1951: Antonio Riva and Ruichi Yamaguchi

On this date in 1951, the first two foreigners — Italian merchant Antonio Riva and Japanese bookseller Ruichi Yamaguchi — were convicted and immediately executed in Beijing for a supposed plot to assassinate Mao Zedong.

According to Time magazine’s coverage of the affair, Radio Peking said that

“the streets they passed through [en route to execution] were thronged with people who expressed their feelings .. . with shouts of ‘Down with imperialism! Suppress counterrevolutionaries! Long live Chairman Mao!'”

No relation.

Riva (English Wikipedia entry | Italian) was a World War I fighter ace who had relocated to Beijing/Peking in the 1920s to peddle aircraft and training the Chinese Koumintang.

(In 1936, Riva married Catherine Lum, the daughter of American wood block artist Bertha Lum and sister of Eleanor Peter Lum, who took after mom.)

When the guys those planes were being used against won the Chinese Civil War, Riva mulled an expedient departure, but reportedly declared (Spanish link) that he could do business under any regime type.

The Communist government decided he had a different sort of business in mind. Citing Chinese state media, the London Times (Aug. 18, 1951) described the plot thus:

the conspirators planned to fire mortar shells at a reviewing stand outside the Tien An gate of the forbidden city in Peking during a procession to celebrate China’s national day on October 1 last year.

Several others, both Chinese and foreigners, drew long prison sentences as part of the “conspiracy” uncovered in a one-hour trial. The most illustrious of those was the Italian bishop Tarcisio Martina.*

Though Riva and Yamaguchi were the first foreigners officially executed by the new Chinese government, they were far from the last. All the more remarkable, then, that in a country that carries out thousands of executions per annum, Antonio Riva is thought to have been the last European citizen put to death there until Akmal Shaikh in 2009.

The Shaikh case helped rekindle interest in Riva’s execution — a timely confluence, since a recent book, L’ uomo che doveva uccidere Mao, critiqued the case against the Italian aviator.

* American diplomat Col. David Barrett, safely beyond the reach of the Maoists at Formosa, was a supposed ringleader.

On this day..

5 thoughts on “1951: Antonio Riva and Ruichi Yamaguchi


    I happened to get across you website and I’m greatful for the memory of my father Antonio Riva killed on August 17, 1951 you recalled in 2010 issue- I just wanted to add a note.
    For your information there is a book written by my aunt Peter Lum “Peking 1950-53? in which she talks about what happened in 1951. This book has been translated in Italian by my wife in 2006 “Ritorno a Pechino 1950-53? and from this book Barbara Alighiero and others have focused back the attention on the story, This changing a previous attitude, specially among journalists which was “if it happened he should have been in some way involved”. Reason for which we never accepted interviews until five years ago.
    Nowadays at least in Italy the overall thought is – as Alighiero states in her book – that my father’s case has been created on purpose because they needed to have one. And he was unfortunately the proper person, being born in China, representing a State that had lost the War and was unable and unwilling to defend him.
    Thank you for your kind and appreciated attention

    • If you are Marco Riva who wrote to my mother Betty Robey in Sussex about Antonio Riva, could you please let me have your email address as when I was sorting through my grandfather’s papers (Dave Barrett), I came across some things which you might be interested in.

      • Hello
        I’m the brother of Marco who unfortunately passed away in 2013. In matter of fact it’s me who wrote the email.
        I’m very interested to know about your grandtather. I’ve got a couple of photos of him with my father and mother if you are interested. In the web site you can see what I wrote about my father.

      • coming back to my previous message
        I don’t know have unfortunately the email of your mother and I understand, if i’m not wrong, that I cannot place my email here.
        If possible I allow http://www.executedtoday to passed it on to you.

  2. Referring to the picture “No relation”: Thank God. Who could kill that very nice lady!

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