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Chapter Two Foreign Imperialism, Immigration and Disorder Opium War Aftermath and the Small Sword Uprising of 1853
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Troublesome Arrivals: Workers, Vagabonds and Boatmen

Poor immigrants also flocked to Shanghai after the Opium War. As commercial shipping expanded, people from Guangdong and Fujian came to Shanghai as boatmen, swelling the population by tens of thousands. Accounts of the Small Sword Uprising in 1853 suggest that there were between thirty-five hundred and thirty-six hundred coastal junks operating in Shanghai by this time, bringing as many as eighty thousand people from Guangdong and fifty thousand Fujianese, in a total urban population of approximately two hundred and seventy thousand. In addition to the boatmen, Guangdong workers and adventurers involved in all aspects of the opium and foreign-goods trades (including firearms) flocked to Shanghai, hoping to capitalize on their unique familiarity with foreigners and foreign trade.[30]

Guangdong workers dominated important trades, following British enterprises as they moved north to Shanghai. This was the case with the first group of machine workers in Shanghai, who were employed in


foreign shipyards. Guangdong people also initially monopolized the woodworking business associated with ship repair.[31]

Native-place organization developed among sojourning workers from the moment they immigrated or were recruited to work in the city. In the case of Guangdong carpenters, for example, two bang divided the community— workers from Taishan county and woodworkers from other areas of Guangdong. The foreman who led the Taishan bang recruited new workers from his native place himself. New recruits had to first join their bang (paying a small fee or engaging in some form of contract) before they could work. In return these bang provided a degree of security, guaranteeing assistance in the event of old age, sickness and burial. The reliance of foreign (and Chinese) authorities on Chinese headmen to recruit and control labor reinforced this native-place organization of workers.[32]

As this immigrant population increased, important sectors suffered almost immediate dislocation. Chinese junks which had been attracted by the increase in coastal shipping could not compete once the use of steamboats became established. This left large numbers of Guangdong and Fujian boatmen unemployed, along with local Shanghai boatmen. The result was vagrancy.[33]

These newly swollen and dislocated populations were poorly integrated into Shanghai society and difficult to control. Unable to find employment, some boatmen became pirates. Others formed gangs, urban


counterparts of traditionally rural predatory bandits. In August 1850 the Chinese city authorities issued a proclamation against such gangs (preserved in the translation of the North China Herald ): "We issue this Proclamation, addressing it to the strangers from Kwangtung and Fukien for their information. All of you who really have permanent employment must enroll yourselves in the Tee-paou's register and receive a registration ticket for your houses; each one pursuing his occupation in peace. Do not lightly . . . create disturbances."[34]

Such proclamations and attempts to register newcomers were ineffectual. The increased incidence of violence reported in the city attests to the ways in which restricted employment opportunities led to tension between native-place groups.[35] In 1850 the editors of the North China Herald noted that frequent fights broke out between the Fujian and Chaozhou groups who resided in the northeastern suburbs. Competing in similar professions for a diminishing number of jobs, Guangdong burglars often struck Fujian targets.[36] In such cases the relative closeness of Chaozhou and Fujian cultures which could ally the two groups against more distant outsiders was irrelevant. As tension grew on the clocks and in the alleys around Foreign Trade Lane, subtle differences served as pretexts for ethnic violence.

The presence of large and underemployed populations of fellow regionals, some of whom were active in predatory gang organizations, presented new problems for native-place associations, whose activities had hitherto been confined primarily to the needs of a small merchant community. An article in the North China Herald of October 5, 1850, provides a graphic illustration of this new situation. A boy who belonged to a group of Fujianese boatmen was seized by a gang of vagabond Chaoyang "ruffians" and detained for ransom. The angry boatmen forcibly repossessed the boy, capturing and beating several Chaoyang


dockworkers in the process. Rather than appealing to the Chinese authorities, local residents called on the Chaozhou Huiguan to restore order: "The heads of the Chaochou-foo Association then came forward, advising the sailors to set the men at liberty and both parties to quench their animosities. But the shore vagabonds collecting in crowds advanced to attack the junks by land and water, swords, spears, and even cannon in play." The riot continued for two full days, killing two and injuring many. In this case, neither the huiguan nor the local government authorities (who evinced no desire to interfere) were able to check the fighting. The Shanghai magistrate did not arrive until after the riot had ended. This incident demonstrates the popular expectation that when violence erupted the huiguan should keep order among its fellow-countrymen. Both the huiguan and the local residents considered huiguan intervention and mediation natural, properly prior to the appearance of Shanghai authorities. Nonetheless, as this incident makes clear, the huiguan was not always capable of restoring order or commanding obedience among its unruly tongxiang .

In this atmosphere of increasing urban disorder, huiguan were called on by both Chinese and foreign authorities to control their fellow-countrymen. As the preceding example suggests, the huiguan was conceptualized as a mediating unit, an urban institutional resource available for communicating with, controlling or disposing of sectors of the urban population. The link between immigrants and their native places, Shanghai huiguan became routinely responsible for shipping criminals as well as indigents back home. The county yamen delivered criminals to the huiguan gates and asked the huiguan directors to ensure their return passage. The Municipal Council of the International Settlement also relied on huiguan for keeping order in their respective communities.[37]

In many instances huiguan fulfilled these order-keeping functions. Nonetheless, the relation of these associations both to the formal authorities of Shanghai and to the communities with which they were identified was ambiguous. Huiguan could not always ensure order. Moreover, huiguan merchant directors were not always on the side of order. Rather than waste resources they often avoided conflicts they could not control. On occasion they even fomented riots to serve their interests. In such cases the Chinese authorities could do little on their own.

Huiguan are unmentioned in a number of instances of collective vio-


lence involving sojourners, possibly because merchants avoided antagonizing gangs organized along native-place lines. In August 1850 the North China Herald reported that Guangdong and Fujian vagabonds relied on the influence of their respective "clans" to perpetrate crime. In one case watchmen hounded by aggrieved shopkeepers retrieved money stolen by a Fujianese gang. The robbers, "enraged at being interfered with by the watchmen" (who it seemed had never until then taken active measures), returned and attacked them in the evening. The shopkeepers complained vociferously to the magistrate, who finally sent troops to move against fleets of Fujianese boats. Since the Fujianese escaped, the article concluded that the Chinese authorities possessed no means of controlling such mobs. In the next year a similar incident occurred involving a Guangdong gang, which burglarized a Fujian store. The gang drove off a local militia mustered to pursue them and escaped from a detachment of two hundred soldiers sent by the Shanghai garrison to assist the civil authorities.[38]

Although in the preceding cases huiguan may have chosen to remain aloof from violent elements they could not control, in the frontier atmosphere of the early treaty port huiguan at times clearly relied on fellow-provincial toughs, inciting disorderly conduct. In July 1851 the Fujian Xing'an Huiguan vigorously opposed a British purchase of land containing burial plots of fellow-provincials. Angered by the foreigners who intended to construct a park on the site, the huiguan proved "a veritable city corporation in its contumacious resistance." A large Fujianese crowd armed with staves and stones attacked the British parties to the transaction. The crowd also seized the Chinese constable responsible for arranging the purchase.[39] This pattern of mass disturbance on behalf of threatened huiguan grounds (particularly sacred burial grounds) would be repeated several decades later by the Ningbo community.

In the meantime, poor, underemployed and marginal elements from southeast China found security through membership in the secret societies (banghui, huidang ) they brought to Shanghai with them. Such associations were organized along lines of regional, ethnic and linguistic identity and were often coterminous with native-place bang which recruited and deployed workers. Secret-society networks from the south were associated with Red Gang (hong men, hong bang ) or Triad-type


lodges. In Shanghai they would meet with a northern Green Gang (qing bang ) type of sccret brotherhood, divided into Zhejiang and (by the end of the century) Subei branches. By 1853 sworn Red Gang brotherhoods were numerous in the Shanghai area, where they engaged in banditry, smuggling and petty crime.[40]

Although these dang and hui (unlike the government-sanctioned huiguan ) were illegal associations, it should not be imagined that they were radically distinct in character from huiguan . Each organization existed for the livelihood and self-preservation of a sojourning community. Both overlapped with networks of trade. Not only was each association a meeting place for outlanders in the hostile environment of an alien city, but each also expressed a common religious community. Just as huiguan temples housed local gods and organized local rituals, so secret societies brought with them elements of local religion and rituals specific to their brotherhood. These religious communities merged in major public festivals organized by huiguan for the larger sojourning community, as for example on Tianhou's birthday, when Guangdong and Fujian boat owners and merchants worshipped for three days in their respective huiguan , sponsoring public opera performances and lantern displays.[41]

Respectable merchants and disreputable secret societies converged on practical as well as on ritual occasions. In the relatively lawless and unstable first decade of the treaty port, merchants as well as secret societies resorted at times to unlicensed violence. Without a commercial code or an effective legal system for the resolution of commercial disputes, secret-society "muscle" could be necessary to enforce trade agreements with outsiders. The March 11, 1852, issue of the North China Herald recounts one such instance, in which a "Cantonese mob" attacked the house of a Parsee opium trader to force delivery of fifty chests of previously purchased opium or the return of gold bars previously paid by a Cantonese merchant. In this example we see a link between a well-to-do merchant (one who dealt in large orders), most likely a member of his huiguan , and a gang employed to enforce a business contract.


As this case suggests, the symbiosis of huiguan and banghui was most prominent in opium trading, because of the contraband nature of the drug for most of the period under study. Opium, which was central to the nineteenth-century prosperity of Shanghai, narrowed distinctions between "respectable" merchants and secret-society smugglers. Let us consider the structural underpinnings of the opium trade.

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Chapter Two Foreign Imperialism, Immigration and Disorder Opium War Aftermath and the Small Sword Uprising of 1853
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