c.1914, Shanghai Tuesday, Mar 17 2015 

Btv8V25CMAAKC3TA photograph that strengthens the Shanghai Sikh photo collection besides underlining the significant historical presence of Indians in China.


The Gateway to China by Mary Ninde Gamewell Tuesday, Feb 17 2015 

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

Shanghai, c.1901. Sunday, Nov 30 2014 

Shanghai North Railway Station Thursday, Jun 5 2014 

Shanghai North Railway Station

Not sure but there could be a Sikh/Indian in this image…

Kartar Singh Sangha – Old Shanghai history Saturday, May 10 2014 

2 days ago, I got an interesting email with photo attachments. The email  was sent by Jaskaran Singh Sangha and he had a very enthralling Shanghai Sikh history with family photographs to share. His grandfather, Kartar Singh Sangha served in the Chinese Maritime Customs Service and lived in Shanghai from 1919 to 1961 (way past the revolution) .  The photographs are a rich reminder of the Old Shanghai Sikhs. They too led valuable lives and such stories cement the fact that we need to preserve this aspect of Old Shanghai history, lest it be forgotten. Here’s a ca.1936 photograph from Sangha family archives that captures Old Shanghai Indian history in a two pronged fashion. One, there are the Sikhs, the former Shanghai Sikh gurdwara in the background, Jaskaran Singh Sangha’s grandfather , standing tall in the light overcoat and dark turban. Secondly, he is right behind a familiar and famous Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore. It’s a moment that showcases the rich heritage that has been fast fading. 





Pocket Guide to China(1943) Tuesday, Apr 29 2014 

Published in 1943 for US military personnel, this pocket guide to China presents some useful information and attempts to explode stereotypes of the times. It has a chapter titled “Forget your old notions”  and another one “The Chinese are like Americans.” It provides also the Sino-Japanese war history, how the Chinese army is organized, dos and don’t, measurements (weights, etc) and quick phrases to use.

Here are some pages from the book:





Read more here:

Shanghai Sikhs Video footage Thursday, Apr 24 2014 


“Shanghai Municipal Police and crowd on road. Student leader addresses other students demonstrating against appeasement of Japan by Chiang, and calling for war with Japan. Students carry banners. Students march on road with banners. Truck moves, followed by procession of cars. Crowds lining sidewalks. British military in large armed vehicles patrol streets. Shanghai municipal police block street. Indian troops and Shanghai municipal police march on street. Students arrive. Policemen and Indian colonial troops guard road, backed up by British military in large armed trucks.Chinese students march off the roads and sidewalks.”


Still image from the video. critical past

Sikhs in Shanghai Flickr Photostream Monday, Apr 21 2014 

On my Facebook page, Twitter and now Flickr, the Sikhs in Shanghai visual history (and some other odds & ends, too) continues.


Please check at https://www.flickr.com/photos/92883517@N04/

Ranjit Singh , Lotus , Ventura Thursday, Apr 17 2014 

After British annexation of Punjab, Sikhs were employed in the various regiments of the British army in India, China and other colonies. Their skill as cavalry soldiers was well demonstrated in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s court in the Sikh empire.  Reading of Ranjit Singh’s reign, his military strategy and acumen one has to admire how he managed to keep his kingdom, keep the British away somewhat till his death in 1839 and of course unifying the several Sikh confederacies. He also kept a harem. Mistresses, 46 wives, dancing girls.

Reading one account describing the court and camp of Ranjit Singh, there’s a story of a beautiful Kashmiri girl called Lotus (Kamal?). Ranjit Singh was besotted with her and thought his love was equally and passionately returned. Ventura, an Italian officer in his military was incredulous. Ranjit Singh firm in his belief wagered with Ventura promising no obstacles or punishment from Ranjit Singh if Ventura succeeded in impressing Lotus.

Sadly for Ranjit Singh, Ventura won, for Lotus was quite willing to be with him and as with her affections transferred from the royal gardens to the Italian’s seraglio..  Stories of King & harems.

A picture of the dancing girls (from a 1800s  book I am reading) who entertained Ranjit Singh’s court:


Sikhs in Shanghai on Scroll Tuesday, Apr 15 2014 

My piece on Sikhs in Shanghai was published on Scroll website. Here’s the link to the article: 




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