File No. 893.00/2362

Minister Reinsch to the Secretary of State

No. 947

Sir: Supplementing my despatch No. 918 of the 2d instant, I have the honor to transmit herewith copies of despatches from various consular offices in China further reporting on political conditions in their respective districts.2 It has been impossible for me to report to the Department important information which has from time to time reached me concerning the undercurrents in Chinese politics, both at Peking and in the provinces, because I do not venture to trust this information to the mails; while to send it by cable might be considered by the Department unjustifiable from the point of view of the considerable expense it would occasion. I must, therefore, limit myself to giving in the cablegrams the resultant of a great deal of information which I am prevented from reporting specifically. Should the Department desire to have me give details more fully, I have the honor to request instructions to that effect.

There is no doubt that the authority of His Excellency Yuan Shih-kai has been further weakened both through the delay in expelling the Yunnanese from Szechuan and through the failure on the part of the President to announce a definite policy with respect to the Constitution.

When the unusual difficulties connected with the transport of troops up the Yangtze River at this season of the year, and through the mountainous regions of Szechuan and Kweichow are considered, it is, from a military point of view, not remarkable that greater progress has not been made; in fact, the problem of river transportation seems to have been solved with great efficiency. In this connection, I have the honor to enclose clippings from the Peking Gazette of February 17 and 19,2 concerning the topography of the provinces affected by the rebellion and the punitive expedition against it, indicating the difficulties with which the military forces of the Government have to contend. Still, the fact of long-continued and spreading disaffection against the Head of the State is bound to tell, especially in China where so much depends upon prestige.

Reports from other provinces also indicate that the strong undercurrent of ill will against Yuan Shih-kai is beginning to come to the surface here and there. The situation is particularly doubtful in Hunan and in the two southern-most provinces, Kwangsi and Kwangtung. On February 19 the yamen of the military governor at Changsha was attacked and the feelings of the public there seem to be much excited. It is not at all certain how far the military governor, Tang Hsiang-ming, himself, could be relied upon in a crisis, as it is believed that his own sentiments are with the republicans. It is reported that the Chamber of Commerce of Kwangsi has requested the Central Government not to send any troops into that province; this step points to a situation resembling the neutrality of semi-independence of Kweichow Province. To all these uncertainties there must also be added, as an important personal factor, [Page 60] the resentment which is cherished against Yuan Shih-kai by both Feng Kuo-chang and Chang Hsun, because of indications which they have that the President set them to watch each other.

With all these uncertainties, there remain the fundamental facts that the moderates do not desire an armed movement of opposition at the present time, because of the fear of Japanese intervention, and that there exists among the most prominent leaders in Central and North China a tacit understanding favorable to the maintenance of peace and order in these regions until the question in dispute can be permanently settled.

It is doubtful whether His Excellency Yuan-kai yet comprehends the strength of the opposition. In my opinion, it is not too late for him to win hearty support in the central provinces by giving an absolute assurance of a constitutional régime, implying a devolution of large portions of his present dictatorial power to a cabinet and parliament, together with the granting of a definite measure of self-government to the provinces. Whether he is capable of realizing the necessity of such a policy and of formulating it in a practical way, is still doubtful. But unless such action can be taken within the next few weeks, or at least the leaders can be assured that such will be the tendency of his policy under the new régime, it is to be expected that the opposition will increase rather than lessen. The return to a monarchy of the old type is plainly impossible, and even if it should be attempted, could be successful under the most favorable circumstances only for a short time.

I have [etc.]

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