1920-1939 | China | Civilians slaughtered | Martial law

30 MAY


An armoured car at a street corner in Shanghai - 1925. The Sphere, 18 July 1925, p. 66.
An armoured car at a street corner in Shanghai – 1925. The Sphere, 18 July 1925, p. 66.

[ 30 May 1925 ]

At 3.37 pm on 39 May 1925, Inspector Edward Everson discharged his pistol into an unarmed crowd of demonstrators who had gathered outside a British police station within the Shanghai international settlement. The Sikh and Chinese officers under his command also opened fire, killing four, fatally wounding six more and further wounding at least fourteen.1 When Everson was asked by a Chinese magistrate if he could not have dispersed the gathering by firing at their legs, he responded that as a last resort his orders were ‘to shoot to kill. He had to obey these orders.’2 An American missionary who witnessed the incident, testified that he thought the shootings ‘absolutely unjustified’ and that ‘the crowd was only blocking the street and cheering. They shouted something like “Hurrah” and were quite manageable.’3

The protesters had been demanding the release of sixty students detained for daring to carry political banners through the settlement, which though housing about a million Chinese people and technically under Chinese sovereignty, remained under the administration of Western powers.4 The day after the shootings students, tram drivers, factory workers, shopkeepers and even domestic servants staged a general strike, the goal of which, to cite the Scotsman, was ‘to overthrow modern imperialism and abolish unequal treaties.’5 A local English language newspaper estimated that about ‘100,000 men have walked out, men of the coolie class greatly predominating among the strikers.’6 In response, the British government sent three warships, which arrived on 4 June, landing 2,000 bluejackets and the Municipal Council declared martial law. Over the next month, as the colonial police continued to used deadly force, at least thirty were killed, hundreds injured and many hundreds more detained.

The British press strongly supported the bloody clampdown on the students and workers. The Times noted how ‘the police acted with the greatest forbearance’ and the Daily Telegraph, commenting on the initial shooting, claimed it had been ‘regrettable’ but necessary, although it acknowledged it had ‘created the greatest indignation locally.’7 Several newspapers whipped up fears of a supposedly imminent Communist takeover in an attempt to justify the brutality of the clampdown. The Sheffield Daily Telegraph ran with a headline ‘Red Hand in China,’ claiming that ‘anti-British and anti-Japanese propaganda is being ceaselessly carried on among the workers’ and that ‘abundant Bolshevist literature had been found.’8 Similarly, the Yorkshire Post, under a headline of ‘Bolshevik Intrigues’ reported that the police in Shanghai had ‘secured irrefutable evidence of Bolshevik money and activities behind the present disturbances.’9


  1. ‘Fatal Riots in Shanghai – Ten Students Killed,’ The Northern Whig and Belfast Post, 1 June 1925, p. 7.
  2. ‘Shoot to Kill,’ The Northern Whig and Belfast Post, 11 June 1925, p. 7.
  3. Ibid.
  4. ‘Seven Rioters Killed,” The Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 1 June 1925, p9
  5. Cited in ‘Police Fire on Crowd. Martial Law Declared,’ The Scotsman, 2 June 1925, p. 5.
  6. Cited in ‘Shanghai Quiet,’ The Shields Daily News, 4 June 1925, p. 1
  7. The Times cited in ‘New Shanghai Rioting,’ The Belfast Newsletter, 2 June 1925, p. 7 and The Daily Telegraph cited in ‘Fatal Riots in Shanghai,’ the Northern Whig, 1 June 1925, p. 7.
  8. ‘Red Hand in China,’ The Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 5 June 1925, p. 5.
  9. ‘Bolshevik Intrigues,’ The Yorkshire Post, 6 June 1925, p. 9.

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