Japanese General Shiba Gorō, who played a significant role during the 1900 xenophobic Boxer Rebellion in China, died on December 13th, 1945 in war-ravaged Tokyo, four months after a suicide attempt following Japan’s defeat in World War II.
Born on June 21st, 1860 as the fifth son of a samurai in Aizu, one of the three regions of Fukushima prefecture, young Shiba lived through the Boshin War (1868-69) between the defenders of the traditional feudal system represented by the Tokugawa shogunate and those forces seeking to give political power back to the Imperial Court, which gradually had lost it since 1192.
During the siege of nearby Wakamatsu Castle his grandmother, mother, and two sisters took their own lives so that the men could do battle without distractions.
Exiled after the definitive end of the old order to Aomori by the new, reform-oriented government, Shiba moved to Tokyo in 1873 and enlisted in the Japanese Army, where he was commissioned as a second lieutenant of the Artillery in 1879.
After graduation, Shiba commanded the 4th platoon of the Osaka Garrison Artillery until early 1883, when he was assigned to the Imperial Guard, dedicated to the protection of the Tenno and his family as well as palaces and other imperial properties.
Freshly promoted to lieutenant in 1884 after attending Army Artillery School, he was sent as a military attaché to China, stationed in Foochow, the capital of Fukien province, and later Peking.
Already a captain, from 1888 to 1890 he commanded the Guards Artillery Regiment. Then Shiba became an instructor at the Army Academy and in 1892 began to serve in the Second Bureau of the General Staff.
In 1894, he was posted again as military attaché, this time briefly in the United Kingdom. Following his promotion to major, Shiba participated in the final phase of the First Sino-Japanese War (July 25th, 1894-April 17th, 1895), going back to Great Britain afterwards.
While a military observer to the United States, Shiba was introduced to Secretary of War Russell A. Alger (1836-1907). In consequence, during the Spanish-American War of 1898 he was allowed to land with the US Army in Cuba, still a part of the vanishing Spanish Empire. Shiba was also present throughout the subsequent attack on Puerto Rico, another Spanish colony at the time.
Back in Japan in 1899, Shiba returned to the Chinese capital in 1900 as a military attaché with the rank of lieutenant colonel. There he served with distinction during the anti-Western uprising that summer, aided by his prior knowledge of the city and by a large network of local informers.
His small force fought tenaciously and suffered heavy casualties while protecting diplomats, foreign nationals and Chinese Christians. Shiba was subsequently awarded many decorations by the members of the Eight-Nation Alliance.
In 1901, Shiba rejoined the General Staff and was appointed commander of the 15th Field Artillery Regiment, which he lead through the victorious Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), where he distinguished himself for bravery in battle.
After a third posting as military attaché to the UK, Shiba was promoted to major general in 1907, took over Sasebo Fortress near Nagasaki in 1908 and the Heavy Artillery Brigade in 1909.
As an envoy of the General Staff to China in 1911, Shiba witnessed the events following the fall of the Qing-Dynasty. Commander of the First Heavy Artillery in 1912, he was given command of the 12th Division in 1914.
Shiba had the great honor to accompany Prince Marshal-Admiral Higashifushimi Yorihito (1867-1922) on his last trip to the UK in 1918. The next year Shiba was temporarily placed in command of the Taiwan Army, as Formosa had been a Japanese colony since 1895.
A military councilor before going into the reserves, Shiba finally retired in 1930. Following his tragic death from self-inflicted injuries, he was buried at the temple of Eirin-ji in his native region.
His decisive role in the Boxer Rebellion is often highlighted in Western accounts of the conflict. In the 1963 Hollywood movie 55 Days in Peking about the siege of the international legations, Shiba’s part is played by future director Juzo Itami (1933-1997).
Shiba authored “Remembering Aizu” (Boshin Junnan Kaikoroku) about the lost world of his childhood and youth in Nippon as well as an account of the riots in China, titled Pekin Rōjō.