The History of Sport Played in China's Treaty Ports


The U.S. Marines returned to Tientsin much encouraged by their rugby success in Shanghai. Also living in Tientsin at this time was Eric Liddell, the Scottish rugby international, and more famously the ‘Chariots of Fire’ gold medal winner at the 1924 Olympics. According to biographies Liddell was still taking part in the rugby and athletic events while in Tientsin. With more research it may be possible to show that he actually played against the Marines. One of his many biographies gives a good description of rugby in Tientsin at this time; 


   Rugby in Tientsin was about the most uncomfortable game you could play. The wind came biting down from the Gobi Desert in the north, whipping up the soft, flaky topsoil on their pitch, whisking it into the players’ eyes and the cuts on their knees… But the former Scottish internationalist revelled in the game and was soon reviving the elusive speed that had been so devastating on the Gracie-Liddell wing. 


Eric Liddell wearing his Scottish rugby shirt

Poster for the 1919 Inter-Allied Games

  The anticipated military problems in Tientsin never transpired and so the U.S. Sixth Marines returned to Shanghai being subsumed within the U.S. Fourth Marines. In October 1928, Liversedge and eight of his rugby team were back in Shanghai where they started to build a new squad. Their first game as the Shanghai based U.S. Fourth Marines rugby team was played on 11 November 1928 against a 14 man Shanghai Scottish team resulting in their first of many successes in Shanghai over the next 13 years. 


  The arrival of the Marines on the rugby scene coincided with a huge growth of rugby in Shanghai which lasted for the next decade. The interport fixtures with Hong Kong were by now firmly established as were the (nearly) annual visits to Shanghai by a top Japanese University rugby team. A French team started playing in the early 1930s and a locally based Japanese college, Tung Wen, also started at this time. This together with the annual rugby championship, the Spunt Cup and ever present British army and navy teams led to an average of 68 rugby matches being played in Shanghai each season over the next 10 years.


  In August 1929, Liversedge was posted back to the United States but the rugby team that he started, nicknamed The Thundering Herd by the Shanghai press, continued playing rugby in Shanghai until 1940, winning the Shanghai rugby championship six times and on occasions, beating the visiting Japanese University and Hong Kong teams.  


  In the years following his time in China, Liversedge became a highly decorated U.S. Marine and an American hero. His military career is very well documented and therefore mentioned here only in passing.   In one of several citations that he received during his military career, he was awarded the Gold Star for his extraordinary heroism in action against the enemy while serving as a commanding officer of a Marine regimental combat team on the Japanese island Iwo Jima. He landed on the fire swept beach just twenty-two minutes after H-Hour in order to personally direct the assault of his regiment on the ground. His regiment fought a ferocious battle for Mount Suribachi eventually seizing it and famously raising the Stars and Stripes. A scene captured in one of the most iconic photographs of World War Two.


  Liversedge survived the war but sadly died aged only 57 in November 1951 following complications after an operation.  His formidable exploits as a Marine were recognised nine years later when the Liversedge Hall was dedicated in his memory at the Marine Corps School, Quantico, Virginia. His American and China rugby exploits were a footnote to his extraordinary life but still deserving of recognition as a remarkable part of the history of American rugby football.


Carroll as he appeared in the 1914 Big Game programme

 A few days after their arrival, despite having been only coached for three or four months, the Marines team stunned the treaty port when they defeated a British Navy XV.   Put on alert, Shanghai fielded a strong side against the Leathernecks and ensured a comfortable win.  In a second game the Marines beat a more junior Shanghai XV. The North China Daily News was generous with its praise; 

  It obviously would be impossible for fifteen well trained athletes to suddenly, in a matter of three months, take up a code of football and expect to beat fifteen men, whose rugger days are counted from the time when they could first kick a ball. Nonetheless, the Marines did well - exceedingly well. At times their tactics were brilliant and there can be doubt in the minds of spectators that the U.S, Marines have produced fifteen men who show great promise…they deserve and undoubtedly will receive from all those who know the handling code, the greatest compliment that one can give – they played a clean game and not only were they keen rugger players but with it, were gentleman. 

   After the initial arduous duties incident to the occupation of billets by the 3rd Brigade in Tientsin, China, the usual penchant of Leathernecks for sports activities asserted itself. When the fall season of 1927 arrived, a large number of men desired to play [American] football, but no equipment was available, nor was there any outside competition to be had even though a team was formed. Without such competition, no Marine sports calendar is complete, and accordingly the outlook was anything but promising. However, a rugby football league composed of units of the British, French, and Japanese defense (sic) forces and a civilian team, was in process of formation, and in usual Marine fashion the “Marine can do anything” spirit manifested itself and under the leadership of Captain Liversedge a Leatherneck rugby squad was organized and a Marine team entered in the league. 


  Under Liversedge’s tutelage, the US6M learned quickly, beating the East Yorkshire Regimental team on Thanksgiving Day 1927.  So successful were the Marines rugby adventures in Tientsin that they arranged a one month visit to Shanghai to play rugby there in March 1928. This trip, described on the Marine roster as ‘special duties’, was very successful. They astounded the local rugby players with their speed, strength and newly acquired rugby skills. The Shanghai press reported on all aspects of the tour avidly. On their arrival, the team was welcomed in grand fashion by their comrades based in Shanghai, the Fourth US Marines. The function was ‘a smoker and entertainment’ consisting of some exhibition boxing, and variety entertainment from some of Shanghai’s popular club acts including Paddy Fowler (a lady) from the Plantations who had ‘a winning way on stage, her charming informality “making a hit” wherever she goes.’ 

Action from the 1914 Big Game

  Liversedge enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in May 1917, in time to travel to France as part of the American Expeditionary Force, arriving in September 1918 just two months before the Armistice. He arrived as a Private but was commissioned while serving with the Fifth Brigade.  Before he left France, he was selected to represent the American Army in the Inter-Allied Games throwing the javelin and putting the shot.  The Inter-Allied Games, was a celebratory Olympic-type athletic competition held in the newly built (by the American army!) Pershing Stadium, Paris, France, in June and July 1919.  The tournament was sponsored by the American Expeditionary Forces for troops stationed in Europe at the end of WW1. The games involved teams from eighteen nations who had fought on the allied side. Liversedge won the shot competition with a distance of 13.776 meters  and came second in the javelin. 

Liversedge as he appeared in the 1914 Big Game programme

Carroll as a player in  the 1920 Olympic gold medal winning American Rugby team

   Playing for Stanford that day was the Australian born Danny Carroll. He had remained in Stanford after arriving with the visiting Australian team in 1912. A newspaper report previewing the Varsity match noted that ‘he had learned rugby about the time he had learned to walk, and has been playing ever since.’  In 1908 Carroll had won an Olympic gold medal playing rugby for the country of his birth. He went on to win another rugby gold medal, this time for America in 1920 in his role as player / coach.  
On match day, the more experienced Stanford team achieved their biggest win in this, their ninth rugby meeting against the University of California in front of a crowd of 26,000.  A history of football at the University of California summed up the historic nature of that game as follows;
The twenty-sixth [actually it was the 24th] Big Game took place at California Field on November 14th, 1914, before the largest crowd ever to witness an athletic event on the Pacific Coast.  Twenty-six thousand came to Berkeley to witness the contest between the two undefeated teams. Little did the spectators realize that they were witnessing what was to be the last real Big Game for five years.
The last Rugby Big Game was destined to be what was termed by many as the greatest exhibition of Rugby football ever given on the Pacific Coast. Certainly it was the fastest and most thrilling. Referee Byrne, an Australian, stated after the game that the brand of Rugby played by those two American college teams  that day was the equal of Rugby played anywhere in the world. 

A source referenced copy of the text below is available on request

Previous Persons of the Month


Person of the month 1 - George Michael Billings (with club 1902 to 1927)
Person of the Month 2 - Commandent Louis Guillaume Fabre (with club 1936 to 1941)
Person of the Month 3 - Victor Vause Winser Fretwell (with club 1927 to 1934)

Person of the Month 4 - Eric Byron Cumine (with club 1930 to 1934)

Person of the Month 5 - Francis Kingdon Ward (with the club 1907 to 1909)
Person of the Month 6 - Percy Martin Lancaster (with the club 1903 to 1913)

Person of the Month 7 - The Schlee family (with the club 1886 to 1950)

Person of the Month 8 - Henry Bluett Liversedge (with Tientsin and Shanghai rugby 1927 to 1929)


Liversedge as player for the Quantico Marines in the early 1920s

Tientsin Rugby

Founder and Coach of the U.S. Sixth Marines rugby team (1927 - 1928)


Shanghai Rugby
Founder and Coach of the U.S. Fourth Marines rugby team (1928 - 1929)


Ticket from the 1914 Big Game

  As noted above, in 1915, the University of California, decided to return to American Football. Rather than preparing to play the tenth annual rugby march against Stanford, who continued to play rugby, playing their ‘Big Game’ that year against Santa Clara University, preparations were made by the University of California to once again play the ‘old game’. Ambitiously, their new Varsity rivals were an American Football team that had not been defeated for years - the University of Washington.


  As part of their preparation, the Californians ‘sent out an S. O. S. message to all of its old American football stars asking them to help in the coaching’.  Clearly, American football would have moved on since those Alumni who answered the call had last played American Football for their Alma Mater. The Sporting Life discussed the forthcoming match under the headline banner ‘American Football Returns to California’, predicting that the Californians were learning the game well and that while Washington were seen as the strongest team, they will ‘have no sinecure’.  


  After the game, Liversedge may have considered himself lucky to have only been selected as substitute and not taking the field! The Sporting Life’s prediction was far wide of the mark. In front of only 13,000 spectators, Washington scored an unheard of 72 points, keeping a clean sheet in the process.  Liversedge did participate in the following year’s fixture, coming on as substitute for Bell who was playing Left Guard. The result was significantly better, a smaller loss of 13:3.  

The U.S. Sixth Marine (black) based in Tientsin on the occasion of their spring 1928 visit to Shanghai (white) to play rugby. Coach Liversedge is sat on the front row, fourth from left in the trilby.


An American Rugby Pioneer in China
Henry Bluett Liversedge

Liversedge putting the shot at the Inter-Allied Games

  Born in Volcano, Amador County, California on 21 September 1894,  Liversedge, nicknamed ‘the Horse’, had a huge influence on the rugby scene in China in the late 1920s and his legacy continued in Shanghai through to 1940. 

 

  As a freshman at the University of California in 1914, rugby was still the football code of choice on the west coast of America. In that year, he started playing in the freshman’s rugby team. After some notable performances he was selected in the final freshman game before the Varsity rugby team was chosen. The local newspaper reported that ‘The finest Freshman team that the University of California ever produced will make their final Freshman appearance this afternoon when they face the University of Nevada team at 2.30PM on California field.’  Even before the match Liversedge was being talked about as one of the most likely of the freshmen to be chosen for the Varsity team. At either 6 feet 2 ¾ inches  or 6 feet 4 inches,  depending on which report you believe, he was a natural choice to play second row forward, it was noted that he ‘is composed of 205 pounds of bone and muscle which he used to the best advantage in holding the scrum.’  


  The following month Liversedge made the grade; he was selected to play as lock (second row) for California against their Berkeley rivals, Stanford University. 

  On his return to America in July or August 1919, he continued his representative American football career with the Marine’s Quantico team from 1921 to 1924, captaining that team in his last year. He was a coach of the All Marine XI team in 1925 and 1926, learning coaching skills that would help him a few years later. 


  As noted above, his sporting credentials extended beyond football. In one magazine in 1916 he was reported as being the world record holder for the javelin and shot put, but this does not seem to be supported by the official world record lists.  Regardless, he was amongst the world best. He represented his country when putted the shot 14.15 meters at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics winning a bronze medal.   This was the same Olympics where his American Olympic teammates won America’s first rugby gold medal. In 1924 he travelled to Paris as an alternate in the shot put team but did not participate in the competition.  


  Liversedge’s Chinese rugby connection began in 1927 when, as part of a massive international force of some 25,000 troops, the U.S. Marines were sent to China to protect American interests in China from the threat of Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalist forces.  Six months after arriving in Shanghai in March 1927, a contingent of Marines, including Liversedge was sent to Tientsin [Tianjin] in the north of China. In 1930, the Marine’s monthly magazine Leatherneck explained what happened next; 

The Big Game match programme

Harry Bluett Liversedge 1894 - 1951

Liversedge at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp