393.1123 Coltman, Charles/3: Telegram

The Minister in China (Schurman) to the Secretary of State

495. My 492. Coltman died at 7 o’clock this morning. At 11 o’clock pursuant to appointment made yesterday I called upon Acting Premier and Foreign Minister28 in regard to Kalgan tragedy and said as impressively as possible:

“I have just come from Mrs. Coltman who is prostrated. I charge Kalgan soldiers with (1) murder of American citizen and (2) firing on the official representative of the United States. Not only Americans but the entire foreign community are deeply aroused. If foreign consuls are not absolutely safe in China the lives of their nationals are in constant jeopardy. This Kalgan outrage has dynamite in it sufficient to stir the whole civilized world. Indeed some foreign ministers have already indicated a willingness to cooperate with me (see my despatch number 11 [45], September 29, 1921 transmitting joint note29). I want, however, to keep the matter between our two nations. And as a friend to China I say to you solemnly it must be settled at once.”

[Page 711]

Wang began to reply as follows: “I deeply regret the affair and will immediately investigate and”—

I interrupted him and said emphatically:

“No investigations can alter the two issues I have made because nothing can justify the murder of an American citizen or the murderous assault on a consul. Investigations may bring out new details but they are entirely irrelevant to those issues. The thing needed is prompt satisfaction to my Government which is also in the interest of China herself.”

Wang indicated he would follow this advice. It was obvious he had realized the enormity of the crime and the gravity of its potential consequence.

In concluding I referred to the necessity of abolishing restrictions on transportation of currency by foreign merchants in their business in violation of treaty rights which the Military Governor at Kalgan was endeavoring to put into effect, and I observed that I mentioned the matter today only because American business in Kalgan was paralyzed and delay was ruinous to our merchants.

Please telegraph instructions regarding satisfaction. I respectfully recommend following: Apology by the Military Governor in such form and under such conditions as we may prescribe and with special regard to the public violation of the consul’s dignity; suitable punishment of those responsible for the crime as may be determined; indemnity for Coltman’s family; cancellation of prohibition against transportation of currency by foreign merchants as authorized by treaty and reservation of right to present claims for damages in consequence of interruption of business.

I append principal facts in the case which I hope will be sufficient to enable the Department to give instructions.

On the morning of December 11th, Coltman and Stuart L. Wooden informed the consul they wished to leave Kalgan that afternoon for Urga with four automobiles. They urged him to accompany them past the two military guard stations as they had not secured number plates for their cars although provided with permits to leave Kalgan. Wooden informed consul he was transporting about $10,000 in silver currency for use in his business at Urga. Consul escorted cars safely to second guard station where a military officer insisted on searching cars. Consul interposed no objection to search of Chinese passengers or their baggage but refused assent to search of cars or Americans. Officer then inquired whether the cars were transporting any currency. Consul replied about $10,000 property of American citizens. Officer stated order issued that day by Military Governor prohibited export of more than $100 per person and categorically forbade cars to proceed with money. Consul announced his identity and his intention of interviewing superior authorities. [Page 712] Officer declared himself indifferent whether Sokobin was consul or not and said currency could not proceed. About this time at his order soldiers loaded their rifles. Consul calling for [called upon?] the Commissioner of Foreign Affairs and stated that he had not been informed of embargo nor accepted it as applicable to Americans. He therefore refused to recognize its applicability in the present instance insisting that cars would proceed. Commissioner admitted embargo had not been notified to consul or foreign firms and expressed regret but insisted nevertheless silver could not be exported.

Consul returned to cars and took his seat just behind Coltman. Officer had left but guard remained. Latter fully aware of identity consul. After consultation with consul, Coltman and Wooden decided to start. As soon as cars started soldiers withdrew from position beside cars and opened fire on cars and without having called on them to halt or attempting forcible restraint of any kind. Wooden’s car untouched proceeded but Coltman stopped his car on hearing shots. After his car had stopped Coltman was hit by bullet. Coltman brought to Peking in special train that night, Wooden returned next day.

[Paraphrase.] The consul later found out that besides personal funds Coltman was carrying $35,000 for Chinese banks. This, however, was not known to the consul or to any Chinese officials when the discussion and shooting took place. The Chinese action was taken on the understanding that the only funds involved were those of American firms. [End paraphrase.]

  1. Telegram in two sections.
  2. C. T. Wang.
  3. Foreign Relations, 1921, vol. i, p. 516.