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Belligerents and Participants
in World War One:
The Republic of China


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In the late 19th century a number of European powers carved out spheres of influence in China and began creating their own protected concessions within its borders. One of these was the Yangtze River port of Hankou, which was divided up among the European powers that included Germany. In 1898 Germany had also intimidated China into leasing the Klautschou Bay portion of Shandong Province to it, and Tsingtao then became the chief naval base for Germany’s Far East Squadron.

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The inability of the ruling Qing Dynasty to stand up to this type of foreign aggression led to unrest and by 1911 a revolution broke out. After the Qing Warlord Yuan Shikai defected to the revolutionaries with his army, a compromise was reached and on January 1, 1912, the Republic of China was established. A provisional government was then set up but it did not take long before Yuan assumed the presidency. This in turn led to internal divisions and fighting that mostly divided northern and southern interests (the War Lord period).




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There was no love lost between China and Germany. German troops had brutally suppressed Chinese rebels in the Boxer Rebellion in 1900; but when the Great War broke out, China was too weak from internal fighting to join sides and so it declared its neutrality. The major threat to German interests in China would come from Japan. As an ally of Great Britain, Japan declared war on both Germany and Austria-Hungary. When the German Klautschou Bay Concession refused to surrender, the Japanese then began a bombardment of Tsingtao in September 1914. By October the Japanese with British help landed troops and launched an attack on Tsingtao, which quickly developed into a siege. After intense fighting the Japanese finally breached the main defensive line in November and the Germans surrendered. Few postcards were published that cover war related events in China, but most of those produced came from Europe and depicted the land and sea battles for Tsingtao. Postcards were also published in Japan but not in the numbers one might expect considering their proximity and involvement in this campaign.

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China canceled its lease of Klauschou Bay to Germany in hope of getting the province back under its control once captured by the Allies but this did not happen. Instead they were confronted in January 1915 by Japan’s Twenty-One-Demands drawn up to expand its economic control over Manchuria. This document caused protests to break out all over China, but Yuan who was already engaged in a bitter conflict with other Warlords for power could not risk a war with Japan. After a much watered down version of demands was written it, was eventually accepted by China. These agreements however strengthen Chinese nationalists who would later force Yuan to abdicate after he declared himself Emperor of China.

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At the request of General Haig, the British began recruiting Chinese laborers to serve on the Western Front in 1916. This proved difficult at first because China had outlawed such arrangements to prevent the exploitation of indentured coolies. Arrangements were further hampered when Yuan Shikai died and the national government became powerless in the face of regional Warlords. At the request of the United States, China severed its relations with Germany in March 1917 to protest to the U-boat war against the shipping of neutral nations. The prospect of going to war stirred much political unrest as there was great distrust in becoming an ally of Japan. This reluctance was overcome on August 14 when China formally joined the Allies and declared war on Austria-Hungary and Germany on the promise that the Klautschou Bay Concession would be returned to it. Nationalist forces then seized the German concession within the city of Hankou and the Austro-Hungarian concession at Tianjin.

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China offered the Allies military help in Europe but they had little faith in the Chinese army and the offer was decline. What the Allies wanted were laborers to free their own men for combat. Once China declared war, the British were able to resume their recruitment efforts in earnest and the Chinese Labor Corp was formed. Although these men only worked in the back services doing everything from dock work to constructing trenches, they still suffered war related casualties. The French also recruited their own Chinese laborers into the Colonial Labor Service but in far less numbers.

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Despite conflicting ambitions in Manchuria, there was unprecedented cooperation between Czarist Russia and Japan in the early years of World War One. This all changed with the Russian Revolution in 1917. With Russian power weakened in Asia, Japan negotiate an agreement with China to allow the transit of troops through Manchuria under the guise of keeping order. Once the Allies agreed to Intervene in Siberia in August 1918, the Japanese army was already in position to cross the border. Unlike her European allies, Japan had little interest in toppling the Bolshevik regime; her reasoning was imperialistic, hoping to gain greater control over Manchuria and expand her interests into Siberia. These actions would continue into the Russian Civil War and have great impact on China’s sovereignty.

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Even though China had joined the other Allied nations in the war against the Central Powers, the Treaty of Versailles left Shandong Province and the other captured concessions in Japanese hands due to pre-peace agreements among the Allies. This turn of events stirred up much resentment in China and they refused to sign the final peace treaty. These events also helped to inspire the radical May Fourth Movement in 1919, which in turn contributed to the founding of the Communist Party of China in 1921. The United States mediated the Shandong Problem in 1922; and while the Province was eventually returned to China, Japan still maintained its economic dominance over the region.




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