Counterrevolution in Harbin

In March 1918, resistance to the November Revolution entered a new phase. Early in the month the Bolsheviks and Central Powers signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, decisively ending Russia’s participation in the war. Now the Allies had even less reason to handle the Bolshevik regime with kid gloves. Armed support would be given to counterrevolutionary movements that promised to reverse the separate peace and resume Russia’s war effort. Outright intervention also commenced with the landing of British Royal Marines in Murmansk.

horvathvlad
Chinese Eastern Railway general manager D.L. Horvath with members of the Allied interventionary forces in Vladivostok, 1918. Source.

At the same time, domestic anti-Bolshevik movements were beginning to coalesce on the peripheries of the Russian empire. We have already seen how Semenov used the Sino-Russian border as a base from which to launch an attack in early 1918. While the offensive soon lost steam and was repulsed by the Reds, this frontier was in many ways an ideal location for the Whites. Borders were porous and under-policed, giving White forces a convenient escape route. The Japanese army, keen to take advantage of Russia’s internal instability, was a source of arms and advisors. Chinese authority did not fully extend into the Chinese Eastern Railway zone, allowing Russians a relatively free hand there. At any rate, as a member of the Alliance, Beijing was obliged to turn a blind eye to the Whites’ activities. Short of invading China outright, the Reds could do little.

It was during this period that Chinese territory – in particular, the Russian enclave of Harbin and the CER – became a haven for the Whites. Anti-Bolshevik leaders rallied around Ambassador Kudashev, Railway general manager Horvath and the Russo-Asiatic Bank, which owned the CER concession and received China’s Boxer Indemnity funds. Semenov’s retreating troops formed a ready-made military wing. The Allies stood ready to aid them, transporting materiel through the CER and the Japanese-controlled South Manchurian Railway. Despite the fact that all this was taking place in Chinese territory, the opinions of the Chinese were almost an afterthought. They were simply informed that a prospective Russian government-in-exile was being established in China.

庫使云:此次中東鐵路霍總辦、華俄銀行波總裁來京,與本使議改中東鐵路行政方法,同時議及各項問題中有最關重要之一問題,即決定在哈爾濱籌設機關。其目的仍與協商各國一致動作,雪廣義派政府與敵國單獨媾和之奇恥,並與西伯利亞政府聯合一氣,以遏制廣義派及德奧俘虜東侵之勢。其職務,外交方面由本使代表,隨時向貴國及協商各使接洽,財政由波氏籌劃,軍警由霍氏擔任。霍氏在哈埠有年,與貴國、日本及他國人信感相投,辦理此事,居高一呼,助者必眾。倘使籌備軍實足坐鎮,俾廣義派及德奧俘虜不敢東來覬覦,則種種支節問題,均足以消弭於無形,此貴國與本國共同之利益也。惟此事籌議已決,而尚未便公然宣布者,則以哈埠廣義派,雖經驅逐出境,難保絕無遺留,猶在籌備之際,此項計劃遂入該派黨徒之耳,恐將不利於霍氏,是以先由本使向貴部及協商各使密為通告。茲得本使同霍、波兩氏議決字據,送請貴總長察閱一過。
總長閱其字據畢,乃云:此紙能否留下。
庫使云:此紙系屬原本,尚擬遍送協商各使察閱,貴總長意欲存留,容飭館員打出一份送至貴部可也。
總長云:善。貴使已與英朱使談及此事否。
庫使云:今午已晤英朱使談及此事。

Kudashev: CER general manager Horvath and Russo-Chinese Bank chairman [A.I.] Putilov are now in Beijing to discuss with me a means of reorganising the administration of the CER. At the time, the most critical question among the various issues discussed was the decision to establish an organisation in Harbin. Its objectives are to preserve unity of action with the Allies, wipe away the shame of the Bolshevik government’s separate peace with the enemy, and join forces with the Siberian government in order to halt the eastward advance of the Bolsheviks and German and Austrian POWs. As for its offices, diplomatic functions will be undertaken by myself, to maintain communications with Your country and the various Allied ambassadors. Finance will be overseen by Putilov, and the army and police will be Horvath’s responsibility.
Horvath has been in Harbin for many years and enjoyed good relations with Your country, the Japanese and other nationalities. In this undertaking, his appeals will be received with widespread support. If sufficient troops were prepared and garrisoned such that the Bolsheviks and German and Austrian POWs would not dare to come eastwards with their schemes, all problems and technicalities would be eliminated to the mutual benefit of both Your country and mine.
The plans for this have been decided upon but it was not appropriate to announce them publicly. Although the Harbin Bolsheviks have already been expelled, one cannot guarantee that there are no traces of them left. Especially during the preparatory phase, it would not be in Horvath’s interests if our project were to reach the ears of that party. Hence, I am informing Your Ministry and the Allied ambassadors about this in confidence. Here is the written resolution from myself, Horvath and Putilov, if the Minister would be inclined to peruse it.
Lu, after reading the document: May I keep this paper?
Kudashev: This is the original, which I plan to present to the other Allied ambassadors. If the Minister wishes to keep it, please allow me to instruct my staff to type out a copy and send it to Your Ministry?
Lu: Good. Has Your Excellency spoken about this with British Ambassador Jordan?
Kudashev: I met him this afternoon and discussed it.

Meeting between Ambassador Kudashev and Foreign Minister Lu Zhengxiang, 2 March 1918. Zhong-e guanxi shiliao, Minguo jiunian zhi banian (1917-1919). E zhengbian yu yiban jiaoshe (1), p. 277.
ruslegation
Kudashev’s seat in Beijing. Source.

Despite Kudashev’s cagey description of his group as an “organisation”, it was clear that nobody was fooled (the term used in the source, 機關 jiguan, has connotations of official-ness). Lu’s first response was to consult with the Allied diplomatic corps to express China’s reservations. In an initial meeting with Ambassador Jordan, he drew an interesting parallel between Horvath and China’s Boxer Rebellion.

總長云:俄國公使與霍爾瓦特等在北京組織一會,以抵制其國之過激派,曾對本總長言,業已告知貴公使。
朱使云:是。該會如能成立,甚善。
總長云:在本國一方面觀之,似不甚妥,因本國與俄國尚未絕交也。
朱使云:貴國政府為難之處,本公使亦甚明。
總長云:該會與前清庚子之役,李鴻章、張之洞二公在上海反對政府與各國宣戰之政策相同。其時本總長出使俄國,政府電令回國,本總長因電詢李、張二公應否遵辦,據復不必。
朱使云:李、張二公當時反對有效,甚望該會此次亦能有效也。
[批]:此會吾國應取何種態度,擬請由參司顧問分頭切實研究。

Lu: The Russian ambassador has organised a group in Beijing with Horvath and others in order to resist the Bolsheviks in their country. He spoke with me about this and has also informed your Excellency.
Jordan: Yes. If that group can indeed be established, it would be excellent.
Lu: From the perspective of my country, it is not entirely appropriate, since we have not broken off relations with Russia.
Jordan: I am well aware of the difficulties this poses for Your government.
Lu: This group is akin to the policies of Li Hongzhang and Zhang Zhidong during the Boxer Rebellion, when they opposed the government’s declaration of war [on the western powers] from Shanghai. At the time I was ambassador in Russia. The government instructed me to return and I sent a telegram asking Li and Zhang if I should obey. They said it was unnecessary.
Jordan: Li’s and Zhang’s opposition was effective then. I very much hope that this group will also be effective.
Note: Regarding the attitude our country should take towards this group, a thorough study should be requested from the War Department’s advisors.

Meeting between Lu Zhengxiang and British Ambassador Sir John Jordan, 6 March 1918. Ibid., pp. 283-284.

Lu thus began by explicitly stating China’s ambivalence and ended with a highly charged analogy. Li Hongzhang and Zhang Zhidong had parted ways with the Qing government in opposing the Boxers, and it was this act of insubordination that made room for peace with the imperial powers. But the resulting Boxer Protocol was perceived as a humilitating imposition on China and cost Li his life. What Jordan might have characterised as “effective” opposition was, at the same time, a painful historical memory for the Chinese.

Jordan might not have grasped the entire import of Lu’s words, but Deputy Foreign Minister Gao Erqian spoke more bluntly in another meeting on 13 March. Gao argued that White activities in China could lead to conflict with the Bolsheviks. In the face of Allied determination, however, these protests met with little sympathy. Britain, France and Japan had already decided to support the new “organisation” in Harbin. The Chinese had to allow the Whites not only to operate freely, but to arm themselves, as the following receipt from Kudashev showed. Not included were the Japanese military advisors who joined Semenov at the same time.

kuroki
Semenov with one of his Japanese advisors, Captain Kuroki Chikayoshi. The original image appeared in a 1937 memorial book on Kuroki. Source.

一八九八年式快炮全份八尊。
榴彈一萬枚。
群子彈五萬枚。
一九零五年式機關槍全份五十架。
機關槍子彈二百萬粒。
手擲炸彈一萬枚。
槍放炸彈一千枚。
火箭二千枚。
十五厘徑榴彈炮全份二尊。
一九零五年式短槍三千枝。
一八九七年式來福槍二千枝。
槍子七百五十萬粒。
手槍二百枝。
手槍子二萬粒。
以上各項,由長春運往滿洲里。

1898-model cannons: Eight. Shells: 10,000. Shrapnel shells: 50,000.
1905-model machine guns: 50. Machine-gun ammunition: 2 million rounds.
Hand grenades: 10,000. Rifle grenades: 1,000. Rockets: 2,000.
15cm-calibre howitzer: Two.
1905-model carbines: 3,000. 1897-model rifles: 2,000. Ammunition: 7.5 million rounds.
Handguns: 200. Ammunition: 20,000 rounds.
The above were shipped from Changchun to Manzhouli.

Receipt from Kudashev, 18 March 1918 (sent 16 March). Ibid., pp. 301-302.

The White movement in China thus put the Chinese themselves in a difficult position. It gave the Bolsheviks ample grounds for a quarrel, increased frontier insecurity, undermined Chinese authority and extended Japanese influence. Little could be done for the time being except rein Semenov in and hope that the Allies would look kindly on Beijing’s cooperation. Unfortunately, the Chinese were to be disappointed on both counts.

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