Quarterly Report of the Legation in China for the Period October 1–December 31, 192050

Domestic Politics


The quarter was one of widespread dissensions throughout the country, kept alive by a few dominating personalities. The different sections of the population had no especial feeling of hostility against each other—certainly not deep enough to cause them to undergo great sufferings in the waging of perpetual warfare. On the other hand, evidence was daily forthcoming that the growth of provincial autonomy would be one of the greatest factors in solving the muddle of Chinese politics and that ultimately it would materially assist in eliminating the troublesome military leaders as well. The signs of the times pointed to the emergence from the chaos of a more or less loose confederation bound together by federal revenue collecting agencies and by improved means of inter-communication. In the meantime, the Peking Government was floundering about under administrative and financial difficulties of all kinds, displaying a pitiful lack of power and a regrettable subserviency to those domestic and foreign agencies possessing that power.

northern politics

The helplessness of the Central Government continued to find exemplification in various ways. The Premier’s announced policy was the disbandment of troops and he repeatedly declared that in future he was going to adhere firmly to that policy, and if the provinces wished to maintain large bodies of troops they must themselves supply the funds therefor. In striking contrast with this, however, was a simultaneous declaration by Military Governor Wang Chanyuan of Hupeh to the effect that his unpaid troops must look to Peking for their arrears in pay. On the other hand, on October 17th four divisional commanders were appointed for the 23d and 26th Divisions inclusive. These divisions hitherto did not exist and except [Page 486] so far as they were constituted of the disbanded Anfu troops they were to be regarded as an increase in the military establishment and therefore a departure from the disbandment policy declared by the Premier upon his induction into office.

During late October one of the military conferences, typical of the existing method of government in China, was held at Paotingfu, the seat of government of General Ts’ao K’un. Ts’ao called the conference which was attended by Generals Wu Pei-fu and Feng Yuhsiang in person and by representatives of General Chang Tso-lin. General T’ien Chung-yü, Military Governor of Shantung and former Anfu party leader, and other prominent military officers of the North were also present. The decisions arrived at by the conference were never specifically stated. Shortly after the conference, however, General T’ien Chung-yü was given the concurrent post of Civil Governor of Shantung, greatly against the wishes of the people of the province, and Ch’i Yao-shan was permitted to resign that post. The greatest significance to be attached to the conference was that the policies of the Government should be determined in meetings of military leaders instead of at Peking, the seat of the nominal government of the Republic.

Another conference of representatives of the Ts’ao K’un and Chang Tso-lin factions of the northern militarist party was held at Paotingfu on November 30th as a result of which the Central Government was asked to defer the abolition of the office of military governor. While disbandment of troops was urged for other provinces, it was decided that action in this matter should be deferred in regard to Chihli, Fengtien, Hupeh and Shantung on the ground that special precautionary measures were necessary in those provinces. However, political reasons of a more cogent nature were easy to imagine for such a decision. It was further decided that unification of the country should take place province by province rather than by treaty with a united South. The conference declared its support of President Hsu and Premier Chin and urged energetic measures in regard to bandits, famine relief, etc., and suggested measures for preventing abuses in the forthcoming elections next spring. Thus the military leaders continued to dictate their policies to the Peking Government.

At a Cabinet meeting on December 2nd, in response to the suggestions from Paotingfu, it was decided to defer discussion in regard to abolishing the office of Military Governor until after unification and reorganization had been accomplished.

The Peking Government continued throughout the quarter to go steadily into debt, partly in unpaid bills and partly in small loans collected from Chinese banks. The inability of the Government to pay off and disband troops, themselves largely the cause of the [Page 487] financial distress, had its logical effect in mutinies and lootings. In late November there occurred a rising at Hochien in Chihli. In the first week in December a second rising at Kaoyang, also in Chihli, and on November 29th a more serious affair at Ichang where the troops of the 13th Mixed Brigade under General Chang Chi-shan mutinied and looted the Chinese and Japanese sections of the city. The godowns of the Nisshin Kisen Kaisha Steamship Company were burned and native banks were looted. Fourteen out of twenty-four Japanese business houses and dwellings were gutted. Rioting continued all night, after which the greater part of the soldiers returned to camp. Through the raising of funds by the local merchants the soldiers were pacified and the city tranquilized. The mutinying troops had been without pay for nine months and had been for some time out of hand. On the other hand, it was suspected that Military Governor Wang Chan-yuan of Hupeh was not greatly distressed at the looting as it presumably was a matter of inconvenience to the new Civil Governor, Hsia Shou-k’ang, to whom he was opposed. A few days following the Ichang affair a similar looting at Paotingfu was narrowly escaped.

The position of the Peking Government, in the eyes of the nation, was weakened by the aggressive policies of Chang Tso-lin. This fact was recognized even by the Premier himself, who appeared subservient to Chang. The dominance of the northern militarist was perhaps one of the greatest factors in preventing unification, but it was apparent that no permanent settlement could be reached until the question of military supremacy was made a national issue and settled for all parts of the country simultaneously. While public demand for the abolition of the military governor and for the disbandment of troops and the restoration of executive power to civil officials continued from various quarters, militarists were simultaneously formulating plans and combinations to strengthen their position and to neutralize the public demand for greater civilian power.

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Thus, two forces were tending to cripple the Peking Government in the exercise of powers formerly undisputed, i.e., the rapidly rising spirit of provincial independence and the truculence of the provincial military leaders.

Signs were present of the creation of a new political party or faction, called the Shantung party. Northern politics of late years had been dominated by the Chihli faction headed by General Ts’ao K’un and by the Fengtien faction headed by General Chang Tso-lin. The new party, designed especially to promote the interests of General Wang Chan-yuan, Military Governor of Hupeh and of the Premier, probably included the following powerful natives of [Page 488] Shantung, in addition to the persons named: General Lu Junghsiang, Military Governor of Chekiang, formerly an Anfu partisan; General T’ien Chung-yü, Military Governor of Shantung; General Wu Pei-fu, Assistant Inspector General of Chihli, Honan and Shantung; General Ch’i Hsieh-yuan, Acting Military Governor of Kiangsu, and numerous divisional and other high military commanders of Shantung birth.

On October 30th there appeared two Presidential Mandates which on their face appeared of historical importance. One announced that Ts’en Ch’un-hsuan, one of the administrative directors of the Canton Military Government, Lu Jung-ting, Inspector General of Kwangtung and Kwangsi, and Admiral Lin Pao-yi, both of the latter also directors in the Military Government of Canton, had reported to the Central Government the cancellation of the independence of the Military Government of the Southwest. The Mandate therefore intimated that the country as a whole had been reunited under one government.

That the spirit of these mandates was unduly optimistic was at once attested by a circular telegram despatched under the names of T’ang Shao-yi, Wu Ting-fang, Sun Yat-sen and T’ang Chi-yao, disclaiming the authority of Ts’en Ch’un-hsuan to cancel the military independence of the military government. From a number of standpoints also the unification of the country was still far from fulfillment, although, generally speaking, the prospects for the submission of all the provinces to Peking were brighter than for a long time previously, due mainly to the exhaustion of all the fighting units, and to the fact that each unit was in need of assistance against powerful adversaries.

The Peking Government in thus endeavoring to capitalize the assumed capitulation of the military government of Canton and ignoring the independent position of various other provincial leaders who had by no means yielded to Peking undoubtedly committed a tactical error and served to make negotiations with those leaders very difficult.

That Peking derived no additional advantage from the submission of Ts’en Ch’un-hsuan and his associates was so apparent that the Premier adopted a conciliatory attitude, in spite of the mandates, not only toward T’ang Chi-yao but also toward the old Kuomingtang leaders in Canton, such as T’ang Shao-yi and his associates. In fact on October 31st the Premier had already addressed telegrams to these various leaders asking their concurrence in peace measures.

The other Mandate decreed the election of a new national parliament to be formed in accordance with the election regulations of the first year of the Republic, which were based upon the Nanking [Page 489] Constitution. This Mandate was greatly criticized in Peking, especially by members of the Parliament, on the ground that it disregarded the Constitution under which the President was elected by the Peking Government.

In connection with the Mandate of October 30th in regard to the new parliament, the Ministry of the Interior on November 4th sent a circular telegram to the provinces instructing them that if they were unable to cope with all the matters arising in connection with the election of the new parliament in accordance with the election laws of August 10, 1912, they should appeal for assistance to the Bureau for the Election of the New Parliament, an organization remaining from the time of the formation of the present northern parliament. In preparation for the unification of the country, there was created a new organization, “Office for the Preparation for the Reconstruction Conference”.

On November 7th there was convened in the President’s Palace the first meeting of this body. The entire Cabinet was present, together with some prominent men such as Liang Shih-yi and two representatives of Ts’en Ch’un-hsuan, the deposed Canton leader. The meeting decided upon the method for beginning the reconstruction conference which included the selection of eighty members of the “new” parliament as members of the conference to which also the provinces were to be invited to send representatives.

In answer to the Government’s circular telegram of November 4th, General T’ien Chung-yii, Military Governor of Shantung, heartily endorsed the proposal to abolish the tuchuns and asked that the proposal be initiated with the Province of Shantung. The Society for Provincial Self-Government in Peking composed of representatives of fifteen provinces thereupon sent an open telegram to T’ien asking him to give effect to his telegram by resigning his post. Needless to say, this suggestion remained without effect.

On November 17th a Presidential Mandate was issued stating that since the founding of the Republic two national elections had been held but that, while the rules of supervision were most strict, these rules had not been adequately enforced. The Mandate directed strict compliance with the rules of the forthcoming elections under penalty. The parliamentary elections were set by the Cabinet for March 1, 1921, and the final elections on April 1st, to elect members of the House of Representatives. It was further decided that the election of the members of the Upper House should be held on April 20th in Peking. The election of Mongolian and other representatives of the dependencies should be held on April 30th.

On the same day another Mandate appeared, stating that local self-government was a fundamental attribute to a Republican form [Page 490] of government; that, on the founding of the Republic, plans had been made to carry this out along the lines laid down during the last days of the monarchy, but this had not been successful, and had resulted in disorders in 1914 and in 1917; that upon the assumption of office by the present President he had taken several steps to educate the people up to this function, but no great results had been obtained. The Mandate instructed the Ministry of the Interior to take immediate steps to prepare the people for local self-government, utilizing the best foreign methods. Other mandates issued on the 18th dealt with judicial improvements.

In spite of these mandates, however, there appeared no appreciable progress in the direction of such a fundamental reform as the abolition of the office of military governor and it was feared that the forthcoming elections, if indeed they were held, as subsequently proved not to be the case, would still be utilized by political parties for their own aggrandizement.

The promulgation of the mandate instructing the provincial local officials to prepare for local self-government called forth telegrams to the Government from all parts of the country, criticizing the mandate and pointing out that the self-governing organs already in existence were capable of carrying out the functions of local self-government. The representatives in Peking of Kansu, Hunan, Hupeh, Chekiang and Anhui formed a union having as its object to compel an earlier inauguration of local self-government and if possible to abolish the tuchun system. This so-called inter-provincial self-government society on December 13th attempted to see the Premier and the President, but failing in this they left a memorial inveighing against the institution of military governors as the source of many of the present miseries of China.

The Ministry of the Interior addressed an announcement to the provinces that provincial self-government should be restored as from January, 1921, and local self-government as from July, 1921. The exact significance of these phrases was not clear, but it was roughly supposed that it was intended to mark the reversion from the policy of centralization of power initiated by Yuan Shih-k’ai.

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southern politics

At the opening of the quarter the situation at Canton was indecisive. Military Governor Mo Jung-hsin was able to continue in office in spite of Ch’en Chiung-ming’s attacks and notwithstanding very lukewarm support on the part of troops in the vicinity, including those on the Island of Honam. The people of Kwangtung, however, appeared determined to rid their province of the Kwangsi [Page 491] militarists and to end their unscrupulous exploitation of the province’s resources.

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The deadlock continued in Canton. General Mo Jung-hsin continued to demand payment of several millions of dollars and intimated that he would retire if General Ch’en Chiung-ming did not succeed him. The Military Government dragged on a nominal existence, apparently deriving its sole support from gambling houses in Canton, while General Lu Jung-t’ing from his domain in Kwangsi Province rendered some slight assistance.

General Ch’en Chiung-ming’s continued offensive finally was crowned with success and Canton fell into the hands of the Cantonese troops. General Mo Jung-hsin left the city on October 20th and General Tang Ting-kuang took over the duties of military and civil governor concurrently. General Ma Chi and the greater part of the Kwangsi troops withdrew on the 27th and 28th. General Ch’en Chiung-ming entered Canton on the 29th. Conditions were generally quiet. The Shekcheng arsenal was destroyed on the night of the 28th by the retiring Kwangsi troops.

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Foreign Relations


On September 30th the regulations governing the organization of the office of the Pacification Commissioner of Mongolia with seat at Urga were promulgated, but they contained no reference to the division of offices between Chinese and Mongols which was understood to be the intention of the Government. Ch’en Yi was named Pacification Commissioner. He continued to linger in Peking awaiting the settlement of various questions before proceeding to Mongolia. At his request General Chang Ching-hui, Tartar General of Chahar, was ordered to co-operate with him in military operations in Mongolia. On October 5th an identic note was sent to the foreign legations by the Chinese Government warning against loans to the Mongol Government in return for concessions of mines and forests in Mongolia, and on October 8th Ch’en Yi was appointed by Presidential Mandate Director General of Gold Mines in Tushetu and Tsetsen Khanates, a further precaution against alienation of mining rights claimed by the Peking Government. It was supposed that this measure had in mind the rumored loans by the Mitsui and Lungkou Banks against concessions in Mongolia.

The acuteness of the political and military situation in Mongolia continued to increase, in evidence of which was the receipt of notification from the Chinese Foreign Office on October 13th of the prohibition [Page 492] against the use of code telegrams and of a further note dated the 14th announcing that foreign travel in Outer Mongolia was forbidden on account of the disturbed conditions.

Toward the end of October an irregular band of Russians under the command of Ungern Sternberg, a Lieutenant of Semenoff, appeared in the vicinity of Urga and engaged the Chinese forces in battle. Fighting was conducted with field pieces and resulted in numerous casualties, but without decisive result. This attack was presumably instigated by the Japanese authorities, with the Mongol Llamas, in an effort to establish Mongolian autonomy and to strengthen Japanese influence throughout Mongolia, as a result of which the natural resources of Mongolia would fall into Japanese hands. Following this preliminary attack, the Russians in Urga were subjected to barbarous treatment by the Chinese troops whose cruelty turned upon all foreigners almost without discrimination. Martial law was declared in Urga by the Chinese and reinforcements were hurried forward from Kalgan. These measures affected most adversely the very considerable American interests in Mongolia.

In view of these hostilities Ch’en Yi left precipitately for Urga. The Living Buddha and other leading Mongolian nobles were placed under arrest by General Ch’u, in charge of the forces at Urga. The seriousness of this step was at once apparent. Ch’en Yi requested further reinforcements which were not forthcoming.

On account of the very acute situation and the danger to Americans, particularly to Mr. Edwin IV. Mills, a mining engineer, and to Mr. McLaughlin, of the Mongolian Trading Company, a rescue party of about sixteen American citizens was organized to proceed to Urga, across the line of military operations, and effect Mr. Mills’ departure from the city. This expedition was opposed very energetically by all of the Chinese authorities, including the Premier, the War Department and the Foreign Office, but, in disregard of their protest, the party proceeded under the guidance and direction of Major John Magruder, Assistant Military Attaché. Transportation for the party was provided by automobiles of the Mongolian Trading Company, an enterprise of Mr. Charles L. Coltman, which was among the American firms most injured by the events in Mongolia. This party reached Urga from Kalgan on the 13th of November and after staying there about a week, and following many narrow escapes from armed clashes with the Chinese authorities, returned with Mr. Mills and Mr. McLaughlin. The visit of the American rescue party had a most salutary effect on the situation in general, as well as in accomplishing its purpose of bringing food and transportation to the Americans in Urga.

The forces attacking Urga were apparently driven away from the immediate vicinity of the city. The Cabinet decided upon various [Page 493] measures regarding Mongolia, such as rewarding the troops fighting in defense of Urga by full arrears of salary, the strict protection of foreign residents and their escort from Urga should they so desire. This latter decision was notified to the American Legation on November 10th.

russian relations

As a consequence of the Mandate of September 23rd withdrawing recognition from Russian diplomatic and consular officials in China, the Chinese authorities assumed control of the Russian concession in Tientsin on September 25th, and of the Russian concession in Hankow on the 28th. At Tientsin the form of taking over and the subsequent acts of the Chinese authorities aroused more criticism than in Hankow. The Chinese Foreign Office having given assurances that the municipal organizations in the concessions would be interfered with as little as possible, the American and other residents in the Tientsin concession were incensed when extensive financial and regulatory innovations in favor of Chinese control were made. The abrupt action taken by the Chinese Government without any preparations for the continuance of judicial functions from Russian citizens resulting practically in the cancellation of all extraterritorial rights aroused great indignation among nationals of other countries as well as among Russians. The interests of other nationals having relations with Russians were considered as endangered.

Vice Minister of Justice, Chang I-p’eng, requested the Chinese Government to constitute the railway area a special district wherein he might establish special Chinese courts (Shun P’an T’ing) and exercise jurisdiction over Russian citizens. Numerous vexatious questions involving considerations between Russians and other nationals remained unsolved and formed the cause of many complaints.

On October 9th at a meeting of the Diplomatic Corps the Dean was authorized to request of the Chinese Foreign Minister a confirmation of his oral assurances that the measures of the Chinese Government in regard to Russians were a temporary derogation of Russian rights subject to later agreement between the Chinese Government and the future Russian Government and also suggesting that in view of difficulties arising from the application of the Mandate the Chinese Government and the Diplomatic Corps concert on a provisory modus vivendi for the administration of Russian rights.

The Legation having reported these facts to the Department of State, was authorized to say to the Chinese Government that in the view of the American Government the Chinese Government had taken over very great responsibilities in the fulfillment of which it would be subject to grave danger of suspicion and misconstruction [Page 494] which could only be avoided by preserving a punctilious regard for its obligations towards Russia and the utmost circumspection in relation to other related interests. In view of the announced anti-capitalistic campaign in China of the Bolsheviks, the presence in Peking of an emissary from Verkhne-Udinsk gave rise to danger of appearance of subservience to Bolshevik influence, particularly in the matter of extraterritoriality in which all the principal foreign powers were interested.

During the early part of October, Chang I-p’eng, Vice-Minister of Justice, went to Kirin to arrange for the taking over by Chinese tribunals of the Russian Courts in the Chinese Eastern Railway Zone and at Harbin, and these latter courts ceased to function on October 5th. On that day the Taoyin at Harbin called on the foreign consuls and announced that it was the intention of the Chinese Government to utilize the Russian judicial machinery as much as possible, continuing the Russian officers as officials of the Chinese court.

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Semenoff continued his former tactics, and at the beginning of October was sending a force under Baron Ungern Sternberg westward, presumably to Verkhne-Udinsk.

During October the Semenoff-Kappel forces suffered a severe defeat at the hands of the Bolsheviks. Chita fell into Red hands on October 21st. Ungern’s forces were badly punished and retreated toward Manchouli Station. At the same time Chinese official reports indicated that reactionary Russian forces were approaching Urga with the intention of expelling the Chinese garrison.

Negotiations had been proceeding during the quarter between the Chinese Foreign Office and the Yourin Mission representing the Far Eastern Republic. Some twelve articles had been agreed upon in principle. The negotiations were, however, suddenly interrupted in October by the Chinese Government through the appointment of its Foreign Office representative, Mr. Chang Tsu-shen, as Minister to Sweden and the substitution of Mr. Liu Ching-jen, former Minister to Russia and High Commissioner in Siberia. It was thought at the time that the Chinese Government began to feel doubt of Yourin’s authority to speak for all the Siberian governments.

In early October, Yourin announced the formation of the Far Eastern Republic at a joint meeting of the Amur, Vladivostok and Verkhne-Udinsk delegations, and stated that this new united government enjoyed the support and disinterested help of Mother Russia; declared in favor of a peoples’ constituent assembly, the institution of private ownership of land suitably modified, and no concession of territory to a foreign power; and announced that the government [Page 495] would call upon Russia and foreign capitalists to develop the country.

During the first part of October General Wrangel, representing the South Russian Government, telegraphed to Peking protesting against the withdrawal of recognition from Russian diplomatic and consular officials, or at least against the derogation of Russian rights resulting therefrom, and warning China that it would be accountable.

During October details were obtained from the Chinese Foreign Office regarding a trade convention between Chinese Turkestan and the Soviet representative to Turkestan. This agreement concerned commercial matters and the return of refugees and defeated soldiers. It was agreed that these matters should be regulated by representatives of either party on the territory of the other. The Legation was informed by the Foreign Office that negotiations had begun two years previously when it was seen that a local agreement for trade relations was needed to prevent extensive thievery by Bolsheviks in border raids on Chinese territory. The matter was entirely disassociated from the question of the Yourin Mission or the recognition of the Bolsheviks. The matter appeared to be one of local interest [omission?] only as a measure of self-protection and that the Central Government, because of the great distance separating it from Turkestan, and because of the virtual independence of the Chinese authorities, these could do but little more than approve it, when received, which was done about the middle of September, 1920.

During early October General Chang Shih-lin, Chinese emissary in Moscow, was recalled to Peking as having become too favorably inclined to the Bolsheviks.

chinese eastern railway

On October 2nd, 1920, the Minister of Communications signed with the Russo-Asiatic Bank an agreement providing for joint management of the Railway under the following terms: the repayment of the five million taels stipulated in Article twelve of the original Agreement should be made by the Railway to China with compound interest in the form of loan bonds redeemable in 1939, or date of the previous redemption of the Railway, the security being the Company’s movable and immovable property and the earnings of the Railway. Of the nine directors, the President, and four directors shall be Chinese appointed by the Chinese Government without share-holding qualifications. The Government should appoint several Chinese assistants to the heads of the chief sections of the Railway, but there would be no decision of the Board of Directors unless approved by seven members. The Chinese Government might appoint two Chinese out of five members of the Committee of Audit. [Page 496] Railway positions were to be divided equally between Chinese and Russians. Thereafter the Company should have a purely commercial character, and the Chinese Government reserved the right to take measures to ensure this.

It was argued that this agreement merely regularized a condition that had gradually arisen since the shareholders’ meeting in Peking in 1918, and especially since the spring of 1920 when negotiations for the present agreement actually began. Considerable interest attached to the document because of the fact that the Bank had since 1918 been under French diplomatic protection and now had 80% French capital, whereas paragraph 68 of its charter provided expressly that its branches in Asia were placed under the protection of Russian Government representatives.

According to the Chinese contention, the main effect of the agreement was to make the Chinese Eastern Railway a purely commercial enterprise without political complexion of any kind.

On the 9th of October a Presidential Mandate appeared announcing the October 2nd agreement arrived at between the Minister of Communications and the Russo-Asiatic Bank. The main points emphasized were that the Chinese Government took over the authority of the former Russian Government in the Railway Zone; that the whole question would be taken up again with a recognized government in Russia; that the Railway was a purely commercial concern and that the Chinese authorities would protect life and property along the Railway. Yourin, in a statement published by the Dalta Agency, designated the Chinese action as a seizure of Russian rights and predicted that a united Russian Government would not recognize its validity, and would hold China responsible for all losses. He denied most emphatically that the Chinese Eastern Railway Company was empowered to retain control of the line.

On October 28th a meeting of the shareholders took place in Peking for the purpose of electing members of the Board of Directors, but as the persons elected did not accord with the intention of the Chinese Government to keep the road free from political influences the Chinese Government rejected the results on technical grounds. The same was done in the case of a meeting held on the 31st, and the matter resulted in a deadlock.

On October 31st there were published three Mandates promulgating regulations for a system of guards to be established in the area of the Chinese Eastern Railway, and the regulations governing the employment of foreigners to be connected in a capacity advisory thereto.

On November 25th a Mandate appointed Dr. C. C. Wang as a Vice President of the Railway. He was already a member of the Inter-Allied Technical Board.

[Page 497]

The presence of large numbers of the defeated reactionary Russian forces embarrassed the Railway and the Chinese authorities.

As the status of the Inter-Allied Technical Board appeared possibly affected by this new agreement, Mr. John F. Stevens came to Peking and secured written specific assurances from the Chinese Minister of Communications on that point.

  1. Enclosure to despatch no. 1602, Sept. 9, 1921, from the Chargé in China; received Oct. 29, 1921.