893.00 Nanking/10: Telegram

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


275. 1. The British Minister called the Japanese Minister and myself into consultation yesterday morning. Sir Miles Lampson had been instructed by his Government to ascertain our views regarding the meeting of commanders in chief which Admiral Williams reported to the Chief of Naval Operations in his telegram 0027–2140.

2. Lampson has received a report from his representative at Hankow, [Page 165] Teichman, that Eugene Ch’en apparently had been genuinely dismayed and shocked when he learned of the Nanking incident. The report stated that Ch’en insisted that Shantung troops must have committed the outrages because he could not believe that Nationalist troops would be guilty of such conduct, but that he said he was having an investigation of the matter made and would assume all responsibilities properly attaching to a Government representative if it developed that there was an appropriate case. Ch’en had tried to qualify this by a reservation regarding the shelling of Socony Hill by foreign warships but he modified this reservation when Teichman asked him not to add insult to injury.

3. Full accounts of the Nanking incident had been received by the Japanese Minister. I shall telegraph a summary if it is desired. This report confirms the fact that although some looting had been done by Shantung troops before they left Nanking, the attacks upon foreigners and the incendiarism and looting of their property had been done only by soldiers in uniforms of Nationalist troops of the Second and Sixth Armies who had not molested any Chinese. Yang, chief of the Political Bureau of the Sixth Division of the Second Army, had stopped the raids upon the Japanese consulate after some hours. He expressed regret and told the Japanese consul that members of the Nanking branch of the Communist Party had instigated the attacks. The Japanese consul reported that he had followed the policy of making absolutely no resistance throughout the affair.

4. It was also stated by the Japanese Minister that on March 27 his Government had instructed the Japanese consul general at Shanghai to forcibly present the Nanking incident to Chiang Kai-shek, who had gone to Shanghai after a brief stay at Nanking, and to urge him to return immediately to Nanking and confer with American, British, and Japanese authorities as to punishment of the guilty and other measures which will be satisfactory to the powers.

5. The British Minister suggested at first that in view of the conciliatory attitude of Eugene Ch’en, we should offer the Nationalist regime first an opportunity to show its good faith by proposing that representatives of the interested powers and of the Hankow regime make a joint investigation. The Japanese Minister thought, however, that all the essentials of the case had been established beyond doubt and that by endeavoring to negotiate with Ch’en, who has no authority of his own and is merely the spokesman of the radical elements in control, we would merely subject ourselves to dilatory action and evasions. The Japanese Minister believed that there was hope for far more satisfactory and prompt action regarding the [Page 166] punishment of the guilty from Chiang Kai-shek. The British Minister and I agreed with this view both because we know that due to an atmosphere of intimidation by Russian Communist agents Ch’en is not a free agent, and because the steps already taken by the Japanese with Chiang Kai-shek seem to give confirmation of a relationship between them, which makes it likely that he could be prevailed upon by Japanese influence.

6. In the hope that in the meantime I would receive some indication of your views on the situation at Nanking, I suggested that we give the matter further consideration and meet again in the evening in the hope that at that time we could all three agree upon a recommendation we could offer to our respective Governments.

7.38 At our subsequent meeting we decided to recommend to our respective Governments:

  • “A. To take the matter up at once with Chiang Kai-shek through our consul general at Shanghai and present to him the following terms: (1) Adequate punishment of the commander of the troops responsible for the murders, personal injuries and indirect and material damage done; as also of all persons found to be implicated. (2) Apology in writing by the commander in chief of the Nationalist army including an express written undertaking to refrain from all forms of violence and agitation against foreign lives and property. (3) Complete reparation for personal injuries and material damage done.
  • B. Simultaneously to inform Chiang Kai-shek through our consuls general that unless he demonstrates to our satisfaction his intention to comply promptly with these terms the interested powers will find themselves compelled to specify a time limit for compliance, failing which they reserve to themselves [the right?] to take such measures as they consider appropriate.”

8. We decided also to avoid delay by sending the above recommendation at once but that it should be considered as tentative until we have consulted our French and Italian colleagues whom we are to see today with a view to securing their cooperation.

9. I do not see how we can ignore the affair at Nanking or request anything less than this studiously moderate degree of reassurance and amends if we are to avoid an unfortunate new Boxer movement, organized and encouraged with the audacity and adroitness which has been introduced into the Chinese antiforeign movement by the Russians. We must frankly recognize, however, that most of all we are confronted by the possibility that Chiang Kai-shek will prove unable or unwilling to abandon the truculent attitude which, [Page 167] according to the press, he has assumed. His reported attitude is that the incident is now over and is of no importance anyway. There is also the possibility that Chiang Kai-shek may prove to be fair minded and reasonable, but that at the instigation of the Russian advisers who created the incident, he may thereupon be removed from his position. We must be prepared in either case to take resolute action in collaboration with the other powers chiefly interested to bring pressure upon the Nationalists. It is my understanding that the naval authorities have given favorable consideration to the possibility of destroying the forts at Kiangyin near Nanking. Apparently this could be done without unduly endangering noncombatants. Personally, however, I doubt the effectiveness of any purely local act of reprisal.

10. Should we indeed have to deal with a Nationalist China capable of instigating and condoning the Nanking affair, it must be realized that the problem presented is greater and more serious than we have previously admitted to ourselves, and we must deal with it on broader lines than we have before conceived. It must be recognized that we have to deal with a vast number of people who are latently hostile to Americans no less than to other foreigners, and who are subject to incitement, to mob brutality like that personally witnessed by our military attaché at Wuhu (see Legation’s telegram 251 of March 25 [26?], noon39). With such a possibility in mind, I feel that we owe it to American citizens in Kuomintang territory to hasten their withdrawal completely from China or to Shanghai or such other places, like Tientsin, where we can give reasonable assurance of their safety. With this evacuation completed, I see no effective way to bring pressure on China except to blockade all Chinese ports from Shanghai south. Lampson showed himself, in such discussion as we had of the matter, personally favorable to this course as a last resort. The Japanese Ambassador is noncommittal, indicating that while his Government was previously opposed, it might favor such a course should it be necessary for the solution of the problem presented by the affair at Nanking.

11. Possibly there is some other constructive course of action in this situation which we have overlooked. Unless there is such a course open, I cannot urge too strongly that we face the facts as they are on the basis that we must obtain a satisfactory solution in order to avoid vastly greater evils in the future. There should be cooperation perhaps among the powers chiefly interested, France and Italy not necessarily being included. I believe that action such as I have indicated could yet keep China from becoming a hostile [Page 168] agent of Soviet Russia against western powers, including the United States. If this situation is not resolutely met, it will mean the downfall of western influences and interests in the Orient.

12. This telegram has been repeated to the American Embassy at Tokyo.

  1. Par. 7 not paraphrased.
  2. Not printed.