Learn more about Shanghaiing
- "Shanghaied" redirects here. See also the SpongeBob SquarePants episode.
Shanghaiing was the act of forcibly conscripting someone to serve a term working on a ship, usually after having been rendered senseless by alcohol, drugs or a sharp blow to the head . The term was mainly used on the west coast of the United States. Any friendless man in port cities like San Francisco, Portland and Astoria, Oregon, and Seattle and Port Townsend, Washington was in danger of being "shanghaied" (an American slang that has since expanded to a generic term for any sort of trick, particularly stealing). Portland is especially notable because of the elaborate tunnel system used to transport shanghaied men known as the shanghai tunnels.
Unscrupulous ship's captains frequently availed themselves of this form of unfree labor, employing stratagems to force their crews to desert in ports before they had been paid off, then to replace the deserters with shanghaied men -- who in some cases were the same as those put off. Sometimes the seamen would find themselves shanghaied onto another vessel even before they had set foot on dry land, and might find themselves working for years with nothing to show for their labors.
The men who engaged in this form of kidnapping were known as crimps, and the groups of large, burly men they often hired as helpers were known as crimp gangs, or press gangs in reference to United Kingdom warship impressment. The most infamous examples included Jim "Shanghai" Kelly and Johnny "Shanghai Chicken" Devine of San Francisco, and Joseph "Bunco" Kelly of Portland. Stories of their ruthlessness are innumerable, and some have survived into print due to their rough humor. One such example involves the "birthday party" Shanghai Kelly threw for himself, in order to attract enough victims to man a notorious sailing ship named the Reefer and two other ships. Another was how Bunco Kelly passed a wooden Indian off to a desperate ship's captain as the last needed man.
The practice of shanghaiing men was not limited to Pacific ports, but due to the efforts of Samuel Plimsoll, the United Kingdom passed the Merchant Shipping Act in 1876, which severely curtailed the practice. Demand for manpower to keep ships sailing to Alaska and the Klondike kept this a real danger in American ports into the early 20th century, when with the help of Andrew Furuseth, Senator Robert LaFollette pushed through legislation in 1915 that made this practice a federal crime, and finally put an end to it.
The word "shanghai" comes from the city of Shanghai, in China. This terminology originated because Shanghai was a common destination of the ships likely to use shanghaied labor, and because Shanghai (being distant) was an unfortunate destination to be shanghaied for.
The romantic view of shanghaiing belies its cruelty, followed for economic gain and protected by corrupt politicians. The example of "Shanghai" Kelly's "birthday" party, noted above, is just such a romanticized fiction. Kelly was on a ship named the "Yankee Blade," which went down off what is now Lompoc, California, north of Santa Barbara. There was a some robbery and intimidation for a short time in the confusion which followed, but California Rangers were on board and put a quick end to the attempted lawlessness.
The men and women who shanghaied unfortunates had the economic incentive that they would receive the shanghaiing victim's first two months wages after the man had been shipped out onboard an outbound ship. Some shanghaiers made as much as $9,500 per year in 1890s dollars, equivalent to about $200,000 in 2006 dollars.
The shanghaiers were also well positioned politically to protect their lucrative trade. Sailors boardinghouse keepers supplied men on election day to go from one polling place to another, voting early and often for the candidate who would guarantee the shanghaiers' interests. In San Francisco, men like Joseph "Frenchy" Franklin and George Lewis, long time shanghaiers, were elected to the California state legislature, an ideal spot to assure that no legislation had a negative impact on their business.
The term "shanghai" supplanted the older term of "crimping" or "sailor thieves" in late 1852-early 1853 in San Francisco. This was a time when the coolie trade from China was getting into full swing, and the term the Chinese applied to the practice of kidnapping or otherwise forcing a Chinese into service as a coolie was "shang hai," which in the Mandarin dialect means to harm or injure (Simplified Chinese: 伤害; Traditional Chinese: 傷害). This term is sometimes translated as "to abduct," and was transferred to the practice of crimping prevalent in San Francisco and other ports around the world at that time.
The 1915 legislation in the United States was successful primarily due to the widespread use of steampowered vessels in the world's merchant marine services. Without acres of canvas to be furled and unfurled, the demand for unskilled labor greatly diminished.
- Stewart Holbrook, "Bunco Kelly, King of the Crimps" in Wildmen, Wobblies and Whistle Punks. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-87071-383-3
- Samuel Dickson, "Shanghai Kelly", Tales of San Francisco Stanford: University Press, 1957.
- Bill Pickelhaupt, "Shanghaied in San Francisco," San Francisco: Flyblister Press, 1996. ISBN 0-9647312-2-3
Shanghai-> (Chinese City) English Verb-> to take a person by force or trickery and compel him or her to do somehting. Ex. I had to shanghai my friend into helping me.