The Minister in China (Reinsch) to the Acting Secretary of State

No. 2837

Sir: In continuation of my despatch No. 2807 of June 9th,31 I have the honor to refer the Department, particularly, to the reports sent on by the Consul-General at Shanghai concerning the boycott and strike movement at that City. In Peking, after hundreds of students had been arrested and kept in close confinement, the militarist Ministers of Peking appeared to realize that they were evoking a storm which might prove dangerous to them. They, therefore, released the students and even allowed them to continue their speech-making on the streets. In Tientsin a sympathetic strike was declared on June 11th in harmony with the action at Shanghai.

In connection with the events at Shanghai, my telegrams of June 7, 10 a.m.; June 9, 4 p.m.; June 9, 12 p.m.; June 11, 5 p.m.32 have reported to you the essential facts as well as the attitude of the Legation towards the popular movement. When on June 9, I received a telegram from the Naval Intelligence Officer at Shanghai concerning the critical situation brought about by the proposed action of the Municipal Council to enforce rigid measures of repression, I was greatly concerned, fearing that this narrow-minded and short-sighted action would have the result of involving both the British and ourselves in the national Chinese movement. I, therefore, immediately telegraphed to the Consul-General at Shanghai that I feared a general movement against foreigners would be invited by the proposed action of the Municipal Council, instructing him, in substance, as follows:

“You will exert every possible effort to induce your colleagues and the Municipal Council to modify such action if the same has really been taken. Everything should be avoided by us which would involve us in forcible opposition against a Chinese national movement except in as far as police action is necessary to prevent actual violence and, perhaps, public demonstrations and parades which might lead to rioting. As far as the boycott is concerned, it is fortunately not our affair”.

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Should we join in strong repressive action against the Chinese national movement, the result would merely be to make us bear a share of the hostility and odium aroused thereby. On June 10th, instructions—substance of which follows—were sent:

“You should maintain close informal consultation with the French and British Consular Officers there. The French and British Ministers are with me in the substantial understanding that through the use of repressive measures further than that necessary for the prevention of violence, it is not advisable that we place ourselves in a position of prominent opposition to the national Chinese movement. With the acceptance of Tsao Ju-lin’s resignation, it is believed that two others will resign. In Peking it is believed that a quieting effect will be produced by this. Peace might be restored if the merchants and students could be influenced into accepting this and to discontinue the strike movement, taking up with the government, through a representative national committee representing all organizations, any further grievances. The foregoing may be discreetly used by you.”

The British Minister was absent at the sea-shore. The personnel present at the Legation did not fully realize the danger when first spoken to. They, however, immediately reported to Sir John Jordan, who recognized the danger and hurried back to Peking without delay. He substantially agreed with me, as had the French Minister from the start, concerning what should be our proper attitude. Unfortunately the British Consul-General and the Municipal Council in Shanghai, notwithstanding the solitary opposition of Mr. Harold Dollar, a member of the Council (the other American member, Mr. Merriman, having been always closely allied with the British interest) had already taken action which, if the Chinese leaders had not been very cool-headed and well advised, would have invited very serious trouble.

The American community, from the start, seems to have taken the view that the Chinese National movement was essentially sound and that it was not our affair to interfere with it. The Consul-General used every proper effort to discourage and avoid action which would entangle us in unwise measures. As a result of the American attitude in Shanghai, I believe that not only was the traditional friendship between America and China strengthened but even the British were benefited by being protected against the natural results of the short-sighted action of the Municipal Council.

Consul-General Sammons had reasonable ground to complain of the attitude of the British Consul-General. In his despatch No. 3256 of June 14th, Mr. Sammons reports that the British and Belgian Consuls had expressed the opinion that the students should not be allowed to return to their quarters in the International Settlement [Page 710]and that the American Consul-General had taken emphatic exception to this proposal. When a British gunboat had been placed alongside the Customs’ jetty, Consul Sammons notified a senior Consul that such procedure is not legal and ought not to be considered a precedent since there was no previous Consular recognition. The British Consul-General stated that the movement of British Naval vessels is controlled entirely by the senior Naval Officer. The mooring at that point is considered as particularly likely to incite the Chinese population.

The specific demands of the leaders of the Chinese national movement at the time were the dismissal of Tsao Ju-lin, Lu Cheng-yu, and Chang Chung-hsiang, the three officials who were directly instrumental in making the recent disadvantageous agreements with Japan. When the acceptance of the resignations of these men had been verified through telegrams from the British, French, and American Legations to their Consulates at Shanghai, the active movement there came to an end and the strike was called off both at Shanghai and elsewhere. The boycott of Japanese goods, however, continues. Unfortunately the hot-headed action of a Municipal police official on June 10th caused the deaths and wounding of a number of Chinese. The manner in which the national movement has thus far been conducted has commanded the respect of foreigners.

I have the honor to enclose a copy of a letter from the Shanghai citizens Union to the American Consul-General, dated June 2nd,33 in which the methods and sentiments of the movement are laid down. The Chinese strictly adhered to this program. Their leaders even distinguished between the real sentiments of the Americans and the greater part of the British community, and the ill-considered action of the Shanghai Municipal Council. They took every means to avoid a clash with the authorities and the interests of the western nations. All reports that a general anti-foreign movement was going on either were due to Japanese inspiration or to the mis-reading of events by one or two poorly informed British journalists. The danger of a general anti-foreign movement was indeed always present; the Japanese had done everything in their power to convince the Chinese that all the western nations were equally to blame for the iniquitous Shantung settlement; on the other hand they, apparently, tried to convince the people in western countries that the Chinese national movement was directed against them. If the attitude of the Shanghai Municipal Council had been more generally manifested, the movement might have been given an anti-foreign turn.

It is now recognized that the movement of the last three weeks has brought about the birth of an organized public opinion in China [Page 711]capable of exerting specific pressure on the Chinese Government and accomplishing specific action. This development is recognized by everyone here as of the greatest importance. It has also been demonstrated that the commercial and intellectual leaders (students) will carry with them the masses of the people, the factory laborers, transportation workers, etc. The North China Daily News which for a while fell in line with the narrow policy of the British Consul-General and the Municipal Council, in its issue of June 21st brought an editorial expressing full appreciation of the significance of the national movement for the future of China. I have the honor to invite your attention to this editorial which is the first in the issue, but of which there are no copies available here.

For your further information on the motives and procedure of the national movement, I have the honor to enclose copies of a telegram sent on June 13th by His Excellency Chang Chien to President Hsu34 in which the responsibility for the present troubles of China is quite clearly placed where it belongs; namely, with the military pro-Japanese clique at Peking. As is known to the Department, Chang Chien is one of the most influential men in China enjoying high standing as a scholar as well as credit for having introduced many modern industries and improvements into his native province. No man speaks with greater authority for the Chinese people. There are many other prominent leaders in the Yangtze Valley who are truly representative but who are not politicians. They will be heard from without fail in a measure as the people of China continue and complete their effective representative organization to the exclusion of the corrupt crew who are now doing business at Peking and Canton.

There is also enclosed an extract from a personal letter written by Mr. Roy S. Anderson, an American citizen, dealing with the Shanghai boycott movement, which gives a concise and interesting view of its temper.34

In connection with the attitude of the Municipal Council, I have the honor to invite your attention particularly to Shanghai’s despatch No. 3297, dated June 21st (copy of which was transmitted to you directly)34 in which some very sinister incidental elements in the repressive policy of the Municipal Council are set forth which will require our urgent attention should there be any effort to carry them out. The attitude of the American paper in Shanghai, The China Press, is indicated by the editorial transmitted in Shanghai’s despatch No. 3296 of June 21st. The editorial winds up by urging the Consular Body to order a public investigation not only of the [Page 712]handling of the strike but of the whole machinery of defense of the international settlement—its methods and its personnel. I intend to have a serious talk with the British Minister on this important matter in the near future. It may be necessary for us to assert in unmistakeable terms our right to consideration as partners in the international settlement.

I have [etc.]

Paul S. Reinsch
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