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Chapter Five Native-Place Associations, Foreign Authority and Early Popular Nationalism
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The Politics of Conflict: The Ningbo Cemetery Riots

Two of the first violent popular conflicts between Chinese and foreigners in post-Taiping Shanghai, the Siming Gongsuo Riots of 1874 and 1898, originated in struggles over huiguan burial land. The riots are lauded in Chinese historiography as the first buddings of popular Chinese nationalism; recent revisionist western historiography has questioned their link to modern nationalism and has, instead, portrayed the riots as reflections of the deep concern for funerary ritual in traditional Chinese culture.[23]

For the purposes of this study, to the extent that they focus on


whether the label of "modern nationalism" is appropriately attached to the riots, both interpretations miss some of the significance of the events. Insofar as the riots were quickly represented in the Chinese press as models of "the people's" resistance to foreign imperialism, they provide a window onto developing popular understandings of nationalism. Moreover, although concern for coffins was certainly crucial in the riots, concern for protecting the dead could not, in itself, produce a riot. The structure of a well-organized native-place community provided the basis for mobilizing popular antiforeign protest. The presence of a managerial circle of huiguan leaders additionally provided a mechanism for successful negotiations with foreign authorities in defense of specific Chinese interests in the city.

The importance of the institutional presence of the Siming Gongsuo in these events is heightened by contrast with the third major violent Chinese-foreign confrontation in this period, a riot of wheelbarrow pullers in April 1897. Wheelbarrow pullers from northern Jiangsu violently protested an increase in license taxes imposed by the Shanghai Municipal Council, but they did not succeed in preventing the increase. In this incident, native-place occupational fits sustained an initial disorganized riot, but the combined lack of prestige, resources and organization among Subei immigrants made more organized and prolonged agitation (coupled with skillful negotiation) difficult.[24] What is striking in all three cases is the way in which native-place community provided a vehicle for social mobilization. Significant antiforeign protest did not take place in this period outside preexisting lines of native-place community. Sustained, focused and productive protest, however, depended on a highly organized native-place community.

The Riot of 1874 . Although other major huiguan cemeteries within Settlement boundaries had been destroyed during the Small Sword Uprising or during French and British military operations against the Taipings, the cemetery land of the Siming Gongsuo re-


mained within the French Concession.[25] The considerable (and tax-free) huiguan holdings, protected by the presence of burial land, were an increasing irritant to the French.[26]

Unable to persuade the huiguan leaders to relinquish the land, the French Municipal Council resorted to the dubious tactic of using its municipal road-building authority to appropriate Siming Gongsuo holdings. At this time the area around the huiguan was open country. Nonetheless, toward the end of 1873 French authorities devised a plan to run two roads past the sides of the huiguan property, intersecting in one of the cemeteries. In January 1874 Siming Gongsuo directors protested the proposal because the roads would run through land densely packed With coffins:[27] "To make the road and have a traffic in carriages·... over the remains of the dead is very abhorrent to our ideas, as we do not believe their spirits would rest in peace; and to disturb their remains by digging them up and carrying them away elsewhere is equally repulsive. The whole of our ground... is very closely filled with the graves of our people; on the east side ... as much as ... to the west."[28]

In place of the objectionable French proposal, the huiguan directors suggested alternate routes for the roads, offering not only to arrange and pay for an alternate site but to reimburse the Council for any outlays


already expended for the current plan. Reinforcing their generosity with a caution, the directors concluded, "The Ningbo people will not allow ... their ground to be built upon." When the French Municipal Council ignored the protest and asked the huiguan to clear the land, the directors refused, stating that the area was a pauper burial ground, densely packed with coffins too flimsy to move.[29]

On April 26 the leaders of each sojourning Ningbo trade (three to four hundred individuals) met to discuss the road-building emergency. The Shenbao reported that, "because the people from Ningbo prefecture bear great attachment to their native place," emotions at the meeting were turbulent. Two days later more than one thousand Ningbo people (including workers and shopkeepers) met at the huiguan , but four hours of discussion brought little agreement. Having considered the probable length of the meeting, the dongshi had arranged to distribute five hundred mantou (steamed buns). Though this could hardly feed a group more than double that number, the Shenbao reported that the hungry crowds stayed on to pursue the matter, reportedly calling for a strike against the French and proposing to go en masse to petition the French Consul. Having convened the crowd (and having at least symbolically provided it with sustenance), the huiguan directors also restrained it, sending, instead, six of their own number to negotiate with the French Consul. They also persuaded Daotai Shen Bingcheng (a fallow-provincial) to intercede with the French on behalf of the Siming Gongsuo.

In response to warnings of unrest and prodded by Consul General Godeaux (who was sympathetic to the huiguan ), the French Council temporarily suspended roadwork and agreed to meet with the huiguan directors on May 4.[30] While this meeting was pending, a chance event sparked a riot. On May 3 a crowd of several hundred Ningbo people, "packed together like fish roe," stood discussing the situation outside the closed huiguan . A woman identified by the Ningbo crowds as a Guangdong prostitute passed by in a cart. When Ningbo rowdies hara-


ssed her for serving French clients, she cried out for help. The policeman who came to her aid soon found himself joined by forty other policemen, fighting a Ningbo crowd of several hundred.[31]

Soon five to six hundred people had gathered at the Siming Gongsuo gate, and more filled the empty surrounding land. The French police returned in force, armed with guns, and climbed up on the huiguan buildings. The growing Ningbo crowd hurled stones at the police, who fired, killing one man and wounding another. The crowd, now numbering more than fifteen hundred, surged forward. Outraged by the spilling of blood, the crowd set fire to French houses, striking at French residents along the way (though apparently avoiding those who identified themselves as British). By 6:00 P.M. numerous buildings were on fire. According to the Shenbao , although the crowd destroyed the street-lights, the fires maintained the illumination of day. Forty foreign homes and three Chinese buildings were destroyed. Other targets were the French Municipal compound and the East Gate police station.

French troops and International Settlement volunteer forces fired into the crowd and charged with their bayonets drawn. Chinese author-ides assisted in the riot suppression, sending in one hundred fifty soldiers at the request of the Consul General. After midnight, when calm was restored, seven Chinese lay dead and twenty more were badly wounded.

The next day, while western militia forces marched around the Siming Gongsuo (and while as many as a thousand Ningbo sojourners fled to their native place), the foreign consuls met to condemn the rioters and demand indemnity for their losses. To their astonishment, Consul General Godeaux independently and publicly proclaimed that upon the request of the huiguan directors, seconded by petitions of the Daotai and the Shanghai Magistrate, he was instructing the French Municipal Council to change its plans and preserve Siming Gongsuo buildings and graves. To the great dismay of the French Council, the riot achieved the aim of defending sacred Ningbo land against French incursions.[32]


The Riot of 1898 . More than twenty years later the French authorities precipitated a second Ningbo cemctery riot. This time they focused on the opportune issue of hygiene, which provided an excuse marked with the persuasive power of scientific imperative for the elimination of the huiguan coffin repositories, which were identified as unsanitary. Thus, although in nineteenth-century Europe notions of cleanliness and disease differentiated social classes and provided legitimation for a certain restructuring of the urban social landscape, in the treaty-port environment of nineteenth-century Shanghai, public health provided an important avenue for the expansion of foreign municipal authority on Chinese soil.[33]

As Shanghai population increased, so did the incidence of urban disease. Foreigners in Shanghai viewed Chinese culture in increasingly pathogenic terms, terms which justified the imposition of western institutions of cleanliness and order.[34] Cholera, normally endemic in the summer months, approached epidemic proportions in the summer of 1890. Although mortality was highest among the Chinese, foreigners also fell victim. This increased foreign repugnance for Chinese "charnel houses" in the settlements and added urgency to calls for sanitary regulations. The rise in mortality also strained the capacity of coffin repositories:

During the months of July and August... the deaths among the Chinese inhabiting the English, American and French concessions amounted to about five thousand. Of these the greater number have been Ningpoese. At present the Ningpo Guild-house, outside the West Gate, is filled up with coffins piled on top of each other like so many bales of cotton in a go-down .... Now imagine two to three thousand of these ill-made, loose-jointed, and thin-boarded coffins, each containing a corpse filled with germs of disease and in a decomposing state, all crowded into one place as is the case with the Ningpo Guild-house. When one computes the enormous


amount of poisonous gas that must escape from these three thousand coffins day and night, which gas is wafted all over the settlement... one is convinced that the present rate of mortality is very low indeed. That the Ningpo and other guild-houses arc storages for coffins the Municipal Council know only too wall.[35]

By this point the area around the Ningbo cemetery (the site of coffin storage) was no longer empty land but, rather, densely populated city.

Seven years later, in 1897, after much remonstrance both the International Settlement and the French Concession forbade coffin storage within their boundaries.[36] The major target of the French prohibition was the Siming Gongsuo. In January 1898 French General Consul Compte de Bezaure ordered the police to enforce the provision within six months. At this time both the French and the British were negotiating with the Chinese authorities for extension of their settlement boundaries. When the Daotai refused their request in the spring of 1898, the French responded by militantly asserting their power within settlement boundaries. At the end of May the Consul notified the Ningbo directors of French intent to expropriate Siming Gongsuo burial and coffin storage areas to build a Chinese hospital, school and slaughterhouse, as well as for roads which had been postponed in 1874. The huiguan , backed by the Chinese authorities, refused to recognize that the French had any right to dispossess them, although the directors did arrange for shipment to Ningbo of more than twenty-five hundred coffins. As the day of dispossession neared, the Daotai hinted to the settlement authorities that civil unrest was imminent.[37]


On July 16, a day after the French served final notice, sailors landed from a French gunboat and supervised the destruction of three sections of cemetery wall by workmen (see Figure 6). Siming Gongsuo leaders responded by calling on Ningbo merchants to cease trade and meet the next morning.[38]

In the meantime, events proceeded beyond the huiguan leaders' control. While the French tore down the wall, crowds surrounded and harassed the intruders, although daylight and the sight of French arms temporarily prevented open conflict. When night fell, crowds armed with bricks and spiked bamboo poles filled the streets, smashing lamps, uprooting lampposts and accosting foreigners. Rioting continued through the next morning and included a contingent of Cantonese, who attacked a French police station. French troops shot and killed between twenty and twenty-five people (all Chinese), seriously wounding another forty.[39]

The next day, French and British authorities observed that the Ningbo community was on strike and that shops were closed in both settlements. Virtually all Ningbo people (who in the estimate of the British Consul comprised half of the French Concession residents) complied with the strike, which was enforced by crowds of young men. Foreign trade was seriously impaired because steamers were unable to load or discharge goods. Banks closed. Laundries closed as well, and cooks and servants left their foreign employers. Sectors of the Ningbo community also began to boycott French goods.

In the afternoon important Ningbo leaders emerged to negotiate an interim agreement with the French General Consul. Active hostilities ceased when the General Consul promised representatives of the Ningbo community a delay of three months, during which time the huiguan was to remove the offending graves.[40]

In the midst of this ferment the Siming Gongsuo directors distributed the following circular, urging caution and order and asserting their authority over the community:


With reference to the affair concerning our guild-house premises, the Shanghai Daotai and the French Consul General, in company with several Foreign merchants, are trying... to arrange a settlement. Now, it is necessary that all who belong to our community should act peaceably at present and quietly await the results of the above conference. By no means congregate in crowds and stir up trouble on the impulse of your united indignation, for you will only be making matters worse, and perhaps suffer injurics to no avail.[41]

Despite this authoritative gesture, in the development and resolution of this incident the older directors—Yan Xiaofang, Ye Chengzhong and Shen Dunhe (who was assistant Daotai at the time of the strike)—were


Figure 6.
French destruction of the Siming Gongsuo wall, 1898. Chinese
caption reads: "The Siming Gongsuo, outside the west gate of
this city, was established in 1797. It has existed for one hundred
years. It contains the buried remains of more than ten thousand
people, the blood-pulse of the Ningbo Community, which were
handled with great care. In 1874… there was an incident. French
General Consul  Godeaux discussed this matter with the gongsuo
and gave his guarantee of protection and asked that a surrounding
wall be constructed to clarify the boundaries. This was signed by
the consuls of eleven countries, recognizing the right of the Ningbo
bang to permanently hold the property.... Unexpectedly the French
went back on their promise .... They ordered soldiers to destroy
three sides of the gongsuo wall, making three big holes, twenty feet
across. When the soldiers entered the gongsuo they found a sea of
people watching and talking. Hooligans formed a growing crowd.
They were without weapons and began throwing stones like rain on
the soldiers .... The French escaped injury only because of harsh
suppression [of the crowd] by civil and military authorities. One
can only say the French were very fortunate." Source: Dianshizhai
huabao (Dianshi Studio pictorial newpaper), 1983 Guangzhou
reprint of late-Qing edition (1884-1898).


forced to recognize an emergent element in the native-place community which challenged the older oligarchy. Although the dongshi did call · the meeting of Ningbo merchants on the morning of July 17, they did not control the strike or the negotiations which followed. Intervening between them and Ningbo workers and artisans was Shen Honglai, who had come to Shanghai as a laborer several decades earlier and had worked as a cook for foreigners. Shen had attained considerable influence in the Ningbo community through his leadership of the Ningbo Changsheng Hui, which had amassed sufficient property to provide for permanent yulanpen ceremonies for its members and had been incorporated into the Siming Gongsuo two years prior to the riot.[42]

Shen played a major role in involving the broad community in the strike, organizing the members of his association (workers, petty artisans and people in foreign employ), along with an association of Ningbo grooms, to stop work. As Shen describes it, their decision to enter the strike took place in coordination with (but not subordination to) the dongshi decision to strike: "The directors Fang and Yan... were in charge [of the Siming Gongsuo] and wanted to strike. My bang , the Changsheng Hui, and the horse grooms gathered and met and we also wanted to strike." Together with the young Yu Xiaqing, who at barely thirty years of age had gone from being a "barefoot" immigrant to a respected comprador, Shen maintained effective organization among the strikers. When, four days later, Chinese and western authorities secured a resumption of trade, they achieved this through negotiation, not with the older huiguan leaders but with Shen.[43]

Governor General Liu Kunyi, hearing of the trouble, appointed a committee of Chinese officials (including the Shanghai Daotai and the Provincial Treasurer) to investigate the affair and negotiate with the French Consul General. Six months of tense discussion of French and Chinese rights followed, the huiguan side apparently handled adroitly and aggressively by Yu, whose status as a businessman and comprador and association with Shen in the strike enabled him to bridge the gap between high and low in the Ningbo community. Yu reportedly boasted to Shen during the procecdings, "If both the worker and merchant cir-


cles back me up, no matter what atrocities the French resort to, how can they scare us?"[44]

These negotiations were rendered moot by the rediscovery of a document of 1878 which recorded the (strangely forgotten) final settlement of the 1874 troubles by the French Minister at Beijing, which provided for permanent protection of the cemetery. The French abandoned their claims to Siming Gongsuo land, and the huiguan agreed to cease depositing new coffins within the Concession.

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Chapter Five Native-Place Associations, Foreign Authority and Early Popular Nationalism
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