Lucy Aldrich, sister-in-law to John D Rockefeller Jr. and daughter of Rhode Island Senator Nelson W Aldrich, joked in a letter to her sister that she had an easy out for any boring conversation: “For the rest of my life, when I am ‘stalled’ conversationally, it would be a wonderful thing to fall back on: ‘Oh, I must tell you about the time I was captured by Chinese bandits.’”
Aldrich was one of many foreign grandees traveling on a 1923 Beijing-bound train from Shanghai, captured by the Shandong Provisional Army, a ragtag group of bandits who hoped the American, British, and European hostages might force China’s government and its many warlords to accede to its demands.
The hostage situation is the subject of The Peking Express: The Bandits Who Stole a Train, Stunned the West, and Broke the Republic of China by James M Zimmerman, who studies the frantic efforts by diplomats, China’s government and, at times, the hostages and bandits themselves in avoiding a bloody outcome.
In this interview, James and I talk about what became known as the “Lincheng Incident”, and how this hostage situation and potential diplomatic disaster may have changed the course of Chinese history.
James M Zimmerman is a Beijing-based lawyer who has lived and worked in China for over 25 years. He is among China’s leading foreign lawyers, and is the author of the China Law Deskbook, published by the American Bar Association, and is frequently featured as a political commentator on US-China relations in various print and broadcast media around the globe. He is the former four-term Chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China.