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AmCham Shanghai 100th Anniversary – A Few Extras #1 – Sterling Fessenden’s Murderous Deal and his White Russian Mistress

Posted: June 23rd, 2015 | No Comments »

The American Chamber of Commerce is celebrating its 100th anniversary (in fact they just had a bash in Shanghai) and has been posting rather a lot of interesting articles on the glorious history of Americans in Shanghai. But they’ve been rather judiciously edited to prevent any talk of disagreements among the Americans in Shanghai. It seems worthwhile telling a few extra tales that somehow slipped off the official record!

Today, Sterling Fessenden, the American who ran the Municipal Council for many years – the article is here. However, Mr Fessenden was also known for a few other things in Shanghai that somehow didn’t make the AmCham cut; among them his somewhat scandalous love life and primarily his role as one of the butchers of 1927…


Now Fessenden was an interesting chap and well connected – indeed he had come to Shanghai to practise law with none other than the former US Consul General in Shanghai Thomas Jernigan. Jernigan (who got a road named after him in Shanghai) was an American Civil War veteran (he fought with the Confederates). In general Fessenden was popular but not with everyone – some disapproved of his rather different private life. Fessenden is invariably described as a “lifelong bachelor” but in fact had a long standing White Russian mistress, called Olga, which rather scandalised some of the more conservative among the American elite in the city who saw him dancing with the much taller Olga at various city nightclubs.

But tippy-toeing around Shanghai’s ballrooms with Olga is not why we should pause for a great deal of thought before lavishing quite so much praise on Sterling Fessenden….

Also omitted is Fessenden’s role in the Shanghai Massacre of 1927. Now an American Judge may well have praised Fessenden’s “Discretion, Courage and Integrity” in times of trouble but I doubt anybody on the Shanghai Left would have agreed. Fessenden it was who brokered the infamous deal between Green Gang boss Du Yuesheng (Big Eared Du) and the French authorities in their concession (in the form of the hopelessly corrupt Captain Fiori who was reputedly in the pay of the Chinese gangs, various gambling interests and probably Corsican and Marseilles Mafia interests in France’s Far East empire) to allow Green Gang thugs and sharp shooters to attack the Left and trade unions. Thanks to Fessenden’s insistence the French agreed to supply Du’s thugs with 5,000 rifles, ammunition and free passage for their trucks through the French Concession to attack striking workers. It was a bloody time. A conservative opinion is that over 1,000 Communists were arrested, some 300 were officially executed and more than 5,000 went missing – the Left in Shanghai offered figures far in excess of these. Whatever the number, it was a massacre, and one made possible by Fessenden’s conniving.


Left Wing blood on the streets – partly courtesy of Sterling Fessenden – American “Lord Mayor of Shanghai”

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