Mr. Gresham to Mr. Denby.
Washington, June 5, 1893.
Sir: Your dispatch numbered 1664, of the 1st of April last, has been received. You therein report the promulgation, by the Nanking officials, of a new rule in regard to the acquisition of land by Americans at that place.
This rule will result in making such acquisitions difficult, if not in fact impossible, by requiring 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.”
A similar notification having been addressed to the British consular representative at Nanking, the measure appears not to be directed especially against citizens of the United States.
Your interpretation of Article XII of the treaty of 1838 between the United States and China is clearly correct, but the terms of that convention are only applicable to the treaty ports, and Nanking is not one of these. It does not appear that the requirements announced by the taotai of Nanking is other than a local rule for that city. The adoption of such a measure at a treaty port would undoubtedly be a contravention of the treaty, being an interference by the local authorities, in advance, to prescribe initial negotiations otherwise than directly between the lessor and the lessee.
As you can not be expected to intervene in such action outside of the treaty ports, it is not clear on what ground your notification was made to the Taotai of Nanking, through the acting consul, that the proposed new rule will not be acquiesced in or acted upon by your legation. Your good offices and those of the consul at Ching-kiang should, however, be used, when available to prevent abrupt reversal of any established [Page 234]custom at Nanking whereby the tolerance heretofore accorded in this regard to foreigners there, as in other parts of China, may be impaired or destroyed. The acquisition of land by foreigners outside of the treaty ports being a matter of permission and usage, fortified by long observance, it is desirable that transactions to that end should, as far as practicable, be the same as in localities where the right is stipulated by treaty.
I am, etc.,