File No. 893.00/2348

Minister Reinsch to the Secretary of State

No. 876

Sir: I have the honor to transmit herewith copies of articles published in the Peking Gazette of December 29, 30, and 31,2 dealing with the situation in Yunnan; as well as copies of despatches from the consular offices at Nanking and Hankow on this subject.2

The movement in Yunnan follows the plan originally conceived by the revolutionaries in 1911, but not followed out then because of the unexpected suddenness of the rising in the central provinces. The plan is based upon the idea that, by controlling a province inaccessible and difficult to subdue, a center is established for radiating influences hostile to the Peking Government to the end of gradually gaining over more and more provinces. By thus cutting down the income of the Central Government, it is believed that it can be reduced to the necessity of negotiating with the armed opposition.

In the present situation, two principal features enter:—the personal unpopularity of Yuan Shih-kai, and fear of Japan. The preparatory steps towards the adoption of the monarchical régime were so successful because no one desired to raise that opposition which it was believed would bring on interference on the part of Japan. To this there must be added the general apathy of the masses of the Chinese people as to any question of political organization, and the fact that the Chinese are naturally conformists to any movement that seems to have official sanction.

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The men who have begun the movement of opposition in Yunnan count primarily upon the lack of enthusiasm for Yuan Shih-kai. But it does not appear that a widespread organization, including the leaders in the southern and central provinces, has been effected. Tsai Ao, the leader in the movement, is universally considered a man of unusual intelligence and administrative ability. He also has the gift of personal leadership, which brought the adhesion of the Yunnanese to his movement, as they had been his enthusiastic supporters when he was tutu (military governor) of that province. As Yunnan is inaccessible, it may be possible for the secessionist government to maintain itself there for a long time.

Should the movement make headway in the southern and central provinces, it would seem that one of two alternatives would result: either Yuan would have to compromise, retrace his steps, and retain the presidency with greatly curtailed powers and an important development of decentralization; or, should he develop and use considerable military strength in the north, the long-threatened division of China might be brought about.

Hitherto the reports received by the Legations in Peking do not indicate either that there is a systematic plan of cooperation embracing the southern provinces, or that the movement is spreading from Yunnan by its own force. Thus far, the chiang chuns (military governors) and governors are reported loyal and there are only a small military revolt in Nanking and the proclamation of martial law in Kweichow which constitute concrete indications of a spread of the opposition movement. The mutiny at Nanking may, however, have purely local causes.

Conditions in the Yangtze Valley up to date do not indicate the existence of a powerful organized opposition there. It is true the business men in Shanghai and at up-river ports are inclined to blame the Peking Government for the continued depression in trade, but these same merchants only three months ago were quite strongly in favor of the monarchical movement, as they believed that it would give stability to commercial affairs.

A great deal will depend upon the attitude of General Fêng Kuo-chang, military governor of Kiangsu, General Chang Hsun, and Chu Jui, military governor of Chekiang. General Fêng cannot be said to be at present an enthusiastic Yuan man, being apparently displeased with some actions of the President of late; but he is still loyal to the President and is holding the central position in the Yangtze for him. Having avoided entirely committing himself to the side of the President through declining to accept the position of chief of staff, General Fêng Kuo-chang remains in an independent position, so that conceivably he might espouse the cause of the opposition and make himself its arbiter if it were to become sufficiently formidable. It is believed in Shanghai that there is a certain understanding among the three men mentioned above, and that they expect to hold the balance of power in the Yangtze region in an expectant attitude as to the development which affairs will take. This belief, however, is strongest among those who are somewhat favorably inclined to the opposition movement and may not represent an actual accomplished fact in the relations of these three important leaders.

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In Canton, a great deal depends upon General Lung Chi-kwang, who appears to be loyal to the President. Should he be removed by assassination, it might be difficult to control affairs in Kwang-tung for there are some strong, though unorganized, elements of opposition there.

The situation is beginning to show some serious aspects from the point of view of the interests of the President. It is possible that he may soon be face to face with a decisive crisis. He is still well supplied with money, as the salt revenue produces a surplus of between $5,000,000. and $6,000,000. a month, but if the opposition movement spreads he will as in 1913, need outside financial assistance. The $10,000,000. loan is again being discussed with the foreign banks. Should the movement of opposition gain in volume, important international factors would inevitably be introduced into the situation.

I have [etc.]

Paul S. Reinsch
  1. Not printed.
  2. Not printed.