File No. 893.01/49.
Minister Reinsch to the Secretary of State.
Peking , October 11, 1915 .
Sir: In continuation of the Legation’s despatch No. 766, of September 24 I have the honor to report further developments in the monarchical movement:
In the councils of the leading men favoring the movement, who now include nearly all the prominent officials of China, the opinion prevails that the change should be brought about in something like a constitutional form. It has therefore been decided to institute [Page 66] a national referendum on the question of the form of State. A bill was drafted and introduced in the Council of State (Tsan Cheng Yuan) on October 1; after discussion, extending over several meetings, the bill was given the form of law on the 6th instant (a translation of the text of the law, as published in the Peking Gazette of October 8, is enclosed herewith).
The principle of this law is based upon the idea of using the electoral machinery, which is to be provided for the selection of a representative body to adopt a constitution, for the incidental purpose of first deciding the question of the form of the State; for this purpose, it is provided that each district, or hsien, of the eighteen provinces of China proper, and of Manchuria, is to elect one representative, and that, moreover, in addition to these, the other dependencies, the bannermen, the chambers of commerce, and recognized scholars shall elect a certain number of representatives. The representatives elected from each province are to meet at the provincial capital and there to ballot upon the question of the form of State. The date of the general election has been fixed on November 5; that for balloting by the electorate representatives on the principal question, on November 15.
While reports from all parts of the country indicate that no concerted opposition to the change in the form of State is to be expected, yet considerable apprehension was felt lest the review of troops at Peking, which had been set for October 10, the Chinese national holiday (the anniversary of the outbreak of the revolution in 1911), should be made the occasion for some demonstration in favor of the monarchy, or for attempts at assassination by revolutionary opponents of the movement. The review of the troops was countermanded and the national holiday passed very quietly.
In several interviews, their excellencies Liang Shih-yi and Chou Tsz-ch’i, the Minister of Agriculture and Commerce, leaders of the Cantonese Party, have given me a very full account of their policy; they claim that among officials, as well as the commercial classes, there exists a strong preference for the monarchical form of government; they state that the traditions and customs of China emphasize personal relationships in government and business, and that the abstract forms of thinking in terms of institutions and corporations are not yet sufficiently developed. The officials are said to desire the change because authority would be more permanently established and its manifestations would be more readily understood by the mass of the people; they urge that it would be far easier to carry through a fundamental financial reform, such as that of the land tax, through a form of authority with which the people are more familiar. Everyone recognizes that the possibility of reforming the land tax constitutes the ultimate test as to whether or not the Chinese Government can last and retain its independence; as this is a matter which affects the traditional relative immunity of the agricultural classes from taxation, their customary liberty and independence, the officials appear to believe that any attempt to impose a greater burden on the agricultural classes would have to be backed up by all the strength public authority could derive from national traditions. The commercial classes, on the other part, are alleged to favor the change, where they are not indifferent, because a permanent settlement [Page 67] of the question of succession would have a favorable effect upon commercial and industrial enterprises.
Mr. Liang Shih-yi desires to emphasize the constitutional side of the movement. He has succeeded in taking it out of the hands of the Military Party and giving it a civil character. He stands strongly for the creation of a representative parliament, with full liberty of discussion. It is his desire to utilize the change for the purpose of bringing about a reform of the financial and general administration. He is also greatly in favor of utilizing the assistance of properly qualified foreign experts in actual work in all branches of the public administration. It would appear that he has succeeded in imbuing the President with the idea of the desirability of these policies.
His Excellency Yuan Shih-k’ai, in an interview which I had with him on the 4th instant, spoke in terms of studied neutrality of the popular vote by which the question of the form of the State is to be determined. Should the vote be favorable to the continuance of the present system, there would be no change; should it, on the contrary, favor the return of a monarchical form, a great many difficult questions of organization would have to be decided. He expressed himself as strongly in favor of a representative parliament, which, while its power over finances would have to be limited, would be given full liberty in the discussion of public policies. He expressed a great desire to advance the education of the people and their intelligence in public matters, and stated that it was his wish that the foreign experts employed by the Chinese. Government should not longer merely hover around the outside of the Departments as occasional advisers, but should be put to work in helping to develop the administrative activities in the ‘different Ministries and their Bureaus.
High Chinese officials have sought conversations on the question which now principally interests them. While taking the position that the determination of the form of State is a matter entirely for the Chinese people to determine, I have indicated that a change to the monarchical form could not be expected to be received with applause in the United States. I have emphasized, above all, the prime necessity of serious attention being given to the continued development, in an accelerated measure, of live representative institutions, with freedom of public discussion; and the establishment of methods in the public administration which will make for thorough efficiency and complete accountability to the public.
I have [etc.]