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- The Fight For The Republic In China - 50/86 -


Such, then, were the internal conditions which the new administration was called upon to face with the death of Yuan Shih-kai. With very little money in the National Treasury and with the provinces unable or unwilling to remit to the capital a single dollar, it was fortunate that at least one public service, erected under foreign pressure, should be brilliantly justifying its existence. The Salt Administration, efficiently reorganized in the space of three years by the great Indian authority, Sir Richard Dane, was now providing a monthly surplus of nearly five million dollars; and it was this revenue which kept China alive during a troubled transitional period when every one was declaring that she must die. By husbanding this hard cash and mixing it liberally with paper money, the Central Government has been able since June, 1916, to meet its current obligations and to keep the general machinery from breaking down.

But in a country such as China new dangers have to be constantly faced and smoothed away--the interests of the outer world pressing on the country and conflicting with the native interest at a myriad points. And in order to illustrate and make clear the sort of daily exacerbation which the nation must endure because of the vastness of its territory and the octopus-hold of the foreigner we give two typical cases of international trouble which have occurred since Yuan Shih-kai's death. The first is the well-known Chengchiatun incident which occurred in Manchuria in August, 1916: the second is the Laohsikai affair which took place in Tientsin in November of the same year and created a storm of rage against France throughout North China which, at the moment of writing has not yet abated.

The facts about the Chengchiatun incident are incredibly simple and merit being properly told. Chengchiatun is a small Mongol- Manchurian market-down lying some sixty miles west of the South Manchurian railway by the ordinary cart-roads, though as the crow flies the distance is much less. The country round about is "new country," the prefecture in which Chengchiatun lies being originally purely Mongol territory on which Chinese squatted in such numbers that it was necessary to erect the ordinary Chinese civil administration. Thirty or forty miles due west of the town cultivation practically ceases; and then nothing meets the eye but the rolling grasslands of Mongolia, with their sparse encampments of nomad horsemen and shepherds which stretch so monotonously into the infinities of High Asia.

The region is strategically important because the trade-routes converge there from the growing marts of the Taonanfu administration, which is the extreme westernly limit of Chinese authority in the Mongolian borderland. A rich exchange in hides, furs, skins, cattle and foodstuffs has given this frontier-town from year to year an increasing importance in the eyes of the Chinese who are fully aware of the dangers of a laissez aller policy and are determined to protect the rights they have acquired by pre-emption. The fact that notorious Mongol brigand-chiefs, such as the famous Babachapu who was allied to the Manchu Restoration Party and who was said to have been subsidized by the Japanese Military Party, had been making Chengchiatun one of their objectives, brought concern early in 1916 to the Moukden Governor, the energetic General Chang Tso-lin, who in order to cope with the danger promptly established a military cordon round the district, with a relatively large reserve based on Chengchiatun, drawn from the 28th Army Division. A certain amount of desultory fighting months before any one had heard of the town had given Chengchiatun the odour of the camp; and when in the summer the Japanese began military manoeuvres in the district with various scattered detachments, on the excuse that the South Manchuria railway zone where they alone had the right under the Portsmouth Peace Treaty to be, was too cramped for field exercises, it became apparent that dangerous developments might be expected--particularly as a body of Japanese infantry was billeted right in the centre of the town.

On the 13th August a Japanese civilian at Chengchiatun--there is a small Japanese trading community there--approached a Chinese boy who was selling fish. On the boy refusing to sell at the price offered him, the Japanese caught hold of him and started beating him. A Chinese soldier of the 28th Division who was passing intervened; and a scuffle commenced in which other Chinese soldiers joined and which resulted in the Japanese being severely handled. After the Chinese had left him, the man betook himself to the nearest Japanese post and reported that he had been grievously assaulted by Chinese soldiers for no reason whatsoever. A Japanese gensdarme made a preliminary investigation in company with the man; then returning to the Japanese barracks, declared that he could find no one in authority; that his attempts at discovering the culprits had been resisted; and that he must have help. The Japanese officer in command, who was a captain, detailed a lieutenant and twenty men to proceed to the Chinese barracks to obtain satisfaction from the Chinese Commander--using force if necessary. It was precisely in this way that the play was set in motion.

The detachment marched off to the headquarters of the offending Chinese detachment, which was billeted in a pawnshop, and tried to force their way past a sentry who stood his ground, into the inner courtyards. A long parley ensued with lowered bayonets; and at last on the Chinese soldier absolutely refusing to give way, the lieutenant gave orders to cut him down. There appears to be no doubt about these important facts--that is to say, that the act of war was the deliberate attack by a Japanese armed detachment on a Chinese sentry who was guarding the quarters of his Commander.

A frightful scene followed. It appears that scattered groups of Chinese soldiers, some with their arms, and some without, had collected during this crisis and point-blank firing at once commenced. The first shots appear to have been fired--though this was never proved--by a Chinese regimental groom, who was standing with some horses some distance away in the gateway of some stabling and who is said to have killed or wounded the largest number of Japanese. In any case seven Japanese soldiers were killed outright, five more mortally wounded and four severely so, the Chinese themselves losing four killed, besides a number of wounded. The remnant of the Japanese detachment after this rude reverse managed to retreat with their wounded officer to their own barracks where the whole detachment barricaded themselves in, firing for many hours at everything that moved on the roads though absolutely no attempt was made by the Chinese soldiery to advance against them.

The sound of this heavy firing, and the wild report that many Japanese had been killed, had meanwhile spread panic throughout the town, and there was a general sauve qui pent, a terrible retribution being feared. The local Magistrate finally restored some semblance of order; and after dark proceeded in person with some notables of the town to the Japanese barracks to tender his regrets and to arrange for the removal of the Japanese corpses which were lying just as they had fallen, and which Chinese custom demanded should be decently cared for, though they constituted important and irrefragible evidence of the armed invasion which had been practised. The Japanese Commander, instead of meeting these conciliatory attempts half-way, thereupon illegally arrested the Magistrate and locked him up, being impelled to this action by the general fear among his men that a mass attack would be made in the night by the Chinese troops in garrison and the whole command wiped out. Nothing, however, occurred and on the 14th instant the Magistrate was duly released on his sending for his son to take his place as hostage. On the 16th the Magistrate had successfully arranged the withdrawal of all Chinese troops five miles outside the town to prevent further clashes. On the 15th Japanese cavalry and infantry began to arrive in large numbers from the South Manchuria railway zone (where they alone have the Treaty right to be) and the town of Chengchiatun was arbitrarily placed by them in a state of siege.

Here is the stuff of which the whole incident was made: there is nothing material beyond the facts stated which illustrate very glaringly the manner in which a strong Power acts towards a weak one.

Meanwhile the effect in Tokyo of these happenings had been electrical. Relying on the well-known Japanese police axiom, that the man who gets in his story first is the prosecutor and the accused the guilty party, irrespective of what the evidence may be, the newspapers all came out with the same account of a calculated attack by "ferocious Chinese soldiers" on a Japanese detachment and the general public were asked to believe that a number of their enlisted nationals had been deliberately and brutally murdered. It was not, however, until more than a week after the incident that an official report was published by the Tokyo Foreign Office, when the following garbled account was distributed far and wide as the Japanese case:--

"When one Kiyokishy Yoshimoto, aged 27, an employee of a Japanese apothecary at Chengchiatun, was passing the headquarters of the Chinese troops on the 13th instant, a Chinese soldier stopped him, and, with some remarks, which were unintelligible to the Japanese, suddenly struck him on the head. Yoshimoto became enraged, but was soon surrounded by a large number of Chinese soldiers and others, who subjected him to all kind of humiliation. As a result of this lawlessness on the part of the Chinese, the Japanese sustained injuries in seven or eight places, but somehow he managed to break away and reach a Japanese police box, where he applied for help. On receipt of this news, a policeman, named Kowase, hastened to the spot, but by the time he arrived there all the offenders had fled. He therefore repaired to the headquarters of the Chinese to lay a complaint, but the sentry stopped him, and presented a pistol at him, and under these circumstances he was obliged to apply to the Japanese Garrison headquarters, where Captain Inone instructed Lieutenant Matsuo with twenty men to escort the policeman to the Chinese headquarters. When the party approached the Chinese headquarters, Chinese troops began to fire, and the policemen and others were either killed or wounded. Despite the fact that the Japanese troops retired, the Chinese troops did not give up firing, but besieged the Japanese garrison, delivering several severe attacks. Soon after the fighting ceased, the Chinese authorities visited the Japanese barracks, and expressed the desire that the affair be settled amicably. It was the original intention of the Japanese troops to fight it out, but they were completely out-numbered, and lest the safety of the Japanese residents be endangered, they stopped fighting. On examination of the dead bodies of seven Japanese soldiers, who were attacked outside the barracks, it was discovered that they had been all slain by the Chinese troops, the bodies bearing marks of violence."

Without entering again into the merits of the case, we would ask those who are acquainted with recent history whether it is likely

The Fight For The Republic In China - 50/86

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