File No. 893.01/45.
Charge MacMurray to the Secretary of State.
Peking, September 24, 1915.
Sir: In continuation of my despatch No. 747 of the 7th instant, on the subject of the contemplated change in the form of government of China, I have the honor to transmit herewith the following [Page 62] reports17 from consular officers, additional to those forwarded in that despatch, in regard to the character and effects of the monarchical movement in the several consular districts: Amoy, Canton, Changsha, Foochow, Hankow, Harbin, Shanghai, Swatow and Tientsin.
The impressions to be derived from the study of these reports are singularly consistent and harmonious. Except for Shanghai, Swatow and Harbin, which report a suspicion of Japanese instigation, and Tientsin and Mukden, which indicate a noticeable degree of acquiescence on the part of the local Japanese press, none of these reports points elsewhere than to Peking as the origin of the whole movement; it seems to be everywhere believed that the agitation has been inspired in the highest quarter of the Government, acting through such agencies as the Ch’ou An Hui and the Peking Chamber of Commerce to elicit the support or at least the acquiescence of the provincial officials and of the local commercial and other popular bodies. The propaganda appears to have taken in general a purely argumentative form, except in certain cases in which coercion is reported to have been employed in suppressing opposition on the part of the press. It may be added, however, that in several instances occurring in Peking I have direct information of attempts by the Ch’ou An Hui to purchase the support of certain press correspondents. On the other hand, the only overt act of violence thus far perpetrated on the part of the opponents of the movement is the attempt to bomb the office of the Asiatic Daily News on the morrow of its establishment as the mouthpiece of the Ch’ou An Hui in Shanghai. The proposal to revert to the monarchical system would appear to have created surprisingly little impression throughout the country, except in the capital and (to a less degree) in Shanghai; it would almost seem that it is accepted by the people of China as being, if not wholly desirable, at any rate as a natural and inevitable working out of existing conditions. For reasons sufficiently obvious, the movement seems almost universally to command either the active support or at least the cordial lip-service of the official classes; there are also certain reactionary sections of the literati who are wholly in sympathy with the proposed restoration of the traditional type of government; the merchants and the majority of the gentry appear to be as a rule unsympathetic with the proposal, but desirous of tranquillity under whatsoever political conditions, and therefore disposed to acquiesce in the change with what grace they can; the student classes are more or less openly hostile to the movement; the professed revolutionaries have as yet given no indication of the use which they may find it feasible to make of the situation, although they may no doubt be counted on to utilize the opportunity to spread a feeling of distrust and disaffection from the Government; and the vastly preponderant mass of the people of the country appear to be utterly indifferent to the proposed change as in fact they are utterly ignorant of the character of the republican system under which they are at present governed. Under these circumstances, there seems to be ample warrant for the opinion, held by all the consular officers whose reports are enclosed, that (so far, at least, as concerns its direct and immediate [Page 63] effects) there is no reason to apprehend that the reinstitution of a monarchical form of government would lead to organized resistance or to anything more serious than isolated outrages, and perhaps local disorderes which the Government troops would be quite able to restrict.
It is therefore not surprising that the Government now seems to feel itself in a position to carry out the projected change with a satisfactory degree of haste by means which will be at least ostensibly legal and will therefore excite as little domestic antagonism as need be, and avoid so far as possible any pretext for outside interference.
From a confidential source which I believe to be dependable, I have learned that the development of the movement for the re-institution of the monarchy has led up to Mie present situation through a course of which the following is a general outline:—The reactionary military faction, usually known as the Anhui Party, has for a considerable time been favoring the President’s assumption of imperial dignity, but their influence was until recently counterbalanced by the opposition of the so-called Cantonese Party, which dominates the financial administration of the Government. Early in June, however, the influence of the Anhui Party began to predominate; and its ascendancy over the President found manifestation in the extraordinary series of impeachments which was reported in my despatch No. 722 of August 6 last.17 Realizing the dominant political position which the rival faction had thus attained, Liang Shih-yi, the actual leader of the Cantonese Party, resolved to steal their thunder by bringing his adherents to the support of the ambitions which the President was known to cherish. The immediate results of this manoeuvre were a reconciliation between the President’s eldest son, Yuan K’o-ting, and Mr. Liang (to whom he had theretofore been hostile), the remarkable expression of confidence in the latter which the President caused to be published (as reported in by 722, above cited), and the discontinuance of virtually all the impeachments that had been brought against officials of the Cantonese Party. Some of the more prominent of the Anhui Party officials were disposed to sulk at this reversal of the situation; the Minister of War, Tuan Chi-jui, rather than follow the leadership of his political rivals in the plagiarized policy, resigned; and the Minister of Education, T’ang Hua-lung, attempted unavailingly to do so; the Minister of Finance, Chou Hsüeh-hsi, and the Minister of Communications, Liang T’un-yen, remained in the Cabinet with occasional precautionary spells of illness, looking on rather unsympathetically from aloof. Some of the less weighty members of the party, however, attempted to assume the leadership in the movement by founding the Ch’ou An Hui or Peace Planning Society for the purpose of propaganda, based upon an obvious but convenient perversion of the views set forth in the confidential memorandum which Dr. Goodnow had prepared at the President’s request. The propaganda of this society would really seem to have served a purpose in furtherance of the project, by demonstrating the almost complete indifference of the people towards the question of the form of government, and by forcing expressions of [Page 64] opinion on the subject from those who could not without risk or embarrassment either reply unsympathetically or keep silence; but the rather puerile and blatant methods of the society brought down upon the movement a certain amount of ridicule; and in the early part of this month it had begun to be felt that the Ch’ou An Hui had exhausted its usefulness and might be expected to be discarded as a means to the end in view. On September 13 the Secretary of State communicated, for the information and guidance of the Minister of the Interior, the views of the President to the effect that
the activity of the Ch’ou An Hui shall be restricted to the discussion of the forms of government. The society shall do nothing more.
Plans had in fact already been made to take advantage of the state of feeling in the country, which the propaganda of the society had revealed rather than created.
The next definite step in the progress of the movement was taken on September 20, by the Tsan Cheng Yuan or Council of State, as had been intimated in the message which the President addressed to that body on the 6th instant. The Council, at a meeting which began as an informal one, set itself to the consideration of the action to be taken upon the petitions received by it from the representatives of officials and commercial bodies urging the change in the form of government; and after having constituted the session a formal one, it unanimously decided to transmit the petitions to the President with the suggestion that “with the view that a fundamental solution be found so that the general situation may be settled and the mind of the people be set at ease,” he should “accelerate the convocation of the National Convention within this year”—“or” (according to an amendment to the report that had been made by the committee in charge of the matter) “devise other proper and adequate means to consult the will of the people”.
There has been much speculation as to the purport of the amendment thus adopted with an inspired unanimity, which would of course make possible some shortcut to the “fundamental solution” which is contemplated; it has been surmised that it might be the intention of the Government either to confide the solution to the Council of State itself, or to have the change voted by the electors for the Kuo Min Hui or National Convention which is presumably to be convened in October next. From the best information now available, however, it appears probable that the question of the reinstitution of the monarchical system will be submitted to the National Convention itself. The present indications are that, in view of delays which have taken place in the preliminary elections by reason of difficulties of communication, the Convention may not convene until early in 1916, instead of on October 20 next as had been planned.
In this connection I may add that there is reason to foresee that when the National Convention shall have evidenced its value as a representative body by having enacted the fundamental solution of the question of the form of government, it will be converted from a constituent assembly into the legislature of the country, taking the place of the proposed Li Fa Yuan or Legislative Assembly. * * *
I have [etc.]