Yesterday, after taking my daughter Sarah to her supplementary math class in the Hongkou district of Shanghai, we walked over to Duolun Road, a now famous historic street in this part of Shanghai. I was searching for the exact site where a Japanese seaman named Hideo Nakayama had been murdered in 1935, causing an international scandal that likely contributed to Japan’s march to war with China. And I found it.
Duolun Road used to be known as Darroch Road. For years, I’ve known that that was the street on which the 24 year old seaman Nakayama had been shot. On November 9, 1935, after a visit to a nearby cafe to meet with a geisha, he was walking back to his barracks, which were in that neighborhood. This was the center of what they used to call “Little Tokyo,” then home to around 30,000 Japanese nationals. At around 9 pm, somebody came up behind him and shot him in the back of the head.
I’ve known about this case ever since I began researching my doctoral dissertation topic on Shanghai nightlife in the 1920s-30s. It came up in my many months of scouring the Shanghai Municipal Police intelligence files. It was the largest case the police ever worked on. Eventually, a Japanese detective named Uyehara solved the crime. I know his son Cecil, who lives in the USA, and I have done extensive interviews with him and have a copy of his dad’s memoir. I’m planning to write an article and eventually a book about this story.
Yet despite knowing about this case for all these years (over 20 now), I had never actually searched for the exact site of the crime. Turns out I had already been there many times without even knowing it.
Yesterday was a beautiful spring day and a perfect day for a stroll up North Sichuan Road. This was once the main drag running through the Hongkou district into what was then a no-man’s land in between the International Settlement and Chinese jurisdiction. Walking north up Sichuan Road you reach the heart of “Little Tokyo.” Many famous Chinese writers and intellectuals lived here in the 1920s and 1930s and there was a great deal of community between Chinese and Japanese. The most famous relationship was that of writer Lu Xun and a man named Uchiyama, who owned a book shop in the neighborhood. Their friendship is now enshrined in the area in many ways, including inside Lu Xun’s Memorial Museum in nearby Lu Xun Park.
Reaching Duolun Road, we strolled along the walking street, which was cobbled over around 20 years ago to become a tourist walking street featuring cafes, bookshops, and antique stores. It is also lined with old buildings dating back to the 1920s and a few churches as well. Darroch was a Scotsman and a missionary, and his presence is still felt on this road.
We must have counted over a dozen statues honoring great writers, artists, and revolutionaries who once lived in this neighborhood. They included the female writer Ding Ling, and the male writer Mao Dun whose book Midnight is one of the great works of Shanghai literature from that age.
We also stopped into an antique shop. Sarah, who has taken an interest in history lately, was very impressed by the collection of old Shanghai memorabilia and asked the proprietor how he was able to collect them all.
Finally, we reached the spot where I believe Nakayama was murdered, gunned down in cold blood on the night of 9 November 1935. I know of the spot from a map of the incident that I discovered in the Tokyo archives. One indicator showing that this is the right location is that there was a military barracks just across the road and its tower could be sighted from the murder site. Sure enough, that building still stands and the tower, now much eroded and rusted, is still visible. The building is still being used for military purposes, and the guards at the gate confirmed this used to be a Japanese military station back in the 1930s.
After our little episode of sleuthing out Shanghai’s dark past, we were hungry and stopped into a nearby restaurant for a delicious bowl of Won ton noodle soup.
I hope to return to the site of the crime to continue my research into this case and this neighborhood. Perhaps this will eventually lead me to develop another tour of old Shanghai, in addition to a good book on how Shanghai was at the center of the tensions between China, Japan, and Britain at this turning point in history.