The arrest and release of international spies Mr. and Mrs. Niu Lan

In Shanghai and Nanjing in the 1930s, there was a sensational foreign case, the “Niu Lan Case”, which involved both Chinese and foreigners. On June 15, 1931, the British and American public constables in Shanghai busted the secret organ of the Far East Bureau of the Communist International set up in Shanghai, arrested the head of the Far East Bureau, Niu Lan, a Polish national, and his wife Wang Delizhen, and seized a large amount of documents and funds of the Communist International. The case was reported by various newspapers, and became known as the “Niu Lan Case”. After a preliminary trial by the Concession Court, Niu Lan and his wife were extradited to the Nanjing National Government in August of that year. Because of the seriousness of the case and its extensive involvement, the case shocked and attracted public opinion from all over the world. Famous Chinese figures such as Soong Ching-ling, Cai Yuanpei, Lu Xun, Lin Yutang, Liu Yazi, Yu Dafu, Chen Wangdao, Mao Dun, etc., and international figures such as Albert Einstein, Dewey, Romain Rolland, George Bernard Shaw, Deleuze, Gorky, etc., all called the Nanjing National Government or participated in the case in other ways. The “Niu Lan case” has taken several years and has become a truly international case, and a major event in the political, legal and diplomatic history of the Republic of China.

However, due to various reasons, the details and inside story of this important case have not been disclosed and little known, becoming a mysterious event in the history of the Republic of China. After years of investigation and visits, the author was able to understand the details of the case, and is now briefly described below.


Niu Lan, formerly known as Paul Ruegger, was a Polish man, tall, with a large forehead, high nose, blue eyes, and a thick black beard on his lips, a Western look and dress.

He was an intelligence officer of the Communist International (also known as the Third International), responsible for intelligence and liaison work with China, Japan, Korea and other countries in the Far East and Southeast Asia. His unit was the Far East Bureau of the Communist International, whose director at the time was Miev, a Russian famous in the history of Sino-Soviet relations.

The Far East Bureau of the Communist International was originally located in Vladivostok, USSR.

In order to strengthen intelligence work in the Far East, to collect timely information on the activities of Japan, Britain, the United States, France and other countries in the Far East, as well as on the Chinese Nationalist Government, and to further liaise and support the activities of the Communist Parties in the Far East and Southeast Asia, the Communist International and the Soviet authorities ordered the Far East Bureau to move from Vladivostok to Shanghai after the East China Road Incident in 1929.

Shanghai is not only the largest port and the most prosperous industrial and commercial city in the Far East, but also a world-renowned cosmopolitan city. In the mid-nineteenth century, the British, American and French countries established a concession here, where foreigners enjoyed various privileges and the Chinese government had no right to govern. As a result, adventurers, speculators, merchants, capitalists, missionaries, politicians, soldiers, literati, criminals and spies from all over the world flocked to this city, and all the five parties and countries coexisted in a variety of colors and complexities. This situation has continued from the late Qing Dynasty to the Republic of China, intensifying, thus making it extremely convenient to carry out intelligence work. Shanghai in the 1930s was regarded by intelligence officers from various countries as their own playground.

Niu Lan, as the head of the Far East Bureau of the Communist International, arrived in Shanghai from Moscow via Harbin and Dalian in March 1930 with his wife, Wang Delizhen, and set up an organ for his activities as secretary of the Far East Bureau of the Communist International, which was a secret agency. When Miev, the director of the Far East Bureau, was not in Shanghai, Niu Lan actually became the main head of this secret organization.

Niu Lan had another public position in Shanghai, that is, he was the secretary of the Shanghai office of the “Pan-Pacific Industrial Alliance”. The so-called “Pan-Pacific Industrial Union” was the “Far East Branch of the International Red Trade Union”. It was an open international workers’ organization established in 1927, with its headquarters originally located in Vladivostok, and moved to Shanghai in 1930. Its main task was to support and finance workers’ movements and red trade union organizations in the Far East, especially the Chinese workers’ movement, and to help the All-China Federation of Trade Unions to carry out its work.

Niu Lan was the de facto leader of both organizations in Shanghai. He held a Swiss passport and was a legal European expatriate in the Concession. He worked openly and legally for the Pan-Pacific Industrial Union and secretly for the Far East Bureau of the Communist International, with nine staff members scattered throughout Shanghai. His wife, Wang Deli, was his most important assistant and a veteran intelligence officer. Mr. and Mrs. Niu Lan rented several different residences in the Shanghai Concession as a place to live and operate. He also rented eight mailboxes in the Concession under different pseudonyms for external communication.

The Niu Lan couple and the Far East Bureau of the Communist International under their leadership were active and achieved a great deal of work during the year or so they moved to Shanghai: they were involved in the work of the Third Plenary Session of the Sixth Central Committee and the Fourth Plenary Session of the Sixth Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, which were secretly held in Shanghai; they cooperated with the Central Committee’s security agency, the “They cooperated with the Central Special Branch of the CPC Central Committee and collected important information on many occasions; they established normal contacts with the Communist Parties in Southeast Asia and in early 1931 established a branch of the Far East Bureau of the Communist International in Hong Kong, the ” In early 1931, they established a branch of the Far East Bureau of the Communist International in Hong Kong, the “South Bureau”, also known as the “Hong Kong Branch”, headed by Nguyen Ai Quoc, the leader of the Indochinese Communist Party, later known as Ho Chi Minh, Chairman of the Vietnam Labor Party. He also had effective contacts with the Communist Party in Japan and Korea, providing them with funds for their activities on a regular basis and collecting information on Japanese aggression.

While the Niu Lan couple and the Far East Bureau of the Communist International under their leadership were actively and effectively operating in Shanghai, disaster struck them …………


The story of the Niu Lan couple’s exposure and arrest is as follows.

On April 24, 1931, Gu Shunzhang, an alternate member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and the main head of the Special Branch of the CPC Central Committee, was arrested in Hankow by the secret service of the Nationalist Government and quickly defected to the Nationalist Government.

A native of Baoshan, a suburb of Shanghai, Gu Shunzhang was a worker in a factory in Shanghai. He joined the Communist Party of China during the Revolutionary period of the Communist Party of China and participated in the “May 30th” movement in Shanghai in 1925 and the armed uprising of Shanghai workers from late 1926 to March 1927. He was sent to Vladivostok in the Soviet Union to study intelligence work together with Chen Gung and others at an early stage. After the breakup of the Communist Party in April 1927, he remained in Shanghai as the head of the Special Branch of the CPC Central Committee and became an important assistant of Zhou Enlai. For three or four years, the Special Branch of the CPC Central Committee under his leadership was active on the Shanghai Bund and was involved in many major cases that stirred up the world. In mid-April 1931, he was instructed by the CPC Central Committee to personally escort Zhang Guotao and Chen Changhao from Shanghai via Wuhan to the Dabie Mountain Red Army base area on the border of Hubei, Henan and Anhui.

After the mission was completed, he went to the Hankow amusement park to play, and even assumed the name of “Hua Guangqi” to perform magic tricks on stage, which was discovered by You Chongxin, who had already left the CPC, and was arrested by Cai Mengjian, the head of the local secret service. At that time, Gu Shunzhang had long wanted to leave the CCP, so he was arrested and defected immediately. He gave up the secret locations of the important organs of the CPC Central Committee in Shanghai and the secret addresses of the important leaders of the CPC to the Nationalist government for credit. At this time, Qian Zhuangfei, an underground member of the CPC who was working as a secret secretary in the headquarters of the Nationalist Central Committee (Director Xu Enzeng), reported this important information to Zhou Enlai in Shanghai in time, and the CPC Central Committee quickly took countermeasures to avoid a devastating disaster.

However, Gu Shunzhang provided the national government authorities with a great deal of information about the activities of the CCP and the Communist International in China, including the activities of the Niu Lan couple in Shanghai. He testified: “The Communist International sent nine representatives to Shanghai, namely the International Far East Bureau, most of whom were Russians, but also Poles and Germans, whose names and addresses were not quite known. The director of the Far East Bureau, named Niu Lan, we all called him Old Maozi. He had a wife, very powerful, the name is unknown.”

Having obtained this valuable information about the Far East Bureau and Niu Lan and his wife, the Nationalist Central Bureau immediately instructed the Shanghai Special Administrative Region to which it belonged, and at the same time notified the authorities of the British and French Concessions in Shanghai to intensify the search for Niu Lan and his wife.

About a month or so later, on June 1, 1931, in Singapore, a British colony thousands of miles away from Shanghai, the British police authorities arrested a French Communist, Duclos. This man had been sent by the Comintern to Singapore to make secret contacts with the Malaysian Communist Party. From the documents he carried, the police found a telegraphic address and the number of a post office box in Shanghai: “No. 205 Helenore”.

The British colonial authorities in Singapore immediately informed the British Concession authorities in Shanghai of this information. The Shanghai British Concession police force immediately followed this clue and conducted secret surveillance on the mailbox number 205 in Shanghai, and soon found out that the renter of this mailbox was Niu Lan, whom they were searching for. They continued to follow the investigation secretly and found that Niu Lan’s address was No. 235, North Sichuan Road, and also found that Niu Lan had another secret place of activity in Room 30, C, No. 49, Nanjing Road.


In the morning of June 15, 1931, the detectives of the British and American Public Concessions in Shanghai searched Niu Lan’s apartment at No. 235, North Sichuan Road and arrested her on the spot. The detectives found only some insignificant documents in the room, but not a single important document; however, they recovered three sets of keys from Niu Lan’s possession, totaling twenty-seven.

Then, the detectives immediately escorted Niu Lan to his other activity point, Room 30, No. C, No. 49 Nanjing Road, and obtained many letters and newspapers during the search. The detectives called a locksmith, opened the third safe, took out the keys of the first and second safes, and opened these two safes one by one. In these three safes, the detectives found more than 600 documents, including 76 important ones, including instructions from the Communist International to the Communist Parties in the Far East and Southeast Asia, and reports from the Far East Bureau to the Communist International headquarters.

The detectives also found a note written in French on the desk in the room that read, “I will come back at 2:30 this afternoon.”

Apparently, this was a note from another person to Niu Lan, telling him that he would come to meet him that afternoon, so the detectives hid in the room after the search and kept the door closed so that nothing would be revealed.

At 2:30 p.m., someone opened the door with a key and barged right in. The detectives saw that it was a woman with a handbag, so they immediately forced her with a gun. The woman, seeing the change of circumstances, pretended to say, “I’ve got the wrong room.” Then she tried to exit the room and escape. But it was already too late, the detective also appeared behind her, the woman was immediately arrested. The detectives opened her purse, found a receipt, and learned that she had a residence at No. 74, Hongye Garden, Yuyuan Road, in the western suburbs of Shanghai.

The detectives immediately rushed to Hongye Garden No. 74 and found that Wang Delizeng had another residence in Shanghai – No. 66, Hudson Road. When the detectives arrived there, they found many bank books from various banks in Shanghai, with deposits totaling 47,000 yuan. These were all funds provided by the Communist International through the Far East Bureau for the activities of the Communist Party and Red Trade Union organizations in the Far East and Southeast Asia.

After the arrest of Niu Lan and his wife, they were repeatedly interrogated by the police inspectors in the rented area. However, they refused to reveal their identities. However, it was only after some time that the police inspector finally found out the true situation of Niu Lan and his wife through other means.

First, on June 22, 1931, Xiang Zhongfa, who was the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, was arrested in Shanghai. This man immediately defected, and in his confession he also gave an account of Niu Lan’s situation. He said: “The head of the Eastern Department of the Communist International in Shanghai, formerly Mieville, has returned to China. Now a Pole is in charge. The Pole, who calls himself a Belgian, is now being held in the British Concession arrest house …… for the matter.” The Shanghai Special Zone of the Kuomintang’s Central Bureau contacted the Concession Trap House and soon confirmed the identity of the Niu Lan couple.

Then the National Government’s Consulate General in South Africa provided the country with a photograph, a group photo from the Fifth Congress of the Third International held in South Africa in 1927, which included Niu Lan and Wang Delizeng. The experts of the CIA, in cooperation with the rented police station, carefully confirmed this photo and reconfirmed that the arrested Niu Lan and his wife were important activists of the Communist International.

The true identity of Niu Lan and his wife was completely exposed.


The arrest of Mr. and Mrs. Niu Lan and the exposure of their true identities, as well as the seizure of a large amount of confidential documents and funds, caused great damage to the activities of the Communist International in China and the Far East.

First of all, it paralyzed or disintegrated almost all the organizations of the Comintern in China, because their members knew each other so well that other members had to evacuate or stop their activities in an emergency due to the arrest of Niu Lan and his wife; at the same time, it completely broke the connection between the Chinese Communist Party organizations and the Comintern.

In addition, the arrest of Niu Lan and his wife also affected other communist organizations in Asia: according to the documents seized from Niu Lan, the British Concession authorities confirmed that a branch of the Far East Bureau of the Communist International had been established in Hong Kong not long before – the “Southern Bureau”, also known as the “Hong Kong Branch”. also known as the “Hong Kong Branch”. The British Concession authorities in Shanghai were in contact with the British government authorities in Hong Kong. Just a few days before Niu Lan’s arrest, the British police in Hong Kong captured an Annamese communist, Nguyen Ai Quoc, who has now been identified as the head of the Southern Bureau, Hu Chi Minh.

Meanwhile, among the documents seized from Niu Lan, several Japanese Communists with links to the Far East Bureau of the Communist International were found. The British Concession Patrol Office forwarded the materials to the Japanese government police, and the Japanese police also devoted themselves to the hunt for Japanese Communists and the Chinese Communists who were working in Japan at that time.

As a result, the Niu Lan case became a major international political case that stirred China and abroad.

After the arrest of Niu Lan and his wife, they were detained and interrogated by the British Concession Police for more than two months. On August 9, 1931, the trial of Mr. and Mrs. Niu Lan was formally held in the second branch of the Jiangsu High Court in the British Concession, and it was finally announced that Mr. and Mrs. Niu Lan would be extradited to the Nanjing National Government. On August 14, the judicial department of the national government transferred the extradited Niu Lan and his wife from Shanghai to Nanjing and put them in the prison of the Gendarmerie Command on Daochang Street in the south of the city. Although Mr. and Mrs. Niu Lan protested against the extradition on hunger strike and many Chinese (such as Song Qingling, Yang Xingfo, Lu Xun, Liu Yazi, etc.) and international celebrities wrote to express their solidarity and support for Mr. and Mrs. Niu Lan, the Criminal Division of the Jiangsu High Court of the Nanjing Government held a public trial against Mr. and Mrs. Niu Lan on August 10, 1932, in the Jiangning District Court. The trial lasted about ten days. At 12:00 noon on August 19, 1932, the trial ended and the presiding judge, Mr. Li, read out the verdict against Mr. and Mrs. Niu Lan: “Niu Lan and Wang Deli have committed all the evidence of crimes, including disturbing the peace, colluding with traitors, inciting the army, and breaking discipline, and have actually violated the ‘Law on Emergency Punishment against the Republic of China’. Article 1, paragraphs 1, 3, and 4, Article 2, paragraphs 1 and 2, and Article 6, and Article 74 of the Criminal Law of the Republic of China, each shall be sentenced to death. I hereby impose a sentence of life imprisonment on each of them in accordance with Article 2 of the Amnesty Ordinance.”

After the court’s decision, Mr. and Mrs. Niu Lan were sent to the First Model Prison of Jiangsu Province in Tigers Bridge, downtown Nanjing, to serve their sentence.

Mr. and Mrs. Niu Lan were imprisoned in Nanjing for six years. Until the Lugou Bridge Incident broke out in July 1937, the war of Japanese invasion soon burned to Shanghai and Nanjing. In August and September, Japanese planes began to bomb Nanjing, and some of the houses in Jiangsu No. 1 Prison were also re-bombed. In November, the Japanese army occupied Shanghai and approached Nanjing. In the confusing moment before the Japanese army captured Nanjing, the Nanjing National Government authorities released Niu Lan and his wife under the name of “deportation”. From Shanghai, the Niu Lan couple went to the Shanghai Concession, and the following year, they left China on a Soviet passenger ship and returned to the Soviet Union.

The sensational “Niu Lan Case” lasted for about six years before it was ended due to the war between China and Japan. Some even confuse the “Niu Lan Case” of 1931 with the “Strange Westerners Case” of 1935. In fact, the latter was the activity of another Soviet intelligence system, the Intelligence Department of the General Staff of the Red Army of the Soviet Union (GEBU for short), in China.