Widespread Panic in 1911

On March 31, 1911, the Japanese consul in Fuzhou filed a report on Chinese concerns about foreign invasion. That foreigners were going to divvy China up into colonies or “carve the melon” had been a major fear in China for several years, and in the Spring of 1911 rumors were again circulating that the foreign powers were meeting, perhaps in Paris, to decide on the division of China. The foreign press (and some Chinese papers) poo-pooed these wild rumors, by which they meant that there was not a formal meeting going on to divvy up China’s provinces among the Powers. The process of gradually absorbing Chinese sovereignty was of course still going on. Foreign-run factories, railways, and mines were dotted across China, the Treaty Ports were open for business, and Korea had been formally annexed by Japan on August 29, 1910, moving it from the status of semi-colonized to fully colonized. Given the general lack of faith in the court, there were calls for popular militias to organize to defend the nation. In this atmosphere of heightened suspicion even innocent foreign actions could seem sinister, and in any case there were plenty of actual hostile acts by foreigners for Chinese to be concerned about. This atmosphere had a lot to do with the explosive impact of the Sichuan Railway case in the Summer of 1911 and the Revolution in the fall.

In the case of Fujian, students in Shanghai and Japan were urging their fellow provincials to prepare to defend the nation. As Fujian was assumed to be part of the Japanese spoils in any division, the Japanese consul took interest in their activities

It appears that around 13 March some gentry here held a meeting to discuss the situation. After that, they distributed a leaflet entitled “Appeal for the Immediate Organization of a Militia.” This is attached to this re­ port as Exhibit I. In summary it says: Britain raided Pianma; France moved large troops to Yunnan under the pretext of protecting the rail­road; Russia is aiming at Manchuria, Mongolia, and the Yili areas. The division is close at hand. Japan and Germany are also about to take ac tion. Since foreign troubles always come with domestic discord, we have to organize a militia for self-defense now that we cannot rely on govern­ment forces.

The British consul filed a protest with the Fujian authorities as it was known that a copy of the leaflet appeared in a school run by a British national. The American consul, who was appointed to the post earlier, visited other consuls here and discussed whether they should make their attitude clear about this matter. Their conclusion was that they did not have to take any action since the leaflet was not causing serious trouble.

Yet there were rumors circulating in the city. One of them said that farmers in the suburbs were preparing arms and banners to attack Japa­nese. There were also far-fetched arguments based on a visit made by Canton consul-general, Segawa; the Hong Kong consul, Funatsu; and myself [consul Takasu]. They stopped over here on the way back to their posts, and visited local government officials, including the general-in-chief and the governor.

This was followed by a harbor call by the receiving ship Tsugaru. It was said that the consuls met with an important mission, that the warship called to spy upon Fujian or that six warships gathered on the open sea.

Attached to the report was a copy of the call for establishment of a militia

Further Appeal for the Immediate Establishment of a Militia

Compatriots: Britain has occupied Pianma; France aims at the mines in Yunnan; Russia is getting closer to Mongolia and Yili. Students in Japan, the United States, and assemblies in every province are sending out emergency telegrams one after another. We assume you saw our first leaflet and already understand quite well what is going on in our country. From what you have read in Beijing and Shanghai newspapers and the Jianyanbao, which has recently been published in Fuzhou, we believe that you have understood that we are not exaggerating things. We had expected that you would take countermeasures quickly to protect yourselves, your families, and your property. In the last ten days, however, further worsening of the foreign troubles has led people in all other provinces to rise and take action. At the moment, the Merchants Asso­ ciation in the capital, Fuzhou, the Nantaizhen Board of Directors, and the schools are working out countermeasures. They are organizing mer­ chant militias, beginning to train militias, setting up an Association for Physical Education, or making military calisthenics a compulsory subject. Responses vary, but the object is one and the same.

However, we wonder how people in other prefectures, districts, and counties [other than Fuzhou] are going to protect themselves, their families, and their property. It is quite strange that they are doing nothing about it. We cannot keep silent because we want to protect ourselves, our families, and our property as well as yours. This is why we are making another appeal to the people of our hometown.…..Just think about what Japan does these days. The Japanese government as well as its people have been targeting the Northeast since the powers began their actions. According to a detailed report we have obtained, there are four times as many Japanese troops stationed in the Northeast as Chinese troops deployed across the entire country. The report also says that they have introduced wireless telegraph throughout Mongolia to communicate secret information. It is reported that they are going to send two more divisions to the Northeast.5

Next are a series of telegrams between various provincial assemblies.

A telegram from the Xian provincial assembly to the Fujian provincial assembly: “A telegram from Yunnan says that Britain has occupied Pianma, and Japan and Russia are making a raid on the Northeast. The only way to save our country from danger is for people to arm themselves. In cooperation with other provincial assemblies, we would like to start training a militia under the pretext of maintaining order. On 9 February (9 March in the solar calendar) we requested the National Assembly to obtain permission from the government.

From the Fujian assembly to the Tianjin assembly: “The matter is quite urgent. A joint conference of assemblies should be convened.” From the Fujian assembly to the Grand Council: “We are now facing a national crisis. People are very afraid that the nation may perish. When diplomacy is faced with difficulties, the government should turn to public opinion. If we are allowed to ask His Majesty for an extraordinary session of the National Assembly and to express there how angry our people are, we think it might be possible to reduce the foreign countries’ contempt for us and gain time to work out countermeasures.”

These are only a few examples. We have much more information, but it is simply impossible to carry all the details that were reported by Beijing and Shanghai newspapers and by the Jianyanbao, which has recently started in Fuzhou.

The leaflet concludes as follows:

Just think, our property is about to be lost, and so are our lives, our families, and our country. Is there any easy solution to such a serious crisis? Proverbs say, “Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well,” and “Try everything even if there are no prospects.” If you do not care if the people of our nine prefectures and two districts lose their country, their lives, their families, and their property, we do not care, either. But if you do, set up a militia promptly. If one group of people appeals, many other groups will respond. If one village rises, others will follow. If we expand the movement from one village to one county, one county to one pre­ fecture and then to one province using the same system, and if we keep in close touch with one another, we will be able to maintain order in our homeland in peace-time and assist the army in time of war. This is what we have to do right now to save our country. Compatriots, time never returns. If we rise now there is a chance to recover our nation. We sincerely ask you to seriously consider our proposal.

From Ono Shinji “A Deliberate Rumor: National Anxiety in China on the Eve of the Xinhai Revolution.” in Eto Shinkichi and Harlod Z. Schiffrin China’s Republican Revolution University of Tokyo Press, 1994.


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