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

No. 209

Sir: Believing that the Department would be interested in receiving first hand observations of this Office on the personnel of the Southern Military Government, as now re-constituted, I have the honor to state the following:—

Regardless of the question of the legality and status of the Government which was set up in the South some years ago by Dr. Wu Ting-fang, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, Tang Shao-Yi and others, there would appear to be no question but that that Government ceased to be able to function in Canton under its own constitution on the departure of the above three named gentlemen and of the representative of Tang Chi-yao of Yunnan from Canton in March of 1920, and that it was able to function again according to its constitution on the return of these four officers to Canton; in as much as four of the seven Directors of the Administrative Council are required to make a quorum. The period of the de facto government under the socalled Kwangsi faction can logically be considered a hiatus in the functioning of the Southern Government, terminated by the return, on November 30, 1920, to Canton of the four leaders mentioned.

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Since the return of these leaders I have had the opportunity of observing their official acts with some degree of care and of deriving from that observation an opinion regarding the ability of these men and their devotion to their own principles. Although it is difficult to form a decided opinion from such a limited observation, I am very much inclined to believe that the prospects of success of the Government have never been brighter. In this opinion most foreigners in Canton, who have been resident here for some time, concur. The men who compose the Government give a real indication of devotion to the welfare of the people over whom they exercise power. In support of this opinion I would refer to several administrative acts of the Government, such as the abolition of gambling,—by reason of which the Government has forfeited an income of probably ten million dollars a year—; the reduction of the army and its reorganization on a businesslike basis,—an act which was accompanied by the disbandment with full pay of a large number of troops—; the abolishing of unnecessary governmental posts, such as those of Defence Commissioners and Circuit Intendencies; the serious attempt on the part of the Commissioner of Finance to improve, without unduly increasing, the taxation of the Province of Kwangtung; the setting up for the City of Canton of a municipal administration along Western lines; the evident attempt on the part of the officials to exercise both administrative and personal economy; and the projects for developing the Province by the building of roads and the continuance of river conservancy undertakings.

In addition to carrying out these administrative acts, evidently calculated to improve the position of the Government with the people whom they govern, the men who compose the Government have shown a most refreshing lack of ostentation or of desire to cater to foreigners. They have done but little entertaining and have permitted very little to be done on their behalf. They themselves, from all indications, are hardworking, earnest, and personally abstemious. Aside from a difference of opinion between Dr. Sun Yat-sen and General Ch’en Ch’iung Ming, the Civil Governor and Commander of the Kwangtung forces, over the question of a military expedition against Kwangsi there has not appeared to have been any vital disagreement or factional dispute in the Government itself since its reconstruction. These leaders of the Southern Government are enlightened men, acquainted with foreign ideas and methods and, for the present at least, are making a praiseworthy attempt to demonstrate their ability to work together and to govern the people over whom they are exercising power to the satisfaction of the people themselves.

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All things considered I am of the opinion that it is to the interests of the United States to adopt towards these men who constitute the present de facto Government of a considerable portion of South China an attitude of sympathy. I am frank to say that in their administrative acts as leaders of a de facto power in South China they have done more to arouse the respect of foreigners than I have ever seen done by any group of men who happened to be in power in Peking during the past six years. I need not reassure the Department that, although my observations of these men who compose the de facto Government of South China have been favorable, I have not permitted myself to enter into any relationship with them that might be construed as sympathetic toward a political undertaking which has not received the recognition of my Government.

I have [etc.]

Ernest B. Price