Q Answers Series: History Of The Sikhs In Shanghai

By Sunil Kumar

The Qtn:

What is the History of Sikhs in Shanghai?
I read somewhere that the Shanghai Military police recruited Sikhs from British India for proper law and order implementation.. Can anyone provide detailed information about this please.

My Answer:

After the Opium Wars fought between the Chinese and the West(the British etc); Shanghai was the Far East’s hotspot for Westerners. All the wars had now a substantial component of Indians involved; with the Sikhs, the Gurkhas and the other Indians part of the British Indian army(First War of Indian Independence, 1857 was over).

The Qianlong Emperor had rejected the Macartney embassy; the first British attempt to establish trade relations with China in 1793; after a substantial portion of India had come under their control. The Taiping rebellion; a massive civil war between an established Manchu-led Qing dynasty and a Christian missionary movement(Heavenly Kingdom) led by Hong Xiuquan; a self-proclaimed convert. This ended with even more destruction and weakening of central power.

At this time; the Chinese were not a unified nation; as the Western powers had divided the country amongst themselves; including Peking(present-day Beijing)(You can also watch Briton Michael Wood; the Story of China).

A Nihang at Golden Temple, Amritsar (Harmandir...

Visit sunil-kumar.co.in A Nihang at Golden Temple, Amritsar (Harmandir Sahib) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nearly 2,800 Indians, mostly Sikhs, were recruited into Shanghai Municipal Police (SMP), which kept order in the concession, according to one estimate, and a Sikh policeman wearing a red turban remains a symbol of the times, immortalised in a wax figure at a city museum. Some other Indians ran businesses.

Many of the SMP officers who opened fire on Chinese protesters on the penultimate day of May in 1925, triggering anti-foreigner demonstrations and riots across China known as the May 30th Movement, were Sikhs. The Indian population in the international settlement alone peaked at nearly 2,400, according to the research of Robert Bickers, a professor at the University of Bristol. Many more will have lived in the wider city.A vast collection of photographs now at the Shanghai Museum in China show the Sikhs, whose distinctive appearances and imposing figures, caused astonishment amongst the Chinese and compliance from the population.

English: Men of the Loodiaah (Ludhiana) Sikh R...

Visit sunil-kumar.co.in English: Men of the Loodiaah (Ludhiana) Sikh Regiment in China, Circa 1860 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The force, initially composed of Europeans, mainly Britons, and after 1864 including Chinese, was over the next 90 years expanded to include a Sikh Branch (established 1884), from officers who retired or left from Sikh military detachments in China. This force reached about 800 men, almost all Sikhs. The Sikhs were very effective in keeping the generally lawless elements of the population, under control. The British deliberately chose them to keep the peace due to their loyalty.

The Chinese had no respect neither the etiquette to understand the rules and regulations of the British administration, and would spit and urinate anywhere. The rickshaw riders would ride like wild madmen and often cause unnecessary traffic chaos. Often a Sikh policeman would catch hold of two of unruly riders and lift them up to bang their heads together , that was enough to put fear into the chinese.(Source: online descriptions)

When gangs of unruly Chinese gathered to cause a nuisance with gambling or loud arguments , the appearance of a single majestic looking Sikh in their red turbans, was enough to send the mobs fleeing. It was apparent the British had given their Sikh police a free hand in dealing with Chinese, and

the Sikhs did not take this lightly. The police had no sympathy for the

unruly elements of the Chinese, who were seen as nothing more than opium smoking lay abouts involved in mostly gambling or opium gang activities. If you can recall a few Western or Kung-fu movies; you know this fact checks out as well. (A book: The Gateway to China: Mary Nimde Gimwell) As the Chinese Communist republic came into being(only in 1949); the Sikhs had by then set base in China; intermarried and become a part of the local setup. There are a few descendants still living there; as there was some coverage during PM Modi’s visit to China; apart from contemporary entrepreneurs.

Indians in general had their own chamber of commerce, the Indian Merchant Association, as well as sports clubs for football and field hockey.


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