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China - Pai Lang White Wolf bandit, 1913-1914

Pai Lang [also seen as Bai Lang or Pai Ling], which means literally "White Wolf", was the terrible bandit who terrorized central China from the autumn of 1913 until he was killed on August 5, 1914. In eastern Henan, Bai Lang came to be considered an "ex-coolie gangster" whose name was invoked by local mothers to frighten naughty children. While most of Yuan Shih-kai 's trouble was in the south, in 1914 he had to suppress the bandit rebels of Pai-Ling (White Wolf) in the northwest. White Wolf operated in the provinces of Honan, Hupeh, Anhui and Kansu, where he led an army of revolutionaries, religious fanatics and plain brigands who looted villages, plundered towns and terrorized the countryside. Moving swiftly and secretly, his army was able to take the worthless government garrisons and police forces of the various towns by surprise; the place looted, they would depart as suddenly as they came.

Pai Lang, literally 'White Wolf', was the popular name by which Pai Yung-ch'eng {Pai Lang-chai or Lao Peh-lang) was known. White Wolf was the name given by some foreign correspondents to Pai Lang, whose name really meant "white brilliance." He was said to be a Mohammedan and an able general, having been trained in modern military methods. Under the Manchu dynasty he held the post of staff officer of the Sixth Division. The "White Wolf," it is said, studied the art of war in Japan, having attended a military school there. When the rebellion came in the central part of China this brigand was on the staff of General Wu.

He set up for himself as a military leader in early 1913 with a following made up of deserters from the army. The four words "Pai Lang Chao Liang" (White Wolf is recruiting) passed secretly up and down the Han Valley, and recruits from all quarters flocked to join the band. Opportunities attracted bad characters in abundance. He kept to Ho-Nan until he felt sure of his strength and of the fidelity of his followers. He turned his attention to the larger centers, accumulating riches as well as adherents.

Their lootings, burnings, and killings recalled the depredations of the T'aip'ing and Mahomedan rebels who devastated N.W. China, south and north of the Ch'inling Shan respectively, fifty years earlier. This terrible horde of bandits or rebels was an aftermath of the rebellion of 1913. It consisted of an organized and well-equipped nucleus of a few thousand fighting men, disbanded soldiery from the Yangtzu Valley and Secret Society men from Honan, together with many thousands of local adherents drawn from amongst the brigands, soldiers and bad characters of the provinces through which they passed.

White Wolf received aid as well as sympathy from afar. The murder of Mrs. Millard in Vancouver by Jack Kong disclosed the fact that the murderer had been stealing regularly from the Millards to get money for White Wolf. The Chinese of Vancouver and Victoria in December 1913 shipped $4000 worth of rifles and revolvers, and they were safely delivered to the brigand in the interior of China about the time when he captured and pillaged the city of Liuan-Chow, in the province of Anhui. Then he turned westward again and traversed the province of Honan with fire and sword. The Government troops sent out against White Wolf deserted in large numbers to join him, for in his service they get 20 taels a month and opportunity for unlimited loot, while the Government only pays eight and no such perquisites. Besides the arms sent him from abroad he obtained many from the garrison towns captured. The White Wolves were accompanied by two thousand coolies, carrying loot.

In the autumn of 1913, White Wolf had surprised the Lutheran missionaries at Tsaoyang in northeastern Hupeh and preyed on the villages along the Hupeh-Honan border. Throughout the first half of 1914 the Press was filled with tales of sensational exploits of the terrible White Wolf, who led an army of revolutionaries, religious fanatics, and plain brigands, looting villages, plundering towns, and terrorizing the countryside in the three Provinces of Honan, Hupeh, and Anhui.

In January, 1914, he looted Loshan, then Kuangshan, then Kuangchow, then Shangcheng and Kushih. Next he crossed the border from Honan into Anhui and descended upon the town of Liuanchow, where his followers murdered Father Rich, a French Jesuit missionary. Moving swiftly and secretly, the White Wolf army was able to take the worthless garrisons and police forces of the various towns by surprise; upon entering a city, the bandits would shoot down all who appeared to resist, and while part of the force kept watch the rest would systematically canvass the town, ruthlessly robbing, and not hesitating at murder and rape. Then, as suddenly as they came, the White Wolves would be gone.

The terrible "White Wolf" rebels passed in and out of Shensi in scattered bands by out of the way mountain trails in 1914. This devastating horde's trail of desolation could be traced in the ruins of farms, villages and towns from the borders of Honan to the confines of the Kokonor. After 30,000 of Yuan Shih-k'ai's best Northern troops had failed to crush these rebels in Honan, they burst through into the Han Valley via the rich mart of Laoho K'ou, where a foreign missionary was murdered in the sacking of the city.

When Lao-Howkow fell into the hands of the notorious Chinese bandit, "White Wolf," no less than fifteen hundred of the city's inhabitants were boiled in oil, put to the sword or buried alive. These are but a few details leaking into Peking, says the Paris Matin, regarding the latest triumph of Pai-Lang-chai, to give "the White Wolf" his most familiar native name. He caused the injury in one way or another of over four thousand persons, in addition to those he had killed outright on the occasion of this last pillaging expedition. "Hideous tortures," to quote the report of the London Times, "were inflicted with the object of discovering hidden valuables." Every woman and every girl seen by the followers of the "White Wolf" suffered outrage. Many were mutilated or murdered. The bandit king got away from the smoking ruin he had made with about five million dollars in booty.

Early in 1914 "White Wolf" worked through the mountains into Central Shensi. The failure of the Shensi troops, mostly revolutionary levies of Ko Lao Hui men and ex-brigands, of much the same type as the raiders, to deal with the White Wolf rebels was to be expected ; but the failure of the Northern Army opposed to them in Honan in the winter of 1913-14 seemed at first sight difficult to account for. The rebels were of course much more mobile than the Government troops, as they lived on the country by taking what they wanted and impressed men and animals everywhere to carry their transport. Then again their lives being at stake, they could be depended on to fight when cornered, whereas it is difficult to induce the Chinese soldier to close with his enemy in a fight of this kind in which he has no interest.

Hsian, with its mighty walls, withstood the raiders as it had withstood the Mahomedans fifty years earlier, and the horde drove on almost unopposed through Western Shensi into Southern Kansu, looting, burning and killing. The massacres of Chinese non-combatants were appalling, and the raiders, many of them mere youths, richly dressed in looted silks and jewellery and armed with modern rifles and Mauser pistols, rivalled in their cruelty and lust for indiscriminate slaughter the most terrible of Chinese rebels of days gone by. The object of the raid into the North West seems to have been the stocks of opium in Shensi and Kansu. The resistance they met with and the measures taken to deal with them reflect no credit on the Chinese Government of the time and it is a common rumor that many high officials were privy to the raid and shared in the loot which was brought back to Honan.

It was not until they reached the Mahomedan districts of Kansu near the Kokonor border that they suffered any serious loss, and that was mainly at the hands of the Mahomedan population of those parts, not accustomed to permit themselves to be looted and killed without showing fight, and from the hardships of the long forced marches through that wild region, rather than owing to the action of any Government troops.

Figures varied regarding the number of men under the command of this guerilla chieftain. Wherever he went, to give the account in the London daily, "crime and ruffianism are let loose with terrible consequences." When the bandits were on the move, thousands of coolies were commandeered to transport the baggage and ammunition. "The bandits are totally devoid of regard for human life and shoot down victims on the slightest pretext." The country people were too terrified to give in forma tion of much value to the troops in pursuit of the great bandit.

Yuan Shih-kai did his best to allay the panic in southern Ho-Nan with promises. He set up a reign of terror of his own there by executing students on the flimsiest grounds. He took no steps for the protection of Sian-fu, capital of Shen-Si, the next objective, it was said, of the "White Wolf." If the brigand made himself master of that city with its population of a million, it would be difficult to dislodge him, in the opinion of the London Standard.

Yuan Shi Kai was so absorbed in the contest for supremacy at Peking that he gave little attention to the preliminary operations of the "White Wolf." He was plundering Hu-Peh and An-Hui on a great scale before the Peking republic paid much attention to him. Since the establishment of Yuan as a despot, he had gone behind the reports from the local provincial rulers, announcing great victories over the "White Wolf," only to reveal to the amazed world that China was supporting a brigand of unexampled prowess. The government troops in some places went over bodily to the "White Wolf." They opened the gates of one beleaguered town to his force. A suspicion at headquarters of this state of affairs was held to explain the dismissal of the military governor of Ho-Nan and the court-martial of the general commanding the government expedition against the bandit. The official report of his defeat and of the death of four thousand of his followers in two pitched battles which reached European dailies in February 1914 were deemed inventions.

In the spring of 1914 fifty thousand government troops were pursuing them, but could not catch them. The government troops seemed to be either unable or unwilling to restore order in the terror-stricken provinces, although Yuan Shi-kai was bitterly reproached for not putting an end to this outrage. In March and April 1914 it was reported that fifty thousand government troops were pursuing White Wolf in the Province of Shensi; but always he eluded the hostile armies, and, crossing over into Kansu, continued his devastating career. At Taochow, on 01 June 1914, thousands of the populace were killed.

Yuan Shi Kai attributed his embarrassments as a pacifier of China to the obstinacy of Japan in giving aid and comfort to his enemies. Nagasaki, Yokohama and other places of refuge swarmed with exiled patriots, conspirators and revolutionists who have one reason or another for overthrowing the present Chinese government. The Japanese officials were at first complaisant in surrendering refugees. The growth of a spirit hostile to the ruler of China among the advanced elements in the Tokyo diet, says the Paris Temps, caused the Japanese officials to become tolerant. The situation gave rise to a serious issue between the two capitals. Japan was the recognized asylum of the revolutionaries who refused to rest until they had overthrown the rule of Yuan. The newspapers of radical faith in Tokyo resisted any effort to expel the refugees. A bitterness that grew daily had accentuated itself by the declination of the foreign office to give up one leader of Young China whose relations with the "White Wolf" were said to be intimate. The "White Wolf," indeed, may yet prove a trump card, say some European dailies, in the hands of those with whom Yuan Shi Kai was playing so desperate a game.

He did not attempt to organize any government, as far as known. But stories of links between Sun Yat-sen's revolutionary intellectuals and the White Wolf's rural rebels were rife. It was reported that "The White Wolf and his army, more powerful than the world realizes, are ready to step in under the flag of Sun Yat-sen when the word is given." (Central China Post, 2 Nov. 1914).

As White Wolf advanced and gathered strength his political intent became more manifest, and when he appeared before Sianfu, the capital of the province of Shensi, he issued a proclamation denouncing Yuan Shih-kai and declaring his purpose to set up a republic of his own as soon as he captured that city, the ancient capital of China. All of the missionaries and other foreigners of the region had gathered at Sianfu for protection, but the ability of the Government forces to withstand the White Wolf had yet to be demonstrated. Since 1914 began he had covered some six hundred miles with no serious opposition.

But at last, on August 5, White Wolf was killed near Hsuchow (in Honan) by a Chinese officer who received $50,000 reward. Other sources report that White Wolf himself died either from wounds received in earlier righting or through betrayal to government troops, whose hundreds of thousands had taken an embarrassingly long time to disperse his small force. White Wolf's followers were now easily dispersed; and comparative quiet was restored. Eventually the survivors straggled back with their loot through Shensi to their homes in Honan and Anhui.

The official description of the marauder as a bandit must be revised. A man who can lead an organized force through a theater of war, beat back an expedition, capture a city and hold a province to tribute can not be deemed a highway robber merely. That view is expressed in the London dailies. The question was whether Yuan Shi Kai, in establishing his autocracy, improved the prospect of pacifying the disturbed provinces. He showed the iron hand in dealing with the ordinary population, reports from every part of the country being that the disaffected, when caught, were strangled or shot. These executions took place where the central government can assert its existence. Hundreds of executions took place all the time by Yuan's direct order.

Peking was not strong enough to undertake any effective measures against the bandit ravaging the provinces. The White Wolf movement had been the most serious disturbance of the year 1914, but minor mutinies had occurred at Kalgan, on June 24, at Chenchow (in Honan), on July 13; there had also been many symptoms of unrest in Nanking and Canton; and on the border of Kiangsu and Shantunga new secret order of "All Buddhist Boxers" had appeared. Yuan Shi Kai seemed to regard the operations of the "White Wolf" as part of the natural order of things. One of the lessons of the "White Wolf's" campaign was found in the fact it revealed that Yuan Shi Kai was not the ruler of China in the ordinary sense of the word.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:29:08 ZULU