“To Tear Out the Heart and Rip Out Their Eyes”: A Story of Kidnapping, Sorcery, and Mass Violence

At Jottings from the Granite Studio, historian Jeremiah Jenne describes “The Tientsin Massacre” of 1870, a counterpart of sorts to Los Angeles’ “Chinese Massacre” the following year. The episode was triggered by suspicions that a group of foreign nuns were behind the kidnapping and murder of local children.

In the city of Tianjin, over the course of one summer afternoon in 1870, thousands of residents, led in part by local volunteer militia known as the “Fire and Water Brigades,” stormed the French consulate and a cathedral before turning their sights on an orphanage run by a group of Catholic nuns. Before the day ended, 21 foreigners – including all 16 of the nuns – had been killed, many of them brutally stabbed, beaten, burned, or simply ripped apart by the furious crowd. Three decades of foreign aggression and unequal treaties had created a lot of anger and hostility toward foreigners, and there had been a few instances of foreigners being killed in local disputes, but never before had there been such a display of rage and violence against the foreign presence in China and it didn’t take long for the overseas press to dub the event “The Tientsin Massacre.”

What sparked such fury? Well, the short answer is that you can build concessions, sell opium, and burn a few palaces and people might be pissed off about it, but there are few quicker ways to get a man to take action and do battle than to mess with his kids.

Note the accompanying image of a ‘souvenir fan’ decorated with a picture of the burning cathedral, and compare with the made-in-China Free Libya memorabilia now available in Tripoli.

Kidnapping remains a threat to children in China today, alongside dangers such as road accidents and food contamination: see the trailer for ‘Living with Dead Hearts‘, a forthcoming documentary on child kidnapping in China by Charles Custer, who is currently raising funds for its completion.