This article published in the Shanghai-based American newspaper China Weekly Review is a thorough and relatively balanced account of the events leading to, during, and following the famous May 30th Incident of 1925. The Incident (known as a Movement in Chinese), occurred when Shanghai Municipal Police in the International Settlement fired on a crowd of student demonstrators and killed several of them. The students were holding demonstrations against Japanese and foreign imperialism in China. The movement was initially sparked by the killing of a Chinese worker by a Japanese factory manager during a strike in Shanghai earlier in the year. This article describes the events of May 30 in some detail, relying both on police reports and on the account of a student demonstrator. The aftermath of the incident is also covered in this article. Highlighted is the growing fear of foreigners in China for their safety amidst a growing national movement against foreign imperialism.
THE SHANGHAI STRIKE AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE
(The China Weekly Review Jun 13,1925)
NINE Chinese were killed, many were wounded and 44 students and strike sympathisers were arrested on Saturday afternoon, May 30, when a crowd estimated at from 800 to 3,000, stormed the Louza Police station located opposite the Town Hall in almost the center of Shanghai's business district. The conflict was between Chinese students and Japanese Cotton mill strike sympathizers and foreign, native and Indian police employed by the International Settlement. On the days following there were further clashes between rioters and the Police and Volunteers resulting in additional killings and wounded to considerably less than a hundred. As a result of the disorder, the Shanghai Consular Body was forced to appeal for naval reinforcement to assist the local police, Volunteer Corps and other local defence units in preventing Shanghai from being taken over by rioting elements.
WHETHER the Municipal Police were justified in firing upon the rioters has become the crux of the whole situation and probably long will remain a matter of dispute. In view of the importance of the wording of the Police report of the happening which was published in the Shanghai newspapers on Sunday morning, we reproduce it in full:
“At 1.55 p. m. today, May 30, a report was received at Louza Police Station that students were making speeches of an anti-Foreign nature end carrying flags with anti-Foreign sentiments at various points on Nanking Road, and refused to disperse when ordered to do so by the Police. Inspector Everson and a party of Europeans proceeded to investigate and arrested three men one of whom was actually making a speech to a crowd with two others standing by with flags."
“On arrival at the Station, followed by a crowd, these students admitted that the speeches wore anti- Japanese in nature and that they had arranged with students of other colleges to hold meetings at various points in the Settlements to protest against the killing of a Chinese workman by Japanese at a Cotton Mill in the Western District. The three men arrested were charged and the crowd told to leave the Station. This they refused to do and were locked up. A few minutes later Inspector Everson proceeded to Thibet Road where similar meetings were reported to be in progress and arrested a student carrying an anti-Japanese banner. A large crowd again followed to the Station, refused to leave, and were all taken into custody. At 2.45 pm, the first act of violence against the police occurred on Thibet Road, when P. C. Stevens was assaulted and knocked down by a crowd which he was trying to disperse.
“Six of the crowd were arrested and, on arrival at the Station, many of those following forced their way into the Charge room. Orders were given to drive them out and in the confusion the men charged with the assault escaped. The crowd was with difficulty forced out of the station compound and retreated slowly eastwards along Nanking Road, the police meanwhile urging them to disperse quietly. When opposite Wing On’s store they halted and adopted a threatening attitude and several of them assaulted P.C’s White and Cole, the latter being knocked down while some of the crowd attempted to wrest his pistol from him.
The police were now using sticks and batons freely but the crowd got entirely beyond control and the Police were slowly forced hack to the Station gate by an enormous crowd shouting Kill the Foreigners, and making special efforts to wrest the arms from the Foreign members of the Force.
As the crowd were about to enter the Station gate Inspector Everson gave the order to fire and the Sikhs and Chinese at the Station gate opened fire killing four outright and wounding a number. Six wounded were sent by the Police to the Shantung Road Hospital from Louza Station and of those three have since died. The men who were shot were undoubtedly students. The shooting had the immediate effect of dispersing the crowd and traffic became normal shortly afterwards.
The police report also contained a translation of a hand-bill found on the persons of practically all of the students who were arrested at the time of the riot. This handbill charged the “Great Powers,"—America, England, France and Japan—with oppressing China through controlling the Customs and “making import duties lighter than export duties by means of which foreigners have flooded our country with their goods and robbed us of our money and in the mean time we have become poorer and poorer.” The same hand-bill denounced the “Imperialistic” Powers, America, England, France and Japan for frequently encroaching on our rights in connection with railways, mines, and other sources of wealth. Our militarists have agreed to these terms to obtain loans and the money has been used to buy guns and munitions which have increased the country’s misfortunes.” The third paragraph of the circular refers to the real inspiration for the parade down Nanking Road which ended so disastrously. “The Japanese”, declares the circular, “killed our labor friends and with the assistance of the police arrested our workmen. Students who endeavored to raise subscriptions for the workers were arrested by the police as a reward for their good-heartedness. Moreover the students who attended the funeral of Koo Tsung- lung, the worker who was killed, were also arrested… This all happened notwithstanding that Shanghai is the property of Shanghai people.” The last paragraph of the circular referred to the “aggressive tactics” of the Municipal Council in building new roads in Chinese territory adjacent to the foreign settlements, without the permission of the Chinese; charged the Settlement authorities with responsibility for the opium smuggling situation in the Shanghai district and ended with the following. “Death is preferable to tame submission to such oppression. Close your ranks and make war on imperialists.”
The China Pressalso published in its edition the morning following the incident, a statement by Hsiao Shu-yu, a member of the Shanghai Students’ Union who participated in the fracas on Nanking Road. Young Hsiao was arrested, according to his statement, but managed to escape in the confusion when the mob tried to obtain the release of the prisoners. According to his statement which was supplied to the China Pressby a Chinese reporter, “the demonstrations which took place all over town yesterday afternoon were carefully organized. Our hearts ached for the murder in cold blood of Koo Tseng-hung by the Japanese imperialists during the recent mill strike. While realizing the difficulty of the Chinese newspapers in publishing the facts under the oppression of a strong hand, we were determined to get publicity. We knew we would get it if we spoke in the street and got arrested by the police. We were looking for trouble when we decided to make stump speeches in the foreign settlement. Nanking Road, being the center of imperialistic oppression we had the strongest delegation in the afternoon when groups of speakers were scattered all over the International Settlement to stir up the people. Student Hsiao then gave his account of the shooting in the following words:
"I made a speech on the Japanese oppression for twenty minutes and several policemen threatened to arrest me. Just as I was finishing my remarks, I was informed by one of my hearers that speakers were being arrested on Nanking Road.
“I Immediately proceeded to the scene. Seeing that some of my colleagues were taken into custody, I borrowed a stall from one of the shops and began my eloquence No sooner had I mounted the improvised platform than I was collared by a Sikh constable; Upon entering Louza Station, I saw the cells on both sides of the building were crowded with students, many of whom I know. I was pushed into the charge room, but this was also crowded. I had to satisfy myself with a space on the windowsill while waiting for my chance to be examined by the sergeant in charge.
“A detective stepped up and carried out a lengthy argument with me over the pros and cons of the killing of the laborer by the Japanese. When he withdrew, I was left alone as the rest had been sent to Jail. I waited and looked into the prison cells. The inmates were all in good spirits. Some clapped their hands while others sang patriotic songs.
“They all cheered like one man when they saw two girls walk into the compound after being questioned by the sergeant. With a few other students I was driven out by the police into Nanking Road. There I noticed that my colleagues had blocked the traffic. It was a glorious sight. Even the trams and motor buses were held up by the students, who were armed with nothing more than three kinds of pennants. On these were inscribed the words, 'Down with Imperialism!'- 'We Are the Students' Brigade!' and 'Our Fellow Students Are Arrested!
“The police first pushed us back. Sticks were used. We refused to move and we laughed as we were struck. In fact all of us offered to be struck. We made a rush for door of the station and chanted: "Let's all go to Jail with the other innocent boys.” The police again arrested us. We were pushed back further. But meanwhile a dozen Sikh police with fixed bayonets had lined in front of the gate of the station. Ahead of them was a European policeman with a pistol in his hand.
“When we made our second charge, the European policeman signaled to the head Sikh constable who fired in the air. Half a minute later when we saw that the firing was not directed at us, we shouted: 'Hit them! Hit them!’ and bang came the volley of rifle fire from the entire squad. My school mate of the Tung Chi Medical Shool, Yin Ching-yi, who was standing beside me, fell in a pool of blood. The crowd surged back and before I knew it I was stepped on by a number of students and on-lookers.
“I picked myself up with considerable difficulty and went back to headquarters to report my experience. On my way between the station and Thibet Road, I saw nine wounded, moaning for relief. At least two of them were not students. One was a coolie while the other was a child scarcely ten years of age.
“The trouble won’t end here. We students are determined to resist foreign lmperialism to the last man.”
THUS do we have reports from both sides of the participants in what has come to be known as the “Nanking Road Incident of May 30,” which seemingly has had the effect of stirring up the students of the whole country either against foreigners in general or against the “British and Japanese imperalists.” And not only the students have become stirred: many prominent militarists have telegraphed their support to the students and the Peking Government has seen fit to address the Diplomatic Body in Peking on the matter. The Chinese Government’s note which was received in Shanghai in June 2 viewed the case with gravest concern and reserved the right to file “further claims,” and also appointed special delegates to proceed to Shanghai to investigate the matter. Marshal Sun Chuanfang, tuchun of the neighboring province of Chekiang telegraphed the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce of Shanghai to the following effect,
"When the news of the Nanking Road tragedy of May 30 reached us, the entire nation was moved. The victims were young students, struggling for the rights of citizenship and for the elevation of the national status. Any national being cannot help but support such a patriotic movement.
“Your chamber in advocating a general strike as an expression of sympathy towards the students deserves my hearty support. My only hope is that the right track will be followed in the prosecution of our rights and avoid further bloodshed. The patriotic spirit of the people is not yet dead. Justice will eventually subjugate might! Although I am but an incapable person, it is my desire to avail myself of this opportunity of rendering whatever service I can to back you up!
“Besides waiting to the Chief Executive to dispatch special commissioners to prove the matter, I have this day ordered the Commissioner of Foreign Affairs at Hangchow to proceed to Shanghai and assist you in any way he can.”
AS these lines were written (Sunday June 7) practically every industry in the Shanghai district was tied up by strikers and it was difficult for foreigners to do anything except serve as part of the local defense units. Shops in the International Settlement were closed and in order to prevent a food shortage the Municipal Council had appointed a Food Controller and was collecting supplies for rationing purposes from a central depot in the …department store owners and directors. Printing staffs employed in foreign newspaper plants and job printing offices walked out and the newspapers were forced to cut their news to one page and fill up the inside pages with "standing” ads. Shanghai was literally paralyzed as a result of the strike and disorder and there were 22 foreign men of war in the harbor with probably 1,000 sailors and marines ashore doing duty and approximately 2,000 more standing by ready to be landed in case of need. The whole city was plastered with hand-bills, crudely executed, calling upon the Chinese population to "Boycott the foreigner,” "Drive the Imperialists Out,” "Kill the Foreign Dogs,” and so on. And in addition to the Shanghai situation, the reports in the Sunday morning papers told of outbreaks in other parts of the country. Rioters in Chinkiang, a town in northern Jiangsu, dragged the furniture from the British Municipal building and burned it. In Nanking there was a parade of 6,000 students, a general closure of shops and refusal to sell necessities to foreigners. In Changsha, Hunan Province, foreigners appearing on the streets in rickshas were overturned and insulted. In Hangchow, student parader tore the British flag from the C. M. S. Hospital.
At Kinkiang on the Yangtze between Nanking and Hankow mobs looted the British and Japanese Concessions, burned the Japanese bank and doing damage. In Hankow there was a general strike and when a mob tried to rush the armory in the British Concession, the marines were forced to fire, killing nine and, wounding many others. In fact, foreign consular officials at Shanghai were frankly apprehensive regarding the safety of foreigners residing in the interior of the country. There were parades in Peking and Tientsin, but apparently in both those places the merchants as represented in the Chamber of Commerce, refused to participate, and in Tientsin, the military authorities confined the demonstrations to the native cities and kept the demonstrators within bounds.
SINCE the strike was still in progress and the number of laborers affected, estimated anywhere from 100,000 to 250,000, as these lines were written, it is possible to forecast the resuIt. But from every indication the situation had the appearance of settling down into a prolonged struggle between China and the so-called Treaty Powers, for a readjustment of the 'unequal’ treaties Specifically the students had not as yet formulated their definite 'demands,' but one circular apparently put out as a 'feeler' called for the dismissal of the British and Japanese. Consuls-general, abolition of extraterritoriality for those two countries, punishment of the police who fired on the students, indemnification for the families of the killed and wounded and so on. Although, many of the more responsible elements among the Chinese disavowed these pronouncements of the radical students, there is no question but that they constitute straws which indicate the direction of the political wind and since the militarists have shown a tendency to get on the band wagon in the general attack on the foreign position, there con be no questioning the significance of the situation.
THE following dispatch to the New York Times, written by Mr. Thomas F. Millard, tends to give some idea of the international significance of the situation, which few foreigners in China apparently seem to appreciate.
“The time has arrived when the Powers must consider the adoption of a policy designed to arrest the forces of disintegration in China or else stand aside and watch China lapse into complete chaos. The present outbreak is symptomatic of a nation-wide movement swelling from deep-lying forces, which, unless checked, must develop into a serious anti-foreign uprising.
“This sentiment has been growing steadily for many years and originated in the resentment of the people of Asia against a long series of Western aggressions. It has become aggravated by Japan’s Pan-Asian propaganda and in recent months and years has been stimulated into activity by Russian Soviet propaganda and diplomacy in the Far East. The Powers, had ample warning of these developments since all expert observers have foreseen what is now happening and have urged preventive action to stabilize conditions here.
“It was only the death of Dr. Sun Yat-sen which prevented the Powers from now being faced with an ultimatum terminating the foreign position in respect to special privileges and extra-territoriality and the other treaties, similar to the action of Turkey. That is the definite program of the radical Chinese party which still holds the purpose of seizing a chance to wipe out the foreign position by a coup d’etat, and only lack of a strong leader delays this move. In the meanwhile the radical leaders are trying to secure the support of the more powerful militarists for this program and from current indications they are meeting with considerable success.
“The radical party seems quite likely on the way, to obtaining control of Chinese politics because the conservative elements lack courage to take the lead in shaping a definite program which might obtain the support of public opinion. The Powers must recognize the seriousness of this movement and the difficulty of stopping it provided it reaches a certain stage. The situation is now different from the time of the Boxer uprising. The Powers at that time acted in unison. That union is now impossible to obtain because Russia, Germany and other nations have already given up their special treaty rights in China.
"Japan's attitude vis-a-vis this situation. She might side with side with China if the situation developed similar to that in Turkey. Britain and America are the only Powers with sufficient strength and interest In the Pacific Ocean to take effective action and it is vital that those governments watch the situation carefully. This complex situation which has been cleverly presented by the Chinese radicals and Peking officials and by the Soviet and other foreign agents underlies the whole radical program. Japan's action in now sending naval forces t Shanghai and to Tsingtao to protect Japanese subjects and property from the mob cannot be accepted definitely as showing her position, if later Japan might be confronted with China's ultimatum to denounce the treaties. Forces are required in the present emergency but on the broader question Japan might side with the position of the Yellow World against the West.
This possibility should be pondered by Washington and London. The action of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at Peking in sending a note to the Legations protesting the action of Shanghai police in quelling the rioters is very significant because it amounts to a reversal of Peking’s action on previous occasions. This time Peking takes the attitude of being the aggressive party instead of taking responsibility for the action of the Chinese who attacks the foreigners in Shanghai and throughout the country. This shows that Peking is in complete sympathy with or is intimidated by the anti-foreign movement, Several leading militarists have telegraphed their sympathy for the agitators at Shanghai which is undoubtedly significant.
“The British and American naval forces in the Far East are insufficient to handle the situation if Japan should take China's side and the situation might become dangerous. Regarding measures calculated to improve the situation and stabilize China the time may already be past when the half-way action such as the Special Conference to revise the tariff in accordance with the Washington Conference can check the anti-foreign and treaty denunciation movement and suppress the disorder unless the tariff revision could be coupled with a broader financial reorganization supported by strong foreign financing.
“Very little is likely to be accomplished by small increases in the customs revenues, which might even tend to augment internal dissension by providing funds for the militarists.
“Mere friendly gestures on the part of Western Powers cannot now mend matters unless they are supported by strong remedial action. Washington should prepare to meet an extension of the anti-foreign movement throughout China with attendant dangers for missionaries and residents in the outports. The American Government has been advise of the situation for some time.