Pirate paranoia

Pearl River between Hong Kong and Canton, January–February 1930

Fear and distrust of the Chinese masses, abstract in Ross’s geopolitical arguments, become concrete in this text on pirate attacks en route between Hong Kong and Guangzhou.

As the pirates’ methods include invading ships as passengers, Ross indulges in playful racial paranoia: “I am having breakfast in the dining room and scrutinizing my fellow travelers for any signs of a hidden buccaneer among them.” [p. 256] While most passengers in the dining room are of the “rich and stolid Chinese merchant type” [p. 256], the “hundreds of Chinese crowded together on their luggage” [p. 257] in steerage pose a more clearly visible threat. “If this mass planned a raid, there wouldn’t be much to do about that indeed.” But the British steamer’s security measures make sure they will be held back. Every Chinese passenger is strictly checked before entering, and steerage passengers are held behind bars, with an Indian policeman positioned on guard.

The sense of security gained from these and other provisions, like fortification of the navigation bridge and engine room, is deceptive though, Ross argues. Two times, he contrasts bafflement over such elaborate measures with references to attacks that happened a bit earlier or later.

In 1936 this chapter was added to Ross’s 1924 book Das Meer der Entscheidungen. In the 1942 version attached here, a new ending (comprising the final six lines of the chapter) is designed to comfort the reader with the reassuring claim that Germany’s fellow Axis Power Japan has “cleaned up” the pirate problem [p. 258].

Joachim Schätz

Colin Ross. Piraten. In: Das Meer der Entscheidungen. Beiderseits des Pazifik. 7. Aufl. Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus; 1942 [1924]; 254–8, 256 recto, verso.

Topic: Volk ohne Raum
Case: Oceania-Asia trip 1928-30

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