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Heritage Sikhs, In History Of China

Chaan Pardesi

Oct 4, 2008
London & Kuala Lumpur
The History Of Sikhs In China

For the first time any credible piece of Sikh history in China ever written, was by me back in 2002/2003, in the form of the following article.But I was rather suprised to find this on a net

[http://forum.desicomments.com/archive/index.php/t-12957.html] presented by a GILL SAAB as HIS piece of work.Talk of plagarising!I am now sharing this with SPN readers.

It is obvious through recollections of old annals of China, that Sikhs had become closely associated with the Policing of Shanghai and the british interests in China.It is common knowledge the Sikhs were extensively recruited for the many British military campaigns fought on Indian and foreign soils.The Sikhs had impressed the british officers with their fearsome, martial persona and adept ability at mastering the drill.

It was this character of the proud Sikh soldier that prompted British administrators to consider Sikhs as an appropriate racial catgeory to recruit from for the para-military policing needs of Shanghai.

The Sikh appearance and presence was effective, in the opinion of the British, in intimidating the Chinese secret Societies and deterring criminal activities.Very little has been written about this role of Sikhs in policing Shanghai, and far more less about their history in China.

It is on record that Sikhs soldiers were used to fight in some of the opium
wars with the Chinese by the British towards the end of the opium wars in 1848 circa.

Some of the present day Sikh heartlands of the Punjab were already under the East India Company, east of the Satluj and further South East of Beas, before the Sikh wars.These areas did not form part of the Sikh empire.It leads me to believe, there were already some Sikh units raised by the British from these regions.Their role during the Anglo Sikh wars is also very ambigous; both the british and Sikh sources have played these down in history.These Sikh units may have been the forward units of attack upon the Sikh Raj Forces in the wars between the Sikh raj and the British.The same units were latter vanguard of the British units in the Opium wars.

But by 1851 another rebellion called the Taiping rebellion started against
the British and other Europeans, and to quell this the British brought in The Ludhiana Regiment.There is a picture of the Sikhs from the Ludhiana taken around1860 in China on record;where they are shown resting by some bombed out buildings.

The Sikhs standing tall and being tough and burly had a good effect upon the usually sly and naughty prankish gangsterish section of chinese population, who created a nuisance generally. The British began to recruit more Sikhs to police at the the international settlement at Shanghai . This was often called The Shanghai International Police.

The force, initially composed of Europeans, mainly Britons, and after 1864 including Chinese, was over the next 90 years expanded to include a Sikh Branch (established 1884), from officers who retired or left from Sikh military detachments in China. This force reached about 800 men, almost all Sikhs. The Sikhs were very effective in keeping the generally lawless elements of the population, under effective control.

The Chinese had no respect neither the etiquette to understand the rules and regulations of the administration, and would spit and urinate anywhere. The rickshaw riders would ride like wild mad riders and often cause unnecessary traffic chaos. Often a Sikh policeman would catch hold of two of unruly riders and lift them up to bang their heads together , that was enough to put fear into the chinese. When gangs of unruly Chinese gathered to create a nuisance with gambling or loud arguments , the appearance of a single majestic looking Sikh in their red turbans, was enough to send the mobs fleeing. It was apparent the British had given their Sikh police a free hand in dealing with Chinese, and
the Sikhs did not take this lightly. The police had no sympathy for the
unruly elements of the Chinese, who were seen as nothing more than opium smoking lay abouts involved in mostly gambling or opium gang activities.

More Sikhs armed with heavy sticks were employed as riot police in the
rough-and-tumble streets of Shanghai.[1930] The British police instructor, William Ewart Fairbairn, a pioneer in close-quarters battle and riot police
tactics, found the Sikhs to be very effective at quelling disturbances due to their gatka-driven skills.

The Chinese referred to Sikhs as Hong Tou A-San — a reference to their red turbans (Hong means red in Mandarin while Tou refers to the head), therefore they were called the red turbanned devils.

An excerpt from Sin City, by Ralph Shaw, a British journalist in Shanghai
from 1937 to 1949, reflects full of racial slurs, as was typical of the
colonial racist administration which in these times are unacceptable;- "The Sikhs had a vey large community in Shanghai. Most of them were in the police. Others were watchmen. They were British subjects because India was part of the Empire. The ex-soldiers amongst them had been recruited for police service, on traffic duties, in the riot squad or the mounted section, and on retirement from the force they found their services in demand as bank guards, security men on the wharves, at the city's warehouses and the big business hongs or as commissionaires at hotels, restaurants and night-clubs. The Sikhs loved making money. They lent it but at such exorbitant rates of interest that their debtors, who were plentiful, were likely to remain insolvent for the remainder of their natural lives. Every other Sikh had a sideline - money-lending. This produced
many appearances in court as plaintiffs against Empire citizens who had
defaulted on promissory notes.

Judge Grant-Jones administered the law in conformity with the strict
principles of British justice. Nevertheless he never missed an opportunity to express astonishment - and stern condemnation - of some rates of interest levied by some scruplous Sikhs or to question their veracity under oath.

On one occasion a big, bearded Sikh moneylender was addressed by the judge:

'The extent of your extortion has only been equaled by the amount of the
fabrications you have given in evidence. One day I will meet a member of your community who will tell me the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, an occasion which I shall celebrate as the miraculous attainment of the impossible.'

Then the judge would look over to me - he knew me as a shorthand writer just to make sure that I'd got down what he wanted to be printed. A slight nod from me and he would continue the hearing.

By 1890s, there is no doubt there was a thriving community of a few
thousands of Sikhs in Shanghai . The first Gurdwara went up in the same year. According to the records of a building in Shanghai, this was at at 326 Dong Bao Xing Road . This is the Gurdwara referred to by Dhian Chand , an Indian Hockey player who visited the gurdwara in 1932.He writes" ...The atmosphere in the city was quite tense due to the Sino-Japnese clash over Manchuria . We were told to keep within bounds and avoid any trouble spots. We visited a very large Sikh Gurduara on the outskirts of the city. It was said to be the oldest Gurdwara in Shanghai . The Gurdwara had suffered much damage in clashes between the Chinese and Japanese soldiers. As we came out of the Gurduara , Japanese soldiers eyed us with suspicion. We had lunch on board our ship and
sailed for Kobe at about 4 pm "The records of the Gurdwara at this site are still available on some Chinese sites.

On the outbreak of the Boxer Rising; in China in the summer of 1900, Sikh
troops were dispatched from India to China to join the international forces engaged in relieving the legations besieged at Peking and suppressing the

The 14th Sikhs, under Colonel Hogge, left Nowshera by train on the 7th of July for Bombay . However, Lieutenant Currie contracted cholera during a halt at Khandwa and the Regiment had to be, segregated and their departure to China was delayed. The Regiment embarked in the'S.S. Formosa' at Bombay on the 12th of August and sailed to Shanghai via Singapore and Hong Kong. The 14th Sikhs disembarked on the 6th of September and went into camps just outside the International Settlement. By this time the besieged legations at Peking had been relieved and there was very little further fighting. The Sikhs were the leading units in this lifting of the seize.This is shown in the Hollywood film made in the late 60s, named Boxer Rebellion.

The 14th Sikh Regiment joined the 2nd Sikh/British Brigade, which was at
that time garrisoned at Shanghai . Conditions there were entirely peaceful and the Brigade remained there until April, 1901. For the British officers the seven months spent in this city were a most pleasant period. There were excellent facilities for sport and games, and hospitality abounded.

By the spring of 1901 it was decided to reduce the British forces in China
and the 2nd Brigade was broken up. However, the 14th Sikhs were amongst those regiments selected to remain in China and were transferred farther north.

The Regiment left Shanghai by sea for Taku and then proceeded by train to Yangtsun, where it was responsible for protecting the Peking-Tientsin railway, which was at that time a British responsibility. The Sikhs were split up into small detachments over a large section of the railway and were employed in patrolling the railway line and occasional expeditions after bandits. There are several pictures available showing the heavily burly turbanned Sikhs in warm clothing patrolling the Peking Tientsin railway line.

The 14th Sikhs finally left China on the 29th of July, 1902 , sailing from
Taku on the Royal Indian Marine ship Clive.

It must also be remembered many Sikhs headed for Shanghai on their way to Vancouver and Fiji Islands. Many Sikhs from Shanghai joined the Koma Gata Maru alias Guru Nanak Jahaz as it was renamed by Baba Gurdit Singh on their way to the West coast of USA and Canada . There was permanently a very large Sikh community in Shanghai, until the late 60s when the Mao Revolution made it necessary for them to leave China altogther.

In these present time there is already an appearance of Sikhs being noticed in China especially at major Hotels in Peking and Shanghai and Wenzhou , where they serve as door men, and concierge handlers and are asked to wear their turbans to give the authentics of the 1930s era. One such Sikh working in Peking says "Sometimes when really old, over 70-years-old, Chinese walk by, they are very happy and tell me that they remember seeing Sikhs like me on the streets in their youth"

The Sikh troops played a major role in lifting the seize of Shanghai and
Peking at the turn of the century. By 1930s there were said to be two more Gurdwaras in Shanghai . More Gurdwaras sprang up-one in Canton and one in Taku. Many of the Sikhs married local Chinese women and settled peacefully there. With the communists arriving many families left China by way of Singapore and Penang . Many of them would alight at Singapore and Penang to refresh, as dozens of Guru Granth saroops were carried by these families back from China . But a substantial number of Sikhs who were Chinese state citizens stayed back and appeared to have lived peacefully until 1963, when the Red revolution agitations took place. These news are on record in the New Straits Times newspaper of Malaysia in 1963

May I also mention a Sikh, by the name of Dara Singh from Taiping, in Malaysia went to China and joined the Kuomintang army to fight the communists and was promoted to the rank of a colonel by Chaing kai Shek.He spoke Chinese very fluently and on return married a Chinese lady.

By 1963, there were still about 1200 Sikh families living in China. However
in the decades that followed the founding of the People's Republic of China , the country's Sikh population virtually disappeared slowly . As Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai transmuted into Hindi-Chini Bye-Bye, the mutual animosity that followed the Sino-Indian border war led to Indian faces in Chinese cities becoming notable only for their absence.

But the Sino-Indian war and later the red revolution made it impossible for
Indians to stay on in China . The Gurdwaras in Canton and the other cities were shut down, followed by the Shanghai Gurduara lastly. Another stream of Sikhs was seen leaving to Hong Kong and Manila , and some on their way to India via Malaysia and Singapore .

It was in late 1963, the Straits Times carried an article about the last
batch of Sikhs, about 260, many with Chinese wives left Shanghai back to India , via Hong Kong by air. It was reported they carried the last of Saroop of Guru Granth sahib along with them shutting the last Sikh Gurdwara , in Shanghai

For many years I have been trying to trace the location of these Gurdwaras in china with out success. I was offered a fully paid trip to go to China in 2003 by one Sikh to research this, but I could not do that on some one else's expense .I refused I hope to be able to go in about two years time as I plan to take early retirement.

It was only not too long ago, I came across a more definite address for one of the Gurdwaras in Shanghai as at Dong Bao Xing Road.I also have a picture of the Sikh Gurdwara that was set up in the International settlement. It is quite majestic building with many Sikhs gathered outside. However, I am not able to establish its address. I have also obtained another picture which I am told is a Sikh Gurdwara in Shanghai , but I am not quite sure about that cl It is in color, I was told it no longer is a Gurdwara and appears to be in the middle of a built up city center.
According to E. Denison and Y. R. Guang’s BUILDING SHANGHAI, the original site for the Gurdwara was a graveyard thus construction had been delayed again and again as they need approval to remove the graves. Built by Robert Turner, the Gurdwara (A Sikh Temple) was opened on 30th June, 1908.

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<DL class=gallery-item sizcache="2" sizset="5"><DT class=gallery-icon sizcache="2" sizset="5"> <DT class=gallery-icon sizcache="2" sizset="5"><DT class=gallery-icon sizcache="2" sizset="5">I will add to this as I uncover more facts on the subject. <DD class=gallery-caption id=caption864>The Façade
Photo by Cintia Kou

</DD></DL><DL class=gallery-item sizcache="2" sizset="6"><DT class=gallery-icon sizcache="2" sizset="6"> <DD class=gallery-caption id=caption865>The Façade
Photo by Cintia Kou

</DD></DL><DL class=gallery-item sizcache="2" sizset="7"><DT class=gallery-icon sizcache="2" sizset="7"> <DD class=gallery-caption id=caption863>Side Entrance
Photo by Cintia Kou



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