A book published in 1916 becomes a luminous guide to life in China and yes, of course the Sikh policeman in the employ of Shanghai Municipal Police. Several books published by western sojourners have flagellated “the exotic, statuesque, stalwart Sikh in British China.” So, it comes as no surprise when Mary Ninde Gamewell, of the Methodist Episcopal Mission,  stays on course with the trite refrain of the tall, dapper looking  turbaned Sikh policeman in Shanghai International Settlement. “The picturesque red turbans of the Sikhs are conspicuous everywhere.”  (Yes, such a shocker!!) But, sarcasm aside, Gamewell expounds a tad bit more than many of her counterparts , who after the first, cursory look could care less for the “harsh, preserver of peace” that the Chinese so feared.

A snippet from the book intended to be a sort of Shanghai guide to “stimulate interest in China,” provides an idea on the punishment meted out to the Chinese by the Sikhs (a total of 450 were employed in c.1916). A punishment that was prescribed by the British officer and subserviently implemented by a Sikh policeman on  the Chinese even if it were the Sikh’s own delinquent colleague:


The Chinese as stated in the book  preferred punishment at the hands of the British rather than the detested Sikh. (Well, the strategy of “Divide and Rule” was working effectively.) Training was held in a recruiting station but the Sikhs and Chinese had different yard space. Owing to caste rules, Sikhs abhorred any food prepared by the Chinese.

What is interesting, of course, is the Gamewell’s presentation of the “lax” Sikh watchman. This was a view shared by the Sikh policemen supervising officer, Captain E.I.M. Barrett who considered the night sentinel to be shabbily attired (those outside the purview of Shanghai Municipal Police) and disrespectful. In Shanghai Municipal Archives (and North China Daily News), there is a tiny report in which Barrett is simply displeased with the disrespectful Sikh watchman. On one occasion the culprit Sikh watchman did not  salute Barrett, provoking latter’s ire.

While the book has very appealing in-depth aspects with chapters on “Street Rambles” and “Lure of the Shops” and heck of a lot more, it, still, simply presents itself to be the product of its times where stifling hierarchy was utmost. The Sikhs were somewhere in the bottom, naturally, and hence few words here and there on them sufficed.  In fairness, the book could not have encapsulated every tidbit on the Sikhs in Shanghai but it does go past the expected norm.

Gamewell’s book captures some engaging images. Here are few:

books (2) books