393.1123 Coltman, Charles/15: Telegram

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


21. My telegrams no. 4, January 3, and no. 18, January 14.34

On morning of January 15 I asked Sze for a conference. We held it yesterday afternoon at his home. In accordance with his wish [Page 719] we were alone. For more than an hour we informally discussed all aspects of the Coltman case.
Sze was apparently frank in stating that in settling the affair it was not simply a matter of justice but also one of practicability. He said that if his Government yielded to our third demand,35 i. e., punishment for the three officers, either the military authorities would ignore the Government’s order or else the order would lead to mutiny. I answered that Tsao Kun36 controlled the Chinese Cabinet, that the Tutung at Kalgan was Tsao’s man, and that Tsao could do anything he wished with the army. Sze also said that it was his own honest opinion that we prejudged the case in making a demand for the dismissal of the three officers and for their exclusion from future service. Pending a conviction by a competent tribunal he would not even have these officers dismissed. He said, suppose a tribunal should find them guiltless? I replied that in that case if we followed his program we would have no punishment at all for the crime. (It was to prevent such a result that I did not at first propose that the entire question of the guilt and punishment of these officers be left to Chinese courts.)
Regarding the fourth demand, Sze raised an objection to the word “indemnity”, and also to leaving the amount to be determined by the American Government. He said this would form a dangerous precedent for other nations to follow. He wishes the sum limited to $10,000 Mexican. This limitation I intimated would not be acceptable.
We can obtain the fifth demand with provisions for securing permits in advance for transportation.
Sze objects to our sixth demand and says Premier also strongly opposes it. In my opinion this demand is not of vital importance.
An apology from the Tutung to the consul can be had in some form, possibly by a letter which the consul could answer and express his regrets that American merchants had not informed him that they were transporting Chinese silver.
Indemnity and the punishment of the three officers remain as real and fundamental difficulties. Sze said that there were two courses, either one of which he was ready to follow; either to have negotiations transferred to Washington or to resign with a public statement of his reasons for doing so.
With respect to the suggested resignation I infer that Sze is finding his office a difficult and thankless task. He said he doubted whether he could stand the heavy and constant strain and worry [Page 720] which already is increasing the bad cold and slight illness from which he was suffering when he took office.
This case has aroused the interest of Americans and foreigners all over China. The action of the officials at Kalgan, as I told Sze yesterday, was in violation of the basic principle of consular jurisdiction.

Any further instructions or suggestions which the Department may wish to send will be greatly appreciated.

  1. Latter telegram not printed.
  2. For American demands, see telegram no. 2, Jan. 2, from the Minister in China, p. 714.
  3. Inspector General, Chihli, Shantung, and Honan Provinces.