893.00 P.R./7

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

No. 1545

Sir: In accordance with the Department’s instruction No. 78, of October 9, 1925,44 I have the honor to submit the following summary, with index, of events and conditions in China during May, 1928:

It will be recalled that after some months of quiescence hostilities incident to the Northern Expedition were vigorously resumed early in April and that all significant occurrences of the period were either secondary to or associated with military operations. During May also interest and attention remained focused on the advance toward the Peking-Tientsin area made by the associated forces of Generals Yen Hsi-shan, Feng Yü-hsiang, and Chiang Kai-shek, their continuing progress being due to success in the field of battle in a Western sense; to the adroit use of brains and money in the opportunist manipulation of factional alignments after the Eastern fashion; and, in a general and intangible way, to the moral effect on the more enlightened among the members of the Southern forces of having ail aim to their striving, namely, that of endeavoring to put into practice throughout the whole country the supposedly adequate and satisfying Nationalist theory of government.

A clash at Tsinanfu on May 3rd, and the days immediately following, between the on-coming Nationalists and the Japanese expeditionary forces which had been despatched to that city to protect the numerous Japanese nationals resident there, while of considerable consequence from the point of view of China’s foreign relations, delayed only temporarily the Nationalist advance. At the end of May, after persistent retirements on the part of Fengtien units hardly warranted in a strictly military sense, it was evident that the Mukden party was preparing to yield to what was coming to be the inevitable. The withdrawal of Generalissimo Chang Tso-lin into Manchuria and the occupation of Peking by the Nationalists was momentarily expected. Japan’s reaction to the disturbances in China, as expressed in a note, virtually an ultimatum, of May 18th,45 was not without influence in shaping the course of the events of the period under review, but the situation was so fluid at the end of May that it was impossible to predict what results cooperation or [Page 149] compromise among the Kuominchun, Kuomintang, Kwangsi, and Shansi groups and between those factions and certain elements in the Fengtien party not unsympathetic to the Nationalists, would bring forth.

Sino-Japanese Clash at Tsinanfu

In May, 1927, some 2,000 Japanese troops were sent into Shantung, during the Southern advance into that province, for the protection of the Japanese nationals resident there. The troops were withdrawn in the autumn without serious consequence to Sino-Japanese relations. The renewal of the Southern offensive in Shantung in April, 1928, brought about the despatch of some 5,000 Japanese troops into the province on a similar errand. This year, in contrast to the relative absence of friction in 1927, a grave clash, resulting in considerable anti-Japanese feeling in China, occurred early in May between the Japanese expeditionary force at Tsinan and the advancing Nationalists. The situation was such that the Japanese Government found it necessary to despatch some 20,000 troops to Shantung within the space of a few weeks, many of whom presumably being destined to remain for several months.

Both sides claimed, it is felt erroneously, that the affair was premeditated by the other, and both have submitted statements of the case to the League of Nations.46 Japan’s several presentations of the facts, including recitals of acts of violence, were more restrained and credible than the Nationalist versions.

It seemed that a large number of Nationalist troops, on May 1st and 2nd, and on the heels of the retreating Northern soldiers, entered the city and those portions of the foreign settlement not inclosed within the Japanese barricades. Japanese troops, numbering at that time 3,000, had inclosed two areas within the foreign settlement with sand bags, barbed wire, and other defensive materials. The physical congestion of the settlement, within which Nationalist troops at one time numbered 10,000, quickly became somewhat of a menace and rendered more or less inevitable the occurrence on May 3rd of the isolated and not definitely determined incident which resulted in the firing of the first shot. The Japanese and the Nationalist troops soon became seriously engaged, the Japanese being under an initial handicap of inadequate protection when the firing started, as a result of having removed a large portion of the barricades on the assumption that an amicable arrangement in regard to their presence had been arrived at with the Chinese authorities. Efforts were at once initiated by the Japanese and the Chinese authorities to bring [Page 150] about a cessation of the fighting and attempts at mediation, were made by the American Consul, who, throughout the trouble, was active also in the protection of American interests. Things apparently became somewhat quieter by the 5th of May, on which date General Chiang Kai-shek left Tsinan after stating, in a note of farewell, that he had ordered his troops, “with the exception of those charged with the duty of preserving peace and order”, to withdraw from the city, in order to avoid further trouble.

On May 7th, General Fukuda, the Japanese Commander-in-Chief, considering that the presence and tactics, in erecting gun emplacements and digging trenches, of those of the Nationalist troops which had not left was a source of danger, sent a twelve hour ultimatum to General Chiang Kai-shek. The ultimatum called for the punishment of the officers in charge of the Nationalist troops involved in the clash; the disarming of the latter; the cessation of anti-Japanese propaganda; and the withdrawal of Nationalist troops from a 20 li zone on either side of the Kiaochow-Tsinan Railway. When the short time limit expired the Japanese commenced military operations designed to clear the area on either side of the railroad of Chinese troops. Mr. Price stated that they encountered little resistance except at the walled city of Tsinanfu, where approximately 5,000 Nationalist troops held out until the morning of the 11th. …

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Japanese Statement of May 18th

The Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs, in an interview on May 17th with the representatives of the United States, Great Britain, France, and Italy, indicated that the Japanese Government was prepared to fulfill its obligations in any joint measures which might be taken, should that area be involved in hostilities, for the protection of foreign lives and property in Peking and Tientsin. The Japanese Government, however, was particularly interested in Manchuria, in which region it was determined to prevent hostilities. The Foreign Minister indicated that his Government accordingly had decided to despatch an identic communication both to the Peking and to the Nanking régimes setting forth Japan’s present policy in regard to the civil war in China.47

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This note aroused considerable comment and protest in Chinese circles, the generally prevailing impression being that Japan was seizing the opportunity offered by the dissensions in China to further [Page 151] her alleged aim of making a protectorate of the Three Eastern Provinces and later perhaps of Mongolia as well.

Legation’s Attitude Respecting Protection

The Legation’s views in the matter of the protection of American citizens in China, as expressed during the Period under review to those concerned, were briefly the following:

It was not contemplated that a general withdrawal of American nationals from the interior of the country would prove necessary. The necessity was envisaged for such action only in certain limited areas in, or in proximity to, the zone of hostilities. Executive officers of the Government have no legal authority to instruct American citizens to withdraw. In cases of emergency the advice to do so ordinarily is communicated to them by the Consular officers on the ground, acting either at their own discretion or by direction of the Legation. Consular officers cannot specify definitely the ports to which American nationals must withdraw but leave to the latter the choice of places in which they may best seek refuge. Consideration is given to the practical aspect of evacuation in cooperation with the Commander-in-Chief and the officers of the United States Asiatic Fleet, American citizens being informed at what places they can be protected and from which points they can be evacuated.

Since the course of military events threatened, during May, to involve the Peking-Tientsin area, I addressed informal communications setting forth the American viewpoint in that regard to the Peking Minister for Foreign Affairs, and, through the American Consul General at Shanghai, to the Nanking Foreign Minister, respectively, on May 18th.48

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Developments at Hankow

The Hankow faction had given evidence during April, as well as previously, of being lukewarm in its support of the northern campaign. This indeterminate attitude was maintained until the last few days of May. It was due to the fact that the success of the northern expedition was not yet assured and to the uncertain loyalties in the Wuhan area arising from that circumstance.

The following occurrence is illustrative of the instability of political alignments at Hankow, and, in a general way, is illustrative also of prevailing conditions throughout the country:

On May 22nd, according to information received from the American Consul General at Hankow, Marshal Li Tsung-jen issued a circular [Page 152] telegram strongly denouncing General Ch’eng Ch’ien, who controlled Hunan for some time but was then under surveillance at his residence in the ex-Russian Concession at Hankow. General Ch’eng was charged with obstructing the policies of the Hupeh-Hunan Political Affairs Committee and with refusing to give an accounting for monies. Mr. Lockhart reported subsequently that General Li Tsung-jen’s drastic step was doubtless taken at the instigation of General Chiang Kai-shek with whom Ch’eng Ch’ien had not been on good terms for some time. It seemed that General Ch’eng Ch’ien had been a particularly disturbing factor and a persistent obstructionist since coming to Hankow from Changsha a short time before to attend the Hupeh-Hunan Political Affairs Council. The action against him was taken immediately after a conference at Chengchow on May 21st between Generals Pei Chung-chi (Pai Ch’ung-hsi) and Chiang Kai-shek.

A rumor was current in Peking, in this regard, that Marshal Feng Yü-hsiang had received a proposal from General Ch’eng Ch’ien that the two should make an attack on Hankow and Wuchang, Feng descending from the north and Ch’eng advancing from Hunan. However that may be, Mr. Lockhart felt that the removal of Ch’eng Ch’ien as the dominant factor in Hunan should lead to improved conditions in that province. On May 25th the Legation was informed that the Nanking Government had officially authorized the appointment of General Lu Ti-ping to succeed Ch’eng Ch’ien as the Commander of the Fourth Route Army, and that Ho Chien and other generals attached to Ch’eng Ch’ien’s army had announced their allegiance to Li Tsung-jen.

Respecting Hankow’s participation in the northern drive, the Department will recall that Wuhan troops had been moved up the Peking-Hankow Railway to Chengchow, in northern Honan, at the end of April, but that there were no Hankow troops then at the front. On May 21st Mr. Lockhart telegraphed that General Pei Chung-chi had been given command of the Hunan and Hupeh armies then in Honan and that he had left on the 19th for Chengchow.

On the 31st the Consul General reported that passenger and freight service had been suspended on the Peking-Hankow line to facilitate the northward movement of troops from Hankow. He added that there was much military activity in evidence in the city and that officials freely admitted that the time had come when it was scarcely possible longer to avoid active participation by Hankow troops in the northern expedition.

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[Page 153]

Conditions in Canton

The Legation was informed by the American Consul General at Canton that good order was maintained there during the month, although some uneasiness was occasioned by rumors of communist activities. Some of the members of General Li Chai-sum’s bodyguard were found to be in communication with communists, resulting in the arrest and execution of a number of alleged communists. There was evidence at the end of the month that the anti-Japanese boycott, brought into being by the events in Shantung, was losing force.

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I have [etc.]

J. V. A. MacMurray
  1. Not printed.
  2. See telegram No. 63, May 17, 1928, from the Ambassador in Japan, p. 224.
  3. For texts of statements, see The China Year Book, 1929–1930, pp. 886, 887.
  4. See telegram No. 63, May 17, 1928, from the Ambassador in Japan, p. 224.
  5. See telegram No. 359, May 17, 1928, from the Minister in China, p. 222.