[ 14 July 1900 ]
British and Allied troops sent to crush an alliance of Boxer rebels and Chinese imperial forces, seized the northern port city of Tientsin (Tianjin) in the early hours of 14 July 1900. The Dundee Courier noted that ‘after the city was entered, there was at first indiscriminate slaughter, and it is alleged that many houses were entered, and everyone – men, women and children – bayoneted.’ As the newspaper acknowledged, these allegations were not denied: ‘It is admitted,’ the report continued, ‘that all the Allies at first after storming the town killed indiscriminately whether the Chinese were armed or not,’ but claimed that civilian lives were saved ‘after the order was given to loot’ at which point ‘the killing ceased.’1
From then on, as a correspondent for the New York Sun explained, ‘the whole day was devoted principally to looting the native city,’ adding that: ‘It would be impossible to cable a description of the scenes enacted here. The whole city is filled with an indiscriminate mob of Chinese and soldiers of all nationalities, who are smashing open the shops, chests and safes, rushing hither and thither with their arms full of silks, furs and jewellery, silver bars and money,’ adding that ‘the American and Japanese officers alone made any attempt to restrain their soldiers.’2
The reporter recalled that ‘the first I saw of the looting was about noon of July 14 – that was of the actual looting. The first I saw of the proceeds was early next morning at the West Arsenal, when on my way into the city. I met a captain of the (British) Royal Asiatic Artillery with four of his men carrying a stretcher loaded with furs. ‘I’ve been in for furs,’ he said with a grin. ‘Didn’t do so badly did I ?’3 The Daily Mail‘s correspondent witnessed a similar enthusiasm. ‘Never shall I forget,’ he declared, ‘the scene in one place – a huge store-house of silver contained in boxes taxing two men to lift. Without a window, iron-lined, it was pitch dark, and inside a crowd of soldiers – men, officers, European and Indian – fought and struggled with civilians for possession. And so the work went on all that day and the next.’4 The Greenock Telegraph reported that ‘British troops, under the direction of their officers, took possession of a great quantity of bar silver, but this, through some inexplicable oversight, was not placed under guard during the night, with the result that every bit of it disappeared before daylight.’5
The anarchy of the free for all spilled over into the international settlements where even foreign residents became victims. A fifteen year old girl wrote to a Lincolnshire gentleman in Shanghai, informing him that ‘even our British have been stealing… Some ladies have only got the clothes they stand in. Our men went into the Terrace and tore open boxes, and took our ladies dresses and ripped them up. Mrs. Cowley went home and found all her dresses laying on the floor, torn up in thousands of pieces.’6 Such chaos might be tolerated so long as it only impacted Chinese civilians, but as complaints poured in from European residents, the Allied Commanders decided that the looting could only continue ‘in an official way… for the benefit of soldiers who had done the fighting and bleeding, and now were entitled to the gingerbread.’ The reporter appeared genuinely impressed by the supposed efficiency and honesty with which the British Army belatedly organised the massive plundering operation. ‘The main road from the city to the (European) settlements, the one usually taken, is called the Taku road, and leads by the Temperance Hall, where a British force was quartered. A very smooth and pleasant young officer was there in charge of the official loot seizers… All kinds came in and were seized by the British guard… and the young officer was very polite about it. It was all to be sold, and the proceeds divided among the men who had done the fighting. If the temporary owner liked, he could tag his loot with his name, and perhaps it might be returned to him.’7
The Daily Telegraph, commenting on the report, observed more soberly that ‘the conduct of the “Foreign Devils” in the Far East is not likely to impress John Chinaman with the virtues of European civlisation,’ adding that ‘the account of the looting of Tientsin sounds more like the proceedings of Drake’s privateers… than the operations of organised troops of great nations at the end of this century of light and learning.’8 Other newspapers, however, gave a more positive spin to the theft. ‘The Chinese,’ The Dundee Courier observed, ‘have received a lesson at Tientsin as to the punishment they may expect, which may have a salutary effect,’ noting that ‘as it is one of the wealthiest towns in China an immense amount of booty was got’ and that consequently ‘the campaign in China promises to be more profitable – with the prospect of the proceedings at Tientsin being repeated on a larger scale at Pekin – than the Transvaal (Boer) war, at least for those engaged in the actual fighting.’ It added that the ransacking of the town had been so thorough that ‘all the better houses are now complete wrecks.’9
- Looting Tientsin: Remarkable Scenes,’ The Dundee Courier, 4 September 1900, p. 5
- A correspondent for William Laffan’s New York Sun cited in ‘The Caputre of Tientsin,’ The Globe, 21 July 1900, p. 5., ‘Looting by Europeans at Tientsin: A Shocking Story,’ The Western Evening Herald, 23 July 1900, p. 3 and ‘Loot,’ The Cheltenham Chronicle, 28 July 1900, p. 4.
- An account by the New York Sun correspondent cited in ‘The Looting of Tientsin: Spoils to the Victors – Some Big Hauls,’ The Daily Telegraph, 31 October 1900, accessed online at url https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/DTN19001031.2.20.3 Also cited in ‘The Looting of Tientsin,’ The London Daily News, 20 September 1900, p. 3.
- The Daily Mail cited in ‘The Looting of Tientsin,’ The Norwich Mercury, 1 September 1900, p. 4.
- ‘Looting at Tientsin,’ The Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette, 27 July 1900, p. 3
- ‘A Girl’s Impression of the Tientsin Siege,’ The Lincolnshire Chronicle, 21 September 1900, p. 6.
- An account by the New York Sun correspondent cited in ‘The Looting of Tientsin: Spoils to the Victors – Some Big Hauls,’ The Daily Telegraph, 31 October 1900, accessed online at url https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/DTN19001031.2.20.3
- ‘The Looting of Tientsin: Spoils to the Victors – Some Big Hauls,’ The Daily Telegraph, 31 October 1900, accessed online at url https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/DTN19001031.2.20.3
- ‘Looting Tientsin: Remarkable Scenes,’ The Dundee Courier, 4 September 1900, p. 5.
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