Raising Cash for Mom’s Birthday

On 12 December, 1930,  in Shanghai’s International Settelement, a police officer C.D.S. (Chinese Detective Superintendent?) by the name of Wong requested permission to hold a birthday party for his 70 year old mother at a restaurant on Canton road (today Guangdong road) and send out some 70 invitations.

Finding this in a police file in the fascinating collection of the Shanghai Munipal Police records (see this wiki on the SMP archive, with an index), my first thought was how sad it is that even police officers had to request permission to host a birthday party for one’s aging mother.

However, this heart-warming record of a celebration turned into a potential case of police corruption, something all too prevelant in the SMP. A memorandum from the day after the party includes a translation of the invitation for the party, and appeals written on the back of two of them. Apparently, street lottery operators and “every opium smoking den” had received “invitations” to the party asking for donations of $10, in the case of the former, or $6 each for the latter. Interestly, the lottery seller merely asked that the requested amount be reduced to $3 or $4. The amount doesn’t appear to have been on the invitation itself, as translated, which offers attendees a feast, but one can speculate that the recipients knew that a donation was strongly recommended, while attendance to the party not so much.

The memorandum’s introduction writes, “These things are getting more prevalent now. I suggest that some of these detectives should be punished for distributing invitations without permission first being obtained.” On the first of the new year, 1931, an inspector reports that they had interviewed the detective concerned who claimed that all in all 37 invitations were sent out to different detectives and that he denies allegations surrounding them. Rather than local lottery and opium dealers, he “assumed that some of the detectives sent [the invitations] to the [police] as a case of spite in order to get him into trouble.”

1 Comment

  1. Nice find. There are at least two things I find interesting about this. One is the idea that the cops (and thus the state) could impose “taxes” on those that they regulated in lots of ways that were informal but really would have been a tax, at least the way the opium den owner would have seen it.

    Even more interesting is the focus on banquets. These have been tied to a lot of anti-corruption campaigns in modern China. Foucault rather famously talked about the western shift from food to sex as the key form of corruption, but I don’t know if anyone has done anything on this in a Chinese context.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.