On February 24, 1910, tipped off by residents who were spooked by suspicious materials under a bridge near Shichahai in central Beijing, police constables came to investigate an iron box with several rolls of wires. The discovery, so close to Qing Dynasty regent Prince Chun’s residence, prompted constables to report the matter to their officers, who in turn alerted the Ministry of Civil Affairs. A technician later uncovered the box to reveal a bomb made of dynamite, picric acid, detonators and wires. The bomb was big enough to destroy structures in a one sq km radius, Tsinghua University Department of History Associate Professor Cao Yin wrote in a paper.
Over two years later, on December 23, 1912, the British marked the formal completion of shifting India’s capital from Calcutta to Delhi, with a huge procession. In attendance that day was Lord Hardinge, the viceroy of British India, who rode an elephant towards the Red Fort with his wife for the formal handover. A bomb was suddenly flung from the Viceroy’s left side, hitting the back of a Jamadar who was holding an umbrella over him. The Jamadar was killed instantly and Lord Hardinge suffered nonfatal wounds on his back and neck.
Cao Yin, the author of ‘Bombs in Beijing and Delhi: The Global Spread of Bomb-Making Technology and the Revolutionary Terrorism in Modern China and India’, said he was surprised to see that Indian and Chinese revolutionaries appeared to have knowledge of producing similar bombs.
Cao’s paper, published in the December 2019 issue of the Journal of World History, argues that the “two seemingly separated political developments in China and India were closely related through a series of events in Russia, India, China, France, and Japan.” He examines the spread of bomb-making technology from Russia to India and China in the first decade of the 20th century to argue that “Indian and Chinese nationalist movements were implicitly connected in the context of transnational circulation of ideas, personnel, and technologies”.
Cao tells the story in three strands: following the course of Indian and Chinese revolutionaries and the diaspora of the Russian anarchists and their bomb-making expertise. “…bombs had rarely been used by assassins until the late 19th century,” Cao writes. “Studying this bomb-making technology made me focus on the Russians, who were the first to use dynamites as a weapon for assassinations… they had the most sophisticated knowledge of building portable dynamite,” Cao told The Sunday Express.
Cao traces the journey of Hemchandra Das, the “forefather of the bomb-making enterprise” in the Bengali nationalist struggle, “who learned the knowledge of designing, manufacturing and assembling small explosive from Russian revolutionaires in Paris in 1907”. With the British having restricted circulation of arms in India after the 1857 sepoy mutiny, many secret societies of the late 19th and early 20th century instructed their members in different martial arts forms. “Hemchandra Das believed that the Indian revolution would be much accelerated if the technology of bombmaking could be imported from Europe to India,” writes Cao.
In China, he writes, a young man, Huang Fusheng, arrived in Japan in the autumn of 1904 with thousands of other Chinese students to learn modern knowledge, and joined an anti-Qing revolutionary group soon after.
“Chinese revolutionaries were impressed by the political assassinations conducted by their Russian counterparts and by the explosives the Russians used in their assassination attempts in particular,” the paper states.
Cao says such accounts show their activities were connected through Russians and through their French and Japanese experiences. “If we are going to discuss India and China in the modern times, maybe we can only find limited sources between the two, but if you have a global view, they are parallels and are closely related to each other,” he said.