The Consul General at Shanghai (Cunningham) to the Minister in China (Johnson)17

No. 6498

Sir: I have the honor to enclose, for the information of the Legation, a copy of a despatch dated May 6, 1930, from this Consulate General to the Mayor of Shanghai, a copy of the Mayor’s reply dated May 12th, and a copy of a further despatch from this office to the Mayor dated May 16th,18 concerning the seizure by a Chinese police officer of the motor car license of Admiral Charles B. McVay, Jr., Commander-in-Chief of the United States Asiatic Fleet, in which the question of jurisdiction over American citizens in China is involved.

Admiral McVay reported to this office on April 28, 1930, that on April 26th, while attending the races at Kiangwan Race Track a [Page 519] Chinese police officer approached the chauffeur of his car, which was parked outside the track, and took from him a motor car license and Chinese chauffeur’s license, on the grounds that the licenses were not in order. The chauffeur reported the matter to Admiral McVay, who proceeded to the spot, but the police officer refused to return the documents, giving only a receipt.

A member of the staff of this office called upon the Mayor’s secretary on April 29th, discussed the matter with him and handed him a despatch giving details of the incident. The secretary stated that an investigation would promptly be made, and on May 3rd a reply was received from the Mayor stating that as the documents found on the car were not correct it was necessary to impose a fine amounting in all to Mex.$12.00. The Consulate General then addressed a further despatch on May 6th, pointing out that American citizens in China are subject only to the jurisdiction of the appropriate American courts and that no fines can be assessed upon them by any other judicial or administrative authorities. The Mayor replied on May 12th stating that on December 28, 1929, the Chinese Government had issued a mandate19 which declared that, beginning January 1, 1930, foreigners residing in China should obey the laws and ordinances duly promulgated by the central and local governments in China. The Consulate General replied to the Mayor’s communication on May 16th stating that it had received no instructions from the American Government that American citizens were no longer under the jurisdiction of American courts in China, and that pending the receipt of such instructions it must insist upon the observance of the provisions of the treaties between the United States and China.

A member of the staff of this office called on May 13th on the Mayor’s secretary, who stated that the Chinese authorities desired to settle the matter amicably and that the documents would be returned at once. The secretary called at the Consulate General on May 14th and returned the license, expressed the Mayor’s regret over the incident, and stated that he trusted that the matter might now be considered closed.

The incident apparently arose over some misunderstanding as to the documents carried on the Admiral’s car due, not to the negligence of the Admiral, but to the failure of the Bureau of Public Utilities to inform him fully in respect to the municipal requirements at the time of issuing the license.

Although the matter has now been amicably settled the enclosed correspondence is forwarded to the Legation in order that it may be aware of the attitude of the local Chinese authorities in respect to the question of jurisdiction over extraterritorial foreigners.

I have [etc.]

Edwin S. Cunningham
  1. Copy transmitted to the Department without covering despatch; received July 17, 1930.
  2. Enclosures not printed.
  3. See telegram of December 28, 1929, from the Consul at Nanking, Foreign Relations, 1929, vol. ii, p. 666.