Policing Indian Nationalism in Shanghai

The rise of transnational revolutionary anti-colonialism also oversaw the diversification of the duties of policing. Shanghai provides a case study of how urban policing transformed the rising pressures to survey, monitor and police rising anti-colonialism. Section 4 of the Shanghai Municipal Police Force (the Indian branch) is an interesting focus of study as its formation signalled the diversification of the duties of the Indian police force in Shanghai. Their position became more than just an economic method of asserting British colonial authority. The Indian police force became involved in the wider movement to suppress anti-colonialism across the British empire, demonstrating how urban policing became connected to the wider network of anti-colonialism. 

Reports from Section 4 division highlight the worry of anti-colonialism amongst the Indian population, influenced by the rise of Chinese nationalist groups during the 1920s and the narrative of pan-Asianism supported by the growing Japanese empire in China.1 A notable fear comes from members of the Ghadar movement who were arriving from the United States and Canada to expand their influence to Indian populations across the empire.2 The Sikh and Indian population formed a core of the British military forces globally, and the influence of anti-colonial sentiment could fracture the British military structure.3 These fears become evident with reports in the Shanghai Municipal Police Archives demonstrating a need to increase surveillance of ‘seditious Indians’ across Shanghai.4 Surveillance includes that, ‘In all cases, however trivial, involving Indians it is essential that the names of the paternal parents and villages of births to be obtained’ with all information forwarded to the detective constable.5 The reports highlight a developing insecurity of the wider Indian population and their connections to anti-colonialism, warranting the need to increase population surveillance. 

These insecurities highlight the diversifying role of Indian police officers in Shanghai. The 1927 construction of the Section 4 branch occurred out of awareness of rising Indian revolutionary movements in Shanghai and the need to suppress those movements. Indian police officers are viewed as valuable due to their ability to speak the local languages of Indian nationalists, their existing experience in police and detective work and their’ most comprehensive knowledge of local Indian affairs’.6 The new branch and the officers’ new position highlight the transitioning role of Indian police officers as agents of anti-colonial suppression. 

New duties of the special branch included collecting intelligence and border security. Their increased responsibilities in policing unravel surprising insights on the extent of surveillance collected on the Indian population in Shanghai. By 1936, the Special Branch held 2000 photographs and 1000 biographies of Indian ‘seditionaries and sympathisers’ residing in Shanghai.7 This included a comprehensive collection of individual names, photographs, family histories, ancestral homes in India, passport numbers and registration numbers. 8 The nature of the information collection demonstrates a need to easily identify suspects, establish connections of individuals to other revolutionary groups and track their travel history. This is starkly different from policing trends of 1930 that detailed the need only to survey newly arrived Indians from North America residing within International Settlement Districts.9 By 1936, surveillance methods expanded beyond the geographic jurisdiction of the Shanghai Municipal Police and towards any member of the Indian population, including students, professionals and travellers.4 It demonstrates how the insecurities held by governmental forces altered the role of Indian officers to become intelligence officers for the British. 

An additional role of the Special Branch included the enforcement of border security. Movement was an important aspect of surveillance as the 1937 report from the special branch detailing new procedures for the emigration of Indian nationals back to India. The processes included an arduous procedure of consultation with both the consulate and the special branch. To travel, the national would be required to fill out documents and submit them to the special police branch and once approved, the branch (under instruction from the consulate general) would allow the individual to purchase a ticket.10 Finally, the consulate would issue a certificate authorising the national to travel.7 The procedure highlights two factors. Firstly, the need to have police surveillance over the movement of Indians demonstrates the insecurities held by the British government of the increasing rise of transnational anti-colonialism and the need to prevent its spread to other corners of its empire. Secondly, the diversified role of Indian police officers in monitoring and controlling Indian movements in and out of the city.

Intelligence and border control are only two elements of urban policing connected to suppressing anticolonialism. However, the blog post is attempting to highlight how the transformatory role of the Indian constable demonstrates the wider relationship between urban policing and colonial security. British insecurities of rising anticolonialism transformed a municipal police force into a transnational intelligence agency.

  1. Shanghai Municipal Police, Section 4, Indian Section, Special Branch, February 11 1936, Special Branch Sections: Organisation and Work 1929-1941, File No. D.8/8, p. 22. []
  2. Ibid., p. 24 []
  3. Isabella Jackson, ‘The Raj on Nanjing Road: Sikh Policemen in Treaty-Port Shanghai’, Modern Asian Studies 46: 6 (November 2012), pp. 1697-1700. []
  4. Shanghai Municipal Police, Indian Section, p. 24. [] []
  5. Shanghai Municipal Police, Police Order No. D. 6679, Indians Arrested at Stations, December 24 1936, Special Branch Sections: Organisation and Work 1929-1941, File No. D.8/8, p. 8. []
  6. Shanghai Municipal Police, June 21 1929, Special Branch Sections: Organisation and Work 1929-1941, File No. D.8/8, p. 49. []
  7. Ibid. [] []
  8. Shanghai Municipal Police, Indian Section, pp. 24-27. []
  9. Shanghai Municipal Police, April 29 1930, Special Branch Sections: Organisation and Work 1929-1941, File No. D.8/8, p. 41. []
  10. Shanghai Municipal Police, Indians: Emergency Certificates to India, May 10 1937, Special Branch Sections: Organisation and Work 1929-1941, File No. D.8/8, p. 12. []