RESOURCE SECTION: 200 years of U.S. Military Deployments Against China 1820-2020

by Michael Kramer

U.S. ground, air and naval forces from a Jim Crow-era military, occupied and patrolled Chinese cities, coastal waters and rivers from the 1820 until 1949.  This brutal and racist occupation was always resisted by the Chinese people. It continues to this day with U.S. aircraft carriers, destroyer and nuclear submarines asserting “Freedom of Navigation” in the South China Sea.

May 16, 1820: The 38-gun wooden hulled three-masted heavy frigate USS Congress with a crew of 340 docks unannounced and uninvited in Canton (now Guangzhou).

1835: The U.S. Navy East India Squadron is established. Ships in the squadron take part in the Second Opium War (1856-1860) against China.

1854: The East India Squadron forms the Yangtze River Patrol Force to protect U.S. citizens, U.S. property and Christian missionaries.  It operates between Shanghai and Chungking, a distance of over a thousand miles, until 1949.

April 4, 1854: Marines and sailors from the USS Perry land in Shanghai to protect U.S. and European commercial interests in a joint operation with Britain.  They do not withdraw until June 1854.

May 19, 1855: Marines and sailors from the USS Powhatan land in Shanghai to protect U.S. citizens.

August 4-5, 1855: The USS Powhatan along with British allies seize 17 Chinese ships and blow up another in the Battle of Ty-Ho Bay off the coast of Hong Kong.  The U.S. demonizes the Chinese as pirates.  Hundreds of Chinese are killed and over a thousand are taken prisoner.

October 22, 1856: Marines and sailors from the USS Portsmouth land in Canton to protect U.S. interests.  The force is continuously reinforced over the next few weeks.

Nov. 16-24, 1856: The USS Portsmouth, USS San Jacinto and USS Levant bombard and occupy Chinese forts on the Pearl River in alliance with British drug dealers during the Second Opium War.

June 24-26, 1859: The Second Battle of Taku Forts takes place during the Second Opium War.  U.S., British and French forces are defeated as they fail to seize forts from Chinese defenders on the Hai River in Tianjin.

July 31, 1859: Marines and sailors from the USS Mississippi deploy to Shanghai with British help to protect U.S. interests.

June 20, 1866: Marines and sailors from the USS Washusett land at Newchwang (now known as Yingkou) on a punitive expedition after the U.S. Consul is allegedly assaulted. The force is reinforced 5 days later.  Tens of Chinese are tried and punished by the U.S. Navy before the USS Washusett withdraws.

June 18, 1867: Marines and sailors from the USS Wyoming and USS Hartford land on Formosa on a punitive expedition.  Within 6 hours the expedition is forced to withdraw after meeting fierce resistance and their commander is killed.

1868: The East India Squadron is disbanded and the Asiatic Squadron is formed.  In 1902 it is upgraded to the Asiatic Fleet.

Dec. 4, 1894: Marines from the USS Baltimore deploy to Tientsin.  They stay there until May 1895.

Nov. 4, 1898: Marines from the USS Baltimore, USS Boston and USS Raleigh establish bases in Beijing and Tientsin to protect U.S. diplomatic missions.  The Marines withdraw in March 1899.

May 24, 1900:  The first U.S. ground forces land at Taku on the Hai River in northeastern China and join with eight other countries to put down the anti-foreign occupation uprising known as the Boxer Rebellion.  The so-called China Relief Expedition would grow to over 19,000 soldiers before it occupied the Imperial City in Beijing on August 15, 1900.  Most military units are withdrawn from Beijing on September 28, 1900.  The U.S. Army 9th Infantry Regiment remains to guard the U.S. Legation (Embassy).

Sept. 12, 1905: Marines from the Philippines arrive in Beijing to replace the U.S. Army 9th Infantry Regiment.

Dec. 20, 1905:  Marines and sailors from the USS Baltimore land in Shanghai to “help preserve order” in response to anti-foreign demonstrations.  They are joined by British, German and Japanese troops.

1911: U.S. Marines march through Shanghai

Nov. 4, 1911: Marines from the USS Albany and USS Rainbow land in Shanghai to protect U.S. interests.  They withdraw on Nov. 14th.

Jan. 18, 1912: Less than three weeks after the Republic of China is established the U.S. Army 15th Infantry Regiment deploys to Tientsin.  It does not leave China until March 2, 1938.

July 7-Aug. 17, 1913: Marines from the USS Baltimore and USS Rainbow land five times in Shanghai to protect U.S. interests.

April 28, 1922: Marines from the USS Baltimore deploy to Beijing to strengthen forces guarding the U.S. Legation.

May 5, 1922: Marines from the USS Huron deploy to Shanghai to protect U.S. interests.

Oct. 6, 1924: Marines from the USS Asheville form the First Expeditionary Force and land in Shanghai. They then proceed to Tientsin and do not withdraw until Feb. 8, 1925.

Jan. 22, 1925: Marines form the Second Expeditionary Force and deploy to Shanghai from the Philippines.  Numerous other Marine deployments take place throughout the rest of the year.

Feb. 24, 1927: The 4th Marine Regiment commanded by Brigadier General Smedley Butler arrives from San Diego aboard the USS Chaumont.  The ship docks at the Standard Oil Company terminal in Shanghai.  U.S. military forces in China now total 6,000 troops and 44 naval vessels in Chinese waters.  Butler later admits “In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested”.

March 4, 1927: Marines from the USS Pittsburgh seize a ship being held by Chinese authorities and return it to the Standard Oil Company

March 25, 1927: Marines from the USS Pittsburgh begin patrolling the main waterfront boulevard in downtown Shanghai.  Marines from the USS Sacramento begin guarding the property of the Universal Leaf and Tobacco Company.

April 25, 1927: Marine aviation units VF-3M and VO-5M arrive from San Diego and Guam.  Chinese pasture land 35 miles from Tientsin is occupied and an airfield is built.

May 2, 1927: The 6th Marine Regiment arrives in Shanghai on board the USS Henderson.

Feb. 4, 1932: The U.S. Army 31st Regiment arrives in Shanghai to reinforce the 4th Marine Regiment.  It withdraws to the Philippines on July 5, 1932.

Sept. 30, 1945: Operation Beleaguer begins with the 1st Marine Division arriving in China and deploying to Shanghai and Beijing.  It is followed by an additional 50,000 Marines from the III Amphibious Corps, warships from the 7th Fleet, the 14th Air Force and two Navy Construction Battalions.  The stated mission is to facilitate the surrender and repatriation of 600,000 Japanese soldiers after the end of World War II.

Oct. 6, 1945: The 14th Air Force begins airlifting 50,000 Kuomintang troops around China for three weeks as they fight a losing battle against the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

July 13, 1946: PLA forces capture seven Marines guarding a bridge in Hebei Province.

July 29,1946: PLA forces ambush a Marine patrol in a battle that lasts four hours.  Four Marines are killed.

April 4, 1947: The last major clash occurs between the PLA and the Marines who suffer 5 killed and 16 wounded.

May 26, 1949: Operation Beleaguer ends with the USS Manchester departing Tsingtao.  The U.S. occupation of China has finally ended.

1958-1974: The CIA Tibetan Program trains thousands of Tibetan Chinese at Camp Hale in Colorado to wage war against the People’s Republic of China. The program includes airdrops and support for a low intensity guerrilla war that is defeated by the PLA.

July 2020: Carrier strike groups from the 7th Fleet organized around the USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan conduct aggressive maneuvers off the coast of China in the South China Sea.



2.        One Hundred Eighty Landing Of United States Marines 1800-1934, History And Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, Washington, D.C.

3.        Yangtze River Patrol and Other US Navy Asiatic Fleet Activities in China, 1920-1942 As Described in the Annual Reports of the Navy Department

This chronology was compiled by Michael Kramer, a member of the China Working Group of Veterans For Peace for the Pivot to Peace Panel during the Veterans For Peace on line convention – August 4, 2020.