Slice of Life

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2007, 12:00am

From the South China Morning Post this week in: 1927

The mainland's civil war received extensive coverage every day, with copy taking up most of page 10, 11 or 12. The reports tried to keep track of the various armies sucked into the power vacuum of the Qing empire's collapse in 1911: Reds versus Nationalists, northern armies versus southern armies, and numerous, now forgotten, warlords shifting their allegiances between them. Eighty years later, the action could be hard to follow. For example, on Monday June 13, it was reported that Marshal Chang Tse-lin was 'confident that his army with the aid of Fengtien forces will be able to hold Peking against the southern advance, even though Yen Shi-shan of Shansi finally decides to join hands with Chiang Kai-shek,' the Nationalists' self-styled Generalissimo. By Friday June 17, however, it was reported that Pan Fu, 'formerly a Finance Minister, is organising a Political Party' for Marshal Chang, 'to be known as the new Nationalist Party, a rival to the southern Nationalist Party'.

On June 17, one report attempted to differentiate between the war's many armies. Quoting 'a vernacular paper', it said 'opium smoking is particularly prevalent among the Yunnan and Kwaichow troops', 'Kwangsi soldiers consider dogs a great delicacy', while 'Kwangtung troops are inveterate gamblers ... Shantung soldiers are great singers, the Fengtien troops heavy drinkers, while those from Szechuen carry with them small charms to protect them from ghosts. The Nationalists are confirmed cigarette smokers ... while a characteristic of the Whampoa cadet is that practically all wear large spectacles.' No intelligence was offered on the habits of the Red Army's soldiers.

Mr A.H.F. Barbour, chairman of Christian Literature for China, offered a metaphor for the civil war to his society's annual meeting, held in Edinburgh. He asked his audience to imagine diving below the surface of a stormy sea, where, 'after sinking a few fathoms, they would come upon absolute stillness ... The sea, which was destructive on its surface, was constructive through its depths. It was so in China to-day', Mr Barbour said. 'Beneath the storm that was endangering life and property lay the stillness of peaceful industry, and the common sense of the great mass of the Chinese people. Those engaged in the strife were a very small percentage of the Chinese. In the still depths was being built up the Chinese nation, the oldest extant civilisation in the world.'

Warning against 'Bolshevist' interference in China, Mr Barbour assured his audience that, 'if he had sufficient money, he could make the whole of China pro-British in three months - through propaganda'. If the Soviets had been able to spread their ideology throughout China, he was sure he could do so, too. Bolshevism had 'not only been introduced by a foreigner, but was foreign to the Chinese nature', Mr Barbour said. 'The only antidote to Bolshevism is the distribution of Christian literature.'

Elsewhere, another war seemed to be ending. On Saturday, June 18 Our Own Correspondent reported from London that, 'It is a reassuring sign of real tranquillity in Irak (sic) that no British battalions are now deemed necessary to maintain law and order in that land of old romance and new promise. The last of our Tommy battalions, the 2nd Liverpools, has left for home, and RAF now alone remains to stiffen the growing native Army of King Feisul.'

Three ladies, 'Miss Mildred Cable and the Misses Eva and Francesca French', whose 'services to the China Inland Mission vary from 19 to 34 years', arrived safely in England. The three had travelled overland, via Gansu province and across the Gobi desert to Omsk, in Siberia, a journey that took four months. 'One of the most pitiful sights they saw were the White Russian emigres ... who had to join the ranks of Chinese beggars. Some of the women had become subsidiary wives of the Chinese, and the tragedies they met with were appalling. Not a little of the lowering of western prestige in the eyes of the Chinese was due to the condition of these emigres.'