A Manchurian Warlord Addresses the Red Threat

By early 1918, the bolsheviks had seized power in important cities across Siberia and the Russian Far East. Khabarovsk fell in December, Irkutsk in January, and Blagoveshchensk and Chita in February. Only Vladivostok still held out, since the presence of Allied warships kept the bolsheviks in check.

riutinfamily
Harbin bolshevik M.N. Riutin and family, 1927. Source.

Conversely, anti-bolshevik forces found a convenient base along the lengthy and porous Sino-Russian border. There they could recruit, receive supplies from sympathetic Allied agents and escape bolshevik pursuit.

All this threatened to implicate China in Russia’s looming Civil War. We have seen how the Manchurian province of Jilin gathered intelligence on Russian forces in neighbouring Primor’e. For the moment, however, the real danger came from elsewhere: In Chinese territory itself, with bolsheviks active in Harbin, and on the Amur and Transbaikal frontiers, next to Heilongjiang. An uprising in Harbin in December 1917 was crushed by Chinese troops, but bolshevik leader M.N. Riutin escaped and was believed to be plotting a comeback with reinforcements. If so, they would clash with  Cossack forces under G.M. Semenov that had set up camp in Manzhouli:

頃據駐哈司令部陶總司令祥貴等征電稱,頃據探報,俄國新黨由伊爾庫斯克到距離滿洲裡五百華裡之倭拉元地方者二千余人,擬來哈埠肆擾,為該處哥薩克馬隊所截堵,但其野心不死,仍擬設法前來。並據探報及俄報所載,前次驅逐出境之劉金,將有恢復哈埠權利之舉等語。除電請江省鮑督軍飭屬嚴防,並電復該司令等格外注意,預加防范外,特電奉聞,即乞垂鑒。

According to the latest telegram from Commander-in-Chief Tao Xianggui of the Harbin military headquarters, a recent intelligence report states that more than 2,000 Russian bolsheviks have come from Irkutsk to Oloviannaia, 500 li from Manzhouli, proposing to cause disturbances in Harbin. They were intercepted by the cossack cavalry there, but their desires have not been extinguished and they are still planning to come. Moreover, according to intelligence and Russian newspaper reports, Riutin, who was previously driven out of the border, will attempt to restore his power in Harbin. Apart from informing Heilongjiang military governor Bao to instruct his men to be on guard, and wiring the headquarters to pay close attention and take precautions, we are reporting this for Your reference.

Telegram from Jilin Military Governor Meng Enyuan and Governor Guo Zongxi, 6 February 1918 (sent 5 February). Zhong-e guanxi shiliao, Minguo jiunian zhi banian (1917-1919). E zhengbian yu yiban jiaoshe (1), p. 239.
Bao_Guiqing
Bao Guiqing, Military Governor of Heilongjiang 1917-1919. Source.

These and other reports were taken seriously by Chinese authorities at the highest levels. In late January, President Feng Guozhang instructed Heilongjiang Military Governor Bao Guiqing to draw up short- and medium-term defence plans. The result was decidedly pro-Semenov and anti-bolshevik.

民國七年二月六日
齊齊哈爾鮑貴卿來電
二月四日(三日發)
大總統、國務院鈞鑒:
陸軍部、參謀本部均鑒:
正密。大總統漾電敬悉。遵即擬定弭患辦法及應行籌備事宜電陳鑒核:

(一)分飭中東鐵路一帶及沿邊及[?]駐軍嚴加防范,厲行檢查。凡入境俄兵,一律解除武裝,並嚴禁德奧人民潛入國境,以防意外。
(二)於海參崴、阿穆爾省齊都及依裡古次克等重要地點,另由本署加派干員前往密偵,隨時具報,並游說俄國軍民,痛陳利害,力詆新黨,使相傾軋,以減其勢。
(三)駐滿洲裡之俄武官協米羅夫,在東部西伯利亞頗佔勢力。據稱,志[在?]統一西伯利亞東部軍權,與新黨宗旨迥不相合。業經密諭駐偵員暗與接洽,利用其兵力驅逐新黨,並扼守大烏裡、貝加爾湖間之各要站,以為我境屏藩。
(四)此次新黨被遣回國,痛恨霍總辦傷骨,故新黨之卷土重來,尤為霍爾瓦特所畏慮。亟應聯絡霍總辦合力抵御,並一面分飭各軍官長與俄軍官妥為接妥[洽?],以期協力防范。
(五)中東鐵路直貫江省防界千余裡,直[只?]駐兵十數營,指揮聯絡,備極艱難。滿洲裡孤懸一隅,國防外交,尤要[關?]重要。亟應於該站設立統一機關,選派知兵干員,以專責成。
(六)俄軍借監送黨軍為詞,設立華俄混合隊。而我早識其奸,不為所動,復擬利用蒙人,出餉招募,借勢收復路權。詭計譎謀,不可不防。尤宜開誠布公,懷柔蒙族,使其傾向祖國,不為利動。現已遣派妥員聯絡勝福及其他重要蒙人,預為杜防,此所謂弭患辦法也。

滿洲裡、海拉爾隔絕興安嶺之外,交通困難,必須使協米羅夫驅逐新黨,與我互相提攜,方能以該處為根據地。否則宜派重兵,始克資以控制。滿海防務亟待經營,此宜籌備者一也。
倘協米羅夫不為我用,抑或其事竟失敗,當以博克圖為必守之點,屯戍重兵,扼大嶺隔道之要隘,以絕俄人侵入門戶,此宜籌備者之二也。
黑河為東北重鎮,一旦有事,為用兵之爭點。雖大江環抱,春季冰融,有險足恃,惟該方面僅駐一旅,國防究屬危險,仍須添集兵力,此宜籌備者三也。
滿洲裡道路遼遠,運兵難而耗款巨,當以利器補助兵力之不足,多備火炮、機關槍等,以寡敵眾,方為勝算,此宜籌備者四也。
一旦與俄啟舋,國交斷絕,決非江省獨立所能支持。近者當合三省之力,大者應注全國之力,此宜籌備者五也。
以上所擬各條,是否有當,祈明教,俾資遵循,無任盼禱之至。除各方面情形得報隨時電陳外,謹此奉聞。

6 February 1918
Telegram from Bao Guiqing, Qiqihar
4 February (sent 3 February)

To the President and State Council,
To the Army Ministry and General Staff,

Secret. The President’s message of the 23rd received, in obedience to which I present the following draft measures for threat resolution, as well as preparations required.

1. To instruct troops on the Chinese Eastern Railway and along the border to be on strict guard and carry out stringent checks. All Russian troops entering the border to be disarmed, and German and Austrian citizens to be strictly prohibited from entering covertly, to prevent any incidents.
2. This office to send additional agents to conduct intelligence in Vladivostok, Chita in Amur oblast’ [sic], Irkutsk and other key locations, to report continually and to lobby Russian soldiers and civilians, earnestly laying out their interests and strongly condemning the bolsheviks, setting them against each other to reduce bolshevik influence.
3. The Russian officer in Manzhouli, Semenov, has the advantage in East Siberia. It is said that he is unifying the military forces in eastern Siberia and his principles are diametrically opposed to the bolsheviks’. I have already instructed the agent stationed there to negotiate with him secretly, to use his forces to drive out the bolsheviks and guard the various key stations between Dauria and Lake Baikal, as a buffer for our territory.
4. Since the bolsheviks were repatriated, they harbour deep hatred towards [CER] General Manager Horvath. Hence, a revival of the bolsheviks is something that particularly worries Horvath. General Manager Horvath should be urgently contacted to join forces in resisting them, while also instructing the various officers to cooperate with Russian forces, so that they may work together in forestalling them.
5. The CER runs through more than 1,000 miles of the Heilongjiang frontier, in which only tens of battalions are stationed. Command and communications are extremely difficult. Manzhouli is far-flung and especially important both defensively and diplomatically. A unified command organisation should be urgently established there, with agents familiar with military matters sent specifically for this task.
6. On the pretext of guarding and conveying bolshevik soldiers, Russian troops proposed that mixed Sino-Russian units be established. However, we recognised their duplicity early on and were not provoked by them. They then proposed to use Mongols, recruiting them with salary and provisions and using their strength to reclaim their authority on the railway. Such devious plots cannot go unchecked. It would be better to deal openly and honestly, appeasing the Mongols to induce them to favour their homeland and not be swayed [by the Russians]. I have now sent a delegate to communicate with Sheng Fu and other important Mongols as a pre-emptive measure. These are the measures for resolving the threat.

Manzhouli and Hailar are cut off by the Khingan mountain range. Communications are difficult, and it is necessary to make Semenov drive out the bolsheviks and work in concert with us. Only then can that area became a base. Failing which, strong forces must be sent there for it to be controlled. The defence of Manzhouli and Hailar is in dire need of management. This is one area of preparation.
If Semenov will not be used by us or if he fails in his endeavours, then Bukhedu must be defended. Strong forces should be stationed there to hold the important passes in the Greater Khingan range and bar the Russians from storming the gates. This is the second area of preparation.
Heihe is an important town in Manchuria and, if an incident occurs, will become a military flashpoint. Although it is surrounded by a large river, when the ice melts in spring there are sufficient grounds for concern. However, there is only one brigade stationed there. Given that national defence is under threat, it is necessary to muster more forces there. This is the third area of preparation.
The road to Manzhouli is long and troop transport is both difficult and expensive. Good weaponry should be employed to make up for the lack of manpower, readying artillery, machine guns etc, in order to counteract the enemy’s greater numbers. Only then can we count on success. This is the fourth area of preparation.
If hostilities commence with Russia and relations are ruptured, Heilongjiang will certainly not be able to stand alone. On a small scale, all three Manchurian provinces must join forces; on a larger scale, it must take up the entire country’s strength. This is the fifth area of preparation.

If the various measures drafted above are appropriate, I beg Your guidance and instruction. Apart from conveying new situation reports as they are received, I present this for Your reference.

Letter from the State Council, 7 February 1918. Zhong-E guanxi shiliao, Minguo liunian zhi banian (1917-1919). Dongbei bianfang (1), pp. 70-71.
semeovyurt
At Semenov’s ger. Source.

At this early stage, Semenov may have seemed an attractive ally. His Special Manchurian Detachment (Osobyi man’chzhurskii otriad) had advanced from Manzhouli to Adrianovka in mid-January and seemed poised to take Chita. Nevertheless, Bao sounded a note of caution: The towns and stations from which Semenov would draw support were liminal territories for the Chinese as well. Manzhouli, Hailar and Bukhedu were part of Hulunbuir (Barga), contested among Russians, Chinese, and Bargut and other Mongol groups. The region had declared independence from China as recently as 1912, supported by Russian officials, and it was Russian influence that returned it to Chinese sovereignty in 1915. If given a free hand, Semenov’s recruitment of Mongol troops could well encourage separatism, erode Chinese control over Hulunbuir and raise the spectre of continued Russian interference in areas claimed by China.

Such fears were not unfounded, as the exploits of Semenov’s lieutenant R.F. Ungern-Sternberg would prove. As long as the Reds seemed the greater threat, however, Chinese officials were willing to deal leniently with the Whites. This would change once Semenov’s fortunes turned barely a month later, sending his troops fleeing into China.

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