March 1917 in Harbin

pristanbazar
The bazaar at Pristan. Source

Harbin is an interesting case study of how revolutionary movements can develop in an extraterritorial space, as this document from the Binjiang daoyin (circuit intendant) attests. The English text has been divided into several paragraphs for ease of reading.

此次俄國政變及旅哈[俄]人一切行動,節經電陳,度已蒙覽。茲將本埠近日經過情形,撮要陳述,藉釋鈞廑。前數日間,旅哈俄人於彼國近事,展轉傳說,詢之俄官,則諱莫如深。本月十六日晚,俄男婦麕集街市,喧呼達曙。次日俄報紙於彼國內情,始有刊布。十八日俄人組織臨時代行政籌備處,公推俄員十二人辦事,俄憲兵一部分加入。十九日午前,俄男婦軍警數千人,倒揭國旗,往見霍中將,高呼議院自由,霍答辭頗婉巽。是日,俄警及憲兵均不執行職務。晚間,俄號外報紙登載伯利民變事。本埠探訪局全體加入籌備處,俄人勢頗囂張。當以時勢變遷,未可臆測,除於路界內及傅家甸嚴行警備外,並電奉吉林省長電開,已派趙警務處長來哈會同布置。廿日晨,鐵路公司推定二十五人,代表各機關至籌備處預議,公推律師阿列克桑德洛夫為該處領袖。廿一日,鐵路幫辦阿中將及俄警察署長職務,被籌備處取消,俄兵警態度均形散漫,霍中將對於時局略無發展,於籌備處議案,亦惟拱手受成。業已函霍君略謂,本埠近日頗呈不靖之象,對於鐵路界內華俄人生命財產,應如何力保安全,不得不與貴總辦開誠商榷。自今以往,如有萬不獲已時,勢須由本總辦酌調兵警,以維治安雲雲。尚未得覆。惟霍於晤面時,言及刻下尚不需此,如有緩急,必當奉告等語。

頃聞霍中將奉到彼國新政府電令,著仍執行職務,維持秩序,而籌備處會議,擬以路務行車一部分之事,歸霍辦理,其余悉由該會制裁,議論紛呶,莫衷一是。除關於沿鐵路一帶應如何維持治安,已商同趙處長督飭所屬,認真籌備,暨本埠發生各事項,由鴻謨密偵默察,相機因應外,謹肅稟陳。

Regarding the current Russian revolution and the activities of the Russians in Harbin, I have sent several reports which I trust have been received and read. Now I am submitting a digest of the recent events in this city, to bring them to your attention. Over the past few days, rumours about the recent events in their country were circulating among the Russians in Harbin. When enquiries were made with Russian officials, however, they would not divulge anything. On the night of the 16th, Russian men and women gathered in the streets, causing an uproar until dawn. The next day, Russians newspapers finally began carrying news on the events in their country.

On the 18th the Russians organised a provisional executive committee, unanimously selecting twelve Russian members to carry out its tasks. A section of the Russian military police joined it. On the morning of the 19th, several thousand Russian men, women, soldiers and police carrying the flag upside-down went to see General Horvath, calling loudly for the Constituent Assembly and freedom. Horvath responded to them very graciously. That same day, Russian police and troops abandoned their posts. In the evening, special editions of the Russian newspapers reported on the people’s uprising in Khabarovsk. Harbin’s investigative bureau had entirely gone over to the executive committee, and the Russians were showing aggressive tendencies.

Since this changing situation was unpredictable, apart from placing the railway zone and Fujiadian under strict guard, I also received a telegram from the provisional governors of Jilin that chief of police Zhao had been sent to Harbin to arrange matters.

On the morning of the 20th, the railway company selected 25 men to represent the various organisations in talks with the executive committee. The lawyer Aleksandrov [probably V.I. Aleksandrov – ed.] was unanimously elected head of the committee. On the 21st, the positions of railway deputy General Afanas’ev and the chief of the Russian police were abolished by the committee. The attitude of the Russian troops and police seemed lax. General Horvath, seeing no progress in the situation, could only submit to and accept the committee’s proposal. I have already written to Horvath saying that the city has recently been showing signs of unrest. Regarding the lives and property of the Russians and Chinese in the railway zone and how they should be protected, I had no choice but to have an honest discussion with him. From now on, if the necessity arose, our manager should consider sending troops and police to maintain order. No reply has yet been received. But when I met with Horvath, he said that this was not necessary at the moment. If there was an emergency, he would inform us.

Now I have heard that Horvath has received instructions from the new government of his country that he should remain at his post and maintain order. The executive committee proposes that some aspects of railway and transport matters should be managed by Horvath, with the rest to be dealt with by the committee. The debate was acrimonious and it was impossible to come to agreement. Regarding the maintainence of order along the railway, I have arranged with chief of police Zhao to direct his agencies to make careful preparations. As for the goings-on in Harbin, I will observe and investigate, dealing with matters as they arise.

Telegram from Binjiang daoyin Li Hongmo, 28 March 1917 (sent 24 March). Zhong-e guanxi shiliao, Minguo jiunian zhi banian (1917-1919). E zhengbian yu yiban jiaoshe (1), pp. 64-65.

Li’s report describes how revolutionary sentiments were imported to Harbin via the sizeable Russian diaspora. This was manifested in the politics of the railway zone, which had hitherto been dominated by the directors of the Chinese Eastern Railway. Popular resentment towards General Manager D.L. Horvath spilled over into the streets, an alternative administration was formed under the executive committee, and both troops and police no longer obeyed orders. Under the provisions of extraterritoriality, the Russian community was entitled to govern itself. But what would happen if the community no longer accepted the authority of its own leaders, and law and order broke down?

The difficulties with maintaining order reflect the interlocking structures of power in Harbin and the railway zone. Administration of the city was divided between Russian-controlled Harbin and Chinese-governed Binjiang (including Fujiadian). Policing of the railway zone was largely carried out by Russian forces but, according to the railway treaty, the Chinese too had the right to maintain order on the railway. Moreover, the coexistence of Russian and Chinese authority in Harbin was complicated by the fact that many Chinese – officials and “civilians” alike – wished to regain full control over the railway zone. Horvath’s woes, combined with the ambiguities of who could exercise authority in Harbin, opened up new possibilities for Chinese officialdom. As Li’s letter to Horvath suggested, the Chinese could take over policing if the Russians were unable to do so.

The Provisional Government’s consolidation – and its confirmation of Horvath in his post – brought the temperature in Harbin down for the moment. A public celebration was held on 23 March to commemorate the success of the revolution, while the executive committee set about reorganising the civilian administration of the city. Nevertheless, continued antagonism between the Russian railway guard and the railway administration led to further deterioration in law and order. Li’s suggestion became reality only a few months later: In May, Jilin military governor Meng Enyuan dressed Chinese troops in police uniforms and sent them to patrol Harbin, changing the rank and unit names to sound more “police-like”. This was in direct violation of the railway treaty, since Chinese troops were not allowed in the railway zone, but the Russians were in no position to object. The Beijing government was in complete approval – a small victory, perhaps, for Chinese sovereignty in the railway zone.

2 thoughts on “March 1917 in Harbin

  1. Pingback: The Provisional Government Period in Harbin – Shots Across the Amur 黑龍江對岸的槍聲

  2. Pingback: Policing Post-Tsarist Harbin – Shots Across the Amur 黑龍江對岸的槍聲

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