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Diplomats in Blue

U.S. Naval Officers in China, 1922–1933

William Reynolds Braisted

Publication Year: 2009

William Braisted is one of the world's foremost authorities on the U.S. naval experience in the Pacific, especially China, and Diplomats in Blue is a monumental work that adds further luster to his remarkable career.

The 1920s and 30s were an especially turbulent period in Chinese history, and the U.S. Navy was deployed there not as an instrument of war, but of diplomacy. Their task was to keep China intact, independent, and free of occupation. They faced warlords fighting throughout the country, growing nationalist sentiment, and, eventually, the rise of Chinese communists and heightened Japanese aggression. Their mission included protecting embassies, conducting river patrols, protecting American lives and property, and carrying out civil affairs with the Chinese government.

In this narrative, Braisted--an admiral's son who actually lived in China during his father's tour of duty with the Navy at this time--is both historian and a witness with special insight.

Published by: University Press of Florida

Title Page, Copyright

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List of Illustrations

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

Water is unquestionably the most important natural feature on earth. By volume the world’s oceans compose 99 percent of the planet’s living space; in fact, the surface of the Pacific Ocean alone is larger than that of the total land bodies. Water is as vital to life as air; indeed, to test whether the moon or other ...

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pp. xi-xvii

The roots of this story of the U.S. Navy in China extend back to my birth into a naval family in March 1918, when my father, Frank Alfred Braisted, was serving with American destroyers operating against German submarines out of Queensland (now Cobh, having reverted to its former name), Ireland, and my mother, Margaret Buzard Braisted, was living in the home of my grandfather, William Clarence Braisted, then Surgeon General of the Navy. ...

Part I: The U.S. Navy and Contending Warlords

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1 The Navy in the Far East

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pp. 3-22

During the years between the world wars, the Pacific west of 180 degrees longitude and the waters of what then was known as the Far East were the domain of the United States Asiatic Fleet. As constituted after World War I, the fleet included for the most part light forces assigned to the fleet for two purposes: first, to cooperate with the Army in defense of the Philippines against a Japanese attack; and ...

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2 The Canton Customs Crisis

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pp. 23-29

In late 1923 a crisis broke out in South China that provided the treaty powers with an opportunity for a classic demonstration of naval power in support of the so-called unequal treaty system. The Pearl River Delta including the city of Canton was the area of prime concern of the Asiatic Fleet’s South China Patrol. The patrol’s responsibilities also extended along the South China coasts ...

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3 The Main Gate: Shanghai and the Yangtze Delta

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pp. 30-38

Surely the most important maritime gateway to China during the 1920s was the delta of the Yangtze River. Located on the Whangpoo River, a tributary flowing into the delta, was the great, complex, international city of Shanghai. As a trading center Shanghai drew from the Chinese interior through the Yangtze River, the navigable portions of ...

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4 The Navy and the May 30th Incident of 1925 and After

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pp. 39-48

When Minister Schurman and his military and naval advisers reported in the spring of 1925 that the Navy was best suited to afford protection of American lives and property in China, they clearly had in mind protection against sporadic local anti-foreign outbursts arising from strictly local conditions, against the ravages of undisciplined warlord armies, or perhaps against a new uprising of Boxer fanatics. ...

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5 Shameen and South China

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pp. 49-64

The material for the most explosive Chinese response to the May 30th Incident was surely to be found in South China at Canton. There the heirs of Sun Yat-sen were struggling to control his Nationalist (Kuomintang) Party and to establish a firm power base in Kwantung province. The American consul general at Canton, Douglas Jenkins, watched with ...

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6 The Upper Yangtze

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pp. 65-97

Perhaps the most challenging area of China confronting the U.S. Navy in the early 1920s was that of the Yangtze River and its tributaries. The river open to Western shipping extended some seventeen hundred miles from Shanghai in the delta to Chungking and beyond in the western province of Szechwan. There were also tributaries navigable in varying degrees to Navy ships: Tung-ting Lake and the Kan River leading southward to Nanchang ...

Part II: The U.S. Navy and the Rise of the Nationalists

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7 Explosions on the Yangtze, 1926

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pp. 101-112

The movement of the Nationalist (Kuomintang) armies from South China into the middle Yangtze area during the late summer and fall of 1926 was attended by crises that extended from Hankow upriver to beyond Chungking. In the upper river, a shipping crisis was brought on by an acute shortage of native water transport available to move the troops and supplies of rival warlords, especially those ...

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8 1927

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pp. 113-130

The transfer of the Nationalist government from Canton to Hankow in December 1926 in no sense diminished the feeling of insecurity among foreigners in the Yangtze Valley. In late November and early December, the British and French landed forces to protect their Hankow concessions from overly enthusiastic Chinese protesters. Also anticipating trouble, ...

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9 The Nanking Incident of 1927

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pp. 131-139

Official Washington and Americans in China were still recovering from the shock produced by the Nationalist occupation of the Chinese sections of Shanghai when still more terrifying reports started coming out from the major lower Yangtze Valley city of Nanking. The first alert came from the U.S. destroyer Noa on 24 March 1927, when Lieutenant Commander Roy C. Smith, commanding, advised that ...

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10 After Nanking

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pp. 140-153

The Nanking Incident provoked no demands from Washington for an immediate punitive response. Nor did it dispel the strong current of sympathy in the American public for the Chinese people. Senator Borah rumbled from Capitol Hill that he was certain the Chinese harbored no hostility toward Americans.1 ...

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11 Calls to the North

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pp. 154-165

Even as the Navy addressed immediate threats to Americans in the Yangtze River valley and South China, the specter of approaching crisis in the north provoked urgent appeals from North China, especially from the American Legation in Peking. The forces of the Manchurian warlord, Marshal Chang Tso-lin, uneasily occupied the Peking- Tientsin area, but the armies of his sometime ...

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12 An Admiral Diplomat in Command

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pp. 166-185

On 9 September 1927, on board Pittsburgh at Shanghai, Admiral Mark Bristol relieved Admiral Williams as Commander in Chief Asiatic Fleet. For nearly eight years, 1919–1927, Bristol had served as high commissioner in Turkey and as commander of U.S. naval forces in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. With his seat at the American Embassy in Constantinople, Bristol ...

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13 The Navy and a Still Disunited China

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pp. 186-198

The occupation of Peking and Tientsin by the Nationalists and their warlord allies and the flight of the “Old Marshal” Chang Tso-lin to Manchuria and to death by assassination in early June 1928 marked the nominal completion of the northern expedition upon which the Nationalists had embarked from Canton less than two years before. As Admiral Mark ...

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14 The Navy and “China United”

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pp. 199-223

The fall of North China to the Nationalists and their allies, the establishment of the Nationalist capital at Nanking, the entombment of the remains of Sun Yat-sen on Purple Mountain behind Nanking—all this and more seemed to attest to the emergence of a new “China United.” In celebration of this supposed achievement, on Bubbling Well Road ...

Part III: The U.S. Navy and the Confrontation between China and Japan

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15 Crumbling Foreign Collaboration

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pp. 227-244

When Admiral Montgomery Meigs Taylor raised his four-star flag as Commander in Chief Asiatic Fleet in USS Houston at Shanghai on 1 September 1931, he probably had little or no premonition of the outbreak that would occur in Manchuria less than three weeks later. The ramifications of Japan’s actions would end the friendly parallel operations, even cooperation, between ...

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16 The Shanghai Incident

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pp. 245-264

As long as the major fighting between the Chinese and the Japanese was confined to Manchuria, an area beyond the protective sphere of the Navy, Admiral Taylor and the Asiatic Fleet followed their usual routine, retiring for the winter of 1931–1932 to the Philippines and leaving in Chinese waters the gunboats of the Yangtze and South China ...

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17 The Shanghai Incident: The Gathering Storm

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pp. 265-277

Upon the outbreak of hostilities at Shanghai, Minister Johnson took the Shanghai Express from Peking to Nanking. The British minister, Sir Miles Lampson, who had started out for home leave via the Trans-Siberian Railway, hastened back to Nanking to join the American minister. The two established close relations, comparable to those between ...

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18 The Navy behind “Big Stick” Diplomacy in 1932

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pp. 278-292

A quarter century before the Shanghai Incident, Theodore Roosevelt during an immigration crisis with Japan ordered the Atlantic Fleet of sixteen battleships to sail on what was billed as a practice cruise around South America to the Pacific. The spectacular movement proved to be the first lap in the still more spectacular World Cruise, 1907–1909. ...

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19 The Shanghai Incident: After Hostilities

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pp. 293-311

The sudden cessation of serious fighting in early March 1932 by no means ended the Shanghai Incident. Another two months of sparring between the Chinese and Japanese would occur before even a formal cease-fire agreement could be signed. ...

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20 Sequels to the Shanghai Incident

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pp. 312-323

It was surely inevitable that there would be numerous postmortems, explanations, and apologies by which the various parties at Shanghai would attempt to exonerate themselves, sometimes at the expense of others. As we have seen, the Chinese protested that those responsible for the International Settlement were allowing the Japanese to use the settlement as a base of operations against China, while the Japanese insisted that they were protecting the settlement against attack. ...

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21 Communist Unrest and Japanese Aggression

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pp. 324-342

The clashes between the Chinese and Japanese in Manchuria and at Shanghai attracted much public attention and proved to be the beginnings of the road to full war between China and Japan in 1937 and to Pearl Harbor in 1941. They also tended to overshadow the domestic troubles in China. The Kuomintang and the leaders in Nanking might claim that they had created China United, but the Kuomintang itself was divided by factionalism, and rival warlords of doubtful allegiance still occupied much of the country ...

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pp. 343-346

Although this study formally ends with Admiral Taylor’s departure from the Far East, it is perhaps not inappropriate to comment briefly on the position of American armed forces in China after Japan had become a major disturber of the peace there. The Navy’s floating forces continued as before to provide protection for Americans on the China coast and rivers, which remained troubled by warlord rivalries, Communists, bandits, and, after 1937, the Japanese. ...

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pp. 347-350

During the first century of United States history, naval forces served as the chief protectors of American citizens and their property around the globe. Between 1815 and 1845 the U.S. Navy established six squadrons to patrol “distant stations”: in the Mediterranean; in the West Indies; in the Pacific triangle between Alaska, Hawaii, and Chile; along the west coast of Africa; along the east coat of South America; and, the most distant of all, the East India Squadron to operate primarily in the South China Sea. ...


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pp. 351


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pp. 353-386


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pp. 387-393

Index [Includes About Author]

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pp. 395-406

E-ISBN-13: 9780813039954
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813032887
Print-ISBN-10: 0813032881

Page Count: 424
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Foreign relations -- China.
  • China -- Foreign relations -- United States.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- 1923-1929.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- 1929-1933.
  • United States -- History, Naval -- 20th century.
  • United States. Navy -- History.
  • Pacific Ocean -- History, Naval.
  • Pacific Area -- History, Naval.
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