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A propaganda poster depicting a foreign imperialist and a local warlord torturing a Chinese patriot in the aftermath of the May 30th Movement in China.

The May Thirtieth movement (simplified Chinese: 五卅运动; traditional Chinese: 五卅運動; pinyin: wǔsà yùndòng) was a major labor and anti-imperialist movement during the middle-period of the Republic of China era. It began when Shanghai Municipal Police officers opened fire on Chinese protesters in Shanghai's International Settlement on May 30, 1925. The shootings sparked international censure and nationwide anti-foreign demonstrations and riots.

Roots of the Incident

In the aftermath of 1924's Second Zhili–Fengtian War China found itself in the midst of one of the most destructive periods of turmoil since 1911.[1] The war had involved every major urban area in China, and badly damaged the rural infrastructure. As a result of the conflict the Zhili-controlled government, backed by varied Euro-American business interests, was ousted from power by the pro-Japanese warlord Zhang Zuolin, who installed a government led by the generally unpopular statesman Duan Qirui in November 1924. Though victorious, the war left Zhang's central government bankrupt and Duan exercised little authority outside Beijing. Authority in the north of the country was divided between Zhang and Feng Yuxiang, a Soviet Union-backed warlord, and public support for the northern militarists soon hit an all-time low, with southerners openly disparaging provincial governors as junfa (warlords).[1] With his monarchist leanings and strong base in conservative Manchuria, Zhang represented the far right in Chinese politics and could claim few supporters. Meanwhile, the KMT (Nationalist) and Communist parties (allied as the First United Front) were running a diplomatically unrecognized Soviet-backed administration in the southern province of Guangdong.

Alongside public grief at the recent death of China's Republican hero Sun Yat-sen (12 March), the KMT sought to foment pro-Chinese, anti-imperial and anti-western organizations and propaganda within major Chinese cities.[2] Chinese Communist Party groups were particularly involved in sowing dissent in Shanghai through the far-left Shanghai University. Shanghai's native Chinese were strongly unionised compared to other cities and better educated, and recognised their plight as involving lack of legal factory inspection, recourse for worker grievances, or equal rights.[3] Many Chinese families were also aggrieved by an upcoming Child Employment Bill proposed by the Shanghai Municipal Council, that would have stopped children under the age of 12 working in mills and factories (many working-class homes relied on wages brought in by children). Educated Chinese were also offended by the Council's plan to introduce a new censorship law, forcing all publications in the Settlement to use the publisher's true name and address.

In the early months of 1925 conflicts and strikes on these matters intensified. Japanese owned cotton mills were a source of contention, and fights and demonstrations between Japanese and Chinese employees around the No. 8 Cotton Mill became regular occurrences. In February a group of Japanese managers were attacked while leaving work and one of them was killed. In response Japanese foremen took to carrying pistols while on duty. The escalation of ill-feeling culminated on May 15, when during a violent Neo-Luddite-style riot inside the mill, a Japanese foreman shot a demonstrator named Ku Chen-Hung dead.[4] Over the following weeks Ku Chen-Hung became viewed as a martyr by Chinese unions and student groups (though not by the Chinese authorities or the middle-class who noted his political affiliations and close family membership to a prominent criminal gang). Numerous protests and strikes subsequently began against Japanese-run industries.

A week later a group of Chinese students, heading for Ku's public "state" funeral and carrying banners, were arrested while traveling through the International Settlement. With their trial set for May 30, various student organisations convened in the days before and decided to hold mass-demonstrations across the International Settlement and outside the Mixed Court.

The Nanjing Road Incident

On the morning of May 30, 1925, just after the trial of the arrested students began, Shanghai Municipal Police arrested fifteen ringleaders of a student protest being held on and around Nanking Road, in the foreign-controlled International Settlement. These protesters were held in Louza (Laozha) police station, which by 2:45pm was facing a 'huge crowd' of Chinese that had amassed outside. These demonstrators demanded the arrested ringleaders be returned to them and in a number of cases entered the police station, where (according to SMP officers) they tried to either block the foyer or gain access to the cells. Police on Nanking Road reported the crowd, which numbered between 1,500 and 2,000 strong, started good-natured but became more aggressive as arrests were made.

After forcing protesters out of the charge room a picket of police (there was only a skeleton staff of approximately two dozen policemen overall, predominantly Sikh and Chinese, with three British officers) was set up to prevent demonstrators from entering the station. In the minutes before the shooting, police and some witnesses reported that cries of "kill the foreigners" were raised as the demonstration turned violent.[5][6] Inspector Edward Everson, station commander and the highest-ranking officer on the scene (as the police commissioner K.J. McEuen had not let early warnings of public demonstrations interfere with his attendance at the city's Race Club) eventually shouted: "Stop! If you do not stop I will shoot!" in Wu. A few seconds later, at 3:37 pm, and as the crowd was within six feet of the station entrance, he fired into the crowd with his revolver.

The Sikh and Chinese policemen then also opened fire, unleashing some forty rounds. At least four demonstrators were killed at the scene, with another five dying later of their injuries. At least 14 injured were hospitalized, with many others wounded.[7]

Strikes and martial law

On Sunday, May 31, crowds of students posted bills and demanded shops refuse to sell foreign goods or serve non-Chinese. They then convened at the Chinese Chamber of Commerce where they gave a list of demands, including punishment of the officers involved in the shooting, an end to extraterritoriality, and closure of the Shanghai International Settlement. The president of the Chamber of Commerce was away, but eventually his deputy agreed to press for these demands to be carried out. Nevertheless, he subsequently sent a message to the foreign Municipal Council that his consent was made under duress.

The Municipal Council declared a state of martial law on Monday, June 1, calling up the Shanghai Volunteer Corps militia, and requesting foreign military assistance to carry out raids and protect vested interests. Over the next month Shanghai businesses and workers went on strike, and there were sporadic outbreaks of demonstration and violence. Trams and foreigners were attacked, and there was looting of shops that refused to uphold the boycott of foreigners. Servants to foreigners refused to work, and almost a third of Chinese police failed to turn up for their shifts. The gas-works, electricity station, waterworks and telephone exchange became entirely run by Western volunteers.

Numbers of Chinese killed and injured in the May 30 Movement's riots vary - figures normally vary between thirty and two-hundred dead, with hundreds injured. Policemen, firemen, and foreigners were also injured, some seriously, and one Chinese police constable was killed.


The incident shocked and galvanized China, and the strikes and boycotts, coupled with further violent demonstrations and riots, quickly spread across China, bringing foreign economic interests to a near standstill.[8] The fifteen 'ringleaders' originally arrested on May 30 were given light or suspended sentences by Shanghai's foreign-run Mixed Court.

The target of public ire moved from the Japanese (for the death of Ku Chen-Hung) to the British, and Hong Kong was particularly affected (these strikes were there known as the Canton-Hong Kong strike).[7] Further shootings by foreigners upon Chinese protesters occurred at Canton, Mukden and elsewhere, although a reported incident at Nanking which became a cause célèbre for anti-imperialists was apparently carried out by local Chinese authorities. Indeed, the Chinese warlords used the incident as a pretext to further their own political aims. While Feng Yuxiang threatened to attack British interests militarily and demanded a national apology, Zhang Zuolin - who effectively controlled Shanghai's Chinese outskirts - had his police and soldiers arrest protesters and Communists and assist the Settlement forces.

Two investigations into the events of May 30 were ordered, one by the Chinese authorities and one by international appointees, Justice Finley Johnson (presiding), Judge of the Court of First Instance in the Philippines (representing America), Sir Henry Gollan, Chief Justice of Hong Kong (representing Britain) and Justice Kisaburo Suga of the Hiroshima Court of Appeal (representing Japan). The Chinese authorities refused to participate in the international investigation which, by a vote of 2 to 1, found the shooting justifiable. Only the Justice Finley from America disagreed and recommended sweeping changes, including the retirement of the chief of the Settlement Police, Commissioner McEuen, and Inspector Everson. The forced resignation of these two individuals in late-1925 would be the only official result of the inquiry.

By November, with Chiang Kai-shek having finally wrested power from his rivals after Sun Yat-sen's death, and with Chinese businesses wishing to return to business (the Settlement had begun cutting electricity to Chinese mills), the strikes and protests began to burn out.[5] In Hong Kong, however, they would not totally end until mid-1926. The Kuomintang's support for the movement, and their Northern Expedition of 1926/7, eventually led to reforms in the governance of the International Settlement's Shanghai Municipal Council and the beginning of the removal of the Unequal Treaties.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Waldron, Arthur, (1991) From War to Nationalism: China's Turning Point, p. 5.
  2. Ku, Hung-Ting [1979] (1979). Urban Mass Movement: The May Thirtieth Movement in Shanghai. Modern Asian Studies, Vol.13, No.2. pp.197-216
  3. B.L [1936] (Jul 15, 1936). Shanghai at Last Gets Factory Inspection Law. Far Eastern Survey, Vol.5, No.15.
  4. Ku, Hung-Ting [1979] (1979). Urban Mass Movement: The May Thirtieth Movement in Shanghai. Modern Asian Studies, Vol.13, No.2. pp.201
  5. 5.0 5.1 Potter, Edna Lee (1940). News Is My Job: A Correspondent in War-Torn China. Macmillan publishing. p. 198
  6. Bickers, Robert [2003] (2003). Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai. Allen Lane publishing. ISBN 0-7139-9684-6. p. 165
  7. 7.0 7.1 Carroll, John Mark Carroll. [2007] (2007). A concise history of Hong Kong. Rowman & Littlefield publishing. ISBN 0-7425-3422-7, ISBN 978-0-7425-3422-3. p. 100
  8. [1][dead link]

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