Yu Yuan 豫园
Hall of Spring

The Hall of Spring (点春堂), sometimes called the Hall of Heralding Spring in English, was built in 1820.

In 1853, Shanghai was invaded by rebels belonging to the Small Dagger Society. From September 1853 to February 1855 the Small Dagger Society 小刀会 had its headquarters in Shanghai and met in this hall. The God of War on the Small North Gate must have been sleeping.

The Small Dagger Society, or Small Sword Society, was part of the Triad movement established after the Qing Dynasty overthrew the Ming Dynasty. Their original purpose was to restore the Ming to power, but later worked to defeat the Qing and establish a new dynasty. The Small Dagger Society was led by two men, Liú and Ah Ling. In the early days of the occupation they had many disagreements over the division of loot for their two forces, but both were committed to the establishment of a new government. Their sincerity gathered support from among both the Chinese and the foreigners.

That seems pretty dry, so to give you a better idea of the history of the Yu Yuan and Shanghai during this period an account of the Small Dagger Society and the occupation of Shanghai is included below. During this period, many Chinese sought safety in the foreign settlements and the population grew tremendously. I haven't found an account of anyone being turned away, but it wasn't all generosity. Real estate prices in the foreign settlements boomed.

The following are excerpts from pages 15-20 of William Stanton’s The Triad Society, or Heaven and Earth Association. Hong Kong: Kelly and Walsh, 1900. Within the text Stanton quotes Rev. Dr. M. T. Yates, those sections are denoted by single quotes as they are in the original. Every effort has been made to maintain the original, for instance, Liú's name is accented at the beginning of the chapter, but not later.

While the Taipings were fighting the Manchu power from Kwangsi to Nanking, the Triads rose in other parts of the empire. About 1849 Ch'en Ch'ing-cheu, a Singapore Chinaman employed in a foreign firm in Amoy, established in that city a branch of the Triad Society to which he game the name of the Dagger Society. Before long several thousands joined it. In 1851, information of this reached the Provincial Government, and a Tao-tai was sent to Amoy to investigate into the character of the society and suppress it. Ch'en Ch'ing-cheu was arrested and subjected to horrible torture to induce him to confess. In consequence of his being British born, the English Consul interposed and demanded his rendition. The Chinese authorities lied as to where the prisoner was detained and, before the Consul discovered his whereabouts, he was tortured to death and placed, dressed in his usual manner, in a sedan chair and left at his master's door. The leadership of the society was then taken up by an energetic character named Huang Wei. This man used his power as the leader to screen from Chinese authorities a wealthy man named Huang Te-mei from whom they had already squeezed an immense sum of money. Huang Te-mei then joined the Society. In 1853 a further attempt was made to extort money from him, in consequence of which Huang Wei and two thousand followers rose in arms to see his friend righted. Many of the leaders of this insurrection were Singapore Chinamen. Having captured two small towns and augmented their forces to eight thousand, they marched on Amoy and captured it. Huang Wei then issued a proclamation informing the inhabitants that he was Commander-in-chief of the Ming forces in the Fokien province. The insurgents held this city several months against a vastly superior force, and during the whole period, foreigners when about in the city at all hours unmolested. According to the historian of this war, the fighting that was daily carried on while the Triads held the city, was conducted by both sides on the most humane principles and with proper regard for life, but as they had to burn a large quantity of powder to keep up the appearance of war, notwithstanding all the precautions taken to keep out of range of each other's fire, some accidents occurred. Still there was no meanness practised. Not even those who had seen or heard how the barbarian English fought their countrymen a dozen years before, were prepared to resort to such unfair methods of gaining an advantage as sudden sallies, or night attacks, or similar novelties of warfare. They fought only during the day and ceased fighting at meal hours! And, as neither party feared nor dreamt of such baseness as a night attack, both sides slept undisturbed and rose each morning refreshed for the day's battle. But even this kind of fighting could not go on for ever, for food and ammunition cost money, and as the Imperialists had the largest supplies, the Triads had at lest to yield up the city. So, after having arranged with the besiegers to have a safe way of escape left, they one morning evacuated the city and sailed off in junks followed by the junks of the Imperialists, who fired a few shots perhaps in salute, which the Triads returned. The serious business of the war, and that most congenial to the Chinese soldier, began after the Triads left. Then the Imperialists entered the city, wantonly destroyed property and massacred the defenceless people wholesale. Males, many of them not over twelve years of age, were decapitated by butchery at first, and this being found too slow a way of murdering them, they were tied together and drowned. After a day of this atrocious work the English Consul, who had previously begged them, without effect, to desist, took the responsibility of commanding them to do so. And as he was backed by two men-of-war, he was listened to so far that the butchery was no longer carried on near foreign houses or shipping. But it was carried on in another part of the city two days longer, during which two thousand or more heads were cut off.

Shanghai city was captured by Cantonese and Fukienese Triad men during the same year in which Amoy was taken. The officials had for some time apprehended danger from the large number of persons suspected of sympathy with the Taipings, in those provinces. At daylight, on the day of the annual sacrifice to Confucius, six hundred Triads, who had secreted themselves near the North gate, rushed into the city, so soon as the gate was open, and marched, without opposition, straight to the official residence of the Magistrate. They called on him to give up his great seal of office, and on his refusing, they rushed on him with their swords and killed him. This was the only life taken in the capture of the city. The Canton men, led by a man named Liú, and the Fukien men led by a man name Ah Ling, all wearing red turbans from which they were called the Red-head Rebels, then proceeded to the Tao-tai’s Yamen. There a fire of cannons and muskets was kept up for a time, but, as there was no person killed, it is supposed no shot was used and that the whole affair was for effect. The Tao-tai finally surrendered, and gave up his seal to Liú. As soon as it was known the city was taken, the insurrectionary force was augmented by several thousands: and not only by men from Kwangtung and Fukien, but also by men from Shanghai and Ningpo. These united in sacking the city and collecting a large quantity of treasure, the division of which gave rise to a quarrel between the leaders. The quarrel was increased by Liú trying, against the wishes of Ah Ling, to spare the life of the Tao-tai. While the dispute was going on, two foreigners persuaded the Tao-tai to disguise himself, and they conducted him over the city walls to a place of safety in the Foreign Settlement.

The rescued Tao-tai soon raised a force with the object of recapturing the city. The soldiers of this force, on their first attack, approached the city walls shouting ‘Don’t fire, don’t fire,’ and after a short parley, the rebels grounded their spears and pulled a great number of them up the walls to join their cause. The Imperialists attacked the city at intervals for several months and were always repulsed. The most effective weapon appears to have been the pung-dong, a bamboo about five inches in diameter and ten feet long, with the joints removed. One end of the tube was made solid, and the whole strengthened with rattan and iron hoops. This weapon was charged with alternate layers of two quarts of the ingredients used in stinkpots, and a less quantity of dry gunpowder. A fuse, after igniting the upper charge of gunpowder, which ejected a large quantity of the terrible liquid fire on the enemy below the wall, burnt on to another charge of gunpowder to eject another torrent of the dreaded fire. And so it went on until the tube was empty.

Most of what is narrated here about the Shanghai rebellion is taken from an interesting account of the siege given in a lecture some years ago, by the Rev. Dr. M. T. Yates, who witnessed altogether sixty-eight Imperialist attacks, most of them made under shelter of the Mission premises under his charge and a grove of large trees near. Referring to these attacks, he says – ‘... They would run from grave to grave so as to flank the enemy and try to get a shot; all the time however being under cover. I never saw the long spear and bannermen come near enough to do each other harm. On one occasion I saw two bannermen stand behind grave mounds, some twenty yards apart. After some conversation, they rushed towards each other, but when near enough to use their spears, these weapons were vertically in the air, and the men rushed into each other’s arms, exchanged banners, and ran at the top of their speed in the opposite directions, each doubtless receiving the reward for capturing the banner of a foe, which was twenty taels!

‘On another occasion I saw a rebel with a spear chasing around a grave mound an Imperialist with a match-lock in his hand. If the Imperialist had stopped to prime his gun and adjust his fuse, the rebel would have speared him. Finally however, he succeeding in getting all in readiness, he ran to the top of a mound and fired, but the shot did not take effect, because as he pointed downwards the bullet rolled out of the gun; for the imperfection of the barrel necessitated the use of a ball of lesser diameter than the bore of the gun; and the general plan of loading was to drop the shot into the loose charge of powder.’

(Section dealing with night attacks on the city wall by the Imperialists omitted)

‘The Imperialists, finding they were unable to take the city by storm, resolved to starve the rebels out. But notwithstanding the besiegers’ intrenchments, the rebels procured supplies from the Foreign Settlement. This, and a refusal on the part of the foreigners to sell guns to the Imperialists, exasperated them so much that they made offensive demonstrations against the foreign community, and attempted to seize the desired guns by force. There was a large force of Imperialists encamped on the race-course, and these had so frequently insulted foreigners that the Consuls joined in requesting the commander to remove them elsewhere. No reply having been given to this and other similar demands, the commander was informed that unless he withdrew by a stated time he would be attacked. And no notice being taken of the ultimatum, a little force of three hundred foreigners, made up of volunteers and English and American marines and blue jackets, marched out to attack them. An offer of assistance from the Triads had been declined. This little force, after a short exchange of fire, in which one foreigner was severely wounded and several Imperialists shot, drove the enemy from the ground and destroyed the camps. A fleet of piratical junks that had been taken into the Imperial service was to have assisted against the foreigners; but it was overawed and prevented by the guns of the foreign men-of-war. On seeing the defeat of the Imperialists, the Triads rushed from the city and destroyed other camps. The next day the Imperialists begged forgiveness for what had happened, and the trouble with foreigners ended.

(Section describing French attack on the walls with a man-of-war omitted).

The Imperialists subsequently attempted to undermine the city walls. With this object in view they occupied the Ningpo joss-house, about a hundred feet from the city walls, and converted it into a battery. Inside this joss-house they sank a shaft from which they sought to reach the walls by tunnelling underneath the moat. There were a great many coffins stored in the joss-house and these were emptied and used to support the ground in the mining operations. One day, while emptying these coffins of their gruesome contents, one was found which, instead of human remains, contained a large quantity of sycee and gold bars. A wealthy man had got up a mock funeral in order to deposit his riches in what he considered safety. After that find, the emptying of the coffins became interesting.

Over ten coffin-lined holes were bored below the moat, but the Triads found out the direction of each, as it approached the walls, and a few men lowered outside the walls at night counteracted the long and arduous toil of their enemy.

(Section concerning the Imperialists breaching the wall by tunneling under and setting off gunpowder beneath the wall omitted. The rebels won by creating a fire wall in the breach with stink-pots. The Imperialists retreated to the joss-house. The following paragraph is again by Rev. Dr. M. T. Yates.)

‘When the Imperialists got safely inside, they rushed to their guns to bring them to bear upon the breach, but the rebels flung stink-pots over the battery, one of which fell into the magazine and exploded it, blowing off the roof of the joss-house. All the Imperialists not killed or buried beneath the ruins at once fled, by a back door, to their battery at the top of the Rue du Consulat.’

The rebels repaired the breach in the wall, and the Imperialists having lost all hope of taking the city by storm, once more set about starving out the defenders. With this object in view, they built walls almost surrounding those of the city, and thus cut off all supplies. On this the Triads, who consisted almost entirely of Cantonese and Fukienese, decided to abandon the city. And this was not so difficult as it seemed, surrounded as they were by enemies, for they found friends in the Imperialist camp who agreed to conduct them from the city in safety. It was arranged that Liu and Ah Ling were to meet at night outside the West Gate and there be joined by a guard of Imperialists, who were to conduct them past the camps. Ah Ling and his followers missed their way in the dark, but at daybreak they made a dash for the Foreign Settlement. Many were caught, however, and beheaded. Ah Ling, disguised and carrying a basket and an oil jar, passed through crowds of soldiers to a place of safety. Liu’s forces got safely away and, it is supposed, subsequently joined the Taipings. On the morning after the Triad’s departure, the inhabitants informed the Imperialists of what had occurred, and they entered and set fire to the city. The fire burnt for days and destroyed a great part of the city. Thus ended a siege carried on for a year and a half by soldiers against an undisciplined mob.

Stanton, William. The Triad Society, or Heaven and Earth Association. Hong Kong: Kelly and Walsh, 1900.

China Index >> History of Shanghai and Suzhou Region >> Yu Yuan

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