Culture: Shanghaiese / Wu Chinese
Setting: organized crime, Shanghai 1920s-1930s
Context (Event Photos, Period Sources)
* Clifford 1991 p10-11
"[Shanghai's] rapid growth meant that even its Chinese population made it a city of immigrants. Most people came from the nearby provinces of Jiangsu, Anhui, and Zhejiang, but many were drawn from further afield. Historians argue ... whether most were attracted to Shanghai by the promise of jobs in its growing industry or were forced into the city by the appalling poverty and social dislocation of much of the countryside .... But they brought with them their own customs and their own dialects. They brought their own loyalties, their own ties, their own organizations, such as the native place associations (huiguan and tongxianhui), groups that gathered people from the same provinces or districts and offered support and shelter in an alien world. In this sort of unsettled and unstable environment, with its lack of tradition, its lack of customary control mechanisms, and its divisions of authority, vice and crime flourished. By the 1930s, Shanghai reportedly had a hundred thousand prostitutes, graded in different ranks for different clienteles. A burgeoning underworld, much of it growing out of old secret societies, took advantage of the city's divided jurisdictions and played an increasingly important role as the city became a center for the smuggling of arms and drugs in a way that could corrupt policemen, customs agents, and other officials, both Chinese and foreign."
* Jackson 2005 p8
"[F]ree enterprise flourished not only on a legitimate level, but the unique system of independent [foreign] governing bodies ... made Shanghai a haven for a criminal element that could move freely among the concessions. For example, if things got too hot with Chinese authorities, one could seek refuge in, say, the French Concession where Chinese law enforcement had no jurisdiction. Or vice versa. And this is precisely what happened. A gangster class emerged that operated with impunity throughout the city."
* Rankin 1979 p204
"... [T]he local Red and Green gangs ... were underworld organizations roughly comparable to the secret societies, but more frankly criminal than many societies. They were involved in extortion, gambling, prostitution, opium dealing, and numerous other similar enterprises. Leaders might control gang activities in a certain part of the city or dominate a particular field of activity. Gang membership was often profitable and the protection it afforded was sometimes essential to merchants. Members ranged from unemployed riffraff, through workers and petty traders, to wealthy merchants and other men of substance. A few of the top leaders were powerful men by virtue of their control over crime in the city."
* Dong 2000 p112
"Like gangsters everywhere, members of Shanghai's criminal fraternity could be easily spotted: muscular men who had a loose-limbed way of moving -- as if they had spent a lifetime looking over their shoulders to see who, if anyone, was following them. Ordinary hoodlums or thugs dressed in the short coat and trousers of the working classes but could be recognized by furtive looks behind caps pulled low over their brows. The more senior members of the underworld wore long gowns and habitually left the top button of their gowns undone and rolled their sleeves up enough to show their knuckles -- something no gentleman would do. Instead of caps, they wore fedoras, and beneath their gowns they often concealed knives or guns."
* Fogg ed. 2013 p228-229
"For Chinese men, cutting off the braid was a relatively easy step to take, although some Manchu men kept their braids to make a stand. For people with no political affinity -- which was equivalent to approximately half of the population -- the West had great appeal because it stood for quality and modernity. The man on the street might be indifferent to whether the head of state was a president or an emperor, but he definitely did not want to be seen as 'backward,' and Western-style sunglasses or leather lace-up shoes put him in the 'modern' camp. However, traditional Chinese dress was too deeply rooted to be abandoned overnight, and in the 1920s and 1930s it was not uncommon for men to wear a traditional long robe with an imported trilby hat."
* Judkins 2013-03-18 online (describing photos in the collection of the University of Bristol)
"[I]t[']s interesting to see what sorts of traditional weapons were showing up on the streets of Shanghai in the middle of the 1920s. Knives of various lengths and styles appear to have been very common. A surprising number of short swords and hudiedao also make appearances in this collection. However, aside from some bar-maces and a chain whip, many of the more exotic Kung Fu weapons are notable by their absence.
"A certain western influence was also detectable in the bladed weapons of Shanghai. A few of the knives were crafted in what appeared to be a more Western style. Further, western military bayonets made repeated appearances throughout the display. The brass knuckles also appear to fall into this category. Obviously this speaks not just to the Shanghai’s role as a gateway to the world, but to the rapidly globalizing nature of the Chinese economy as a whole during the early 20th century.
"These photos also help to build up our basic knowledge of the milieu that the Chinese martial arts came of age in. While we tend to divide weapons into “traditional” and “modern” categories, that may not be entirely appropriate when thinking about their use in the late 19th or early 20th century. To the individuals who carried these weapons, they were not “traditional knives” or “traditional swords,” they were simply knives and swords. It sometimes surprises us that these weapons remained in use in an era dominated by firearms, but the nature of crime itself often provides openings for these sorts of weapons to not just survive, but excel, long after they are no longer used on the military battlefield."