Today I gained access to a database that contains historical English-language newspapers from China. These papers of course contain information about China, but they also contain reports on conditions and events from around the region as well, and are therefore valuable for anyone interested in studying about the modern history of Southeast Asia.
In searching for various terms that were used in the past, such as “Siamese” and “Annamite,” I came across an interesting report from 1919 entitled, “Two Persons Shot in Yalu Road: Suicide of Annamite Assailant.” This report was in The North-China Herald and Supreme Court & Consular Gazette (March 1, 1919, pg. 558) and was about a Vietnamese policeman who was working in the French Concession in Shanghai.
In the early twentieth century, parts of Shanghai were under the control of foreigners. There was an area under British control, and one area under French control. Apparently there were Vietnamese policeman who were entrusted with keeping the peace in the French Concession, but in 1919 one Vietnamese policeman crossed the boundary into the British Concession and also crossed the boundary into lawlessness.
This is what the The North-China Herald reported:
“A remarkable tragedy of the sort that were more frequent in Hongkew [i.e., Hongkou] in former years, occurred in Yalu Road, near Miller Road, at 10.30 o’clock on Saturday morning as a result of which an Annamite policeman from the French Concession is dead by his own hand, a young Cantonese woman lies in a serious condition at St. Luke’s Hospital, while at the General Hospital an American marine engineer is hovering between life and death.”
“The Annamite policeman, No. 110, visited the house at 23 Yalu Road, a brothel, at 7.30 last Friday evening and asked for the girl he later shot. He did not see her and went away, returning at 8.30 o’clock on Saturday morning in full uniform, except for a civilian cap and overcoat, the latter completely covering the uniform.
“He was told the foreigner who was there had not yet departed, and announced his intention of waiting until he could see the girl with whom he was enamored.”
“The policeman seated himself on a bench in the hallway where he could see the entrance to the woman’s room, and remained there for two hours.
“When the American finally made his appearance the Annamite, it is alleged, fired, the engineer receiving the bullet in the neck whence it glanced downward and lodged in the back.
“The policeman entered the room immediately and is reported to have shot the girl, who was in bed, the metal-cased French service bullet passing through her abdomen.
“The determined man then locked the door, placed the barrel of his weapon in his mouth and pulled the trigger. The first cartridge missing fire, he tried it again, killing himself instantly.”
I have no idea what led Policeman No. 110 to do what he did, but it points to a topic that I think would be fascinating to learn about – the lives of Vietnamese in the French Concession in Shanghai.
In the 1990s, the history of Shanghai became a hot topic among historians of China in the English-speaking world. At the same time, historians of colonialism became interested in the complex relations and legal entanglements that extraterritorial laws in places like Shanghai engendered.
And while a lot of scholarship has been produced on these topics, I have never read anything about Vietnamese policemen in Shanghai. That’s an interesting topic waiting to be researched.