Mr. Denby to Mr. Gresham.

No. 1664.]

Sir: I have the honor to inform you that I have received from Mr. W. R. Carles, Her Britannic Majesty’s consul at Chin-kiang, in charge of United States interests during the absence of Consul Jones, a translation of a communication from Tsai, Taotai, and the commissioners of the Nanking bureau of foreign affairs, a copy whereof is herewith inclosed.

This communication relates to the leasing or purchasing lands for churches, hospitals, or cemeteries by American citizens. One of like character was addressed to Mr. Carles as British consul, and related to British missionaries. It recites that frauds have been perpetrated on missionaries in the purchase of land, and it is ostensibly designed to protect them, but the real purpose is to make it impossible for them to acquire land at all. To that end the rule is laid down that “henceforth when missionaries, or other citizens of the United States, desire to acquire land or houses, no matter where, they must first meet the gentry and elders of the place, and agree with them, and then report to the bureau of local officials for an official survey of the ground.”

This clause introduces a new element in the mode of acquiring land. Article 12 of the treaty of 1858 does not require that citizens of the United States desiring to purchase land shall submit the question to the decision of the gentry and elders. It leaves them free to purchase land, enjoins that the prices shall not be exorbitant, prohibits the local authorities from interfering unless objections are offered on the part of the inhabitants respecting the place, requires legal fees to be [Page 231]paid, provides that particular spots shall not be unreasonably insisted on, and enjoins justice and moderation.

The clause above quoted from the communication of the Taotai is so distinctly antagonistic to the above article of the treaty that I have directed Mr. Carles to notify the Taotai that it will not be acquiesced in or acted on by this legation.

I have, etc.,

Charles Denby.
[Inclosure in No. 1664.]

Bureau of Foreign Affairs at Nanking to U. S. Consul.

Tsai, Taotai, and commissioner of the Nanking bureau of foreign affairs, makes a communication to Consul Jones.

Missionaries and other citizens of the United States at Nanking, when leasing or purchasing houses or lands for churches, hospitals, or cemeteries, before they obtain the lease are required by regulations to report the matter to the local authority, who, after satisfying himself that the feng shui of the neighborhood is not interfered with, authorizes the completion of the conveyance, and, after registering the sale as required by law, affixes his seal to the deed held by the purchaser.

Such has been the regular course of procedure, but of late a lot of scoundrels have devoted themselves to making money by fraudulent dealings with foreigners in lands, the titles of which are complicated or obscure; there are few who fail to fall into their traps, so clever are the arguments which they employ. They are naturally afraid that if an official inspection is made of the land it will be difficult to blind the eyes of the authorities, and the missionaries, through their anxiety to settle the affair quickly, neglect to take thought for the future and are tricked by these men into not complying, with the regulations. Later on, when the rights of the case have been officially represented by the gentry, the local authorities have attempted to effect some satisfactory arrangement with the missionaries and have discovered to them the fraudulent tricks with the object of affording them protection, but the latter obstinately gloss over the wrong-doing and refuse to accept any compromise, with the result that in end there are delays which extend over many years without a settlement of the case being arrived at, an instance of haste not effecting speed.

Although among the missionaries there are some who have no lack of intelligence, who transact their business in conformance with regulations, there are others who are played upon to acquire land too hastily.

This bureau has accordingly laid down a plain rule that henceforth, when missionaries or other citizens of the United States desire to acquire land or houses, no matter where, they must first meet the gentry and elders of the place, and agree with them and then report to the bureau and local officials for an official survey of the ground.

On its being found that the feng shui of the neighborhood is not prejudiced, the execution of the conveyance will be ordered, and the official tax receipt and title deed will be sealed and forwarded through this bureau to your consulate for delivery.

This course will prevent complications and expedite matters while diminishing correspondence, one measure thus securing several good objects. The consul’s intimate knowledge of the circumstances of the case will doubtless induce him to readily accept this course of action.

It is the Taotai’s duty accordingly to communicate with him and to express the hope that he will see fit to give instruction to missionaries that in future, when leasing or purchasing land or houses they must conform to these rules, and will also inform them that if the rules are intentionally defied and irregular sales or purchases are effected, deeds for such lands will not receive the official seal, irrespective of whether the titles are complicated or not. If missionaries and others purposely set the regulations at defiance and are outwitted, this bureau and the local officials must decline to entertain any question of complication arising therefrom.

This bureau in asking this is prompted by the desire to take precautionary measures to safeguard foreigners’ interests.

A necessary communication.