893.00/7407: Telegram

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


219. 1. I call the Department’s attention to the following despatches from Consul General Jenkins at Canton: No. 380, February 6; No. 413, April 1;2 and No. 422, April 14. From these and other relevant reports it is clear that Jenkins seriously fears that the continuance of a passive policy or one of “drift” concerning the increasing infringements upon American rights and interests in territory [Page 706] which is controlled by the Canton regime will be very dangerous. Jenkins has repeatedly recommended that we should call the Canton authorities to account and demand that they stop the illegal acts practiced against foreign persons and properties. He believes this demand might be made jointly with the other interested powers. I telegraphed Jenkins for a final statement of his views, in the light of developments to date. In his reply, which has just been received, he states that there is no improvement in the situation and that he has not changed his view expressed in his despatch No. 380 of February 6. …

2. The American Association of South China has adopted a memorial, which is being forwarded by mail, setting forth temperately the consciousness of danger confronting American interests. From this memorial I quote the following.3

“We are living in a section of China which is largely controlled by a group that refuses to believe in the good intentions of the American Government, which seems to decline to cooperate in policies looking toward future good will, and which has allowed American interests to be illegally destroyed without affording protection.

Americans in South China are now facing a crisis. We have to make decisions which involve not only our personal interests and those of the firm or mission we represent but involve important interests of the American people as well. Therefore the executive committee of the American Association on behalf of the Americans living in South China asks the Department of State of the United States Government to give us some practical indications as to how to proceed in the face of these destructive forces.”

3. A dilemma of the greatest difficulty is presented by the problems indicated above. One must agree, on the one hand, with Jenkins that if we allow the Cantonese to disregard with impunity foreign rights to life and property, it will encourage them in a line of action which is sure to become more and more outrageous and irresponsible, [possibly or certainly?] leading to tragic incidents. …

4. On the other hand, the people of South China are in a temper to seek occasions for offense, being still strongly under the influence of the hysterical mood of self-assertion, which I described in my telegram No. 293 of July 28, 1925.4 It is therefore difficult to judge whether the Cantonese would be brought to their senses by a more active insistence upon our rights backed by the presence of a naval force and an evident readiness to use that force in any clean-cut case in which our people and their rights were flagrantly menaced or whether popular feeling would be so inflamed by such action that the safety of Americans beyond the reach of our protection would be jeopardized.

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5. If a passive policy is followed it is certain that conditions will go from bad to worse, perhaps to the very worst. If we adopt a policy of positive action to protect our rights, using force if necessary in cases where the implication is clear and it is feasible to take naval action, we may improve the situation or we may hasten catastrophe. I frankly feel unable to make any estimate of these possibilities better than a guess as to the gambling chances in following one or the other policies. For this reason I do not feel able to offer any recommendation as to a choice between the two policies mentioned above without a more satisfactory report on the situation than I feel can be obtained in the absence of more personal contact than is afforded by official correspondence. In dealing with the local situation Jenkins has shown exceptional ability and judgment, but considering the grave and imminent danger involved and the very different backgrounds and points of view in North and South China, I feel the necessity in making up my own mind as to the course to follow, to supplement the written reports from Jenkins by consultation with him through some one who has the Legation’s point of view. I therefore urge that the Department authorize me to send Mayer5 to Canton and Hongkong to spend about two weeks between those two cities, consulting with Jenkins and Tredwell.6 I think that the mere fact of his visit would give heart to American interests, which are becoming very despondent, and also would have a tendency to lead the Canton authorities to take an attitude of somewhat less unfriendly indifference. The reason, however, why I especially want authority to send Mayer is that consultations, particularly with Jenkins, would give me a basis for making more confident and intelligent recommendations to the Department as to the policy to be pursued regarding the alarming developments which are now in progress in South China. If the Department authorizes this trip Mayer would probably leave here about June 1 and be absent a month.

  1. Despatch No. 413 not printed.
  2. Quotation not paraphrased.
  3. Foreign Relations, 1925, vol. i, p. 799.
  4. Ferdinand L. Mayer, counselor of Legation.
  5. Roger Culver Tredwell, consul general at Hongkong.