Destruction, Disorder and Defiance (1900-1927)
An abridged version of the trilogy has been published as Justice by Gunboat.
Volume 2 tells the history of British and American extraterritoriality in the first quarter of the Twentieth Century from 1900 to 1927.
This was a time of great upheaval. In 1900, the Boxer Rebellion led to China declaring war on eight nations, including Britain, America and Japan. This brought about the invasion and destruction of much of Peking by the foreign powers – the new British Minister, Ernest Satow described Peking as a “city of the dead.” The fighting also led to a much-watched case in the British Supreme Court over reporting of an alleged massacre of foreigners during the fighting. Li Hongzhang was called on, yet again, to sign another onerous unequal treaty with foreigners. The defeat in the war and the need to pay a massive indemnity imposed by the winners weakened China for years to come.
On the other hand, Japan, which had thrown off extraterritoriality in 1899, was now a major economic and military power. It had contributed the largest number of troops to the alliance attacking Peking in 1900. It defeated Russia in a war in 1905 as well as occupying Korea. The British were forced to prosecute one of their own nationals, Ernest Bethell, for publishing anti-Japanese articles in his Korean newspapers. Harrie Wilkinson, as Crown Advocate, and Frederick Bourne, as Acting Judge, both travelled to Seoul for the trial. In 1910, Japan annexed Korea bringing extraterritoriality to an end there, leaving China as the only country in North East Asia where foreigners still had extraterritorial rights.
America set out about reforming its practice of extraterritoriality in China and Korea, finally establishing a United States Court for China in 1906. This court went through various teething pains with poorly drafted legislation and the unsatisfactory appointment of Lebbeus Wilfley as the first judge.
The arrival of a “sister” court (as they referred to each other) and the increase in international trade and business brought new challenges to the British Court. New jurisdictional and legal issues arose including how to deal with witnesses who perjured themselves in each other’s courts. In one major case, the British brought a criminal prosecution against an Irish newspaper editor for defaming US Judge Wilfley.
By the 1910s, China had started reforming its laws and legal system towards the end of the Qing Dynasty and continued to do so after the republican revolution in 1911. However, the civil wars that followed Yuan Shikai’s attempt to install himself as Emperor and World War I held back the development of China and its new legal system. The Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) left the central government and formed their own government in Canton. The disorder and chaos of warlord-controlled China that followed allowed foreign powers a free hand to maintain their treaty rights and privileges.
America also improved its court. After Rufus Thayer served as judge for four years, Charles Lobingier was appointed. Lobingier by a number of reforms and strong legal decisions set the court on a solid foundation for the rest of its existence. In the British courts, the three new judges appointed in this period, Havilland de Sausmarez, Skinner Turner and Peter Grain – all members of the Foreign Office Judicial Service, were transferred from outside China. Crown Advocate, Harrie Wilkinson, however did seek on a number of occasions to succeed his father as Chief Judge of the Supreme Court War was, throughout the 20th Century, a constant theme for both British and American courts. World War I brought a variety of cases before the courts. De Sausmarez made a number of decisions as to how to deal with enemy property. Japan also increased its demands on China, taking over, with British assistance, German concessions and territory during World War I. The civil wars in China from 1916 up to the Nationalist Party’s victory in 1927 generated numerous cases involving smuggling, sedition and gun-running, to name just a few.
The Chinese people did, however, start to defy foreign power, launching national protest movements in 1919 – against the terms of the Treaty of Versailles at the end of WWI – and in 1925 – against the killing of protestors by the British-run Shanghai police. In one case, the Ningpo Guild brought a prosecution in the British Supreme Court against British policemen for torture. One half-Chinese British barrister, Lawrence Kentwell, led a one-man crusade against snobbery and racism, while at the same time being accused of counterfeiting, corrupt practices and, possibly, opium smuggling – he was eventually disbarred.
Indians in China also started to agitate for freedom resulting in a number of prosecutions for sedition. The Registrar (and later Assistant Judge) of the court, Gilbert King, who had been born in India, dealt with most of the cases as sympathetically as he could. In one case, the court had to decide if it was defamatory to accuse a Sikh of being a police informer.
The Nationalist Party (or Kuomintang) in Canton was also growing military stronger. By the mid-1920s the Nationalists were able to match (but not yet outgun) foreign military power in Canton. In 1926, they launched a Northern Expedition to recapture north China and take over the government of the country. Despite this, that same year, the foreign powers still felt comfortable enough to issue a report by the long-awaited Extraterritoriality Commission, of which British Chief Judge, Sir Skinner Turner was a member, putting off the end of extraterritoriality way into the future.
The United States did not give extraterritoriality a good name. In the early 1920s, one attorney, William Fleming, launched a full-scale attack on the court strongly criticizing the lack of jury trials and accusing Judge Lobingier of being a Czar. Lobingier was eventually cleared after investigations in Washington DC that closed the court for almost a year. Six years later, both the clerk, William Chapman, and the District Attorney of the US Court for China, Leonard Husar, were prosecuted for corruption. The were both convicted by the new judge of the court, Milton Purdy. The prosecution of Husar lifted the lid on many sordid Shanghai secrets just as Nationalist troops were about to surround Shanghai seriously threatening, for the first time, extraterritoriality’s existence.