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

No. 251

Sir: I have the honor to report on political conditions in this consular district. This report should be read in connection with my despatch No. 248 of April 6, 1921.

Probably not for some time has the political situation in South China been more interesting or more fraught with serious possibilities affecting not only the South but all China. In my telegram of April 8, 1921, 10.00 a.m.,8 to the Department and to the Legation I reported what I had prophesied in my despatch No. 248 of two days previous, the election by the remnants of the so-called “Old Parliament” sitting in extraordinary session in Canton of Dr. Sun Yat-sen as President of the Republic of China. While anticipated, the actual consum[m]ation of this act came, I believe, as a general surprise and is commonly believed to have been premature. My understanding of the election is that the Parliamentarians met informally to decide whether they should convene as an extraordinary session of the old parliament and, agreeing that they should so convene, they decided to do so at once; and finding on their agenda the one piece of business of paramount importance, namely, the election of a president, they proceeded to the election then and there. I understand that there were 225 members present and that 222 votes were cast for Dr. Sun Yat-sen, 2 for General Ch’en Ch’iung Ming and one unnamed.

Since the election I have either talked personally with or heard indirectly from most of the leaders in Canton. I believe there is no question but what Mr. Tang Shao-yi is genuinely disappointed and displeased. As I pointed out in my previous despatch above referred to, Mr. Tang has been one of the group of men who felt that the South should not, for the present, elect a president and [Page 329] that the safest road was along the line of a gradual accretion of power through the strengthening of the province of Kwangtung. I believe Mr. Tang Shao-yi will not take a part in the re-organized government for the time being at least. On the other hand I do not believe he will turn traitor to his former colleague.

I believe that Dr. Wu Ting-fang and his son, C. C. Wu, also disapproved of the election of a president at this time. They have come out, however, in support of Dr. Sun.

I believe that General Ch’en Ch’iung Ming, the civil governor, had contemplated the possibility of an election of a president and its probable effects thoroughly enough so that he was the least surprised. General Ch’en, I believe, has always had a strong personal belief in Dr. Sun Yat-sen and in the cause of democracy which Dr. Sun undoubtedly represents. It is my belief that General Ch’en intends to give Dr. Sun a fair trial. That by no means implies that he intends to give up all his own power. Like most strong men, General Ch’en believes in himself and furthermore I am sure that he is a practical patriot. I think he will support Dr. Sun until and unless he is convinced that Dr. Sun’s policy will injure Kwangtung.

Regarding the legality and propriety of a group of 222 men out of nearly one thousand who composed the old parliament electing a president for the whole of the country the representative consensus of opinion among Southern leaders seems to be this: Whether or not 222 out of 1,000 members of parliament could be said properly to represent the country, they were, after all, members of the only legally elected parliament in China; and therefore Dr. Sun’s claim to the Presidency is the best approximation of Constitutionality that can be obtained in China. One man said frankly, “A quorum of the legal parliament could not be obtained. It was better to have a government functioning by the will of what was left of the only legal body of popular representatives in China than to agree to a recognition of a parliament and a president that had not been constitutionally constituted.”

As regards the possibility of another conflict between Kwangtung and Kwangsi, I believe that the physical proximity of the two bodies of opposing troops on the border will bring about a clash eventually, and that conflict will be proclaimed by each side as having been started by the other.

I feel that the future wellfare of South China depends upon whether Dr. Sun Yat-sen decides to take aggressive action both internally and in the Province of Kwangtung and externally vis-à-vis Kwangsi and the rest of China. I do not believe General Ch’en Ch’iung Ming intends to surrender much of his power in the Province. It is understood that as a tacit recognition of General Ch’en’s [Page 330] actual control in the Province, Dr. Sun intends to appoint General Ch’en as Minister of Home and Military Affairs. General Ch’en, however, will probably insist on keeping control of the provincial finances through the appointment of one of his supporters as Minister of Finance. Tang Shao-yi, I understand has been offered this post and I believe would be acceptable to both men but as I reported earlier in this despatch I do not think Tang will accept any post for the present. It is significant that General Ch’en’s present Provincial Commissioner of Finance is Mr. Liao Chung-k’ai, an ardent supporter of Dr. Sun Yat-sen. It is rumored that Dr. Sun wishes Liao for the position of Minister of Finance, and as Ch’en had felt compelled to accept Liao for Provincial Commissioner he may not feel disposed to oppose his appointment as Minister of Finance.

In conclusion, the general consensus of opinion among persons friendly to the present political leaders in South China, both Chinese and foreign, would seem to be that if the Government, as reconstituted in South China, can devote its energies primarily to building up an efficient and upright administration and to promoting the economic development of the people of Kwangtung, it has a very good chance to become heir to the power over a much larger portion of China when the forces of disintegration elsewhere in China have accomplished their work.

I have [etc.]

Ernest B. Price
  1. Not printed.