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The term China Marines, originally referred to the United States Marines of the 4th Marine Regiment, who were stationed in Shanghai, China from 1927 to 1941 to protect American citizens and their property in the Shanghai International Settlement, during the Chinese Revolution and the Second Sino-Japanese War. Those Marines stationed at the embassy in Peking and the consulate in Tientsin referred to themselves as North China Marines.[1]

Due to the cheap labor available, China Marines lived a relatively comfortable lifestyle, with each squad able to hire Chinese men to do their cleaning and run their errands. This, plus the inexpensive goods available on the local market, made assignment to the China Marines highly coveted.

Most of the China Marines were withdrawn in November 1941, but the North China Marines in Peking and Tientsin were scheduled to be withdrawn on December 10. (All weapons and ammunition except rifles and pistols had been crated and shipped by rail to the embarkation port.) However, Imperial Japan attacked the United States on December 7, and the Marine Embassy guards, plus a fourteen-man Naval medical detachment, a total of 203 men, were captured and held as slave labor until the war's end in August 1945. A 204th man, a retired officer who had been living in Peking and recalled to duty, was immediately released. He continued living in Peking until he was included in the roundup of civilians and sent to the Weihsien civilian internment camp in March 1943. He was returned to the states on the exchange ship Teia Maru in Sep 1943. The last commander of the China Marines was Colonel William W. Ashurst.[2]

With the rapid expansion of the Marine Corps during World War II and the capture of the rest of the 4th Marine Regiment at Corregidor, the surviving China Marines were few in number and highly regarded.

After Japan's surrender, the 1st and 6th Marine Divisions, also known as China Marines, were sent to occupy northern China from 1945 to 1948.

On January 31, 1996, Marines from the 2nd Battalion 5th Marines, as part of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU), Special Operations Capable (SOC), made their first visit to Shanghai, China, since World War II. The 31st MEU-SOC visited China again on November 22, 2006, during a port visit to Zhanjiang.[3][full citation needed]