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

No. 248

Sir: I have the honor to report on political conditions in this consular district up to the present date.

The political situation in Canton seems to be moving rapidly toward a crisis. A three cornered struggle over the question of the election of a president has been going on. One group, headed by Dr. Sun Yat-sen, are in favor of calling the remnants of the 1915 Parliament, of which they claim there are 378 members now in Canton, in extraordinary session for the election of a president; another group, in which the Civil Governor, Ch’en Ch’iung Ming, figures prominently, believe in the election of a president but think that it should not be done unless an actual quorum, 492, of the Parliament is obtained; while the third group, which I believe Tang Shao-yi supports, at least discreetly, do not believe that the time is ripe for the election of a president at all. It begins to look as if the party in favor of the election in extraordinary session is winning out. Heretofore, the consciousness of the necessity of union and harmony has kept the various groups working together but the very current belief in Kwangtung that the Kwangsi militarists are preparing to attack Kwangtung and the downfall of General Tang Chi-yao in Yunnan have added strength to those who favor drastic action for the carrying out of the Constitutionalist program.

I have inquired carefully of the different groups of leaders in Canton with regard to their reasons for the positions they have taken. The Sun Yat-sen group say this: North China is on the point of political disintegration. General Chang Tso-lin is planning a Monarchical Restoration in Peking or Manchuria where he will set up a monarchy with either the Boy Emperor or Prince K’ung as Emperor. In the opinion of Dr. Sun and his supporters the defection of Mongolia is a part of this move and was deliberately planned by General Chang Tso-lin who hoped to do one of two things; either compel his rival, Ts’ao K’un to so weaken himself by an expedition to recapture Mongolia that Chang Tso-lin could accomplish his Monarchical coup d’état in Peking; or, failing that, to set up his monarchy in Mukden and incorporate Manchuria and Mongolia into his new state. Sun’s party maintain that Chang Tso-lin will fail in either event and also in either case the present Northern Government—Parliament and President—will collapse and flee from Peking. When this happens Dr. Sun insists that the provinces will [Page 327] be forced to look for some other political nucleus around which to gather; that if the Constitutionalists have a president and a parliament functioning the provinces will certainly espouse their cause while otherwise the victorious militarists in North China will again set up another bogus parliament and elect another bogus president.

The second group above referred to believe that even though the Constitution provides for extraordinary sessions of Parliament wherein only fourteen provinces need be represented any act of such parliament would be actually non-representative and therefore no extraordinary session of parliament should decide such an important question as the election of a president. They believe that if a quorum can be secured then parliament would be unquestionably justified in electing a president, if it so desired, as provided by the Constitution.

The slogan of the third group might be summed up in the slang phrase, “Sit tight”. They believe that the strength of the Constitutionalist Cause heretofore has been their adherence to strict Constitutionalism and their insistence on the continuance and perpetuation of the Chinese Constitution as originally adopted. This group feel that if Kwangtung province can be allowed to develop a strong, enlightened and efficient government the other provinces will eventually join Kwangtung. Meanwhile the continuity of the Revolution and of the Constitutionalist Cause will have been maintained.

As regards the possibility of hostilities between Kwangsi and Kwangtung, all groups are now inclined to believe that such is inevitable. I have received some very interesting reports from a number of different sources indicating a mobilization of Kwangsi troops near the border of Kwangtung. I have also been informed that munitions of war are being carried from Hongkong into Kwangsi by boats flying the British flag. General Ch’en Ch’iung Ming has assured me that so far as he is concerned not one of his soldiers will set foot off Kwangtung soil unless attacked. On the other hand Dr. Sun Yat-sen is reported as feeling strong enough to order an attack on Kwangsi and he believes that General Ch’en Ch’iung Ming will not dare to refuse his orders. Of course, with Kwangtung troops also stationed near the border it would be easy for either side to claim that the other committed the first overt act of hostilities. Dr. Sun Yat-sen told me in person that the Kwangsi expedition was necessary for two reasons; the first was self-protection and the second because with Kwangsi “freed from its military overlords” and back in the fold of the Constitutionalists, Yunnan, Hunan and Kweichow would be more definitely allied with Kwangtung.

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In conclusion it may be said, by way of forecast, that the party demanding an election of a president for the Constitutionalist Government, whether by an extraordinary session or by a regular session of Parliament, will probably win out and that hostilities between Kwangtung and Kwangsi may be looked for in the near future, unless events in North China should develop more rapidly.

I have [etc.]

Ernest B. Price