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The Su-pao case: An Episode in the Early Chinese Nationalist Movement1

  • J. Lust


The Su-pao case which was tried in the Shanghai Settlement in the summer of 1903, was one of the many clashes between the Ch'ing government and the illegal opposition during the last decade of the old régime. But because it took place in the Settlement, it was an exceptionally illuminating incident. The central government was attempting to curb the revolt against the old system which was beginning to flare up in the south, but in using its arbitrary methods against the offenders in the international zone it came up against the foreign apparatus of power. The weaknesses of both central government and the nationalist movement in its earliest stages were shown up pitilessly in face of the imperialist powers. These weaknesses were characteristic of the general crisis of the late Ch'ing period and of the problems which were to be carried on into the Republic.



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2 Quoted by Tikhvinsky, S. L., Chung-kuo pien-fa wei-hsin yün-tung ho K'ang Yu-wei 1962, 7.

3 cf. Chang Ping-lin in T'ai-yen wen-lu ch'u-pien, ch. 2, . The Boxers were for supporting the Ch'ing and destroying foreigners. Now the Kwangsi secret societies saw that it was not worth picking quarrels with them; the first thing to do was to destroy the Manchus and eradicate the officials. T'ang Ts'ai-ch'ang had trusted the English, but the Kwangsi societies saw the Chinese as masters in their own house.

4 Malozemoff, , Russian Far Eastern policy, 1881–1905, 205–7.

5 Chang perhaps felt his position was weak, hence these concessions to Tz'u-hsi and the die-hards.

6 By provincials of the Yangtse valley. The Hupeh paper, for example, was exported home and circulated among middle and elementary schools. Officials received orders to keep an eye on this. Hsin-hai shou-i hui-i-lu , III, Wuhan, 1958, 144.

7 cf. Jernigan, J. R. in NCH, 07 1903, 238, ‘Both branches of the British race possess a fibre and in some respects quality superior to other races’. These ideas are analysed in Hofstadter, R., Social Darwinism in American thought, rev. ed., 1955, 170 sqq. Right-wing thought tended to equate power politics and economics with certain Darwinist concepts of the survival of favoured races in the struggle for existence: to these had become fused earlier elements such as the theories of coloured races (originating in the late seventeenth century), Romantic notions of Aryans, Teutonic races, the ‘childlike’ native, etc. These were all no doubt important in conditioning relations between foreigners and Chinese.

8 Li Chien-nung, , The political history of China, trans. Teng, and Ingalls, , 1956, 182–3.

9 See Hummel, , Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing period, 31, 871.

10 Figures from the contemporary Japan Weekly Mail are quoted by Hackett, R. F. in Papers on China (Harvard), III, 1949, 139.

11 Reports in NCH, May 1903, 983; Oct. 1903, 897; Jan. 1904, 14, 66.

12 Municipal Council, Report for 1904–6.

13 Chung-kuo chin-tai ching-chi-shik t'ung-chi tzu-liao hsüam-chi Peking, 1955, 69.

14 A list of translations from Japanese of books on nationalism, socialism, etc., published in Shanghai in 1903 is in Hsüeh-lin , sixth series, 1941, 179 sqq.

15 Kotenev, , Shanghai, its Mixed Court and Council, 1925, preface, ix.

16 NCH, Aug. 1903, 488, 493; F.O. 228/1505, Aug. 1903.

17 NCH, July 1903, 63.

18 HHKM, I, 425–6.

19 NCH, July 1903, 63.

20 Goodnow was certainly a spokesman for the Chinese government on the question of extradition of the accused in the Su-pao case. This is clear from a comparison of HHKM, I, 380 and 409 (En-shou to Tuan-fang). At one point in the case, he asked the Treaty Commissioners Lu Hai-huan and Wu T'ing-fang to approach the Wai-wu-pu on getting pressure put on the Municipal Council; Chin-tai-shih tzu-liao , 1956, No. 3, Chin Ting to Liang Ting-fen .

21 NCH, May 1902, 1053.

22 ibid., July 1903, 102.

23 e.g. extraterritoriality denied the Chinese the secrecy and speed of cases carried out in the interior; HHKM, I, 419.

24 Kotenev, , Shanghai, its Mixed Court and Council, 107.

25 ibid., 73. According to Pakenham-Walsh, , The reform -movement of China, 1910, 4, the Chinese press was decimated after 1898.

26 NCH, June 1903, 5–6.

27 The circulation was about 1,000 in July 1903; F.O. 228/1505, 19/03.

28 HHKM, I, 367.

29 NCH, July 1903, 143; HHKM, I, 424.

30 ibid., 458.

31 ibid., 418, Chin Ting to Tuan-fang.

32 ibid., 368. One view was that the suggestion came from Wu Chih-hui; Ching-lu, Chang, Chung-kuo chin-tai ch'u-pan shih-liao . second series, 296.

33 HHKM, I, 481, 485 sqq.

34 Yüan-p'ei, Ts'ai in Tzu-chuan chih i chang , 1938, 1 sqq.

35 HHKM, I, 485 sqq.

36 Known as the Ink-Pot Battle; Ts'ai Chieh-min hsien-sheng yen-hsing-lu , I, 1921, 9; Hsin-hai ko-ming hui-i-lu, iv, 1962, 68 sqq.

37 HHKM, I, 485 sqq.; the account of a founder of the Chiao-yü-hui, Chiang Wei-ch'iao .

38 Chih-yen , No. 25, 1936, article by Chiang Wei-ch'iao.

39 HHKM, I, 368.

40 Chien-nung, Li, op. cit., 191. It was strongly denied by Hanoi and the French ambassador in Peking.

41 NCH, April 1903, 885.

42 Tzu-yu, Feng, Chung-kuo ko-ming yün-tung 26 nien tsu-chih shih , 1948, 69. According to the Che-chiang ch'ao No. 4 (16 05), 127 sqq., it was a special supplement of the Tokyo Jiji Shinpo for 29 April which roused the students in Japan. They embarked on an extensive publicity campaign, cabling everybody, including Wang Wen-shao and the Liang-Kuang viceroy. Hence, no doubt, the meetings in Canton, Shanghai, and elsewhere.

43 HHKM, I, 490. The radicals collaborated with th e K'ang-Liang men over these demonstrations, but eventually parted over the constitutional question; Feng Tzu-yu, ibid. From the strictly official point of view they were all birds of a feather. During these years the Hsin-min ts'ung-pao was very militant and only circulated illegally or semi-legally.

44 NGH, July 1903, 69; Kotenev, , Shanghai, its Mixed Court and Council, 108; Times, 6 June 1903.

45 NCH, May 1903, 1126; June 1903, 1085.

46 HHKM, I, 372 sqq.

47 ibid., 372 sqq.; NCH, May 1903, 1126; June 1903, 1085.

48 HHKM, I, 408.

49 ibid., 372 sqq.

50 ibid., 378. This was a play on a phrase of K'ang Yu-wei's: it was a hit both against K'ang's campaign to reinstate the emperor and against the constitutionalism of Liang.

51 I have not found a location for a complete run of the Szi-pao for the crucial year 1902–3 anywhere. The information here is based on selections from the Su-pao-an chi-shih reprinted in Shih-lun.

52 Gioro was a title of the Manchu ruling clan.

53 During the trial, Chang explained that he was using the sense class of the word ch'ou, hence small ch'ou meant lad. His particular brand of humour awakened no response in the court. It is clear that since he had broken publicly with the dynasty in 1900 he regarded himself as at liberty to treat Kuang-hsü as an awkward foreign boy.

54 cf. Campbell, , Great Britain and the United States, 1895–1903, 1960, 158.

55 cf. HHKM, I, 426. There was need to go easy with the reform party in order to keep the foreigners on their side; from the secret agent Chin Ting.

56 NCH, Aug. 1903, 424.

57 Times, 1 July 1903.

58 HHKM, I, 444.

59 In the documents or .

60 HHKM, I, 408–9.

61 Lung had been active in the April meetings, and was wanted for his participation in the T'ang Ts'ai-ch'ang rising; ibid., 454.

62 NCH, 22 Aug. 1903.

63 Mansfield (of the Shanghai Consulate) proposed this as late as August, but was overruled by Satow; F.O. 228/1505, 20 Aug. 1903.

64 Chih-yen, No. 25, 1936, article by Chiang Wei-ch'iao; HHKM, I, 484.

65 ibid., 485 sqq.

66 A contemporary radical writer regretted the lack of solidarity among the radicals and reformers. Here in the trial were only six men and they were all running up different flags; Shihlun, 778. Actually the reports of the trial show that of the six, only Chang was making a real stand: Tsou was very young, Lung was a K'ang-Liang supporter and in a panic, and the other three were merely members of the Su-pao office staff. The other leading members of the Su-pao circle, as was normal in such cases, mostly disappeared to Japan or to other treaty ports, etc.

Chang explained his position in an open letter to the Sinwen-pao, printed in the Su-pao for 6 July (HHKM, I, 378). It was a reply to the Emperor Protection Society which had blamed the revolutionary party for compromising their cause by sheltering behind the foreigners. Chang said that both Manchus and the Chinese people were involved in the case. The power of judgment rightly belonged to the English and Americans, who were neutral in the case, and not the Manchus, the plaintiffs. Would they prefer the right to pass judgment to devolve upon the plaintiffs?

The six men were not without support. Chang's supporters took the unprecedented step of engaging foreign counsel. This disconcerted the Chinese authorities. What is more, in spite of the reports of Manchu agents that radical funds were giving out, the counsel were kept on throughout the trial. Again, according to the Times for 4 August 1903, an appeal was sent out to foreign nations to get support against extradition.

67 Times, 6 June 1903; Chih-hui, Wu in HHKM, I, 401.

68 Chang in ibid., 398 sqq.; Wu at 401 sqq. Shih-chao, Chang discusses some of the errors of fact in Hsin-hai lco-ming hui-i-lu, I, 1961, 275 sqq.

69 Yü's son had joined the revolutionaries in Japan. HHKM, I, 453; his father to the Taotai.

70 Wu seems to have been on good terms with local officials, and possibly guilty of serious indiscretions over the Su-pao; cf. Ting, Chin to Ting-fen, Liang in Chin-tai-shih tzu-liao, 1956, No. 3. Too good for a self-professing anarchist, was the opinion of Chang Ping-lin.

71 HHKM, I, 373.

72 Times, 8 Aug. 1903. Chinese affairs were run by minor officials. The central government endlessly referred matters to provincial viceroys who were unwilling or unable to settle them.

73 Ch'ing-chi wai-chiao shih-liao , ch. 173, fols. 10b sqq.

74 For the early career of Ferguson () see Pratt, and Donald, , Who's who in the Far East, 1906. He was in the Chinese government service and his name does not appear in foreign documents. He is best known as an art historian. He was self-styled ‘President’ of the Nan-yang College at the time of the Ink-Pot Battle.

75 F.O. 228/1505, 23/03.

76 NCH, 31 July 1903.

77 HHKM, I, 452, 458.

78 ibid., 418.

79 Times, 23 July 1903.

80 ibid., 31 July 1903; NGH, Sept. 1903, 604–5, quoting Le Temps. In F.O. 228/1470 the opinion of the Austrian minister is quoted. There was a risk that the Taotai might lose his head if the men were not surrendered. Yuan Shu-hsun alone was surely worth all the other vauriens!

81 NCH, July 1903, 225.

82 ibid., 175.

83 Times, 29 Aug. 1903.

84 ibid., 7 Aug. 1903.

85 ibid., 25 Aug. 1903. Dubail had taken the most uncompromising stand against the Su-pao men. Townley gave him time to climb down gracefully; F.O. 228/1470, No. 326.

86 NCH, Oct. 1903, 701. The excuse for this judicial murder was that he had been involved in the T'ang Ts‘ai-ch’ang rising.

87 HHKM, I, 284; Shih-lun, 777.

88 HHKM, I, 286. According to Lien-che, Tu (Chung-lcuo hsien-tai shih ts'ung-k'an (Taipei), No. 3, 1961, 31), the Su-pao and Shen Chin incidents created such an atmosphere of suspicion and fear in Peking that the special examination in political economy was ruined.

89 Times, 3 Aug. 1903.

90 HHKM, I, 432.

91 Times, 5 Aug. 1903.

92 F.O. 228/1505, 20 Aug. 1903, Enclosure 3.

93 ibid., 20 Aug. 1903.

94 HHKM, I, 434.

95 ibid., 435.

96 ibid., 434.

97 ibid., 434.

98 ibid., 436. The Diplomatic Body would then compel the Council to accept it.

99 Times, 10 Oct. 1903.

100 Kuang-hsü ch'ao Chung-Jih chiao-she shih-liao , No. 4971; F.O. 228/1470, No. 438; F.O. 228/1505, 35/03. The British insisted that the Su-pao men were political offenders. If released, they were to be protected against shanghaiing by the Chinese authorities.

101 F.O. 228/1505, 24/03.

102 ibid., 37B/03, 42/03.

103 HHKM, I, 437.

104 Reported in NCH for December 1903.

105 Even so, the magistrate had in fact no powers of decision. That he had to refer every problem to the Taotai was the complaint of the Assessor.

106 HHKM, I, 440.

107 F.O. 228/1505, 12 Dec. 1903.

108 NCH, May 1904, 1121.

109 Shang-hai yen-chiu shih-Uao hsü-chi , 1939, 83–4.

110 Shih-lun, 776.

111 Kuo Mo-jo remarked that it was extraordinary that a man who could take an intelligent interest in Chinese archaeology could be politically so stupid; Fan-cheng ch'ien-hou , 1939, 126–7.

112 Wai-chiao pao , 1903, No. 24.

113 Kotenev, , Shanghai, its municipality and the Chinese, 76–7. Townley, the acting ambassador, thought that there was firm basis for political asylum in Shanghai. No Taiping rebel had been given up to the Chinese authorities, he thought; F.O. 228/1470, No. 326.

114 One might add that the Su-pao was replaced by the ‘second Su-pao’, the Kuo-min jihjih-pao . under the editorship of Chang Shih-chao and Chang Chii . Officials appear to have got wind of it barely a few weeks after the suppression of the Su-pao itself; cf. Ting, Chin to Ting-fen, Liang in Chin-tai-shih tzu-liao, 1956, No. 3. It actually appeared from 1 August 1903.

1 Abbreviation: HHKM, Hsin-hai ko-ming ‘Source materials on late Ch'ing revolutionary movements’, edited by the Chung-kuo Shih-hsüeh-hui , 1957; NCH, North-China Herald (weekly edition of the North-China Daily News); Shih-lun, Hsin-hai ko-ming ch'ien shih nien chien shih-lun hsüan-chi ‘Selected articles from serials of the decade before the 1911 revolution’, first series, compiled by Chang Nan, and Wang Jen-chih , 1960.


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