Monday, October 4, 2010

The Shantung Monster, and a Declaration of War

Over on my Livejournal, I've been running some excerpts from Stella Dong's splendid Shanghai: The Rise and Fall of the Decadent City. (To indifferent response, I should add. Too long, I guess). The following are two of the shorter excerpts, which I'm posting here because the Shantung Monster is the classic historical-person-who-reads-like-he's-from-a-pulp-story, and because the declaration of war is about the best phrased declaration in the history of history.

A warlord of an entirely different sort, and one with whom the Green Gang leaders would find an instant affinity, was the Shantung's gargantuan, shaven-headed, illiterate Chang Tsung-chang, whose sixty-thousand-man army of Shantung soldiers augmented by a contingent of White Russian army recruits next swept into Shanghai. The six-foot-seven "Shantung monster" had fought his way up from poverty by working in gambling dens in his native Shantung. The son of a witch and a trumpet player, Chang was the most feared and rapacious of the warlords. Critics were instantly executed, and he encouraged his men to hang the severed heads of their victims--"open melons," they called them--from telegraph poles throughout the province as an advertisement of their abilities. Chang Tsung-chang smoked only the biggest and most expensive Manila cigars and traveled everywhere with his enormous lacquered teak coffin. Notoriously fond of food and pleasures of the flesh, the Shantung behemoth consumed huge amounts of food, which he washed down with brandy and champagne, and maintained a harem of some three dozen Chinese and international beauties to which he was always adding new recruits--each of the foreign members of the seraglio was provided a washbowl with the flag of her country painted on its side.
"Chang Tsung-chang" is the Wade-Giles romanization of Zhang Zongchang, who will forever be known as the "Dogmeat General." You can find out much more about him in the splendid Osprey Chinese Warlord Armies, 1911-30.

Meanwhile, back in Shanghai, the imprisonment of Huang coincided with

the most intense fighting yet around Shanghai, as rivalry among Kiangsu and Chekiang warlords for control of Shanghai's opium revenues reached such a pitch that the struggle was dubbed the "opium war." The Kiangsu warlord Chi Shi-yuan, a classicist with a small face and wispy mustache who spent hours perfecting his calligraphic style, started the conflict in September 1924 by declaring war against Lu Yung-hsiang with the following public statement: "I have a beautiful Sung vase, a precious thing which it would be sacrilegious to break. Inside the vase, a rat keeps climbing to the top and sticking out its head. Now I would dearly like to catch that rat and kill it, but I might break the vase. That would be a calamity. Yet, if I turn the vase upside down, the rat will run out and I can kill it. That is what I am going to do."

Chi fought Lu to a standstill, but the Dogmeat General arrived, beat his army, and sent him fleeing to Japan.

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