Mr. Conger to Mr. Hay.

No. 1766.]


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With regard to the various rumors of an antiforeign movement among the people of China, I have the honor to report as follows: During the past year I have received information at various times of the existence and activity of certain secret societies in the provinces of Shensi, Kansuh, Hupeh Kiangsi, Honan, Chihli, Shantung, Kuang-tung, and Kuangsi, Such societies have existed under various names [Page 201]during the whole period of the Manchu rule. As a result local rebellions occur nearly every year. At present such a rebellion exists in the province of Kuangsi. The aim of these societies is the overthrow of the present Manchu dynasty. At times, however, they have instigated attacks upon foreigners, either with a view to embroiling the central Government in a conflict with the powers, as was attempted in 1891, or to punish foreigners for what was believed to be a systematic planning to partition the territory of China among the Western powers, to exploit her resources, and to subvert her religious, social, and political institutions. Such was the Boxer uprising of 1900.

At present these societies are not unusually active except in the province of Kuangsi, and the movement there is wholly anti-dynastic. I have the honor to state that I was yesterday informed by the board of foreign affairs that recent telegrams from the disturbed region report a considerable battle as having been fought a few days ago, in which the rebels were completely routed, leaving between 400 and 500 dead upon the field. One of the principal leaders is said to have been captured, and his followers driven to their hiding places among the mountains. It was admitted, however, that a whole camp (500 men) had deserted quite recently to the rebels, and had attempted to cross the border of Kueichou. This band I was assured had been surrounded and cut down almost to a man.

The uprising in Kiangsi was confined to one district and was directed against the district magistrate, whose yamen was burned. That in Hupeh was also directed against the Government, and was wholly futile. I was informed yesterday by a minister of the foreign office that three of the leaders had been arrested and that two had already been decapitated. There has been no outbreak at all in Shensi, but the Kolao hui is said to be recruiting there. This is the society which stirred up the Yangtze Valley in 1891. Its aims are revolutionary, and the missionaries in Shensi and Kansuh have naturally been afraid that if an outbreak should occur they might become the objects of hostile attack.

In March last I received a complaint from American missionaries in northern Shantung against a secret society operating in Te-chou, near the border of Chihli, and at once communicated with the board of foreign affairs. On the 7th of April I received a reply, saying that the governor of Shantung had ordered an investigation, but knew nothing of such a society as that mentioned. During the summer rumors began to circulate of a secret society operating in the same region as well as in the adjoining districts of the provinces of Chihli and Honan, and late in August a letter was received from American missionaries at Ta-ming, in this province, saying that an anonymous placard had been posted on the walls of their compound threatening an attack on the 15th of the seventh moon (August 25). The attention of the authorities was immediately called to the affair, and investigation was very promptly made and troops stationed near the mission for its protection. The report of the local authorities, however, was to the effect that the rumors of impending trouble were wholly groundless, and that no society was planning an attack upon the missionaries. About the same time that this report came to hand I received a communication from an American missionary, telling of the revival of a Boxer society in the district of Tung-o, in western Shantung, and not far from the above-mentioned prefecture of Taming, [Page 202]in Chihli. The letter inclosed a copy of a placard being circulated, which was an exact transcript of one used by the Boxers in 1900. The letter further complained of the persecution of native Christians by the said society. The matter having been reported to the foreign office, steps were at once taken to redress the wrongs of the Christians and to punish the guilty parties. An imperial edict was issued referring to the reports of the plots of secret societies in Shan tung, Honan, and Chihli, and directing the provincial authorities to take prompt and effective measures for the suppression of these societies, the protection of the missionaries, and the punishment of the leaders of the movement. The two principals in the Tung-o affair were arrested, and compensation paid to one of the native Christians, who had been wrongfully imprisoned and who had been compelled to pay considerable sums of money to the yamen underlings. The district magistrate, by whose connivance or negligence this injustice had been allowed, was removed, and proclamations were issued warning the people against any disturbance of the peace.

I have the honor to report further with reference to this case that within a few days past I have received a note from the board of foreign affairs informing me that it had been finally disposed of by the release of the two leaders under bonds to avoid any further disturbance of the peace, the bondsmen being respectable and responsible citizens of the district. Rev. F. M. Chapin, the American missionary interested, also writes that the settlement is satisfactory, and has sent me copies of the bonds given.

While this case was pending word was received at this legation of an active enlistment of members by a secret society, known as the Ts’ai Yuan T’ang, in the prefecture of Chang-te, in Honan, and that of Shun-te, in Chihli, both places on the Hankow-Peking Railway, and situated, respectively, southwest and northwest of the above-mentioned prefecture of Ta-ming, distant from the latter, the one 50 and the other about 80 miles. Two Americans, who visited the districts mentioned after these reports had been received, assured me that while the society undoubtedly existed and was rapidly spreading they were everywhere received with the greatest courtesy, and that the movement appeared to be directed aganst the Manchu government. On October 11 a letter was received from Chang-te inclosing placards circulated by the society and giving further details as to the organization. It reported an attempted uprising about 16 miles to the east of Chang-te a few days before the letter was written. A few hundreds of armed men marched through several towns and villages trying to arouse the people to rebellion, but met with a cool reception and, after trying to raid a fair, dispersed. They had announced it to be their purpose to march on the city of Chang-te, into which they were to be admitted by their confederates in the city. The proclamations issued evidence intense hostility to mission work, railways, telegraphs, steamships, and to foreigners and all their inventions.

I have the honor to state further that before this letter came to hand I had already called the attention of the foreign office to the reports in circulation, and had been assured in a note, dated October 3, that (1) the rumors as to Shun-te were baseless; (2) that a society of bandits had been discovered at Tz’u Chou, in this province [Page 203](Chihli), and several of its members arrested. (Tz’u Chou is about 50 miles south of Shun-te and the same distance west of Ta-ming. It is also on the Hankow-Peking Railway, near the border of Honan Province, and some 30 miles north of the prefectural city of Chang-te, above referred to.) The foreign office reported (3) that the governor of Honan had informed them of the arrest and execution of two members of the society at Anyang, in that province. An imperial edict of December 11 says:

Some time ago we received a memorial from Hsii-lin, a supervising censor, with regard to a rebellious society in Ho-shuo (in Honan), the membership in which was rapidly increasing, stating that the local authorities and the constabulary were inefficient. We at once issued a decree, commanding Yüan Shih-k’ai to make a thorough investigation and report to us. We have now received his report, saying that the leaders in the trouble stirred up by the rebellious society at Ho-shuo had all been arrested, and that the band had been scattered, but that the local officials had repeatedly been guilty of carelessness in regard to these cases of pillage, and had not conscientiously exerted themselves to search out and arrest the guilty parties.* * * We hereby decree that Brigadier-General Lang Kuei-lin, of Ho-pei Chen, be removed from office, and that the district magistrate of Hsin-hsiang be cashiered. We also command Ch’en K’uei-lung (governor of Honan) to exercise care in the administration of the civil and military affairs of his province, and to have them thoroughly overhauled and put in order. As for the rest of the memorial, let matters be dealt with as proposed.

An American engineer, who returned to Peking two weeks ago after a journey through the region concerned, informed me that he was everywhere treated with great courtesy, but that one of the officials whom he had met told him that the secret society men were getting arms and drilling, and that their aims were antidynastic.

A recent memorial of the imperial commissioner, T’ieh Liang, sent to central China to investigate financial and military conditions, declares that the Empire is everywhere infested with these rebellious societies, the people being driven to their organization by the extra taxes levied to meet the indemnity due the powers.

In conclusion I have the honor to state that, in my opinion, while more or less disaffection exists throughout the country, it is not unusual in extent or character. The secret societies are chiefly antidynastic in their aims, but are also hostile to foreigners, and, were they able to effect a general rising, Avould undoubtedly attack foreigners as well as the imperial officers, civil and military. But these societies are scattered over an enormous extent of country, widely separated one from another, and not working in harmony. Every attempt to create a disturbance has been futile so far, except in Kuangsi, and there the rebels hold nothing but their mountain fastnesses. The central Government is alert and determined to prevent any disturbance of the peace, and seems to be abundantly able to repress any outbreak that is likely to occur, and earnest in its efforts to protect all foreign lives and property. I can therefore see no occasion for anxiety.

I have, etc.,

E. H. Conger.