1-222 Editorial Note on Beginning China Duty

Publisher: The George C. Marshall Foundation

Editorial Note on Beginning China Duty

September-November 1924

Sunday, September 7, the day the Army Transport Thomas brought the Marshalls to the Chinese port of Chinwangtao, was an anniversary of importance to the lieutenant colonel, his wife, and his mother-in-law. On that date in 1901, China and the foreign powers who had suppressed the Boxer Rebellion signed the Boxer Protocols, one of which recognized the foreigners’ right to occupy certain points along the railway leading from Peking to the sea: to keep open a line of communication to the diplomatic missions in the capital, and to protect the lives and property of their various citizens in the event of a renewal of antiforeign violence. Following the 1911 revolution in China, the United States sent elements of the Fifteenth Infantry to join the other foreign contingents in Tientsin, an industrial city of nearly one million inhabitants and a sizable foreign community on the Peking-Mukden Railroad.

About one thousand officers and men served in the “United States Army Forces in China,” as the command was officially called after July 1, 1924. The China assignment was considered one of the best in the army. The American troops there were better dressed and fed than at perhaps any other post; morale was consistently high. Major General Eli A. Helmick, the army inspector general, commented in his 1925 report that “the 15th Infantry in China is a fine, well-trained body of soldiers, upholding the best traditions of our Army and a credit to our country.” (Helmick to the Chief of Staff, October 22, 1925, NA/RG 159 [Reports].)

Officers lived in rented houses and usually had Chinese servants. Altogether, the five servants the average officer employed cost perhaps forty or fifty United States dollars per month. Marshall’s pay and allowances amounted to just over sixty-eight hundred dollars in 1924-25. But a published essay on the “Conditions of Service in China” warned prospective applicants that they were not getting duty in paradise. “The prevailing idea that in China one can live like a prince-of-the-blood on the pay of a second lieutenant has as much foundation of fact as the theory that two can live as cheaply as one. It is true that many things which go to make up the family budget are cheaper here than at home, but the low cost of living features of service in China has been greatly exaggerated. Here, as elsewhere, the average officer spends all he gets, the difference being that here he lives on a higher scale. Also, in the course of a tour in China his wife, if he has one, invariably accumulates a rather impressive store of rugs, silver, linen, lingerie, embroideries and other impedimenta that would be utterly beyond his means if priced on Fifth Avenue.” (Infantry Journal 29 [August 1926]: 171.)

The Fifteenth Infantry’s mission was to protect American lives and property against antiforeign activities of the Boxer Rebellion kind. But since 1920 the various factions in China had moved rapidly to reorganize, enlarge, modernize, and professionalize their armed forces. The military operations mounted in China during Marshall’s tour of duty were of a radically different nature than the Fifteenth Infantry was expected to meet. By January, 1926, the commander of the Army Forces in China, Brigadier General William D. Connor (U.S.M.A., (1897), was recommending a reassessment of the army’s role. “The other garrisons all have concessions in Tientsin which they can pretend they are here to protect, which gives them a reason for being here, and to which they can withdraw, if necessary, and maintain a relatively dignified position. The American status is entirely different from that of any other nation. We alone have no concession. We alone live and operate in purely Chinese territory, and we alone have no other reason for being here if the [1901] Protocol is not to be enforced. The only place to which we can withdraw is to our own country.” (Connor to TAG, January 22, 1926, NA/RG 94 [370.22, China].)

Marshall reported for duty just after the previous regimental commander, his old friend Brigadier General Campbell King, had left and prior to the arrival of Colonel William K. Naylor, formerly the War Department’s director of military intelligence. From September 8 until November 21, 1924, command of the Fifteenth Infantry devolved upon Marshall.

At this time the various factions of tuchuns (a term usually translated into English as warlord) began another round of armed struggles. Tientsin and Peking lay within what was then the province of Chihli. The Chihli faction, under the leadership of Wu P’ei-fu, was then dominant in north and central China, and its strength and policies threatened the Fengtien faction which controlled Manchuria under the leadership of Chang Tso-lin. The day Marshall disembarked at Chinwangtao, September 7, Chang announced the mobilization of his troops against Wu’s forces.

Recommended Citation: ThePapers of George Catlett Marshall, ed.Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens(Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 1, “The Soldierly Spirit,” December 1880-June 1939 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), pp. 263-264.

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