Xianyu (愛新覺羅顯玗), with a courtesy name of Dongzhen (東珍), or Eastern Pearl, and a traditional name of Jin Bihui (金璧辉), she was a Manchu princess and cousin to the Qing Dynasty’s last emperor Puyi.  Her father fled the Qing Court in disgrace to Japan after the 1911 Xinhai Revolution, and on his deathbed when Eastern Pearl was only a child made her swear to free her Manchu homeland from Chinese bondage and see the Dragon Throne restored. 

Her blood was of a prouder strain than her cousin’s, the boy emperor, a 1934 story published on Eastern Pearl in the Daily News wrote.  “Sexually she was what is known as an intermediate type, an individual in whom glandular unbalance produces features, bones and build, texture of skin, hair and flesh, character and desires that are as much feminine as masculine.”

Eastern Pearl dedicated her life to the resurrection of the Manchu supremacy.  From the Badlands of Shanghai, to the whorehouses of Peking to the opium dens and glitzy cabarets of Tientsin, she laughed at danger often times shifting her shape to slink behind enemy lines. 


Step into Tientsin’s Underground

Tientsin (天津), known today as Tianjin, means Ford of Heaven, and is a sprawling port city southeast of Peking (Beijing), the capitol of China.  The Tientsin Concessions were areas of the city sectioned off by Qing Emperor Doro Eldengge after the Chinese lost both opium wars to eight allied and foreign nations.  Tientsin was also a retirement home for beaten warlords known for their chests of gold and silver.

A charming city, an interesting city, according to the Cambridge University Press, a city that washed the wealthy and fortunate ashore and into the foreign concessions.  Shanghai was called a pearl, but real power – silver and gold – was buried in secret hiding places beneath the Astor Hotel. 

The concessions were a haven for abdicated emperors, such as Puyi who resided in the Japanese Concession, and for ex-presidents like Xu Shichang, who enjoyed literature and gardening inside his British Concession mansion.  After Republican President Cao Kun and his clique were beaten and betrayed by “Christian General” Feng Yuxiang, he came to Tientsin to lick his wounds.  Few Tientsiners in the “Who’s Who in China” wanted to miss one of Cao’s birthday parties. 

At the opposite end of the morality pole, Duan Qirui, once known as the most powerful man in China, lost his power through shady deals, and retired to Tientsin to build a private Buddhist temple.  He was a weiqi player, and was quoted once as saying the troubles of China were demons sent down to earth and until they had all been killed the troubles would continue.

For up and comers like Eastern Pearl, and anyone else wanting to see and be seen, the “Paris” cabaret in the Japanese Concession was the hotspot during Tientsin’s roaring thirties.  “Like moths to candles,” the Queenslander reported on April 16, 1936, “the wealth and fashion, the rapturous, the lost and the damned are attracted nightly to the tinsel and glitter of the “Paris” cabaret.” 

Royalty and opium kings, soldiers and gunrunners, all were welcome, as long as they had silver.

Chinese, Polish and White Russian dancing girls lounged at postage stamp tables surrounding a dance floor, and were willing to romp for four shillings.  Under pointed lights sparkling off lead glass decanters, the “Happy Hans” and his Russian musicians played the latest jazzy hits.  The nightclub was always packed, always sizzling with intrigue. 

Careful, weapons aren’t allowed, but nobody really checks.   

Descending a short flight of stairs, the entryway opens up into a circular room.  A piano enlivens the mood with a rendition of the Vernor Duke song “Autumn in New York.” 

The nightclub hits all the senses.  First the dim lighting, and as the eyes adjust the ole factories are buffeted by waves of thick smoke, the choking blues of cigarettes and sickly-sweet greens from opium.   A fiery woman in a low-cut dress nudges past and heads toward the dance floor, wafting Old English Mitcham Lavendar – the “perfume that is England.” 

The nose wants to follow, but the knees are suddenly weak. 

Uniforms and golden epaulettes swallow the redhead, and a dozen languages, each vying for dominance in the room sound more like geese, late for their southern sojourns.

After a careful study, a White Russian hostess steps up to say the tables are taken, but there’s room at the bar.  Before taking a short flight of stairs, she asks if company is needed…

In one dark corner, sandwiched between two concubines, the “Young Marshal” Zhang Xueliang, former Manchurian warlord, sips champagne.  Hair neatly trimmed and slicked, Zhang’s boyish face is deceitfully innocent as he watches a well-known rebel leader dance the foxtrot with a woman in a bright pink dress.  His gaze shivers the soul. 

The most fashionable concubine leans into Zhang’s ear, momentarily distracting him.  Jewels dangle from her neck, and as she whispers sweet nothings the second concubine pouts; her blood red lips form a perfect circle while she flicks ash from a long stem cigarette to the floor.

A picture taken of Eastern Jade while she was in Tientsin.

A picture taken of Eastern Jade while she was in Tientsin. – from online sources

Wu Yiting, the fox trotting man, may not have the Young Marshall’s armies, but he is no one to be trifled with either, and everyone in the “Paris” knows this.  In Tientsin, however, it’s safer to be careful.   Two bodyguards sit rigidly at a nearby table, light glinting off slender Nambu pisols, half hidden under napkins. 

At the bar a scowling Japanese Gendarme, or Kempeitai, throws a sneer toward the British Consul-General Lancelot Giles.   The Englishman is pale, even under the dim lighting, and pretends not to notice by listening in to a joke from an American explorer.  Both are drinking Johnny Walker Red.  A well-known Nazi talks up a Polish girl, too young for her line of work.  Her face holds a jade sheen, sure tell sign she’s a heroin addict.

On the other side of the rounded bar, an Italian naval officer exuberantly agrees to a price from a fresh White Russian beauty in a tailored sailor’s suit.   She jumps from her chair displaying legs even the Young Marshall notices, and into the Italian’s arms. 

A backslidden American missionary, a group of smarmy silver smugglers and a Japanese detective take up the remaining chairs.  Standing room only.  Except for one last table, opposite the Young Marshall’s, where the Manchu Princess, Eastern Pearl, dances with a hostess.  Like usual, she’s dressed in men’s clothes: white linen pants, riding boots, a white shirt tucked in, starched collar, loose, with a man’s tie.  Her hair is short, parted slightly to the side.  Step a little closer and a stocky man with one long eyebrow materializes from the shadows.  Only her sideburns, hair pulled to a point across her cheeks, give her sex away, and then again… Her eight-year old son, born from her first marriage with a Mongolian prince, wants to go home. 

He calls her father. 


Hunter of Military Secrets

When the Qing Dynasty fell, Eastern Pearl was whisked secretly east to Japan, and brought up by Namiya Kawashima, a Japanese spy and adventurer.  She was rechristened under a Japanese name, Yoshiko Kawashima, schooled in the Japanese system with an education befitting a high born lady, learning among other subjects judo and fencing. 

As a child, she was aloof and quiet, rarely joining her classmates in games or friendship. 

As a teenager her adopted father enjoyed raping her, and she turned to a bohemian lifestyle funded by rich lovers.  She appeared to settle down for two years with a Mongolian Prince, but the marriage in actuality was her first mission, arranged by General Kenji Doihara, leader of the terrorist Black Dragon Society.  She provided him with intelligence on Mongolian defenses, maps and weak points. 

The first time Eastern Pearl met Doihara she was dressed as a woman.  He ordered her out of his office, and asked how she got in. 

“By my charms and my wits,” Eastern Pearl reportedly said.  “I want to work for you.” 

Doihara threw her out anyway.  He had little use for a stick-thin, saucy Chinese woman. 

Three days later Eastern Pearl arrived again, but as a man.  According to The World’s News, Doihara came close to shooting her. 

Eastern Pearl in a military uniform

Eastern Pearl in a military uniform – from online sources

“I am the girl who was here three days ago,” Eastern Pearl said.  She was dressed in a mandarin’s suit and skullcap, her hair was cut short.  “And I still want to work for you.” 

In Doihara, Eastern Pearl saw the one man she could yield to as a woman, The World’s News reported.  To Doihara, Eastern Pearl was the one woman who could match his one hundred faces, “from sweetheart to as many sacrifices as were needed on the altar of Japan.”

“I determined to bob my hair when I was 16, and become a man,” Eastern Pearl said in The World’s News story.  “My reason is the condition of China.  I resolved to help China.  But another reason is that I received many proposals of marriage.  Some were of a kind that I could hardly with decency refuse if I remained a girl.  I have not had any proposals or love-letters since I became a man.” 

She led four hundred horseback soldiers in her homeland of Manchuria, never meeting defeat.  When Japan’s invasion of Manchuria finished, she was hailed a heroine. 

Eastern Pearl went on to Shanghai, becoming Dr. Sun Fo, Sun Yat-sen’s younger brother’s secretary. 

“He was not aware of who I was,” Eastern Pearl said for a Japanese magazine interview in 1933.  “And it was well for Japan he did not know.  I could not reveal my mission in Shanghai.” 

After gleaning information from the Nationalist Party, she hurried back to Tientsin, disguised herself as a coolie and pulled up to the back door of the boy emperor Puyi’s mansion.  Although the mansion was guarded, she had lived with her cousin and the Empress Wanrong when she stayed in Tientsin, and knew the secret passageways.  She found her way to her cousin’s bedside and whispered into his ear. 

“I am just a rickshaw man, your Lordship, but mighty friends of yours have sent me.  I have clothes that are an indignity for you to wear, but they will help you get a throne.” 

Initially, Puyi resented the idea of Japanese assistance in retaking the Dragon Throne, but Eastern Pearl persisted, saying that once he had the throne and was made emperor, no one would dare to stand in his way. 

Puyi relented. 

She slipped him out the back door, into the rickshaw.  Guards yelled and gave chase.  Night prowlers tried to stop the rickshaw, but Eastern Pearl ploughed her way through. 

Two days later she delivered the last emperor to the Manchurian throne. 

Puyi's Tientsin mansion - photo by C.S. Hagen

Puyi’s Tientsin mansion, Eastern Jade lived here when she was in Tientsin – photo by C.S. Hagen


The back door (door is original) from which Eastern Pearl helped Puyi escape

The back door (door is original) from which Eastern Pearl helped Puyi escape to pursue dreams of ruling Manchuria – photo by C.S. Hagen 

“Pearl’s Place”

Eastern Pearl became mistress to Puyi’s advisors, married a total of three Chinese princes, each time disappearing shortly after she learned what she needed and successfully procuring their fealty to Japan. 

Enemies said she was evil since seventeen.

“She has spotless skin, looks like a prostitute and has got too familiar with Japanese generals, prominent politicians and leading financiers,” Chinese newspapers said of her at the time. 

Eastern Pearl wouldn’t have disagreed.  She was their plaything and she was doing nothing more than fulfilling her training.  She chose the life of a courtesan rather than a wife because she was influencing wills and had a purpose – the restoration of the Manchurian throne. 

With her cousin on the throne, she had two ambitions left to fulfill: the real independence of Manchuria, and the conquest of China. 

She failed in both.

The Japanese offered Puyi lip service only.  When rich Manchurian natural resources were exploited and sent to Japan, Eastern Pearl raged.  She denounced Japan, called on her lovers to keep their promises.  She caused dissension in the ranks of the Japanese Kwantung and Manchurian puppet armies and reported to North China Nationalist authorities.   

Aisin Gioro Puyi (left) as the puppet emperor of Manchuria (right) after incarceration in a communist prison

Aisin Gioro Puyi (left) as the puppet emperor of Manchuria (right) after incarceration in a communist prison – from online sources

Nobody trusted her any longer.  The Japanese Black Dragon Society decided to assassinate her, and then changed its mind.  The Nationalists reportedly made two attempts on her life and missed.

“They [Japanese] are so proud of what they did in establishing Manchuria that they regard the Manchurians as inferior people,” she is quoted as saying in an article in The News.  “Even a Japanese beggar in Changchun looks down on a Manchurian beggar.” 

She disappeared for a time, resurfacing in Peking as the proprietor of “Pearl’s Place,” a restaurant and meeting point for Japanese agents, their collaborators and her lovers.  Her restaurant didn’t make money.  She spent thousands on trinkets and opium.  When she grew tired of one lover, male or female, she found another. 

“A favorite method of disposing of a lover who displeased her, or failed in the carrying out of a promise, was to encourage jealousy,” The World’s News reported on September 1, 1951.  “This was easy [for her] as few prominent men were strong enough to resist her beauty and fascination once she set after them.” 

“She was the most remarkable woman spy the East has known,” reported The News on April 7, 1948.  “A woman who was termed the Pearl of Asia, the Jeanne d’Arc of China and Japan’s Mata Hari.”  

Eastern Pearl before shortly before her "execution" - not yet 40 years old

The painting of a photograph supposedly taken in 1986 of Eastern Pearl, years after her supposed execution. – from the Chinese Phoenix News Media

After more than a decade of undercover work, indiscriminate sex and opium, Eastern Pearl lost her luster. Her near forty-year-old body was racked with illness, which, according to some newspapers, was syphilis. 

Ironically, it was a Chinese spy, posing as her servant, who betrayed her to Nationalist police.  She was arrested after World War II on November 11, 1945 wearing a Japanese general’s uniform.  Defeat and opium had dulled her mind and body.  Her face, according to the Chinese press at the time, resembled the English letter V. 

Eastern Jade spent her last days poorly clad, shivering and almost toothless in a prison.  In Peking Central Court the “Human Devil” admitted her relationships to Japanese war criminals, but pleaded not guilty on treason against China.  On October 23, 1947 Eastern Pearl was sentenced to death.  Among other crimes she was accused of participating with the kidnapping of the Generalissimo, assistance with the assassination of warlord Zhang Zuolin, and as being the number one lieutenant of General Kenji Doihara.  She would have been sentenced earlier if not for thronging crowds striving to catch a glimpse of her while on her way to a Peking court.  When the judge read her death sentence, “she smiled with seeming unconcern,” reported The West Australian.

A black and white photograph taken after her execution was released and given to the Generalissimo, but rumors persisted that she had enticed a woman to take her place and she escaped.  Only two American photographers were allowed to take Eastern Jade’s picture, who is named as Chuandao Fangzi (川岛芳子), after her Japanese name.  The Chinese press was banned.  The photograph is grainy, and out of focus.  Not proof enough, with half her face missing, that the woman in the picture is Jin Bihui, Dongzhen – the Eastern Pearl, Yoshiko Kawashima – the Mata Hari of the East, the Human Devil. 

In 2008 a Chinese artist named Zhang Yu (张钰) rocked Chinese media with an announcement that a person she had grown up with was none other than Eastern Jade, who passed away in 1978, not in 1947.  She had been living in Changchun as a woman named “Granny Fang” (方姥姥).  The Chinese Phoenix News Media featured the story in 2011, but said there was no concrete evidence to prove Zhang Yu’s claims.  Both bodies had been cremated; DNA samples could not be investigated.  Her fingerprints were not left behind on books as “Granny Fang” used tweezers to turn the pages.  Among other artifacts “Granny Fang” left behind was a gold lion reportedly a gift for her former male secretary Xiaofang Balang (小方八郎), which she was unable to give.  A cryptic and poetic note was found inside the statue, which had a filled-in crack at the bottom.  The note is difficult to translate.

The cryptic note Eastern Jade allegedly left behind

The cryptic note Eastern Jade allegedly left behind – from the Chinese Phoenix News Media

芳魂回天     Fang hun hui tian     
至未归来     Zhi wei gui lai     
含悲九泉     Han bei jiu quan     
达今奇才     Da jin qi cai     

Fang’s spirit returns to the heavens, not to return.  There’s sadness from the nine springs, reach for genius only.

Investigators also found a pair of binoculars with Eastern Jade’s Japanese phonetic initials – HK – engraved into the adjustment rings inside a locked suitcase, Chinese Phoenix Media reported.  According to some top police officials who performed handwriting comparisons, the evidence was enough; Granny Fang was Eastern Pearl.  If true, the Human Devil would have been 71 years old at the time of her death, which then begs the question, who was the girl in the photograph? A lover?  A fellow spy?  A paid patsy?  Or are Zhang Yu’s claims simply a desperate reach for attention, and Eastern Jade was executed when official records say she was? 

“If you say she used tweezers to read books, you can’t help but suspect she was a spy,” the Chinese Phoenix Media commentator said.  “Very mysterious.” 

According to official sources from 1947 Eastern Pearl pleaded with authorities not to make a show of her execution. She wanted no press, and one clean shot to the back of the head. An unknown Japanese monk collected her body for cremation, sending her remains to a Japanese monastery. 

The picture taken after Eastern Pearl's execution - graphic - but its authenticity has been debated since 1947.

The picture taken after Eastern Pearl’s execution – graphic – but its authenticity has been debated since 1947. – from online sources


“Tientsin’s List” – Tientsin at War – Part III

TIANJINThis is the third article in the “Tientsin at War” series,which uncovers evidence Gestapo agents were working undercover in Tientsin during World War II.  Taken partly from “Top Secret” Office of Strategic Services records now declassified by the Central Intelligence Agency, their typewritten interrogations conjure a musty , dimly lit room inside the Tientsin Municipal Police Station.  Outside, it’s night.  World War II is coming to a close.  An ashtray on a wooden table can’t possibly take another butt, but a Chinese police officer finds a hole while OSS agents face a known Gestapo man, five thousand miles from his Fatherland.   

By C.S. Hagen

TIENTSIN, CHINA – One carelessly sealed letter through diplomatic pouch made Nazi Germany’s Consul-General Fritz Wiedemann aware the Gestapo were working in Tientsin.

Four letters betrayed the Nazi spy – “EMME.”

A picture of Wiedemann, Tientsin's former Nazi general-consul, and a Adolf Hitler in a frame - by online sources

A picture of Fritz Wiedemann, Tientsin’s former Nazi general-consul, and Adolf Hitler in a frame  – online sources

“We had not the right to read these letters,” Wiedemann said in his testimony to Office of Strategic Services (OSS) agents on September 29, 1945.  “But once a letter was delivered open; that’s how we got the name.”  Agents were investigating in part if rumors that Werwolfs, Nazi Germany’s underground partisans sworn to kill anti-Nazis, were active in Tientsin.

Fritz Gunther Emme, born to Richard and Goyke Emme on March 13, 1913 in Danzig, was a Gestapo agent living at 202 Edinburgh Road, currently named Changde Road, which is not far from Chateau 35, a Western eatery established in 2010.  Officially, Emme was an engineer working for C. Melchers & Co.

Described as a thin, gaunt-faced near sighted man with glasses, standing no taller than five feet six inches and head of Tientsin’s Gestapo, he was a private in the German Reserves before being recruited into the Gestapo. “The S.D. took me away from the Army,” Emme said during his interrogation.  “I felt I had to do it.  Just another patriotic duty.”

Despite being newly married to Elvira Wormsbecher, a woman he met in Tientsin, Emme had no identification of any kind after he was captured in Tientsin, according to the OSS secret report, now declassified.  His front was as an engineer working at Melchers & Co., Number 16 Bruce Road, but he was an agent of the S.D., an affiliated sister organization of the dreaded Gestapo.  Emme reported to Gestapo man Charles Schmidt in Peking (Beijing), who reported to Colonel Josef Meisinger, the “Butcher of Warsaw” in Shanghai, according to Wiedemann.

Inside the Tientsin Municipal Police Station, a nervous Emme tripped on his answers saying he was simply excited, many times refusing to answer questions fired fast as a MG 34 machine gun.  He was confronted with a list of names and checkmarks in his own imitation leather notebook.  Agents feared it was a blacklist.

The list of names is not short.  “Will you explain these entries?”  Captain Coulson of the OSS pointed to page number ten.

“These are acquaintances of mine.  Mr. M. Stahmer.  These are check marks for Christmas cards.”

“When did you send that card, last year?”

“No, must have been the first Christmas I was out here in 1941.”

“Why did you preserve this book – a record of Christmas cards sent in 1941?”

“I forgot about it,” Emme said.

“You tore out many pages.  The entries in it are all in your writing.  Did you tear these pages out?”

“Yes I did.  It was used in the office as the book was not used any more after 1940 or 1941.”

“But you have preserved these pages.  These names are of people you did not send cards to?”

No direct answer, and then the captain squeezes the trigger again.

“You entered these names here.  For what purpose?  Did you put these names in the book?”

“I put my acquaintances in the book to remember so that they would not be offended.”

“How does it happen that the check marks against the names are in ink and these names are in pencil?”

“I don’t know.”


E. Wolf

J. Mueller



“Why did you not send him a Christmas card?”

No answer.

Fritz Selieneyer

Dr. Richard Brieuer

Wener Koelin



Captain Coulson made a note to show Podgoretney had died in Shanghai, then showed Emme a business card for Dr. Bongarten found inside the notebook.

“Did he know you were a Gestapo man?” the captain said.


Caught.  The captain turned pages.

“I show you the entries made upside down on page 73, will you explain?”

“These are weather entries of barometer readings.”

“When did you begin making these weather reports?”

“I got the barometer as a present and I started making them on June 16, 1945.”  The captain purposefully relaxed, asking Emme about hobbies, and then fired again.

“Did you ever own a radio sending or receiving set?”

“No, have no knowledge of radio.”

“Do you remember this?  You went to S.D. school to study radio for three months, and you learned how to make radios.”

“Studied code sending and receiving; I don’t remember any more of these signs.”

“Are you an experienced radio man or not?”

“I am not.”

You did study it for three months.”

“Yes, sending and receiving.”

Emme is caught in another blatant lie when asked about hidden property and jewelry, much of which, he said, belonged to his wife, which he pawned for money.

“Have you made any effort to conceal your property?”


The captain waved a receipt for personal property stored at the residence of Mr. L. Julian, in Tientsin. “You know what this is?”


“I will ask you again.  Did you deposit any of your property with friends for safe-keeping?”

“Yes, I have.”

“This receipt.  Mr. L. Julian. Where does he live?”

“I don’t know – he works in our company.”

“Have you left other property with other people?”

“Yes, Mr. Chi.”

“What is his first name and where does he live?”

“He has his office on the corner of Bristow Road and Rue Du Chaylard.”

“What did you leave with him?”

“I left one case of cutlery, a case of books, all together four cases.”

“Where has your wife left her jewels?”

“She has them with her.”

Emme was caught in deeper lies saying he never reported to the Abwehr Group, another Nazi intelligence-gathering agency that dealt exclusively

A house formerly owned by a Nazi general in Hexi District, in the old German Concession area - photo by C.S. Hagen

A house formerly owned by a Nazi general in Hexi District, in the old German Concession area – photo by C.S. Hagen

with human intelligence, and then conveniently remembered he had filed a report about Japanese forces in Qingdao, a Shandong Province coastal city and former German Settlement.

Nothing else is known about Emme’s imprisonment or release, but when Germany surrendered Wiedemann quickly called OSS agents and negotiated his own surrender. He didn’t want to be captured by the quickly encroaching Soviets to the north and feared retribution from vengeful Werwolfs.

“There were some Germans who were really anti-Nazi in China,” Wiedemann said, “but I don’t know if Meisinger really gathered information about these people.  Once I was told that one of these businessmen in Tientsin is accused to be anti-Nazi and acting against the interests of the Reich and regime and said … [there were] files about this businessman.”


Tientsin’s Nazi Past

According to a 1946 U.S. War Department document entitled “German Intelligence Activities in China During World War II” declassified by the CIA in 2001, many of China’s German businessmen were considered a threat to US interests because they had entrenched themselves deeply into both Chinese society and business venues.

Before the First World War Germany had a lease for a concession area in the southwest section of Tientsin for ninety-nine years.  The area was taken over by the Japanese in 1917.  Despite the lack of an official concession, Germany continued trade and furthered political and business interests within the country and by the start of World War II the Nazi party had branches in Shanghai, Peking, Tientsin, Hankow, Tsingtao, Canton, Tsinan, Chefoo, Foochow and Kunming, (respectively Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, Hankou, Qingdao, Guangzhou, Jinan, Yantai, Fuzhou and Kunming).  The branches were small, and out of 4,300 Germans in China at the time, the Nazi Party boasted 575 members.

Hitler Youth and League of German Girls in Tientsin - online sources

Hitler Youth and League of German Girls in Tientsin – online sources

Tientsin had ninety-eight registered Nazis of the total 700 German residents, costing the Fatherland 45,000 Deutschmarks a month (an actual 25,000 in real expenses), Wiedemann said.  Funds were transferred through companies, sometimes directly from the German-Asiatic Bank (Deutsche-Asiatische Bank) until the end of the war, which included subsidies for the German Deutscher Zeitung newspaper for North China.  Tientsin’s most popular Nazi publication was the Twentieth Century magazine, known as the “slickest piece of propaganda disseminated by any government.”   Another newspaper in Tientsin was the Deutsh-Chinesische Nachrichten, run by Waldemar Bartels, who died in a Japanese Prison, charged with activities defying Berlin and Tokyo.  Tientsin also had access to radio station XGRS, which was operated on direct orders from Berlin’s Propaganda Ministry.

Other German companies in Tientsin at the time included the Defag on Victoria Road, another front for Nazi activists, and Siemens on Taku Road.  There was also the German School on Yunnan Road, which was founded by German businesses, but was later taken over by Nazi Germany in the 1930s.  Germans built a park at Woodrow Wilson and Soochow roads, and a German-American Hospital between Ningpo and Tanchu roads.  The German Lutheran Church with its picturesque cemetery – now gone – was located on Shensi Road.  The German Concordia Club, still standing today, was a popular meeting place for Germans before and during World War II.  The main library was British, called Tientsin’s British Municipal Library, and local Chinese were not allowed entry.

Tientsin’s German companies Melchers, Defag, Kunst & Albers, the Deutsche-Asiatische Bank , among others, are on file with the “Records Pertaining to Axis Relation and Interests in the Far East” stored at The National Archives in Washington D.C.

Melchers, the company Emme and other Nazis used as a front, was a trading company established in Tientsin in 1898.  After both the first and second world wars the company was liquidated, according to a company booklet commemorating Melchers 175 operational years in 1981.  The U.S. War Department reported the most important feature during the war years for Melchers and Defag in China, and Illies & Co. in Japan was transferring funds and financing various Nazi intelligence groups.  Although Japan and Germany were allies, trade suffered immeasurably.

After World War II German companies liquidated, according to the U.S. War Department.  Proceeds from the sales of businesses, houses and properties were distributed to German citizens as payroll.  Swiss francs or US dollars were purchased through collaborationist friends known as “straw men,” which then went to purchasing gold bars, later hidden in cellars and backyards.  According to the Melchers’ booklet, Carl Gerhard Melchers, fifth generation of the family involved in company management at Tientsin, tried to continue the business but left China in 1951.  Melchers reentered the China market through Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur and had a liaison office in Peking (Beijing) at the time the booklet was published.


Newspapers and foreigners’ accounts who lived in Tientsin during the 1930s and early 1940s report Tientsin’s different nationalities mingled, sometimes bickered at local nightclubs and cabarets.  Excluding White Russian and Japanese funded gangs and hit squads roaming the concessions, racial or political violence was rare, but occurred on occasion.  On September 6, 1939 a German fired upon a patrol in the British Concession, according to the Kalgoorlie Miner newspaper.  There were no casualties, but a group of local members of the British Defense Force stormed a German Tennis Club and arrested the shooter.  Each concession lived by its own sets of laws and customs, rarely venturing past the safety of its own barricades, and were impervious to Chinese law.

Isabelle Maynard in her book Growing Up Jewish in Tientsin says that as a child she remembers Hitler Youth marching down Victoria Road, swinging swastikas and singing “Horst Wessel” at the top of their lungs.  “Englanders” fought back with patriotic songs of their own.  Once, written on the Tientsin Jewish School’s wall, someone scrawled the word Djid, meaning dirty jew, which instantly electrified the high school boys into a search for the culprit.

Anti-semitic activity in conjunction with Hitler’s Final Solution was not high on the Nazis’ and German consul-general’s to do list.

The Kiessling's Cafe - established in 1906 as a bakery. Herr Kiessling set up another restaurant in the German Concession called Kiessling and Bader's Cafe. The restaurant was staffed by White Russian girls and Chinese waiters and was considered a "guide to European Tientsin and a source of great pleasure to its inhabitants." In the 1990s copies were attempted in Tientsin, which failed.  The first floor is now a KFC, leaving only the upper floors as a bar and restaurant.

The Kiessling’s Cafe – established in 1906 as a bakery. Herr Kiessling set up another restaurant in the German Concession called Kiessling and Bader’s Cafe. The restaurant was staffed by White Russian girls and Chinese waiters and was considered a “guide to European Tientsin and a source of great pleasure to its inhabitants.” In the 1990s government-operated copies were attempted in Tientsin, all of which failed. The first floor is now a KFC, leaving only the upper floors as a bar and restaurant. – photo by C.S. Hagen 

As a high-ranking representative of Nazi Germany’s government, Wiedemann, who lived at Number 1 Detring Court, spent most his mornings at the Kiessling’s Café, talking to friends, employees, agents and contacts.  Although Wiedemann had been “banished” to Tientsin, he immediately accepted the posting when it was offered.  He wanted to remove himself as far from Nazi Germany as he could.

“As I greeted my subordinates in my office in Tientsin I told them I didn’t come out to Tientsin to work,” Wiedemann laughingly told OSS agents.  He laughed frequently during the interrogation.  “It was the same for me as in the old Roman Empire – send somebody across the Mediterranean – away from the capitol.”

Wiedemann’s duties as the consul-general were to give lessons, called Zellenabende, once a month to Tientsin’s German residents, hold celebrations on Hitler’s birthday and holidays, donate clothes and food for the poor, give speeches, pass faulty information to Japanese through Chinese employees and relay information.  He did not admit to being a spy, and said his interests in Tientsin were mostly of a commercial nature.  Wiedemann also attended and maintained the “German-Italian-Japanese Friendship Organization” which was an obligatory social gathering where plays and concerts were performed in the name of mutual friendship.

Despite the Tripartite alliance between Germany, Italy and Japan, nothing in Tientsin was easy, Wiedemann said.  Communication was the most difficult aspect of his duties as the Japanese military authorities would not allow any direct transmissions to Berlin.  He was aware of messages being coded with secret ink or photographed as microdots, then sent through drop boxes or by slow courier or with Italian assistance by radio, but he said he had nothing to do with espionage.

Nobody trusted anybody, he said.  The alliance was a superficial one in Tientsin, at best.  Despite the existence of Hitler Youth, few Germans, if any, actively followed Nazi protocol or attempted to stem the growing flow of Jewish refugees in the city. Mostly, German nationals were concerned with lining their pockets, like any other businessman or woman.

In a 2003 story made public by the OSS Society, Inc., Grant “Barney” Fielden says the Federal Bureau of

The German Concordia Club - online sources

The German Concordia Club – online sources

Investigation expressed great interest in debriefing Wiedemann.  When the OSS plane was landing in Tientsin,

Japanese soldiers surrounded the plane with their swords drawn, they were surprisingly allowed to land and take Wiedemann into custody.  He was flown to Kunming for debriefing.

“You had to like the guy,” Fielden wrote.  “Remember, he was a Nazi official for years, but he was ever the diplomat: suave, black homburg, very sophisticated.”

According to interrogation records from the Office of US Chief of Counsel for the Persecution of Axis Criminality, Wiedemann was in Hitler’s “Inner Circle,” but Allied negative opinions of Wiedemann lessened after the Swiss Consul in Tientsin spoke up for his anti-Nazi attitude.  While in Tientsin, Wiedemann’s speeches were mostly against Hitler, which nearly cost him his job, and he feared for his life.


The German Concession formerly on Wilhelmstrasse Avenue - then Woodrow Wilson now Jiefang Road

The German Concession formerly on Wilhelmstrasse Avenue – then Woodrow Wilson now Jiefang Road – online sources

“In Tientsin my views were well known before very long,” Wiedemann said in the report.  “I was opposed to Hitler’s policies.  I was opposed to the war.

“[I was] put into the doghouse.”

Wiedemann was a royalist.  He believed in the power of the monarchy and saw Nazism and Bolshevism as “two sides to the same coin.”  As a socialite and opportunistic spy, he enjoyed his women, his schnapps, his thick German beer, Kiessling Cafe’s fresh bread and Wiener Schnitzels and decided the Nazi ship would sink long before Victory in Europe Day.  He contacted the OSS not only because the Soviet invasion was looming, but also because he feared retribution from the Werwolf Underground.

From men like Emme.

When asked about other potential Werwolf Underground members Wiedemann listed Peter Meinss of Tientsin as the most fanatical; Charles Schmidt of Peking; Major Huber of Shanghai; Franz Marks, chancellor of the Tientsin Consulate who according to OSS records was the most fanatical long term Tientsin Nazi, and lastly Ulbrecht, Hitler Youth leader in Tientsin.  Such men, Wiedemann thought, disguised themselves as businessmen and were financed through banks such as the German-Asiatic Bank.  Through secret letters sent directly from Colonel Meisinger, they were capable of partisan work such as spreading leaflets and making threats, after Nazi Germany’s surrender.

No matter how the Gestapo might have denied their careful scrutiny of its citizens at home and abroad, every spy had a card index file with photos of residents under police surveillance, and kept a blacklist of all German undesirables, Wiedemann said.

The OSS records do not confirm, nor do they deny the “Tientsin List” was either a candid Christmas card notes or a lethal hit list.  The truth will never be revealed, but it was proof enough for Wiedemann, an opportunistic former adjutant of Hitler’s, the consul-general of Tientsin, to surrender to American agents.

After World War II he testified at the Nuremberg Trials, and spent twenty-eight months in prison before returning to the farming life in Upper Bavaria.  He died January 17, 1970.  In 2012 news agencies around the world reported Wiedemann helped save Ernst Hess, Hitler’s commandant of the List Regiment during World War I.  Although Hess, a decorated war hero, survived the Holocaust, the Jewish Voice from Germany and other news sources report Hess was sent to a labor camp in Munich where he suffered terribly.


Tientsin’s Jewish Struggle – Tientsin at War – Part IV

TIANJINThis is the fourth article in the “Tientsin at War” series, stemming mostly from books, interviews and actual government and newspaper reports.  Many of the shocking details were revealed by an anonymous Jewish refugee on a typewriter in 1937, desperately pleading for help from the US government. His pleas fell on deaf ears.  Before 1940, some reports claim more than 5,000 Jewish refugees escaping Czarist pogroms and later Stalin’s purges, fled south through Manchuria and trickled down to Tientsin, where for a time, they thrived. Kept hidden since 1937, here is the story of Tientsin’s Jews.   

By C.S. Hagen

TIENTSIN, CHINA – All around the main story was filler.  Scabby headlines left fingers black: Hymn of the Triumphing Demon, and League of Nations: Organ of the World Jewish Super Government.  The main story in the Czarist newspaper drew a crowd one early morning to the Victoria Café.  Despite late summer heat, bad news chilled Tientsin’s Jewish community.

Although Tientsin’s Jews had their own newspaper, the Utro, founded in 1931, on Monday, August 23, 1937 it lay forgotten at the stoop.  The aromas of fresh bread wafted from the bakery’s open window.  Late night rickshaw coolies stopped on their way home to watch the commotion.  A bent Ashkenazi Rabbi flattened the Czarist newspaper, Resurrection of Asia, a White Russian rag.

Most days the fascist publication was ignored, but recently, the Japanese anti-Semitic pendulum was swinging fast.  No one could understand the Japanese Military Authority’s tactics.  One day they welcomed, the next, they invested in White Russian anti-Bolshevik, Jew-hating rhetoric.  The early-morning crowd tightened around the Rabbi.  There were fur traders, jewelers and doctors.  Two German Jewish dentists and a ballet teacher, all come to buy their morning bread.  All stopped to listen.

“In connection with the large number of enquiries and requests from the Russian non-military emigrants—” The Rabbi was interrupted.  Mister Zondovitch, the owner of a small fur trading company, stepped closer.

“What requests?  Who’s been making requests?”

The Xiaobailou "Little White House" area of Tientsin where Jews lived in the 1930s and 1940s

The Xiaobailou “Little White House” area of Tientsin where Jews lived in the 1930s and 1940s – photo by C.S. Hagen

“Maybe you have, Mister Zondovitch,” a cocky young student said.  He held a newly released book called Red Star Over China.  “After all, your good book says, ‘ask and you shall receive.’  In my book it says—”

“Feh!  I wouldn’t ask those Czarist goyim for –”

“Quiet, quiet down,” a middle-aged orthodox Jew said.  “If I wanted to hear squabbling I would have stayed home.  Please Rabbi, continue.”

The Rabbi cleared his throat, adjusted his glasses and smoothed his cottony beard.  The newspaper doubled over at the accordion fold and the young student hurried to help.

“Yes, here we are.  In which the White Russian emigrants are in Tientsin, the Peiping-Tientsin District of the Far Eastern Military Union establishes…” He scanned the page.  “A temporary civilian affairs department, and the above-mentioned White Russian emigrants may register with it.”

“Would that mean we can go home?” the orthodox Jew said.

“It’s not quite finished,” the Rabbi said.

“Will we have papers?” the ballet teacher said.  “Ay-yay-yay.”

The State Hotel, in the "Little White House" area of Tianjin, also, I believe, the site for the Victoria Cafe (please correct me if I am wrong) - photo by C.S. Hagen

The State Hotel, in the “Little White House” area of Tianjin, also, I believe, the site for the Victoria Cafe (please correct me if I am wrong) – photo by C.S. Hagen

“Certainly not,” Zondovitch said.  “Do you know who runs the Far Eastern Military Union?”

“It continues,” the Rabbi said.

“Let him finish,” the student said.  Twelve Russian Jews huddled closer.  All gathered could read Russian as well as some English, and they spoke mostly Yiddish but the news took a heavier, more meaningful form when read by the Rabbi.

“The right to register is granted to those White Russian emigrants who are firmly of anti-communistic views and who share the principles of the New North China and its brotherly Nippon and Manchukuo, but to those who intend to reside within the New North China not recognizing its laws and regulations this right of registration is not granted.”

“That leaves me out,” the student said.

This is no right, no privilege,” Zondovitch said.  “It’s the start of another pogrom.  Everyone knows what kind of a mad man Pastukhin is.  Do you remember what happened to Mister Brenner?”

Aaron Brenner, a Jewish furrier for an American company in Tientsin, was kidnapped and held for ransom on November 11, 1929, according to the Binghamton Press.  He was enticed by a blond White Russian woman named Yena Sverkoff, a manicurist, and married to a Japanese, who tricked Brenner to members of the Czarist “White Guard.”  The Czarists demanded USD 500,000 in ransom.  As time wore on, their monetary demands lessened, and when British police closed in, Brenner was released.  Aaron Brenner and his brothers, Joseph and Herman, remained tight-lipped about the experience.  The culprits were caught and most sentenced to life imprisonment by a Chinese judge.

The "Little White House" which had a sordid history, once known to be a brothel area in the early 1900s, was burned down, rebuilt, and later occupied by Jewish refugees - photo by C.S. Hagen

The “Little White House,” which had a sordid history, once known to be a brothel area in the early 1900s, was burned down, rebuilt and later occupied by Jewish refugees. – photo by C.S. Hagen


Whispers of Tientsin Pogroms

White Russian pogroms began long before World War II, shortly after the Czar’s humiliating defeat by the Japanese and before Bolshevists murdered the Russian royal family.  Records from American and British consulates date back to 1896, when Jews fled south to Manchuria, hoping to escape persecution from Cossacks.

But the Cossacks, beaten by Bolsheviks, followed.

Stateless, disillusioned and angry, the Cossacks, referred to as White Russians (opposed to communist Reds) in most newspapers of the time, became rickshaw pullers, and bodyguards.  Many joined Chinese warlords in the 1920s to further their anti-Semitic and imperialistic goals.  Violent men such as Marshal

White Russians - online source

White Russians – online source

Chang Zong-chang of the Fengtian Army, nicknamed the “monster” because of his size, was once a coolie, then a self-declared murderer-white-slave-runner-bandit-turned-warlord, The News reported on February 27, 1927.  He hired as many White Russians as he could find.

“I have my plans,” Marshal Chang said in an interview.  Marshal Chang liked to boast, especially when it came to his harem, which numbered fifty.  He once held up the Tientsin-Pukow Railway for three days while a train containing thirty new members of his harem arrived.  “I have four thousand White Russians.  They are wonderful fighters.  My personal bodyguard is composed of eight hundred of them.”

Tientsin’s Jews did not flinch.

“Due to the critical situation now prevailing in Tientsin, many young Jews have enrolled as volunteers in the foreign town militia,” the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported on June 26, 1927. “It was learned that many of the Monarchist Russians are serving in the Chinese army.  The enrollment of the Jewish group in the town militia was viewed as a precautionary measure to prevent any anti-Jewish excesses which may be started by the Czarists.”

When the warlord era finished so did fascist attempts at a Jewish pogrom, but the White Russians turned to their one-time sworn enemy, Japan.

A newspaper called Nashput, meaning “Our Way” began attacking Jews in Harbin, a northern Manchurian city and one of the first inhabited by Jewish refuges.  The newspaper spat anti-Semitism, calling for local Chinese to rise up against the Jews.

“So violent has been this paper’s campaign of vilification of the Jews, that many of them here… are living in a state of terror,” a 1929 Foreign Office Files report for the British Consulate stated.  The Russian Fascist Party published the newspaper, frequently depicting Jews as “hangmen,” “bloodsuckers” and that they “used blood for rituals.”

Tientsin Troop, National Organization of Russian Scouts, 1938 - source Pinetree Web

Tientsin Troop, National Organization of Russian Scouts, 1938 – source Pinetree Web

“The late publishing[s] of the paper Our Way have assumed a distinct character of the campaign for the Jewish ‘pogrom,’ i.e. assault on the Jews,” the British Foreign Office files reported. “The campaign engenders panic in the Jewish population of Manchukuo [Manchuria], and is compelling many Jews fearing for their lives and property to leave the state.”

Many did leave.  They packed up their meager belongings and migrated 700 miles to Tientsin.  Not long after their arrival however, Captain E. H. Pastukhin, a Cossack officer who served in the Czarist armies attempted a new pogrom, according to American Consulate records from 1937.  Backed by Japanese money and military, he began publishing the Resurrection of Asia to spur locals against Bolshevists and Jews living in Tientsin.

By 1937, the Japanese Military Authority was running most of Tientsin, excluding the concessional areas, and they recruited stateless White Russians for three dollars a day into their military.  Although the Japanese initially protected Tientsin Jews, Pastukhin persuaded some officials into believing all Jews were communists, and he was allowed to establish a militant “Anti-Communist Committee,” known as the “supreme arbiter over the lives and souls of all White Russians in North China,” according to a U.S. Embassy at Peking report on August 30, 1937.

“The Russian monarchists in China are now trying to take advantage of the strained situation between the two countries [China and Japan],” the Jewish Criterion reported on April 11, 1930.  “They [White Russians] are now taking a very active part in the work of persecuting Jews, or spying on them and of inciting the authorities against them.”


A decrepit stand alone building in the old Japanese Concession, near Suma Street where the White Russian Anti-Communist Committee had their headquarters – photo by C.S. Hagen

Pastukhin was also head of the local Far Eastern Military Union, and was known as a devout follower of the “Mad Baron” Roman von Ungern-Sternberg, a brutal Czarist warlord.  According to the book Shanghai on the Metro by Michael B. Miller, Pastukhin, with nowhere to go, was a crook and a brute, a man sold out to Japan.  While in Siberia, Pastukhin slaughtered countless victims from armored trains named Merciless, the Terrible, the Master, the Horrible, the Ataman and the Destroyer.

In Tientsin, Pastukhin’s headquarters and Japanese-funded printing press was at 15-16 Suma Road, Japanese Concession, which is near present day Shenyang Road, but he lived in an ex-German Concession mansion, grandiosely nicknamed the White House.  Pastukhin was “ready at a moment’s notice, to rise to fight the Comintern – to fight for Nationalist Russia,” British Foreign Office files stated about the Czarists.  “They believe that every means must be employed to free Russia from the clutches of the Red Devil.”

The Jews of Tientsin passed through a dark period, according to the Far Eastern Information Bureau in New York.  Owing to the fact that the vast majority of the Tientsin Jews were stateless Russian emigrants, meaning no country protected them and they were subject to Chinese courts and laws, the Anti-Communist Committee exerted heavy pressure on Jews to join its ranks and pay exorbitant membership fees.

Some Tientsin Jews, comprised mostly of furriers, restaurateurs, watchmakers, doctors and dentists, said no.

White Russian fascist cliques, such as Tientsin’s “Forty-Seven Group” traveled in a special train furnished by the Japanese, according to Office of Strategic Services records named the China Card Files, and took matters into their own hands.

“It was generally believed that what happened in Manchuria during the past six years could not take place here where the protection of the foreign concessions, the general atmosphere of security of Tientsin and the influential public opinion of the international communities would make the success of such a highly-political and forcible regimentation unlikely,” a letter written from a Jewish refugee and manager of Oppenheimer Casing Co. in Tientsin to the U.S. Embassy in Peking states.  The Jewish manager remained nameless, but was vouched for by the sausage casing company’s U.S. corporate office in Chicago, the assistant secretary, Mister Jaffe.

“The Anti-Communist Committee, however, managed to dissipate such doubts very rapidly.”


Tientsin’s Jewry – “It Can’t Happen Here!”

At the outbreak of World War II, when Japan launched a full-scale invasion of China, Tientsin’s Jewish population had surpassed 3,500 people, according to the Jewish Quarterly.

It wasn’t the first time China welcomed Jews.

Three centuries before Marco Polo’s arrival, Jews traveled the old Silk Road in western China and settled in a city called Kaifeng, in Henan Province.  Time and inter-marriage assimilated the “Kaifeng Jews,” who, by the time World War II began were indistinguishable from their Chinese neighbors.  According to a December 13, 1955 report published by the British Consulate’s Far Eastern Department, a small handful of people in Kaifeng still refused to work on certain days of the year, which coincided with Jewish holidays.

In 1937, however, Jewish dentist shops and clinics lined Tientsin’s streets.  They built synagogues, restaurants, businesses and libraries; they came with little but the clothes on their backs and their skills.

Most Jewish accounts written about Tientsin life in the 1930s are filled with warm, safe memories, of Chinese Amahs’ lullabies, of kites and elephants of the Italian circus, concerts in the Hai-Alai hall.  Even with 700 Germans in Tientsin before the outbreak of World War II, of which 98 were Nazis, Tientsin’s Jews had little to fear until the White Russians joined forces with their one time enemy, Japan.

Pogrom’s whispers materialized into damning posters, official mandates and a “White Guard.” Some Jews applied to the Anti-Communist Committee for identification papers and were turned down.  Others made a beeline for the Soviet Consulate in Tientsin.  A few, once again, began packing.  Most Tientsin’s Jews, however, decided to resist.

“In the northern Chinese city of Tientsin, White Russian Guards fighting with the Japanese forces there attempted a pogrom among the local Jews,” the Jewish Chronicle reported in September 1937.  The Jews countered, forming their own Jewish Defense Volunteer Organization, moved to the British and French concessions in the city and bypassed Pastukhin’s orders, appealing directly to friendly Japanese military authorities.

Not all White Russians sided with the so-called White Guard.  And when they didn’t, Pastukhin flexed his muscles, perhaps using gangs like

Tientsin's northeast skyline used to decorated with Russian spires, today few Russian buildings remain - photo by C.S. Hagen

Tientsin’s northeast skyline used to be decorated with Russian spires, today, few Russian buildings remain – photo by C.S. Hagen

the “Forty-Seven Group.”

A prominent Russian disappeared from his London Road home.  A week later his mutilated corpse was found floating in a creek under Elgin Avenue Bridge, Desmond Power wrote in his autobiography Little Foreign Devil.  British authorities soon after began rounding up the White Guard for questioning, and then two more Russians were kidnapped in Tientsin.

“The consequences became apparent at once,” the Oppenheimer Casing Company letter stated.  “Several of those who applied for membership and were refused (because the Anti-Communist Committee did not like their noses) were warned by the Anti-Communist Committee hoodlums to clear out of town whether they live in the concessions or not.”

By December 7, 1939, the Anti-Communist Committee had refused more than one hundred stateless Russian Jews for registration, and not because they were communists.

“The reason for refusal is usually given as suspected Soviet leanings, in reality, it is either anti-Semitism or dislike for the applicants’ decent job and clothes; for, paradoxically, these anti-Communists are violently anti-bourgeoisie and detest those who have succeeded in elevating themselves above the levels of the White Russian rabble.”

Some Jews, according to the Oppenheimer Casing Company letter, were arrested by the Japanese military on trumped up charges of espionage.  A well-known transportation man was jailed for three months under terrible conditions before being shipped to Shanghai.

Tientsin’s Jews were trapped.  They could not travel without identification papers, and most did not want to return to their motherland, the newly-formed USSR.  The few who were accepted into the Anti-Communist Committee paid heavy dues.  With monthly salaries under USD 100, they were forced to pay up to four dollars in fees, known as the “Voluntary Self-Taxation,” every month.  Those with higher salaries were made to contribute up to five percent of their salaries.

The former Soviet Embassy, once raided by White Russians in the 1930s - photo by C.S. Hagen

The former Soviet Embassy, once raided by White Russians in the 1930s – photo by C.S. Hagen

A man named Mister Rubin, the owner of a grocery store on Dickinson Road, was forced to pay an entrance fee of USD 1,000 before being considered for enrollment.  Older men who were allowed into the Anti-Communist Committee performed odd jobs around the committee clubhouse on Suma Road.  Women were cajoled into spying on fellow members, Soviet citizens in Tientsin or newly arrived immigrants.  Children and young men were forced to join the military scout units and trained mercilessly a short distance outside of Tientsin.

The Japanese Military Authority denied any knowledge when stateless Russian Jews were rounded up for military training, saying they did not interfere with White Russian affairs, according to the Biloxi Daily Herald on October 17, 1941. When eleven youths refused to go, the Anti-Communist Committee revoked their permits, leaving them once again, stateless.

There was little the United States could do to help in Tientsin, was chief of the U.S. Division of Far Eastern Affairs Maxwell M. Hamilton’s response.



Prior to World War II Japanese politics were split on the Jewish issue.  One side, led by leaders such as Shioden Nobutaka and Navy Captain

A clock repair shop in the old Japanese Concession - photo by C.S. Hagen

A clock repair shop in the old Japanese Concession – photo by C.S. Hagen

Inuzuka Koreshige, called the Jews in Asia the “Jewish Menace.”  After Japan became a member of the Anti-Comintern Pact in 1936, Nazi Germany applied pressure to the Japanese public to accept anti-Semitism.

To the south in Shanghai, a city where nearly 20,000 mostly German Jews found a semblance of refuge in the Shanghai Hongkew ghetto, Colonel Josef Meisinger the “Butcher of Warsaw,” who was head of the Gestapo in China, tried to convince Japanese military authorities to load Jewish refugees on to ships in the harbor and have them sunk or starved.

“The Jews thus assumed the role of the antithetical Western “Other,” providing the Japanese with a tangible focus for their wrath against the wartime Western enemy,” according to ‘Japan’s Jewish Other’: Anti-Semitism in Prewar and Wartime Japan by C.J. Pallister.

Still other Japanese thought the Jews in Asia could be exploited to manipulate foreign governments.  Historians later dubbed this plan the “Fugu Plan,” comparable to cooking the Japanese puffer fish called fugu, which contains lethal amounts of poison in its organs and must be carefully prepared.

In Tientsin three factors eased the Jewish community’s status: many White Russians including an unknown number of Jews, were sent north to fight the Soviet Union; Japan turned its interests elsewhere and began losing the war; and even though some White Russian fascists were arrested by British police, not all Japanese were sympathizers, and protected the Jews when they could.

The Leopold Building, now the Lihua building, known as a "skyscraper" in 1939 - online source

The Leopold Building, now the Lihua building, known as a “skyscraper” in 1939 – online source

One Jewish man from Switzerland, Marcel Leopold, arrived in Tientsin during the 1930s and saw he could make quick money.  He was a racetrack and gambling operator, married a White Russian woman and made enough money by 1939 to build a streamlined “skyscraper” on bustling Victoria Road, the British Concession’s main thoroughfare.  The building was named after him, the Leopold Building, and is now called the Lihua Building.  In his day the Leopold Building was used as office space and storefronts, selling everything from jewels to quick loans.

A former US Marine assigned to the 7th Regiment to accept and organize Japanese surrender in North China, David D. Girard, wrote about once meeting a man who fits the description of Leopold.

Girard described Tientsin in his short story, “China 1945-1946” as a forbidding fortress with high stone walls topped with iron fences, and once during his stay in Tientsin he was invited to Leopold’s penthouse in his high rise building.

“He was very blunt,” Girard wrote.  “He wanted us to get him and his family out of China on military or chartered aircraft.  Hell, we couldn’t get ourselves out, let alone him, even for the generous price he hinted at.”

Four years after the end of World War II when Mao Zedong’s communist forces sacked Tientsin, Leopold was convicted of stealing and selling Japanese Navy armaments and sentenced to nearly three years in a Chinese gaol.  Released in 1954, he turned to arms smuggling, quickly rising to become the “number one gunrunner in the world,” according LMS Newswire.

Leopold’s luck ran out however, in 1957 while boarding a plane to Tripoli with 130 pounds of explosives in his suitcase, he was caught, and then nine months later assassinated while out on bail by a homemade dart gun, The Caneberra Times reported.  A six-inch metal dart severed a blood vessel near his heart, and he died in his wife’s arms in Geneva.

Other, not quite as ambitious Jews created projects of their own while calling Tientsin home.  The B. Zondovitch & Sons Fur Company established in the 1930s, and headquartered in Harbin soon had branches in Tientsin, Shenyang and New York City.

According to the China Card Files, a fifty-year-old man named R. Abramoff, who was employed by Leopold, headed the Jewish Zionist military training in Tientsin.

The Victoria Café, established by a man named Bresler built the famous bakery and restaurant in the Xiaobailou “Small White Building” section and featured Russian styled Western food and top grade apartments on the upper floors.

Gershevich Bros., a leather company, was established by Leo Gershevich.  He came to Tientsin with his father and five of ten siblings from Russia in 1924 and by 1950 had three generations under one roof.

Perhaps the most famous of Jewish endeavors was the Kunst Club, built originally in 1928 and then moved to Twenty-fourth Street, now Qufu Street, in the British Concession in 1937.  The club had a library and a theater, which often held dramas, concerts and dancing performances.  The Jewish Club also featured a restaurant, a chess room and billiards room, and sadly, was torn down in 1999.

The Tientsin Jewish School had a student body of ninety-five, of which seventy-six were Jewish in 1935.  By 1936 the school reached 110 students and had fifteen teachers.

Among other endeavors the Jews built a synagogue, the Jewish Hospital, which healed both Jew and Gentile, a Home for the Aged, a Zionist youth organization, Betar, which engaged a rabbi who was in charge of all the religious activities, and a cemetery.  The Tientsin Hebrew Association registered births, deaths, and marriages and was a unifying force for Jews in Tientsin.

Pastukhin’s white army didn’t make it far before surrendering to Soviet forces, and White Russian leftovers such as the “Forty-Seven Group,” were rounded up or slipped through the cracks of postwar confusion.  The former Russian and many areas of the Japanese concessions are almost gone.

By 1947 only 900 Jews remained in Tientsin, according to the Jewish News Source, and by 1958 almost all of Tientsin’s Jews were granted identification papers by China’s communist party and had left for Israel or other Western ports.  Today, Tientsin’s Jews are hardly more than a memory, and a well kept one at that, but they left an indelible mark on the city of Tientsin.

Tientsin's Jewish Synagogue, built 1939 - photo by C.S. Hagen

Tientsin’s Jewish Synagogue, built 1939, the Star of David is long gone. The building was purchased by the Tianjin Municipal People’s Government Tianjin Catholic Diocese. In the 1990s it became a karaoke of ill repute before being used as an art museum. The building is now a culturally protected site, after the Igud Yotzei Sin (Association of Former Residents of China) made a formal plea. – photo by C.S. Hagen

The Warlords – Tientsin at War – Part V

TIANJINThis is the fifth story in the “Tientsin at War” series,which starts in 1918 and ends a few years before the Japanese full-scale invasion of mainland China. Although much of this true story takes place long before World War II, greedy warlords and the Zhili-Fentian civil wars drained China’s central government treasuries and weakened the country as a united military power, opening the coast to invasion.  The personalities of this time period are villains and heroes both, and far too many to include in one story. It was a time with no right and no wrong, for these people, there was only victory or defeat. 

By C.S. Hagen

Tientsin, China – If trees are the spirits to a city, then the old crabapple at Zhongshan Park is a broken one.  Its now gnarled trunk was only a sapling during China’s Warlord Era; its brothers – the vibrant cypress and weeping willows – have long since been replaced by younger strains.  Once, not so long ago, street side hawkers combed its lower limbs clean of its tart, coin-sized fruit for skewering and sugary glazing.

The tree’s too old for bearing fruit anymore.  If the old crabapple had a memory, or more appropriately if humans had ears that could hear, the tree might quiver before sharing the story of a murdered father and a son’s revenge.  Swaying a little closer to the ground, its voice low as a Mongolian throat singer’s, it might tell another similar tale, but this time of a daring woman’s vengeance upon a bloodthirsty warlord.

Then, straightening one twisted branch, scattering turtledoves, the old crabapple would point to a nondescript spot.

The spot where “Little Xu” executed “Slaughter Lu.”


A Gentleman’s Vengeance Can Wait Ten Years and Not Be Late [1918 – 1925]

Lu Jianzhang (陆建章)

Lu Jianzhang (陆建章)

Like most ambitious people in the Warlord Era, the decade after the Qing emperor’s abdication, Lu Jianzheng, or “Slaughter Lu,” rose and fell with his allegiances.  He was a married man, had at least one son named Lu Chengwu (陆承武), but built a reputation for being a black sheep, and in revolutionary circles was greatly feared.  When offered a chance to become the head of security for the new secret police in Peking, he leapt at the opportunity.

“It was a useful institution,” The Brisbane Courier reported on Friday, September 13, 1918 about Peking’s old secret police called Yuan Shi-kai’s Martial Court.  “The purpose of this position was to condemn to death political recalcitrant[s], without regard to the law.

“Its many victims were arrested in secret and polished off without a trial.”

The Martial Court became legal after Yuan Shi-kai, the dogmatic general who ousted the last Qing emperor from power to become the Republic of China’s first president then monarch, decided to rid the country of revolutionaries.  He was known as the “Father of Warlords,” and when he died unexpectedly of kidney failure in 1916, his armies fragmented into factions and Slaughter Lu lost his power.  He joined the clique closest to home.

“After Yuan’s death Lu found himself of little account,” The Brisbane Courier reported.  “Took the side of the Zhili Clique, and got himself greatly disliked.”

"Little Shu" (徐树铮)

“Little Shu” (徐树铮)

The two cliques vying for national power were the Zhili Clique, founded by Feng Guozhang, but led by Wu Peifu, and the Fengtian Clique, led by Zhang Zuolin, the “Rain Marshal.”

The Zhili Clique, named after modern day Hebei Province, was backed by western powers such as Great Britain and Germany.  The Fengtian Clique, named after modern day Liaoning Province, had Japan at its back.  Both cliques differed on who should be the next president, and Slaughter Lu traveled to Tientsin to discuss options to avoid war with Fengtian General Xu Shuzheng, who, despite his enormous size was better known as Little Xu.

While in Tientsin, Little Xu invited Slaughter Lu for tea at the Fengtian headquarters, formerly the Tientsin Yamen, or Qing Dynasty magistrate’s office and home, which is at the southern corner of Zhongshan Park.

“Unfortunately, he seemed to have thrown caution to the winds,” The Brisbane Courier reported.  “General Xu himself shot down the victim with a revolver.”

On the pretense of taking a pleasurable stroll through the garden, Little Xu’s soldiers first gunned down Slaughter Lu’s bodyguards, and then forced Slaughter Lu to his knees while Little Xu walked up behind him and put one bullet into the back of his head.

An old picture of former Tientsin Yamen area, Fengtian HQ, now near Zhongshan Park

An old picture of former Tientsin Yamen area, Fengtian HQ, now near Zhongshan Park – online sources

“From any point of view,” The Brisbane Courier reported, “it was a commendable murder, for Lu Jianzhang [Slaughter Lu] seems to have had a mind almost worthy of Prussians.”

Little Xu fled to Peking and procured a meeting with the Republican Cabinet, who whitewashed him.  Nobody wanted Slaughter Lu alive, and Little Xu endured no lengthy trial or jail time.

Slaughter’s Lu’s assassination carried few headlines in Western and Chinese press.

The same area today

The same area today – online sources

The Tientsin and Peking Times, one of North China’s most prominent newspapers at the time, smelled scandal.  “On that occasion General Lu accepted an invitation to lunch with General Xu.  On arriving at the latter’s residence he was arrested, taken out into the courtyard, and shot, without any form of trial or any charge being preferred against him.  A day or two later an attempt was made to regularize this murder by the issue of a mandate over the seal of President Feng Guozhang, accusing General Lu of attempting to incite the Zhili troops to revolt, and ordering his immediate execution and the cancellation of all his honors and titles.”

Besides the Tientsin and Peking Times, few cared, and there was a war to be fought, which the Zhili Clique won two years later.

Slaughter Lu’s son, Lu Changwu, or “Little Lu,” however, didn’t forget.  He quietly climbed military rank and file for the next seven years becoming a captain in the Zhili Clique’s army.    He was a cousin to Feng Yuxiang, the “Christian General,” also of the Zhili Clique, and married the daughter of a Tientsin flour and cotton taipan.  Little Lu waited, savoring vengeful thoughts, for the perfect time.

Little Xu quickly rose to military prominence through his notoriety as a bandit leader, the Examiner reported on Friday, January 1, 1926.  He was also called notorious, by the Riverine Herald, on August 9, 1921.  When Little Xu fell out of favor, he hid, mostly in the Japanese Concession at Tientsin.  Once, according to the Riverine Herald, when he was sentenced to death he fled to Peking’s Japanese Legation to hide.  He escaped on August 8, 1921 through a military cordon by being stuffed inside a trunk as officer’s luggage.

“Now he is again loose in China, and has recommenced his depredations,” the Riverine Herald reported.

He continued his “depredations” until December 29, 1925.

Little Lu was ready.  He attacked Little Xu’s train at the Langfang Train Station, sixty miles to Tientsin’s north.  A bomb, according to some newspaper sources, stopped the train and killed Little Xu’s bodyguards.  And then, just as with his father, Little Lu led Little Xu out into the train station’s platform and shot him in the back of the head.  At least twenty bystanders watched the execution, none were threatened or killed for what they saw, which alludes, ever so slightly, that Little Lu was confident with his guanxi, or powerful relationships.

Little Lu wasted no time.  He immediately began contacting local newspapers, admitting his guilt and describing his reasons with a confession he had written prior to the assassination.

“I waited seven long years to avenge the shooting of my father,” Little Lu wrote in his pamphlet.  “By the help of his spirit, Xu has not escaped my hand.”

This time, the murder did not escape the press.  From Paris to Tokyo, Mississippi to London, Little Lu became a filial son, seeking revenge for the cowardly murder of his father.

“Slayer, apparently still free, declares act revenge for murder of father,” The Evening Independent reported on December 30, 1925.

Reuters reported he was accompanied by a large amount of troops at the time of the assassination, and as of January 9, 1926 still had not been arrested.

“A Chinese Son’s Vengeance,” was another headline.

“Dramatic Climax to an old Chinese Feud,” reported another.

The British Consulate in Tientsin and again the Tientsin and Peking Times held a differing opinion.  Both believed another man, much more powerful than Little Lu was pulling the strings.

“His murder was accomplished with the connivance and active support of…  Marshal Feng Yuxiang [the Christian General].  It suggests, too, that those who planned the murder went to considerable pains to reduplicate, as far as possible, the circumstances in which Lu Jianzhang [Slaughter Lu] was shot in “Little Xu’s” back garden in Tientsin in June 1918.”

The Tientsin and Peking Times uncovered information other journalists had missed.

“Little Xu, on the 29th ultimo, appears to have been invited to tea… He declined the invitation, and was then forcibly removed from the train, trussed up like a fowl, and shot during the following night.”

While other newspapers sympathized with the image of a grieving son sworn to vengeance, Little Lu’s plot miscarried, according to the Tientsin and Peking Times.  The newspaper connected both murders to a conspiracy and cover-up leading straight to the Zhili Clique’s top officials.  Conveniently, the Christian General, accused by the newspaper of wrong doing, decided to retire from public office soon after the assassination.

“It is quite clear that those responsible for the murder were highly-placed officers… It may further be possible that Feng Yuxiang’s much advertised decision to retire, at any rate temporarily, to the sands of the Gobi, was influenced by the unexpected number of witnesses to the crime whose presence at the wayside station of Langfang can scarcely have assisted the plot.”

Little Lu surrendered to authorities a few hours after the assassination, the Tientsin and Peking Times reported, saying he had been an intimate friend of Little Xu’s, and had studied with him at the military college in Japan.  Although his actions that morning had been illegal, so also was his father’s murder.

“Lu Chengwu, who boasts that he committed the actual murder, was not only permitted to go scot free, but seems to have been given every facility for broadcasting telegrams glorifying in his act.

“We cannot pretend to have felt any regret of hearing of Little Xu’s death.  But a murder is a murder, by whomsoever committed.”

Precious little is known about what happened to Little Lu after journalists tired of his story.  Not long after the Zhili Clique won the first war, a second war began and the Christian General betrayed his comrades by shifting his allegiance to the Fengtian Clique, thus ensuring the Zhili Clique’s demise.  Little Lu most likely followed his cousin’s example, and for a time, in Tientsin, there was a semblance of peace.

Until Wednesday, November 13, 1935, when another assassination with alarming similarities took place inside a Buddhist temple, only this time committed by an untrained woman.


Bloodbath in a Buddhist Temple [1926-1935]

The day Shi Mulan dedicated her life to murder; she chose to unbind her broken lotus feet.

The process was painful.  Even as an adopted daughter, lotus feet had been a Shi family tradition for centuries.  Lack of the disfigurement meant a lesser dowry, perhaps even a poor choice for a husband.  Although she was noticeably pretty and said to be a filial daughter, nobody wanted a twenty-year-old big-footed girl.

“Binding feet is painful,” a commentator for a special report on China’s CCTV7 reported.  “But to unwrap her feet was even more painful.”  The healing process would take months, re-breaking every bone in both feet before she could walk on ten toes.

Shi Mulan was born in a Shandong Province village, but was adopted by Fengtian General Shi Congbin, who had been promoted to director of military affairs in Shandong Province and served as brigade commander under the local warlord Zhang Zongchang, widely known as the “Monster.”  In October 1925 after the Fengtian Clique regrouped from its losses and invaded once again, Shi Congbin found himself surrounded by Zhili General Sun Chuanfang’s troops.

(Left) Shi Mulan (施剑翘), name later changed to Shi Jianqiao (施剑翘) in Tientsin - online sources (Center) Shi Congbin (施從濱) (Right) Sun Chuanfang (孙传芳)

(Left) Shi Mulan (施剑翘), name later changed to Shi Jianqiao (施剑翘) in Tientsin (Center) Shi Congbin    (施從濱) (Right) Sun Chuanfang (孙传芳) – online sources

He was caught and Sun Chuanfang beheaded him.  His severed head was wrapped with chicken wire, and strung from a telephone pole at the Bengbu Train Station for three days.

“Killing an enemy was nothing to Sun Chunfang,” CCTV7 reported.  “But they had a kind of soldier’s understanding, a moqi, with each other, that they would not kill captives.  “It is not known why Sun Chuanfang killed him, maybe he was just being a headache.”

News traveled fast to Tientsin, where Mulan was studying at the Tianjin Normal University.  The local Red Cross in Bengbu gathered her father’s head and body, and she risked her life to retrieve the body for burial.

Gulan was Shi Congbin’s adopted daughter, but he loved her like a real daughter, CCTV7 reported.  At her father’s grave she swore vengeance.  “I am just a girl, with no gun, no power.  Wait until I have the power, and I will avenge you, dieh.

She first went to a tangge, or unrelated brother, named Shi Zhongcheng, who promised he would see her avenged.  His promises fell through, however, when he was promoted to a military commander position.  Her tangge would not dare risk his prestige.

Next, she sought help from a marriage suitor, Shi Jinggong, who promised to assist her kill Sun Chuanfang if she married him.  And she did.  She bore two children while waiting for her husband to fulfill his promise, but he assumed time as well as their children would tame his wife’s vengeful ambitions.

“She was extremely disappointed in her husband’s failure,” CCTV7 reported.  “Two men in her life failed her, but she was cemented in her need for vengeance.  She decided she would personally see to it that Sun Chuanfang would die.”

Sun Chuanfang's house at 15 Tai'an Road

Sun Chuanfang’s house at 15 Tai’an Road, Tientsin – online sources

Once an infamous warlord, Sun Chuanfang could not hide easily in Tientsin.  Everyone knew where he lived.  With her big, stable feet, Mulan was able to move relatively freely about Tientsin, discovering the license plate number of Sun Chuanfang’s car.  She watched him exit a movie theater in the British Concession, and followed him home only to realize there was no way in.  Cars were searched.  Two guards stood at tall iron gates at all times.  When she lingered, soldiers ordered her away.  Everywhere Sun Chuanfang went, heavily armed men accompanied him.

Mulan worried she would fail her promise to her father.

While walking through the British Concession one day, she saw protestors marching, vehemently damning Nationalist policies of softening relations with Japan, many of which had been instigated by Sun Chuanfang.  The sight of so many people united in a common cause gave her an idea, CCTV7 reported.  Although she never received a proper education, Mulan vent her frustrations by writing a manifesto that she had printed into pamphlets, signing the declaration under a new name, Jianqiao, meaning “edge of the sword.”  In the pamphlet she wrote that she killed Sun Chuanfeng for vengeance, but that he was also a danger to China, and was scheming with the Japanese to sell Qingdao, in Shandong Province, her home.

“She realized that she needed to gather society’s sympathy if she was to succeed,” CCTV7 reported.  “She realized this when she saw the thousands of people marching down the street in protest.”

Mulan also made out a will, advising her brothers Erli and Dali to take care of mother and her children.

Her eldest brother, Dali, gave her a pistol.

Armed with a new name, new determination and a fully loaded Browning, Jianqiao went one last time to a local temple

Shi Mulan (施剑翘), name later changed to Shi Jianqiao (施剑翘) in Tientsin - online sources

Shi Mulan years after the killing in Tientsin – online sources

to burn incense.  A temple monk noticed her grief, knew of her father’s grisly death, and thought a salve was in order.

“Don’t be so disheartened,” CCTV7 reported the monk said.  “When Sun Chuanfang was young he was a tyrant, but now, he’s a devout Buddhist.”

The news took Jianqiao by surprise, and it didn’t take long for her to find the right temple, not more than a few blocks away from the Zhongshan Park in the Qingxiaoyuan Hutong.  She began frequenting the temple, telling monks her name was Dong Hui, which means “director” and “intelligent.”  She discovered Sun Chuanfang led chants and prayers every Wednesday and Saturday, sometimes bringing his family, and rarely his bodyguards.

According to a British Consulate at Peking report, dated January 8, 1935 and written by Sir A. Cadogan, Sun Chuanfeng had many enemies, and spent his ill-gotten gains by fixing the temple.

He retired from military career and founded the Tianjin Qingxiu lay-Buddhist Society, according to the Guangming Daily.

“Maybe the gods looked down on her with favor,” CCTV7 reported.

It was raining the morning of November 13, 1935.  Sun Chuanfang’s guards were nowhere to be seen.  Jianqiao first knelt in the back row, then made her way forward.  As Sun Chuanfang ended his prayers, she stood to his right side, slipped the Browning from a pocket and without waiting for him to turn, fired three bullets into his back.

Sun Chuanfang died instantly.  Monks screamed.  Worshippers backed away in panic.  She threw a handful of her pamphlets into the air.

Huala, huala.  The papers fluttered.

“Don’t be afraid,” CCTV7 reported Jianqiao said.  “I have come to avenge my father.  I will only kill this one person.  Nobody else needs to get hurt.  Don’t be afraid.”

She then sat down and waited for police.

Tianjin Jushilin Temple 天津居士林 “The Layman’s Forest” (old and recent) in the Number 1 Qingxiuyuan Hutong, Nankai District (天津居士林(南开区清修院胡同10) 669 Chengxiang Middle Road, built in the late Ming Dynasty, known as a Buddhist lodge.   Closed in 1952 after the death of the head monk, and was a hospital during the Cultural Revolution, fell into disrepair until 1982 when the lodge was restored.  It is an important historical relic.

Tianjin Jushilin Temple 天津居士林 “The Layman’s Forest” (old and recent) in the Number 1 Qingxiuyuan Hutong, Nankai District (天津居士林(南开区清修院胡同10) 669 Chengxiang Middle Road, built in the late Ming Dynasty, known as a Buddhist lodge. Closed in 1952 after the death of the head monk, and was a hospital during the Cultural Revolution, fell into disrepair until 1982 when the lodge was restored. It is an important historical relic. – online sources

Once again, media from around the world leapt like wolves to fresh blood.  Although news of warlords, kidnappings, Japanese troops and British warships filled the papers every day in Tientsin, the media hadn’t had a case as exciting as Jianqiao’s since 1925 and Little Lu’s assassination of Little Xu.

Jianqiao pleaded guilty in court, but said she was only doing her duty as a filial daughter.  The papers called her a heroine.

“Chinese Marshal Assassinated by Woman,” The Daily Perth reported.

“Woman Avenges Father,” The Mercury reported. “The assassination occurred while Sun was attending a Buddhist meeting.  The woman stepped forward and shot him three times.  He died instantly, and she then quietly awaited the arrival of the police.”

“Chinese Warlord Assassinated,” the Northern Standard reported.

Local newspapers made parallels to a female character in famed Chinese author Pu Songling’s Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, who carefully planned and avenged her father’s death before hanging herself from the rafters in an act of filial piety.

Tientsin courts first sentenced her to 10 years imprisonment, and then later changed her sentence to 1,000 years imprisonment.  And then, her father’s comrade, the Christian General Feng Yuxiang stepped in, and on October 1936 she was pardoned.

Many journalists, authors and government and consulate officials have made the connection that Feng Yuxiang, the Christian General, dealt a heavy hand in both assassinations.  Some said she was Generalissimo’s personal assassin.

“In his dreams Sun Chuanfeng could never have imagined this man’s daughter would come for revenge 10 years later, “ CCTV 7 reported.

Jianqiao, who later became an active communist, denied any secret deals with Feng Yuxiang or Chiang Kai-shek, remaining adamant until her death that she was only interested in avenging her father’s murder.

Perhaps, the old crabtree in Zhongshan Park would share a different story.  If only the tree could speak.

The first and second Zhili-Fengtian Wars lasted from 1922 to 1927, with few years of peace. It was a time of chaos and betrayal. Newspaper headlines during that time daily recorded the movements of various warlords from Shanghai to Tientsin, and their battles bathed the fields between Peking and Tientsin in blood. – artwork by C.S. Hagen

The first and second Zhili-Fengtian Wars lasted from 1922 to 1927, with few years of peace. It was a time of chaos and betrayal. Newspaper headlines during that time daily recorded the movements of various warlords from Shanghai to Tientsin, and their battles bathed the fields between Peking and Tientsin in blood. – artwork by C.S. Hagen



Floating Corpses – Tientsin at War – Part VI


This is the sixth story in the “Tientsin at War” series, which delves deep into the terrifying years immediately preceding Japan’s invasion of the city.  Imagine a bustling metropolis sliced into angry factions.  The warlords have been beaten.  Britain clings desperately to a dying empire and Japan tips the scales with smuggling rings, heroin and vice, shot straight into the Tientsin veins.  Life in this city of nearly four million people can’t get much worse, until one spring morning in 1936 nearly one hundred young, male corpses float into the French Concession… 

By C.S. Hagen

TIENTSIN, CHINA – On the eve of Japan’s invasion of Tientsin, the floating dead were the city’s first invaders.

Human bodies came in the hundreds, bloated and disfigured.  They pressed into the Vichy French Concession’s banks near the International Bridge (now Liberation Bridge) during the spring of 1936.  More than seventy bodies were counted in one week alone, according to the old Ta Kung Pao Chinese newspaper.

The International Bridge, now known as Liberation Bridge at the north end of the old French Concession - photo by C.S. Hagen

The International Bridge, now known as Liberation Bridge at the north end of the old French Concession, where the floating corpses washed ashore – photo by C.S. Hagen

“Every morning floating corpses appear along the Tientsin’s Haihe [Hai River],” a 1936 article in the Ta Kung Pao reported.  “All kinds of assumptions are being made, and the legends are breathtaking.”

“When I arrived in Tientsin early in June, 1937,” John B. Powell wrote in his 1945 book My Twenty-five Years in China, “I found the Chinese population absorbed in what the newspapers called the “Corpse Mystery.  The sensation completely eclipsed local interest in the approaching war.”

At the time, newspapers prominently displayed  announcements issued by the provincial governor, General Sung Chehyuan, that a reward of USD 5,000 would be paid for anyone supplying information concerning the floating corpses.

Some thought the bodies were suicidal opium addicts, reminiscent of a similar mystifying debacle that occurred during the last dynasty’s twilight years.  Dozens of bodies washed ashore and could not be pulled out fast enough, reported an online audiobook’s true story called “Ghost Waters.”  Locals claimed a monster lived beneath the murky Haihe, one of China’s most polluted rivers, but after an investigation headed by the local magistrate a culprit much more menacing surfaced.

Patna opium.  All the victims died after smoking poisoned drugs inside a local opium den.  Their bodies were buried shallow, in a secluded spot along the river.  Summer rains washed the corpses free.

The floating dead in 1936 were different.  All the corpses were relatively healthy, and between thirty and forty years of age.  Not one woman or child was found among the dead and none appeared to have been beaten or shot.

“The bodies were all of the male sex, and ranged from twenty to forty years of age,” Powell wrote. “None of the bodies, it was said, showed evidence of physical violence.”

Recalling legends of river monsters and soul sucking fox demons, parents barred children access to the river’s edge.  The Tianjin Daily reported in a recent analysis of the case that hair-raising rumors of gang warfare, Manchurian prisoners pushed from a ship, and of secret Japanese poison gas chambers flooded the city.

The Five Rivers Police Department, Tientsin and municipal authorities hurried to investigate, but the clues led them nowhere, and the floating corpses kept rolling in.


The Mighty Haihe

No Haihe, no Tientsin.  The two are inseparable as the Jade Rabbit and the moon.  Tientsin’s truest residents are river people, unyielding as an undertow yet pleasant as a summer’s swim, not unlike the Tong brothers of the Chinese classic Water Margin.  They’re tenacious as leeches and lively as late summer hornets.  They’re builders, pirates and fishermen, traders and dreamers.  They build their roads to match the river, and nobody asks which way is north.

Fisherman on his own Haihe island - photo by C.S. Hagen

Fisherman on his own Haihe island (Wang Hai Lou Church in background – photo by C.S. Hagen

They’ve seen the world in crates and bundles, claim to know it all, and have no desire to see more because the river is their home.  From beneath the Haihe’s murky-brown-sometimes-poisonous-mostly-green-and-slimy surface, silver carp, frogs and water snakes make delicious dinners and childhood pets.  Seagulls are always on the watch for meals at its banks.  Despite the water’s tremendous undertow, old river men still enjoy summer swims.  Air is always cooler along its banks and at night, the Haihe’s sides are lined with fishing men and women, out more for an escape from humid homes and for idle gossip than a serious catch.  Sampans and rickety fishing boats still dock in the shade of weeping willows, which thrive so close to the life-giving water.

For centuries, Chinese engineers have battled this Haihe dragon, which is the confluence of five rivers: the Southern Grand Canal, Ziya River, Daqing River, Yongding River and the Northern Grand Canal.  The Haihe also connects to the Yellow and the Yangtze rivers before winding toward the Bohai Sea.

The Haihe, meaning “Sea River” was formerly called the Baihe (Paiho), or “White River,” but was originally named the Wudinghe, or “River with No Fixed Course” because it was constantly changing its course, and always left dead in its wake.

Rivers flood.  River people accept this.   The Haihe’s most recent flood occurred in July of 2012 killing 673 people and affecting 120 million across the Hebei plains.  And yet river people refuse to budge.  Farmers salvage what they can and hope for a better crop next year.  City people hike up their pants and skirts and wade to work.  When a house collapses, they rebuild, and with the endearing courage of a struggling grasshopper in a bluebird’s beak, they refuse to let the river break them.

Historically, Tientsin’s Haihe seems to be more trouble than it’s worth.  If the swiftly moving river wasn’t flooding, it was a watery road for gunboats, smugglers, opium and invasion.  During the colonial period merchant ships and gunboats steamed directly into Tientsin’s heart for trade or “unfair treaties.”  When Boxers stormed Tientsin in 1900, the river swallowed hundreds, if not thousands of victims, from both sides of the Boxer Uprising.

(Left) A fisherman making repairs to his boat (Right) Haihe swimmers

(Left) A fisherman making repairs to his boat (Right) Haihe swimmers

The Haihe has always had an open door policy, no questions asked, all 1,329 kilometers of it.  Hungry?  Snag a fish.  Got garbage?  No problem.  Suicide?  Sure, come on in.  The water’s great.  Gang war?  Strap that bad man’s hands behind his back and give him a shove; the river will find a front row seat.  The Haihe defied the British Empire when it demanded a fat, city chunk just as much as it repelled the Japanese Navy in 1937.

Boating along the Haihe - photo by C.S. Hagen

Boating along the Haihe – photo by C.S. Hagen

Some say the river pointed to where the floating corpses of 1936 and 1937 came from, and it eventually led investigators away from the opium dens in the Japanese Concession to a sewage drain at Haiguangsi.


The Red Poppy, White Flour and Anti-Aircraft Guns

Sun Tzu’s Art of War was not lost on the Japanese military before their invasion of Tientsin in 1937.

“To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”

Whether or not city gossip and newspaper stories of the time were accurate, the floating corpses were an excellent diversion from impending war.  Investigators and the city’s attention first turned to Tientsin’s vast opium society for answers.

During the prewar years whole sections of the Japanese Concession were honeycombed with drug dens, known as yang hangs, or foreign shops, selling everything from Hataman cigarettes to heroin.  “During these years,” wrote author David E. Kaplan and Alec Dubro in the book Yakuza Japan’s Criminal Underworld, “the Japanese Concession in Tientsin became the headquarters for a vast opium and narcotic industry.”

Scenes of the Japanese Concession, 2012 - once known as one of Tientsin's better places to live - photos by C.S. Hagen

Scenes of the Japanese Concession, 2012 – quickly disappearing – photos by C.S. Hagen

The cigarettes were called anti-aircraft guns, and were smoked pointing upward to avoid spilling.  The heroin inside was nicknamed white flour.  Highly addictive and debilitating, the Japanese used good product to entice new addicts, then weaned them to cheaper, weaker grades while charging the same price.

Yang hangs lined nearly every street of the Japanese Concession, according to Powell.

“I was told that the heroin habit acquired in this way was practically impossible to break,” Powell wrote.  “I visited the streets named Hashidate, Hanazowa, Kotobuko, Komai and others in the Japanese Concession, where practically every shop was given over to heroin manufacture or sale.”

One terrible quick fix for heroin addicts in Tientsin came from roadside vestibules, where a customer would knock on a door and a small sliding panel would open.  The customer simply stuck an arm through the aperture, with the appropriate amount of money, of course, and the customer would receive a quick hypodermic jab.

Beside the yang hangs and quick-fix vestibules, large hotels such as the Tokyo Hotel were places of interest for drug addicts.

More scenes of Tientsin's old Japanese Concession area - photos by C.S. Hagen

More scenes of Tientsin’s old Japanese Concession area – photos by C.S. Hagen

“The smokers would come in, usually in pairs, frequently a man and woman. They would recline on the matting bunks facing each other, with the opium paraphernalia between them. An attendant, usually a little Korean girl about ten or twelve years old, would then bring two pipes, a small alcohol lamp, and a small tin or porcelain container holding the opium, which resembled thick black molasses. Taking a small metal wire resembling a knitting needle, the girl attendant would dip one end into the sticky opium and turn it about until she had accumulated a considerable portion on the end of the wire. She would then hold the opium over the flame and revolve it rapidly in order to prevent it from igniting into a blaze. After the little ball of opium had begun to smoke the girl attendant would quickly remove it and hold the smoking ball on the end of the wire directly over the small aperture in the metal bowl of the pipe.

A Chinese family living in the old Japanese Concession - they run a small store, and despite the decaying conditions of the area do not want to leave. - photos by C.S. Hagen

A Chinese family living in the old Japanese Concession – they run a small store, and despite the decaying conditions of the area do not want to leave. – photos by C.S. Hagen

“The smoker would draw a deep breath, filling his lungs with the sickeningly sweet fumes of the opium. They would repeat the process two or three times, until they fell asleep.”

Each ritual cost one Chinese dollar, approximately thirty cents in American money.  If the house supplied the woman the price jumped to five Chinese dollars.

In the press, Japanese military authorities promised peace and order, all the while weakening Tientsin’s residents with narcotics and violence.  In October 1935, Shigeru Kawagoe, a Japanese ambassador and consul-general at Tientsin, declared Tientsin needed a stable and reliable government.  He later incensed the nation by making sweeping demands to suppress all anti-Japanese protests, and declared the Japanese Empire no longer recognized the Nationalist government, led by the Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.

In a May 12, 1936 “Top Secret” memorandum meant to be destroyed, written by M.S. Bates to Sir Alexander Cadogan, deputy under-secretary for Foreign Affairs in London, Bates declared that the Japanese treated Chinese worse than dogs.

Tientsin (communist) protestors - photo given by a friend

Tientsin (communist) protestors – photo given by a friend

“In the common thought and attitudes of ordinary people, there has been built up a most unfortunate picture of China and the Chinese.  They generally feel that the Chinese people are disorderly, untrustworthy, ignorant, scheming to injure their neighbors.  A further misfortune is that practically no Japanese have personal friends among the Chinese with whom critical questions can be talked over, and who could steady emotional attitudes in times of crisis.”

The smuggling business was good for Japan’s war machine.  In 1935 the Bank of China estimated the total value of Japan’s illicit goods smuggled into the city at USD 63 million, according to British Consulate records at Tientsin.

A 1936 Tientsin Customs report entitled “Smuggling in North China – Whole Customs Structure Undermined” reported the smuggling rings were well organized, and that Tientsin’s East Railway Station was a center for smugglers in North China.  Most goods arrived by ships, which due to their large size could not traverse the Hai River.  Small boats known as “puff puffs” transported the illegal goods from the ships to waiting sampans, which brought the merchandise inland.

“That Japanese-inspired smuggling activities, audaciously carried on despite official protests, have lately assumed alarming proportions in North China,” the customs report declared.  Due to a new demilitarized zone surrounding Tientsin, customs officials were no longer allowed to carry sidearms, and quickly became helpless against Japanese-led gangs of violent Koreans wielding cudgels, daggers and rocks.  The gangs refused to pay tariffs and attacked British officials whenever possible.  Rayon, artificial silk, white sugar, cigarette paper, sundries and most importantly gasoline for manufacturing heroin were the smuggling rings main products.

Both British and Chinese governments denounced the illicit trade, but local police refused to intervene.  Students took to the streets in protest and some Chinese generals and politicians demanded resistance to Japanese products.  In May 1936, the Nationalist Party issued a statement, which belatedly bolstered its ranks.

“Our territory is the heritage from our revered ancestors,” said Chang Chun, a prominent Nationalist advisor.  “We have to live on it.  To feed the enemy with it is national suicide.  We therefore insist that not an inch of our territory north of the Yellow River should be alienated.

“There is an old Chinese adage which says that feeding the enemy with territories is like feeding a fire with firewood.  Just as the fire demands the last piece of firewood, so will our enemy demand the last slice of our territories.”

Programs and monies were prepared to help addicts overcome their addictions.  Laws were mandated to end all narcotics sales, but Japan was untouchable, and generals Tomoyuki Yamashita and Yoshijiro Umezu responded by pouring more troops into Tientsin.  Japanese and Korean gangsters prowled Haihe’s docks, frequently beating Western custom officials and freely moving their trade.  Japanese garrisons needed expanding as well, and dungeons became too small.

At Haiguangsi, according to many Chinese newspapers, the Japanese secretly conscripted “watercats,” itinerant coolies not native to Tientsin, to make repairs to their garrison and dungeon.

By the time Chinese investigators began combing the Haihe’s banks for the source of the mysterious bodies, the floating dead became too many to count.  By spring of 1937, more than 500 bodies had been dragged from the river.  Most Western media still pointed to opium addicts, but stranger news began leaking out.

“In Tientsin scores of Chinese corpses have been found floating on the river recently” reported The Straits Times on May 26, 1937, “giving rise to all kinds of conjectures.  One belief is that the men were drug addicts, while a more widely believed theory, in view of the comparatively well-built bodies, was that they were victims of poison gas works.”

In an attempt to shift blame away form their secret projects, newspapers reported, Japanese military authorities rounded up Tientsin’s heroin addicts and turned them over to the Tientsin Municipal Government Police Bureau.


Dead Men Tell No Tales

Tientsin reporter Wang Yanshi broke the floating corpse story in early 1936, according to the Ta Kung Pao.  He published follow-ups until August 1937, counting 490 dead.

The Liberation Weekly, a communist mouthpiece, feared the numbers were much higher, as many of the bodies could not be retrieved and floated east toward the Bohai Sea.

An eerie sensation suffocated the city, The Liberation Weekly reported.  Some of the bodies appeared to have been strangled, and yet others had hands bound behind their backs.  All of the corpses were young, fairly healthy males, and because of their naked, bloated conditions, appeared to have been buried or had been in the river waters for quite some time.

View of the Haihe - photo by C.S. Hagen

View of the Haihe two weeks before the 2012 Flood – photo by C.S. Hagen

Powell wrote in his book that Chinese authorities were offering USD 5,000 dollar rewards for any information that would lead to arrests.

“When I arrived in Tientsin early in June, 1937, I found the Chinese population absorbed in what the newspapers called the ‘corpse mystery.’  The sensation completely eclipsed local interest in the approaching war.”

One man, Powell wrote, after being fished from the river “became alive.”  After hospitalization Chia Yung-chi said that he had gone with friends to the Japanese Concession to smoke opium and heroin.  He purchased an anti-aircraft gun cigarette, and that was the last thing he remembered.

The green-gren Haihe - photo by C.S. Hagen

The jolly green Haihe – photo by C.S. Hagen

As Tientsin investigators ran from one rumor to the next, in 1937 nearly half the new floating corpses turned out to be opium addicts.  And then, according to the Jinwan Bao, a Tientsin newspaper, the investigation could go no further for it ended at the sewage drain coming from the Haiguangsi Japanese garrison.

Investigators feared Japanese reprisals.

According to a June 3, 1936 article in The West Australian, the growing belief in Tientsin was that hundreds of men working on secret Japanese fortifications had been murdered, because “dead men tell no tales.”

The Auckland Star, however, on September 4, 1937 reported that although the floating dead of 1936 may have been victims of the “dead men tell no tales” theory, the more recent corpses of 1937 were primarily drug addicts.

“Officially no one knows why more than 300 bodies of Chinese coolies were found floating down the Haihe River here last year, or why 150 more have been found this summer in Tientsin’s floating corpse mystery.  It is still classed as a mystery, most observers believe, only because it is a by-product of a great international narcotics traffic. Tientsin, thriving crossroads of Far Eastern narcotics dealings, has recently been called the narcotics capital of the world.”

In a case matching Powell’s version of the story, The Auckland Star reported one victim was dragged from the Haihe alive, and was

A nap beside the flooded Haihe - photo by C.S. Hagen

Naps beside the flooded Haihe – photo by C.S. Hagen

able to gasp out the story of his migration from a village in search of work, his gradual inclinations toward narcotics, and his ensuing enfeeblement.  As death neared he was turned over to his pallbearers to be consigned to the Haihe at a fee of 12 cents; the cheapest coffin in Tientsin costs at least 50 cents.

“While this man’s case may not have been typical, the sensation his story caused was followed by a wholesale cleanup campaign by the Japanese concession authorities. While strenuously denying that Japanese had anything to do with the floating corpses, they rounded up hundreds of Chinese beggars and narcotics addicts about Japanese and Korean dens and shunted them into the Chinese city.  More than 1,000 of these vagrants are now housed by the Chinese authorities.”

Nankai University students took to the streets, shouting “Down with Japanese Imperialism,” and demanding an answer to the floating corpse case, the Tianjin Daily reported about the still baffling case in 2013.

The online audiobook reported in its rendition of “Ghost Waters” that Japanese soldiers had used watercats for secret projects, then buried the bodies in a large pit, which, once again opened up into the Haihe after heavy summer rains, washing the bodies downstream.  Such a theory, the audiobook proposed, would answer the corpses’ bloated conditions.

Another theory proposed by the Tianjin Daily was that after the watercats finished their jobs, Japanese soldiers strangled them, then sent them down the sewage drainpipe, which led directly into the Haihe.

A fisherman salvages his boat after the flood - photo by C.S. Hagen

A fisherman salvages wood after the flood – photo by C.S. Hagen

At the height of confusion, the Japanese invasion of Tientsin began.  The floating corpse story no longer took front-page news.  Anti-Japanese publications were shut down.  Thousands of Tientsiners were sent north to Manchuria for slave labor.

Slowly, Tientsin forgot the floating corpses, and seventy-eight years later the case remains unsolved.



If the Japanese war machine was behind the floating corpses, either by direct strangulation, gas or other means, or was indirectly involved through heroin sales, then the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal executed one of the culprits, and a second died of natural causes while in prison.

Tomoyuki Yamashita, the “Tiger of Malaya,” was assigned to northern China where he commanded the 4th Division of the Japanese Army.  Yamashita was hanged in Manila on February 23, 1946, according to records of the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal.

Tomoyuki Yamashita - online sources

Tomoyuki Yamashita – online sources

“Various indelible stains that I left on the history of mankind cannot be offset by the mechanical termination of my life,” Yamashita said before he was hung.

Lieutenant General Yoshijiro Umezu, the “Stoneman,” was the commander of the Japanese army’s Tientsin command.  He was found guilty of multiple counts of crimes against peace, an accomplice in conspiracies for domination of China and countless deaths of “many thousands of civilians,” The Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal reported.

While in prison Umezu converted to Christianity and died from rectal cancer in 1949.

Mad Dogs – Tientsin at War – Part VII

TIANJINThis is the seventh in the “Tientsin at War” series, highlighting a controversial English author assassinated in his own Tientsin home in the fall of 1930.  The culprits of his cowardly murder were never caught.  The suspects are still many.  After 84 years however, the most important question is not who killed him, but why Bertram Lenox Simpson, aka Putnam Weale forsook his writing to take up a cause most people considered lost.  

By C.S. Hagen

TIENTSIN, CHINA – When author Bertram Lenox Simpson set down his pen in 1930, he broke journalism’s cardinal rule.

The only picture I could find of Bertram Lenox Simpson, Putnam Weale - online sources

Putnam Weale, bottom right – online sources

He took a side.  And then he was murdered for his choice.

Simpson, better known by his pseudonym Putnam Weale, had an Englishman’s skin, but his heart belonged to China.  Born near Shanghai in 1877, he picked up a rifle during the Siege of the Legations.  He replaced the Enfield for the pen two years later, damning Western soldiers and missionaries for the ensuing rapes of Peking and Tientsin.  The Manchu Dynasty fell on his watch, and he became an advisor to Chinese presidents and warlords, who one by one stripped away his dreams of a united China.  With apocryphal clarity he foresaw the upcoming Japanese invasion and warned the world, producing nearly one book every year.

Despite critical acclaim, no one truly listened.  His novels and letters from China’s interior became conversational centerpieces, served at tiffin with crumpets and Yunnan tea in dainty porcelain cups.

English politicians called him an unsavory adventurer.  Newspapers frequently headlined Simpson “the cynic.”  Japanese demanded his deportation when he allied himself with the Shanxi warlord, Marshal Yan Xishan.  No longer able to stand by his journalistic oath, he staged a coup in the marshal’s name on June 16, 1930 of the Tientsin Customs House, ousted the “mad dogs,” and made sweeping changes to China’s northern maritime trade.

Simpson’s Chinese name was Xin Pusen, (辛博森), which can be phonetically linked to his surname, Simpson, but ironically means in part “plentiful suffering.”  Simpson saw himself as China’s avant-garde, perhaps even as a martyr, for few foreigners dared to leash the mad dogs starving for China’s brittle bones.  While Edwardian high society assured each other their lavish lifestyles could never end, Simpson foresaw the empire on which the sun never sets’ demise, and then, in one desperate act took matters into his own hands, hitting the politically-infused trading world in their most private place – maritime monies.

All his adult life Simpson strove for change.  He didn’t stop until the day three assassins entered his home on Woodrow Wilson Road in the former German Concession, now Jiefang South Road, and shot him in the back.


Simpson’s Assassination Attempt – October 1, 1930

Simpson was listening to his gramophone in his drawing room shortly before 8 p.m., when his Number Two Boy knocked on the door, according to December 5, 1930 inquest report at the British Consular Court in The Straits Times.

Three men had come calling.  They showed Number Two Boy, a common name in those days for a domestic servant, a card bearing the name Fu Lu-lin of the Enlarged Plenary Session, the newly formed and short-lived government that Simpson supported.  Simpson ushered two of the men into his drawing room.  One man stayed outside the front door.

“My master was walking in front of the two guests who followed behind,” Number Two Boy said at the inquest.  “As soon as my master entered the room I heard the shots fired.”

The Peking and Tientsin Times reported the following day that Simpson’s shooting was a “sensational sequel… to the long controversy in regard to the Tientsin Customs.

“Mister Simpson was about ten feet from the door, with his back to the strangers, when one of them drew a pistol and fired twice.  One of the shots penetrated the spinal column, and the other, believed to be the second shot, missed its mark.”

The assassins spoke in a Fengtian, or Manchurian dialect.  One was dressed in a long black Chinese coat with a black outer jacket; the second man wore a long light blue coat and carried a leather bag.  The third was dressed in a military fashioned Zhongshan suit, and after the attempted assassination pulled a pistol on Number Two Boy.

Number Two Boy ran to the street after a waiting vehicle sported the assassins away, and yelled for police.

Simpson’s gatekeeper helped Number Two Boy call for police, he said at the inquest, although he did not know that Simpson had been attacked.  The gate to Simpson’s yard was closed, he said.

“I started to shout with the boy just as the car started to move,” the gatekeeper said.

“The boy said the gate was open and not closed and that you were outside on the pavement,” coroner Sir A.G.N. Ogden said at the inquest.

“The boy was lying.”

According to Tientsin Consulate records Chief Inspector P.J. Lawless affirmed most of Number Two Boy’s story, who also had the sense of mind to remember the car’s license plate number, but Lawless blamed local police for inactivity in apprehending the assassins.

“When I arrived at least thirty minutes after the shooting, no action had been taken by their police,” Lawless said.  “They had failed to telephone information to various police stations on Peking Road, nothing had been done with a view to tracing the car or owner.  A party of armed police were simply lolling about the house and the compound.”

The car was identified as a taxi number 517 from the Hua Mei Motorcar Garage in the French Concession.  Inspector Tsui Ch’an Fu found the car as it was pulling into the Tien Hsiang Bazaar, a shopping area, but the assassins had already escaped.  The twenty-six-year-old chauffeur, named Ching Hsien, was visibly shaken and made no attempt to flee.  He told authorities the assassins ordered him at gunpoint.  While parked at Simpson’s house, he was told to keep the engine running, and after four or five minutes the assassins returned and he drove them to an alleyway beside a Catholic church.

“The man sitting abreast with me threw on the seat five dollars and said in Fengtian dialect, ‘Turn off the switch.  If you drive away the car now, I shoot you,’” Ching said.  The assassins walked north, toward the train station.  “When I saw they had gone very far, I just drove the car to our garage.”

The Hua Mei Motorcar Garage received a call from Room 65 of the Pei Yang Hotel at 7 p.m. the same night and ordered car number 517, consular records reported.  The assassins checked into the hotel earlier that afternoon, and had paid their bill in full by the time they left.

“It appears that four men arrived at the Ta Pei Hotel in the Japanese Concession at four o’clock this afternoon,” the Peking and Tientsin Times reported on Simpson’s attempted assassination.  “They looked like military men, though wearing plain clothes, and it is asserted that they spoke the Fengtien dialect.  They pretended that they had come from the railway.”

The hit squad’s fourth man, according to hotel staff, had hired a rickshaw to take away the men’s luggage.

The fact that Simpsons’ Number Two Boy reported all three men came to the house while the chauffeur said the third man remained in the car was not lost on investigators at the inquisition.  No one, however, was charged as an accomplice.

“That it was a political affair seems probable,” Ogden said, “as there was no attempt at kidnapping or robbery, and the assailants were not in Mr. Simpson’s house for more than a couple of minutes and no conversation passed between them and their victims.”

Simpson was first taken to the German-American Hospital and later transferred to the Victorian Hospital, where he suffered, paralyzed from the chest down, until ten o’clock at night on November 2, 1930.  Only after his death was the coroner able to dislodge the bullet stuck into his spinal column, which he showed as an exhibit to inquest investigators.

The assassins were never apprehended.  Suspects ranged from angry English merchants and politicians to Chinese servants and disgruntled employees to Japanese and Nationalist agents, and then veered to Tientsin’s drug lords, but the majority of international press and British politicians believed his assassination was the work of Nationalist soldiers under orders from Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.


Treaty of Tientsin

Anger toward Simpson stemmed from what officials believed was his interference with the Tientsin Treaties, also known as the Unequal Treaties, which were effected after the Opium Wars in 1858.  The treaty gave foreign traders the right to pay all taxes due on imports at the port of entry, then a pass exempting further taxation along the way.  These tariffs, both in Tientsin and Shanghai, were of vital importance to Great Britain.

The treaty was also the gateway to open more Chinese ports, demanded foreign legations in Peking, allowed Christian missionaries free movement throughout the country and legalized opium as legal tender for trade in China.

For nearly one hundred years most of North China’s trade came in and out of Tientsin.  All tariffs were paid to the Customs House, which in Tientsin averaged USD 600,000 a month in revenues.  A small portion, roughly five to ten percent went to China, the rest lined merchant’s and Great Britain’s coffers.  Nearly all customs commissioners in those days were Englishmen.

Old picture of the Tientsin Customs House, still standing today along the old English Bund - online sources

Old picture of the Tientsin Customs House, still standing today along the old English Bund – online sources

The Mad Dogs

The fact that Simpson’s assassins spoke a Manchurian dialect was a brain squeeze on case investigators.

Accusations first fell on Marshal Zhang Xueliang, who controlled Manchuria after the Japanese Black Dragon Society assassinated his father.  But the Shanxi and Manchurian armies had once been allied under the Fengtian Clique during the Warlord Era, and the “Young Marshal” offered assistance with the criminal investigation.  Simpson had also been an advisor to the Young Marshal’s father, and the Manchurian government was not entirely at peace with the southern Nationalists.  There was no motive.

Great Britain’s legal finger, much stubbier and weaker than it had been in years past, then pointed to the Japanese, who were already suspects in a long list of assassinations.  When dealing with Japan’s secret assassination societies, proof was difficult to find.

Tientsin Customs House Seal - online sources

Tientsin Customs House Seal – online sources

The law waved frantically between Tientsin’s opium magnates and the Nationalists, the only Chinese government Great Britain officially recognized at the time.  The Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek of the Nationalist, or Kuomintang government could have easily hired Manchurian assassins to shoot Simpson in the back and shift blame toward the Young Marshal, who had only recently weaned himself off opium and was preparing for war with Japan.

Once again, police had no proof since the assassins had disappeared.

Police officials could not forget to include trading giants like Butterfield & Swire, or financiers of England’s “Lion Bank,” the Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation, or angry ship captains now forced to pay double duties.  Ironically, despite veiled threats made by high-ranking consular officials, the only entity investigators didn’t accuse was their own good selves, for Great Britain had the most to lose with Simpson’s coup.

Although thousands read Simpson’s books, few, it seemed, enjoyed his company.  He was known to be stubborn, a hothead, and always looking for an argument.  Although Simpson had injected himself into politics many times before, when the writer cum warrior stepped up to Tientsin’s Customs House, he entered a political world from which there was no turning back.

Since Simpson’s first internationally acclaimed book Indiscreet Letters from Peking, he began to stockpile enemies, but he also garnered a handful of like-minded friends.  His controversial books frequently hit the best seller’s lists, and his newspaper articles told the truth about China through his looking glass.   After publishing Indiscreet Letters from Peking in 1906, which was a personal account of his experiences fighting Boxers and Manchu soldiers during the Siege of the Legations at Peking, his writing became increasingly bitter toward Western colonialism of China and the wars raging up and down China’s coast.  Simpson considered himself an expert on Chinese affairs, and many publications of the time agreed.

“I can lay claim to an intimate knowledge of the Far East and of everything that affects it,” Simpson said in a March 4, 1922 interview for The Register.

Until June 16, 1930, nearly a month after Marshal Yan Xishan’s Shanxi Army defeated the southern Nationalists and took control of Tientsin, Simpson’s words offered little more sting than a Tientsin mosquito to British authorities, but his coup, performed suddenly at gunpoint, kick started top secret letters and accusatory notes between British consulates in China.

Zhang Xueliang "The Young Marshal" - online sources

Zhang Xueliang “The Young Marshal” – online sources

“On June 16 the Shanxi Authorities appointed Mr. Lenox Simpson, an adventurer with an unsavory reputation, Commissioner of Customs at Tientsin,” Sir John Thomas Pratt, a British diplomat, reported to consular authorities.  “On the same day Simpson appeared at the Customs House and gave Hayley Bell [the previous customs commissioner] a letter stating he had taken charge of the Customs by force.”

Colonel Hayley Bell had stated previously that if this happened, he and the whole staff, Chinese and foreign would withdraw.  Simpson clipped the colonel’s wings.

“Simpson stated that any Chinese who obeyed Colonel Bell’s orders to withdraw would be shot, whereupon Colonel Bell alone withdrew, and the staff stayed,” Pratt said in the report.

Simpson’s coup, according to Pratt, was not only a betrayal of British interests, but froze all Tientsin trade.  The British-recognized Nationalist Government wanted their cut, but Simpson allocated the funds to support Marshal Yan Xishan and his money-poor Shanxi army.

Tsuneo Matsudaira - online sources

Tsuneo Matsudaira – online sources

“Customs employees complained of Simpson’s attitude as over-bearing,” reported The West Australian on June 21, 1930.  “He is conferring with the rebel leaders regarding the further steps to be taken.  In the meanwhile  shipping is completely tied up at Tientsin, and the Nanking [Nationalist] authorities are demanding Mr. Simpson’s punishment and deportation.”

Since the Nationalist Government was receiving no monies from Tientsin, they threatened an embargo, and levied double taxes on all ships coming from or going to Tientsin.

The doubled tariffs infuriated merchants, predominantly Butterfield & Swire shipping lines, whose agents wrote an angry letter to the Tientsin Consulate.

“The tacit recognition of Simpson’s improvised control on behalf of Yan Xishan may have far-reaching consequences and if some action is not taken by the Power[s] to undo the unfortunate damage already done, the effect… may well prove to be disastrous.”

Edward Ingram - online sources

Edward Ingram – online sources

Consular officials considered the company’s words a threat to Simpson’s life, but the writer refused to hire bodyguards and did nothing to protect himself.

“The precedent set at Tientsin is a most dangerous one, inasmuch as upstarts such as Lenox Simpson – and there are unfortunately more than one in China – may be encouraged to influence the militarists to follow the example set by the North.”

An agent named in consular records as W. Park worked for the Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation, through which customs revenues were usually saved and sent, and complained Simpson had been speaking publicly before the coup.

“Simpson, a foreigner, has abused his extraterritorial status by suggesting in a public speech that Yan should take this step.  Any seizure of additional duties would create a dangerous precedent and shatter China’s credit at home and abroad.”

Desperately striving to remain neutral, Pratt suggested a series of compromises, which included Simpson’s removal by force, if necessary.  Letters written back and forth between Peking and Tientsin debated if Simpson’s actions were tantamount to treason.

Sir Miles Lampson - online sources

Sir Miles Lampson – online sources

“I think probably that Mr. Lenox Simpson’s action, in accepting a post which involves his assisting the Northern authorities to divert customs revenues… would be held to amount to aiding and abetting the Northern [Shanxi] authorities in their ‘war, insurrection or rebellion,’” Pratt wrote in a consular reports.  “The question whether a prosecution should be launched is very largely a political one.”

“His Majesty’s Government saw Simpson’s activities as an incursion into Chinese organized politics,” reported Edward Ingram, vice consul-general and was also coroner for Simpson’s final inquest.  Great Britain recognized Chiang Kai-shek’s national government, and deemed the newly arrived Shanxi government as an insurrection.

One of the reprisals considered against Simpson was to lift British protection of him, which would make Simpson “liable to the severest punishments that could be meted out under Chinese law in such circumstances.”

“We could hardly sit silent if he was murdered or otherwise barbarously treated,” British Minister Sir Miles Lampson argued on July 18, 1930.  He opposed drastic measures taken against a British subject, not for any harm that may have come to Simpson, but because he knew the author.  “Simpson is not a man to be influenced by threats unless they are obviously serious.”

Sir Frederik William Maze - online sources

Sir Frederik William Maze – online sources

“Simpson will probably indulge in a journalistic campaign and publish claptrap interviews meant to hoodwink the public,” Sir Frederick William Maze, inspector-general of Chinese Customs, wrote.  He supported any action to right the situation and appeal to British maritime interests.

“The issue is a clear-cut one: do or do not the Powers consider that the existing Maritime Customs system ought to be preserved?  If the answer is “yes,” then we are entitled to ask: What are they doing, either collectively or individually?  I can’t answer, because I am left in the dark.  But by transacting customs business with Simpson they have in fact interfered… and the Central Government [Nationalist] takes a serious view of the fact that Simpson’s action – which they declare is entirely illegal – appears to be condoned.”

Maze became the inspector general of Chinese Customs in 1929, taking an oath to obey the president of the Kuomintang or Nationalist Party.  He saw Tientsin’s hesitancy to stop Simpson’s coup as a mistake, and angrily declared tacit recognition of Simpson worse than active intervention.

“The Tientsin Consular Body in their collective wisdom advocated the latter policy [tacit recognition], and it seems the Diplomatic Body have not rejected their advice.  This, of course, is exactly what Simpson desires.”

Dr. Wang Ch'ung-hui - online sources

Dr. Wang Ch’ung-hui – online sources

Nationalist diplomat Dr. Wang Ch’ung-hui demanded Simpson’s removal with a “veiled threat.”

“He suggests that I might still do something to clip Simpson’s wings,” Lampson wrote.  “I said I had not the power… I made it absolutely clear I was not prepared to do anything further: but equally clear that we deplored Simpson’s getting mixed up in the affair at all.”

Japanese secretary Tsuneo Matsudaira called upon Great Britain to deny Marshal Yan and his northern government any recognition.  Both the Shanxi and Nationalist governments refused all compromises made by Great Britain.  When the Japanese and the Nationalists demanded Simpson’s deportation, English consular officials went to Marshal Yan asking him to release Simpson from his duties.

“Simpson has done his work loyally and Yan will stand by him,” wrote Dr. Tchou Ngao-hsiang, director of department of foreign affairs for the short-lived Shanxi Government.  “Yan will have nothing to do with Bell and Maze with whom he is much incensed on account of closing of Customs…”

For nearly four months consular officials and angry politicians fought each other to a standstill.  In the interests of objectivity, no move was made against Simpson.  According to newspaper reports at the time, Simpson made sweeping changes within the maritime trade, attempting to make the office a model for others to follow.


Why did Simpson Choose Marshal Yan Xishan?

Marshal Yan Xishan - online sources

Marshal Yan Xishan – online sources

Marshall Yan was known as a survivor and social reformer.  Lord of Shanxi Province since the end of the Manchu Dynasty, he survived five eras by shifting allegiances when needed: the Yuan Shi-kai era, the Warlord Era, the Nationalist Era, the Japanese invasion era and the ensuing civil war between communists and Nationalists.  Firmly anti-communist, Yan later fought the “Reds” to a standstill for many months before finally fleeing in defeat to Taiwan in 1949.

According to newspapers at the time, Yan was a proponent of Western technology to protect Chinese traditions.  Instead of involving his armies in the civil wars, he strove to modernize Shanxi Province, one of China’s poorest areas, earning him the title of “Model Governor.”  He hired Western doctors and advisors, and befriended the Generalissimo in the 1920s by suppressing local communist movements.

Some analysts say Marshal Yan joined the Generalissimo’s enemies, including Feng Yuxiang “the Christian General,” subsequently invading Tientsin because his armies needed money, and the Tientsin Customs was one potential source of income.  While in Tientsin he attempted to set up a new national government in direct opposition to the Nationalists, or Kuomintang Party.  But the marshal’s dreams were short lived.  The Generalissimo first beat the Christian General’s armies in Shandong, and then turned on Tientsin, ending the Warlord Era in the fall of 1930.

In a July 10, 1927 editorial Simpson wrote entitled The Masked Money Battle, he saw Western interference in China’s affairs much like a paper tiger, and destined to destroy itself.  “To be dramatic about money may sound like finding poetry in a dust heap; nevertheless the story of the past thirty years in China in terms of cash is so queer that it reads like an amazing romance.”  He goes on to describe China’s  love of money had been influenced directly by Western imperialism.  “This habit, which is imbedded in a hoary past, has been enormously influenced by the foreigner.  He became known as a phenomenon through the country… when he brought casks of Spanish dollars, minted in the Americas, to the open port of Canton, and commenced buying all sorts of commodities.

“It was the coined money brought by the nations of the West, which was the corrupter…”

Simpson’s writing became increasingly vexed toward 1930, bearing titles such as the Cauldron of Hate and a novel called China’s Crucifixion.  One of his last books, The Unknown God, dealt with the futility of missionaries in China and is “unflattering to the last degree,” critics wrote.  Simpson portrayed missionaries as voracious men and women who think more of dollars than human souls, and are instantly jealous of each other and stubbornly ignorant of the Chinese culture and faith.

He began blaming the Japanese, more specifically the Black Dragon Society in The Advertiser, for the Young Marshal’s father’s assassination.  Japan, of course, denounced the accusations.  And then in 1928 according to The Argus and then again in The Daily Mail, Simpson painted a grim picture of the hapless foreigner surrounded by mad dogs, and criticized the Nationalists, saying they are “murderers led by criminals,” to which the only remedy was bullets and cold steel.

Tientsin waterfront, along the Bund - online sources

Tientsin waterfront, along the Bund – online sources

“You have betrayed us!”  The Register reported Simpson saying in 1927.  “This is what men of all nationalities are saying; even the Chinese now marvel at the astounding phenomenon of a passivity that is self destructive.  Today there is yet time to wipe out humiliation.  Tomorrow it may be too late… We are surrounded by mad dogs.”

When Simpson took over editorship of The Leader in Peking, a position which he held until the Tientsin Customs House coup, he repeatedly called for a stronger China led by the Christian General and Marshal Yan.  Some say Simpson found Marshal Yan’s policies best suited for the China he thought he knew.

“Salvation must come from within,” Simpson wrote in a 1915 article entitled The Cleansing of the Augean Stables.

“It may be interesting to note in this connection that Mr. Simpson now holds the same post as his father did in 1909, when he died in Tientsin,” reported The Leader on June 17, 1930.  Simpson was no stranger to customs duties, having worked before with the Chinese Maritime Customs Service.


A Heavy Price

“Mr. Simpson had a personal interview with Marshal Zhang Xueliang, in which he requested that his services should be retained,” reported The Straits Times after Marshal Yan’s armies had retreated back to Shanxi Province.  “But the request was ‘flatly refused’ and an entirely new Customs staff was appointed at Tientsin.”

Sir Lancelot Giles - online sources

Sir Lancelot Giles – online sources

“He was warned more than once by friends that he ran a grave risk of being assassinated, but he pooh-poohed any such ideas,” consular records report Sir Lancelot Giles, the consul-general said.

“Whether, as Mr. Maze suggests, Mr. Simpson was the victim of nefarious dealings with opium or drug dealers, or whether, as seems more probably, he was simply the victim of his own recklessness in directly meddling in Chinese political strife, he has paid heavily for the part he played in this particular adventure,” Lampson wrote in a report to the Peking Consulate.  “His short-lived regime of control of the Tientsin Customs had gradually come to be regarded with some favor by local merchants, and he himself was loud in his claims that he had done much to eradicate the antiquated methods of the customs proper… With the lapse of time, however, and in view of the peculiar circumstances surround the crime, it seems unlikely that the criminals will ever be brought to the book… The exact truth will probably never be known.”

According to Tianjin Daily records within Tianjin Archives, the Ta Kung Pao newspaper reported in 1930 that Simpson and Marshal Yan obtained little from their takeover of the Tientsin Customs, accruing 1.5 million Chinese taels in silver, hardly worth the costs of a war.

“Mr. Lenox Simpson, who, under his penname “Putnam Weale,” was one of the most prolific and best-known writer[s] on Far Eastern topics, was an Englishman by birth, but a cosmopolitan through long residence among the peoples of many nationalities.  He was 53 years of age at the time of his death…” The Straits Times reported on November 12, 1939.

Simpson died at 10 p.m., November 2, 1930, a month after the cowardly attack.  The bullet that was lodged in his spine was inoperable.  He was buried at the Canton Road Cemetery in Tientsin, (between Chifeng and Yinkou roads), next to his father’s grave, The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser reported.  His funeral at the Church of England’s All Saint’s Church, was private and simple, and he left behind his wife, an American named Mary Parrott, his brother, Evelyn, a mining engineer who worked in China, and a sister, Esme.

“There was an unusually large number of wreaths sent by friends and by various clubs and organizations both in Peking and in Tientsin, testifying to the deceased’s popularity and the fact that he was one of the most widely-known personalities in North China,” The Straits Times reported.

Simpson tried to leash what he called Tientsin’s Mad Dogs, and failed.  Ten short years after his death the same dogs were imprisoned in internment camps, sailed for home or pillaged Tientsin and many other areas of China, which most assuredly made Simpson turn in his grave.  He could be called a hero or villain, a revolutionary or rebel.  Whatever name Simpson is branded his reputation as being one of China’s most controversial Western authors is still true to this day.

The Canton Cemetery is gone.  Chinese clothing shops and a hutong now stand where Simpson and many others who once called Tientsin their home were buried.

The Church of England, or All Saints Church - photo by C.S. Hagen

Tientsin’s Church of England, or All Saints Church, no longer in use as a church – photo by C.S. Hagen

Broken Moons – Tientsin at War – Part VIII

TIANJINThis is the eighth story in the “Tientsin at War” series, taken from the unusual case of a Russian-born British citizen and her bloody struggle through Tientsin’s land of “broken moons,” the world of prostitution. Her story is unique, yet in some respects not atypical of Tientsin’s pre-war streetwalkers and “long threes,” who were an integral and yet unwanted part of the city’s society.  

By C.S. Hagen

TIENTSIN, CHINA – Two days after Easter 1930, Katherine Hadley slunk back to her dreary one-room apartment in a wretched section of the old German Concession.  Jobless.  Nearly stateless.  Hopeless.  Tears had not dried from her cheeks.  Her knockoff purse held the leftovers of her final paycheck – five Mexican dollars.  Last night’s vodka claimed the rest.

Katherine Hadley – courtesy Daily Sketch

Standing alone at the corner of 72 Woodrow Wilson Road, now South Jiefang Road, her shame returned.

She should turn around.  Beg for forgiveness.  Promise anything to have them take her back.  She’d only sampled the respectable life, but like a pinch of Sichuan peppers the taste burned her tongue.  Left her wanting more.

The good life was over, and it was all his fault.  Good for nothing ublyudok.  Calling her ex-lover a bastard had a calming effect, but made her incredibly thirsty.  She needed liquid courage.  Alexander Prokoptchik was a gorilla of a man, mean and moody.  He surely had a bottle or two lying around, after all, Easter week, a Russian time for celebration, had just started.

Hadley’s real Russian name was Yekaterina Khadlei, but she was commonly known as Tolpige, possibly Tolpyga, meaning “silver carp” in Russian.  Tientsin consular and court records cannot claim Hadley had murder on her mind when she found her old room empty of man and drink.  Prokoptchik, her ex-lover and mawang, or pimp, was not in.

She checked with her neighbors, asking first if they had seen him.  They had not since early morning, and they invited her in for some vodka.

Hadley accepted, taking the first step toward becoming the only woman sentenced to death by English courts in China.  Through the efforts of hundreds of admirers and death penalty opponents her sentence, which would not occur until 1934, was commuted to life-imprisonment on the eve of British Minister to China Sir Miles Lampson’s retirement, earning her a one-way trip around the world to London’s Holloway Prison where, according to consular reports, she was to remain for the duration of her natural life.


The Murderess

Tientsin and the international press painted a grim picture of Hadley.  She spoke Russian and broken English, liked brightly colored dresses and stylish hats.  At times, she also wore a smile, cold as a seasoned Cossack’s, and yet wept openly to incur public sympathy when the need arose.

Little is known about her early life, except that she was driven from her motherland by Bolsheviks, and spent an unknown amount of time in Harbin.  She procured British citizenship after marrying an English sea captain in 1919, who according to official record, committed suicide shortly after their wedding, when she was twenty-one years old.

According to her own testimony Hadley found easy money in the world’s oldest trade after her husband’s death, working in Tientsin cabarets and houses of ill repute for nearly eleven years.  Like many prostitutes of that time, she discovered alcohol helped her nerves, lowered her inhibitions and most importantly, made her forget.  Vodka came cheap in Tientsin, less than one US dollar a bottle, and the drink quickly became a curse that would haunt her the rest of her life.

In 1930, however, Hadley’s life took a fleeting upward turn.  She landed a respectable position in a well-to-do house working as a nanny for the Watson family’s only child.  Usually, Tientsin’s foreigners hired Chinese amahs for the position, but the Watsons preferred a Western woman.  She lived comfortably with her employers for a time; meals and salaries were punctual.  No need to haggle price or demand pay up front; salaries came at the end of the week.  She went on outings to Victoria Park, perhaps even took a summer trip to Peitaiho [Beidaihe], which was one of the favored vacation spots for Tientsin’s foreigners.  For the first time in her life, Hadley found respect.

She kept a photograph of the child with her at all times – proof – that she no longer sold her body for a living.  Sadly, her dream job didn’t last long.  The Watson family was sketchy on the details as to why she was dismissed, but according to Tientsin Consulate records Mister Watson told police he and his wife agreed only that they could not keep her.

Had she made advances on Mister Watson?  Did Mister Watson take advantage of her poor state?  Did she show up for work drunk?  Or was she fired for a simpler reason?  Did Mrs. Watson discover her secret past?  Or did a jealous paramour leak her real identity to her employers?  The reasons why she left the family’s employ are not known, and most likely will never see the light of day.

What is known is that Hadley could never escape her past, nor could she evade Prokoptchik’s seedy intentions, who according to some reports wanted Hadley to live with him, and work for him.  He stalked her, pestering her to return to their dismal apartment at 72 Woodrow Wilson Road.

Although Hadley admitted in court she had known Prokoptchik for nearly three years, and had lived with him for nine months, her job as a nanny kept her safe from his intentions.  The day after Easter, in 1930, a traditional time for rejoicing, Hadley was fired.  She returned to the Woodrow Wilson Road apartment seeking Prokoptchik.  When he could not be found she sought solace with a neighbor, Ann Petrovna Urshevitz, known for the sake of convenience in consular reports as Mrs. Karpoff.  Ushevitz lived “in sin” with Vasili Karpoff as a couple, but were not married.

She was having trouble with her mistress, Hadley said, and also mentioned a row with Prokoptchik, officially employed as a newsvendor from the day before.

“While accused was sitting and telling us her troubles we offered her a drink of ordinary vodka,” said Ushevitz, according to Tientsin court records.  They drank a bottle of vodka and two beers.  Hadley paid a dollar for Karpoff to go down to the local yanghang, or foreign goods store, to purchase the drinks.

Halfway through the drinks Hadley flashed the picture of the Watson’s child.  She cried, and complained again that Prokoptchik was hounding her.  Shortly after, Prokoptchik arrived, heavily drunk.  He hid no secrets of his feelings for Hadley.

“’You are mine Katerina’, and he kissed her,” Karpoff reported Prokoptchik said.  A knife-sharpener by trade, Karpoff lived in a one-room apartment next to the public toilet.  “I offered him a chair but he said he was too tried and was going to have a sleep.”

Urshevitz’s story was the same, but more detailed.  “Alexander arrived and kissed her twice and said ‘You are mine,’ then he said ‘I am going home to sleep’ and left the room.  His room is next to ours but for the lavatory.  When Alexander left the room he did not say anything to the accused but she left immediately after him.  Accused was happy and laughing.  Deceased was in a bad mood: he was heavily drunk.”

When Prokoptchik staggered out, Hadley followed, intimating the man’s control over her and her intentions.  Ushevitz started to clean up the mess left behind, saying in court records all of the alcohol was finished.  She left the apartment to carry out the trash and on returning found Hadley standing wearily in Prokoptchik’s doorway.  Blood was on her hands and dress.

“She said ‘I have struck Alexander.’  I looked past her and saw him lying on the bed and his shirt was covered with blood and a pool of blood on the floor.”

After Mrs. Hadley admitted to striking Alexander, she called for help from a nearby constable named Chang Kuo-pi, of the Special Area Police.  He arrested Hadley, and because she had no identification on her, he took her to the Chinese police station.  Tientsin provided a shady haven for thousands of stateless White Russian and Jewish immigrants during the 1930s.

Prokoptchik wasn’t dead yet.  Hadley stabbed him in the center of his armpit, severing a vital artery with a kitchen knife.  A crowd gathered.  An American Marine named Robert Hubert Seelos wandered in and attempted to give first aid.

“I took off my cap, belt and coat, rolled up my sleeves and started to try and find the wound: it was under the left armpit,” Seelos, a Marine aboard the U.S.S. Tulsa, said. “The Russian was lying in a pool of blood.”

Seelos cut away the man’s clothes with a second greasy knife.

“I tried to stop the flow of blood by putting a cloth around his chest just below the wound tightly.  The blood started to clot and did not flow freely.”

The room, Seelos said, was stuffy and had a foul odor.  Bottles and leftover meals were scattered about the room.  After doing everything he had been trained to do, a Russian doctor named Peter Michael Sokoloff entered the room.  Within two minutes the doctor realized nothing could be done for the wounded man.

“The Marine was pouring water over his [Prokoptchik] chest out of a kettle: I do not know why he was doing this,” Sokoloff said.  “I told him to stand aside and tried to find the actual wound under the left armpit right in the middle of the armpit.  There was no blood flowing from the wound.  It was dry around the wound, which indicated all the blood had come out and the heart was not beating on account of the loss of blood.  I noticed two or three faint breaths.  I realized that he was dying and no help could be given.”

The Russian, according to Seelos, said three final words, which no one understood.  After he died Seelos straightened the man’s legs across the bed and pulled a sheet over his face.

“If the wound had been attended to, that is, if someone had pressed the artery without a doubt this man’s life could have been saved,” Sokoloff said.  Alcohol, however, thinned Prokoptchik’s blood and hastened his death.

At the Chinese police station, Hadley became uncontrollable.

Yang Heng-chuan, of the Special Area Police noted in court that he had seen Hadley before, the day of the murder.  She was wearing a light yellow dress, and he saw blood on her sleeve and on her right hand.

“She was brought to the station by a policeman: she was drunk and speaking wildly and excitedly,” Yang said.  “There was blood and smeared blood, as if she had tried to wipe it off, on her right hand.”

Strangely, Mrs. Watson, Hadley’s former employer, vouched for her British citizenship, saying Hadley was nurse to her child and that, owing to certain troubles, mostly drink, she had left her employment on the previous day, and had not been seen since.  Being a British citizen procured certain rights stateless refugees did not have, one of which was to be tried in an English court.  She was handed over to the British Municipal Police.

Being without means to solicit a personal attorney, Percy Horace Braund Kent, barrister at law of Kent & Mounsey in Tientsin, agreed to defend Hadley.  After pleading not guilty, Kent’s first move was to plead the case down to manslaughter.


Hadley’s trial for murder began at 10 a.m. on Monday, June 16, 1930.

The wound that killed Prokoptchik was classified as a heavy wound threatening the loss of life but not necessarily under the category of “mortal woundings.”  Death was due to a complete loss of blood.  The wound was less than five centimeters wide and not less than four centimeters deep.

Witnesses took the stand.

Chief Inspector P.J. Lawless of British Municipal Police took photographs of the murder weapon and checked for fingerprints.  The knife, Lawless said, was smudged with blood, but no fingerprints could be retrieved.

John William Hawksley Grice, a medical practitioner, examined blood splatters and determined that the deceased was most likely sitting up in bed when he was stabbed.

G.A. Herbert of the Consulate General’s office found a photograph of a small girl with the glass broken.  Broken glass found on the floor fitted into the frame, which was also littered with rubbish, and two knives, one bloody, the other greasy.  A third, unstained knife was found in an open basket. Herbert found no reason to believe a struggle had taken place inside the room.

Tientsin’s Consular Court allowed a confession made by Hadley to Michael Joseph Joffe to be entered as evidence against her.  “I saw Mrs. Hadley sitting in the police station,” Joffe, a fur merchant, said.  “She was heavily drunk.  I said ‘You have killed that man, what have you done?”  She said ‘I know it and confirm it.  I killed him because he wanted to kill me so I took the knife away from him and stabbed him.’”

Prokoptchik was painted as a large man, forty-four years old, standing taller than six feet, with thick shoulders and gangly arms.   He was also moody, seemingly tired of life and had sought assistance for delirium tremors.  He sold newspapers for a living, but was considered unsavory, rumored to be a pimp, perhaps a small time drug runner as well.  No one vouched for his character after his death.

“Why did you kill him?” V. Priestwood, of the Crown Advocate’s Office said.

“We were both drunk, we quarreled and I kill him with a knife quite unknowingly,” Hadley spoke English with a heavy Slavic accent.  “I do not know how I did it.”

“What were you quarreling about?”

“I don’t know as I was drunk, and even I did not know how I stabbed him… He said if I was not his lover I would be no one else’s and I repeated that I was going and I was not a child.

“I think he might have done this to frighten me.”

Hadley later mentioned that she had told Prokoptchik she was leaving him, and was going to return to Harbin.

“Mrs. Hadley was in a comfortable position in an English family,” wrote Herbert to consular officials.  “Was she not being pressed and pressed by her lover to leave this home and join his filthy hovel?  Was she not sick to death of his pestering and so stabbed him in a moment of utter hopelessness as to the position?”

“You must bear in mind, gentlemen, that the charge the Crown brings against this woman in the dock is murder, said Judge A.G.N. Ogden in his summoning up of the case.  “They charge her that she did on the 22nd day of April of this year at Tientsin murder a Russian called Alexander… Murder may be defined as ‘When a person of sound memory and discretion unlawfully killeth any reasonable creature in being, and under the King’s peace, with malice aforethought, either express or implied.’”

Ogden further went on to reveal that the people involved in the murder either as witnesses or perpetrators, were hardly better than the society’s dregs.

“I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings – you must remember these people are not of the highest education,” Ogden said to the jury.  “She cannot remember anything.  She never touched the knife.  Does not remember being taken by a policeman to the station.”

On June 18, 1930, an impartial jury found Hadley innocent of the murder.

“It may interest you to hear that Mrs. Hadley met Dr. Grice after the trial and told him that she thought she had been very lucky,” Lancelot Giles of the consul-general’s office wrote on June 24th to the Crown Advocate’s office.  “Grice’s reply was in the affirmative.”

Two years later Hadley was a suspect in a similar murder in Hankow, although she was never charged.  She later moved to Shanghai and into the arms of another lover, and her second official victim.  Before moving to Shanghai, Hadley was under treatment for incipient insanity in Tientsin, according to a letter from Consul Allan Archer.


A Tientsin courtesan - online sources

A haunting picture of a Tientsin courtesan, notice upper right hand corner – online sources

Tientsin’s Land of Broken Moons

In most Western lands, areas for prostitution are known as red-light districts.  The color changes in Amsterdam to blue while in China, yellow is the hue of illicit sex.  Prostitution was legal in Tientsin before 1949, and although communists attempted to stamp out the trade and teach former streetwalkers and flophouse girls a trade, turning tricks never truly vanished and is visible, once again, in modern Tientsin.

Their world was known by many names, sometimes called the “bitter sea” or lands of “wind and dust,” or “broken moons.”  Working girls who were usually sold or kidnapped and forced into the trade were called “damaged flowers” and when old enough, the road to success lay in competing to the top of local tabloid popularity lists and become a zhuangyuan, or a master of their trade.

Modern day prostitutes are a far cry from the painted courtesans at the turn of the twentieth century.  Such courtesans, who weren’t always prostitutes by the strictest definition of the word, were virtually unobtainable.

“Courtesans are the main personages in the brothel,” wrote Gail Hershatter in her book Dangerous Pleasures.  “They must be skilled enough to attract guests, gentle and bewitching, and solicitous at entertaining.”  Many houses, or brothels, fought over popular courtesans, and they were regarded as “money trees.”

They rode on the shoulders of their boy servants, dressed in the finest silks with bejeweled fingers.  To procure a courtesan was nearly impossible for most men, and was considered foolhardy, like “raising golden carp in a jar; they are just good to look at, not to eat.”

Today, such Eastern allure is gone.  Classless karaoke girls eager for quick money have replaced the sing-song girls, who once trained their adolescent lives in the entertainment arts, including those of the bedchamber.

Before liberation there were five types of prostitutes in Tientsin.  The changsan, or the “long three,” stood at the top of the hierarchy after popular demand for “quick fixes” shrunk the ancient courtesan community.  Their nickname was derived from the mahjong domino with two groups of three dots.  They charged three Chinese dollars a drink and three more to spend the night, according to Hershatter.

Next came the ersan, meaning “two-threes,” and the yaoer, or “one-twos,” also named after domino patterns.  One Chinese dollar included watermelon seeds; two dollars bought drinking companionship.  The taiji, or the “stage pheasants” worked in tax-paying brothels known as “salt pork shops,” they sang in sing-song parlors and teahouses, and they charged customers a flat fee of three dollars to spend the night.

Near the bottom of the hierarchy came the yeji, or “wild pheasants.”  These girls were tenacious and considered dangerous, charging one Chinese dollar for a “one cannon blast-isms.”

Second to the bottom, not including the aged prostitutes and those working in “flower smoke rooms” or opium dens, were the Chinese girl guides, who charged by the hour and were colloquially known as “sleeping phrase books” or more commonly in recent times as “long-haired dictionaries.”  After World War II they became known as Jeep girls, and could be frequently seen riding in US military jeeps en route to a meal at the Astor Hotel.

Although many women were sold into the trade, many also learned to accept they had nowhere else to go.  Few initially accepted offers of help.  “Why should we eat bean sprouts when in our homes [brothels] servants address us as ‘Miss?’” was one common ideology amongst Tientsin’s broken moon society.  When they got noticeably sick, there were painful injections of salvarsan, known by its nickname 606, before penicillin was invented.

Costs of living in China was low, but most of the “respectably” employed could not keep up monetarily with the ever changing times.  Labour Cabinet Minister Tom Shaw wrote to consular officials in 1925 that women and children were extensively employed in industrial jobs they were not physically fitted for; their work hours were long, and many had to travel long distances.  Foreign and Chinese employers exploited their employees, squeezing thousands into early graves.  Entire villages were poisoned through the mining of cinnabar, coal and salt, creating little wonder why many women, sometimes even men, who were known as yazi or “ducks,” chose prostitution to survive.

Most prostitutes had their pimps, known as mawang.  White ants, bai mayi, were the traffickers, who usually tricked or kidnapped young girls into the trade, and always sold for a profit.

Customers were known as dry, wet and beloved.  Dry customers could spend time and money, but could not afford sexual relations; wet customers bought sexual relations but could not compare to a beloved, which naturally included both sexual and emotional bonds.  One of Tientsin’s “baddest girls” included Lin Daiyu, birth name Jin Bao, who became a prostitute at age seven and was known in Tientsin as Xiao Jinling, or “Small Golden Bell.”  Although Lin contacted syphilis in Tientsin, she was later cured, hid her pockmarks with thick makeup and became one of China’s most infamous and charismatic courtesans who never stopped seeking a “fatter wallet.”

A typical scene inside a "flower smoke shop" - online sources

A typical scene inside a high class “salt pork shop” – online sources

Originally, Tientsin’s brothel areas were outside the north gate of the walled Native City just to the side of one of the city’s largest markets, near present day Food Street shipinjie.  Outside the Native City’s West Gate was an area for older prostitutes who served the working class.  They were “Charming women of middle age, incarnations of hell, and it is rather hard for them to attract people,” Hershatter wrote.  Another area was the Purple Bamboo Grove area, near the old American barracks known as the Muckloo by foreign soldiers.  Tientsin’s worst brothels were in qian dezhuang, a sanbuguan at the southwest corner of the city.  Here, the better brothels were known as old mother halls, and although they were polite and attentive to mill hands, they lacked the funds for treating diseases.

Sanbuguan – 三不管 – A “No Care Zone,” literally translated to mean Three Who Cares and sometimes referred to with a more lengthy description as ‘beyond the control of the three foreign powers,’ (Chinese, Japanese and Western), were boisterous places, filled with cheap theaters, teahouses, brothels, vaudeville halls, devil’s markets, scrap hoarders and dubious drug shops known as yanghangs.  The most famous No Care Zone was at the southern edge of the old city of Tianjin, near the Japanese garrison at Haiguansi.  Another No Care Zone surrounded Nanshi Food Street, which was infamous for houses of ill repute, opium dens and bandits.

Nanshi No Care Zone - Tianjin Archives Museum

Nanshi No Care Zone – Tianjin Archives Museum

Among the most popular brothels for Tientsin’s soldiers and expatriates were the Muckloo brothels.

“Tientsin was a ready source of women of all nationalities,” reported Alfred Emile Cornebis in his book The United States 15th Infantry Regiment in China, 1912-1938.  “A number of brothels… specialized in White Russian women who had escaped the Soviet Union…  Many prostitutes lived in the “legendary” street called Muckloo, or Mucklu… not far from the American Compound.  Inside the Muckloo were better-known prostitutes such as “Lizzie,” “Peepsight,” and the most famous of Tientsin’s prostitutes “Dutch Annie.”

A modern day teahouse with stage - typical of the old days - where prostitutes would perform dances, sing song or tell stories - photo by C.S. Hagen

A modern day teahouse with stage – typical of the old days – where prostitutes would perform dances, sing songs or tell stories all the while being wined and dined by their patrons  – photo by C.S. Hagen

Chinese brothels were divided into high-class establishments called “big shops” and the less expensive places, which could be found in the winding hutongs.

The frequent cry still heard today of “lai kele!” or “receive the guest” was the typical welcome heard in any brothel.

Another book written by Hershatter called The Workers of Tianjin, 1900 – 1949, gives a glimpse of business inside a brothel.

“Whenever a guest arrives, a male servant welcomes him, asks him to have a seat, and then lifts up the screen and calls loudly, “receive the guest!”  As soon as he sees the fabled beauty enters the room in a leisurely fashion, her hair ornaments moving as she passes by, his eyes are riveted upon her.  He may pick a prostitute, and she will open the cigarette box for him and prepare some tea.  This is called “having a seat,” and costs half the price of spending the night.  If for some reason the guest says that she doesn’t meet his fancy, and leaves, it is called “hitting the chaff lamp” (da kang deng).

A US Marine in Tientsin - online sources

A US Marine in Tientsin – online sources

According to 1920s survey by Nationalist Bureau of Social Affairs, Tientsin had 571 brothels, in which 2,910 workers were local Tientsiners.  The rest came from Japan, Korea, Guangdong Province, Russia, Poland, United States and other Western countries, and worked mostly out of the Muckloo area, which was also near the British Bund along the Hai River.  A perfect escape for US Marines.

“The regiment’s high command was perennially up against two hard faces of Army life in China: their soldiers’ propensity to excessive drinking and their cohabiting with the natives,” Cornebis reported.  “There was also concern of drug abuse, and these soldiers were known as “snow birds” but this never became a major problem.”

“Up the pole” referred to being “on the wagon” and mottos like “When intoxication is a bliss ‘tis folly to be sober,” were common.  A military sentence for alcohol abuse was one month’s hard labor and two-thirds loss of pay for US Marines. 

Colonel Newell of the US Marines frequently told his men to be wary.  “You have come to a country where the 18th Amendment is not known and where the temptation to lead a sordid life is in every corner.  A man can ruin himself physically in a few weeks.”

Soldiers in Tientsin were recognized to have a venereal disease level at three times the Army’s average, and despite the general ambivalence Chinese prostitutes had toward venereal diseases, soldiers continued to find “sleeping phrase books,” according to Cornebis.

Although the Nationalist Party regulated the trade, prostitutes were categorized into one of the five grades, the largest of which was the third-grade, prostitutes who earned from one to four mao or 40 cents a day, while the fifth grade made from seven fen or cents, known simply as cash, to three mao a day, Hershatter reported from a Tientsin guidebook.

The 18th Amendment is the only amendment to be repealed from the US Constitution. This unpopular amendment banned the sale and drinking of alcohol in the United States, taking effect in 1919, and was a huge failure.

“Third class brothels are more poisonous than those of the first or second class.  Lower still are the local prostitutes who live in filthy places.  Laborers congregate there.  For three mao they are permitted to spend the night… People who come in contact with them immediately contract syphilis, injure their health, and kill themselves… Further, there is a secret kind of secret prostitute who is especially dangerous.  Those in this group do not have a fixed address.  They come from other places, and use the cover of prostitution to practice their tricks.  People who fall into their clutches at minimum will lose their money, and in more serious cases their lives may be in danger.  New arrivals in Tianjin, please be kind enough to avoid this pitfall.”

Katherine Hadley fell into this transitory category of streetwalker.  With no fixed address, she bounced from one brothel or cabaret to the next, somehow making ends meet.  When her first victim, Prokoptchik, tried to pressure her into working for him, she killed him.

As times progressed, so did attire and Tientsin's broken moon society.  Instead of meeting a teahouses and salt pork shops, more and more prostitutes frequented places such as the French Club or the Blue Fan, which catered more toward foreign customers - online sources

As times progressed, so did attire and Tientsin’s broken moon society. Instead of meeting at teahouses and salt pork shops, more and more prostitutes frequented places such as the French Club or the Blue Fan, which catered more toward foreign customers – online sources


Shanghai 1934

Shanghai’s summers are wet and oppressive, stifling as a ship’s boiler room even when the sun goes down.  August is one of the Yangtze basin’s hottest months, a time when there is little escape from tempers spurred by late summer heat.

Efim Rivkin and his wife, Rosa, were trying to cool off on their balcony when they both spied through a window a couple sitting at a dining room table opposite them of Muirhead Road.

“We could see her through the window of the house opposite,” said Mister Rivkin, a barber, in his testimony at the Shanghai Supreme Court.  “There were two people in the room – there was a man.  They were sitting on chairs.  The woman was waving her hand and breaking the crockery.  She was holding a knife.”

Rosa said a one-sided argument took place.  The man, a Captain Walter Clifford Youngs, sat quietly smoking a cigarette while the woman, Hadley, broke crockery with a knife.

Youngs coolly smoked, but said nothing.

“Then she stabbed him in the upper part of his body,” Rosa said.  “He rose a little from the chair and fell down.  The woman sat down on another chair and rested her head on her arms.  Then after two or three minutes – she got up and went round the table to a chair where a jacket was hanging.  She took out something from a pocket of the jacket.  It was hanging from the chair on which the man had been sitting.  I could not tell what she took out

“When the police arrived she was lying on the bed.”

Michael Koretsky, a neighbor, ran for the police.  They soon arrived and Officer Gleb Dubrovsky, who was also an interpreter, entered through the house’s French window and found a man half sitting against the wall.  Blood was pouring from the right side of his neck and he covered in blood.  “He was still breathing,” Koretsky said.  “He was covered in blood.”

While en route to Shanghai’s General Hospital Youngs was still alive.  He was quiet, however, while Hadley was talking excitedly and trying to get out.

“In the operating room she was still talking and trying to get up from the table,” Koretsky said.  “I was trying to keep her down.  She took hold of my arm and said: ‘Did I kill him?’  I did not reply.  She then said: ‘If I didn’t kill him, I will kill him ten times over.’  I patted her shoulder and told her to keep quiet.”

Youngs died of a neck wound on August 16, 1933.  Hadley was treated for a small cut to her left breast, but doctors never revealed if the wound was self inflicted or was caused by other means.

While in the hospital Hadley asked repeatedly for Eliza Robinson of the Foreign Women’s Home, a shelter for foreign prostitutes and drug addicts.  She had called Robinson, known as the Matron, earlier that night.

“It’s Katherine speaking,” the Matron said Katherine told her on the telephone.  “Miss Robinson all that you have said has been perfectly true.  I made a big mistake in leaving the home.”  She said that Captain Youngs had come home much the worse for drink and started to abuse her.  He had threatened to tell me what kind of a woman she was.  She could not stand it any longer so she left the house.  She said she would not come back that night.  She would go and see what condition he was in and if things were not all right she would return to the home in the morning.  She was not excited – I had no difficulty in hearing her speech.”

But prosecutors in the Shanghai Supreme Court didn’t fall for the Matron’s defense of her one-time ward or Hadley’s heart broken account of her life.

“I was in the kitchen preparing for supper,” Hadley said in court.  “And saw the vodka.  I was so annoyed that I returned to the kitchen.  I brought the food.  I sat in front of him.  He said I did not know how to cook.  I said I would go back to the Cottage.  Then he pushed me and called me a bloody whore.  I left the house and telephoned Miss Robinson.  I went to a Chinese shop and got a bottle of vodka.  I drank it.”  As she didn’t want to go home, she went to another friend’s house, but saw his wife was standing outside with her friend.  “I returned to the Chinese shop and got another bottle of vodka.  I don’t remember anything after that until I woke up in Wayside Police Station.”

Both bottles of vodka she did not pay for.  “I drank the vodka because I was annoyed – not to get my courage up.”

The Matron later vouched for Hadley’s traumatic life in a letter to Chinese Minister Lampson, pleading to spare her life.  “As one who was in close contact with her, and knew her as few did, I wish to testify to her good influence over the other inmates of the Home, where her cheerful submission to discipline and general helpfulness were strongly marked.  Katherine Hadley had done her best to secure honest work, but had been pursued by Captain Youngs’ attentions; the sapping of her moral and physical nature by vice and drink, coupled with her defective education and low mentality, wore down her resistance.

When Hadley was at the Foreign Women’s Home, which according to Prostitution and Sexuality in Shanghai: A Social History, 1849-1949 by Christian Henriot, was one of two homes in Shanghai that received foreign prostitutes and also worked with “repentant girls,” Hadley suffered from mental disturbances, headaches, for which she was given bromide three times a day.  Toward the end of her stay she had a slight attack of pleurisy, a lung condition, and was bedridden for a week.

“The case is one of a naturally kind and happy woman, of defective education, addicted to drink at periods of mental excitement, carried away by the treatment of a man who had persisted in re-entering her life, till the cumulative effect of excessive remorse, indignation at her treatment, accentuated by the mental excitement already referred to drove her to excessive drink, and then to commit a crime of which she has no recollection whatsoever.”

“I am thirty six [years old],” Katherine said in court.  “[I] came to China in 1917.  Met Youngs in 1924.  He asked me to live with him as his mistress.  He said he would marry me.  I went with him in 1924.  I stayed with him a couple of months.”  She went to Hankow in 1925, after Youngs started drinking, and worked in a cabaret.  “He wrote asking me to return to him.  I asked him to send me money.  I borrowed money and came to Shanghai.”

She worked brothels and cabarets in Dalian, known then as Dairen, and at Chefoo and Tientsin, never mentioning the murder charge to court officials.

First page of the petition for Hadley stay of execution, spearheaded by "the Matron" and the British Women’s Association, whose membership consisted of more than 1,000 British women - Shanghai Consulate records

First page of the petition for Hadley stay of execution, spearheaded by “the Matron” and the British Women’s Association, whose membership consisted of more than 1,000 British women – Shanghai Consulate records

“This year I met Youngs again.  I was then in a house of ill fame.  He asked me to live with him and I refused.  In the house I was drunk night and day.  I went to the Foreign Women’s Home and saw Miss Robinson.  She took me in – on April 14th I wrote to Youngs and told him where I was.  He came one day and asked to take me out.  He asked me to live with him and I refused.  I said I would much rather stay in the Cottage.”

She called Youngs a “wolf man,” who never failed to hunt her out and force her back to the terrible existence she had begun with him.

And then she said she willingly saw him on Wednesdays and Sundays.  “He said he would marry me by American law and make a will in my favour.  On July 26th I left the Cottage and we took a room in Newham Terrace.”

According to an October 26, 1933 story in the The Straits Times, Youngs, 54, was a British “gypsy,” and had a reputation of being a reckless soldier of fortune.  He arrived in China in 1914, working at Jardine, Matheson and Co., the China Merchants Steam Navigation Co., and for Major Chancey P. Holscomb aboard the steam launch Silver Start, which operated between Shanghai and small islands.  He was a gunrunner, a drug smuggler and although he possessed a British passport he had the tough, wiry complexion of a nomad.

After all the witnesses had been called and H.A. Reeks conducted her defense, dependent mainly on the premise she remembered nothing, the jury deliberated for seventy-two minutes before reaching a verdict.

Guilty.  But the jury strongly recommended leniency.

Judge Penrhyn Grant Jones then passed the death sentence on October 18, 1933.  “Katherine Hadley, the jury has very rightly and properly found you guilty of the terrible case of murder.  You have brutally and wantonly taken the life of a fellow creature, and for this the law of England justly claims your own life as forfeit.  I find no reason whatsoever why you should not pay the extreme penalty.”

Wearing a bright blue knitted dress, black coat and brown hat, Hadley stoically received the sentence.  “Although she received the sentence calmly, she collapsed during the hearing yesterday, and sobbed bitterly as she related the story of a life of misery with a lover whom she characterized as ‘a wolf man,’” The Straits Times reported.  “Hitherto no woman has been executed in China by order of a British Court.”

She was sent to the Amoy Road Gaol, one of the British Empire’s worst prisons in the 1930s, to await death by hanging.

The Matron, who was in charge of the Foreign Women’s Home, didn’t give up on her former ward.  She rallied friends and opponents of the death penalty to sign petitions, beseeching Lampson for mercy.

Katherine Hadely en route to Holloway Prison - courtesy of the Daily Sketch

Katherine Hadley en route to Holloway Prison. In this photo her knit cap is pulled low over her forehead, and she appears to be fighting back tears while wrenching a pair of gloves. – courtesy of the Daily Sketch and Douglas Clark

“I cannot believe that Katherine Hadley deliberately killed Captain Youngs for although she did not love him she said he had always been good to her and spoke of him in most friendly terms,” the Matron said.

Hadley also changed her tune, saying that her English wasn’t as fluent as she once thought and wanted a retrial.  While at the Ward Road Gaol she began showing signs of insanity, reported A.G. Mossop, chairman of the 1934 Visiting Committee for British Prisoners to consular officials.  Hadley was sent to the Municipal Council’s Mental Hospital twice, where she improved, but relapsed upon return due to the poor conditions within the Ward Road Jail.

“The Council’s medical officers reported that in their view continued confinement either in the gaol or in the mental hospital at Shanghai was not conducive to the prisoner’s recovery and that sooner or later definite insanity would manifest itself if adequate psychological treatment was not provided,” Mossop wrote.

All 5,607 prisoners in the Ward Road Gaol wore leg irons, W.P. Lambe, an acting chairman for the 1935 Visiting Committee for British Prisoners reported.  The warden walked the halls with a baton.  Suicide rates within the prison were seven times higher than in other British penal institutions.

Four months after her death sentence and on the eve of his departure from China only hours before the final deadline to commute Hadley’s sentence, Lampson ordered Hadley’s reprieve of execution, according to consular records. “Now therefore I, Miles Wedderburn Lampson, His Majesty’s Minister in China, in virtue of the powers conferred on me by the said Article of the said Order-in-Council, do direct that the sentence of death passed upon the aforesaid Katherine Hadley be commuted to one of imprisonment for life.”

Ten months later on November 8, 1935, and in accordance with the Colonial Prisoners’ Removal Act of 1884, The Times and the Ogden Standard-Examiner reported Hadley was shipped to England, a country to which she belonged but had never seen.

“A journey across the world to serve a life sentence in prison has been the strange experience of Mrs. Katherine Hadley, a Russian-born British citizen,” The Times reported.

She disappeared behind the thick rock walls of London’s Holloway Prison, and was never heard from again.



Gates of Holloway Prison, London

Gates of Holloway Prison, London

Courtyard of the Happy Way – Tientsin at War – Part IX

TIANJINThis is the ninth story in the “Tientsin at War” series.  The pinnacle of Japanese success during World War II meant the downfall of Western colonialism in Asia.  Nearly 750 foreign enemies of Japan were arrested, marched “in shame” through Tientsin’s streets and sent to prison in Weihsien, currently Weifang, Shandong Province, China.  These are their gripping stories of survival, the memories of heroes. 

By C.S. Hagen

TIENTSIN, CHINA – Colonial rule in Tientsin ended with three whimpers.  The first was one of the city’s most heart-stirring days, according to historian, author and Tientsin native Desmond Power.

English military battalions such as the First Lancashire Fusiliers, the Second East Surrey Regiment and platoons of the Tientsin British Special Police lined the streets to bid US troops goodbye.

“And here they come,” Power wrote in his book Little Foreign Devil, “the band crashing out Stars and Stripes Forever.  Then the men, nine hundred strong, marching shoulder-to-shoulder, grinning sheepishly at the ovation.  And a deafening ovation it is with all that shouting and cheering and handclapping and firecrackers.  Women break through our cordon and fling themselves on their departing sweethearts.”

America's Fifth Infantry on parade in Tientsin - 1931

America’s Fifth Infantry on parade in Tientsin – 1931

By 1938, one year after Japan’s invasion of China began, the situation in Tientsin had become untenable, according to the Assistant Chief of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs Walter Adams.  The US Army Fifteenth Infantry was withdrawn from Tientsin and was replaced by a token force of US Marines.

“It’s all over…” Power wrote.  “The crowd filters away.  A breeze disperses the lingering wafts of burnt powder, but it will be hours before the sweepers deal with the litter of spent firecrackers.”

The second whimper came two years later and “without notice, without fanfare, without the roll of a single drum, the beep of a single fife.”  With war raging across the globe, Great Britain called the Tientsin’s East Surrey Regiment to Singapore.  British troops marched for the last time north on Victoria Road, laid in part with bricks from Tientsin’s old “Celestial City” wall, demolished after the Boxer Uprising in 1900.

“For the first time since its inception in 1863, the concession was without the protection of the Imperial Army,” Power wrote.  No one truly thought colonial life would ever end, much like the Edwardian Era; the good times would last forever.

But mayhem reigned.  Chinese protests of the Unfair Treaties endangered British Commerce.  Japan’s navy blockaded Tientsin’s port.  Policemen went on strike.  Opium and heroin were easy vices, the drugs were smuggled across the Hai River by Japanese gangs and sold into every city district, demoralizing and lethal.

The yellow emergency flag replaced the Union Jack on the topmast of Gordon Hall, Tientsin’s political center and formidable castle, which to the Chinese was a symbol of colonial domination.

The third whimper came a year later.  A handful of poorly trained Tientsin British Special Police were left to defend the city’s remaining foreign residents, numbering approximately 750 resident enemies of Japan.  Many of the French had gone “Vichy;” the Germans and Italians were allied with Japan; the White Russians and Jews in Tientsin were predominantly stateless, having few enemies and even fewer friends.

Tientsin, unknown date, Gordon Hall standing center, Victoria Road on right

Bird’s eye view of Tientsin withGordon Hall standing proud center – top – with Victoria Park spread out in foreground, Victoria Road on right, Astor Hotel on far right.  Gordon Hall, built in 1890 in commemoration of General Charles Gordon, was torn down due to damage after the 1976 Tangshan Earthquake. Date of picture unknown – online sources

To avoid bloodshed, ammunition was confiscated, according to Power.  His thirty-seven-member-group in charge of defending the British Bund had no bullets.  On December 8, 1941, which due to the international time difference was the same day Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the “Island Dwarfs” – a Chinese derogatory term for Japanese soldiers – also poured into Tientsin’s British Concession.

Anne Knüppe-de Jongh was twelve-years-old and a student at St. Joseph’s High School in Tientsin’s French Concession when she was “arrested” by Japanese soldiers.

For fifteen months following Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, she lived in fear with her parents and siblings in Tientsin.  Being a Dutch citizen, she was forced to wear the identifying red armband.  Barbed wire barricades and Japanese soldiers pointing Arisaka rifles separated the concessional areas, making usual routes to school and favorite parks difficult to travel.

“My parents were very troubled,” Knüppe-de Jongh said.  “They dreaded an internment.”  Her father was a manager for the Holland-China Trading Co.

Before the war began however, her life was filled with pleasant memories, of fancy dress parties, pond skating in winter, playgrounds and horse racing.  Every five years her family would travel by sea or by the Siberian Railway home to Europe, and her summers in China were spent vacationing at Peitaiho (Beidaihe).  The life her parents provided was of a style no one thought could end, and when the good life was taken, it shattered with the ferocity of a Gobi sand storm.

Japanese guard - courtesy of Weihsien-Paintings

Japanese guard – courtesy of Weihsien-Paintings

“Just could not get out of the house facing a Japanese machine gun,” Ron Bridge, an Englishman, said.  Bridge was born into the British Concession at Tientsin.  His family’s history in China dates to 1885, when his grandfather Albert Henry Bridge acted as an interpreter during the post Boxer Uprising negotiations in 1900. “Movement was restricted with night curfew, but one could walk about with a red armband in Tientsin.”  His father and uncle were directors of Pottinger & Co., among other projects a real estate company established in the late nineteenth century.  Being bilingual he knew the red armband was also a symbol of bravery, or “elite,” which “really got up the Japanese noses,” he said.

Mary Previte, who is now an American and a noted speaker on life as a child during World War II in China, was from Chefoo, known today as Yantai.  With warring armies separating her and her siblings from her parents, she was taken from school along with nearly three hundred other classmates and interned at Chefoo before being sent to the Courtyard of the Happy Way in Weihsien, now Weifang, Shandong Province.  In Weihsien, she said, all internees were required to wear cloth badges with a prisoner number.  She did not see her parents until after the Japanese surrender and spoke of her experiences at the Sixtieth Anniversary celebration of the Weihsien Concentration Camp on August 17, 2005.

“They brought a Shinto priest to the ball field of our school,” Previte said.  “He conducted a ceremony that said our school now belonged to the Great Emperor of Japan.  They pasted paper seals on the furniture, seals on the pianos, seals on the equipment – Japanese writing that said all this now belonged to the Great Emperor of Japan.  Then they put seals on us – armbands.

“We belonged to the Emperor, too.”

The noose tightened.  Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere began with blitzkrieg speed at Pearl Harbor, simultaneously spreading south over Asia’s islands and west across China’s provinces.  Tientsin’s foreign residents were named “enemies of Japan” and were issued letters from Japanese authorities stating they would soon be relocated to Civil Internment Centers, where “every comfort of Western culture will be yours.”

By March 1943, the enemies of Japan, which included Great Britain, Australia, Greece, the Dutch, Norwegian, Spanish, Danish, the United States and more, were paraded from places such as Victoria Park and the Volunteer Headquarters down Victoria Road to Tientsin’s East Train Station.

Bridge was only a boy of  nine years when he became an enemy of Japan and was sent to the Courtyard of the Happy Way.  His walk from  home to Tientsin’s East Train Station was pushing a baby buggy  stuffed with food tins with his baby brother perched precariously on the top.

Weihsien children pics 1

Weihsien children pics 2

A handful of the children of Weihsien around the time of incarceration 

“Among those being jostled about by the arrogant Japanese were agents for large American oil, auto, and tobacco companies, British shipping magnates, and representative of banks of all nations, who traded in the Far East for a century,” Pamela Masters wrote in her autobiography The Mushroom Years.  Although Masters was not born in Tientsin, her family had lived and worked in China for three generations, and frequently made trips to the troubled metropolis.

Everyone, Masters wrote, from the youngest infant to the oldest shipping magnate, wore the “demeaning” red arm band, with the character 英 (ying), the symbol for England, which ironically also means hero, emblazoned for all to see.

Despite the incessant turmoil in Tientsin before World War II, not one local Tientsiner cheered the foreign exodus while they were marched at gunpoint to the train station.  Third class carriages waited to transport all enemies of Japan to concentration camps, known as “civil assembly centers.”  Masters remembered her family’s coolie servant, named Jung-ya, running up and offering to carry their heavy suitcases.

“They [Master’s parents] smiled their thanks, and without thinking, handed their suitcases over to him.  A soldier rushed up out of nowhere and hit Jung-ya across the head with his rifle butt.  As he fell to the ground, the guard snatched the two cases from his unresisting hands and shoved them at Mother and Dad, shouting and waving his rifle and stamping his foot.

“The message was clear to all who witnessed the incident.”

Most of Tientsin’s foreign enemies, including other foreigners from Peking and Chefoo, were sent to Weihsien’s Courtyard of the Happy Way.

Before the Japanese takeover of Tientsin’s concessions, Power was entrained to Shanghai along with consular staff and high end company officers and their families for repatriation on the prisoner exchange ship Kamakura Maruwas, but he landed in Shanghai’s Pootung Camp, a tobacco godown, or warehouse, before being herded to the Lunghua Civil Assembly Center.  He was later transferred north to Weihsien, where he was reunited with his family and 1,540 other internees.

While en route to his first prison, Power walked the “White Man’s ultimate humiliation” along the wide esplanades of the Far East’s banking capital.  Japanese strategists declared themselves saviors of China for ridding the cities of “Roundeyes,” and Japanese soldiers fully expected the Chinese to ridicule the Western prisoners along the way.

Not one Chinese uttered a single insult, Power wrote.  Despite repeated attempts to banish the foreigner from their country, Chinese onlookers were strangely quiet.

“No insults thrown, no jeers, no catcalls.  A sea of silent poker faces saw us onto the waiting tender.”


Courtyard of the Happy Way as it was during World War II - China Daily

Courtyard of the Happy Way as it around the time of World War II – China Daily


WEIHSIEN, CHINA – Great Britain’s Asian colonies fell like dominoes, spurring a sense of failure in some colonialist men, overturning their self-image of the dynamic, colonial, indefatigable male.  According to one account written by Bernice Archer called The Internment of Western Civilians Under the Japanese 1941-1945, many Western men at the onslaught of World War II were demoralized.

“There we were literally reduced to our bare selves.  We no longer had about us the aura of our offices, our clerks and tambies, our cars and comfortable homes and servants.  All the trappings of our Western civilizations had been ruthlessly shorn from us.  We were prisoners and nothing more.”

Women prisoners, according to Archer, were expected to share the same corporate and patriotic loyalties as their husbands.  When they married a colonial man, they married his job as well, and were expected to play their designated roles no matter the costs.  Chins up, shoulders back, “be calm and carry on,” even while walking straight into internment.  


Courtyard of the Happy Way picture and corresponding map - courtesy of Weihsien-Paintings

Courtyard of the Happy Way 樂道院 (le dao yuan) –  picture and corresponding map – courtesy of Weihsien-Paintings

“This was a prison.”

Tientsin’s foreigners were crammed into trains, herded south through war torn fields, then marched into a grey brick walled prison – the Courtyard of the Happy Way – lined up on an athletic field next to a church for roll call.

Through the eyes and diary of David Treadup, a former internee, John Hersey wrote in his book The Call: “I was listless, tired, downhearted, in pain, but that wall roused me.  My buttocks prickled at the sight of it.  It was as if I were in an old wooden house and waked up from a deep sleep smelling smoke.  This was the usual eight-foot gray brick mission compound wall, familiar to me as an often seen boundary of refuge for foreigners, setting the limits of a peaceful sanctuary form the Chinese universe roundabout – except that now there was a difference: guard turrets had been erected at the corners of the wall.  This was no refuge.  This was a prison.”

Out of the twelve Japanese internment camps holding foreigners in Mainland China, the Weihsien Civil Assembly Center was one of the largest.  The internment camp was originally built by American Protestant missionaries in 1924, and requisitioned by Japanese military and consular officials as a camp to hold foreign enemies in 1943.  The prison’s commandant was Mister Izu; the prison’s captain was known by children as “King Kong,” who passed on most of his duties to his aide, a wiry and obnoxious man nicknamed “Gold Tooth.”  The Courtyard of the Happy Way became a propaganda showpiece, Japan’s idyllic centerfold, featuring electrified wire and an encircling stone wall, manned gun towers, rows of cells for internees to live, coal-burning kitchens, eighteen Chinese-styled squatty potties and forty Western-styled toilets, all of which drained into cesspools.

“This place, they knew and could see, was a former missionary compound,” Hersey wrote.  “Now all was drab and befouled.  Most of the passageways were cluttered with all sorts of furniture and trash thrown out from the buildings, presumably by uncaring bivouacs of Japanese troops and, later, by quartermasters in hasty preparations to receive these internees.”

The Japanese had not made any arrangements for a hospital, but they were proud of the fine job internees created out of rubble.  They photographed Weihsien, according to internees, and sent the pictures across the world as propaganda showing how well they were treating the prisoners.

Most internees worked diligently at their assigned tasks, some rose before dawn to stoke kitchen fires; Catholic nuns volunteered for latrine duties.  Management fell to the internees, as the Japanese wanted little to do with their prisoners.

Canadian citizen Angela Cox Elliott was born in the Courtyard of the Happy Way, and although too young to remember many details, she returned in 2005 to visit her birthplace for the first time since 1945.  Her father, George Edward Cox, was the prison camp’s tinsmith and a friend of the Power’s family.  Before incarceration he was a graduate of Tientsin’s St. Louis College and a secretary at Credit Foncier de l’Extreme Orient.  He also served with Power in the Tientsin Volunteer Defense Corps.  Elliott’s mother, Philomena Splingaerd, half Chinese, half Belgian, was one of many granddaughters of Paul Splingaerd, the “Belgian Mandarin,” who was knighted by Belgian’s King Leopold II and raised to the ninth level of Mandarin by the Qing Imperial Court.

Elliott was born in the camp’s hospital, which had already been ransacked for supplies before the internees arrived.  Leftover hospital equipment was pieced together.  Doctors learned to improvise.  Requests for supplies were never fully granted; medicines trickled in at a snail’s pace.

Elliott remembers Japanese guards treating her kindly, as they did most children.

“The Jap soldiers may not have been that kind to other children, but I looked somewhat Japanese or Asian,” Elliott said.  “They more or less left people alone.  My ma said that a Japanese soldier used to come by and liked to play with me, probably reminded him of his kids as I am so Asian looking.”

Many adults, however, were not treated with such kindness.  According to an “I Remember” post in Weihsien-Paintings, a new father was beaten for the name he chose to give his newborn son.

“At Weihsien whilst his wife was actually giving birth to their child, Japanese guards barged right into the delivery room and demanded the name of the child to transmit to Tokyo.  [He] replied that until the child was born he couldn’t tell whether it was a boy or a girl.  He told them that if it was a boy, he would name him Arthur in honor of General MacArthur.  This enraged the guards and they beat him in front of my eyes.  They beat him three times.”

Local Chinese farmers were also frequently beaten or tortured, sometimes shot for minor offenses.

The camp was approximately 49,000 square meters, and held at one time or another more than 2,250 internees.  It also held an assembly hall, formerly a church, used by all denominations, a small baseball field, which was used to play softball after too many balls sailed over the wall, a large bell by Block 23, which was off limits to internees.  Cobbled lanes were given names, such as “Lovers Lane” and “Tin Pan Alley.”

Roll call was mandated one to two times a day, according to some former internees.

Clean water was one of the camp’s most significant problems.

“Water was a problem at Weihsien,” Bridge said.  “The wells were often within ten yards of the cesspits.”  His family, including two adults and two children, were initially given one room, twelve feet by eight feet, in which to live.  Communal meals consisted of vegetable scraps, potatoes, turnips, soybeans, millet and Indian corn, and rarely rice.

Food was scarce, especially toward the end of the war.  “Of course there was that horrible hungry feeling, that had to be covered by kaoliang [sorghum] porridges and thin soups,” Knüppe-de Jongh said.  Her family had arranged with a Swiss friend to be sent parcels several times a year, which included smoked bacon, lard, egg powder and other food products.  “I remember my mother baking a kind of omelet from egg powder with chips of bacon and it tasted really delicious, in my memory.”  Her brother, Paul, who was also born three months after arriving at the camp, was undernourished, weak and small for his age.

Meals consisted mainly of sorghum breakfasts, thin turnip soups with precious little meat called S.O.S. or “same old soup” for lunch.  Occasionally  horse meat was on the menu.  Vegetables and eggs were worth their weight in gold when the black market ran unhindered, but obtained only with money or by trade.  The internees’ savior was bread, baked daily by George Wallis and his kitchen crew, which kept starvation from becomming acute.

“I remember the Menu Board on which the cooks used their creative writing skills to describe the coming meal in the most exotic terms,” said a former inmate in the “I Remember” section of Weihsien-Paintings website.  “You would think that you were in the grandest hotel in the land.  What was actually served was bread porridge for breakfast, watery stew in the middle of the day, and whatever was left over for the evening meal.”

Weevils and crushed eggshells became important sources of protein and calcium.  Ted Pearson, who was seven-years-old when he was imprisoned, had lived at  Villa Jeanne d’Arc, off Racecourse Road on the way to Tientsin’s Country Club.  “The camp committee decided that to prevent rickets the children should get powdered eggshells, one tablespoon for each child.  All eggshells were saved for this purpose.  I know I never got rickets.”

The Japanese guards through children’s eyes were not seen as objects of hate, but of ridicule.  Janette Ley Pander, who formerly lived at the Belgian Bank on Victoria Road in Tientsin, was four when she arrived at the camp.  “We were very ‘lucky’ in Weihsien to have been held in Northern China-Japanese Territory, and kept by consular police as well as the military.  In my memory King Kong Bushido was a laugh, a kind of bogey man. Of course the Japanese were our captors and we felt that very well, but many were very kind in a personal way.  After all, we were all stuck in the middle of nowhere with the Chinese civil war surrounding us.  I only felt the danger of our situation through my parents’ angst.”

With approximately 2,500 internees waiting lines became inevitable.  There were lines for the toilets, chow lines and lines for lukewarm showers.  The winters were bone-rattling cold; summers were hot and humid.  Every capable person was assigned chores.  A discipline committee headed in part by former Tientsin Municipal Police Chief Inspector P.J. Lawless and Ted McLaren was organized, and punishments were unique to the environment.  Once, according to Hersey, Treadup was sentenced to make two circles of the camp wearing a sign saying “I Am a Thief” around his neck after stealing a piece of meat.

"The Morning Water Queue" drawing at Weihsien by William A. Smith - courtesy Weihsien-Paintings

“The Morning Water Queue” drawing at Weihsien by William A. Smith, an OSS officer – special courtesy and thanks to the family of William A. Smith, Weihsien-Paintings and the OSS Museum Collection

In the Courtyard of the Happy Way, trading taipans lived next to hooligans, former prostitutes and drug addicts alongside Catholics and Protestants.  Single men and women had their own dormitories; families were put into thirteen feet by eight feet cells.  Hersey offers a unique description of Treadup’s roommates in the single men’s dormitory.

“A potbellied retired sergeant of the U.S. Fifteenth Infantry Regiment in Tientsin, a bully by nature and training; he had lived a shady life in the French Concession there, some said as a middleman in sales of smuggled curios.

Food distribution at Weihsien - courtesy of Weihsien-Paintings

Food distribution at Weihsien – courtesy of Weihsien-Paintings

“An Englishman with startling mustaches like porcupine quills, a grand personage high up in Kailan Mining, owner in Tientsin of the great racehorse Kettledrum, which had won the Tientsin Champion Stakes five straight years.

“An American derelict, formerly a Socony engineer, whose “better years,” he told everyone, had been in the Bahrein oil fields in the Persian Gulf, now a lank, gaunt sausage of a man suffering agonizing cramps and sweats in forced withdrawal from his beloved paikar, [lao bai gar] the fiery Chinese liquor.

“A muscular American Negro dance instructor from the Voytenko Dancing School in Tientsin.

“A Eurasian, half Belgian and half Chinese, a salesman of cameras in a Tientsin store, who looked and acted like a ravishingly beautiful woman.

“A Pentecostal missionary, a bachelor with rattling dry bones under leathery dry skin, a kindly but rather repugnant man, with little dark velvety bags like bat bellies under his eyes, who groaned and babbled hair-raising fragments of sermons in his sleep ― bringing loud roars for silence from the sergeant and the dancer.

“An English executive of Whiteaway Laidlaw, the largest department store in the British Concession, a sensible, direct, practical, unemotional man, an observer of rules and a mediator in all storms in the room.

“The former chief steward of the posh Tientsin Club, who still wore the black coat, double-breasted gray waistcoat, and striped trousers of his Club uniform, all of which he somehow kept impeccably clean, a straight-backed figure, honorable and correct, yet also mischievous, a fountain of laughter, a man, as David soon wrote, “too good to be true.”

“A mean little Australian errand runner for the Customs Service, with a fake limp, who told a new lie every day about imaginary past glories ― as the pilot of a smuggling plane, as a photographer of nude women, as a big-time Shanghai gambler ― reduced now to a finicky, sneaky, sniveling complainer, scornful of Americans whatever their station but embarrassingly obsequious to upper-class Englishmen.”

Helen Burton, reading the letter notifying her of her brother's death, taken by the Times Magazine

Helen Burton, a North Dakota native, reading the letter notifying her of her brother’s death, taken by Life Magazine

One woman at Weihsien, Helen Burton, a North Dakota native, had been the proprietor of the Camels Bell curios and candy shop in Peking before incarceration.  At the Courtyard of the Happy Way she started a bartering shack, called the White Elephant’s Bell, for goods to be exchanged, including one instance of a luxurious fur coat for jam.  Months with no sugar can have a depreciating effect on luxury goods.  She was a socialite, always keeping busy, adopted four Chinese girls before imprisonment, and never married.  A photograph of Burton reading a letter about the death of her brother for the first time was featured in Life Magazine after liberation.

Surprisingly, according to all Weihsien survivors, few incidents occurred between the internees.

Suicide attempts, however, were not uncommon.

“Looking back on all the attempted suicides, there seemed to be a common denominator: each person had, at some time, been a “somebody” in a once exciting world,” wrote Masters, who admits in her book she once came close to grabbing the electric wire surrounding the camp, which would have killed her.   A Catholic priest rescued her.  One Chefoo schoolboy however, was killed by accidentally touching the wire.

“The woman who swallowed the box of match heads had been a famous fashion model in the States back in the thirties.  She was still very beautiful, with a doting husband – and no children, as she didn’t want to ruin her figure.  She was living in the past and couldn’t stand the anonymity of being just another lost soul in the prison camp.

“The girl who slashed her wrists was also extremely beautiful.  Her mother had been the most famous madame in Peking, and she the toast of the nightlife of that cosmopolitan city.”

One of the most mind-boggling events during the war years at the prison was when the American Red Cross sent a shipment of foodstuffs to the camp, which the Japanese allowed.  A handful of American missionaries, however, became indignant when they discovered the packages were to be handed out to each internee, saying the packages were from America and therefore meant for Americans only.

“Afraid of an uprising, the Commandant took immediate control and had all the parcels locked up until he got instructions from Tokyo.  While we waited for them, the camp that had once been tolerant of all the different nationals became bitterly divided.”

Even after Tokyo’s instructions to distribute one Red Cross package to each internee, regardless of nationality, the American missionary family, fat and slovenly and known as the Hattons in Masters’ book, threw themselves upon the parcels and wailed, “We want our due!”

Other missionaries, such as 1924 Olympic champion Eric Liddell were invaluable to the internees’ moral.  Liddell who was born in Tientsin is said by some Chinese to be

Eric Liddell, before the war, at right - courtesy Weihsien-Paintings

Eric Liddell, before the war, at right – courtesy of Weihsien-Paintings

China’s first Olympic gold medalist, but was most famously known as the athlete who refused to run on Sunday.  He was a soft-spoken, bald, Scottish missionary, who never talked about his past successes in sports, both track and rugby, and wore a permanent smile.  He lived in Block 23, Room 8 at the Courtyard of the Happy Way, and according to Power was the most respected man in camp.  Liddell also taught mathematics, gave sermons and was known for his sense of humor.  His running shoes, shortly before his death due to a brain tumor, were given away to fellow inmate Stephen A. Metcalf who helped Liddell with the camp’s recreation committee.

“During the following years it was my privilege to help Eric in his work on the recreation committee,” Metcalf wrote in his story about Liddell entitled Eric Liddel A Man Who Could Forgive.  He repaired the prison’s obsolete sporting equipment with thin sticks of Chinese black glue made from horse hoofs.

“He was always so enthusiastic and never thought of it as a sacrifice to tear up his sheets to bind up old bats and hockey sticks etc.  Even some of his trophies were sold on the black market to help the suffering.  As the years passed, we were all suffering in one way or another, and the tremendous workload he took on himself began to take its toll.

Eric Liddell's room - courtesy Weihsien-Paintings, via

Eric Liddell’s room – courtesy of Weihsien-Paintings

“About three weeks before Eric began to succumb to the brain tumor he came up to me with his pair of dilapidated running shoes.  They were all patched and sewn up with string. In a shy and almost offhand manner, he said, ‘Steve, I see your shoes are worn out and it is now midwinter.  Perhaps you will be able to get a few weeks of wear out of these.’   Then, with a knowing nod, he pressed them into my hand.”

Months later, due to necessity, Metcalf traded the shoes for a pair of US Army boots.

According to an “I Remember” report in the Weihsien-Paintings website, a young internee at the time remembered Liddell’s burial service.

“I remember that grey winter day, when a bedraggled procession of children in threadbare, outgrown overcoats followed the coffin of our beloved “Uncle Eric” to the small camp graveyard.  Our legs were bear in the bitter cold; our woolen stockings were the first things to wear out, and trousers were not part of our wardrobe in those days… As we followed the pallbearers on the frozen ground, one of them, my brother Norman Cliff, the cheap coffin creaked and groaned: would it hold together until they reached the grave?  It did, and no one else knew of their distress.”

Eric Liddell's grave - courts of Weihsien-paintings

Eric Liddell’s grave – courtesy of Weihsien-paintings

Tientsin native, Yu Wenji, now eighty-six-years old, was Liddell’s ball boy when he played tennis before incarceration, the China Daily reported on August 12, 2012.  Yu attended Liddell’s English classes and also Liddell’s sermons at Tientsin’s All Saint’s Church.

“He had the chance to leave for Canada with his pregnant wife and two children, but he refused to leave his brothers in church behind. I guess that must have been a tough decision for him,” Yu said.

Yu wept openly, he said, when he heard the Chariots of Fire theme song during the London Olympics in 2012, and has spent fifteen years writing a biography of Liddell.  “I watched the movie three times in a row when I first got the videotape,” he said. “He always leaned back his head when crossing the finishing line.  That scene is still vivid in my mind.”

When asked about his goals for his book on Eric Liddell, Yu, who is almost blind, said his memories of that time will never fade.

“I don’t want fame or money, I am eighty-six,” Yu said.  “I just want to show that Liddell is a good example of someone who can erase misunderstanding between China and Western countries.”

Liddell, along with at least thirty-one other Weihsien internees, died and was buried in the Courtyard of the Happy Way.  A Japanese soldier, according to the China Daily, secretly preserved Liddell’s death certificate when he was ordered to destroy all evidence.  Despite the city’s recent renovations, a red marble memorial stone in memory of Liddell still remains inside the Courtyard of the Happy Way.



Laurance Tipton in 1988 - courtesy of Weihsien-Paintings

Laurance Tipton in 1988 – courtesy of Weihsien-Paintings

Laurance Tipton, a British businessman, distributed cigarettes by camel caravan to China’s northwest before his incarceration at the Courtyard of the Happy Way.  He wrote a book entitled Chinese Escapade, published in 1949, about the loss of his business, which took him to Peking, Tientsin, Mongolia and elsewhere, his escape from prison and the months he spent fighting alongside Chinese guerillas.

Tipton was a kitchen fire stoker during his time at the Courtyard of the Happy Way.

“For the first few weeks it was exhausting work but one gradually got used to it. I first worked in the Peking kitchen as general help and then graduated to the butchery, where the maggot-ridden carcasses and the myriads of flies which laid eggs on the meat faster than one could wipe them off were rather more than I could stomach.”

Internees, Tipton wrote, saw little of Mister Izu, the camp’s commandant, or his staff, as management was left mostly in the hands of a foreign committee.  Complaints and requests were passed through the committee and to the commandant.

A black market with local Chinese on the other side of the prison wall began two weeks after his arrival.  “The Catholic Fathers were the first to operate on a large and well-organized scale,” Tipton wrote.  “It was merely a matter of finding a convenient spot out of the sentry’s view, a few words of hasty bargaining, throwing a rope and hauling up a basket of fresh country eggs.”

Outside, regular bootlegging gangs were organized: the Hans, the Chaos and the Wangs.  “In the dead of night they would send a representative over.  Greased and clad only in a G-string, he would slip in, take the orders, “shroff” over the accounts, receive payment and quietly disappear.  Transactions were made through a drainage hole along the wall.

In the thirty-third year of the Republic of China, a letter written by Wang Yu-min, of the Fourth Mobile Column of the Shantung-Kiangsu War Area, was snuck into the prison.

“My division is able to rescue you, snatching you from the tiger’s mouth…” a part of the letter said.  “We can well imagine that your life in Hades must reach the limits of inhuman cruelty.”

With continued correspondence, an escape plan formed.  Tipton asked Arthur Hummel to accompany.  On June 8, 1943, around 8:30 at night, Tipton and Hummel waited until the changing of the guards, scaled a guard tower and dropped over the side of the wall.  They hid in a graveyard fifty yards away.

“A pause to collect our breath, and we made another dash which took us out of range of the searchlights, and, taking our bearings from the camp, we headed directly north over ploughed fields, through wheat crops, stumbling over ditches and sunken roads until we reached the stream that flowed north of the camp. Wading across this, we headed in the direction of the cemetery.”

Members of the Fourth Mobile Column of the Shantung-Kiangsu War Area found them, and after saying the password “Friends,” unrolled a triangular white cloth that said ‘Welcome the British and American Representative! Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!’

Tipton and Hummel spent the next two years fighting alongside the guerillas, informed Western military authorities of the camp’s troubles, and returned to the camp as internees after liberation.

Internees were spared repercussions when the committee promised the commandant not to attempt escapes again if the commandant provided an X-ray machine from a nearby city.



Not everything at the Courtyard of the Happy Way was dismal.  Many children who survived look back on their incarceration with fond memories.  Boredom, to adolescents, was an enemy more incipient than their Japanese guards.

Internee Earl West formed a jazz band.  He had been a Tientsin musical star before incarceration, playing at a nightclub called the Little Club, according to Power.  The band, comprised of black musicians, performed most Friday nights inside one of the prison’s kitchens.

“What a boon those dances were for the romantically inclined, especially among the shy!” Power wrote.  “Many a couple’s relationship started at a dance, some leading to marriage.”

“I certainly enjoyed the dances in Kitchen Number 1,” Knüppe-de Jongh said.  “We had some fine bands.  I did more watching with my friends than really dancing, I’m afraid, being thirteen or fourteen years old, but I had fun there and occasionally I had a younger partner to dance with – but it was all very exciting for a teenager.”

Brigadier Len Stranks formed the Salvation Army Band, which played at sporting events and church services and on occasion the outlawed Star Spangled Banner.

Mclaren, of the discipline committee, built a secret radio the Japanese never found.  He was also privy to Tipton and Hummel’s escape, and organized an ‘underground police’ force of reliable, able-bodied internees, ready to take control of the camp if the opportunity arose.

The black market over the compound’s wall was kept alive for the duration of the war, despite Japanese intentions of either controlling or stopping the secret trades.  At least two Chinese farmers were killed by firing squad when caught.  Internees heard the rifle shots.

A Trappist monk named Father Scanlan had a foolproof method for receiving eggs undetected.  His order lifted the strict rules against speaking so the monks would be able to work with internees.  From a far corner of the wall he pried loose a few bricks and would pull eggs through the hole, in trade with a Chinese farmer.  If a guard happened along, two Trappist monks down the line would begin a Gregorian chant and Father Scanlan would quickly cover the eggs with his long monk’s robe, squatting protectively like a mother hen.  After four months he was caught, according to Langdon Gilkey in his book Shantung Compound, when a guard lifted his robe and discovered 150 eggs.  Although Japanese guards held the bushy-bearded monks to some degree of respect, egg laying was not among their “holy powers.”

“Father Darby [Scanlon, name changed in Gilkey’s book] was whisked off to the guardhouse,” Gilkey wrote.  “The first trial of camp life began.  The camp awaited the outcome of the trial with bated breath; we were all fearful that the charming Trap­pist might be shot or at best tortured. For two days, the chief of police reviewed all the evidence on the charge of black market­eering, which was, to say the least, conclusive.”

The commandant sentenced Father Scanlon to one and a half months of solitary confinement.

“The Japanese looked baffled when the camp greeted this news with a howl of delight, and shook their heads wonderingly as the little Trappist monk was led off to his new cell joyously singing.”

Drawing made by a Weihsien internee of the black market - courtesy of Weihsien-Paintings

Drawing made by a Weihsien internee of the black market – courtesy of Weihsien-Paintings

Throughout the duration of imprisonment there were others not of the cloth and not accustomed to long months of silence who were caught and also sentenced to solitary confinement.  During these times dozens of internees volunteered their own private stashes of food and endangered their own lives to sneak carefully-hoarded provisions into the lonely prisoners.  Such as the case of Peter Fox, who rang the prison bell in celebration after hearing the good news of Nazi Germany’s surrender over the homemade radio.  The entire camp went joyfully without rations for a week before he turned himself in.

Some vices continued, such as trading for Chinese “bai gar” liquor, and at least one Russian woman opened her bed as a brothel in trade for food or money.

During the warmer months the recreation committee, led by Eric Liddell, held softball matches and track events.

“The ball games were a big part of our lives and we had a girls team and we played against the younger boys,” Chefoo School student Maida Campbell Harris said.  “We hung out at all the ball games and for myself I think I was in an adolescent dream world rather than being aware of the danger around us.”

Many young internees learned new card games or played marbles, hopscotch and jump rope, while the more adventurous young held rat, bedbug and fly catching contests.  According to an “I Remember” report in the Weihsien-Paintings website, a young boy and a Chefoo School student named James H. Taylor III won the fly catching contest with a count of 3,500 neatly counted flies in a bottle.

“The winner got a rat’s skull,” Pearson said.  “The rat’s skull was amazing as the lower fangs curled right over it’s head.  I remember it clearly.”  Besides softball games and dances, he remembers drawing classes and plays that his father acted in, such as Androcles and the Lion.  There were also ballet shows, oratorios such as as Handel’s Messiah, mostly led by a man named Percy Gleed, and Tchiakowsky’s Swan Lake.  Catholic children had their first communions inside the camp.  Brave young boys made daring trips into the “out of bounds” Japanese area to steal coal and sugar from under their captors’ noses.  Pearson’s first crush fell on a young girl named Henrietta, whose mother fried cheese sandwiches when they had the makings.  “It was like manna from heaven,” Pearson said.

B --- is for BRITISH:  James H. Taylor, III, wears the armband required for prisoners of the Japanese in Chefoo (now called Yantai), Shandong Province, China. Immediately after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, the Japanese commandeered the Chefoo School and its students and immediately required that when any "enemy alien" left the school campus he must wear an armband that included a large black letter to indicated his nationality -- B or British, A for American, etc. Taylor was a 12-year-old student when the Japanese took over the Chefoo School. - courtesy of Mary Previte

B — is for BRITISH:
James H. Taylor, III, wears the armband required for prisoners of the Japanese in Chefoo (now called Yantai), Shandong Province, China. Immediately after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, the Japanese commandeered the Chefoo School and its students and immediately required that when any “enemy alien” left the school campus he must wear an armband that included a large black letter to indicate his or her nationality — B or British, A for American, etc. Taylor was a 12-year-old student when the Japanese took over the Chefoo School. – courtesy of Mary Previte

School continued for most of the prison’s children.  Few left the camp behind in their studies.  Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, Cub Scouts and Brownies clubs also were formed.  Although limited to short hikes, children practiced Morse Code, knot tying.  They made various badges like hiking badges, singing badges and naturalist badges.  When children turned fifteen, they were allowed to work.

“I turned fifteen in June 1945 and that was when you got a camp job,” Harris said. “Believe it or not I was very keen to have a job. Mine was washing dishes.  I  worked at Kitchen Two.   It was the summer of 1945 and two or three of us had a bowl of water on a table outside – I don’t think there was any soap in it and we had a kind of dish mop and people lined up to have their dishes washed in greasy water.  I was so proud of having a job.  I guess it was like a fifteen-year-old getting a job at McDonalds today.”

Like most teenagers, Harris became interested in boys.

“I know I was getting very interested in boys like my classmates were and we always knew when the boys we liked were on pumping duty,” Harris said.  “We liked the Weihsien boys rather than the Chefoo ones and the Chefoo boys liked the Weihsien girls.  I remember we would walk around the camp hoping to see the boy you liked.” She found an English boyfriend, Harris said, who left for England after liberation.  “We wrote to each other for a while.  His parents were Tientsin business people.”

Clothing shredded, but the internees learned to mend.  “Since we men have been reduced to the level of Chinese farmers and coolies, we go, as they do, with our bare backs to the sun, and some wear nothing but underwear briefs,” Hersey wrote.  “I have joined the brown race. The women wear the most abbreviated ‘sports suits,’ cut to modern bathing suit patterns, and sometimes even more spare. Female beauty (and, alas, ugliness) is being evidenced, in some cases flaunted. Some of the missionary women, who have been most strict in their speech in the past, have suddenly become startlingly immodest in their dress. Is one supposed to look away, or not?”

During the cold Shandong Province winter months, much of the internees’ spare time was spent trying to stay warm in bed and making coal balls, part coal dust from their Japanese guards, part clay and a small amount of water.   “We younger girls made a game of carrying the coal buckets,” wrote Previte.  “In a long human chain – girl, bucket, girl, bucket, girl, bucket, girl – we hauled the coal dust from the Japanese quarters back to our dormitory, chanting all the way, ‘Many hands make light work.’”  

Non-denominational church services were held on Sundays, and although the Protestants wanted to convert the Catholics, and vice versa, anyone was welcome to attend.

Another “I Remember” post in the Weihsien-Paintings website said, “I believe that is why I look back on Weihsien with joy – I believe it molded me and the adults who kept us entertained beautifully and we did not feel like we lacked – we all ate the glop so what difference did it make?  I didn’t feel needy or forlorn because there were so many people building us up and keeping us going.”

Liberation Day - courtesy Weihsien-Paintings

Liberation Day – courtesy of Weihsien-Paintings

Allied parachute drop over Block 23 of the Courtyard of the Happy Way - courtesy of Weihsien-Paintings

Allied parachute drop over Block 23 of the Courtyard of the Happy Way – special courtesy and thanks to the family of William A. Smith, Weihsien-Paintings and the OSS Museum Collections


On August 17, 1945, eleven days after atomic “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” devastated Japanese cities, members of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) called the “Duck Team” parachuted into camp.  The seven-man team did not know what they were jumping into, or if the Japanese guards were prepared to surrender, but they knew that the Japanese Military Authority had issued orders for all foreign POWs and civilian internees to be exterminated.

According to Doc 2701, Exhibit “O” of the Nara War Crimes Tribunal, the Japanese Army had a policy in place to liquidate all prisoners, by gas, or rifle, or any other available means.

Few commandants, if any, complied.  Some defeated officers chose seppuku, ritual suicide, instead.  Before Japan’s official surrender the Weihsien guards took to drinking too much saki, and could be heard late into the night singing and wailing their misery at the moon, for no one else cared to listen.

Harris remembered whispers that their lives were about to end.  “Mrs Graham our neighbour in Block 57 said we were all being taken out to be shot and it was pretty scary when all the search lights were on and the guards were pushing us around as they were trying to count us.  The story was that instead of anyone missing, they counted extras.”

Older internees, such as Power, remembers that just before liberation stress was beginning to show.

James Taylor and Mary Taylor Previte find their names engraved in marble on the monument wall. - courtesy of Weihsien-Paintings

James Taylor and Mary Taylor Previte find their names engraved in marble on the monument wall. – courtesy of Weihsien-Paintings

“A lot of people are getting on edge, some are close to cracking, one for sure has already cracked.  He or she is an ax-wielding maniac who has taken to decapitating cats.”

Power kept himself on an even keel for most of his imprisonment, but toward the end of the war his cabin fever got the best of him.  He threw a curse at a Japanese sergeant while he was taking roll call.

Wo tsao ni mama!” Desmond wrote he said.

“He saw me, but I dashed down to my place in the stairwell.  Not knowing who the culprit was, he grabbed hold of David Clark, the fifteen-year-old ward of Reverend Simms-Lee and began throttling him. I had no alternative but to present myself as the perpetrator.  To this day I can see Bushingdi’s toothy snarl, I can feel the vice like grip on my neck, and I can smell the nap of his black uniform.  I was lucky the war was nearly over.  My punishment was only several slaps to the face.”  The sergeant was nicknamed Bushingdi, meaning “not good” in Chinese, because he was always waving his finger and telling everyone “bu xing, bu xing,” or “no can do.”

Masters was standing in the breakfast chow line when she heard a distant purring noise.

“There was a hush in the chow line as the hum of the plane got louder.  It struck me that the sound was different; not the funny, tinny drone of Japanese Zeros and Judys, or the rattling-roar of their bombers, but a strong, steady comforting sound that seemed to push up against the heavens and reverberate back down to earth.  I knew instinctively this was one of ours!”

Picture taken by American liberators (William Arthur Smith) end of August or beginning of September 1945. Anne Knüppe-de Jongh is the third on Left, holding brother Frans, looking over camp wall - courtesy Anne Knüppe-de Jongh

Picture taken by American liberators (William Arthur Smith) end of August or beginning of September 1945. Anne Knüppe-de Jongh is the third on Left, holding brother Frans, looking over camp wall – courtesy Anne Knüppe-de Jongh, and the family of William A. Smith and the OSS Museum Collection

A B-24 Liberator roared over the camp before ejecting OSS officers Major Stanley Staiger,  Ensign Jim Moore, Sergeant Tadash Nagaki, Technician Fifth Grade Peter Orlich and Technician Fourth Grade Raymond Hanchulak.  Interpreter Edward Wong and US Army First Lieutenant James Hannon also made the jump.  With wild jubilation, internees stormed the gateway to the Courtyard of the Happy Way.  Japanese soldiers made no effort to resist.  Their war was over.

The Salvation Army band struck up America’s national anthem, which they had practiced secretly in pieces.  A teenager in the band crumpled to the ground, weeping.  American soldiers entered the camp passing out spearmint gum, which the internees chewed then passed from mouth to mouth.

“It was beautiful to watch,” Pearson said.  “A clear summer day and the chutes came out like steps in a flight of stairs.  Evenly spaced.  We burst the gates.  Being summer, all I had on were shorts, pass-downs from my brother… no shirt, no shoes, no hat and pretty dirty to boot.   I was small and fast and curious.  I ran through the gates and headed off to where I saw the chute one of seven had come down.  He had landed in a field of cut kaoliang so the stubble was pretty rough even on my calloused bare feet.  I came to this soldier who had a buzz cut, had his eyeglasses taped to his temple and was wearing a khaki uniform.  When he saw me he had one hand on his sidearm holster and he pointed to his shirt and slowly rotated around.  I saw that his shirt had been printed over with Chinese and perhaps Japanese writing.  So I said to him, in my very, very British English accent, “Sorry sir, I don’t read Chinese.”  At which he relaxed and asked me if the others had landed safely.  I told him that he was the only person I had seen.  He asked me where the camp was and I started to take him in that direction and then the adults came along and took over.”

“I remember tailing these gorgeous liberators around,” Previte said.  “My heart went flip-flop over every one of them.  I wanted to touch their skin, to sit on their laps.   We begged for souvenirs, begged for their autographs, their insignia, their buttons, pieces of parachute. We cut off chunks of their hair.  We begged them to sing the songs of America.  They taught us You are my sunshine.  Sixty years later, I can sing it still.”  Much later in life, Previte spent years tracking each living  member of the rescue team down to personally thank them.

Harris remembered babysitting Elliott on liberation day.  “She was about two and we were in the same 57 Block, and she had been born in camp.  She was very cute and smart and I just loved her and all that liberation day I carried her everywhere including being at the gate to meet our heroes.

“I was so thrilled to meet her at the sixtieth celebrations in Weihsien [2005].   She wondered why I was babysitting while we were being liberated but I know I loved doing it and her mother was probably wondering and worrying what happened to Angela.”

Heavily laden B-29s ruled the skies after liberation, replacing Japanese “Sallys.”  Much needed supplies were dropped by parachute into camp, sometimes landing on buildings but injuring no one.  Chocolate, hot cocoa, tinned corned beef, raisins, powdered milk, canned peaches, were on the menus while internees waited in some cases months for evacuation.  Immediately following Victory Over Japan Day, new perils arose.  The civil war between communists and Nationalists renewed with fury, making travel by land unsafe, depending on which side controlled the railroads.  No more roll calls were needed, however, and American OSS officers wired the camp with loud speakers, blasting news and songs like Oh, What a Beautiful Morning! and This is the Army, Mrs.  Jones.

Some internees found more than their freedom during incarceration.  Treadup, according to Hersey, began questioning his own religious upbringing and discovered the busier he became, “the more time he had to do things.”  Months before liberation Treadup found a kind of freedom within the strict confines of the Courtyard of the Happy Way.

“Stripped down, all of them, to their most primitive conditions of value… there is a huge hollow place, yet at the same time I am joyous and feel free.

“I am waking up from a sleep.”

Most internees could not return immediately to their homes, due to the ensuing civil war.  Some eventually flew for the first time on military airplanes back to Tientsin to find their homes gutted.  By 1949, most had been forced out or left willingly, and those that stayed found life increasingly difficult in communist China.

Mary Previte and siblings ib September 10, 1945 eating a meal shortly after being flown from Weihsien - "When the plane touched down in Sian, the men at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) base served us ice cream and cake and showed us a Humphrey Bogart movie . I think it was "Casablanca." Kathleen and I slept that night in an officer's tent -- unaccompanied by bedbugs. The next night -- 9/11 -- we were home. We hadn't seen our parents for 5 1/2 years." - courtesy of Weihsien-Paintings

Mary Previte and siblings on September 10, 1945 eating a meal shortly after being flown from Weihsien – “When the plane touched down in Sian [Xian], the men at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) base served us ice cream and cake and showed us a Humphrey Bogart movie . I think it was “Casablanca.” Kathleen and I slept that night in an officer’s tent – unaccompanied by bedbugs. The next night – 9/11 – we were home. We hadn’t seen our parents for 5 1/2 years.” – courtesy of Weihsien-Paintings

Leopold Pander wasn’t two years old when he was “arrested” in Tientsin.  His only crime was that he had round eyes, and held a Belgian passport.  His memory is naturally vague before his family’s arrest, but he remembers the day of liberation as a recurring nightmare.

“World War II was over,” Leopold said.  “I had this nightmare that came back to me, night after night — always the same dream and just before I wake up, I see myself bare footed, almost naked in the middle of a light brown dirty slope, surrounded by big dark grey stones, under a blue sky without clouds and the sun shining bright.  People running all over the place.  Collective hysteria.  I don’t understand what is going on.  I am completely panicked.  Somebody picks me up — that is when I wake up.”

The recurring dream was a riddle, which took Leopold many years to solve.  When he did, he realized it was the hot summer day US paratroopers liberated the camp.  For many years after his freedom he didn’t talk about his experiences.  “We never spoke about Weihsien, as if it never existed.”

His internment, although he was only a toddler during those years, affected him in a myriad of ways, he said.  He prefers silence, never leaves a plate of food unfinished.

“I could stand in the middle of nowhere, stare at a treetop or anything else and not noticing the “time” passing by.  My mind would drift away.  I could sleep awake.  Who can explain that?  It still happens to me now.”

The word Weihsien came back to him only fourteen years ago, after retirement.  He purchased a computer and learned how the Internet worked and began researching his history.  At first he haunted chats pertaining to the Weihsien experience, slowly opening up after finding Father Hanquet, who told him countless stories of the Courtyard of the Happy Way.  Not long after he started his own website,, which is a moving collection of memories, pictures and stories of the Weihsien internees.

When Leopold left Weihsien on October 19, 1945  on the back of a lorry, his father told  him to have a good last look because he would never see the place again.  “Then on the plane back to Tientsin, a C47, quite a bumpy voyage, I was sick.  The GIs laughed at me and one nice guy gave me a little stuffed puppy.  Gosh.  I can’t forget that.  My parents left the toy puppy in Tientsin when we left for Shanghai.”

Janette Ley Pander, who is Leopold’s sister, remembers one of her first meals after returning to her family’s empty apartment on the upper floors of the Belgian Bank.

“Being back in Tientsin wasn’t easy at all, we were helped by French friends who had declared themselves ‘Vichyists.’  I had my first real meal at their house: plates, knives, forks, spoons to the right, napkins.  Some kind of crinkly green stuff (salad) bathed in oil – uneatable – rabbit meat.  What’s a rabbit?  I found out and pushed my plate away.”

All of her family’s belongings were gone, and they had no one to blame.  “So we, as so many others, started our life all over again.”

Today, the Chinese Government recognizes to some degree what Western citizens gave up during their imprisonment.  According to a recent article in the China Daily, a newly constructed 20-meter sculpture commemorates the hardships both foreigners and the Chinese faced during the Japanese occupation at the Courtyard of the Happy Way.  “The base is covered by carved Chinese characters that spell the names, ages, professions and nationalities of 2,008 people – 327 of them children – from more than thirty countries,” the article written by He Na and Ju Chuanjiang said.

Although the Japanese government has never acknowledged their crimes during World War II, many former internees found forgiveness is possible and have made return trips back to the prison, parts of which, minus the wall and guard towers, remain to this day.  Another reunion of Weihsien survivors is being planned for next year in China, to commemorate the liberation’s 70th anniversary.

“War and hate and violence never open the way to peace,” Previte said in the China Daily article.  “Weihsien shaped me.  I will carry Weihsien in my heart forever.”

Leopold Pander's father's armband - the character "bai" meaning white, or the symbol for Belgium - courtesy Weihsien-Paintings

Leopold Pander’s father’s armband – the character “bai” meaning white, or the symbol for Belgium – courtesy Weihsien-Paintings



The Broken City – Tientsin at War – Part X


This is the tenth story in the “Tientsin at War” series, which opens with the accounts of survivors of World War II, who called Tientsin their home before, during and after the Japanese occupation of the city.  Recalling Tientsin as it once was, they watched as children while Tientsin crumbled before Japanese troops, cried when their friends and neighbors were taken prisoner, rejoiced when US Marines liberated the city, and then once again, but as teenagers, watched as it fell before the communist armies.    


TIENTSIN, CHINA – Sophye “Fifi” Mavromaras saw Tientsin at its best, and a little paperbound guardian angel – her Greek passport – saved her from the worst of times.

Fifi, now surnamed Zoukee, was born in Tientsin, second generation China hand, and like other well-to-do children during the 1930s she frequented plays and movies at the Olympic and Odeon theaters, both of which her family owned.  An only child, she lived with her parents in the plush Victoria Building, safe from the horrors of civil strife, intrigue and war.  Classes under the moralistic watch of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary and ice-skating in a foreign club filled her winter months.  Summers were spent swimming and hiking along Beidaihe’s pristine beaches.  Sixty-two years after her family left Tientsin, Fifi still speaks perfect  Beijinghua, or Beijing dialect, and remembers the old days of Amahs and cocktail parties, rickshaw coolies and war with a nostalgic clarity.

“You can’t imagine before the war, how beautiful the British Concession was, it was really lovely in every respect,” Fifi said from her Florida home.  “It was a good life, and people were never bored.  I never heard the word ‘bored’ until I came to America.”

Tientsin, Victoria Road, before World War II - online sources

Tientsin’s main thoroughfare before World War II, known as Rue de France in the French Concession,  Victoria Road in the British Concession and Woodrow Wilson Boulevard in the former German Concession, which was inhabited by many Americans   – online sources

Protected within the British Concession barricades, she rarely saw the poverty outside.  Beggars were primarily organized criminal gangs, possibly offshoots of the historic “Dark Drifters” or hunhunr societies.  In Beidaihe, however, she befriended locals in a nearby village never realizing until years later that a man with no nose and another afflicted person with sores across his body were lepers.

“But we were never hungry, the Japanese took everything, the theaters and buildings, everything so we didn’t have any money, but there was no famine in Tientsin.

“If you had the money you could buy anything.”

The Cambridge History of China edited by John Fairbanks reported the lifestyles of foreigners in the concessions were envied across the world.  “A glittering life, all things considered,” the Cambridge History of China reported, “which makes it easy to understand why ‘old China hands’ guarded their privileges.”

Fifi recalled few details of Japanese atrocities in Tientsin.  “In Tientsin, they were a little bit more circumspect, but they terrorized people in the countryside.  I don’t know what they did to the Chinese areas of Tientsin, but what I saw at the French Bridge – they would search all the Chinese, and they would line them up and they would kick them, push them around with the bayonets.”

She stayed inside the familiar confines of the old concessions.  “There was no reason to go anywhere else.”

Gold was king, during the war years, and Marcel Leopold, an affluent businessman later dubbed the “number one gunrunner in the world” by LMS Newswire, once hoodwinked her mother.  “He was swindling everybody.  He told my mother and a lot of other people to bring him gold and he would store it and build interest.  So she gathered all her gold and gave it to Mr. Leopold.”

St. Joseph's School, Tientsin - online sources

St. Joseph’s School, Tientsin – online sources

Leopold paid out twice, and then the monies vanished.  Leopold built the Leopold Building, now called the Lihua Building, on Victoria Road, while his “investors” lost their entire fortunes.

When the Japanese struck in December 1941, her world cracked, but did not fall apart.  Being Greek, she was forced to wear an enemy armband, but was not interned.  Her father, however, lost his job and the family’s extensive holdings.  The Japanese confiscated all, and offered nothing in return.

As an only child Fifi and her parents survived the war years with help from friends and the Swedish Red Cross.  Her mother sold family paintings and personal jewelry to buy food.  Friends from unlikely places offered assistance, while old acquaintances forgot her family existed.

“There was one gentlemen, I will never forget him as long as long as I live, who was married to a French woman, and he came up to my father and offered oil, and after the war he said we could settle accounts.  The man was almost a stranger and yet friends of ours from before the war turned their backs on us.

“Because we had lost everything, you see.  We didn’t have our lavish lifestyle and parties anymore.  Some people are friends with you when you are up, then disappear when you are down.”

Local Chinese also became some of her family’s closest friends during World War II.  Once, while living in the Butterfield & Swire Mansion, a Chinese doctor operated on her father’s eye on top of a kitchen table.

“They were wonderful people, really wonderful.  They were top notch doctors.”

A rare picture of the French Bridge opening up for a ship - from a friend

A rare picture of Tientsin’s French Bridge opening up for a ship – from a friend

During the war her family was moved to a large house in the former Russian concession to an apartment on Hong Kong Road.  Later she was forced to move to Racecourse Road, then to the Butterfield & Swire Mansion and also the Jardine & Matheson Mansion, next door to the Nazi German Consul Fritz Weidemann.  She recalled German Nazis and Italian fascists frequently wearing their brown and black uniforms, and liked to hang swastikas out their windows.

“I used to see Weidemann every day,” Fifi said.  “They were all very proud of Hitler and Germany and didn’t make any bones about it.”  Weidemann, she said, was friendly and bid her good morning while walking his dogs.

“We wore armbands, and we were very proud of our armbands.  We looked down on the French who collaborated.  When the war was over, the Nazis came up to us and asked us to hide their jewelry, and we said ‘absolutely not.’”

Even at the height of Axis success, when Hitler swept through Russia and the Japanese appeared invincible across most of Asia, she never stopped believing the Allies would win.  Despite Japanese restrictions on foreign news, information trickled into the former concessions through letters and secret short wave radios.

“It never entered our minds that we wouldn’t come out victors of the war,” Fifi said.  “We knew at the end of the war we would be victorious.”


Marines entering Tientsin, 1945 - Gutenberg

Marines entering Tientsin, 1945 – Gutenberg

Tientsin Marines

Marines training in Tientsin - courtesy of The China Marines website

Marines training in Tientsin, near present day Machang Road and a block or two away from the Foreign Language Institute – courtesy of The China Marines website

In October 1945 a sea of jubilant Tientsiners flooded the former British Bund to welcome, for the first time, a “barbarian” invader – the US Marines.

Fifi didn’t see the Marines land, but she heard the celebration from her home blocks away on Hong Kong Road, now Munan Road.

“That was one of the biggest regrets in my life that I didn’t go downtown.  I saw them, these young men, all these strangers.  You can imagine their surprise seeing a white girl walking down the road, and they all came to talk to us.”

It was a day of celebration, she said, a time impossible to forget.  “The Chinese really went overboard with welcoming them, with banners and this and that – after nine years of occupation.”

Her old school friends began to return, bringing stories of their experiences in Japanese prisons.

“They all came back.  We were so happy to see each other.  People were very resilient then.  Nobody moaned and whined or cried.  They took it all in stride.”

Watched over by chaperones, she attended soirees held by the Red Cross, where she learned new dances, such as the jitterbug.

“The Marines were very, very nice, very respectful.  We had such a good time, dancing, laughing and joking.”

“After the war, things were even better,” Alex Liu, also a Tientsin native who later immigrated to Australia, wrote.  His father was Chinese, and a high-ranking maritime official.  His mother was a White Russian.  “They [Marines] had parties every night and we had many, many Marine friends.  We would all pile into Major Dunlap’s jeep and head for the Country Club, where Coca Cola and ice creams were free.  Watched many a ball game there too.  It was truly an idyllic time for me.”

Although the US Marine Corps had a long-standing presence in Tientsin, dating back to the Unfair Treaties and the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, foreign soldiers were unsurprisingly met with defiance, at times violence.  On the same day Japan launched its surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Tientsin’s token Marine contingent numbering forty-eight men surrendered to the Japanese Kwantung Army without firing a shot, spending the duration of World War II in Japanese prison camps at Woosung, near Shanghai, and later Kyushu, among other places.

After four years of shame, the US Marines Corps returned to Tientsin as liberators.

The Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek's picture hanging on the Forbidden City in Peking - Mao Zedong's picture now hangs in the same place - Scuttlebutt

A Marine standing before the Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek’s picture hanging on the Forbidden City in Peking – Mao Zedong’s picture now hangs in the same place – Scuttlebutt

“We were the victors,” Jack Blagman, a former Marine wrote in a September 2002 issue of the China Marine Scuttlebutt.  “We conquered the Japanese, we were the saviors of China and the world.”

The Settlement’s bearded Sikh guards and untouchable colonial police were gone, so were the electrified fences and the ‘No Chinese Allowed’ barriers.  Tientsin’s customs office was firmly in the hands of the Chinese after nearly ninety years of British colonial dominance.  The barbed wire barricades that once divvied the Settlement into nine separate spheres of influence, replete with their Gothic spires, pristine parks, medieval crenellations and towering rock fences melted at long last into one city – Tientsin, the “Ford of Heaven.”

The first Marines to disembark on to Tientsin’s Bund did not know what to expect, but the welcome they received was intoxicating as the copious crates of beer and bourbon that followed.

Japanese soldiers awaiting repatriation - Gutenberg

Japanese soldiers awaiting repatriation – Gutenberg

“The crowds erupted in wild cheers and frenzied waving,” Australian journalist David C. Hulme wrote in his book Tientsin.  Royal blue Corsairs and torpedo bombing Avengers came first.  The American fighter planes buzzed the tops of Tientsin’s buildings flying low enough for onlookers to see the pilots waving from inside their cockpits.  “The noise was a thundering racket, fearsome, deafening and absolutely thrilling.”

Then came the leathernecks, hard, veteran soldiers, and behind them rolled the tanks, Jeeps, artillery and much-needed supplies.  They came in tugs and in bullet-riddled launches.  Children laughed and scrounged excitedly for tossed cigarettes and chewing gum as Marines stepped from their landing crafts, boots still lined with Okinawan mud.  Liberated parents cheered wildly, many waving miniature US flags.  A sea of smiling faces – unknown tens of thousands – both black-haired Chinese and brown, blonde or red-haired foreign residents – welcomed the liberators with opened arms.

Motoring without impediment across the Hai River’s jaundiced waves US Marines quickly set to work.  Allied forces did not want the city falling to the Russians, who were sweeping south with vengeance through Manchuria, nor did the Allies want Tientsin to succumb to the “Balu Bandits,” or the Eighth Route Army, which had been an ineffective military force comprised of communist and Nationalist soldiers during World War II.  Mao Zedong, the future chairman of China, took control of the army after the Japanese surrender, and with renewed vigor was on the march to stake his claim across the country.

More than 30,000 Marines arrived in Tientsin with a political agenda: to oversee Japan’s surrender in North China, repatriate more than 630,000 Japanese soldiers and civilians to Japan, protect the railroad between Peking and Tientsin and to ensure the city’s protection from communist forces by helping the Nationalists, led by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.

“Led by a pair of advanced-party Jeeps, the battalion marched, at a snail’s pace due to the throng, through part of the Chinese city and into the former concession area, down Victoria Road, [Jiefang Road] into Meadows Road, [Qufu Road] then right again into Elgin Avenue,” [Nanjing Road] Hulme wrote.  “The streets were packed all the way… They were a very different sight to the Marines of pre-war years, but they filled the role and enjoyed a delirious welcome.

“It was just the beginning.”

The old Italian barracks, which housed US Marines after World War II - photo by C.S. Hagen

The old Italian barracks, which housed US Marines after World War II – photo by C.S. Hagen

The Marines flooded Tientsin with supplies.  Trade flourished, with the US dollar taking a firm lead as legal tender.  The Chinese yuan inflated, but the old French Bazaar sputtered back to life.  Coffee and chocolate, powdered milk and lime, flour, rice, sugar and trinkets lined shops’ shelves once more.  Canned cheeses, canned hams, tinned beer and boxed American cornflakes replaced Japanese wakame seaweed, mochi rice cakes and kadomatsu, a festive Japanese decoration once readily available in all Tientsin shops.  Rundown shacks became taverns, selling American Jack Daniel’s and beer.  Marines found lodging where they could, in places such as the Italian and Japanese barracks, the French Municipal Building, the racetrack on Racecourse Road and the Japanese Girls’ School.

The III Amphibious Corps withdrew from Okinawa to Guam and then to Tientsin, according to John V. Gardner who was one of twelve men assigned to Tientsin and trained in teletype communication by the Army Signal Corps.  According to a Scuttlebutt article Gardner arrived in Tanggu, Tientsin’s eastern deep-water port, in September 1945, then traveled by boat west into the city along the Hai River.

“The trip up river was most interesting, and was uneventful even though the banks of the river were lined with Chinese waving flags, and Chinese communists and Japanese soldiers, just standing and watching.  None of us had any idea what to expect, but upon arrival at Tientsin there were crowds on the docks waving and cheering.  Many white faces in the group and we were interested to find out that these were the nationals from Russia, Italy, France … that had been living in China throughout the war.”

Although the Japanese had surrendered six weeks earlier, remnants of the Kwuantung Army still stood watch, keeping the peace and protecting the city from the communists, frequently referred to as the “Balu Bandits,” but officially known as the Eighth Route Army.  After the communist victory in 1949, the Eighth Route Army changed names again, to the commonly known People’s Liberation Army.  Leftover Japanese soldiers gawked as thousands of US Marine soldiers, tanks, artillery and machine gunners spilled across Tientsin’s docks.

While the Marines returned victorious, shamed Japanese officers committed hari kiri, or ritual suicide in the streets.

“On Rue de France, [Jiefang Road] right in front of French Police Headquarters, a Japanese general in full military regalia, with his two sons, spread out a clean rug,” Hulme wrote.  “An agitated crowd, mostly Chinese, quickly gathered.  The general sank to his knees, the two young men flanking him in similar posture.  Without ceremony or delay the defeated soldier emitted a mighty ‘Long live the Mikado!’ and plunged the long blade deep into his belly.  The sons did likewise… The general was still moving the gory hilt of his dagger when he saw his sons collapse on either side of him.”

Lieutenant General Ginnosuke Uchida, commanding the Japanese 118th Division, signs the surrender documents for Japanese forces in the Tientsin, North China area during ceremonies on 6th October 1945. Major General Keller E. Rockey, Commanding the III Amphibious Corps, whose Marines had occupied Tientsin at the request of the Chinese National Government, accepts the surrender. - Scuttlebutt

Lieutenant General Ginnosuke Uchida, commanding the Japanese 118th Division, signs the surrender documents for Japanese forces in the Tientsin, North China area during ceremonies on 6th October 1945. Major General Keller E. Rockey, Commanding the III Amphibious Corps, whose Marines had occupied Tientsin at the request of the Chinese National Government, accepts the surrender. – Scuttlebutt

Japan’s surrender of Tientsin took place in front of the French Municipal Building, which still stands today.

Once again, Tientsin changed hands.  Since the collapse of the Qing Dynasty the growing metropolis was considered a lucrative gem to warlords, Nationalist and communist commanders, to drug lords and violent gangs, and finally to the Japanese.  Those that knew how to work the system became rich while thousands of refugees starved.

For most Marines life in Tientsin was a cultural shock they remembered to the end of their lives.  All soldiers were given liberty time, which was spent roaming the city for bars such as the Golden Shoe, the Little Club and the Victoria Café, or various bathhouses and brothels. Furs, jade and jewelry could be found for shockingly low prices.  Children and women were for sale across the city.

Pimps, or mawang, would sneak close to Marine quarters to whisper their wares – saltwater girls in rickety sampans.  Corporal James D. Seidler made his first stop at Tanggu, and wrote about the experience in a Scuttlebutt article.

“Hey, Marine!  You like nice China girl, very nice.  Chop, chop!” A voice came from the waters below the ship in which he was sleeping.  “Quite a few of us took advantage of the situation, climbing down the anchor chain onto a sampan.  It was dark inside the sampan, so whether the “ladies” were fifteen or eighty-five, I cannot say.”

In Tientsin Seidler’s favorite eatery was a restaurant run by White Russians.  Anything on the menu was available, from Peking duck, beef steaks, (which according to some reports was actually dog meat), chicken, lamb, coffee and apple pie for the equivalent of $1.25.

“It was a good duty, day on, day off, except when we rode as train guards to Tanku [Tanggu] and back to Tientsin, with the ‘Chicoms’ taking pot-shots at us.  What ticked us off was we weren’t allowed to shoot back for fear it might cause problems with the big shots of our two countries.”

A sauna, bath and massage cost two dollars, Seidler remembered.  “Getting a bath at a bathhouse was a must.  First came the sauna, cold shower, sauna, then a warm bath with a pretty China gal washing you all over with a soft sponge, (no hanky-panky, strictly business,) a warm shower, then a twenty-minute massage… left feeling like a million bucks.”

A Tientsin bar - Scuttlebutt

A Tientsin bar called Both Cats, the sign reads: “Welcome Allies Troops, Special Cheap Price” – Scuttlebutt

Phil Stehle was a horn blower with the First Marine Division Band and lived in the former Italian Concession while stationed in Tientsin.  In his liberty time he frequented restaurants and nightclubs, such as the EM Club, he wrote in a Scuttlebutt article.  Locally distilled vodka cost fifteen cents a pint.

The communist threat was real, he wrote.  While traveling through communist territory he noticed the bed of his truck full of empty carbine shells.  “Each time we hit a serious pothole the jar would cause the carbine bolts to actuate,” he wrote.  “A big lot of us were packed in tightly and with weapons ready to fire.  I yelled at the driver to slow down.  His answer, ‘I aint going to get shot by no gook.’  I waved my carbine at him and told him he was going to get shot by me.  Travel quickly became more comfortable.”

While billeted at the former Italian Barracks Stehle would climb to the roof where he could watch the communists and Nationalists firing artillery at each other.

When local Tientsiners turned on their captors, Marines came to the rescue.

A favorite childhood haunt for Liu was the British Bund, where he watched steamships belch acrid smoke into the air.  He also survived Tientsin’s occupation, and remembered the anger bent toward the Japanese after the war.

“When raging crowds of Chinese attacked Japanese civilians in Tientsin on October 13, riot squads of the First Marines waded into the fighting to rescue the Japanese and quickly quelled the disturbances before serious damage was done.  Here, as in Tsingtao, the city’s unruly element was given a sharp warning that the Marines would act strongly to prevent disorder whenever local authorities failed to do so.”

Although much of the Marines’ time was spent on guard duty and managing raging crowds bent on retaliation against the Japanese and former sympathizers, North China duty

The Mickey Cafe, now long gone, but was once a popular eatery - Scuttlebutt

The Mickey Cafe, now long gone, but was once a popular eatery – Scuttlebutt

was a posting most soldiers wanted.  Despite the city’s squalor and beggars, fine dining establishments such as the Mickey Café offered steak sandwiches and plenty of beer.

“China duty had been coveted in the prewar Marine Corps, and, for the men who garrisoned the major cities in 1945, a China assignment still had much of that appeal,” Henry I. Shaw Jr. wrote in The United States Marines in North China 1945 – 1949.

Blagman was assigned to a land based naval support unit, Gropac 13 in Tientsin and had just turned eighteen when he was sent from San Francisco to “Ivan,” the Navy’s code word for China.  He arrived during one of Tientsin’s coldest winters, and had to double up with a fellow soldier in one sleeping bag for body warmth at night.

“Wherever we looked squalor and cheapness of life were an ominous presence.  Like a dark, hovering cloud, life was truly cheap in China.  There was universal starvation, especially seen in the cities.  Large cities were crowded with the desperate, untold thousands having been displaced by the Japanese devastation, famine and crop failures.”

Blagman hired a “number one boy” for fifty cents a month, who worked as a personal gofer and valet.  Fifty cents could also buy an unwanted nine-month-old baby girl, which one fellow soldier purchased, Blagman wrote.  The soldier cared for the baby until she was discovered by the commanding officer and he was forced to return the baby back to her parents with an additional sum of five dollars.

Most soldiers, according to other Scuttlebutt reports, found their own Chinese girlfriends.  Some married.  Those prone to one-night stands could hire a girl for one dollar, and these girls soon became some of the richest people in the city.

“All of us had an air of condescension,” Blagman wrote.  “Marine and sailor alike.  Although no one speaks of this today, we looked down on the Chinese.  I remember an editorial in the North China Marine or similar paper that demanded we be more courteous to the Chinese – and less aggressive.  The paper was shocked and editorialized against Marines who spat at Chinese traffic police when trucks passed them on the streets.  I cannot tell of the hundreds of incidents I saw of Americans denigrating or degrading the Chinese.  But for that matter, we felt that way about everything not American.

“As ‘conquerors’ our sense of superiority was manifest, from our equipment to everything we said and did.”

Tientsin’s initial good will soon soured.

Nationalist armies, due to corruption, crumbled before communist advances, surrendering by the hundreds of thousands, and the Eighth Route Army fought closer to Tientsin.  The communists grew bolder, attacking Marines on convoy and in trains, kidnapping soldiers when possible, once even, while several Marines went duck hunting east of Tientsin.

“They soon were plagued by incidents involving blown tracks, train derailments, and ambushes, which were to be the lot of Marines on duty in the midst of the Chinese civil war,” Shaw wrote.

On April 7, 1947, communist “Reds” killed five Marines twenty-two miles southeast of Tientsin at the old French Armory, according to The Argus and the Examiner.  The Reds managed to steal artillery shells and detonated part of the ammunition supplies before disappearing shortly before sunrise.

Two months later a Marine convoy traveling from Tientsin was ambushed outside of Peking, according to The Daily News.  Three Marines were killed and seventeen were wounded.

“As the convoy slowed down at a communist road block, armed Chinese suddenly appeared from cornfields on both sides of the road and threw several hand grenades,” The Daily News reported.  “The Marines instantly took cover and a pitched battle began.”

“The fight continued throughout the afternoon, many Chinese being killed or wounded.”

Communists, according to IIIAC WarDs (War Diaries), always dragged away their dead and wounded, making a tally of the dead difficult to count.

“There is a great bitterness against the communists among the wounded Marines,” The Daily News reported, “but so far it is uncertain whether the attack was by communists or by bandits.”

Major armed clashes between Marines and “Reds” from October 1945 to May 1947 left ten Americans dead and thirty-three wounded, according to IIIAC WarDs (War Diaries).  Two sentries were killed and nine wounded, and more than twenty-two airplanes were destroyed.  At least thirty Balu Bandits were killed and thirty-three more wounded.  Marines and the Balu Bandits rarely had pitched battles; the communists worked as guerillas, raiding supply dumps for ammunition, ambushing trains and patrols, bridges and reconnaissance parties and motor convoys.

Another attack was reported in the Scuttlebutt magazine by David W. Mervine, of Headquarters, 3rd Battalion, Seventh Marines, First Marine Division.  He was sent to protect the coveted Kailian coalmines in Tanggu, just outside of Tientsin.

“On one particular run between Tangshan and Chinwangtao [Qinghuangdao], the Chinese communists blew our train out from under us.  We experienced heavy enemy fire, which ripped through the wooden sides of the train in which we were hiding.  We hit the deck and crawled down the aisle to the door.  Once outside, we returned their fire and within 15 to 20 minutes the situation was well in hand.”

Tensions exploded when a 20-year-old girl claimed she was raped by two Peking Marines.  All soldiers were ordered off the streets when thousands of students, in Peking and in Tientsin, turned anti-American, marching in protest and demanding the withdrawal of American troops.  The situation was aggravated after the fatal beating of a Chinese worker near Tientsin by marines while celebrating Christmas, the Morning Bulletin reported on January 1, 1947.

One of the Marines accused of rape admitted that he had relations with the girl, but on a “professional basis,” the News reported on December 31, 1946.  “While communist propaganda is partly responsible for the popular feeling… the Chinese public has deeply resented the increasing number of incidents, particularly accidents, in which Chinese civilians have been killed and injured by American military vehicles,” the News reported.

Mei Baojiu () left with his mother Mei Lanfang (), both famous opera singers.

Mei Baojiu (left) with his father Mei Lanfang, who played a woman’s part in Peking Operas, both were famous opera singers.

Fifi dated a nineteen-year-old Marine, she said, and believed the charges against the marines at that time were pure communist propaganda.

“That was a lie,” she said.  “A complete lie.  First of all nobody in North China in the middle of winter would rape somebody outside.  You would freeze to death.  Nobody in Tientsin believed it either.  It was a communist plot.  The marines were all very respectful, very pleasant.  We have nothing but good memories of them.”

The final clash between Marines and communist forces occurred shortly after withdrawal plans had been formed on April 1947.  In a well-organized attack, communist forces raided the Hsin Ho ammunition supply dump outside of Tientsin.  Five marines were killed, and communist soldiers captured cartloads of ammunition.  By June, most Japanese had been repatriated home.  The US Marines’ mission was completed.

“They were there one day and gone the next,” Fifi said.  “They slowly sort of disappeared from Tientsin.”  By the time the Marines had gone, she had developed other interests, and was studying Western Literature at Peking University.  She also befriended the famous opera singer Mei Baojiu (梅葆玖) son of Mei Lanfang (梅兰芳), both of whom were held in high regard by the communists for defying Japanese law during World War II.


“Liberation 1949”

Nationalist soldiers executing communists in Shanghai - photo from a friend

Nationalist soldiers executing communists in Shanghai – photo from a friend

The battle for Tientsin raged for two days before the Eighth Route Army took control.  Concrete pillboxes built with forced labor and machine gun barricades dotted the city for weeks before the attack began.  Tientsin’s Nationalist commander, Chen Chang-chieh, had less than 130,000 troops, and he was determined to fight to the last man.  A large area outside the city was flooded to block the communist advance, which had an overwhelming force of 890,000 soldiers and were riding the waves of victory in Manchuria.  The communists did not attack Tientsin immediately; they were patient, encircling Tientsin before their advance began.

Liu was home from college when the Red artillery barrage began.

“On New Year of 1949… the siege of Tientsin began in earnest,” Liu wrote.  “All through the nights one can hear the distant booms of the artillery and the staccato barks of the machine guns and sounding louder night by night.”

Liu lived in the former Tientsin Steamship Company building, a former customs house on Woodrow Wilson Road (now Jiefang Road) when the Reds invasion began.

“At around noon on January 15, 1949, a Saturday, an artillery shell exploded nearby, knocking out the windows and the plaster ceiling came crashing down.  We all scrambled down to the cellar.”

Artillery shells thumped closer, and each blast sucked the air from his lungs.

“Then someone shouted the building was on fire.  We received permission from the Kuomintang troops outside to move across the road to a German couple’s house.  Outside it looked like half the city was alight and thick, black smoke can be seen billowing from the north and northeast.”

Communists Get TientsinWhen the explosions stopped, hand to hand fighting ensued.

“That night and the next morning we smelled the heavy, choking cordite and heard the street to street fighting (shouts, grenades, automatic weapon fire).  From the windows, I saw the communist soldiers laying down field telephone lines, marking the pavements and others running with stretchers completely soaked with blood.

“But by evening it was all over.”

Bricks, glass, debris and torn Nationalist bodies were strewn across the streets.  Blood pooled, trickling slowly into drains.  Ash rained like snow.  No communist corpses lay on the streets, and yet the cemetery built to hold their dead numbered more than 20,000 graves.  When the dusts settled, Liu and his family walked to what remained of their home, skirting the frozen corpses.

“There were many dead Nationalist soldiers lying where they fell, and one was in a sitting position with his unseeing eyes still open.  Of course, there were no dead or wounded communist soldiers to be seen.  We were glad to be back home and luckily only the central part of our building was hit and caught fire.”

When the Reds bombardment began, most of Fifi’s friends had already left.  Her family remained because they did not want to travel to Australia or back home to Greece, both of which were foreign places to Fifi.  She remained inside her family’s home on Hong Kong Road when the invasion began.

“We were all hunkered in our homes, and when we heard the balu jun [Eighth Route Army] were here, we went out in the streets and saw them hanging around in the streets.”  She watched the soldiers, dressed  like peasants in their thick fur hats march through Tientsin.  Their welcome was hesitant, although few people feared the soldiers.  Corruption among the Nationalist political system had become so rampant most people wanted change.

“People were very wary of the Kuomintang,” Fifi said.  The soldiers weren’t being paid, which forced them to take what they could, when they could, thereby creating an army of soldiers hardly better than bandits.

Communists troops did not live up to their notorious reputation as brigands, and immediately began cleaning up the city.  Students followed the soldiers with whitewash, painting slogans along city walls.  No cases of rape or pillaging were reported.

“They were very, very respectful, they didn’t loot,” Fifi said.  “They didn’t mistreat anyone.  The communists were fine until they started the sanfan wufan.”

The Three-and-Five-Anti campaigns, which targeted corruption and enemies of the state, threatened Fifi’s family’s livelihood.  Spearheaded by Mao Zedong, the campaign began in 1951.  Neighbors became spies.  Landowners were arrested, tortured and executed.  Media encouraged compliance to the new policies targeting bribery, theft, tax evasion, cheating and stealing state information.  Toward the end of the campaign the communist party revealed it would no longer protect private property and businesses, sending Fifi’s family, once again, into destitution.

“We couldn’t’ graduate, but we got all the credits.  Everyone was sent on land reform,” Fifi said.  “There was a lot of reform in 1952, a lot of turmoil.  It wasn’t as bad as Cultural Revolution but it was the beginning.

“When the Chinese were jumping into the river, we knew it was time to leave.”

(left) Tientsin residents marching against the Xikai (西开) Catholic Church during the Three-anti Campaign. (Middle) Demonstrators at the doorsteps of the Xikai Catholic Church, originally built by Jesuits and named the MG Church, then St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, which was rebuilt in 1913 (Right) Demonstrators looting the chuch - photos from a friend

(left) Tientsin residents marching against the Xikai (西开) Catholic Church during a protest. (Middle) Demonstrators at the doorsteps of the Xikai Catholic Church, originally built by Jesuits and named the MG Church, then St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, which was rebuilt in 1913 (Right) Demonstrators looting the chuch – photos from a friend

Wealthy landowners, professors and those accused of being American spies were paraded down city streets wearing dunce hats.  “It was horrible.  I saw denunciations at Tientsin.”  A favorite Chinese professor who taught psychology was once forced to kneel before students, who accused him of being a spy.

“I felt sick, I really felt sick to my stomach when I saw that.”

Each time she came home from university she had to check in to the police station on arrival, and repeat the same process in Peking.  “Once in Tientsin, at a main police station, I had to get a new resident permit and I remember a Catholic priest came in who had no money.”

The new Tientsin police would not listen to the priest’s pleas, and Fifi paid out of her own pocket.

“I like to think I made brownie points with God as I helped pay.”

(left) A communist soldier or protestor standing before the Xikai Catholic Church (middle) Priests being denounced as spies in front of their church (right) The aftermath - Today, two mammoth shopping centers shadow the church to both sides, a walkway between them is filled with Starbucks, Haagen-Dazs ice cream and a Watsons

(Left) A communist soldier or protestor standing before the Xikai Catholic Church (Middle) Priests being denounced as spies in front of their church (Right) The aftermath – Today, two mammoth shopping centers overshadow the church to both sides, a walkway between them is filled with Starbucks, Haagen-Dazs ice cream and a Watsons – photos from a friend

A year after the Three-anti Campaign began, her family could take no more and left Tientsin with all that remained of their once extensive holdings – twenty-five dollars.  She has not seen her birthplace since.

Fifi and her family traveled to Hong Kong where her linguistic skills in English, French, Greek and Chinese helped procure a job.  Later, Fifi traveled to Japan and became a “grey lady,” a Red Cross nurse who helped take care of wounded men from the Korean War.  She met her former husband there, a Greek American, and married at the American Consulate in Yokohama.

In Tientsin today, remnants of the colonial period remain.  Local government in recent years has stopped tearing down the city’s concessional areas.  The Five Big Roads, a former British neighborhood, is protected as a tourist spot.  Horse carriages clop down the old streets.  Many couples prefer having their wedding photographs taken against a colonial-styled background of  buildings where the Empress Dowager once stayed, or where favorite warlords used to live.  Much of the Russian, Belgian and German concessional houses are gone, but the old heart of colonial Tientsin can still be seen.  The former Italian Concession has become a hotbed for hungry or thirsty tourists.  Banks have returned to the old Victoria Road, now Jiefang Road.  Two original bridges are still intact, although the seams have been welded shut.  Steamships are no longer allowed to sail the Hai River.

Tientsin, 天津, meaning the the “Ford of Heaven,” is much more than a tourist city today, in fact, few people choose the city to visit for its history is troubled and has been mostly lost, or lies hidden in forgotten books and missionary accounts.  The city is China’s northern powerhouse for manufacturing, and holds more than 11 million people, but until recent years has been eclipsed by Beijing, which was formerly spelled Peking, China’s capitol.

Some say Tientsin’s retreat into obscurity from 1949 until the early 1990s was punishment for embarrassing the nation by relinquishing lands to “barbarian” invaders, time after time.  Others say the city simply needed healing, like dry land from too much farming, and is now more fertile than it has ever been before.

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