The Manchurian Incident, and the clash between Japanese and Chinese forces in Shanghai in January 1932, greatly complicated consular police missions by fueling widespread anti-Japanese sentiment in China, just as it provoked an exodus of Chinese peddlers and their families, including Japanese wives, from Japan. A July 16, 1932 report by Consular Police Sergeant Itō Shigeru (in DAMFAJ K.184.108.40.206) gives us a sense of the local conditions and the experiences of his team (which appears to have included one Chinese constable).
We visited the county head's office, explained the purpose of our visit, and heard a general explanation of local conditions. The following morning, we were assigned 1 sergeant (junchō) and 2 constables (junkei) from the local security bureaus as escorts/guards.…
Local conditions remain unchanged. Plans to improve roads have been shelved because the local population opposed them, saying the roads would only benefit bandits; regional upheavals and cost factors also affected the decision. People used to transport goods on their shoulders; now many people use donkeys, so the roads are in the process of being destroyed. Travelers move either on foot or in carts.…
Since last year's Manchurian Incident, there have been anti-Japanese handbills posted within the walls of Fuqing as well as along the roads and on the walls in the surrounding villages. But since last September, the troops of Lin Cheng have been posted here, and locals are more concerned about their rapaciousness and violent behavior.…One still sees a few anti-Japanese posters, but none appears to have been recently posted. [Itō also reported a healthy trade in Japanese goods, and that locals did a brisk business smuggling sugar, matches, and cloth from Taiwan.] However, the further one moves into in the interior, people still think Japan and China are at war due to the Manchurian and Shanghai incidents. They believe false rumors that steamship traffic between the two countries has stopped, and some of them see Japanese as an enemy people. This posed serious difficulties for our survey of Japanese women.
Itō and his team also relied on their Chinese escorts to convince village headmen that they posed no danger, and to determine whether or not it was safe to enter each village. In several cases, it clearly was not.
In Aokou village, where we had learned there were two Japanese women, several tens of villagers surrounded our escorts, told them there were no such women and that none of them ever goes to Japan, and asked them insultingly why they were in the company of Japanese. Some also shouted, ‘Down with the Japanese!’ As things got threatening, we tried to calm the situation and began leave; someone shouted ‘Bakayaro!’ [Idiots!] in Japanese. In Donghan village, the villages conspired to conceal the Japanese women and plotted to attack Japanese consular officials should they come. We heard that in Beizhai village, people said one of their inhabitants had been killed while peddling in Japan, and that they discussed taking revenge on any Japanese who appeared. . . .
This time, we visited more than twenty villages and discovered eighteen new women (of whom one was deceased) and eight children; one of the women is Taiwanese. There appear to be still many more women in the area, but they were concealed and we couldn’t investigate.
Itō also explained how his own team became the victims of extortion by their Chinese escorts.
While the police in the Gaoshan area used to be quite well paid, the authority of the police has fallen and this has greatly affected their earnings, making them try to seize any opportunity to make some money. Not only did our escorts from the [county/prefecture] security bureau openly demand a daily fee for protecting us, they asked for an unfair amount. When we refused, they started making threatening statements, so we decided that we would not ask for escorts while we were in Gaoshan town, and, having no choice, paid them what they asked and sent them back to the county seat the next day. Each day we moved between the Gaoshan hinterland and the Fuqing County police office, we were assigned one sergeant and two constables from the Gaoshan sub-station as escorts. Though we did not think we would need escorts on the return trip from Fuqing County to Kengtian, we were required to depart the Fuqing walled city at one o'clock AM due to water level conditions affecting steamboat travel between Kengtian and Fuqing. As we were traveling with some women and children [we had extricated], we worried about traveling at night and requested a military police escort. Upon our arrival, we offered them each one yuan as a token of our appreciation, but they demanded five yuan each (for platoon leader Song and his men, a total of nine men). We refused, explaining that there was no need to pay such an exorbitant fee and that we would write letters of appreciation to [their superiors] upon our return. They refused, responding that they had stayed awake all night to protect us on the fifty-li journey, their socks were torn, and they were unbearably hungry, and demanding to know, loudly and threateningly, what would we do for them. After having our interpreters do their best to calm things down, we had no choice but to give them 30 yuan and send them on their way. The troops stationed in the provinces are not paid sufficiently, so they are driven to resort to these extortionate demands. On the day our team returned to Fuqing, [one of the local army commanders] was busy putting on a play to try to make some money for himself. Under these conditions, they are using whatever means available to squeeze money out of the local populace.
A year after Itō’s report, consular police had not been able to return to the region, impeded by both anti-Japanese sentiment and rampant banditry. “In the past, we'd send in a spy dressed as a peddler first to identify homes with Japanese women, and we'd then arrive with Chinese officers a couple days later. But when we could interview the women, no matter how much they wanted to leave, they feared reprisals and said they wanted to stay, were fine. In other words, our consular police is not really able to extricate such women; most of those who have been rescued escaped by themselves to the consulate.” Not only had the Chinese police become “useless,” both they and the Fujian government appeared to be colluding with local inhabitants against Japanese requests – making the consulate wait months for responses to queries; backing up villagers’ claims, in the presence of Japanese consular police officers, that a certain woman was Chinese; and on one occasion producing a transparently forged “personal statement” from one woman stating that she was getting along well with her husband and did not desire to return to Japan. (This report was appended to Fuzhou Consul General Moriya's August 12, 1933 report to Foreign Minister Uchida, in DAMFAJ K.220.127.116.11.)
In 1934, according to a report by Constable Matsumoto Shigeru and his team (June 14, 1934, in DAMFAJ K.18.104.22.168), conditions had improved somewhat.
Villagers still think we are coming to remove their Japanese women, and are cautious. This makes our investigations extremely difficult. Of course, some Chinese understand the purpose of our visits, but they are afraid of incurring the villagers’ anger and so they don’t help us. Still, unlike in previous years, we are not refused entry into villages or threatened with violence. We were able to conduct good surveys in 7 or 8 villages in which there were no Japanese women living. In particular, in Gaoshan shi and Donghan etc., where Japanese women reside and their husbands own assets and/or are village leaders, the Japanese wives are able to communicate among themselves, and with their husbands provided assistance to our investigators. In Donghan, this was a complete reversal from previous times when officers were denied entry and pelted with rocks. This is due to the people’s improved understanding.
Security in the region remained bad, and bandits roamed at will. On this tour, however, local authorities provided a more reliable escort, including troops in automobiles for the return trip from Fuqing to Fuzhou.