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

No. 471

Sir: As an unhappy illustration of the difficulties that will doubtless in the future confront American and other manufacturers at ports open to trade, I have the honor to transmit herewith enclosed [Page 716] copies of four despatches from the American Consul-General at Tientsin to the American Minister18 describing a strike of Chinese workmen at certain rug factories at Tientsin operated by American citizens. Copies of one of the despatches in this series, that of February 4, 1926,18 have already been sent to the Department without accompanying comment. There is likewise enclosed herewith a copy of my despatch of February 4th to Mr. Gauss on this subject.

During the Fengtien régime in Tientsin, under Military Governor Li Ching-lin, labor unions were suppressed, on the ground that their activities were subversive of order. At the end of December, last, Li Ching-lin was expelled by the Kuominchun forces and the labor unions hoped for recognition and liberty to act under the latter’s more liberal régime. The claim of the Wu P’ei-fu19–Chang Tsolin20 alliance is that it is “anti-red”, while the party headed by Feng Yii-hsiang21 adopts as its slogan liberty and equality among the citizens of the Republic.

An American concern, H. J. Tavshanjian, Incorporated, operates a carpet factory in the ex-German Concession at Tientsin with some seven hundred Chinese workmen. On January 19th these workmen went on strike, their main object being, apparently, to reestablish their labor union. There had been no antecedent labor troubles of any importance. Immediately they went on strike the workmen put on white badges indicating that they were members of the carpet workers’ union and took possession of the factory premises. Several Chinese appeared wearing red badges, who seemed to direct the actions of the workmen.

The Chinese police at once attempted to negotiate with the strikers and thus to end the trouble without resort to violence. They succeeded in getting the six or seven hundred strikers to the police compound, where they were given the alternatives of returning to work, or of being paid off and dismissed. The Manager of the factory made an offer of three days’ bonus at the Chinese New Year (February 13th) if the men returned to work and performed their duties satisfactorily until then. This offer was accepted and work was resumed on January 22nd.

On January 25th there was again trouble in the factory. This time it was a dispute between two factions of the workmen themselves, but the result was that the American Manager was deprived of his control over the factory, and he became convinced that the only practicable course open to him was to close the institution. Civil [Page 717] and military police, and also two hundred soldiers, arrived and some twenty strikers were arrested, which restored quiet. In spite of the Manager’s desire to close the factory the police were most averse to his taking this step and about half of the force went back to work next day.

At this time similar strikes occurred in other American-owned rug factories in Tientsin. In the handling of these later strikes the Provincial authorities were much milder in their methods and resorted almost entirely to negotiations with the workmen. Finally, by giving the men a bonus, the owners, Messrs. Elbrook, Incorporated, were able to close their factories. The changed attitude of the authorities was suspected by Mr. Gauss to be due to pressure brought to bear by Communist sympathizers. Inflammatory literature and the presence of many agitators indicated the source of the disturbances in an unmistakable manner, and Mr. Gauss was of the opinion that after the Chinese New Year the strikes would spread to the cotton mills.

The Communist Party finds in China only very limited scope for its special type of propaganda, since the class of industrial laborers and transportation workers is only a minute fraction of the total population. Nevertheless, this class can be most vociferous and its members are found mostly at the open ports, where their activities attract disproportionate attention.

Mr. Gauss throughout the recent troubles at Tientsin followed the wise policy of insisting that the Chinese authorities themselves decide upon and execute measures for handling the situation. He not only refused to invoke the use of American military and naval force, but he even declined to request the authorities to eject the workmen from the factories. I commended him for adopting this policy and to it I attribute the avoidance of a possible repetition of incidents similar to those of May, last, in Shanghai.22 It must be admitted that Mr. Gauss did not succeed in keeping the American-owned factories in operation, but I cannot see that it would have been possible to do so. I fear that American industrialists and merchants in China must face the probability, however discouraging it may be, that in addition to wars, extortionate taxation, and brigandage, their various enterprises will for some time to come be hampered by fomented ill-will and labor agitations. This is the end to which the Third International and its paid emissaries are directing their sinister activities, and although the Chinese, with their common sense, will ultimately see that they are being made the dupes of the Communists and will awake to the advantages of a co-operative, rather than an obstructive, attitude toward the world-tide of economic progress, the moment of [Page 718] their awakening may be postponed for an indefinite period. Unfortunately there are no organized efforts to show the Chinese where their economic advantage lies in these matters, as there are energetic efforts to mislead them.

I have [etc.]

J. V. A. MacMurray

The Minister in China (MacMurray) to the Consul General at Tientsin (Gauss)

Sir: I have received your despatch of January 26, 1926, and preceding correspondence relating to strikes of Chinese laborers in American-owned rug factories at Tientsin, and I note your statement that you would be glad to receive from the Legation any general or special instructions that may be deemed appropriate as outlining either the American policy or the course to be pursued by the Consulate-General.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I share your misgivings in regard to the probable trend of political affairs in North China during the coming months. The present Government in Peking, like the Provisional Government of Chihli, is financially destitute, and there is only a slight prospect that it will be able to secure the funds necessary for it to meet the financial settlement day at Chinese New Year, February 13th, with any show of success. Since there is no large industrial class in Peking with any semblance of organization there is no reason to fear industrial disorders of a serious nature, however, in the Capital itself. I allude to these circumstances as indicating that there is little hope that any politically stabilizing influence will emanate from Peking, unless assistance comes from some source unforeseen at the present.

The course of events in Tientsin resembles ominously the course taken by events at Canton under the late Sun Yat Sen Government While conditions at Canton are now greatly improved, for a long time, as you are doubtless aware, the strikers’ organization there had, to all intents and purposes, an official status. The professed government deferred to it and appeared to accord recognition to its regulations. There remains, as yet, this dissimilarity, that the Chihli Government has not yet announced its open support of the labor unions, so far as I am aware.

In these circumstances I consider that you have decided wisely in insisting that it is the duty of the Chinese authorities to decide as to the measures that must be taken for the protection of the property [Page 719] of the American factories, and in pursuing and urging on American interests a policy of patience, caution and tolerance.

It is obviously impossible for American officials in connection with labor disturbances, to make good the deficiencies of the Chinese authorities, except insofar as urgent official representations may awake the latter to a realization of their duties. You should, of course, at all times apprise the authorities of danger threatening American interests, with a view to possible future demand for compensation for losses, should the circumstances seem to justify such demand. With the present sinister forces actively at work fomenting discontent and anti-foreign feeling the after effects to be feared from the use of force seem to outweigh the advantage that it might be expected to produce.

In view of the accusations that already have been made regarding the length of working hours and under-payment in the American-owned rug factories at Tientsin I should be greatly interested in receiving such information as you could conveniently secure in regard to these points.

I am [etc.]

J. V. A. MacMurray
  1. Not printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Former commander of Chihli troops who had been defeated in the civil war of 1924.
  4. General in control of Manchuria.
  5. Former commander of the First Kuominchun or National Armies.
  6. See Foreign Relations, 1925, vol. i, pp. 647 ff.