Revolution, Resistance and Resurrection (1927-1943)
An abridged version of the trilogy has been published as Justice by Gunboat.
Volume 3 tells the story of extraterritoriality in a changed world. In 1927, the militarily-strong Nationalists, led by Chiang Kai-shek, succeeded in consolidating power over most of China. This brought new challenges to the foreign powers – extraterritoriality only worked effectively when the host power was weak and foreign powers were strong. This was not the case in the late 1920s when Britain and America were hit hard by the Great Depression and were no longer willing to commit large numbers of troops and money to protect foreign interests in China.
The Chinese Nationalists asserted themselves militarily, taking over a number of minor foreign concessions. Political assassination also came to Shanghai with the killing in broad daylight by a Sikh of the most senior Sikh Policeman in Shanghai, Budda Singh. During the course of the fighting, the Judges of the British and American courts, Peter Grain and Milton Purdy, were both forced to decide if the Nationalists were rebels or a new government. Once the Nationalists had taken firm control of China, Britain and America both reached agreements in principle with the Nationalists to bring an end to extraterritoriality.
This drive stalled with Japan’s invasion of Manchuria and attack on Shanghai in late 1931. Japan’s continued assertion of its “special rights” and its invasion of China in 1937 brought an entirely different complexion to British and American extraterritoriality. Power came out the barrels of Japanese guns and the officials and courts of other foreign powers had to bend to this reality to avoid being broken. Extraterritoriality, paradoxically, became useful to China by keeping foreign powers engaged with the country. It was a thorn in the side to the Japanese but they were not yet ready to spark a confrontation by abolishing it. The British and American courts in China found themselves challenged in ways they never had been before when dealing with a strong China and subsequently with a strong Japan.
Many of the cases before the courts in the last 16 years of their existence involved dealing with this new reality. Maurice Tinkler a former detective in the Shanghai Municipal Police was killed by Japanese troops, leading to an inquest in the British Police Court. Chinese resistance to Japanese occupation also found its way in the courts – the most high profile case involving an application to free from the British Consular Gaol in Tientsin four Chinese suspected of assassinating another Chinese working for the Japanese puppet government in that city. The British Assistant Judge, Penrhyn Grant Jones, a former consular officer, rejected the application. The last Judge of the US Court, Milton Helmick, had to deal with a possibly contrived application to injunct an American business from seizing Chinese government ships in Japanese controlled areas.
Not all cases involved war or high politics, however. A major battle was fought over the right to inherit the many millions of dollars amassed by Silas Hardoon, an Iraqi Jew involving complex arguments of international law – a case which saw Harrie Wilkinson appear for the last time in the British Supreme Court. Judge Helmick in the US Court presided over a high profile trial following the collapse of one of Shanghai’s largest financial houses headed by a church-going pillar of the community, Frank Jay Raven.
There were also a number of murder cases. In one case, British policemen were accused, in a trial presided over by the last British Judge, Allan Mossop, of throwing a Chinese beggar in an ice-cold river. In another an American doctor in Tientsin was accused of trying to poison his wife. In a third, a Sikh Defendant, Atma Singh, was almost literally resurrected when he came as close to death as it is possible, but survived. Later, both British and American soldiers stationed in Shanghai were prosecuted for murdering a superior in one case and a lover’s infant child in another.
The beginning of the Pacific War in December 1941 brought an end to British and American extraterritoriality in Japanese-occupied China. The judges and staff of both courts were interned for six months in Shanghai. The British Supreme Court for China and the United States Court for China continued to exist in Free China but with very little work to do. Early 1943 saw the formal abolition of British and American extraterritoriality – and the last case in the United States Court for China involved a special judge, Bertrand Johnson, being flown in from India to try a member of the Flying Tigers, Boatner Carney, for manslaughter of a fellow American.
It had been a very long journey of over 100 years for China to achieve the end to the unequal treaties. The formal abolition of extraterritoriality was greeted by the Chinese with joy. The abolition, however, occurred while China was fighting for its very life against Japan and the celebrations were tempered. Only with the end of World War II was China freed from foreign invaders, but then the country descended into Civil War between the Nationalists and Communists.
Extraterritoriality had a huge impact on China and Japan. For Japan, it helped lay the foundation of its modern legal system that drove its strong post-war growth. Extraterritoriality and the unequal treaties are seen as necessary evils that in the long run made Japan strong. All over Japan, there are monuments, memorials and museum exhibits recognising the foreign contribution to the development of the country. Foreign cemeteries from the 19th century are well maintained.
For China, extraterritoriality is one part of the Century of Humiliation at the hands of foreigners. Museums and texbooks spout anti-foreign sentiment. All memorials to foreigners and foreign cemeteries have been destroyed. “Unity is Strength” is one of the slogans written on Tiananmen Gate in the heart of Beijing. This is a warning to Chinese that only by having a strong united government can they avoid allowing foreigners to trample over China’s sovereignty and seek to split the country again.