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Colonial Cases

Tientsin Rowdies, 1883

Tientsin Rowdies

Mixed Court, Shanghai

Chen and Haas

Source: North China Herald, 31 Jan 1883



  On Saturday morning at the Mixed Court, before His Worship Chen and Mr. Haas, the Austrian Consul, sitting as Assessor, Li Ching-ah and fifteen other Chinese were brought up by the police on a charge of assembling in a riotous manner and parading in the Canton and Fuhkien Roads, with arms in their possession, with intent to commit a felony, on the night of the 25th instant, with a number of others not in custody." The prisoners belong to a numerous band of Tientsin rowdies who have been causing a great deal of trouble in Shanghai of late, and the public are to be congratulated on the fact that the police have secured in the person of Li Ching-ah the ring-leader of the gang.

 The men are all, with the exception of their leader, who professes to be in the tea trade, admittedly without occupation.  They have been obtaining a livelihood by levying a species of blackmail on the Chinese actors at the theatre in Fuhkien Road and when this source of income proved insufficient they doubtless found more violent means of replenishing their purses. It appears that on Thursday night another party of roughs from the neighbourhood of Tientsin made their way to the theatre in Fuhkien Road, and Li Chung-ah's gang, headed by their chief, turned out in armed force to resent this encroachment on their rights. From thirty to forty of these men armed with swords, sticks and knives paraded the Canton Road, made their way through the French Settlement, and passed along by the walls of the city.  The appearance of this formidable band naturally created intense excitement and fear among the peaceful native residents of the houses on the line of route, but no actual violence seems to have been committed.  The police were called out, but before their arrival the greater part of the gang appear to have dispersed of their own accord.  One arrest was however made, and the man was brought up before Chen on Friday morning.  He was, however, remanded without examination, the police being anxious that the rest of the gang should not know that they were on their track.  A warrant was issued for the arrest of Li Chung-ah, who is, according to the account given by the police, an abandoned and determined ruffian who has long been "wanted" by them.  A warrant was issued by the Chinese authorities for his arrest last year, on a charge of being concerned in the murder of a coolie in a tea-shop in Foochow Road.  In this case, it may be remembered, two Tientsin men were so severely wounded that they had to be taken to the hospital, where one of them died shortly afterwards.  The warrant remained, however, a dead letter.  "The Chinese," Mr. Superintendent Penfold informed the Court at the examination, "have peculiar ideas about these men.  They think," He continued, "it requires at least twenty men to arrest one of them; but I should be quite prepared to tackle them myself, though I am an old man." It was further stated that Li Chung-ah had intimidated some of the runners, and threatened then with death if they attempted to put the warrant in force.

 On Saturday morning, at about six o'clock, Inspectors Wilson, Fowler and Stripling, Sergeants Mack, Skinner, Howard, Osborne, and a large body of police, suitably armed, made their way by devious courses to the Theatre in Fuhkien Road, for the purpose of arresting Li Chung-ah and his companions. They found the notorious leader of Tientsin rowdies pacing his room with a knife in his hand, but he threw it behind him, as soon as Inspector Wilson went up to him to take him into custody.  The ringleader having been secured, the police searched the adjoining rooms, and captured fifteen more of the band.  No attempt at forcible resistance was made, and the efforts of the police were directed to seeing that none of the men escaped by windows or doors. One man was captured just as he managed to get out of the house, and it was found that he had a Japanese sword hidden in the sleeve of his coat.  Two more swords were found in Li Chung-ah's bed, and altogether twelve of these weapons were found on the premises, besides numerous sticks and knives. Some of the swords were large, heavy, keen-edged weapons which, as Inspector Stripling remarked to the Court at the examination would be "ugly things to put through a man's stomach."

 At the Court on Saturday morning Li appeared in a shabby mandarin's hat, alleging that he had had a petty rank conferred on him by a Taotai in the North for his services in capturing some pirates, when he as a soldier.  He at first addressed the Court with the air of a fallen potentate, but a sharp reprimand from Mr. Haas quickly caused him to bow his head and assume an appearance of humility.  After Mr. Penfold had detailed the facts of the case, and some questions had been put to the leader of the band, Mr. Haas conferred with Chen, who appeared to recommend that the men should be sent into the City to be dealt with by the City Magistrate.  Mr. Haas, however, expressed his determination that this course should not be adopted. He said the Kang-se Road murder was committed in the Settlement, and the prisoners ought to have been brought to this Court, and they had all heard of the frightful tortures which were inflicted on them.  He was very glad Mr. Penfold had brought these men before him and the Chinese officials might do what they liked but he would not give them up.  The City Magistrate could come to the Mixed Court and he (Mr. Haas) was willing to attend on whatever day might be convenient to him.  The prisoners were then remanded in Mr. Penfold's charge, until the City Magistrate should appoint a day on which he could attend.

.  .   .   .

 At the Mixed Court on Tuesday afternoon, before His Worship Li Kuang-tan the Divisional Magistrate, His Worship Chen, and Mr. Haas, the Austrian Consul, sitting as Assessor, Li Ching-ah and fifteen other Chinese were brought up on remand charged with "assembling in a riotous manner and parading in Canton and Fuhkien Roads, with arms in their possession, with intent to commit a felony, on the night of the 25th instant with a number of others not in custody."

 Ma Tak-kuang, one of the rioters, was first examined.  He had been liberated on condition of his giving evidence against his fellows, but he was warned that if he did not tell the truth he would be taken into custody again, and severely dealt with.  He said he was 24 years if age, and was an actor at the theatre in Fuhkien Road.  On the night of the 25th inst. a party of Tientsin men who live at Pootung came to the theatre and asked to see Li Ching-ah.  They were armed, and their manner was threatening.  Under the direction of Li Ching-ah the actors armed themselves for self-protection, and sallied forth to meet their assailants.  The Pootung men made off as quickly as possible, and the actors, with their swords and other weapons, followed them through the French Settlement until the Pootung men, on reaching the river, got into sampans and crossed over to their side of the river.  The party from Pootung numbered about thirty, all Tientsin men, while those from the theatre numbered only about sixteen; witness did not know why these men wanted to see Li Ching-ah, nor did he know where in Pootung they lived.

 Mr. Haas cautioned the witness and told him that he must tell the Court everything he knew about the case, just as he had told it at the police Station.

 The witness said he was telling the same story that he had told at the Police Station.  He believed that Li Ching-ah had instructions from his superiors to arrest some of the Tientsin men living at Pootung, and the men came over to do Li Ching-ah an injury and prevent him from arresting them.

Unprepared to meet them they would have killed him.

 Ma Tai-kuang was asked how long he had been under Li Ching-ah, and he said since the 5th moon of this year.  He did not know what had been Li Ching-ah's employment in Tientsin.  At first all the men under him used to live at the theatre, but latterly many of them had lived in an alley adjoining the theatre.  Li was, he believed a co-proprietor of the theatre; or at all events he called himself proprietor.

 Mr. Haas remarked that whichever party was most in fault these faction fights could not be allowed. He thought the other men could easily be arrested, and they had better deal with the men before them at once.  Si Ah-tan was the next witness.  He said twenty or thirty men crossed over from Pootung and went to the theatre.  Not finding Li, they went out, and Li, who had heard that they were coming, armed his men and pursued then as far as the river, but did not follow them when they got into sampans and crossed over. The Pootung men lived about a third of a mile inland, in hired houses.  They had no visible means of getting a living, but they managed to obtain money somehow, and they lived well. They got most of their money from the actors.  The leaders of the party were Wei-tseng and Tso-si, both of whom were declared enemies of Li Ching-ah.  Wei-tseng and Tso-si came to Shanghai first, having been here for more than two years, while Li Ching-ah had been here for only a little more than one year. Tso-si and Li Ching-ah had had many a fight together, each wanting to be leader of the whole gang of Tientsin men in Shanghai.  Li Ching-ah had a friend named Ma Yung-tsen, and some time ago Tso-si and Wei-tseng followed Ma Ying-tsen to a tea-shop. They did not find him there, but they found these two friends of his, and they used their swords and other weapons upon these two friends, wounding them so badly that one of them died soon afterwards.  Wei-tseng and Tso-si were sent to the Yamen and subsequently released.

 Mr. Haas remarked that he had been informed that a warrant had been issued against Li Ching-ah himself for being concerned in another murder, and that the warrant had not been enforced because Li Ching-ah had threatened to assassinate the head runner if he took any steps towards arresting him.  Now that Li Ching-ah was in their power they ought to bring this charge against him and investigate the matter.

The Prisoners were then brought in.  Li Ching-ah again wore the mandarin's cap, but it was taken from his head as soon as he appeared before the Court.

 Li Ching-ah was then examined.  He said he was 28 years of age, and had been in Shanghai a year and a half.

  Mr. Haas cautioned the prisoner, and told him it was well known to the police that he had been in Shanghai for three years at least.

 Li Ching-ah repeated that he had only been in Shanghai for eighteen months. He said he came with instructions from the Viceroy to arrest robbers.   His Worship Chen said the prisoner's name was not on the list of the Yamen.  He asked what Li Ching-ah had been doing since he came to Shanghai.

 Li Ching-ah replied that his name was on the Shanghai Yamen list, and that he had proper instructions from the Viceroy to arrest prisoners.  In reply to a question from Mr. Haas he said he knew nothing about the murder in a tea-shop.

 His Worship Chen asked the prisoner why he kept these swords and knives.

 Li Ching-ah replied that it was for the purpose of arresting robbers, who were generally armed.

 His Worship Chen warned the prisoner that if he provided false authority from the Viceroy his punishment would be double.

 The Che-Hsien threatened the prisoner with torture if he did not speak the truth, and asked him what robbers there were in Shanghai who armed themselves with swords and knives.

 Li Ching-ah replied that he had the Viceroy's authority to arrest robbers. He said all the prisoners were men engaged in one capacity or another at the theatre.  The robbers carried arms, and therefore he was obliged to carry arms too.  He said he could produce a paper from a former magistrate of Shanghai conferring authority upon him.

 Sergeant Mack informed the Court that he had arrested another man who was concerned in the riot; a prize fighter.

 The Che-Hsien asked Li Ching-ah why he did not come to the City Court when the runners could not arrest him. The prisoner gave no reply, and the Che-Hsien again threatened to have him tortured.

 Mr. Haas asked the prisoner whether he had known Li Chen-fung and Shao Shen-chu, two men who were murdered.

 Li Ching-ah replied that he did not know either of these men.

 Mr. Haas asked whether he knew Tsai Ku-yuen.

 Li Ching-ah - Yes, he knows Tsai Ku-yuen as the proprietor of a theatre.  He did not know him in any other capacity.

 Mr. Haas asked whether he made a compact with Tsai Ku-yuen, head runner of the Shanghai Yamen, that he was not to arrest him.

 Li Ching-ah said he had made no compact whatever with the runner; he only knew Tsai Ku-yuen as a theatre-proprietor.  He (prisoner) had done great services for the Chinese Government in arresting robbers, and for these services he had been decorated.

 The patent under which Li Ching-ah claimed his right to wear the mandarin's hat was handed up to the magistrate.

 His Worship Chen, after reading the paper, said it did not amount to much; and that the fact of Li Ching-ah's having received a button did not entitle him to commit crimes with impunity.

 The Cheh-Hsien - You are a very strong man, eh? Even the yamen's runners did not dare to touch you, eh? We know who you are now.

 In the course of further examination, Li Ching-ah said some of the other prisoners were box-makers; all of them were business men.

 The Cheh-Hsien - Business! What business? To squeeze people, I suppose.  Tell the truth now, or I will have you tortured.  We have sent for you several times to the Court.  Why did you not come?

 The prisoner did not reply to the question, and after some further examination the magistrates retired to consider their decision.  On their re-assembling it was announced that Li Ching-ah was to receive four hundred blows, and each of the other prisoners one hundred blows.  They were then to be taken into the City. Finally they were to be sent out of Shanghai and forbidden to return.  Three hundred and seventy blows were inflicted upon Li Ching-ah in the presence of the Court. His legs were scarred in a manner which showed that this was by no means the first beating he had received, and he bore the punishment stoically. The cangue was then fastened round his neck, and he was removed with the other prisoners.

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When Liu Kuang-tan arrived at his yamen on Monday after trying the Tientsin men at the Mixed Court, he ordered Li Ching-ah and the other men to be brought before him. He examined Li Ching-ah once more, but the man's statement was substantially the same as that which he had made at the Mixed Court.  The Cheh-Hsien told the prisoner that he was a plague to the community, that he never had been a good citizen, and probably never would be.  He then ordered Li Ching-ah to be put in chains and kept in prison for the present.  The other men were ordered to be cangued for two months and deported, after receiving the one hundred blows each to which they were sentenced at the Mixed Court. The Che- Hsien communicated the whole case to the Tao-tai, who expressed great indignation and regret at the outrageous proceedings of the Tientsin men in the Settlement, and despatched a certain wei-yuen to take a census of the Tientsin men in Shanghai. Two trunks belonging to one of the captured rowdies were taken to the police station, but nothing of a dangerous character was found in them, and they were forwarded to the Yamen. It is stated that the band of Tientsin men who have their residence on the other side of the river, hearing of the trial and that warrants had been issued for their arrest, have taken to flight, leaving their effects in a temple in which they have been living for some time past.

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School