Mr. Hay to Mr. Conger.

No. 468.]

Sir: I have the honor to inclose herewith for your information copy of a dispatch from Mr. John Fowler, consul of the United States at Chefoo, with regard to the question of the establishment of our own post-offices in the foreign treaty ports in China, as it is understood [Page 223] by the Department is the practice with the British, German, Japanese, French, and Russian Governments.

While this is a matter which concerns the Postmaster-General, the Department of State would not make any recommendation to the Postmaster-General in this particular without a full report from you, setting forth the importance of the step.

The second question treated in Mr. Fowler’s dispatch is the right of the Chinese Government to collect a 5 per cent duty on purchases made in China of foreign origin which have paid duty on entry into China, and, incidentally, or, rather, more particularly, the right to collect a duty on shipments of a private character destined for consular officers in China.

The Department is of the opinion that objects of foreign origin bought in China and shipped to another point in China should be free of duty. The final protocol (Article VI, paragraph e) provides for a “5 percent effective on maritime imports;” that is, original imports—imports from a foreign country—and any other interpretation of it so as to make it include coastwise duties, or any other description of import tax, is believed to be without justification.

As to original imports into China through the mails, the Department sees no reason why we should ask for the privilege of having them exempted from import duty, even though it may be that such imports through the other foreign post-offices established in China escape the payment of this duty. It would seem but equitable that so long as the Chinese Government does not insist that foreign imports through foreign mails shall pay the regular customs duties that it should not collect such customs duties on imports from the United States or any other country which has not its own postal service in China. This concession might be asked of the Chinese Government, but not as a matter of right.

As to the right of a consular officer to import free of duty goods for his own personal use and consumption, he is not entitled to any such privilege. Even the importation of official consular supplies free of duty is not granted in all countries. In the United States we only grant it to the consular officers of such countries as give us similar privileges. In case of goods destined for a diplomatic representative, this is another matter entirely.

You will use your good offices with regard to the correction of apparent abuse of the collection of the 5 per cent duty on purchases made in China of goods of foreign origin which have paid a duty on entry into China; but in the matter of the exemption from import duty of original imports into China through the mails, the Department does not deem it advisable that any action be taken until it has received a report from you as to the advisability of the establishment of our own post-offices in the foreign treaty ports of China.

I am, etc.,

John Hay.

Mr. Fowler to the Secretary of State.a

No. 429.]

Sir: I have the honor to draw the Department’s attention to its dispatch to me, No. 134 of February 6, 1901, acknowledging receipt of my various dispatches regarding [Page 224] the abuses of the Chinese postal service, and respectfully but urgently request that you will kindly take up those dispatches, as well as those previously written by me on same matter.

I now renew this subject by inclosing copy of Minister Conger’s dispatch to me, No. 1276 of December 24, and my reply of this date, No. 465, with its several inclosures. Unfortunately, this correspondence involves two great questions: The Chinese (customs) postal service. (This title must be maintained, although it styles itself “The Imperial Chinese post.” The Chinese officials have absolutely nothing to do with it, it being exclusively under the control of the foreign customs, while, on the other hand, the Chinese Government does maintain an imperial postal service under the control of the board of war at Pekin.)

The second question involved in the right to collect a 5 per cent duty on purchases made in China of foreign origin which have paid duty on entry into China. To explain this clearly to you, if I wish to send my watch to Shanghai to be cleaned now, I must pay 5 per cent duty on it, and it can not be cleaned here. All the drinking water used in my house comes from Shanghai. It is simply triple-distilled Shanghai River water (water in Chefoo is unfit to drink), and yet 5 per cent duty is collected here on that plain drinking water. Suppose you live in Alexandria, Va., and this system prevailed, you would have to pay 5 per cent duty on everything you purchased in Washington, with this difference, You can get food, water, clothing, etc., in Alexandria; and if your friends send you presents you must also pay. If you have presents from abroad (our fourth-class mail, under 4 pounds), you must pay extra postage from Washington to Alexandria and the duty.

As to the assessment of this duty, it can be obviated by declaring it nonoperative on household stores, supplies, etc., purchased in China, and on articles in the mails.

As to the postal service, all you have to do is to ask the Post-Office Department to revoke its instruction, No. 133311 to the consul-general at Shanghai and instruct him to forward all mail matter in sealed sacks to the consuls by the very first ship leaving for their port.

Having done this, follow the example of the foreign powers, Great Britain, Germany, France, Russia, and Japan, and establish our own post-offices at each consulate, as Revised Statutes, section 4023, fully authorizes you to do. The French, German, Russian, and Japanese mails arrive here on first ship irrespective of flag. Our American mails, being handed to customs at Shanghai by our consul-general (all but first-class mail) in the bags made up and addressed in San Francisco to the various ports, without being opened in our Shanghai consulate, are sent only in those steamers under their control. We are thus often kept a week, when, had the mails been put on board a steamer as the others do, we would receive it when they do.

To illustrate: The Chinese foreign customs post will not place our mails on steamers flying the American, German, Japanese, or Russian flag, but only on those belonging to the Chinese company, Butterfield & Swire, and Jardines, the last two being granted especial shipping privileges (in violation of treaties), not for carrying the mails, but for refusing to carry any mails not placed on board by the Chinese customs; whereas the foreign powers send their mails by the very first steamer, no matter what flag it flies.

Another illustration: The Russian post here will receive and deliver, without extra cost, all international mails for Port Arthur and Newchwang, delivery within three days at latter place, but, like all the foreign posts, refuses customs mail (Chinese). The customs, instead of handing the American mail over to the Russian for delivery at Newchwang, etc., when it would be received free of cost, keep control of it and send it to Chinwantao, thence overland to Newchwang, etc., and charge domestic (customs) postage on all letters, and double domestic rates on fourth-class matter, in spite of the fact that they have paid full union rates; but all this has been fully treated in my dispatches to you, and will show how they have violated their promises to deliver this mail free to us.

Under separate cover I send you the portions of the wrappers of my parcels (fourth-class United States mail) on which I was assessed extra postage. You will see that the Chinese stamps were affixed and canceled here, and, besides, I was mulcted $2.42 duty ($2.34 gold carried them to China in United States mails, while it cost me $4.22 Mexican extra to receive them at the first port after arrival in China).

I again respectfully urge you to establish our own offices where we have consuls and let us have the same treatment as other nationalities, and trust that you will have the interpretation of Sir Robert Hart—that we shall pay 5 per cent on our necessities purchased in China—abolished, for not only does this affect every foreigner in China, but unless stopped will surely decrease a lucrative trade from the United States.

[Page 225]

Since the above was written I have received a small package from the British colony of Hongkong. It came via Shanghai in customs mail, but no extra postage was charged, yet I had to pay 25 cents duty. It was a Christmas present, so thus far this year I have paid $4.47. The contents of this package were a silver pencil holder, a silver case bag, both of Chinese origin and manufacture, and, even under the protocol, not dutiable; but the customs must exist, and just so long as our Government allows them to tax us, just so long will Americans suffer. The wrapper is inclosed with those from the United States.

In conclusion, as to postal service, I need only remind you of my cable of June 20, 1900, informing you how this service had taken charge of our telegrams for Minister Conger, Admiral Kempff, and others, and refused to deliver them to me, necessitating my demanding copies from the telegraph office. Truly the Emperor was right when he issued his edict authorizing Sir Robert Hart to organize this “We shall then be able to keep the enemies’ letters out.” The tariff does not affect the merchant. In some instances he is better off now. It does not affect the Chinese in any way. The Empress Dowager in twenty days in October received 20,000,000 taels from sale of offices. She is not affected. It is only the foreigner (nonmerchant) and, above all, Americans that now suffer.

I have, etc.,

John Fowler, Consul.
  1. Inclosures to this dispatch not printed.