Secret reports from the South China Command to the British War Office, with reconnaissance photos, written as Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek rose to power and veered toward civil war

China. [Secret British Military Report]. Reports on Kwangtung and Fukien Provinces.

Hong Kong, British War Office, 1926-1928.

Folio (22.5 x 35 cm). [ii], 11; [ii], 12-35; [i], 36-60; [i], 61-101; [i], 103-138 ll. Five secret military reconnaissance reports totalling 138 numbered leaves in typescript (some in carbon copies or duplicated) with insertions and manuscript additions, with 47 original photographs (3.5 x 6 to 8 x 13 cm) mounted on the leaves (3 of the 47 are longer panoramas, each built up from 2 to 3 photos) and a folding blueprint plan (26 x 48.5 cm). Contemporary brown half cloth with diapered cloth sides and printed paper labels on the spine and front cover. Kept in a modern cloth clamshell box.


Five secret British military reconnaissance reports made by the South China Command in Hong Kong for the Under Secretary of State at the War Office in London from 1926 to 1928 and distributed in 1927 and 1928, giving a very detailed account of sites of military importance in Guangdong and Fujian provinces on the southeast coast of mainland China at a critical moment in Chinese history. It includes a description of the famous Whampoa (Huangpu) Military Academy, established by Sun Yat-sen in 1924 with help from the Soviet Union and commanded by the young Chiang Kai-shek in his first major post, the Guangzhou radio transmitting station, the aerodrome near the academy, arsenals, railways, fortifications, other prospective military targets, the topography of the region and possible landing sites for an invasion. The folding plan shows "The Asiatic Petroleum Co's wharf Amoy", with extensive soundings, reproducing a drawing dated 14 September 1919. The British were secretly preparing for military intervention in China during a period of tension between China and the western powers. Although the text gives some background information and a few anecdotes about events in China (some Chinese feared the compiler might be a Russian spy), it mostly leaves political opinions to the politicians and concentrates on the factual information the military would need if England decided to invade China. Sun Yat-sen died in March 1925 and in the wake of worker and student uprisings, the British-led Shanghai Municipal Police shot and killed at least nine protesters in Shanghai on 30 May, stoking the existing anti-British sentiments. The Chinese Communist Party and Sun Yat-sen's Nationalist Kuomintang had been allied against the warlords since 1923 but Chiang Kai-shek had commanded their National Revolutionary Army since 1925 and beginning in March 1926 he purged Communists in the military and declared martial law, a coup that made him the undisputed leader of the Kuomintang. Mao Zedong, still only one of several leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, was beginning to organise peasant militias in Guangzhou, planting the seeds of what would become the Red Army. In April 1927 the hostilities erupted in civil war, with Chiang killing thousands of Communists and Mao Zedong leading the Red Army against him was to prove equally ruthless. The British government under Conservative Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin saw dangerous Bolshevic influences on both sides, but were pleased that Chiang made a definitive break with the Communists. After Chaing captured Nanking in March 1927, British and American ships opened fire on uprisings against him, and the British built up their military presence around the Communist stronghold of Shanghai as well. In the event, this was the closest they came to an invasion, and the preparations shown by the present reports never went further. But they give a remarkably detailed picture of the military state of southern China at this critical moment and form a primary source for both the beginnings of the Chinese civil war and the British view of the situation. The five reports are: [Part 1:] Report on Canton City [= Guangzhou in Guangdong] (sent 13 October 1927 and referring to an arsenal established 16 June [1927]). [Part 2:] Report on Shekcheng Arsenal, Whampoa Military Academy, and other establishments near Canton (sent 15 June 1928 and including information gathered in Guangzhou on 31 May 1928). [Part 3:] Report on Swatow [= Shantou in Guangdong] (dated March 1926 and sent 28 July 1927; addendum sent 10 February 1928). [Part 4:] Amoy [= Xiamen in Fujian] (dated March 1926 and sent 28 July 1927). [Part 5:] Foochow [= Fuzhou in Fujian] (refers to a publication of 1925 and sent 28 July 1927). The reports of 1927 and 1928 (parts 1 & 2) were compiled by Captain Robin Hasluck Campbell (1894-1964) of the Royal Marines, who was to rise to the rank of Major-General in 1944, and he also added a page of addenda to the 1926 report on Shantou, which was written by Captain R.A. Slater. Two of the Hong Kong cover letters were signed by Major-General Charles Camac Luard (1867-1947), Commander of British Troops in South China, and the other two by officers under his command. The paper for part 3 is watermarked "D. Gestetner's|Rotary" and some texts in the volume seem likely to have been reproduced on a Gestetner stencil-based duplicating machine, though some may be carbon copies and others appear to have been typed directly. Most of the leaves added in India are watermarked "Government|of|India|T". The Hong Kong cover letters indicate that these reports were distributed in only three to five copies, all but one going to Asian offices (including Malaya, Singapore and Peking), and we have located no surviving copies besides the present ones. They were sent in 1927 and 1928 to the Headquarters of the British Army in Delhi, India, which passed them on to their General Staff Branch at its summer office in Simla in the latter year. It was in India, probably when the reports were sent to Simla, that they were bound together with the four original cover letters (the third for parts 3 to 5 and the fourth for the addenda to part 3) and some new additions: a new typescript table of contents for all five reports headed by a general drop-title (with a manuscript note telling the binder to have the title printed for the cover), a manuscript part-title inserted before each part and one additional cover letter written in Delhi. Also at that time, the British authorities in India mounted some of the cover letters on paper leaves (and seem to have remounted some of the photos on new leaves) and made some manuscript annotations. They also used a red pencil to number the leaves of the five reports in a single series including the cover letters and leaves with photos, but not the manuscript part-titles. The table of contents cites these new leaf numbers. The reports in parts 1-3 had been separately foliated in typescript without the added leaves: 8; [2], 19; [1], 9, [3] ll. Some worm holes, especially in the first few and last few leaves (slightly affecting 2 photographs), and with occasional minor chips and tears, the folding plan has separated at the folds, a folding photographic panorama assembled from 3 photographs has one part torn through and another photo has a faded patch, but most text leaves and photographs are in good condition. A detailed secret report of British military reconnaissance in southern China as the civil war between Communists and Nationalist broke out.


For the British military's view of the circumstances: Jonathan Parkinson, The Royal Navy, China Station (2018), pp. 359-372.