893.00 P.R./11

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

No. 1708

Sir: In accordance with the Department’s instruction No. 78, of October 9, 1925,63 I have the honor to submit the following summary, with index, of events and conditions in China during September, 1928:

The period under review was a relatively quiet one, characterised by some increase in the influence of the moderates, but it would be somewhat too optimistic to feel that any great advance was made in it toward the achievement of that state of affairs, desired by Chinese and foreigners alike, in which not only are the privileges of complete territorial sovereignty enjoyed but its obligations respected.

During the month, the Central Political Council of the Kuomintang was largely occupied in working out, for subsequent reference to the Central Executive Committee, a form of governmental organization to be instituted for the purpose of carrying on the government of the country, under the supervision of the Kuomintang party, on the basis of a government council and five “Yuan” or principal branches of the Government, namely, executive, legislative, judicial, examination, and control or supervisory.

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Operations undertaken to clear northeastern Chihli of the last remnants of the Shantung-Chihli armies were initiated and brought to virtual completion during the period under review. At the end of the month, as reported by the Legation’s Military Attaché, it appeared that the principal organizations of these forces either were disbanded or incorporated among Nationalist or Fengtien troops. The question still remained unsettled, however, as to whether Fengtien or Nationalist forces were to occupy the territory between the Luan River and the Great Wall. …

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[Page 168]

General Yen Hsi-shan returned to Peking on September 25th to resume his duties as Garrison Commander of the Peking-Tientsin area, after an absence of some two months in Taiyuanfu.

Survey of Conditions in China Under the Nationalist Government

With the assistance of the American Consular officers in China, the Legation made an estimate of prevailing conditions in this country, during the period under review, similar to, but somewhat more extensive than, that outlined in the monthly summary for August:

As constituted during September, the Nationalist Government consisted of: First, a central organization made up of (a) the executives of the Kuomintang party composed of controlling committees; and (b) the heads of administrative departments or ministries, some of whom had only recently joined the party; and, Second, provincial or regional administrations in which the actual power was held by various militarists, some of whom had but lately allied themselves with the party for reasons of expediency, and among whom wide divergences of policy existed.

The Nationalist Government was unstable owing to: First, the extremely divergent elements of which it was composed and the consequent inability to attain sufficient cohesion to make possible any constructive work; Second, the scarcity of men actuated by unselfish patriotism, and the almost complete lack of men of outstanding ability; Third, the inclusion of many of the same vicious elements which proved a source of weakness to its Peking predecessors; Fourth, the failure to fulfill all but a modicum of its wide-sweeping promises for the betterment of the people, and the improbability of its being able subsequently to carry out these promises which, together with the endeavor to rule the country to the selfish advantages of the old Kuomintang, were resulting in popular disillusionment and disappointment; Fifth, the failure to put into effect Mr. T. V. Soong’s sound economic and fiscal policy which, or some equivalent of which, was essential if China’s economic plight was to be alleviated; Sixth, the failure to assure support to any effective administration of the salt and customs services which constituted the only machinery for effectively producing revenue regularly and on a large scale, and the consequent injury of China’s credit abroad; Seventh, the inability to induce or compel the provinces, other than Kiangsu and possibly Chekiang, to contribute to the financial support of the central government; Eighth, the failure to remove or to mitigate the incubus of undisciplined coolie armies and the improbability of any real progress along this line; Ninth, the possibility that the increasing [Page 169] dissatisfaction, particularly in the north, might be seized upon by some leader, such as Marshal Feng Yu-Hsiang, to set up a separate government; Tenth, the continued activities of the communists under Soviet direction, which might take advantage of the economic breakdown to create disorders; Eleventh, the committee system of organization which both per se and owing to its unsuitability to the Chinese temperament, prevented the effective functioning of such government as had been organized; and Twelfth, the moral instability resulting from the lack of all sense of responsibility for obligations or even national interests as weighed against the possibility of “making face” by meretricious postures.

On the other hand, the greatest asset of the government was the fact that it personified and served as a focal point for the still vague nationalist aspirations of the people. Its future prospects depended directly upon its ability to remove or materially to mitigate the factors of instability indicated above and thus to continue to hold the popular imagination. This popular approval had until then protected it from outside attacks and from serious internal defections.

The Nationalist movement throve upon the people’s resentment against their unhappy condition which its leaders had succeeded in directing against the former militarists and foreign “imperialists.”

Consular reports unanimously indicated the continued subservience of the courts to the military, the break-down in some instances of the modern courts from lack of funds, and a general absence of reform or improvement. …

Judging from Consular reports and from the Legation’s observation, effective civil control was virtually non-existent in the provinces, all ultimate authority being in the hands of the militarists. …

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Consular reports and general information both indicated that there had been no improvement in the matter of taxes, which in many instances were heavier than before, were controlled by the militarists, and were collected through tax farmers. …

The generally unsatisfactory economic conditions obtaining, and the growing disillusionment as to the Government’s ability to fulfill its promises, both combined to present a fertile field in which communist agitators were constantly active. The communists, moreover, constituted the most compact and single minded and best organized of all Chinese parties, and enjoyed the advantages of Russian guidance and money. It was believed, during September, however, that, while local outbreaks might at times occur, a general return to power of the communists was not likely, unless some prominent leader, such as Marshal Fenir Yu-hsiang, should desire to make use of them. … It was not believed that Marshal Feng and General [Page 170] Chiang were converts to Marxian principles, but that they were opportunists who would not scruple to utilize the communists’ strength to further their own ends.

Civil warfare was being waged at the end of September in northern Chihli, Szechwan, Kwangtung, Hunan, Hupeh, and Honan. These “wars” were not of a major character, but as long as the million and more men under arms throughout China were not disbanded and placed in gainful occupations, the danger of war on a larger scale would remain.

The relationship between the more important military leaders in the Nationalist party during the period under review, as formerly, was one of unstable equilibrium. Probably none of them desired war, provided their objects could be attained by other means. The danger lay in their possession of swollen armies, which each desired to retain to ensure his own position, and the support of which each was finding difficult without enlarging his own sphere of power at the expense of the others. The fear of public opinion served as a deterrent, but it was difficult to say for how long public opinion would prove effective in this regard. Hankow stated, “as long as large armies are necessary and money is available, there is always the possibility of new conflicts.”

The general situation throughout China, while discouraging, was not hopeless. The more important Chinese classes largely had been shaken out of their lethargy and while their energies were too often misdirected, it was felt that these might in time be diverted into genuinely progressive channels. The small leaven of clear-headed and patriotic civilian leaders, who, although in a hopeless minority, remained undiscouraged by the conditions here described, deserved the greatest sympathy: unfortunately, however, they were not in control of either the government or the situation.

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I have [etc.]

J. V. A. MacMurray
  1. Not printed.