Zhang Zuolin - Japanese and Russian Influences

Japanese and Russian Influences

Manchuria shared a long border with Russia, which had been weakened militarily after the October Revolution. The line of the Chinese Eastern Railway, which was under Russian control, ran through northern Manchuria, and the land immediately on either side of the tracks was considered to be Russian territory. From 1917 to about 1924 the new Communist government in Moscow was having such difficulties establishing itself in Siberia that often it wasn't clear, who was in charge of operating the railway on the Russian side. Still, Zhang avoided a showdown, and after 1924, the Russians managed to re-establish their dominance over the railroad.

How precarious the situation could develop at times was demonstrated by an outbreak of pneumonic plague in Hailar, a town at the western end of the Chinese Eastern Railway, in October 1920 . Chinese troops were present in great number and turned railway quarantine into a farce. The soldiers set free some of their comrades who had been imprisoned as contacts, and they escaped to the mining town of Dalainor on the Amur River, where a quarter of the population succumbed. In the other direction all the towns along the Chinese Eastern Railway as far as Vladivostok were infected. In all, about 9,000 died, on the other hand only a few contacts were able to reach south Manchuria.

The Japanese posed more of a problem. After the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05 they had gained two important outposts in south Manchuria: The Guandong (Kwantung) Leased Territory consisted of a 218-square-mile (560 km2) peninsula in the southernmost part of Manchuria. It included the ice-free port of Dairen (known as Dalian in Chinese), which became the main link to Japan. Reaching northward from the colony the South Manchurian Railway passed through Shenyang (referred to as Mukden by the Japanese) linking up with the Chinese Eastern Railway in Changchun. The land on either side of the railway tracks remained extraterritorial, now being controlled by the Japanese Kwantung Army. This army maintained from 7,000 to 14,000 men in Manchuria tolerating and being tolerated by the Fengtian Army although Zhang kept up a war of words, playing on anti-Japanese sentiments in the Chinese public.

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