File No. 135/2–5.

Minister Rockhill to the Secretary of State.

No. 669.]

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the department’s instructions No. 299, of May 31 last (File No. 135–1), inclosing a dispatch from the American consul-general at Tientsin on the subject of the stamping of deeds for real estate, situate outside of treaty ports, purchased by missionaries, with the characters “kung ch’an,” so as to prevent the alienation of such foreign-owned lands and houses for other purposes.

Under date of May 17 last, the consul-general at Hankow reported that certain property in the vicinity of Hankow had been purchased by individual American missionaries and afterwards sold by them to foreigners for purposes of summer residence, and that this had occasioned a bitter dispute with the local officials, This circumstance, in all probability, gave rise to the order of the Wai-wu Pu, mentioned in Mr. Ragsdale’s dispatch. To this communication I replied, under date of May 27, that the legation saw no reason for interfering in the matter, which seemed to be one for local settlement. Since then there has been no further report.

Later the legation received a communication dated June 19, from W. B. Seabury of the Yale Mission at Changsha (copy inclosed), on the subject of the stamping of mission deeds, but with the additional feature that Changsha is an open port. Inasmuch as a similar case had been taken up by the British legation with the Wai-wu Pu for a British missionary society—located at Changsha—in which it was finally agreed that the deed should be stamped by the local authorities with characters signifying “This is mission property,” I advised Mr. Seabury to allow his mission deeds to be stamped in the same manner, and that the question of the mission’s right to alienate the property would be met when it arose, if it ever should arise.

As stated in my letter to Mr. Seabury, I also see no particular objection to stamping the deeds with characters indicating that the land be held for mission purposes, and the character employed, viz, “kung ch’an,” may be fairly held to indicate this.

“Kung ch’an “means public real property, but not government property. Any piece of real estate owned by an organization, such as a guild, company, community, church, etc., is properly called “kung ch’an.” The missionaries should have the property deeded to the missionary society or the native church, as they prefer, and the words “kung ch’an” will then be clearly understood as referring to the property of said society. The words used in the Chinese text of our last treaty are “Wei chiao hui kung ch’an”—i. e., “as the public property of the churches (church societies)” translated in the English text, “as the property of such societies” (Art. XIV). The words [Page 208] in the English text “For missionary purposes “are given in the Chinese text as “i pei ch’uan chiao chih yung,” which is an excellent translation, and would be applicable to purchases for mission purposes, whether made by missionary societies or by an individual unaffiliated missionary.

I have, etc.,

W. W. Rockhill.
[Inclosure 1.]

Consul-General Martin to Minister Rockhill.

Sir: I have the honor to call your attention to a condition that exists here at present. About one year before I came here as consul-general three missionaries, American citizens of Norwegian birth, purchased in their own names a hill known as “Chi Kung Shan,” located partly in Hupeh and partly in Honan, and which is near the Hankau and Peking Railway station at Sin Tien, about six hours from Hankau.

It appears that when the missionaries purchased the hill from the owners the Chinese officials knew all about it, and after looking over the title and measurement of the land stamped the deeds. The said missionaries built one or two houses thereon and lived in them. Nothing was said nor was any complaint made for a year or two. In 1906, some merchants of Hankau, finding that a cool place was so advantageously situated, went up one after another to examine it, with the result that the missionaries consented to sell them lots and give them title when said merchants could get permission from the Chinese Government to live there. Instead of waiting till the permission was obtained, they began building at once. Last summer the Chinese officials raised an objection to their building there, and as almost all nationalities represented in Hankau were interested there was a meeting of the consular body called and a resolution passed requesting Mr. E. H. Eraser, the British consul-general, to take up the matter, as the Doyen, with the Chinese officials. This he did with the viceroy, who said that as far as he was concerned arrangements might be made, but that it would have to be taken up with the Wai-wu Pu, and promised to do so.

A few months ago I received a communication from one taotai, Hsu, stating that he had been sent by the governor of Honan to see me about Chi Kung Shan. He insisted that the merchants had no right there, and I told him I was well aware of it. He then accused the missionaries of buying their land in an underhand way for the purpose of selling it at a large profit. He therefore requested that I at once command the missionaries to return the deeds and receive the original price of the land. I informed him that the missionaries purchased the land from the owners, and the Chinese official was well acquainted with the fact at the time and stamped the deeds. While the treaty says missionary societies may purchase land and build thereon, it does not bar the Chinese officials from giving the privilege to the individual missionary. If, however, they believed that the American missionaries, with their stamped deeds, were trespassing or breaking the treaty, the United States has created a superior court, which will hold session in Hankow, before which said missionaries could be tried, and if found guilty would be dealt with by the court, but that they must formulate their charge. This they declined to do, but insisted on my commanding them to get out. A few days ago a proclamation was issued forbidding any contractors or coolies to perform labor there under penalty of imprisonment. They are now demanding that all the houses shall be torn down and the land restored to the Chinese. A meeting of the consular body was held on the 15th instant, when it was decided to have Consul-General Fraser arrange, if possible, with the viceroy to take the houses at cost and to rent them at a fixed percentage. I have so far refused to acknowledge the invalidity of the missionaries’ deeds, because it may jeopardize a large amount of property that in other years was deeded to the individual missionary but is used by the society of which he is a member. I fear that these missionaries bought the property on Chi Kung Shan for the purpose of a summer resort, and depended upon the consuls to get [Page 209] permission from the Chinese Government to allow nonmissionaries to live there. There is no doubt that the land was of little value and the people living about there very poor. If a resort were established there it would be a great benefit, not only to the natives who carry the loads and the farmers who grow the vegetables, but it would put thousands of taels per year in the coffers of the railway company and at the same time be a great blessing to the families located in Hankow who could not, for various reasons, go to a more distant resort. There is but one American merchant who owns property there, and I have warned him before he purchased it that he would have no redress whatever happened. The viceroy seems inclined to be reasonable in the matter, but the party who seems determined to make trouble is the governor of Honan.

I am, etc.,

Wm. Martin.
[Inclosure 2.]

Mr. Seabury to Minister Rockhill.

My Dear Sir: In view of certain differences of opinion as regards foreigners holding land in this city, we wish to write to you and secure instruction on this important question.

Having secured property within the walled city of Changsha, we find that the officials are unwilling to stamp our deeds without our inserting the two characters “kung ch’an.” Believing at first that it was an imposition upon us to urge this demand we have steadily refused to comply, until we find recently considerably divergent opinions on the propriety of this course.

Believing Changsha to be an open port, it appeared to us contrary to treaty right to allow ourselves to be limited as holders of land here. Mr. Giles, the former British consul here, strengthened us in this opinion by writing: “I have at last wrung from the Chinese authorities an explicit written statement to the effect that the city is open to foreigners, whether merchants, missionaries, or others, for trading and all other lawful purposes.”

Further reinforced by an interview with Mr. Coolidge, secretary of legation at Peking, and Mr. Williams, Chinese secretary, and following the advice of our consul-general at Hankow, Mr. William Martin, we have not thus far yielded. But the British minister has sent instructions to the British consul here that the two characters may be written on the deeds of British subjects. It is also acknowledged that the local officials have received instructions from their superiors in Peking to require the insertion of the expression in all deeds involving the holding of property by foreigners.

We beg to be informed as to whether we shall follow the precedent furnished by those who are having their deeds stamped with the inclusion of these characters, or whether we shall suffer our deeds to remain unstamped because we refuse to allow the expression to appear.

Very respectfully,

W. B. Seabury.
[Inclosure 3.]

Minister Rockhill to Mr. Seabury.

No. 717.]

Sir: Replying to your communication of the 19th instant on the subject of stamping by the Chinese authorities of deeds for land purchased by your mission at Changsha, I have the honor to inform you that this legation, after consultation with the British legation, sees no reason to object to your deeds being stamped in the same manner as was finally agreed upon in the case of the British deeds, i. e., with the words “this is mission property.” If in the future it should be desirable to dispose of the property the legation will then take up the matter in your behalf, if necessary. You should see to it that your deed is stamped in the identic characters finally agreed upon to be employed in the case of the British deeds for mission property.

I am, etc.,

W. W. Rockhill.