File No. 893.00/2675
Minister Reinsch to the Secretary of State
Peking, June 14, 1917.
Sir: In continuation of my despatch No. 1496, of May 12,4 I have the honor to report on the further development of the political situation in China. On May 14 I had occasion to converse both with the President and General Tuan Chi-jui, the Premier. From the remarks which they made to me, I could gather that the contrast between them was practically insurmountable. The President took the ground that the Premier had lost the confidence of Parliament and could not possibly be trusted by them further. The bringing of the military governors to Peking particularly had destroyed the confidence [Page 64] of Parliament. On the other hand, the President expressed his firm belief to the effect that the military governors did not unitedly support General Tuan. The Premier, in conversation, protested his desire to work with the President and Parliament. He claimed, however, that the attitude of Parliament had become so unreasonable that cooperation was well-nigh impossible. In the course of the conversation he stated that “he conceived it necessary for the Government to assume an attitude of friendliness toward the Japanese but that it was his purpose not to yield any essential rights.” He then asked “what do you suppose would happen if the radical Kuo Min-tang would come into power?” and assured me that he had positive proof that Sun Yat-sen and General Tsen Ch’un-hsuan had both given written assurances to the Japanese Consul General at Shanghai that should either of them come into power they would conclude with Japan an agreement giving to the Japanese the equivalent of the arrangements contemplated in the famous Group V demands of 1915. I believe that General Tuan is sincere and that, while the pro-Japanese clique under Ts’ao Ju-lin has been cooperating with him, he has not committed himself to Japanese control.
The deadlock between Parliament and the Premier continued for another week. On Monday, the 21st of May, the President seems to have made up his mind to take a strong position toward General Tuan and the military governors. He expressed to some of the leaders who were calling on him quite decidedly the opinion that General Tuan should yield. Evidently the military governors were at this time somewhat frightened and confused. Several among them, particularly General Ni Ssu-ch’ung, were extremely unpopular on account of the extortions which they had practiced and it would be easy for a strong hand to topple them over. The majority of the Tüchuns left. Peking hurriedly on Monday night, taking their course to Hsüchowfu where they intended to consult with General Chang Hsün. It was believed in Peking that this was rather a pretext to save their face and to serve as an excuse toward General Tuan, so that he might allow them to go freely.
On May 22 the President invited me to lunch, together with Doctor W. W. Willoughby, the American Constitutional Advisor. It was plain from his remarks that he had made up his mind to dismiss General Tuan. He asked Professor Willoughby some questions as to the legal form of the dismissal. On the same day Mr. Tsa’o Ju-lin called on me. He stated that the Tüchuns had sent him to express their regret at not having been able to make farewell calls, due to their sudden decision to leave Peking. He asked me whether I had any opinion to express with respect to the attitude of the Tüchuns. I told him that I did not. Immediately afterwards, the French Minister called on me and related that Tsa’o Ju-lin had visited him on the same mission as above. Mr. Tsa’o had, however, asked the French Minister whether any support could be given the Tüchuns by the French Legation. Mr. Conty stated to me that he had answered in the negative.
The mandate dismissing General Tuan was issued on May 23; it was countersigned by Doctor Wu Ting-fang, probably in his capacity as a member of the Cabinet. At the same time Doctor Wu was appointed as Acting Premier. The nomination of Mr. Li Ching-hsi as Premier was sent to Parliament for approval shortly afterwards [Page 65] and was immediately approved. The President placed great faith in Mr. Li, who is an official of long experience, belonging to the old school, a nephew of Li Hung-chang. As Mr. Li had before delayed to take up his active duties as Minister of Finance, to which office he had been appointed on May 2, so he now declined to take up the duties of the head of the Cabinet.
I saw General Tuan on the morning of May 23 upon a matter of business. He seemed quite unconcerned and talked on the matter involved in great detail without ever referring to the political situation. In the afternoon his representative, General Ching, came to see me evidently quite disturbed. I gave him a message of personal friendship for General Tuan. The latter left Peking for Tientsin the same night.
It was the general belief in Peking that General Li now had an opportunity of reconstructing the government with strong popular support. The Parliamentary party were eager to take action against the most corrupt and unpopular of the military governors. The President appeared to count on several factors: he believed that General Tuan was isolated, that the Tüchuns were divided and would not take common action, that the majority of them would support the President, that he could particularly rely on the Military Governor of Chihli Province, that he could also rely on the friendly support of General Chang Hsün and that either Li Ching-hsi or General Wang Shih-chen, the Chief of the General Staff, would accept the Premiership. Parliament was in a mood to accept a strong Cabinet regardless of party affiliations.
On May 26 General Ni Ssu-ch’ung, who was the most active among the military party, declared that the dismissal of General Tuan had been illegal, that his province (Anhwei) disapproved and would act independently of the Central Government. This was the crucial point in the development of the situation. I have been informed by men who were present at Hsuchowfu at this time that General Ni was in a desperate mood, knowing that action would be taken against him. The remaining military governors assumed an expectant attitude to see what would happen. It is stated that the Japanese present at Hsuchowfu encouraged General Ni to go ahead.
It is believed by the most expert observers that had the President immediately dismissed Ni and ordered his punishment, had appointed a junior commander in his place or, preferably, given the civil governorship of Anhwei concurrently to General Chang Hsun, the rest of the military party would have fallen away from Ni and the President should have been able to deal with them individually. Instead of taking this action, however, the President was persuaded to send a conciliatory letter to General Ni. The result of this was to establish the leadership of General Ni over the military party and to encourage the majority of the military governors to declare their independence. A so-called provisional government was set up at Tientsin with General Lei Chen-ch’un as its head. With respect to the inwardness of this government I have received the following confidential information. The older and wiser men of the military party, men like General Tuan Chi-jui and Mr. Hsü Shih-ch’ang, held themselves entirely aloof from it. General Ni Ssu-ch’ung was the leading spirit. By dint of force the so-called government helped itself to the [Page 66] deposits of the Chinese Government in the Tientsin branch of the Bank of China. A total of $900,000 was absorbed in this way. The offices of the government were deserted, although a long list of employees was drawn up. All political work was done by negotiations at the homes of the generals. The men greatly in evidence were the members of the pro-Japanese clique, Mr. Tao Ju-lin and his henchman Major General Hsü Shu-cheng, and General Tuan Chih-kuei. General Aoki, the Japanese Military Advisor to the Government, was also on the ground.
In Peking, meanwhile, a creeping paralysis seemed to affect the Government. The President relied on General Wang Shih-chen, the Chief of the General Staff, for control in and around Peking and for advice on the situation. General Wang is undoubtedly an honest, dutiful man, but his sympathies were with the military party and he counselled conciliation at every step. The acting Minister of Communications, at present thoroughly under Japanese control, issued orders to the railways to the effect that all orders of the military governors for transportation, etc., should be implicitly obeyed and that there should be no question of divided authority. The President himself showed his inherent inability to take decisive action, although he continued to protest that he preferred death to committing an illegal act.
Incidentally I may state at this point that when at this time and later the question of the movements of revolutionary troops, and the stationing thereof at Tientsin and along the railway came up, the Japanese Minister persistently took the position that it would be highly undesirable at this time to make any objection on the ground of conflict with the protection of the railway by foreign troops. This attitude was taken notwithstanding that within two months before the Japanese Legation had strongly objected to the stationing of a few government troops along the said railway.
About this time the President, presumably on the advice of Mr. Li Ching-hsi, issued a mandate inviting General Chang Hsün to come to Peking as arbitrator. It must be confessed that it is difficult to understand the reason for such action. But it is plain that the President had been made to believe that Chang Hsün would in some way give him support in the constitutional issue. This in the face of the fact that Chang knows nothing of and cares absolutely nothing for a constitution, and considers Parliament an unmitigated nuisance, a crowd of useless meddlers and busy-bodies; also that he is a notorious monarchist favoring the restoration of the Ching dynasty; not to speak of his character as a bandit chief. For some reason, however, the President believed that Chang could be used to keep the Tuchuns in check. This is probably true but with a reservation that General Chang would not be acting for any policy or principle of the President but for his own ends. General Chang Hsün arrived in Tientsin on June 7. To an American who saw him he expressed himself in the most confident spirit. He stated “everything is settled. I have told the President to dissolve Parliament and I shall be in Peking in a few days to settle the rest. Some of my troops have reached the gate of Peking. I have a message from them that they have the situation well in hand.” His breezy and confident manner indicated that he believed himself not only the arbiter but the ruler of the destinies of China. There are undoubtedly in the character [Page 67] of this man rare qualities of leadership, but there is nothing of any understanding of modern government. He is, however, a nationalist and though the Japanese have tried their best to get a hold over him and have helped him to make many profitable investments he seems to have preserved his independence.
On June 11 President Li gave way to what he considered the inevitable and signed his mandate dismissing Parliament. The text of the mandate and of President Li’s telegram are herewith enclosed. Doctor Wu Ting-fang, the Acting Premier, declined to sign this mandate, stating that as the Premier-designate, Mr. Li Ching-hsi, had advised its issue, it was fitting that he should come to Peking and assume office and responsibility. He, Doctor Wu, not being in favor of the act, saw no reason for signing the mandate. At 2 a.m. on the morning of June 13 Doctor Wu was roused from his bed and asked to sign a mandate designating General Chiang Ch’ao-tsung, the commander of the Peking gendarmerie, as Acting Premier and accepting Doctor Wu’s resignation from that charge. Immediately after, in the same night, General Chiang signed, the mandate. It had been represented to the President that should the mandate not be issued, it would be impossible to prevent violent acts in Peking.
Five of the southern provinces have already telegraphed their protest against the action taken through this mandate. Most of the members of Parliament have left Peking. C. T. Wang and the Speaker of the House escaped last night.
In a conversation with the Japanese Minister on June 11, reported in my telegram of June 11, 2 p.m., he stated “General Chang’s mediation is the last hope of peace. It is desirable that Parliament should be gotten rid of because it is obstructive and renders the doing of business well-nigh impossible.” Throughout the present affair there were indications of a Japanese policy to make friends with all the outs to incite their hopes and to endeavor to get from them commitments which would bind them to favorable action should they come into power.
Concerning the presentation, under your instructions of June 4, 3 p.m., of the note of the American Government to the Chinese Foreign Office, and concerning the reception and effect of this note, I shall have the honor to make a separate report.
There are enclosed herewith, the following: The official record of Mr. Li Ching-hsi, designated Minister of Finance and Prime Minister,4 and cuttings from the Peking Gazette containing the text of mandates and telegrams, as well as newspaper discussion.
I have [etc.]