The History of Sport Played in China's Treaty Ports

Fabre pictured in 1938

Fabre pictured in 1943

Commandent Louis Guillaume Fabre

  The fragile state of affairs was unceremoniously changed when, on the same day that Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese, the Shanghai based Japanese troops crossed the treaty port borders with hardly a shot being fired and took control of the two settlements. The relationship between Fabre and the head of the Japanese Gendarmerie, General Kinoshita was made easier because they had been military cadets together at the Officer’s College at Saint-Cyr.  The French were considered allies by Japan, or as they described, ‘non belligerent’ by virtue of the fact that France was by ‘ruled’ from Vichy. This status gave them the opportunity to play at least one more game of rugby in Shanghai. On 22 February 1942, a wet and muddy Sunday afternoon match was played at Hongkew Park between the Nippon Club and the French Forces. The Japanese won 6:3.

  Fabre was now in a difficult position. He was still nominally in control of the French Concession police but under the close scrutiny of the Japanese. When war had been declared by Germany on France, Fabre had been desperate to return to France to fight once again for his country. Despite making a forceful case for his return, he was told that he had to stay in his position in Shanghai.  The decision weighed heavily with him, particularly as Police Commissioner Robert Jobes and twenty-four other French policemen did return to France to join the Free French in London.  

  Because the French Concession and International Settlement were under the control of the Japanese, the old treaties were effectively ignored but still symbolically important.  Such symbolism was not lost on the Japanese occupiers, who arranged for the Concession and the Settlement to be surrendered to the Chinese puppet collaborationist government of Wang Jingwei on 1 August 1943 and 30 July 1943 respectively. Commandant Louis Fabre, the former Tianjin rugby player, Shanghai Rugby Club Vice President and French Chief of Police participated in the handover. Fabre must have felt devastated. Not only was he working for Vichy France, he had been forced to participate in the handing over of the long held French Concession to the Chinese puppet controlled by the Japanese. 
Just before the handover, Fabre was awarded a new post in the French Embassy in China. He was given the position of Honorary Technical Counsellor, ‘in recognition of his long and meritorious service rendered France and Sino-French amity.’ The report added that ‘The appointment shows the appreciation of the French authorities for the services rendered by Lt. Col. Fabre frequently under extremely difficult conditions and the situation in China.’  The reality was that it was a meaningless role and he was left plenty of time to think about his more than twenty years in China.

  Things did not improve for Fabre, already brooding about his ruined military career, his feelings of being a traitor by not returning to Europe to fight for his country and losing the French Concession, in 1945 his beloved brother in law Pierre Blanchet, who had returned to Europe, was killed in action shortly after being promoted to the rank of Commander while on active service in Italy.    This proved too much for Fabre. In his home in Shanghai, he took a gun, pointed it at his temple and shot himself, dying later in the Saint Marie hospital on Route Pere Robert in Shanghai on 19 July 1945, a few weeks after the death of his brother in law.  A truly tragic end for an incorruptible, brave and honourable French man. 

Fabre pictured in 1932 soon after his arrival in Shanghai

A travel document of Fabre from 1938

  Sadly for Fabre, his military career ended abruptly in September 1924 when he was appointed the Deputy Chief of the French Police in Tientsin, the treaty port in the North of China. While in Tientsin he played rugby for Tientsin Rugby Club, most notably against Shanghai in March 1923 and February 1924 losing in both interport fixtures. A newspaper report of the time suggested that he had just missed out an international cap with France.  While in Shanghai in 1924 representing Tientsin on the rugby field he also played interport badminton for Tientsin, losing his singles and doubles matches in February 1924. 
He was promoted to the Chief of Police in Tientsin in 1928, before being transferred to Shanghai in March 1932 when he was named the Chief of Police in the French Concession.  His move to Shanghai was against his will. Auguste Wilden, the French Minister to China and Henri Meyrier, the French Consul General in Shanghai, told him that it was his duty to take the role of Commandment of the French police in Shanghai. A move that he said in 1942 ‘ruined his career’. 

  Fabre was born in May 1896 the eldest of five children born to Paul and Anna Fabre. He was born in the heart of France, in Commentry in the Auvergne where, when he was six years old, the Socialist Party of France was founded in September 1902. 
In a letter to the French Ambassador to China in 1942, Fabre stated that when he entered the École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr, the foremost French military academy, in early 1914, his intention was to serve his country and have a career in the army.  He was considered to have had a brilliant military career. As soon as World War One started in August 1914, he immediately left St Cyr for the front line as a Private. Remarkably, he survived the next five years, acquiring the French Legion of Honour and rising to the rank of Lieutenant. In 1919, he entered L’Ecole Militaire in Paris, followed by time at Joinville le Pont Military Academy, graduating as a Captain in 1920. He participated in the Syrian campaign up to 1921 before being named the Chief of the General Staff of French troops in China in 1922.  
At some point Fabre married Suzanne Blanchet (born 1908, died 1973), twelve years his junior and they had a child named Cecile, born in 1931 (died 1995), just before he moved to Shanghai.

 He arrived in Shanghai just as the first Battle of Shanghai was ending. The previous Chief of Police, Captain Etienne Fiori, had lost the confidence of his masters in Paris. It was well known that the French Police force was under considerable influence of the gangsters who controlled the drug trade, gambling and prostitution rackets. In the 1920s the French police authorities hired gangsters as a matter of course using a thief to catch a thief, or at least keep a lid on the more extreme criminal activities. Fiori appointed one of the gang leaders Huang Jinrong as his head of the Chinese Detective squad.
Fabre had been posted to Shanghai because he was thought to be incorruptible. On his arrival he fired large numbers of corrupt officers and carefully recruited new ones. He strengthened the chain of command and quickly ensured that his French police force were the best disciplined since the end of World War One. He went head to head with the most famous gangster of the day Du Yuesheng also known as ‘Big Eared Du’ who ruthlessly led the Green Gang. During the negotiations to rid the French Concession of Du’s operations, Du tried to persuade Fabre with bribes and death threats. Fabre remained unbowed, fortified no doubt by his five arduous years during the Great War and his steadfast sense of duty. He stood his ground and a compromise was agreed whereby Du would move his narcotics operations out of the Concession.   

  While in Shanghai, Fabre reprised his rugby career with the Association Sportive Française team until 1936 when he played his last game and from time to time refereeing rugby games. Fabre’s rugby playing longevity (and no doubt his position with the foreign community) was honoured by being made a Vice President of the Shanghai Rugby Football Club in 1935. 
The 1930s and 1940s were tempestuous years in Shanghai. The gangsters that Fabre and his police force had to deal with were just one of several extraordinary factors beyond what might be considered as normal policing. The rise of the nationalists led by Chiang Kai Shek in the late 1920s and the establishment of a communist strong hold in Shanghai in the 1920s were a volatile mix. Things came to a head in March 1927 when the Nationalists arrived in Shanghai. Chiang Kai-shek was wary of confrontation with the foreigners, particularly after they moved military reinforcements into the settlements, preferring instead to savagely rout the Communists who had established a strong presence in Shanghai, in an incident known as the White Terror.

  The other major issue that Fabre had to deal with was the increasing belligerence of the Japanese in Shanghai. The first battle of Shanghai was fought in January 1932 between Chinese and Japanese forces in the Chapei district of Shanghai. The second battle of Shanghai, again fought in the Chapei district in the summer of 1937 concluded with the International and French Concession being surrounded by Japanese forces, who, for the time being at least respected the boundaries of the Treaty Port. 

Fabre pictured as a player for the Tientsin team in their interport fixture against Shanghai (black) in March 1923