World War II Pacific War Propaganda.. Thursday, Jun 20 2013 

The propaganda posters/literature created for World War I & II provide substantial historical fodder for analyzing the significant role of Indian soldiers in the British empire. Enticing, motivating, exhorting Indian soldiers to actively participate was a strategy deployed by Japanese army in WWII Pacific war and well countered by British and American war office  propagandists.  Assisting the Japanese, at the time, were the members of the Indian Independence League (later Azad Hind) headed by Subhas Chandra Bose.



The Japanese emphasized the use of Indians as mere tools in British scheme of things. The 1919 Jallianwallah Bagh massacre incident featured in their campaign to highlight Indians  as exploited by the their British masters.  American, British and other allied forces depicted Japanese as animals, i.e. Octopus, Rat caught or trapped by allied forces.

The pro-Japanese campaign posters detailed the discrimination, racism and freedom fight against the Empire, stressing on ‘Asia for Asians’ theme. The Far East was no exception where Indian policemen and soldiers were placed by the British to man their colonies.The 1941 invasion of Malaya by the Japanese provided a plumb opportunity – captured Sikh soldiers, police POWs were “asked” to fight by joining the Indian Independence League. There was little option. It was either become a collaborationist or be a tortured enemy prisoner and face execution. Shanghai, too, had a small unit of Indian Independence League (not POWs) inspired by Bose and aspiring for Indian freedom. Bose visited Shanghai & broadcast his 1940s radio speech through German controlled air waves in the area.

chiang kai shek

The propaganda posters/leaflets/magazines were air-dropped or distributed. But, the Japanese propaganda does appeal to the national socio-economic Indian politics of the time: it definitely was well researched and was perhaps successful for this reason? . Though the text in few of the posters indicate that it was devised/written by someone not that well-conversant with Indian colloquialism.

So, what about the Allied forces’ propaganda? More in the next post..

Saishin Shanhai chizu, 1908 by Tanioka Shigeru. Wednesday, May 15 2013 

Saishin Shanhai chizu, 1908 by Tanioka Shigeru.

Click the map to view it at

1908 Shanghai Map

Sikh sojourn in Shanghai Wednesday, Mar 20 2013 

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Indians arrived in China with Opium wars and noticeably so during the 1898-1901 Boxer Rebellion period. Pictures and old prints from these wars showcase the Rajput, Sikh , Gurkha and Baluchi soldier from the British Indian infantry and naval forces. As British Indian subjects they fought wars for the British and were responsible for doing most of the grunge work.

Missionaries and foreigners in the Peking Legation quarter besieged by the Boxers waited for relief to arrive and when it did, the first sight they saw were the Rajputs and Sikhs riding on horses, in their magnificent turbans.  Indian guards would be later employed by Chinese Christians as well fearful of attack upon them. In Singapore, in Burkit Brown ,the cemetery of  a Chinese businessman has statues of Sikh guards, a telling sign of the reassurance and protection that became synonymous with Sikh soldiers.

In 1880’s however, Shanghai’s International Settlement administered by Shanghai Municipal Council would hire Sikh policemen to allay the fears of Bubbling well road residents in the wake of Sino-French war. As part of Sikh contingent in the Shanghai Municipal Police, their history has remained obscure. Much of the documentation and photographs of the policemen comes from the western perspective, hence is quite angled.

The Sikh policemen community in quasi-colony Shanghai’s international settlement was distinct on account of their appearance and harsh treatment of the Chinese especially the ricksha coolies who came for monthly inspections. The British rulers’ manipulative placement of the Sikhs between themselves and the Chinese cleverly transferred much of the Chinese aggression and ire towards the Sikhs. Even in present times, the Sikhs derogatorily referred as Hong-Tou-A-san (which loosely can be translated as the 3rd being) are remembered as the odious representatives of the British rule. With Opium wars treaty ports like Shanghai were opened up for trade and commerce and foreign companies and merchants flocked to conduct their businesses. Sikh policemen were soon employed in Tientsin (Tianjin), Hankow(Hankou) and other treaty ports. Their presence was met with interest but the dynamics of Chinese- Sikh relationship would alter .Despite the fact that Sikhs were proportionally paid less than their western  counterparts, they still were better paid than the Chinese policemen. This further underlined their lowly status and naturally became one of the factors for Chinese resentment of the Sikhs.

The Pacific world war saw division of loyalties. Growing support for Subhas Chandra Bose and Indian National Army found Indian converts in Shanghai too who believed Bose to be the answer to British tyranny. Bose visited Shanghai around this time and a small unit of Indian Independence League was raised to support his cause. At the time of Japanese occupation (1937) there were many collaborators and renegades as Professor Wasserstein has mentioned in his book ‘Secret War in Shanghai’ and clearly many Indians believed Bose would attain the elusive Indian freedom.

After the Japanese were defeated and the winds of Communism were strengthening Sikh policemen and families heeded the Indian government’s call for evacuation and boarded chartered steamers for foreigners to Hong Kong, India and other countries.

This is a simple synopsis of the Indian and Sikhs’ sojourn to China and Shanghai specifically. In reality there were so many twists and turns that it would be a shame to keep their history obscure and not be genuinely understood.

Shanghai’s ‘Jack the Ripper!’ Tuesday, Feb 12 2013 

Shanghai's murder mysteries

Shanghai’s murder mysteries (the above image shows February 18 (should be February 10) – news was wired in those days)

Pamela Werner’s ghastly murder in 1937, claimed newspaper headlines, world over- her murder mystery has been so well researched and presented by Paul French in his book ‘Midnight in Peking’. But, in 1930 there was another killer on the prowl in Shanghai who was targeting young, innocent children. Labeled as ‘ female Jack the Ripper’, the  mystery baffled the police.

Here’s a snippet from a newspaper report:

“Two child murders have been reported in the past two days. On Saturday afternoon a Japanese girl seven months old was stabbed an the neck and strangled, and last night the water police picked up a Chinese girl in the harbour, who had been strangled in similar manner.

The murder of the Japanese baby occurred in an upstairs room at its home, and the police are searching for a pretty Chinese girl with bobbed-hair, believed to be a cabaret dancer, who was seen by the mother of the murdered child to leave the premises shortly after the tragedy. The absence of any apparent motive for the crimes intensifies the mystery surrounding them. The entire staff of the Japanese Consulates is assisting the, municipal police in their endeavour to trace the murderess.”
Who do you think was the killer? Answer, tomorrow!
Here’s the answer – it was a cabaret dancer as suspected but the nationality in the newspaper clipping below is reported as Japanese.
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