March 1917 in Vladivostok

Semenovskaia ulitsa in Vladivostok’s Chinese quarter, Millionka. Source


My opinion on the Russian revolutionary party and its secret plans for an uprising was submitted in the monthly report for February and is on file. Now the revolutionaries have indeed launched a sudden revolt in the Russian capital, formed a Provisional Government and forced the Russian emperor to abdicate. The emperor had no choice but to announce his abdication in favour of his brother, Grand Duke Mikhail. When the news came, popular morale in Vladivostok was shaken up momentarily. Thankfully, local order has still been maintained and the City Duma has now organised a executive committee. All the city’s police, post, telegraph and other important offices are all managed by this committee. It has repeatedly called on the people to maintain order and go about their business in peace, and held multiple meetings to discuss policies after the disorder. All troops, workers and merchants have sent representatives to these meetings to take part in the discussions. The governor and commander of the fortress, the commander of the navy etc have telegraphed the Russian capital one after the other, recognising the Provisional Government and accepting its direction. However, I have heard that the governor at Khabarovsk and the commander-in-chief have been arrested and imprisoned by the people’s party in Khabarovsk. On the night of the 12th of this month, the military hangar on the outside of Vladivostok was suddenly blown up, with several dead and several dozen injured. Thankfully, many boxes of explosives were hurriedly thrown into the sea by a guard. They were therefore not set off, or the entire city of Vladivostok would have become scored earth. Now the executive committee has established a militia to help preserve peace, and the Vladivostok governor has sent telegrams instructing the authorities in the various localities to be on strict guard, as a precondition for the maintenance of order. However, it is at this moment truly difficult to predict whether or not disorder may break out in future. Regarding the diaspora, this embassy has instructed them to be on special alert. They are still able to go about their business in peace and there is no need for particular concern.

Letter from Vladivostok consul-general Lu Shiyuan, 26 March 1917 (sent 20 March). Zhong-e guanxi shiliao, Minguo jiunian zhi banian (1917-1919). E zhengbian yu yiban jiaoshe (1), p. 58.

Lu Shiyuan’s letter, sent four days after tsarist power was toppled in Vladivostok, describes some of the disorder leading up to the formation of the committee of public safety (the “executive committee”) by the City Duma. It dwells on the committee’s attempts to maintain order and references the city’s importance as a supply depot for war materiel, such as explosives. The letter, however, does not mention the emergence of dual power in the city with the formation of the Vladivostok soviet, a curious oversight on Lu’s part. Of particular interest is Lu’s emphasis on the capture and imprisonment of N.L. Gondatti, governor-general of the Maritime Province, who had fled to Khabarovsk on 16 March. Gondatti had masterminded some of tsarist Russia’s anti-Chinese policies, including the prohibition of Chinese shipping on the Amur River, the restriction of foreign labour and the removal of foreign residents along the Amur railway. Future documents will show that Gondatti’s name became linked to the excesses of tsarist discrimination – perhaps Lu’s message carried a slight note of Schadenfreude.

The last sentence of Lu’s letter, reassuring the Foreign Ministry that the diaspora was still untouched by the upheavals at Vladivostok, references the sizeable Chinese community in the city. During this period the Asian population of the city reached as high as one-fifth to one-third of its total residents. An early 1918 estimate stated that Chinese merchants in Vladivostok alone had a combined wealth of 45 million gold rubles, while the Chinese chamber of commerce there was particularly vocal and powerful. During the pre-revolutionary era, Vladivostok had been one of the few cities in which the Chinese had been allowed to set up a diplomatic office,  apart from the embassy in St Petersburg and another consulate in Irkutsk; this was another testament to the size, wealth and importance of the Chinese diaspora there. With diaspora protection assuming greater importance in Beijing’s foreign policy, the fate of the Chinese in Vladivostok could not be ignored.

Lu was right to be wary of Vladivostok’s calm. He was shortly to leave his post as consul-general, just as tensions between Russian and Chinese workers reached a height. The former, empowered by the soviet, attempted to eject Chinese migrant labourers from their workplaces, often with violence. Allied military warships began appearing in the harbour to prevent the stockpiles of war materiel from falling into the wrong hands. The Chinese diaspora could not escape the city’s lurch into further instability. All these issues would be left to Lu’s successor, Shao Hengjun.

One thought on “March 1917 in Vladivostok

  1. Pingback: A Chinese Warship for Vladivostok – Shots Across the Amur 黑龍江對岸的槍聲

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