393.1164 Foochow College/5

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

No. 871

Sir: The Department refers to despatch No. 71 of February 17, 1928, from the American Consul at Foochow,52 copies of which were [Page 571] sent to the Legation. The indicated subject of this despatch was “Destruction by Fire of Foochow College Dormitory”, but the topic of principal interest discussed was the effect on American educational institutions of registration in accordance with Chinese regulations.

Upon consideration of the views expressed by the American Consulate at Foochow in the despatch in reference and its enclosures, the Department is inclined to the belief that the registration of American missionary educational institutions with the Chinese authorities in accordance with the terms of regulations issued in different localities in recent years does imply a certain relinquishment of the control of such institutions by American to Chinese citizens. For instance, registration under these regulations often requires that a Chinese citizen or a board of managers predominantly Chinese shall be in control of the school concerned. Moreover, registration also seems to result in conceding to the Chinese authorities a voice in the questions of the continuance or closing of the school and the use of its property.

The Department refers in this connection to its instruction No. 448 to the Legation of March 7, 1927,53 in reference to a tendency noted by the Department on the part of Chinese Christians to assume an independent position in the conduct and management of the affairs of the religious bodies to which they belong, a tendency which a considerable element among the American missionaries seems to consider a normal and desirable development. The Legation will recollect that the Department stated in this instruction that it does not, as a rule, desire to intervene on behalf of American concerns unless the latter are under effective American control and unless such intervention is specifically desired by the persons or organizations concerned.

In the year that has elapsed since March, 1927, information has from time to time come to the attention of the Department warranting the belief that American missionary institutions are generally encouraging increased control of their enterprises in China by the Chinese associated in such enterprises. Coincident with this there appears to be a growing reluctance on the part of some American missionary organizations to invoke or rely upon the official intervention of this Government in such matters as obtaining reparation for losses.

The relations of American missionary institutions in Turkey with the authorities of that country have already undergone considerable change. In China this change appears to be in progress. During this transitional period, when the views and policies of the Chinese and American interests concerned are neither fixed nor uniform, it is impossible for the Department to formulate rules for the guidance [Page 572] of its officers in China in all cases. The Department would deprecate, for instance, a statement so categorical as the following, contained in a letter dated July 12, 1927, from the Consul at Foochow, addressed to “All Mission Schools, Foochow”54 and transmitted with the despatch already referred to:

“Subject to instructions to the contrary, I am prepared to state that any institution registered under the regulations cited is entirely Chinese, and, as such, has no right to the recognition or assistance of the American Government.”

It should be noted that this correspondence was not referred to the Department until the covering despatch dated February 17, 1928, was written.

The Department considers that American consular officers when called upon to exercise their good offices on behalf of American missionary institutions, particularly educational institutions registered under Chinese regulations, should exercise the utmost tact and endeavor so far as may be possible to exert a conciliatory influence in such cases of conflict as may arise. The Department is sanguine that the American missionary institutions in China, the Chinese citizens interested therein and the Chinese authorities will be able gradually to arrive at a readjustment of their mutual relations in such matters, for instance, as the registration of mission schools. The Department is, of course, responsible for the oversight of the welfare of American interests in general in China, and it has and it reserves the right to intervene whenever it considers that action in the nature indicated is advisable. With this general reservation, however, the Department considers that American consular officers would be well advised to refrain from any attempt to crystallize prematurely or to influence the course of such changes in the status of American missionary enterprises in China as are taking place with the apparent acquiescence of all the parties concerned. It would be preferable to allow these matters to take their natural course. Until the present treaties between the United States and China are modified by mutual agreement, American missionary institutions in China will be entitled to rely upon such provisions thereof as define their rights and obligations, but if these institutions themselves desire to forego some of the advantages granted to them under the treaties, the Department considers it desirable, within the limitation of what is legally permissible, not to interpose obstacles.

While the Department desires to leave American missionary and philanthropic institutions free to follow such courses in this respect as seem to them most advantageous in the prosecution of their work, [Page 573] and while it desires to extend to them every assistance consistent with the course which they elect to follow, it should be made clear to the American institutions concerned that when the control of their enterprises and of their property is by them given to Chinese citizens they must look primarily to the Chinese authorities for protection. Chinese citizens are not amenable to American law nor are they entitled to any of the benefits accruing to American citizens and institutions from the treaties. The American Government is thus estopped from intervening on their behalf. It is assumed that American institutions in making these new arrangements will protect themselves, so far as possible, by forms of contract that will enable them to have recourse to Chinese courts for the remedy of any injuries received. The jurisdiction of American courts, of course, will be asserted over American legal persons and their property, and appropriate assistance will be rendered in cases of denial of justice, but the limitations and modifications which necessarily flow from the transfer of authority must be recognized.

Unless the Legation desires first to make comments in this connection, pertinent portions of the present instruction should be communicated to American consuls in China for their guidance.

I am [etc.]

For the Secretary of State:
Nelson Trusler Johnson