The Consul General at Canton ( Jenkins ) to the Minister in China ( MacMurray )85

No. 380

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the Legation’s instruction of December 8, 1925, in reference to my despatch No. 326 [323] of November 6, 1925,86 concerning the lack of respect shown in Canton for the rights due to American citizens under the treaties, and suggesting that I prepare a frank and full statement of my views as to the measures the United States Government might advantageously take to protect American citizens and their property from encroachments by officials of the Canton regime, strike pickets and others.

I trust the Legation understands that I had no intention of undertaking to criticize the attitude of our Government in relation to Canton, or China as a whole. I realize fully how extremely delicate the situation is and with what care American policy must be developed and carried out if we are to avoid even greater difficulties than are now being encountered. While I can have little or no expectation of adding anything new to the information already in the Legation’s possession, I shall endeavor to report the situation as I see it. It is barely possible that I may have something to suggest of value with respect to Canton which, it seems to me, is somewhat apart from the general situation in the rest of China.

Needless to say I am entirely opposed to the use of force. I cannot, however, escape the impression that our present policy with relation to the Cantonese is lacking in decision and firmness. I believe that we ought to be just and exceedingly friendly in our dealings with these people, but that we should carefully guard against creating the impression, as I now think we are doing, that we are afraid to meet the issue and are prepared to put up with almost anything rather than stiffen our attitude.

It is only natural, in view of what has gone on during the past seven months, that the mass of the Cantonese should have gotten the impression that the Powers are really afraid to do more than mildly protest, as one treaty right after another is disregarded and brushed aside. There has been a mass of propaganda in Canton tending to convince the students and the general public that the powers are divided and weak, that they have no justice on their side, and that all the right lies with China. The local regime, assisted by its Russian Soviet advisers, has been steadily feeding propaganda to the [Page 691] people of Canton and at the same time doing everything in its power to prevent the dissemination of information contrary to its interests and aims. The local newspapers are not permitted to print anything unfavorable to the present administration. Adverse criticism is suppressed, but everything published in the United States and other countries favorable to China (and there has been a great deal of it) is seized with avidity and given the widest possible publicity.

The Canton government is using the strike to further its aims. There could be no valid objection, of course, to the strike as such were it not encouraged and directed by the authorities, but there is, it seems to me, a very serious cause for complaint in the fact that the local government has permitted the strikers to uniform and arm themselves and to arrest foreigners alleged to have broken strike regulations as well as to seize foodstuffs and other merchandise in the possession of foreigners. Some six weeks ago a Japanese steamer, alleged to have touched at Hongkong, was boarded by armed pickets upon arriving at Canton and is still being forcibly detained pending the payment of a heavy ransom. The local authorities say that they are not responsible for the strike and yet they not only fail to prevent outrages of this sort but have actually promulgated laws conferring extensive police and other powers on the strikers.

The United States government and the other powers were right, in my opinion, in not attempting to interfere with the ordinary course of the strike. Any interference on their part would have been unwarranted and would have been a cause for just condemnation on the part of the outside world. When the strikers went further, however, and began to interfere forcibly with the freedom of movement of American citizens and to seize food products intended for their personal use, it seems to me the situation passed beyond a point where the Powers could longer remain passive and continue merely to file ordinary notes of protest.

In the beginning the strike leaders probably had no intention of interfering directly with foreigners, but when they found that they could take one step without difficulty they naturally tried another and another, so that I should not be surprised at any time now to find the pickets forbidding foreigners entering or leaving Shameen at all, nor should I be surprised to hear that the strikers had decided to prevent the American communities at Tung Shan and Paak Hok Tung from obtaining supplies from neighboring native shops, or even transporting foodstuffs for their own use. Such things have actually been threatened but have not as yet been put into effect.

The ultimate aim of the Kuomintang, or the Canton branch of it at least, is clearly to force the United States and the other Powers to surrender extraterritorial rights and it seems to me quite clear that [Page 692] as long as the Powers submit to the present methods of attack the campaign will gradually become more and more reckless of treaty rights to the very grave discomfort of Americans and other foreigners residing here.

If the Powers are not going to insist upon retaining extraterritoriality in some form we should, it seems to me, let the fact be known without delay. If we continue to cling to these treaty rights in theory and allow them to be taken away piece by piece in practice we shall not only find ourselves without the rights in the end but also without the good will that would come with the voluntary surrender of extraterritoriality.

I do not believe that the Powers should surrender extraterritorial rights but I feel we might get along much better if we could amend the existing treaties without delay and at the same time retain such safeguards as may be necessary. I understand from what I have seen in the newspapers that the Secretary of State has announced that we are not prepared to surrender our extraterritorial rights until we can be reasonably assured of the maintenance of law and order and the proper administration of justice in China. This being true, should we not make it quite clear to the Chinese, and especially to the Cantonese, that we are prepared to go so far and no farther, and that a continuation of the present policy of disregarding the treaties (the more vital features of them) will not be tolerated?

I do not believe such a step would worsen our relations with the Chinese or in any way increase the danger of a possible resort to force. On the contrary I am convinced that the Cantonese would realize, as they do not now, that while the United States Government is disposed to be most patient and kindly it will not permit unjust and unreasonable encroachments upon the rights of its citizens even in China.

In order to assume such an attitude, however, the United States Government must have the support of the American people and to secure this support it would be necessary to let the American public know just what is going on in China. So far the people at home have heard a great deal about the rights of the Chinese and the injustice of the powers but they have not been fully informed respecting violations of essential treaty rights, the absence of any real government in China, the corruption of the judiciary, and the brutality and lawlessness of the Chinese military, not to mention the interference of Russian Bolshevik agents and the open declaration on the part of the Canton regime that it will pursue a policy of friendliness only to those Powers which treat China as equals. The indignities to which American citizens are now being subjected at [Page 693] the hands of the strikers should also be stressed. It is believed that a change in the attitude of the American press would immediately react on the Canton politicians, who are working on the assumption that the American Government does not enjoy popular support in its China policy.

So far as I can ascertain the present Canton regime does not desire recognition, or at least will not until it has secured control of Peking or a large part of China. Dr. C. C. Wu87 said only a few days ago that they were not “secessionists” and were not especially interested in the question of recognition at this time. It is clear, however, that the Canton government holds the present Peking regime in the utmost contempt and that communications addressed to Peking with respect to matters in Canton are not only almost useless but irritating to the Cantonese. Might it not be possible, with certain precautions and within certain limits, for the United States Government to communicate with the Canton regime through this Consulate General? This would have the advantage of directness and would lend greater emphasis to our government’s views in relation to Canton.

To summarize I would suggest:

The use of force is most inadvisable and should not be considered except in connection with the gravest possible emergencies involving the preservation of American lives.
The abolition of extraterritoriality is inadvisable so long as China is without a responsible government, including a reliable judiciary.
The speedy and extensive amendment of the existing extraterritorial treaties seems highly desirable so that unessential and objectionable features may be dropped while essential rights should be maintained although possibly under a radically different form.
[sic] Some plan should be adopted under which the Canton régime might be dealt with more or less directly rather than through Peking. Moreover the Canton regime should be informed that further encroachments upon the essential rights of Americans cannot longer be tolerated.
To make this position in relation to the Cantonese effective and at the same time remove the danger of having to resort to force, steps should be taken to awaken the American public to the true state of affairs in China.

Trusting that the above suggestions may be of some small value to the Legation,

I have [etc.]

Douglas Jenkins
  1. Copy transmitted to the Department by the consul general as an enclosure to his despatch No. 455, Feb. 6; received Mar. 17.
  2. Neither printed.
  3. Wu Ch’ao-ch’u, prominent leader in the Kuomintang.