The Story of S. C. Young: From Constable to Commissioner of the Shanghai Police, 1904-1938


S. C. Young and family in the 1920s

S. C. Young and family in the 1920s

In 1904, a young Irishman named Stewart Cromie Young (S. C. for short) arrived in Shanghai. He had been recruited by the Ulster police force to serve as a constable for the Shanghai Municipal Police, the police force that protected the International Settlement of Shanghai. The International Settlement was one of two foreign settlements in Shanghai at the time, the other being the French Concession. Both of these jurisdictions had their own municipal governments and police forces. While the populations of both were overwhelmingly Chinese, the International Settlement was basically run by British business interests, while the French Concession was controlled by the French and was connected to their colonial system in Asia. Both settlements were part of the treaty port system that began after the war between Britain and China, known as the First Opium War, ended with the Treaty of Nanking in 1842.

S. C. Young (second from left in foreground) posing with other members of the SMP rifle team

S. C. Young (second from left in foreground) posing with other members of the SMP rifle team

In my article published in the RAS Journal 2018 edition, I tell the story of S. C. Young’s rise in the police force of the International Settlement in the context of this tumultuous period in modern Chinese and world history. Key to his rise was his work ethic, his ability to learn, and, I argue, his strong family life and devotion to other civic institutions, including the Holy Trinity Church to which he and his family belonged. It is not known how long S. C. Young intended to stay in Shanghai when he arrived in 1904. What is apparent is that he had a knack for police work. He was also a gifted athlete and a hard-working individual. In 1911 he married an Englishwoman also based in Shanghai named Elizabeth Long, who was working as a governess for the children of an English family. Together, S.C. Young and Mrs. Young raised three boys, all of whom were eventually sent off to complete their educations in England. One of the boys, Shawn Terence Young, eventually became a famous film director and is best known for directing the early James Bond films.

I first learned about the story of S. C. Young through his great-granddaughter, Annabel Catto, who was a student of mine in Australia. One day while I was teaching a class in Modern Chinese History at the University of New South Wales in Sydney (where I taught from 2002-2007), Annabel came to class with a box of her great-granddad’s photos and other memorabilia. I was deeply impressed by the quality and uniqueness of these images. Later, her mother Peta Catto, who was the daughter of S. C. Young’s son William Brian Young, let me scan the entire collection with the idea that one day I might use them for a publication. I lost touch with Annabel and Peta over the years, and these images sat on my hard drive. Eventually I started using them as lecture materials for my class on Shanghai History.

Last year, I was approached by the editors of the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society China to contribute an article to their 2018 journal. I decided to write an article on S. C. Young, relying on the treasure trove of photos and other memorabilia from his granddaughter Peta’s collection as well as articles published in English-language newspapers such as the North China Daily News and Herald to reconstruct the story of his rise in the Shanghai Municipal Police from constable to Deputy Commissioner (and temporarily, Commissioner) before his retirement from the force in 1938. Altogether, C. S. Young spent close to 35 years living and working in Shanghai during the vital period of the 1900s when the city rose to prominence as China’s most modern metropolis and one of the great world cities. He experienced the rise of organized crime in the city as well as several revolutionary movements and wars, and watched as the Japanese military took over much of the city after a vicious battle with Chinese forces in 1937. 

The photos published in the RAS journal only scratch the surface of the treasure trove of images from this collection. I include a few more here to round out the story of the personal life of S. C. Young.

S. C. Young (second from right), Mrs. Young (to his left) and Albert Norman Young with family friends posing in front of a Chinese style building probably in the 1930s

S. C. Young (second from right), Mrs. Young (to his left) and Albert Norman Young with family friends posing in front of a Chinese style building probably in the 1930s

S. C. Young and friends boating somewhere outside of Shanghai (exact location and date unknown).

S. C. Young and friends boating somewhere outside of Shanghai (exact location and date unknown).

S. C. Young (far right) and Mrs. Young (third from left) at a dinner party c. 1938, on the eve of his retirement from the police force

S. C. Young (far right) and Mrs. Young (third from left) at a dinner party c. 1938, on the eve of his retirement from the police force