This page was created by Weiting Guo. The last update was by Kate McDonald.
"Fierce Smugglers Caused Disturbance"
The ocean and the rivers constituted a means for the Wenzhounese to connect with the outside world. Yet these domains also emerged as a contested space for smugglers and pirates to extract resources and compete with one another. Traders from the north—either Shanghai or Ningbo—or the south—particularly Xiamen and Fuzhou—were usually at the risk of being raided by the pirates from the nearby regions, especially Taizhou. As such, the merchant boats were usually equipped with weapons or mercenaries because of the frequent raids by the pirates. Local officials and policemen were also tasked to quench fugitives on the sea, yet with the politics in play, these authorities were forced to turn a blind eye to these perpetrators many-a-times, as they had to deal with various local affairs and the pirates and the smugglers were usually heavily armed. In practice, local authorities preferred to take the most efficient approaches, including making announcements or informing other government and military forces about the ongoing crimes. Primarily due to such cost-benefit analysis behind their actions, the policemen and local governments primarily adopted a passive approach in managing the fierce pirates and smuggling networks.
In October 1886, several dozen smuggling boats appeared on Wenzhou’s waters. The Corps of Catching Salt Smugglers had already been made aware of their planned arrival. They lay in wait in the region close to the water, and then opened fire on the smuggling boats when they passed by. The smuggling boats were not equipped with cannons, so they sent several smugglers carrying swords to jump onto the official’s boats. The two sides fought fiercely on the ocean, with many injured in the fight. Four smugglers were caught, two officers were kidnapped, but only one smuggling boat was captured by the officers.
In October 1919, a Wenzhounese-owned Rongtai sailboat was navigating from Shanghai to Wenzhou. While the boat was near the Tongsha water, approximately 15 miles away from the mouth of the Soochow Creek (Wusong River), it was surrounded by two pirate boats. In the attack, 50 to 60 pirates flooded to the sailboat, robbed all the valuables and kidnapped two sailors for a ransom of 1,000 golds. The owner of the sailboat, a Wenzhou native Chen Hongqiang, quickly informed the Wenzhou Native-Place Association in Shanghai. The latter consequently sent a telegram to the Governor of Zhejiang Province, urging him to investigate the case and recover the lost goods and personnel. The pirates, reportedly from Taizhou, had been committing similar crimes around the nearby waters. They transported the looted goods to Shitang Town, which is only 70 miles away from Wenzhou. Probably due to such a “native” relationship as well as the petitioner's connection with Shanghai, the Zhejiang provincial authorities soon requested water policemen to take care of the case. Yet the consequences of the intervention from corrective authorities remain unknown as the newspapers did not provide further details.