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3. The Second Revolution

I have already stated that after my failure in 1906 as a Naval Secretary I was for three years left in the trough of the wave of happenings, though there was always the Marine Department to keep me occupied; but then came the conservancy consultation at Peking, my visit home, the anti-Manchu revolution, and from the date of the latter I was again on the crest of events — in that minor way of mine.

For some years I had seen little of the navy, although owing to the loss of Weihaiwei, first to the Japanese and later to the British, it had no home and so had made Shanghai its base with an Admiralty at Kiangnan Dock — where I had played at being a Naval Secretary. But now Sah had gone, and Li — my Co-Commander of the Flagship in the war of '94 — reigned in his stead. When the second revolution came — the one against Yuan — I wondered why the fleet was left there, as Shanghai was a centre of Kuomintang activities; and when, on the 17th July 1913, the arsenal was about to be attacked by rebels having their headquarters in the settlements — they recruited their forces there, and there too they had signal stations from which they flashed signals to their front — I began to wonder more; and, though I was fed up with the navy, I thought I would go and see what was its situation. The fleet, let it be explained, was anchored off the arsenal. What I learnt was serious enough. The day before Li had called a conference of the Captains; at it two of them had put their Mauser pistols on the table and declared in favour of revolt, of helping the forces of the Kuomintang in their attack upon the arsenal.

These two dominated the council; and, as was usual, there was nothing private at that conference — a fringe of sailors' heads lined the skylight; and so the crews acclaimed revolt. The situation looked as bad as it could be — for Yuan Shih-kai.

With the fleet gone over to the rebels they would command the Yangtsze river and Yuan would lose at least a half of his advantages. It was a monstrous impending tragedy for China: so it seemed to me, for like most other foreigners my faith lay with Yuan Shih-kai; the others were mere impractical visionaries who could only continue a state of chaos.

I asked Li if nothing could be done, and he replied that nothing could; so it looked quite hopeless. Yet, with no notion of the use of it, I now asked, 'Would money save the situation? ' At that Li brightened up and answered, 'Money would save any situation in China.' Then he went on to explain about affairs. For two months the fleet had not had its pay. The men were not like soldiers — mere riff-raff; they were men with homes, with families and parents to support; and there was the Kuomintang offering them their pay if they would take the Southern side. There was no one except those two Captains with their Mausers who wanted to rebel; but the belief was growing that the Kuomintang would win.

'How much money would be needed to meet arrears of pay and to provide for general maintenance for a month or two? '

— ` About a million taels; but to be of any use it would have to be got immediately, for the rebels may attack at any moment, and then my ships will join them.' I drove back the four miles to the settlement in my Olsmobile — its one cylinder horizontal and fore and aft — in a thoughtful mood. The Manager of the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank was A. G. Stephen; and I had not yet met him. I reached his office at five o'clock and told him of the situation. The Group Banks held a considerable reserve of Chinese Government money against its liabilities for loans, and my idea was that somehow use could be made of that. But the banks would never hand it over to the Admiral — it would not be wise to do so. A foreign administrator of the fund must be appointed; but quite definitely they must not count on me, for it would be most improper for a Customs man to so involve himself in party politics. Stephen said very little, as was his way in business; but he drafted a cable.

The next morning I again visited the arsenal — the rebel lines around it had not yet interfered with traffic — to learn more of what the situation was; and Mr. R. B. Mauchan, the Engineer Manager of the dock, introduced me to Admiral Tseng, who was in command of a force of Marines guarding the arsenal.

Tseng was a trusted man of Yuan Shih-kai, and at once I knew him as a leader — as a real man from a Western point of view.

I told him of what I had done, and he said that if by any chance the money came before midday on the morrow the situation might be saved; otherwise the rebellion would succeed, for he expected the attack to-morrow night. Two years later Tseng was murdered in the settlement. From the first we were mutually trusting friends; he was one of four or five Chinese that I have dealt with, my admiration and respect for whom was not tinged with a sense of Western prejudice.

That day H.M.S. Newcastle arrived with Admiral Jerram and I got a message that he would like to see me. Fulford, the Consul-General — acting temporarily at Shanghai — came shortly afterwards, and I told them what the situation was and what I had done. I made it clear that it was a choice of evils.

It might be a choice between my intervention and Yuan's downfall; but my intervention would be an evil. In the position of the Customs Service for one of its employees to take such a hand in politics had serious disadvantages. Even what I had done might involve 'my resignation, for it would inevitably be generally known. The Admiral was encouraging and complimentary. The Consul-General was cold and unappreciative, and I did not blame him; I did not like the part I took myself.

I liked the situation even less next morning when Stephen told me that the Group Banks had placed a quarter million taels to my credit — with more to follow if I needed it — on condition that I would administer the fund. I reminded Stephen of what I had said; he shrugged his shoulders, and I left him and walked along the river front and tried to get an inspiration how to act; but it would not come. In a state of indecision I went back to my office, and there I found a telegram from the Inspectorate — the first of two — which made me free to act at my discretion.(1)
1 — That telegram was from Mr. C. A. V. Bowra, the Chief Secretary, and sent, I believe, on his own responsibility, the Inspector-General being absent at the seaside. It was a considerable responsibility to shoulder.

That altered everything; the main responsibility was no longer mine; but even so I would not function from the Coast Inspector's office. I sent my secretary to rent a flat and hire furniture to serve as a naval office; and then I motored to the arsenal and saw Tseng and Li. They were to call another meeting of the Captains — those Mauser pistol men must not be allowed to dominate it this time — and the news was to be disseminated among the men. I told them of my simple method of administration. I would make advances — I gave a cheque at once — but I would not see a voucher. When the advance was finished they would provide a summary of expenditure for each vessel — it included vessels up the Yangtsze — under various headings: wages, coal and stores, etc. This summary to be signed by both Li and Tseng; its scrutiny would suffice for me; it would be for them and not for me to guard against irregularities. It was arranged that Mr. Chen, Mauchan's colleague at the dock and an Engineer-Admiral, should be Paymaster-in-Chief at my new office, and I would function as the Treasurer. The scheme worked like a clock; there was never a hitch or a doubt.

That day when Mills, my cartographer, was returning to the office after lunch, he was stopped by a Chinese in the street whom he knew to be associated with Sun Yat-sen. 'You are in Mr. Tyler's office, aren't you? Please tell him that what he is doing is a very unhealthy occupation.' Sun Yat-sen, whom I knew personally, lived close to me four miles in the country. His house had a guard of French municipal policemen; but there was no police for me in the days that followed, when I had some reason to fear what Sun's emissaries might do to me and mine.

The attack on the arsenal began on the night of the 22nd July, so in the saving of the situation there had not been much margin. It continued every day and chiefly in the night. The fleet remained quiescent; it was not until the 25th that it was used against the rebel forces, and then occurred an extraordinary affair. After dinner, from the windows of my house, we could hear and see the bombardment, and my family was greatly interested. But soon I realized that shell were falling round about my neighbourhood, which was nowhere near the line of fire against the rebels; the settlement was being deliberately bombarded. I guessed at once that it was one or both of the ships of those Mauser pistol Captains who did it in wanton spite, and for the purpose of creating embarrassment for Li; and I drove in and told the Consul-General, Sir Everard Fraser, that this outrage was of course not a real attack, and urged that the difficulties of Li and Tseng should not be increased by too much notice of the incident.

The attack on the arsenal had its base in the settlements, and chiefly in the French. In the latter recruiting stations were undisguisedly established and the settlement authorities did not interfere. This did not mean that their sympathies were with the Kuomintang; it was Yuan in whom the Westerners had faith. The extraordinary situation resulted partly from inertia but chiefly from that mad obsession of the duty to render asylum, which has already been referred to.

In the early days of the rebellion I used to report progress of the fighting by telegram sent through Stephen; they were addressed 'Tyler to Chinese Government' and ended up please inform President.'

On the 30th July appears this entry in my diary: The remarkable affair of the Japanese launch and the torpedo occurred last night. There appears to be strong evidence of the complicity of the Japanese navy; but with what object it is impossible to say.' That is all that was recorded. It referred to the arrest during the night of a Japanese commercial launch that was fitted with a spar torpedo rigged and ready for use.

It was not an amateur affair; it was a naval spar torpedo, but I have no recollection that it was proved to be of Japanese design. I was just left guessing as to what this thing could mean. The Japanese Government was opposed to Yuan Shih-kai. It was opposed to any consolidation of the country, for that might bring about revenge for '94. It was concerned with keeping China in a state of turmoil. But even so it seems hardly credible that that apparently attempted outrage could have been by order; it is more probable that it was a free-lance affair. So far as I know no official notice was taken of the matter.'

1 — I still possess the draft letter to Admiral Nawa — Senior Naval Officer at the time — on this matter, which, on consideration of its possible results, I decided should not be sent by Admiral Li. It ran as follows: —
I have the honour to inform you that yesterday the River Police brought to my vessel a steam launch to the bow of which was fitted a contact torpedo.

This launch was found by the River Police between the Osaka Shosen Kaisha and the Nisshin Kisen Kaisha wharves, so disposed and with such fittings on board as obviously to lead to the conclusion that it was intended to be discharged against one of my vessels.

I have conclusive evidence that the launch was bought a few days ago by a Japanese from Messrs. Wheelock and Co. In these circumstances I have the honour to suggest to you the desirableness of arranging for a joint inquiry into this remarkable occurrence.'

The entrance to Shanghai harbour was guarded by the well-armed Woosung forts, the garrisons of which with the local troops in general had gone over to the Kuomintang; and when the rebellion broke out a squadron in the North — with Admiral Liu, the Commander-in-Chief — was sent down to capture them and relieve the arsenal. Liu arrived outside on the 29th July, and wrote and asked me for advice and help. Would I come out and take charge of operations against the Woosung forts?

If it had not been for that factor of the reputation of the Customs Service I might have gone; but positively I drew the line at belligerent acts.

The relief forces had landed on the Yangtsze bank and marched overland, and by the 10th August Tseng was ready to attack the Woosung forts from landward. I had wished Li to attack from inside the river. There was a berth on which bore only two six-inch guns. To get there he would have to run the gauntlet for some minutes — ten perhaps — of the fire from the bigger guns, but I thought the risk was good enough and once he had secured that berth he would enfilade the whole string of batteries. But Li would not do it; and a British gunnery Lieutenant whose ship was at Shanghai said the attempt would be very risky; and as it proved there was no need. The forts were wavering; they had flown a white flag one day, then hauled it down again. On the 13th Tseng's troops were advancing across the plain and minor fighting was going on. Then Mauchan got the news that the forts were flying the Government ensign as a sign of submission. They might change their minds again; the thing to do was to arrange at once for acceptance of capitulation. So Mauchan, Chen, the Paymaster, and I took a launch to Woosung, above which Li was anchored, and I tried to persuade him to move down his ships; but he would not. He said that the Lienshing, a despatch vessel in the rebels' hands and anchored lower down, had been fitted with torpedoes. It was therefore decided to go outside to Admiral Liu and get him to take the necessary action; but on the way there lay the Lienshing — a small vessel and unarmed except for a couple of light guns. She looked quite peaceful; the men on deck also looked quite friendly; so we boarded and found her officers had left. I was going below when I felt a sort of warning and desisted, and told the others not to. A commercial launch was passing up the river, and we hailed her and arranged that she should take the Lienshing in tow and deliver her to the arsenal; and so we slipped her cables and off she went. Let me tell what happened to her.

Either that day or the next a party of naval students visited her and some went below, and then her after-part blew up; the deck was ripped right out and a number of the boys were killed.

She had been fitted by the rebels as a booby trap. That warning proved quite useful.

At the time when we were busy with her, a small gunboat arrived, sent down by Li but with no orders. And now I was led into a burlesque escapade of the very kind I wanted to avoid. To explain this I must explain my relationship with Mauchan.(1) He was a fiery Scotsman intensely eager in the Northern cause; prepared to do anything; to run any risks for its furtherance; he was the sort of man to lead a desperate enterprise. Now I believed that my comparative inactivity — my refusal to join Admiral Liu outside and my general cautious attitude — irritated him; to him I was missing glorious opportunities which he wished he had himself. He did not accuse me, but I sensed his contemptuous wonder. I think he believed that my compunctions were but a cloak to my timidity.

1 — I have tried without success to communicate with Mr. Manchan; and trust that he will not object to what I say about him.

So when with the arrival of the gunboat there was the opportunity to get a guard, and Mauchan said 'I propose we go ourselves to accept capitulation; are you game to come? ' I acquiesced, and then entered wholeheartedly into what for me was a most improper business. We got a landing party of a dozen men and a Lieutenant, and with them we trotted off across the country in the appalling heat of August. And now it was a question of who would get there first, the army or the navy; and that was why we ran. Yet we could not be sure that capitulation was really intended; we might well be walking into a trap, but that was not the case. We won the race; the Major at the fort was at the gate and welcomed us and took us in to tea, and as far as I know the word capitulation or the civil war was never mentioned. Half an hour later Tseng's officers and men arrived, and then we left.

At the arsenal fighting still went on, and on the 19th August Tseng said to me: I am in a serious difficulty. Such and such a regiment has not had last month's pay. It has now been offered by the Kuomintang, and the officers are considering the matter. If that regiment goes over it may be the beginning of a debacle in spite of our success so far. I know your funds are only for the navy, and I hardly dare to hope that somehow you could meet my needs.' I thought the matter over. It would be quite useless to ask permission; I could not get it, if at all, until too late. Tseng's need was urgent; the purpose of my fund might be defeated if I did not meet that need; to do so would involve a misappropriation; but I did not hesitate, and I gave Tseng a cheque for the equivalent of £10,000. At the end of the month when I finished with this job, was closing my accounts and sending in my statements, a very brief reason was given for this misappropriation. The banks made no comment; some department in the Ministry of Finance wrote acrimoniously about it; and from the Minister of Finance, Liang Shih-yi, I got a complimentary letter conveying the thanks of the Government for my services.(1)
1 — Acting Minister of Finance, Liang Shih-yi, to Captain Tyler, Coast Inspector.

'The painstaking and capable way in which the Coast Inspector has managed the finances since the outbreak of trouble at Shanghai has earned the gratitude of Foreigners and Chinese alike. The Government have found him a great support and help. Peace has now been restored and order is gradually being maintained; the Government recognize the zeal and ardour shown by the Coast Inspector, and the Acting Minister has decided to report at once to the President so that he may testify to his gratitude.'

It had been an interesting job. There is hardly a doubt that Stephen and I altered history for China, but whether for good or evil it is impossible to say. His immediate grasp of an unexpected emergency, the promptness of his action, the silence with which he did it — he hardly said a word to me — was quite remarkable. I always regretted that the part he played was not made public; it was on my account that it could not be.

But it was not a pleasant job. That warning from the Kuomintang was twice repeated. My diary says: I went to see Colonel, now General, Bruce, the Captain Superintendent of the Police, about it. His opinion — stated very emphatically — was that the danger was serious and practically unguardable against; that the chances for me were short odds.'

It is a disagreeable feeling that a passing car may throw a bomb into yours; and I did not like it a little bit. For the sake of my family I got the Government to insure my life, and they did so for £20,000.