The Shanghai Municipal Police

by Hans-Christian Vortisch

"The International Settlement is policed by a British-officered force that is one of the toughest in the world."
--GURPS Cliffhangers

Whether following the steps of Jack Brady to foil the plans of the Order of the Bloated Woman to open the Great Gate for the Mythos in 1926, whether visiting the Blue Lotus during the 1932 Sino-Japanese "Shanghai incident," or in hot pursuit of "fortune and glory" in 1935's Club Obi-Wan, characters will find Shanghai an extremely interesting place to stay between the wars. Unfortunately, it also was an extremely dangerous place. Enter the officers of law and order: the Shanghai Municipal Police.

This article details the composition, training, and equipment of that force, along with its most famous officer, Assistant Commissioner William Fairbairn. Complete details on his Defendu martial art and the SMP's Red Maria armored buses are provided for GURPS, giving additional flavor to a Cliffhangers or WWII campaign or allowing a Cops or SWAT campaign with a spin. It is also a uniquely colorful background for Martial Arts.

Much of the information will also be interesting for Call of Cthulhu, Feng Shui, and Indiana Jones campaigns set in the 1920s and 1930s.

Shanghai Municipal Police

"Omnia Juncta In Uno (All joined as one)"
-- Motto of the SMP

Prior to WWII, Shanghai was divided into three districts, only one of them Chinese-administered. The smaller of the two Western-administered enclaves was the French Concession, backed up by a large French military force and effectively a French colony. The larger, which contained the British, American, and most other consulates, was the International Settlement (pp. CL63-64). Together, the French Concession (close to 480,000 inhabitants) and the International Settlement (more than a million inhabitants) occupied 12.66 square miles. Some 90% of their inhabitants were Chinese, who had little rights, however.

The Shanghai Municipal Police (SMP) was the law enforcement agency responsible for policing the mainly British-run International Settlement. Founded in 1854, it enforced the law in that part of the city until 1943. Throughout that time, its strength rose to a peak of 6,000 active officers during the 1930s, many of them Westerners with either a bent for adventure or problems at home -- Americans, Irishmen, Central European Jews and "White" Russians were prominent among the expatriates in the city.

In no way was the SMP's composition representative of the Settlement's citizens, but it was a very international force; among its ranks were Chinese, Englishmen, Irishmen, Japanese, Russians, Scotsmen, Sikhs, and a sprinkling of Americans, Australians, Austrians, Germans, Swedes, and others. However, the majority of the upper ranks were British, and most of the foot constables were Chinese.

In an interesting twist, there was not "the law" for the SMP to uphold; treaty agreements between China and the 14 "favored nations" assured a judicial system known as "extra-territoriality." That is, an accused citizen of a favored nation (Belgium, Brazil, Great Britain, Denmark, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the U.S.) had to be brought before a consular judge of his own country. Chinese as well as all foreigners without extra-territorial rights were brought before a Chinese court.

Due to the unique composition and locale of Shanghai, the city was thriving with criminals of all sorts and descriptions (also see The Green Gang, below). Some of them petty, many of them dangerous -- kidnapping, murder, and espionage covert ops were commonplace. Violent clashes between police and criminals were frequent; in 1933, the SMP suffered one dead and eight wounded officers, while killing 11 criminals and wounding 13. That was a "quiet" year . . .

The SMP was headquartered at the Central Police Station at 239 Hankow Road, but maintained smaller posts throughout the International Settlement and also mounted patrols on foot and on motorcycle.

The Commissioner of Police was the third-best paid official in the International Settlement, earning 3,215 Yuan (Mexican silver dollars) monthly in 1934 (equivalent to $2,600).

Assistant Commissioner William Fairbairn



10 Points

"This system is not to be confounded with Jiu-jitsu or any other known method of defence, and although some of the holds, trips, etc., are a combination of several methods, the majority are entirely original."
Fairbairn, William. Defendu -- The Official Text Book for the Shanghai Municipal Police, Hongkong Police and Singapore Police (1926)

Defendu was developed in the mid-1920s by Fairbairn on basis of his extensive martial arts training, incorporating elements of Jujutsu (p. MA86), Gatka (a Sikh martial art), Pakua (p. MA94), and time-tested street brawling.

Note that Defendu is not the same as the Fairbairn Close Combat Training (p. W:HS10) of WWII; although it was based on it, the latter was modified and optimized for military use. In particular, Defendu is less "deadly," as it was mainly intended for arrest, restraint, and self-defense, rather than silent killing.

Primary Skills: Brawling, Judo [2 points]

Secondary Skills: Shortsword (Baton)

Optional Skills: Body Language

Maneuvers: Arm Lock [2 points], Breakfall, Choke Hold, Disarming [2 points], Knee Strike

William Ewart Fairbairn was born on February 28, 1885 in Rickmansworth, England. He joined the Royal Marines (p. W:KM40) at age 16, and after serving six years with them, partly in Korea, joined the SMP in 1907. During one of his foot patrols, the young sergeant was severely beaten up and left for dead by a Chinese gang. This led to his decision to whole-heartedly study close combat techniques.

Fairbairn had already been an infamous barroom brawler and bayonet fighter in the Marines, where he developed several new bayonet techniques. From 1908, he trained extensively in various Eastern martial arts, including Pakua Chang under Tsai Ching Tung, a former instructor at the Chinese court, and Jujutsu under Professor Okado. In 1931, he received a 2nd-degree black belt from the Kodokan Judo University in Tōkyō. From his experiences he developed Defendu, a combat style optimized for police use. During his over 30 years in the SMP, he was personally involved in more than six hundred violent encounters!

Fairbairn soon became the SMP's Chief Instructor in close combat techniques and firearms training. An excellent shot, he wrote manuals on instinctive shooting and proper pistol technique. He also formed and commanded the Reserve Unit. He held training courses in pistol shooting for the New York Police Department and the British Army Small Arms School. His proficiency with the blade was legendary, and his experiments would lead to the famous Fairbairn-Sykes commando dagger (p. W:HS18). Fairbairn retired from the SMP in 1939, to take up instructing the British Commandos (p. W:HS11) in 1940.

Fairbairn had a wife, son, and daughter.

Age 50 years (in 1935); 5'11"; 160 lbs.; a tall man with round glasses and white hair. 329.5 points.

Attributes: ST 12 [20], DX 16 [80], IQ 13 [30], HT 12 [20]
Basic Speed: 6.25 Move: 6
Dodge: 7 Parry: 13 (Unarmed), 10 (Knife)
Basic Damage: 1d-1 thr, 1d+2 sw (1d punching, 1d+2 kicking)

Advantages: Alertness +1 [5], Combat Reflexes [15], Composed [5], Fit [5], Legal Enforcement Powers [5], Police Rank 5 [25], Reputation +2 [5] (among policemen in Shanghai, all the time), Status 1 [0] (free from Wealth), Strong Will +2 [8], Toughness [10], Wealthy [20].

Disadvantages: Bad Sight [-10], Code of Honor (Police) [-5], Duty (15 or less) [-15], Enemy (Organized Crime in Shanghai) [-20].

Quirks: Trains every day [-1], Always carries a knife [-1].

Skills: Administration (M/A) IQ-2 [1]-12, Area Knowledge (Shanghai) (M/E) IQ [1]-13, Armoury (Small Arms) (M/A) IQ-1 [1]-12, Boating (P/A) DX-2 [1/2]-14, Body Language (M/H) IQ [4]-14*, Boxing (P/A) DX-2 [1/2]-14, Brawling (P/E) DX+2 [2]-17, Detect Lies (M/H) IQ-2 [1]-11, Fast-Draw (Knife) (P/E) DX [1]-17**, Fast-Draw (Pistol) (P/E) DX [1]-17**, First Aid (M/E) IQ-1 [1/2]-12, Gunner (Machine Gun) (P/A) DX-2 [1/2]-16***, Guns (Light Auto) (P/E) DX [1]-18***, Guns (Pistol) (P/E) DX+1 [2]-19***, Guns (Rifle) (P/E) DX [1]-18***, Intimidation (M/A) IQ-1 [1]-12, Judo (P/H) DX+2 [16]-18, Judo Art (P/H) [0]-15, Jumping (P/E) DX-1 [1/2]-15, Karate (P/H) DX-1 [2]-15, Knife (P/E) DX+3 [8]-19, Law (M/H) IQ-1 [1]-12, Law Enforcement (M/A) IQ [2]-13, Leadership (M/A) IQ-1 [1]-12, Meditation (M/VH) IQ+3 [20]-16, Savoir-Faire (Dojo) (M/E) IQ+4 [8]-17, Savoir-Faire (Military) (M/E) IQ-1 [1/2]-12, Shortsword (P/A) DX-1 [1]-15, Soldier (M/A) IQ-1 [1]-12, Spear (P/A) DX [1]-16, Speed-Load (Pistol) (P/E) DX-1 [1/2]-15, Stealth (P/A) DX-1 [1]-15, Streetwise (M/A) IQ [2]-13, Swimming (P/E) DX-1 [1/2]-15, Tactics (Infantry) (M/H) IQ-2 [1]-11, Tactics (SWAT) (M/H) IQ [4]-13, Teaching (M/A) IQ+3 [8]-16, Throwing (P/H) DX-2 [1]-14, Tournament Law (Judo) (M/E) IQ+3 [6]-16.
* Includes +1 bonus from Alertness.
** Includes +1 bonus from Combat Reflexes.
*** Includes +2 bonus from IQ.

Maneuvers: Arm Lock (H) [0]-18, Breakfall (A) [0]-18, Choke Hold (H) [1]-18, Close Combat (Knife) (A) [0]-18, Disarming (H) [0]-18, Ground Fighting (Judo) (H) [4]-18, Head Butt (A) [4]-15, Hit Location (Knife) (H) [1]-18, Knee Strike (A) [1/2]-17, Neck Snap (H) [6]-12.

Cinematic: Fairbairn easily qualifies for the Trained by a Master advantage (p. CI31) -- he actually studied under several. In a cinematic campaign, he would have access to a number of cinematic skills and maneuvers, including Immovable Stance, Power Blow, Pressure Points, Push, Binding, Enhanced Dodge, Rolling with Blow, and possibly others.

Languages: English (M/A) IQ [0]-13, Shanghai Chinese (M/A) IQ-2 [1/2]-11, Japanese (M/A) IQ-2 [1/2]-11.

Equipment: Wears a black uniform, cap, and boots; armed with a .45 Colt M1911A1 pistol (pp. B208, CL92, HT108, and W94), .45 Auto-Ordnance M1921 Thompson submachine gun (pp. B209, CL93, CV68, and HT116), and razor-sharp custom-made dagger (large knife with Very Fine blade, p. B206).


Although tall and strong, at first sight Fairbairn gives the somewhat misleading impression of a schoolmaster, especially in civilian dress. He is short-sighted and wears horn-rimmed glasses. Fairbairn is a good but hard trainer, expecting no less than perfection from the students of his combat courses. However, he is a moderate man himself, always eager to admit he doesn't know enough and to learn something new. He is also streetwise enough to know when to run . . .

Fairbairn would be the man to have at your side if going after a secret cult bent on bringing back the Mythos gods -- or more mundanely, a simple robbery or a medium-sized attack by Japanese naval infantry . . .

Patrol Officers and Detectives

Most SMP members were uniformed officers, walking the beat in the International Settlement. The majority was Chinese, but many Europeans started out as coppers as well.

They differed slightly in their equipment: European officers were issued a .45 Colt M1911A1 pistol with one spare magazine. The Chinese constables were issued a 9×17mm Colt-Browning Model 1903 pistol (use stats of the FN-Browning Mle 1910, pp. CV66, W92, with Wt. 1.4 and Shots 6) with two magazines, blocked to take only six rounds.

All were issued a baton (p. B206).

In the traffic police department, most officers were Indian Sikhs, who received a .455 Webley No. 1 Mk VI revolver (pp. CL93, HT110, and W:KM62) with 12 loose rounds and also carried a traditional fighting stick.

The detectives of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) were plain-clothes officers and the only policemen allowed to carry their service pistol at all times.

Problems with spies for Chinese organized crime and the Japanese, possibly including the Black Dragon Society, were severe both among constables and detectives.

The Reserve Unit

Fairbairn formed the Reserve Unit (also known as the Riot Squad) in the 1920s, effectively the world's first SWAT unit (see GURPS Cops and GURPS SWAT for additional information on SWAT history and operations). Held in reserve, it was intended to quell riots and uprisings, but was also on call to attend special problems, including kidnappings, armed robberies, and barricaded criminals. In addition, its officers guarded high risk cargos, VIPs, and courthouses when the situation demanded it.

The Reserve Unit even had a dedicated sniper detachment, which was trained and led by Fairbairn's close friend, Eric Anthony Sykes (also famous for later training the Commandos).

The unit trained in the Mystery House, the original forerunner of today's CQB houses (p. SWAT8). This was modeled after a Chinese apartment and came with pop-up targets (depicting both friend and foe), audio distractions, etc., intended to train the officers in instinctive and realistic close-combat shooting.

All received thorough unarmed combat training. Most had been trained in Defendu, but quite a few were masters in one or more other styles as well. One of the most proficient was an Irish Detective Sergeant named Dermot "Pat" O'Neill, who was an expert in Hsing Yi, Pakua (p. MA94), and T'ai Chi Chuan (p. MA104), and held a 5th-degree black belt in Jujutsu (p. MA86) . . . he later trained the American 1st Special Service Force (p. W:HS31) in WWII.

The Reserve Unit was armed with Colt M1911A1 pistols, Auto-Ordnance M1921 Thompson submachine guns, 12-gauge Greener Mk III single-shot shotguns (p. W:KM62), and .303 Lee-Enfield No. 1 Mk III bolt-action rifles (pp. CL93, HT114, and W:KM62). Other equipment included bullet-proof vests (p. HT90) and Red Maria armored buses.

Red Maria

The vehicle park of the SMP included Harley-Davidson motorcycles with sidecars and pintle-mounted Thompson SMGs, troop buses, and armored cars. The buses bringing the police to emergencies were painted red, whence their name. Those used by the Reserve Unit were lightly armored against stray shots and pistol bullets. These were converted from commercial passenger vehicles. They had doors in the left side and rear, as well as a hatch in the roof. A bell (instead of a siren) and additional headlights (some of them moveable by hand) were also provided.

The Red Maria uses 2.25 gallons of gasoline per hour of routine usage. A full tank of gas costs $3.60.

Red Maria

Subassemblies: Large Wheeled chassis +4; 4×heavy wheels +3.

Powertrain: 50-kW standard gas engine with 50-kW wheeled transmission and 24-gallon standard fuel tanks; 4,000-kWs batteries.

Occ: 1 CS, 29 PS Body Cargo: 44 Body




































Size: 24'×8'×9' Payload: 3.1 tons Lwt.: 7.2 tons

Volume: 240 Maint.: 203 hours Cost: $970

HT: 10. HPs: 325Body, 56 each Wheel.

gSpeed: 42, gAccel: 2, gDecel: 10, gMR: 0.5, gSR: 4

Ground Pressure High. 1/6 Off-road Speed.

Design Notes

Designed with the Modular Vehicle Design System in GURPS WWII. Weight, cost, and HPs of the body were halved to represent a lighter chassis and get Lwt. to a more realistic level.

Other Law Enforcement Agencies in Shanghai

The SMP was only responsible for the International Settlement; there were not only several other agencies responsible for other parts of Shanghai, but the extra-territoriality of the International Settlement meant that law enforcement agencies of the "favored nations" could also exercise certain police functions, if only over their own nationals.

However, there was little to none co-operation between the agencies; for much of the 1920s, there was not even a single telephone line between the SMP and the French Concession Police!

Garde Municipale de la Concession Franšaise (French Concession Police)

The French Concession had its own police force, consisting of 250 French officers, several dozen French and Chinese detectives, 1,800 Chinese policemen, 1,200 Vietnamese guardsmen, and a heavily armed auxiliary unit composed of 500 Russian mercenaries.

Patrol officers and detectives were armed with a 9×17mm FN-Browning Mle 1910/22 pistol (use the Mle 1910, pp. CV66, W94, with Wt. 1.5 and Shots 8+1).

The Brigade Spéciale (Special Brigade) was the anti-riot unit and consisted of 250 tall Northern Chinese armed with riot staffs, 9×20mmSR FN-Browning Mle 1903 pistols (p. W:FH32), .45 Auto-Ordnance Mle 1921 submachine guns, and 7.92×57mm Mauser Mle 1898 rifles (pp. CL93, HT114). They also had armored buses.

The Détachment Auxiliaire Russe (Russian Auxiliary Detachment) was armed like the special brigade, but also had armored cars with 8×50mmR Hotchkiss Mle 09 machine guns (p. HT118).

Finally, there was the Police Spéciale Franšaise (French Special Police), a mobilization unit composed of French citizen volunteers that could be called upon in emergencies. These were armed with a 7.63×25mm Mauser Mle 1896 pistol (pp. CL92, HT108, and W94).

Nihon Ryoji Keisatsu (Japanese Consular Police)

The Japanese consulate had a large police force (250 men, all expert martial artists) to protect Japan's interests. While they didn't interfere with the SMP in general, they did on occasion arrest their own nationals on warrants issued by the Japanese authorities, without consulting with the SMP. Japanese officers were armed with a saber-style sword (pp. B206, W193 -- not a katana!) and an 8×21mm Nambu Taishō 14 Shiki pistol (p. W94).

U.S. Marshal

A U.S. Marshal (and several deputies) was attached to the U.S. Court for China. He served warrants to arrest American citizens, without needing to consult with the SMP.

The Green Gang

The Ch'ing Pang (Green Gang) secret society was a huge criminal organization comparable in many respects to the Sicilian mafia. It was the true power in Shanghai, its various factions controlling practically all aspects of criminal life, including the vast profits of the illegal opium trade, the gambling rackets, prostitution, weapon smuggling, extortion, kidnapping, murder, etc. The Pai Hsiang Jen (gangster-playboys) leading the numerous factions were wealthy, powerful individuals at the time often compared to the gangster bosses in Chicago. They saw themselves in the tradition of Chinese legendary warrior heroes, with a rigid code of honor and elaborate society structure and rules.

For much of the first half of the 20th century, they held Shanghai in their grip, only occasionally bothered by local police. Many Chinese police officers in all three parts of the city were members, and the French Concession actually had a secret deal with the gangs, which offered protection against the warlords outside of Shanghai in exchange for non-prosecution.

For example, the chief of the SMP's Chinese detective squad was also the leader of the Ta Pa Ku Tang (Big Eight Mob), a powerful organization within the Green Gang, until removed in 1923.

There was even a secret society made up solely of Chinese detectives working both in the French Concession and the International Settlement, the Chi Pai Ling Pa Chiang (108 Warriors). This, too, was part of the Green Gang.

In short, corruption among the police corps was widespread and rampant.

Selected References

All About Shanghai and Environs (Shanghai, 1934). A vintage guidebook, re-published on the web. Excellent day-to-day information, including on courts and legal system, money and banks, and night life.

Shanghai in Images. A website featuring hundreds of vintage photographs, including police stations, individual officers, etc. A treasure trove of campaign ideas!

Shanghai Municipal Police Directory. An (incomplete) directory of British, Russian, and some Chinese and Japanese members of the SMP.

* * *

Thanks to Mike Hornbostel, Chiaki Hosomi-Ruf, and the Hellions for various checks and suggestions, as well as Achmed Helal, Juri Ruf, and Heiko Wenthin for braving Nyarlathotep back in the days.

Article publication date: June 4, 2004

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