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Chapter 12

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Sea Duty

by
Yates Stirling

published by
G. P. Putnam's Sons
New York
1939

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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Chapter 14
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p206  Chapter XIII

The Yangtze Patrol


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When Admiral Hughes hauled down his flag to become the Chief of Naval Operations, I was ordered to take passage by liner to Shanghai, to take command of the Yangtze Patrol. I preferred a command in the Fleet, but there was none available. Perhaps my political Nemesis working again.

But I was in a way attracted by the idea of the new duty. It reminded me of Paragua days, fighting bandits. Going so far afield had its disadvantages, for then I was too far distant in case of a vacancy in the Fleet to drop into it. I was told by a number of people that, with my personal influence with Hughes, I should have done better for myself. Everyone at that time thought any job was a poor one if it removed one from the Fleet. I had always gone cheerfully wherever I had been sent, and as a rule it had worked out to my advantage in the end. I made no protest and sailed in the President Pierce of the Dollar Line from San Francisco in November, 1927.

On arrival in Shanghai I hoisted my flag in the Isabel, a small fast yacht, most comfortable for river service. There were building for us at the Kangyan Dock Yard, six new river gunboats. One was completed and accepted by me for our Government shortly after my arrival. The Dock Yard is located above Shanghai on the Whangpoo and pound by the Chinese. The plans for the gunboats were made at the Navy Department in Washington, and the engines were built and sent out from home. The older gunboats  p207 of ours on the river were about to fall apart from senility. They were such old timers as the Helena, Villalobos, Palos, and Monocacy. When the new ships were eventually added to our patrol we could feel that our little squadron was equal to any other on the river.

At the time I took command, the Chinese revolutionary army under General Chiang Kai‑shek had crossed the Yangtze at Nanking and had gone north on the railroad to Tsinan in Shantung Province where it was stopped by the Japanese military. Japan would not permit this revolutionary outfit, shot through at that time with Soviet doctrines, to penetrate into the northern provinces in an attempt to seize Peking. Japan even then was contemplating Chinese conquest.

Our merchant marine on the Yangtze did not appear to be very important. Certainly it did not seem to be worth the money being expended by the Navy to guard it from banditry and from the highhanded acts of the revolutionary military. But there was a principle involved that took no account of expense. It was the maintenance of our right to free navigation on the river, given us by treaty. If China were too weak to protect our trade, then we must take over completely that responsibility. Standard Oil of New York and the little Yangtze Rapids Company were the only two American companies operating ships on the river. Standard Oil was supplying oil and kerosene for the lamps of China along the entire river and far into the areas of many bordering provinces.

The Yangtze Rapids Company gave us most concern because of its peculiar status. It was ostensibly an American Company but with large sums of Chinese money invested in it. The Chinese authorities were inclined to forget that as 51 percent of the stock was American owned, the ships were American ships and could fly the American flag. The Chinese insisted in considering them Chinese ships and often treated them as such, much to our annoyance at times.

After spending several weeks in gay Shanghai, where the most important Chinese officials maintained residences, to which they could go to find asylum when hard pressed by bandits or other enemies, I sailed for Hankow. In Shanghai I met many prominent people from whom I could get first‑hand information about the conditions in different parts of China. Shanghai is a veritable clearinghouse for news and was one of the most interesting cities  p208 I have ever visited. One meets every kind and class of people there. It is in truth where the Orient and Occident actually meet and think nothing about it. At the Majestic Hotel one saw western diplomats dancing with beautifully gowned Chinese ladies of the better class on perfectly equitable terms, conversing in either their own or the Mandarin tongue, and appearing just as much at home as in London, Paris, or Washington. The young Chinese of both sexes whom one meets in Shanghai society have all been educated abroad, many in our own universities.

When the Isabel arrived at Hankow, I found the new gunboat Guam waiting to take me up into the upper river, the rapids and gorges of the Yangtze. Bandits had been very active in both the middle river and above. Their methods were to go aboard the merchant ships as pidgeon passengers, passengers allowed aboard without paying their fare because the companies fear to stop them. Then at some lonely anchorage the bandits would seize the ship, sometimes killing the white officers and always terrorizing the Chinese crew and the passengers. If rich Chinese passengers were not held for ransom they were lucky. When the ship had been thoroughly seized then junks would appear and unload the valuable cargo and carry it off.

On board the Guam was Captain Tornroth, who had commanded one of the Yangtze Rapids ships for several years. He had been loaned me by Lansing Hoyt, the president of the company, to initiate our new commanding officers into the intricacies of the upper river. Ships on the Yangtze all employ pilots and, in the middle and upper river, are all Chinese. Tornroth had obtained his own two Chinese pilots for the Guam. They were the best on the upper river.

Water level on the Yangtze is most important, and one hears nothing else at low levels, for upon it depends whether ships can sail and whether profits will be forthcoming. The water marks are graded from zero level, which was the lowest at the time when the water gauges were made. The range of level in the lower and middle river is not over about fifty feet, but in the upper river it has been known to go as high as 200 feet. When the Guam reached Ichang, at the entrance to the upper river, the water level was zero. According to our pilots and Tornroth, for a six‑foot gunboat to enter, the level of zero was too low for safety. There were many gunboats and merchant ships of all nationalities at  p209 Ichang with us, waiting an expected rise in the river from the melting snows of faraway Tibet, the river's source.

The key rapids in the upper river are the Kunglingtan and Tsintan. Once over these the rest are easy. For the former a half a foot rise was needed. The other, the Tsintan, could be heaved at any low level, but with some danger at the lowest. While the river was yet falling, a telegram which had been received over the Chinese telegraph by the Yangtze Rapids agent in Ichang was handed me. It stated that one of his ships had hit a rock in going through the Kunglingtan, was beached above the rapid, and was being attacked by bandits. The traditions of the sea demanded we make every possible attempt to go to the rescue. If I did not go, some other gunboat might. There was a British gunboat, with their commander of the patrol on board, also a rear admiral, anchored near us. If he learned the news, he might go. That would be like the British, especially if they could steal a march on an American. I told Tornroth and the pilots that we would enter the river at once.

The Chinese pilots were jittery. They were afraid of their joss; or the dragon of the river might be displeased. All gunboats, especially the British, eyed us suspiciously as we weighed anchor and started into the forbidden river. I saw Tornroth was not happy, and I would not have been either if I had known then as much as I know now.

No written account of that dangerous passage through the Kunglingtan could give even a faint idea of the actuality. In the middle of the river was an island which then rose almost thirty feet high above the torrent. At high levels this island is covered completely. The channel to the left of the island is foul and not navigable. The only channel lay to the right. The current could be seen boiling through the narrow rapid at a speed of nearly fifteen miles an hour. To the right of this only passage were numerous pinnacle rocks raising their ugly heads several feet above water, and from the island there extended a submerged rock with under six feet of water over it, almost closing the passage. In order to avoid the numerous pinnacles to the right the ship had to hug the submerged rock to the left, in fact, actually attempt to pass over it, even if it ripped the bottom out of the ship. It was a regular Scylla and Charybdis. I stood close alongside the pilot and Tornroth. I was thrilled but most apprehensive, and well I might have been. Were we not defying  p210 the traditions of the river and the law of the Chinese river joss? If we struck the submerged rock or were cast over on the pinnacles, my only defense would be an errand of mercy. Would that compensate for the loss of a ship and the lives of many of the men entrusted to me? In those few minutes my mind was in agony, yet I was powerless. We were all in the hands of a skillful Chinaman. An individual of little education, in fact, an opium addict, which all the Chinese pilots generally are. He had been born on the river and had spent his entire life going up and down it. First piloting Chinese junks, and then steamers after the discovery that small steamers could pass the numerous rapids. A knowledge of the upper river was innate in these men. Their art was an instinct. In their minds was a knowledge of every rock or obstruction extending throughout 350 miles of treacherous gorges and rapids in that awe‑inspiring river. This man could not read a chart even if there had been one accurate enough to follow. He interpreted swirls and discolorations in the water to show him where rocks, sometimes harmless, have been brought by a falling river near enough to the surface to impale the ship he is piloting.

I glanced around to see if there was any place to beach the ship in the event she was badly holed and sinking. I could find no place, only precipitously rocky shores on either hand and a boiling flood around us. The captain of the Guam seemed as apprehensive as I. I felt half guilty for having brought him into this risky situation. The Guam crawled nearer and nearer to the fateful submerged rock over which we must pass to avoid the visible dangers. Our speed of eighteen knots gave us but a few knots advance against the current.

As we approached, the Guam's bow was headed straight for the underwater rock over which a veritable torrent curved like a small waterfall, plunging into a near whirlpool. That rock was supposed to have less water over it than our draft. That was why the pilots and Tornroth were so set upon not taking the rapid at so low a water level. We were now hugging the waterfall over the rock so close that it looked momentarily as if we would be engulfed. The crew had all cleared the forecastle and had sought shelter in the deck house. I could not but admire, even under the terrible tension of the moment, the stoicism of the Chinese pilot. He had the wheel himself, spinning it ceaselessly and his eyes seemed transfixed as if seeing nothing.

When it appeared impossible to miss the submerged danger, the  p211 Guam's bow began suddenly to draw slowly away to starboard as if pushed off by a giant hand. I realized it was the impact of the water on the bow, caroming off the rock itself. It was a miracle to me as I saw the ship pass through the narrow passage, barely clearing the menaces on each side, it seemed almost by inches. If all my life I had not taught myself to suppress my feelings, I would have shouted to relieve the tension inside me. Instead I only patted the pilot on the shoulder and expressed to him the equivalent of "well done" in his own tongue.

The Guam had gone through the Kunglingtan at a water level heretofore considered impossible. Our attention having been concentrated on the rapid, we had all forgotten the ship for whose rescue we had dared destruction. Now we saw the Nanshan beached broadside on a shingle beach about a quarter-mile above the rapid. Shots were being fired on the ship, and we could see several groups of men ashore scurrying to the hills. We fired our forward 3‑inch in their direction to hasten them on their way.

The Guam went alongside the stranded ship, and our carpenter's gang went to work to patch up the holes. The forward hold was flooded from holes put there by the rock that had spared us. Leak stoppers and thrummed canvas collision mats were soon in place. Quantities of cement were poured about the holes and the ship was soon ready to be hauled off the beach.

The bandits had not succeeded in boarding the Nanshan because of the excellent marksmanship of the white captain and the engineer. But their ammunition had nearly given out. We had arrived in the nick of time.

I landed a party of about a dozen men with a machine gun and they climbed to a commanding position from which they could cover the rapid at both ends, while the ship protected the party's rear. The Guam hauled the Nanshan off the beach, and, with Tornroth and the pilot in the merchant ship, the latter headed down through the rapid. There could still be more trouble ahead, for if the Nanshan struck again, we would have to brave the rapid once more in the Guam.

At a speed, with the current, of nearly 30 knots, the passage down of the Nanshan did not sustain the tension for long. I watched with small concern Tornroth's party return along the river trail and then recalled our outpost on the hill. It was an exciting first day for us in the upper river.

 p212  Later in the day we heaved the Tsintan, which is impossible to steam at very low levels. This rapid had an actual drop of nine feet in a hundred. When we reached it, the Guam was steaming at 18 knots, our full speed, but the ship came to a dead stop in the swiftest part of the current. There were about 200 coolie trackers on the bank, and they gave a shout of joy when we failed. It meant money in their pockets. We let the ship slip back in the current into quieter water and sent our wire hawser ashore. The coolies receiving it made one end fast to a great rock above the rapid and then indicated to us their readiness. Again we steamed full speed into the rapid and came to a halt at almost the same spot. The line was handed aboard on a long bamboo pole and taken to our winch on the forecastle. In about seventeen minutes, steaming and heaving on the winch, we were over.

The Yangtze is a long stretch of river to patrol, with not enough gunboats for the work, therefore a custom grew up out of placed armed guards on board merchant ships. This precaution prevented banditing but made it easier to have an incident with the Chinese military; something to avoid if possible. We found it difficult to differentiate between bandits and national soldiers. They both wear a uniform of sorts. Occasions have occurred where merchant ships with armed guards have been fired upon from the bank of the river and the fire returned. Then claims will be made by the military that the ship has killed national soldiers, and, unless the loss of life is paid for by the payment of large sums of money, the shipping firm to which the ship belongs will be boycotted. As a rule, hush money is paid to the local Tuchun to enable the ships to operate.

Even gunboats have been fired upon by what seemed to be soldiers, but actually were bandits. Once my flagship, at the time, sent a 3‑inch shell in the general direction of attacking military, and some time later I received a letter from a local general saying that we had fired without any provocation at a company of national soldiers, killing several, and demanding immediate indemnity. I knew personally that we had been fired upon first and that our shell had gone wide, so I merely ignored the letter and never heard further from it.

Every means possible was used by the military to extort money from the foreign companies. When I was in the upper river, there was a rather amusing illustration of this. One of the Yangtze Rapids ships was fired upon by soldiers from junks on the river,  p213 just below Chungking. The armed guard returned the fire, but reliable witnesses in the ship testified that the firing was quite wide of the junks and that none of the soldiers could have been hit. When the ship reached Chungking, the Chinese stevedores refused to handle the cargo or to coal the ship. In the office of the company ashore five bodies of men in uniform had been placed and notice given by military authorities that unless $60,000 were forthcoming for the benefit of the dead men's families the bodies could not be removed. It was summertime, and the health of the office force demanded removal.

The gunboat doctor was called in by the company agent. He examined the corpses and pronounced the men had been dead a week. When the captain of the gunboat informed the military of this, the bodies were removed at once and nothing more was said.

The gunboat patrol undoubtedly kept our trade alive on the river. It prevented many abuses and saved the companies from much extortion by the Chinese officials.

One of the most annoying things, frequently occurring during the factional wars, was the commandeering of merchant ships for transporting troops in military operations. The usual habit was to seize a ship in port, put a soldier guard on board, and thus intimidate the captain and pilot from moving the vessel until needed by the military.

The soldiers would swarm on board like locusts and fill every available space, even the officers' quarters, and the captain would be directed to go to a locality on the river and land the soldiers. He could not refuse. It would not be healthy for himself or his company if he did. I was downriver when I learned of several of the Yangtze Rapids ships being stopped at the city of Wanhsien and held to carry General Yang Sen's troops in a war operation against his rival, General Liushiang. The orders under which our gunboats were operating were to the effect that American lives could be protected by using force if needed, but that property of foreigners could not be so protected. In this case there were no lives actually in danger; yet commandeering was a blow at our prestige and had to be stopped, but how? The Guam, commanded by Lieutenant Commander Robert K. Awtrey, was at Chungking. From there it was only a matter of a daylight run downriver with a favorable eight-knot current to Wanhsien. By radio I directed the Guam to proceed at once to the scene of the trouble. As I now remember, my radio was about as follows:  p214 "General Yang Sen has commandeered several Yangtze Rapids Company ships for transportation troops from Wanhsien against his enemy Liushiang. We are forbidden to use force to safeguard property but it would be a severe blow at American naval prestige on the river if these ships are used to carry Chinese troops in the presence of an American gunboat. Proceed immediately to Wanhsien. You will use your discretion as how best to obviate such a calamity." Of course the message was in our secret cipher. I certainly put the young man on the spot, but I knew he was the type that would enjoy being put there.

Awtrey steamed full speed down the river. With the current, he made all of twenty-five knots. On arrival at Wanhsien he took his senior engineer and a couple of engineer ratings to the seized ships, one after another. They went down into the engine rooms and removed important but portable parts of the machinery and steering gear, without which the ships could not operate. He carried these over to his gunboat, together with the white captains and chief engineers and the Chinese pilots. When this had been accomplished, he went ashore. He took a sedan chair at the dock and journeyed to Yang Sen's yamen. Yang Sen received him, and Awtrey demanded that the ships be released at once. Yang Sen refused, saying it was a matter of life and death to him to be able to move troops; that Liushiang was on his way to attack him and that these ships were essential in his plan for defeating his enemy. The captain of the Guam then announced:

"The ships are helpless. I have removed to the gunboat essential parts of their machinery and steering gear. They cannot steam nor be steered."

Yang Sen stormed against his own henchmen who had permitted this to be done by the American captain, but he was clever enough to realize that he had been worsted and finally capitulated. While this was not in the book of regulations, it was a magnificent stratagem and helped morale on the river no end.

The command of the Yangtze Patrol was more of a diplomatic position than a naval one. The admiral of that force, in a way, is an important part of the diplomatic setup on the river. His naval force is small and weak, merely a police force against banditry. The principal duty is in dealing with the Chinese officials and persuading them to help in maintaining friendly relations between China and our country.

 p215  Before I arrived in China, Chiang Kai‑shek's troops, shot through with communistic influence, on taking the city of Nanking, had got out of hand and committed acts of brutality against foreigners in that city. Even the American consulate had been attacked and the consul and his assistants were fortuned to seek shelter in the Socony compound, whence they and others were finally rescued by naval men from the gunboats and destroyers acting under the admiral of the patrol. To accomplish the rescue it became necessary for the American warships to open fire on the Chinese attacking soldiers. The consulate, having been abandoned, was wrecked by the Chinese. Our consul for Nanking opened offices in Shanghai, from where he had been performing his duties. Washington now desired to reopen the Nanking consulate.

I was directed to confer with our Consul General, Mr. Cunningham, at Shanghai, and arrange for the opening of the consulate at the new capital of China, after it had been restored to condition by the Chinese Government. It was intimated that the opening of this consulate would, at the same time, be a recognition of the Chiang Kai‑shek Government. Mr. Cunningham and I conferred with the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. C. T. Wang, at his house in Shanghai. We outlined to him a plan of procedure as follows: At the official opening of the Nanking consulate there were to be present in the consular compound a Chinese military guard of not less than one company of soldiers and a military band. Also high-ranking representatives of the Chinese Civil Government, the Chinese Army, and the Chinese Navy. The United States was to be represented by a similar guard of sailors and officers of equal rank, to be arranged. When the United States flag was hoisted at the flagpole of the consulate, the fort was to fire a twenty‑one-gun salute. This salute was to be returned gun for gun by a United States gunboat in the river at Nanking. Provided recognition then was to be made of the new government, the American gunboat, after returning the first salute, would hoist the Nationalist flag and salute it with twenty‑one guns. This salute was to be returned by the fort.

Mr. Wang seemed well pleased with the plan and said he would do his utmost to persuade his colleagues in Nanking to agree to just what had been suggested. Two weeks passed before we learned that the plan had been refused. Mr. Wang told us at a later interview that the members of the Nanking Government declared it had already apologized for the so‑called Nanking  p216 outrage and would not further humiliate itself. It claimed the outrage had been committed, not by nationalist soldiers, but by communists for whom the Nanking Government did not feel responsible. Mr. Wang until recently was Chinese Ambassador to Washington.

Both Mr. Cunningham and I strongly recommended that, unless appropriate and dignified ceremonies were agreed upon, such as we had proposed, the Nanking consulate remain in Shanghai and not be transferred to Nanking. Our recommendation was disregarded by Washington. In my opinion this was another gesture of weakness, an attempt to placate the new Chinese regime. As a matter of fact, we were being laughed at by the clever Chinese diplomats, led by C. T. Wang himself.

Later, when the consulate in Nanking had been put in shape and so reported by the Chinese Government to our Consul General in Shanghai, I received a wire from our Minister in Peking, John V. A. MacMurray, asking me to meet him on a certain date at the Majestic Hotel in Shanghai, where he would stop. I knew MacMurray well, having taken him on an inspection trip in the Guam on my second trip up the upper river to Chungking.

When I met MacMurray and his secretary, who spoke Chinese, at the hotel in Shanghai, he told me that he had received instructions from Washington to open the consulate in Nanking without the Chinese taking part and that at the same time he was to recognize and cause to be saluted the new government of China. He asked me to accompany him to Nanking and assist him. I could see that he disliked performing this most humiliating task and that he was fully aware of the loss of prestige involved.

I sailed from Shanghai with the Minister on board in the gunboat Luzon, my flagship at the time. We opened the consulate at Nanking with only the ceremony of an American sailor guard and a salute from the Luzon in the river when the flag was hoisted on the consulate flagpole. Then the gunboat hoisted the new Chinese flag and saluted it with twenty‑one guns, which was at once returned from the Tiger forts.

That being done, MacMurray and I (I in full uniform) went to call on the President, Chiang Kai‑shek at his home in the city. I was charmed to meet the man whose name had been on everyone's lips in China and Madame Chiang (Meiling), the first lady of China. Chiang could speak no English, but with his wife I seemed to be talking to a girl from home, so American was her  p217 speech and manner. We had tea with them, and after that we called on all the principal cabinet officials. These calls by the Minister were returned at the consulate where he maintained his official residence.

The night following the opening of the consulate and the recognition of the government by our country through a salute to their flag and official calls by our Minister, I arranged for MacMurray a large dinner for President Chiang on the upper deck of the Luzon. The entire cabinet was present and most of their wives. Cordiality thus was established, but at a sad loss of face by this country in the opinion of most Americans in China. Besides the General, there were Sun Fu, T. V. Soong, and Wang Ching Wei, all high officers of the inner council. After the dinner, we showed our latest movies, and all stayed until the early hours of the morning.

Chiang Kai‑shek seemed nervous and restless and spoke little. As he could not speak English, what he said to us had been interpreted by those who did. The man intrigued me, and I fear I kept my eyes on him most of the time. I kept wondering what was in this apparently simple and self-effacing man who had much of China under his hand. His wife had a sick headache and did not come.

There seemed no doubt about the true and honest feeling of friendship openly displayed by these Chinese towards our country. There is no wonder that they are unable now to understand how such a powerful, rich, and righteous nation like ours could permit Japan to take the brutal attitude she has toward helpless China. They believed we were China's friend, and now they cannot see why we are sitting idly by and seeing millions of Chinese exterminated, the most part being civilians, killed by bombs from airplanes.

Both Great Britain and the United States have lost much face with China for their seemingly spineless attitude, and it will be most difficult to regain our former prestige. In my opinion, it is not that we do not wish to curb Japan in her aggressive acts but that we do not know how without starting another World War.

The following story illustrates how loss of face is passed down the line in China. Mr. MacMurray and I were driving in a United States Government motorcar, out to that new and beautiful tomb of Sun Yat Sen. Our way was blocked by a troop of Chinese cavalry traveling slowly along the fairly wide road. The road was  p218 dusty, the yellow fog almost obscuring vision and covering us all. On the car we had the Minister's flag, the American union jack, flying at the radiator cap, an American flag painted on both sides of the car and one on top, so as to be seen from the air. It was expected that the soldiers, recognizing that important foreigners were in the car, would draw aside and allow us to pas. The troops persisted in blocking the road for us until we turned off to go to the tomb, although there was plenty of room for us to pass. In better days the military would have been most punctilious in drawing aside because they knew they would be punished if they did not. MacMurray said at the time that we should live to regret giving in on the Nanking consulate point of prestige. He knew the Chinese character better than any diplomat in China or Washington.

Nanking had pleasant memories for me, as I had spent nearly a week there with my father in 1905. Much of the city inside the wall then was jungle, never having been rebuilt after its destruction by the Taiping rebels in the sixties. One day in 1905 I was shooting Chinese pheasants from horseback. Night came on and I was lost. We were staying at the consulate, and I was riding the consul's horse. There were plenty of bridle paths leading in all directions, actually old flagstones that had been streets. Finally I discovered an old Chinaman in a hut. He had a most benevolent countenance and an ingratiating smile. I made signs to him to indicate I was lost. He calmly took the reins from my hand and dropped them on the horse's withers; then he struck the horse on the flank with his open hand. Within ten minutes the horse and I were back at the consulate.

MacMurray returned to Peking shortly after these ceremonies, and I started again for the upper river in the Luzon. War between Liushiang and Yang Sen, that had been chronic for some time, now had got to a critical stage. Liushiang held Chungking while Yang Sen occupied Wanhsien, a halfway point between Ichang and the head of navigation by steamer. Both men had entertained me, and I had returned the favor. Our difficulties now were over the subject of Socony Oil. This American company, together with the British Asiatic Petroleum Company, supplied all the oil and kerosene for the great province of Szechwan, with its sixty million population. Liushiang had been collecting a tax of one dollar a unit on all kerosene oil landed at Chungking. Yang Sen was now demanding a transit tax on this oil that had  p219 to pass his stronghold, Wanhsien, and threatened that if not paid by the oil companies he would confiscate first the oil and then the ships.

When I reached Ichang, three Socony Oil ships were being held by the agent, fearing Yang Sen's threat. This Chinese Tuchun was a very difficult customer. To show his obstinacy and fearlessness, I need only relate an incident that had occurred about a year before. Yang Sen had seized a British merchant ship and was holding it with a large guard of his soldiers. He had commandeered it for troops or on account of some tax its company had refused to pay. The British senior officer in the upper river, a commander, with several British gunboats, rashly decided to cut out the vessel. Unfortunately the Britisher had not considered giving the Chinese soldiers a ready means of escape from the ship. There were no sampans at the ship's gangway at the time. The commander's gunboat started to go along the merchant ship to board. The Chinese soldiers in the ship, seeing there was no avenue of escape for them, opened fire on the approaching British gunboat, killing the commander and a number of other officers and sailors. Then the Chinese opened fire with artillery from shore on the gunboats. The British, being left leaderless, withdrew leaving their merchant ship in Yang Sen's hands. It was a terrible loss of face for the British.

I had intended escorting the three Socony ships, but I was not anxious to fight Yang Sen. I took aboard a Socony official and sailed with the Luzon for Wanhsien to argue out the point with Yang Sen. Yang Sen was in the field fighting Liushiang, but we managed to find him and have a long talk. Yang Sen was most insistent on payment of the tax, and I agreed with his argument. He had it in his power to prevent the oil reaching Chungking, so why not pay him out of the tax collected by his rival to permit the oil to pass?

Upon seeing Liushiang at Chungking, I was surprised that he agreed at once to pay what Yang Sen claimed, one‑third of the tax collected by Liushiang, to him as a transit tax. I tried at this time also to arrange a meeting of the two generals on my gunboat, hoping that through it we might obtain peace on the river. Yang Sen had agreed, but Liushiang would not. Meanwhile the Socony ships from Ichang came up the river under escort of another of our gunboats, the tax question having been settled.

I am quite certain that the reason for Liushiang's generosity  p220 in regard to the tax and his refusal to hold a personal conference with Yang Sen was because the former believed he would soon defeat his old rival. This did happen not long afterward, and Yang Sen was killed. Just as often occurs in America today, these two gangsters were fighting each other for a monopoly in opium to give them wealth and power. A large area out of Szechwan Province was then planted for opium; poppy fields met the eye everywhere. Both men are dead, and they know by now that: "You can't take it with you."

I was in Shanghai when the Chiang Kai‑shek Government finally turned against the Soviet. Chiang had used Russian advisers in his advance from the south. Then he turned on them and dismissed them. The Russian consulate in Shanghai was thereupon seized by Chinese officials, and most incriminating documents were taken, showing Russian objectives in China. Then began many killings and much purging of this red influence in many parts of China under the nationalists. It appears that Soviet doctrines have an appeal for the poverty-stricken, down-trodden ninety‑odd percent of the Chinese people, and it will be difficult for the nationalists to set up a stable democracy, at least for some time to come. Red influence in China is strong and more so today because of Soviet help to China in fighting Japan.

Japan has reasons to fear a red China under the dominance of Russia, but there is no telling as yet whether the present undeclared war will succeed in defeating that influence. Japanese cruelty and her ruthless invasion into all parts of China has brought some cohesion to the several Chinese armies under otherwise selfish leaders; and with Chiang Kai‑shek maintaining his power, Japan may yet find her conquest a most destructive adventure to Japan's economic stability.

I was nearly two years on the Yangtze, traveling up and down that long river. I met many Chinese officials and also many highly intellectual Chinese. They all recognized our country's friendliness and unselfishness in its dealings with China and freely opened their minds to me. One thing was most evident, their dislike of the Japanese. They had no fear of the Japanese personally, only of his war machine, with which they knew they could not compete. As individuals, the Chinese considered they were far superior in every way to the Japanese. This inherent animosity, which Japan recognized she could not change, and  p221 which she knew was causing a great loss to her in trade, through boycotts, no doubt is at the bottom of Japan's aggressive measures against her old enemy. Japan has ever claimed that China will not co‑operate. Chinese, it seems, would rather fight than co‑operate on Japan's terms.

The Chinese officials are usually on the spot. There are too many internal and external interests to placate, and, being weak, they take the easiest way and make promises that they know they cannot keep. The youth party are partly in the saddle, being composed, in large measure, of university students with ideals and desires far ahead of the rest of their people. They are causing much of the unrest in China and at the same time are responsible for much of the nation's resistance against Japanese encroachments.

Japan has succeeded in causing the western powers to lose much of their influence in China. The oriental is a worshiper of force, and Japan is the only nation capable of exerting that to gain her ends in China. That the nation which can control the seas in the Far East will control the destiny of China is a theme frequently expressed by naval strategists; yet Great Britain never could control the destiny of Europe. But Japan not only controls the seas out there but also has a large, modernly equipped army capable of consolidating its gains on land, which England never had in Europe. China, with a population of 400 million, might put an army of 30 million in the field against an adversary. Think of that inexhaustible supply of cannon fodder! If the war lasts long enough, there may come a time when Japan's man power will be exhausted. How long will the Japanese people be willing to submit to sacrifices when they do not see the economic results promised by their optimistic leaders? Are the Japanese people obtaining more food for their stomachs and a better standard of living for their producers for all these sacrifices? Does it not seem today that the Japanese military and economic minds may be wondering if this dangerous adventure into the homes of a race nearly six times as populous, quite as intelligent if not as warlike, and just as proud, will bring as great benefits as they at first believed and had promised to their nation?

The Chinese are a very adaptable people, and when as a nation they take to flying on a large scale, Japan may find her worries on the increase. Like England in Europe, Japan's main islands are not far distant from the Asiatic continent, and her cities and  p222 industrial centers are just as vulnerable to air attack, either by China or Russia.

I am a believer in the Chinese soldier as a formidable antagonist if well led. In the past, when led by skilled white leaders, they have rendered excellent war service. As a rule, the Chinese do not seem to trust their Chinese leaders. They have been betrayed too often. In training, the Chinese soldier in many ways seems miraculous to me. I witnessed a military athletic meet staged by General Yang Sen at Wanhsien on the upper river. I was his guest in the grandstand, and he was very proud of his exhibition, as well he might have been. I witnessed whole companies of his soldiers, one man after another, perform athletic feats that only one out of a hundred probably of our soldiers could do. When I was a cadet at the Naval Academy, there was just one cadet who could do what was then called the "Giant Swing." Cleland Davis was proudly exhibited at every meet. The giant swing was done on a horizontal bar. Gripping the bar with both hands, the athlete swings himself stiff-armed until his body circles around the bar any number of times. At Wanhsien I saw hundreds of Chinese soldiers performing this difficult athletic achievement. This merely shows their athletic prowess, an excellent attribute for a soldier. With proper training, why should not the Chinese make as good soldiers as the Japanese, if not better? As aviators, the Chinese are said to be more adaptable and make more skillful flyers. Japan's superiority over the Chinese, outside of their loyalty to their Emperor and their pride of race, seems to lie in organizing ability and intelligent and skillful leadership. Some nation might be willing to supply those requisites.

Japan doubtless fears such a contingency, and her present war may be for the purpose of controlling China and its people before another nation gains the coveted domination of an intelligent, industrious and adaptable race of 400 million that has been for centuries peacefully inclined. Although the Chinese are outclassed in military activity, they are a race of fatalists and inured to suffering, ideal material for a soldier.

If China had not been so split up by rival Tuchuns who fought each other, not to make an orderly China, but for opium and other grafts and monopolies, she might have been strong enough to convince Japan that an invasion of the old Dragon Kingdom would not be profitable. It seems now that if Japan does not  p223 extend herself too far she will succeed, for the Chinese mercenary armies are nothing more than raw levies, while Nippon's are trained, disciplined, and well supplied with all the most modern instruments of war. Unless some of the western powers interfere, ultimately Japan will accomplish her ends in controlling all the best parts of China where material resources in quantity exist.

Even though many of our people at heart are peace loving and dread the mere mention of war, nevertheless, the nation cannot close its eyes to the effect upon our security in the Pacific, should Japan eventually succeed in what are known to be her most ambitious designs on China and many other areas of that ocean. As a nation, we do not think in terms of empire, but just the same we have colonies of importance to guard and retain. The Philippines are our wards and for years to come will remain a responsibility on the nation's shoulders. The Aleutian Islands cannot be permitted to be seized from us because some other nation thinks we are physically unable to hold them. The status quo in our territorial possessions is possible only if our great fleet is known to be capable of defending our property in all of the Pacific.


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Page updated: 29 Oct 14