Sunday, February 26, 2012

How Sikhs and Chinese fought the Japanese together in Battle of Hong Kong?

Battle of Hongkong

While searching for Sikh History in China, I found this article on Pakistan Defence site about Sikhs in China during Opium War and World War II and how they played different roles in these wars.  What amazes me the most is the utmost loyality the Sikhs showed to the British for carrying out these missions against rebellions and war soldiers and succeded in them.

After further search on this battle of Hongkong where Sikhs and Chinese fought together and so many Sikhs laid their lives in the battle against the Japanese.  Wrong or Right?  I really don't know.  But I do know that this fits right in the philosiphy and teachings of our Gurus to lay our lives for defense of others, be it the Foreigners during Opium War, 1857 Mutiny in India, Hindus in India during Mughal times or the Chinese against the Japanese, or the Europeans Allies against Germany in World War I and World War II.  And, Sikhs will do it again and again, regardless of person's faith, country, religion, caste.  Sadly though, human rights of Sikhs have been trampled by India for the last 30 years without dispensation of any justice, and as far as I know, no one came to the aid of Sikhs in 1984 when Indian Army attacked Sikhs and their Gurdwaras in Punjab.  Not even British or Americans for whom Sikhs fought for decades.

For 55 days, the Boxers laid siege to the heart of Beijing. The rebels, mainly young Chinese farmers and workers, kept more than 400 foreigners holed up in Beijing’s Foreign Legation Quarter. The siege was the dramatic denouement of months of anti-Imperialist and anti-Christian sentiment that swept across China at the turn of the 20th century. Known as the Boxer Rebellion, the events cast a long shadow on Chinese history throughout the 20th century, invoked by later nationalists in their own fight against Imperialism.

The history of the Boxer Rebellion is well known. What isn’t is the crucial role played by troops from British India in lifting the siege, which eventually paved the way for the occupation of Beijing by foreign troops.

Sikh regiments made their way to the foreign quarter “crawling through the Imperial sewage canals”, undetected by the Boxers, and were the first troops to come to the aid of the besieged foreigners.

The lifting of the siege was one of only several key instances where Indian troops left an unlikely mark on the course of Chinese history in the early twentieth century.

On August 4, 1900, a relief force of more than 3000 soldiers from Sikh and Punjabi regiments left Tianjin, part of the larger eight-nation alliance that was dispatched to aid the besieged quarter, where 11 countries had set up legations. Sikh troops were also dispatched to guard churches and Christian missionaries, the targets of the Boxer uprisings.

Among the Indians, there was sympathy for the Boxers, Colonel Jaishankar said. Gaddhar Singh, a Rajput who was in Beijing in 1900-01, empathised with Chinese grievances in his accounts, arguing it was an entirely justified peasant rebellion.

The British also dispatched Indian regiments to China leading up towards the Opium War, which ended with the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 and the opening up of Chinese ports to the British.

The British deployed Sikh soldiers as law enforcement officers in ports like Shanghai, where their trading companies had set up a large presence by the early twentieth century. The Sikh soldiers were feared by the Chinese with their imposing figures, so much so that the British deemed that they did not even need guns when on duty, Colonel Jaishankar said, citing records from the time.

The history of Indian and Sikh troops in China is one that is ignored in Chinese accounts, and is likely a sensitive legacy considering they were often deployed against the Chinese.

It is, nevertheless, a shared history that both countries should remember, Colonel Jaishankar said. “We should not run away from history,” he said. “But we are too swamped with recent events to take an objective look.”

Shared experiences with the Chinese

There were also positive lessons to be remembered by both countries with shared colonial experiences, he stressed.

An example is the Battle of Hong Kong during the Second World War, when Sikh and Chinese troops fought together against the Japanese.

The 585 Indians and Sikhs who lost their lives are still remembered today in Hong Kong’s war cemeteries.

Another case in point was in 1994, when the British Indian army returned a bell that was looted by British troops from Beijing’s Temple of Heaven when the city was ransacked by foreign troops following the Boxer Rebellion. The bell was later put up for display by the Chinese military.

“The Battle of Hong Kong was a unique event,” Colonel Jaishankar said. “That was the first time in history,” he noted, “that British Indian and Chinese troops fought on the same side.”

On a trail to discover the footprints of Indian troops in China in the last two centuries, a senior Indian military official has stumbled upon many instances when Indian sepoys fought alongside the Chinese against foreign invasion.

The presence of Indian troops in China under Portuguese and British had a fascinating history which was well catalogued and preserved in Chinese museums, Col G Jaishankar, defence attaché, Indian Embassy, said while making a presentation on 'Indian Troops In China' at the Indian Cultural Centre in Beijing on Wednesday.

In his research, the first by an Indian official about presence of Indian troops in China, Col Jaishankar found out how the Indian and Chinese troops fought together to stave off Japanese invasion of Hong Kong, contrary to the tense stand-off that followed after the 1962 India-China war.

The attack by Japan took place on December 8, 1941, a day after Pearl Harbour bombing in the Second World War. Scores from the Sikh and Rajput regiments died while defending Hong Kong, he said.

The Commonwealth War Grave Commission has identified 585 Indian troops mostly of whom were Sikhs who perished in the battle.

In his voluntary research, Col Jaishankar came across a host of interesting details about how the Indian Sikh regiment came to the rescue of officials of 11 countries who were surrounded in Peking, (then Beijing) during 1898 Boxer uprising.

Few Indians and Defence Attaches of different embassies here were invited for his presentation. Indian Ambassador to Beijing S Jaishankar also attended the event.


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