Minister Rockhill to the Secretary of State.
Peking, May 15, 1906.
Sir: On the 9th instant, much to the surprise of everyone, an imperial edict was published creating the office of minister superintendent of customs affairs, and placing all Chinese and foreigners employed in the various branches of the customs under its control. The office of associate minister superintendent was also created by the same edict, a copy of which I inclose.
T’ieh-liang, president of the board of revenue and a very active member of the army reorganization council, is appointed minister superintendent, and the associate minister is T’ang Shao-yi, junior assistant secretary of the Wai-wu Pu. Both are very closely associated with and devoted to the viceroy, Yuan Shih-k’ai. I inclose a note on the career of T’ieh-liang; T’ang Shao-yi is well known to the department.
I deemed the publication of this edict of sufficient importance to cable the substance to you. I confirm my cablegram as follows:a
The following morning I received your telegram reading as follows:a
Later in the day I called at the foreign office, and in conversation with T’ang Shao-yi, the newly appointed associate minister of customs affairs, I asked him whether the edict would not practically cancel the pledge given by China to Great Britain and Germany in 1896 and again in 1898 in connection with the two loans, each for [Page 282]£16,000,000, made it by the powers and guaranteed by the maritime customs revenues, and in each of which (article 7 in loan of 1896 and article 6 in loan of 1898) it was stipulated that until the entire amounts of these loans were paid off China would not alter in any way the present maritime customs administration. I also referred to the declarations of the Chinese Government on February 10, 1898, and in January, 1903, that a British subject would be appointed inspector-general of customs as long as British trade preponderated.
His excellency replied that the new management was created for facilitating the transaction of the business of the customs, hence the president of the board of revenue and an assistant minister from the office of foreign affairs were placed in charge of the new department.
The revenues of the customs were already completely hypothecated and could not and would not be touched; the provisions of all treaties, agreements, pledges, and protocols made by China would be observed, and there would be an Englishman as inspector-general of customs. The inspector-general being, he added, a servant of China, as such the Chinese Government has the right to control his actions. It was for this purpose, in part, that the new administration was being established.
The British and German Governments, and in a lesser degree the French and Russian, being particularly interested in the question of the undisturbed maintenance of the present maritime customs administration, the revenues of which are largely hypothecated to them for loans made in 1896 and 1898, will probably take early opportunities to ascertain the purpose of the Chinese Government in issuing this edict.
I confirm as follows my cablegram sent you on the 10th after seeing the inspector-general of customs and his excellency T’ang Shao-yi.a
I have, etc.,