The Vice Consul in Chargé at Canton (Adams) to the Secretary of State

No. 165

Sir: I have the honor to supplement despatch No. 153 dated October 21, 1920, from this Consulate General regarding the protection of American missionary interests in this consular district.54

[Page 807]

On October 28, 1920, the American residents of Tungshan, a suburb of Canton, were warned of prospective trouble there and advised to move their women and children to safer quarters. On November 1st fighting occurred there between Cantonese troops and about 2,000 Yunnan troops whom the former were seeking to disarm. Many bullets struck houses of American missionaries and several shells fell close by American homes, but fortunately no considerable damage was done and no American was injured.

On Sunday evening of October 31, 1920, the following message was received by the American Baptist Mission at Canton from their Mission at Yingtak on the North River:

“There is much cause for anxiety. Magistrate anti-foreign. Attacked by soldiers, officials did not act, situation has not improved, hostile proceedings threatened, immediate help is needed, U.S. gunboat.

(sd) Rev. A. R. Gallimore
Miss A. M. Sandlin
Miss Grace Elliott
Miss Ruth Pettigrew[”]

At this season of the year there is not more than a foot of water at certain points in the river below Yingtak and it was, therefore, impossible to send up a gunboat. Upon receiving the information contained in the message quoted above, I immediately communicated by telephone with the Military Governor’s office and requested that the Chinese authorities here endeavor to telegraph the magistrate at Yingtak, although that place is still under Kwangsi control, warning him that he would be held personally responsible for any harm to American missionaries or their property. I also endeavored to telegraph to both the magistrate at Yingtak and the Military Governor of Kwangsi regarding the matter but was not able to get a message through. Finally after some difficulty arrangements were made with the Asiatic Petroleum Company to send one of its motor boats in charge of an experienced man up to Yingtak to bring the missionaries down. I am holding a draft drawn by the American Baptist Mission for $10,000.00 U.S. currency as a guarantee of payment for any possible damage that the boat may incur during the trip which is somewhat hazardous at this time on account of the low water. There are eight American missionaries at Yingtak.

The whole North River district is in a greatly disturbed state and it is probable that fighting between retreating Kwangsi soldiers and the Kwangtung forces will continue there for some time, as well as along the West River beyond Samshui. I am apprehensive for the safety of Mr. Paul R. Montgomery and Miss Elda Patterson at Linchow and Miss Todhunter at Shiuchow.

[Page 808]

Three American Seventh Day Adventist Mission chapels near Waichow were, on November 1st, reported looted by Kwangsi soldiers. Two Chinese Christian watchmen were killed there during the looting. More details are needed in connection with this affair.

On November 1, 1920, I received a letter from Dr. W. H. Dobson of the American Presbyterian Mission at Yeungkong from which it appears he has allowed himself to become involved in local disturbances in a manner calculated to arouse antagonism toward American missionary work. I am enclosing a copy of his letter and of my reply thereto.

A copy of this despatch is being sent to the American Legation in Peking for its information.

I have [etc.]

Walter A. Adams
[Enclosure 1—Extract]

Dr. W. H. Dobson to the Consul General at Canton (Bergholz)

Sir: I have the honor to report concerning the recent disturbances at Yeungkong, Kwangtung, as follows:

Arriving at this place on October 1st I found Kwangsi troops in possession of the city and opposing forces gathering at various places in the country around. The gentry invited me to come at once to a conference and I was delegated to confer with the Kwangsi military looking to a stay of hostilities for three days which was granted on condition that the other side made the same concession. I accompanied the delegates to the other side some distance away and we got small satisfaction except that the Kwangsi forces must clear out. Upon the strength of our reply the Kwangsi forces immediately became independent of Kwangsi with a man Chan as the commander. The other side was commanded by Mr Ong. Mr. Ong continued to press toward the city and captured a representative of Li Yiu Hon, the general appointed to control this section of the province under Chan Kwing Ming. (Chen Chiung Ming)

While visiting some wounded of Mr. Ong he asked me to take any words or letters from his captive to the city commander, Mr. Chan, and to protect a representative that Mr. Ong was sending to consult on terms. This led to fresh peace negotiations with myself as the protector of the representatives of either side in the camp of the other. I lost many hours of sleep and travelled many miles of road in doing this service. These negotiations came to nothing except that they delayed hostilities until the long looked for arrival of General Li Yiu Hon at Yeungkong. New negotiations [Page 809] were opened (after three or four days of fighting just before Mr. Li arrived). I knew nothing of these new negotiations until Mr. Li Yiu Hon asked me to come and witness the peace treaty conclusion. After having had the articles read and explained I signed the paper as “seeing the transaction” being careful not to “witness” or guarantee anything. Everything seemed to be in good faith.

The next day Mr. Ong came into the city and I accompanied him, at the request of his father, to see the General and Mr. Chan, the city commander, that night six or seven principal parties including myself assembled at a feast with the General. The next morning firing was heard in the city and Mr. Ong was surrounded and imprisoned. The General said Mr. Ong had violated the articles of peace, but most of the people said it was a pre-arranged [trick,] going so far as to say that I had cognizance of it. This, of course, was entirely false.

This action is more or less a reflection on my integrity as an American conducting peace negotiations at the request of both parties concerned. Should Mr. Ong be killed my situation would be rendered more difficult and American integrity be smirched.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Yours respectfully,

W. H. Dobson, M.D.

Treasurer, Yeungkong Station,
American Presbyterian Mission
[Enclosure 2]

The Vice Consul in Charge at Canton (Adams) to Dr. W. H. Dobson

Sir: I am very much surprised to read the contents of your letter of October 26, 1920, stating that you had undertaken to act as protector of the representatives of opposing factions in Yeungkong with the result that Chinese accuse you of being a party to a prearranged trick planned to capture a commander of one of the fighting forces.

It is unfortunate that you should have seen fit to disregard the repeatedly expressed views of the Government of the United States as to the desirability of American citizens residing abroad carefully refraining from any act or expression which might be interpreted as an interference, either in the internal affairs of the country in which they have elected to reside or in political questions of an international character. In March of this year a circular was sent from this Office to all American citizens and Missions in this Consular [Page 810] District enclosing a copy of a circular issued by the American Minister and Consul General at Seoul, Korea, under date of May 11, 1897, setting forth the attitude of our Government.55 This enclosure stated that all Americans should strictly refrain from expressing any opinion or from giving advice concerning the internal management of the country where they reside or from any intermeddling in its political questions and stating that if they did so, it was at their own risk and peril. I am informed that you addressed a communication to General Chen Chiung Ming’s representative at Swatow requesting that the captured official referred to in your letter be released. In this connection I have to invite your attention to the following, quoted from the treaty between the United States and China on June 18, 1858:

“If the citizens of the United States have special occasion to address any communication to the Chinese local officers of Government, they shall submit the same to their Consul or other officer, to determine if the language be proper and respectful, and the matter just and right, in which event he shall transmit the same to the appropriate authorities for their consideration and action in the premises.”

Very respectfully yours,

Walter A. Adams
  1. Not printed.
  2. For circular of May 11, 1807, see Foreign Relations, 1919, vol. ii, p. 459.