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Canton Disturbances, December 1927

Reference Code: GBR/0115/RCS/Y30377D

Scope and Contents

An album containing mounted prints, measuring approximately 125 x 80 mm and captioned in ink beneath the prints. The album shows scenes of executions and destruction after the disturbances of December 1927. The compiler of the album is unidentified, but was presumably a member of the British merchant community in the city. Plates 1-3 are commercially produced work, the remainder amateur.

Background to the 1927 disturbances.
The abdication of the Manchu Dynasty in 1912 and the subsequent accession of Yuan Shih-k’ai as first President of the new Republic did little to stabilise China’s endemic state of near anarchy. The Kuomintang, which had been founded by Sun Yat Sen and was largely responsible for the overthrow of the Manchus, became a proscribed organisation as Yuan, on taking power, became a Manchu emperor in all but name. Yuan’s death in 1916 spelt the end of any central unifying control in China, and the following years saw a relapse into disorder and almost chronic civil war, during which time various attempts were made to revive the Manchu Dynasty. Within this chaos Kuomintang power was steadily growing in the south of China and an administration in rivalry with Peking was set up in Canton. The protean character of the Kuomintang saw further changes in the 1920s when it was remodelled on Soviet lines with Russian material aid and became increasingly influenced by the Chinese Communist Party. In 1926 the Kuomintang considered itself militarily strong enough to mount an expedition against the north commanded by Chiang Kai-Shek, who had risen to prominence as the commandant of the military institution set up by the Kuomintang at Whampoa for the training of officers along Russian lines. This campaign successfully formed a seat of government in Nanking in 1927 and the Kuomintang was soon internationally recognised as the national government of China. Meanwhile the Kuomintang was being split by its two major factions, the nationalist and communist groups, who were to struggle for ultimate control of China until the communist victory of 1949. From the time of Sun Yat Sen’s death in 1925, Chiang Kai-Shek made a thorough purge of communists in the organisation, and by 1927 the movement had largely shed its Russian associations. The rising documented in this album shows the aftermath of one of several bloody attempts by communist elements to gain control in Canton. The city had been relatively quiet in 1926 and for most of 1927 (apart from the successful coup against the army commander General Li Tsai-hsin in November), but in December the communists captured the city and held it for three days before being driven out by government troops. For a period, wholesale looting was rife and over 5000 lives were lost. Deliberate fire-raising also accounted for the destruction of several blocks of buildings. The photographs in this collection show reprisals taken against the communists by nationalist forces.


  • Creation: 1927-12

Conditions Governing Access

Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (


1 album(s) (26 prints in 1 album)

Language of Materials


Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Good condition.

Existence and Location of Copies

This collection is available on microfiche: East Asia, fiche numbers 6.


This collection level description was entered by SG using information from the original typescript catalogue.



Includes index.
2004-07-23 10:08:17+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

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