'Somewhere in Shanghai'

August 18, 1937
You will remember my writing that the prodigious exodus from the territory north of Soochow Creek during the first week of August reminded me of Macaulay’s description of the flight to Rome: —

A mile around the city,
The throng stopped up the ways;
A fearful sight it was to see
Through two long nights and days.

Subsequent events proved that it was to last much longer than that. The panic was occasioned by the fear that the North China trouble might have reverberations in Shanghai, and more specifically by what has come to be known as the ‘Hungjao Incident,’ when two Japanese officers were shot on Hungjao Road near the Hungjao Aerodrome. A Chinese soldier was also shot. The Chinese claim that the Japanese fired first, killing one of the Chinese. The Japanese claim that the Japanese officers were unarmed. Subsequent investigations showed that the Chinese had been shot in the back by Chinese bullets, having apparently got in the line of fire. Also the first reports did not mention the Chinese, and the Japanese claim that the body was later dragged to the spot in order to make out a case for the Chinese. It looked almost as if the Chinese were playing the Japanese game of creating an incident. Of course Japanese officers had no business going near a Chinese aerodrome when feeling was running so high. However, we still did not think it was to be anything serious.

When Sapajou did a cartoon in allusion to the local dog races showing shells labeled ‘War Rumor No. 1,’ ‘War Rumor No. 2,’ and so forth, pursuing a mechanical rabbit labeled ‘Panicky Public’ around the race track, we all laughed and thought it summed up the situation pretty well.

Reading the accounts of the exodus in the papers made me want to see with my own eyes some of these refugees who were said to be crossing the bridges at the rate of 25,000 a day, so several evenings I walked over to the Garden Bridge to watch the steady streams of évacués making their way into the Settlement for safety. The more prosperous were the first to go, of course, as they could afford the high rents and expenses of moving. Some families rode in taxis, while their furniture and goods followed in vans. Others rode on the trucks along with the baggage. There were wheelbarrows carrying furniture and trunks, while some évacués rode in rikshas so piled up with pigskin trunks and birdcages that the heads of the occupants were scarcely visible.

The poorer classes who could not beg or borrow money for transportation had to walk, carrying their belongings. We saw one disconsolate-looking fellow leaning up against the wall with a bucket beside him containing, besides some clothes, a pair of brass candlesticks and an oil painting. Whether he had been looting on his way or whether they were family heirlooms would be difficult to say.

When we woke up the next morning, we saw that during the night three old steamers had been sunk in a line across the Whangpoo River, and other junks and smaller steamers had been towed into place to form an impassable boom across the river. The boom was to prevent Japanese ships from sailing up and attacking the Arsenal and Kiangwan Docks, to say nothing of the Lungwhat Aerodrome, which is a commercial airfield but used by Chinese military planes to a certain extent.

During the day Chinese troops occupied the Kiangwan Race Course, which is the suburban rendezvous of the International Recreation Club, and began to prepare trenches and other military works in the vicinity. The Japanese hired workers to level off the Japanese golf links and convert them into a flying field. Most of these workers were Chinese coolies who were glad enough to work for the enemy as long as they got their bowl of rice. Many of them were shot as ‘traitors’ by Chinese snipers.

Even the Chinese Government offices at the Civic Centre moved into the French Concession as far away from the trouble as possible. For years they have been trying to build up a Municipal Centre of their own down at Kiangwan, putting up beautiful modern buildings, constructing a beautiful modern wharf which they hoped would deflect some of the shipping trade from the International Settlement, and in other ways trying to prove to the foreigners that the days of special privilege are over and that extraterritoriality should be abolished. Yet as soon as any trouble looms they run for cover beneath the wings of the International Settlement and French Concession. It is amusing to see too that, as soon as trouble threatens, Chinese companies fall all over themselves to incorporate under American or British law in order to claim our ‘protection.’

While we were at work Saturday morning we heard the most terrific noise, and none of us were sufficiently experienced in warfare to know what it meant. One of the clerks remarked that it sounded like a ‘cannon machine gun.’ We later learned that it was the anti-aircraft guns on the Japanese flagship Idzumo. Most of the bombing in the Settlement was intended for the Idzumo, which was kept moored at the Japanese Consulate waterfront. After Saturday’s outrages, the Municipal Council and consular authorities urged the Japanese to remove the warship from the Settlement, but they refused to do this unless Japanese lives and property were guaranteed protection. The Chinese authorities stated that unless the warship was removed from the Settlement they would not be responsible for any damage or loss of life in the Settlement. Evacuation plans were made in earnest for the women and children, the British taking the lead, and the Americans dillydallying behind as usual.

One of the reasons for the carnage at the intersection of Thibet Road and Avenue Edward VII was that the place was crowded with refugees who had nowhere to go. It is said that when the planes flew over they were all looking up cheering and waving. Chinese photographers are capitalizing on the tragedy, as the photographers did in Japan after the earthquake, by selling photographs of mangled bodies and heaps of arms, legs, heads, and so forth. I looked at one before I knew what it was, and that was enough for me.

One of the young British fellows who signed up for relief work was a very sensitive lad, whose first job was to drive a truck down to Nanking Road and help pick up pieces of bodies. They said he came home screaming.

All Saturday evening and steadily ever since there have been broadcasts every minute or so over the radio with items of personal news such as: —

‘Calling Mrs. Blank, Tsingtao. Your husband is all right. Stay where you are.’

‘Will someone in Kuling tell Mrs. Soand-So that her family in Shanghai are safe and well. Do not attempt to come to Shanghai.’

‘Will anyone who knows the whereabouts of Miss Somebody please communicate with No. 11111.’

Around one o’clock on Sunday morning a news broadcast came over that Mayor O. K. Yui had announced that unless the anti-aircraft guns stationed on top of the Yokohama Specie Bank Building, the Bank of Chosen, and other Japanese buildings on and off the Bund, were removed immediately the Chinese would not be responsible for any bombing in the Settlement. The Yokohama Specie Bank Building is three blocks away from us, the Bank of Chosen almost next door, and the Mitsui Bussan Kaisha right across the street. Just then planes zoomed overhead, and as one body we made a rush downstairs.

The Japanese have agreed not to fly bombing planes over the Settlement, but the Chinese refused to agree to this. No one believes any more that there are any anti-aircraft guns on the Japanese buildings, as the Japanese have invited inspection, and we think Mayor Yui’s warning was just a cover for the bombing accidents that had occurred and any that might occur.

Finally we realized what everyone has since realized, that as long as the planes are Japanese there is no danger. I can’t tell them apart just to look at them, but if the anti-aircraft guns are popping we know they are Chinese and rush below. Our apartment faces the river, commanding a good view of Yangtszepoo and Pootung and the river, so that we have a box seat for the air battles, but we are so afraid of the bombs and flying shrapnel that we dare n’t wait to watch them!

The arrival of the Loyal Regiment of British Troops eased the tension somewhat, as we all knew the troops on the spot could not hold the line long. About three thousand Japanese refugees left for Japan Monday on two Japanese ships. Refugees in the Settlement by that time numbered over 1,000,000 and were getting to be a fearful problem, as a Chinese mob is easily incited and hard to quell. Several attacks were made on Japanese civilians and others thought to be Japanese. They don’t stop to ask questions.

The paradox of the whole situation here is that, while people are definitely anti-Japanese, they don’t want the Chinese to win. The police have called out all the reserves (6000) and are patrolling thoroughly, as they are afraid of the Chinese loafers rushing buildings. The mobs are so hungry that there have been many food riots, in which refugees mob rice shops and make off with rice.

About nine o’clock Monday evening, as we were sitting around, a huge explosion almost knocked us out of our seats. We learned later that a small torpedo boat belonging to the Chinese had sneaked down river, fired at the Idzumo, and raced back before the Japanese could get their searchlights out. No damage was done to the ship apparently. Shortly afterwards a terrific bombardment began over in Poottung. The Japanese on this side of the river in Yangtszepoo, and on the ships, seemed to be shelling the Chinese positions in Poottung, and that kept up all night, although far enough away not to be very frightening. A huge fire in a textile warehouse caused smoke to drift over into the Settlement, and when we began to sneeze and weep with the smoke many thought that poison gas was being resorted to.

Ella’s husband, Jack, is in the S. V. C., also Irene’s fiancé. They drop into the apartment now and then, when they get leave, to give us the latest news. Night before last Jack was in a terrible state of nerves. They had been defending the Settlement against a rush of Chinese troops who had broken through a thin Japanese line and were advancing on the Settlement. Jack and two other fellows had been given a rather exposed post and were told to shoot any Chinese who tried to cross the bridge. Ordinarily the S. V. C. are not supposed to be in the front lines at all. They are mostly for emergency police duty and go into action only in extreme emergency. They were running short of ammunition, and things got so bad they solemnly set aside enough of the ammunition so that if they were cornered each could shoot the other. The Welsh Fusiliers arrived just in time to relieve them, but as Jack repeated over and over in a sort of dazed way, as if surprised we were all alive, ‘God, it was touch and go!’

It has been our great fear that the Chinese would rush the Settlement, and then goodness knows what might happen. The news that the Japanese are landing reönforcements brings a sigh of relief quite as readily as the news that the British and American troops are on the way. Chinese banks have been closed, American banks moved their offices out to Frenchtown, most shops are closed, and big shops like Wing On’s Department Store keep only one door open and rigidly exclude any but prosperous-looking customers. Everyone is nervous about the hordes of Chinese refugees, many of them starving, that are crowding the streets.

I must say the police have done a good job. The French especially will stand for no nonsense. Every night they herd up the refugees and drive them out into Chinese territory and close the big gates. The French, too, were the ones that did the first firing at the Chinese. The Americans and British were too much afraid of international complications, but when the Chinese planes came uncomfortably close the French warship did not hesitate to open up her antiaircraft guns. As they say, ‘This is not only the French Concession. This is FRANCE ! ’

For a while there was fear of a food shortage, and it is still hard to get supplies, but not impossible. The abattoir which was bombed was only partially destroyed, and the American Marines and S. V. C. have been coöperating with the Japanese to rescue much of the meat that is there in cold storage and bring it into the Settlement. Green vegetables, eggs, chickens, and things of that sort are scarce, of course, and canned stuffs, such as corned beef, are out of stock in the shops, but we get along.

August 21
Yesterday China sent a note to the representatives of foreign nations here saying that if they did not remove their warships and merchant vessels five miles from any Japanese ship, or persuade the Japanese ships to move five miles distant, China would not be responsible for any damage to foreign ships. The foreign warships replied by clearing their decks for action. The American, British, and French warships are right in the line of fire, and the Augusta was hit yesterday by a shell which killed one sailor and wounded eighteen others.
Last night we went up to visit some of Ella’s relatives on the eighth floor who have a fine view of the river and Pootung. There was an immense fire over there in the godown of a Japanese cotton mill, one of the many fires raging hereabouts (the loss to British and American interests is incalculable), and it was a beautiful sight. Later on, artillery fire started up, and we watched the exchange of shells for a long time; we could n’t see the shells, of course, but saw the flash, heard the crack as the shell left the gun, and later heard the explosion.
That was an experience that probably few people have in a lifetime, to sit in a comfortable armchair in comparative safety and watch a real war going on outside the window, bloody and desperate. Imagination failed to inspire us with the horror of what was actually taking place — all we knew was the excitement and the objective beauty of the scene, the dull red glow of the dying fires, the flash of the big guns across the delta, Very lights streaking against the dark blue sky, and, high above, the imperturbable moon.
The Japanese may not have much to back up their operations, but they at least have well-balanced equipment. The Chinese seem to have put all their money into aircraft, and, as if they thought no enemy could possibly have an air force, seem to have no anti-aircraft guns — here in Shanghai, at least. Machine guns are effective against planes only at short range. And then the equipment they have for the air force is so inadequate. I was told by a Chinese gentleman in the know that a $5000 plane costs the Chinese Government $26,000 by the time all the middlemen get a ‘squeeze.’
The National Government established an Aviation School a couple of years ago and developed a bunch of crack fliers, but I understand that as soon as they saw they would have to do some real fighting they turned in their uniforms and went home on account of ‘family affairs.’
However, the Chinese army has made great strides since 1932. There is much more discipline in the ranks, and they seem to have more stamina. Orders are that looters are to be summarily shot. No one knows how this works when the officers do the looting themselves.
Just now people seem to be of two opinions about the situation. Maybe it will be more serious, maybe it won’t. Maybe all the foreigners will have to leave China. Maybe the Japanese will come in and clean up the place and make it fit to live in. Maybe Britain will fight Japan and drive her out. Anyhow, I am sitting tight for the present. Someone must stay and do the work that is to be done, and it looks as if I should have plenty to do! Sometimes I think I shall scream if I hear one more person say, ‘Well, it just was n’t your time,‘ or ‘That shell did n’t have your name on it.’ And a few more words I never want to hear again are ‘evacuate,’ ‘evacuation,’ and ‘évacués’!
>With best of love to everyone from your War Correspondent,