China Joins the Siberian Intervention

By the beginning of August, both Washington and Tokyo had committed themselves to military intervention in Siberia. The other Allied nations soon followed suit. While preparations were made for the deployment of troops, the interventionists also wished to support the Czechoslovak Legion in Vladivostok in linking up with their compatriots on the western side of the Trans-Siberian. To this end, it was crucial to secure passage for the Legion on the Chinese Eastern Railway. Permission would have to be granted by General Manager Horvath and the Chinese authorities – a delicate task, since control over the Railway was a particularly sensitive issue.

Horvath had not endeared himself to the Czechoslovaks by initially denying them the right to use the CER; Allied arm-twisting finally secured his compliance. Heilongjiang Military Governor Bao Guiqing also showed some misgivings and had to be brought in line by the Beijing government.

czechcamels
Czechoslovak legionnaires with a camel caravan. Source.

赤軍通過中東路一案,聞邵領事有與赤軍接洽,允請將沿路從前俄兵駐所,統由督辦飭路供應之議。頃准鮑督東電:

「赤軍假道,當趨前方,何以忽及沿路俄兵駐所,是否干涉路事。在我有地主之權,假道赤軍究有若干,以及列車經過日期,事前應通知江省,以免誤會。又赤軍未經開出國界,應受中國警備司令約束,作戰時期亦應俟實力充足,由我審核,暗中允許,方免僨事。」各等語。

查此次各協約國一致協助赤軍,我國准令通過中東鐵路,亦系盡協約之義務,但該軍行動由我操縱,此時實無此實權。頃接駐法胡公使電,法國已派來大將統帶赤軍,該軍將來舉動,自屬有人主持。其假道期間,或因車輛運輸不及,偶有停留,借駐沿路兵房,亦所難免。若因此干涉路事,在我自有正當理由與之交涉。除電復鮑督外,應希查照,並將該軍假道之人數、及列車數目,與其時期,隨時電知江省可也。

On the matter of Czech troops travelling on the CER, we have heard that Consul Shao [Hengjun] has reached an agreement with the Czechs and acceded to their request that the former Russian guard barracks should be granted to them by order of the supervisor. Now, according to a telegram from Military Governor Bao:

‘The Czech troops are seeking passage simply to go to the front, so why is there a sudden need to involve the Russian guard barracks in the Railway zone, and could they interfere with Railway matters? We have rights as the landlord. Exactly how many Czech soldiers are passing through and the dates on which the trains will run – Heilongjiang should be informed of this beforehand to avoid a misunderstanding. Moreover, before the Czech soldiers leave the border, they should be subject to control by the Chinese guard headquarters. The date for hostilities must also wait until they have sufficient strength, which should be determined and secretly permitted by us. Only then can we avoid an injurious situation.’

Now that the Allies are all helping the Czech forces, in allowing them to travel on the CER, our country is also doing our duty by the Alliance. But as for whether those forces can be controlled by us, we do not in fact have such a right at this time. We have since received a telegram from [Ambassador to France] Hu Weide that France has already dispatched a general to lead the Czech troops, and their activities in future will naturally be directed by him. While they are passing through, it may be that a shortfall in trains for transport could cause occasional delays, hence billeting in the Railway guard barracks is unavoidable. If, because of this, there is interference in Railway matters, we will naturally have proper grounds for negotiating with them. Apart from wiring Military Governor Bao, we also request that the number of Czech soldiers passing through, the serial numbers of the trains and their dates be made known to Heilongjiang.

Telegram from the War Participation Bureau to Meng Enyuan, Bao Guiqing and Guo Zongxi, 5 August 1918. Zhong-e guanxi shiliao, Minguo jiunian zhi banian (1917-1919): chubing Xiboliya, pp. 235-236.

Beijing had already communicated to the Americans on 24 July that the Legion would have “unrestricted freedom” in using the CER. Bao’s ambivalence, while not an outright act of insubordination, demonstrated his preoccupation with local concerns. His suggestion that the Chinese should “control” the Legion stemmed from his experiences with Semenov, who had used Chinese territory as a base from which to attack the Reds and whose repeated defeats had endangered the border. Nevertheless, the Czechoslovaks were a very different proposition from Semenov’s cossack band. As the War Participation Bureau pointed out, the Legion had the avowed support of the Allies. If China wished to fulfil its duties – and if it wished to secure future diplomatic advantage – local officials would have to accommodate the Czechoslovaks on the Railway.

vladctroops
Chinese residents of Vladivostok welcoming their forces. Source.

Of equal importance to its international prestige was the participation of Chinese forces in the Siberian intervention. Pressure mounted as soon as the American note setting out proposed troop strengths was issued: Telegrams arrived from diplomats and officials in Jilin, Heilongjiang and Vladivostok calling for China to be represented among the Allies. Already on 20 July, a “representative of the Premier” suggested to American charge d’affaires John Van Antwerp MacMurray that Washington should issue them an invitation to intervene in Siberia similar to the one delivered to Japan. Even without such an invitation, China was prepared to send 1,000-2,000 troops as part of the Allied mission. America consented to this on 29 July and Beijing began preparing for deployment.

二日電悉。派兵事前已派部員王績,第九師軍法官賈增洽,先行勘視運兵路線。以外交界態度未盡明瞭,未能公然電讬一切,但令持文謁商,日內計將抵崴,所有種種應先准備之事,即乞面為囑付。承代覓兵舍[疑有脫誤]。至崴兵數約計千六百人,內步兵兩營,騎、砲、工、機各一連,夫役七百在外,支隊長系上校宋煥章。分兩次出發,先開步一營,司令部同行,俟各路運車說妥即發,屆時當另電告。

Telegram of the 2nd received. On the matter of military deployment, ministerial official Wang Ji and 9th Division military judge Jia Zengqia have been sent ahead to survey the routes for troop transport. Since the attitude among diplomatic circles is not entirely clear, it has not been possible to openly wire our requests, but they [Wang and Jia] have documents and will meet with you to discuss matters. They are expected to reach Vladivostok in a few days and we hope that you will brief them on all the necessary preparations in person. Please be so kind as to help them find barracks [words missing]. The number of troops earmarked for Vladivostok is around 1,600, including two battalions of infantry and one company each of cavalry, artillery, engineers and machine-gunners, not counting another 700 labourers. The leader of the detachment is Colonel Song Huanzhang. They will depart in two groups, the first comprising one battalion of infantry together with the command. Once the routes and trains have been arranged, they will leave immediately. A separate telegram will be sent when the time comes.

Telegram from the War Participation Bureau to Shao Hengjun, 5 August 1918 (sent 4 August). Ibid., p. 237.
ussuribattle
“The Japanese army defeated the German-Austrian Army near Usri, Siberia”. Print by Shobido & Co., 1919. Source.

As with the delay over the Chinese warship, however, Vladivostok consul Shao found himself battling Beijing’s dilatory bureaucracy. Time and again, he wired asking when the troops would arrive; the French and Japanese forces had already made their entrance and the barracks he had found were soon occupied by the Japanese and Americans. The Chinese battalions finally showed up in Ussuriisk and Vladivostok at the end of August, just in time to take part in a joint offensive on the Ussuri line.

Like the Americans and Japanese, the Chinese forces eventually overshot their original number. Their total strength reached 4,000, stationed chiefly in Vladivostok and Ussuriisk. More importantly, however, this was the first time China had taken part in joint military operations on an equal footing with the Great Powers. Chinese commanders were granted a seat at the Allied military council in Vladivostok, Chinese prerogatives over the CER were recognised, and China’s responsibility for guarding the Railway officially sanctioned. The Siberian Intervention was an unprecedented opportunity for China to claim its place in the sun.

2 thoughts on “China Joins the Siberian Intervention

  1. Pingback: A Railway Strike and the Czechoslovaks – Shots Across the Amur 黑龍江對岸的槍聲

  2. Pingback: China’s Contributions to the Siberian Intervention – Shots Across the Amur 黑龍江對岸的槍聲

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