File No. 893.01/35.
Chargé MacMurray to the Secretary of State.
Peking , September 7, 1915 .
Sir: Referring to my telegrams of August 25, September 2 and September 4, on the subject of the agitation in favor of a restoration of the monarchical form of government in China, I have the honor to report as follows:
For some months past there have been rumors, vague at first, but becoming gradually more definite, that President Yuan Shih-k’ai was maturing a plan for the transformation of the Republic into a monarchy, and taking the throne as the founder of a new dynasty. From several usually trustworthy sources I received, as early as mid-June, information to the effect that the Committee of Ten, entrusted with the drafting of the permanent Constitution, was being carefully “handpicked” with a view to its embodying in the Constitution provisions for the reestablishment of a monarchy, and then demanding that the Legislature, which would in due course have been selected with like care, should be convened in order that it might in the name of the people of China decide whether or not the proposed change in the form of government should be made—the President meanwhile deprecating, with the appropriate degree of earnestness, any action tending to force on him responsibilities more lofty than he had assumed as President of the Republic. Despite the character of the sources from which this information reached me, I attached slight importance to it at the time, believing that while certain influences might be intriguing to that end, it was scarcely credible that so shrewd a politician as the President should choose for such a purpose (even if he entertained it) a time when the personnel of the Government was engaged in bitter factional strife, when the finances of the country were being carried on in hand-to-mouth fashion, when the balance of power in China was destroyed by the European War, when new revolutionary movements were believed to be forming, and when the prestige of his administration was suffering from the yielding of the concessions which the Japanese Government had demanded and enforced by its ultimatum of May 7. Such plans as were being made were in fact worked out with a degree of secrecy altogether unusual in this country; and for some weeks there appeared to be no concrete indications tending to confirm the reports referred to above.
The first tangible evidence of anything stirring beneath the., surface was an interview (of which the account given in the Peking Gazette of July 7 is enclosed herewith)17 in which the President rebuked General Feng Kuo-chang, military governor of Kiangsu Province, for urging upon him the suggestion that he assume the throne. This abjuration said so much more than would have been necessary to a staged disclaimer of any monarchical aspirations, that it had all the appearance of genuineness.
The next development in the movement was associated with the coming of the American Constitutional Adviser, Dr. Frank J. Goodnow, [Page 49] who had returned to Peking in the middle of July for a short visit. Shortly after his arrival, Dr. Goodnow was asked by the President to prepare for his own information a memorandum on the respective merits of the republican and monarchical forms of government, with particular reference to conditions in China. In entire good faith, though, as the event has proved, with perhaps too little wariness as to the use which might be made of it, Dr. Goodnow, in response to this request, prepared a memorandum (of which a copy, as printed in the Peking Daily News of August 20 is enclosed herewitha) in which he outspokenly set forth the view that theoretically and in the abstract the monarchical form is the better suited to the genius and traditions and present political development of the Chinese, but expressly disclaimed any judgment on the question whether the conditions actually existing would render feasible or expedient a change from the republican to the monarchical system. I understand that he also discussed the matter with the President in the same sense, making it clear that as a question of practical politics the matter involved considerations of fact as to which no foreigner is competent to form a judgment, and which must be decided by those responsible for the destinies of the country.
At the end of the second week of August, a monarchical propaganda, professedly based upon Dr. Goodnow’s advice, was begun with an amazing suddenness that appears to indicate careful preparation in advance. In spite of the reservations with which Dr. Goodnow had qualified his memorandum for the President, it began to be quoted in the Chinese press (as cited in the enclosed clipping from the Peking Gazette of August 14)17 as maintaining categorically the bald thesis that “a monarchical system of government is better than a republican system”; and he was thenceforward referred to as supporting or even as having inspired the monarchical movement. On August 16 there appeared in the press the manifesto of an organization calling itself the Ch’ou An Hui or Peace Planning Society, newly formed for the purpose of “devising means for keeping peace in this country” and for expounding “views concerning the future of our country and the advantages and disadvantages accruing from the republican form of government,” which was based upon the declaration that “Dr. Goodnow has stated that a monarchy is a better form of government than republicanism, and according to his opinion a monarchical form of government is most indispensable at present for China”. (For translation see enclosed clipping from the Peking Gazette of August 16).b Dr. Goodnow found it necessary to repudiate the views thus attributed to him, in an interview which appeared in the Peking Gazette of August 18 (of which a copy is enclosed herewith);c and with the permission of the President he also caused the full text of his memorandum to be published in the Peking Daily News of August 20. Even the publication of his memorandum, however, did not put an end to the misquotation of his views by the adherents of the Ch’ou An Hui, who continued to refer to his advice in support of their propaganda; and [Page 50] as late as August 24, in the society’s circular telegram to which reference is made hereafter, Dr. Goodnow’s views were cited in a passage of which the following is a translation made by the Chinese Secretary of the Legation:
The United States is the foremost Republic in the world. Dr. Goodnow, the great American scholar in the science of government, says that a monarchy is really better than a republic, and that China especially cannot do without the monarchical form of government. This opinion is held not only by Dr. Goodnow, but by many other well-known scholars. As Dr. Goodnow is a citizen of a republic, he is very familiar with both the advantages and failures of the republican form of government. Moreover, he says that conditions in America and China are different, and that the institutions of the one country cannot be forcibly transplanted to the other.
Dr. Goodnow consequently found himself placed in a false light, and in order to clear up his position he brought pressure to bear upon certain of his official associates who were in a position to influence the leaders of the Ch’ou An Hui, with the result that a notice to the following effect was published in the Chinese press on August 28:
With reference to the discussion of the question “Monarchy or Republic”, Dr. Goodnow has made no statement other than that contained in the memorandum which he presented to the President. Lest there should be any apprehension on the subject, we hereby specially issue this notice.
Ch’ou An Hui.
In the earliest days of its formation, the Ch’ou An Hui was scarcely taken seriously by outside observers. Even when there was published an interview (of which the translation appearing in the Peking Gazette of August 17 is enclosed herewith)17 in which the President, referring to the activities of that society, said
As to the people of the country * * * it is quite reasonable for them to discuss the best method which will ensure them permanent peace and happiness. * * * How can I interfere with such a movement, merely for the reason that such a movement would tend to misrepresent me to the public as a person who entertains some doubtful and suspicious ambition? * * * If it does not tend to disturb the order of the country, there is no necessity for the Government to take measures to interfere with it—
even then, the apparent inopportuneness of the times, the comparative obscurity of those who were known as its adherents, and the shallowness and obvious insincerity of its propaganda, all tended to induce the belief that the movement was no more than a ballon d’essai—an activity which the President countenanced, perhaps with a view to its revealing whether or not the temper of the country would admit of such a possibility now or at some later occasion, but which he in all probability regarded as a means of quieting the enthusiasts and the sycophants by letting them batter their heads against an impossibility.
But meanwhile the Ch’ou An Hui throve immensely. In addition to the original manifesto (quoted in the enclosure from the Peking Gazette of the 16th ultimo), it issued a prospectus and notifications (which are enclosed herewith in translation from the Peking Gazette of August 21)17 and a circular telegram to the civil and military governors of the provinces, to the lieutenant generals, and to the chambers of commerce and popular bodies of the provinces, expressing the belief that the republican form of government is not [Page 51] suitable to China (of which a translation, as printed in the Peking Daily News of the 25th ultimo is enclosed herewith);17 and its chief promoter, Mr. Young Tu, published an elaborate “Defense of the Monarchical Movement” (of which I enclose a translation as printed in the Peking Daily News, of August 26, 27 and 28);17 it attained the distinction of having its leaders interviewed by Mr. B. L. Simpson (Putnam Weale); it acquired the rather more substantial dignity of having its views and purposes contested with eloquent and apparently sincerely patriotic earnestness by Mr. Liang Ch’i-ch’iao, recently Minister of Justice, in an interview printed in the Peking Gazette of the 31st ultimo (of which a copy is enclosed),17 and in an article (of which a translation, as printed in the Gazette of September 4 and 6, is enclosed);17 and, most important of all, it contrived to receive from the civil and military governors and others, to whom its circular was addressed, most encouragingly acquiescent replies—which, for the most part, embody the ideas and the terms which the society professed to quote from the memorandum which Dr. Goodnow had submitted for the information of President Yuan. There were obstacles to the progress of the society; according to a report quoted in the Peking Gazette of August 23 (of which a copy is enclosed),17 the President in conversation with the Secretary of State, on August 19, discreetly discountenanced the movement by declaring,
If a few shortsighted people attempt to compel me to adopt an unrighteous course I shall have no alternative but to take refuge in a foreign land, as I cannot break my solemn oath;
and about the same time there was talk of an impeachment to be lodged against its members by the censorate, on the ground of their indulging in a movement subversive of the existing Government; but the chief censor had found it expedient to get to one of the foreign concessions in Tientsin before it was even known to the general public that this suggestion had originated with him.
It has now appeared that, back of all this rather puerile agitation on the part of the Ch’ou An Hui, there has been the substantial fact that the President himself, his eldest son, Yuan K’o-ting, and the most powerful civil official in China, Liang Shih-yi, and the most influential military leader, Feng Kuo-chang, have planned and worked for the reinstitution of a monarchical régime with President Yuan as emperor. That is a fact which, for my own part, I must acknowledge having doubted perhaps longer than the evidence warranted; it has now been made indubitable, not only by the indirect testimony of colleagues and of press correspondents and other unofficial sources of information, but also by the direct statements of certain Cabinet Ministers, who have discussed the matter with the President and learned his views authoritatively and at first-hand. As I reported in my telegram of September 4, the majority of the Cabinet and of the other officials of greatest influence are (or have been) in favor of the movement.
On the evening of Saturday, the 4th instant, one of the Cabinet Ministers who called to see Dr. Tenney and myself on another matter took occasion to say that he had that morning conferred with [Page 52] the President in reference to the plans for the reestablishment of a monarchy; and that, whereas President Yuan had up to a few days previously been whole-heartedly in favor of forcing the movement through without delay, he was now “much less enthusiastic”, and determined to proceed, if at all, with the utmost circumspection. My informant went on to say that the reason for this change was doubtless the apprehension that the foreign Powers might withhold their recognition of the new Government, and that Japan, particularly, might exact terms in consideration of its recognition of the new order. He then offered the naive surmise that perhaps this difficulty might be avoided by simply announcing that the appropriate lawmaking body of China had determined to confer upon the President the title of Emperor, and that at some convenient time thereafter the Constitution might, as a matter of purely domestic concern, be so amended as to make the presidency hereditary.
Fantastic as these suggestions sound, they seem to accord with the present attitude of those in authority. It appears that the Chinese official mind accepts, without any sense of anomaly, the idea of a hereditary presidency as forming the happiest possible solution of the problem of the succession, which has been brought so persistently to public notice by the propaganda of the Ch’ou An Hui.
It would seem that by the mere fact of having created a general impression that something in the present system of government requires modification, that society has now exhausted its usefulness to the purpose in view, and its activities will probably be allowed to dwindle. So nearly as can be judged from the reports as to the present mood of the President, and from the message which was communicated by him yesterday to the Council of State (Tsan Cheng Yuan), sitting as a legislative body pending the establishment of the Li Fa Yuan,18 the present intention is not to establish the new régime by a coup d’état, as a few days ago seemed likely, but to leave the matter for decision and adjustment by processes at least superficially constitutional.
Concerning the attitude of the Chinese people towards the contemplated change, it is still too early to generalize with assurance. It would be naïve to take without discount the expressions of approval which have been telegraphed, in really considerable volume, by the provincial authorities and by popular bodies of all sorts in the provinces, in reply to the circular of the Ch’ou An Hui; their spontaneity is more than questionable; and in the great majority of cases they must be assumed to represent not a conviction that the monarchical system is the best for the country, but a calculation that that system is the more likely to prevail. It should be noted, however, that among the younger officials—the foreign-educated class, which has hitherto been more or less directly associated with the republican movement,—there has been observable an unmistakable tendency to regard with sympathy, if not with active approval, the idea of reversion to a monarchy. On the other hand, such opposition as has thus far appeared has seemed to be wholly academic and forensic, giving no evidence of any likelihood of serious resistance. There is of course a considerable revolutionary [Page 53] element which may be expected to take what advantage it can of the discontent which such action would cause; but among both foreign and Chinese observers it seems generally to be believed that the Government has the situation well enough in hand to assure that no revolutionary movement is likely to gain headway or to pass beyond the stage of mere local disturbances—unless abetted and assisted by Japan. The great bulk of the people may, I believe, be assumed to be indifferent to the question of the form of government so long as it does not undertake to govern them too rigorously or tax them too much.
With a view to learning the character and effects of the monarchical movement in the provinces, the Legation on August 25 despatched to the consuls a circular directing them to report on the subject. Replies have thus far been received, as follows: Antung, Hankow, Mukden, Nanking and Shanghai. In order to put the Department in possession of all available information at as early a date as possible, I forward copies of these reports17 without waiting to coordinate them with those which are still to be received.
It has proved difficult to learn with accuracy the views of the several other Legations here. In general, I think it may be said that they regard the contemplated change in the form of government without particular concern, feeling their policies wholly unaffected by it unless in the event that it should lead to disorders detrimental to trade and jeopardizing foreign interests; for the rest, the general feeling is that if the Chinese find it possible to reinstitute their traditional form of government, without bringing on revolution or bankruptcy or foreign intervention, so much the better. But opinions differ as to the feasibility of bringing about the change without those consequences. * * *
I have [etc.]