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Johnston sailed back to China carrying fonder thoughts of Britain than he had done for decades. Perhaps the excitement of the return to Weihai had mellowed him, for he certainly ‘found England a much pleasanter place than I had expected, perhaps because China has recently become so dreadful’.1 He was in high spirits. As he was not expected to begin work in Weihai until the beginning of April, he visited Hong Kong on his way back to north China. There, he stayed in the considerable splendour of Government House as a guest of his old friend Cecil Clementi. Clementi had been appointed governor of the colony in 1925, and Johnston—admittedly not the most impartial judge—declared that ‘he makes an excellent Governor’.2 Johnston spent three enjoyable weeks with Clementi and his family, and managed to fit in a few new experiences. He even ‘went up in an aeroplane for the first time when I was in Hong Kong and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was not air-sick!’3 Having had his first experience of air travel, he continued his journey northwards using more traditional forms of transport: boats and trains. Even then, he did not go directly to Weihai, for there was one person he had to see before settling in to his post: Puyi. Johnston had forgiven him; their reunion was a happy one. When Johnston arrived in Tianjin, he related how Puyi ‘was so anxious to see me when I returned that he insisted on coming along in his car to call on me before I could pay a visit on him!’4 Johnston found the former imperial court in a sorry state. Without Japanese support and money, Puyi would have had difficulty surviving financially, and the threat that he might have to leave Tianjin was a constant one. Warlords continued to fight across the country, reducing China to an economic ruin in the process. North and south were pitted against one another as they had been for more than a decade. It was Johnston’s judgement that Puyi might ‘have to leave China if the Southern party extend their influence to the north. In that case he would probably go to Japan.’5 It was not a sunny outlook. Johnston summed Chapter 12 Commissioner of Weihai (1927–1930) 210 Scottish Mandarin up the whole chaotic situation to Stewart Lockhart: ‘perhaps [Zhang Zuolin] will be a broken fugitive—or perhaps he will be President of China—by the time this letter reaches you’.6 Despite all this uncertainty, Johnston left Tianjin and his former pupil without regret to return to his ‘delectable’ Weihai. Puyi was sad to see him leave. Johnston was overwhelmed when ‘he loaded me with presents when I left Tianjin, and he came on board the Jardine’s steamer to see me off, much to the excitement of the crew’.7 When Stewart Lockhart had left the territory in 1921, it had been assumed that Johnston would in time replace him as commissioner. The Colonial Office were at that point quite agreeable to carrying the administrative load without him until he finished his tutorial duties with Puyi. It was a surprising decision, implying that Weihai would remain in British hands for several years to come. In fact, the Treaty of Versailles had propelled Britain into planning for a hand-over of Weihai to China in 1921. By the end of that year, the Colonial Office had even gone so far as to decide that, so long as China promised to honour foreign property rights, to give foreign ratepayers representation on local government bodies, and to allow Britain to maintain a summer sanatorium for her fleet on the island, then Weihai should be handed back forthwith.8 The following year, 1922, a small commission was set up to handle this return. An agreement was reached between the two countries, and a rendition document prepared for signing. The date for the hand-over was set for 22 October 1924—the very day that Feng Yuxiang marched on Beijing, overthrew the government, and threatened Puyi. Not surprisingly , the return of Weihai was postponed. The political situation was no better throughout 1925, but the Consular Service seemed quite happy to continue administering the territory until Weihai could be returned to a stable government in China. Macleay, the British minister in Beijing, was so happy with the arrangement that, when the Colonial Office decided that Johnston should return to the territory, Macleay played a low trick. He...


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