The Ambassador in China (Johnson) to the Secretary of State

No. 494

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Embassy’s despatch No. 447 of May 12, 1936,39 regarding the re-registration of title deeds to property held by American citizens and organizations at Nanking, and to enclose for the information of the Department a copy of a despatch received from the Embassy at Nanking under date of May 27, 1936, forwarding a note received from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under date of May 22 in reply to the Embassy’s note of May 1240 on the subject.

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It will be observed that the Nanking Municipal Government, as quoted in the aforementioned note from the Foreign Office, gives an undertaking that there will be eliminated from the new form of lease-certificate the present stipulation regarding the purchase of land from the perpetual lessee by the Municipal Government, and states in addition that any transfer of title to land leased by missions must be by sale to Chinese citizens or by lease to another mission for missionary purposes.

It is to be noted that the Foreign Office’s note does not constitute an adequate reply to the Embassy’s note of May 12, which requested of the National Government a reply to the Embassy’s previous note of April 26, 1935,41 and a definitive regularization, in accord with existing treaty rights, of the administrative procedure as regards land tenure by American citizens and organizations in general throughout the country. Some concession has been made by the Nanking Municipal Government, it is true, but neither is that concession without its ambiguities nor has the Foreign Office committed the National Government to any policy of general applicability. In these circumstances, the Embassy is instructing Counselor Peck that American citizens and organizations in Nanking should not be advised to file application for re-registration of their property until it has been ascertained that the new form of certificate actually no longer contains any of the features which were formerly protested as being contrary to established procedure and treaty rights. A copy of that instruction, under today’s date, is enclosed for the information of the Department.41 It is of course clear that, in any event, the procedure laid down for the Nanking Municipality cannot be taken as applicable to the country as a whole. The general problem therefore remains unsolved.

As regards the current proposal of the American missionary societies to turn over their property titles to Chinese holding organizations, as referred to in Counselor Peck’s despatch of May 27,* it is to be observed that such action would automatically eliminate many of the troublesome questions that arise for American Foreign Service Officers in connection with the administration of land-tenure matters, inasmuch as such property would no longer be in the legal possession of American organizations. The Embassy does not feel that it is in any position gratuitously to offer advice to the interested missionary societies one way or the other as regards the advisability of those organizations’ so acting, and proposes not to concern itself in the matter.

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It is apparent that a further request to the Foreign Office for definitive action regarding the general problem of land tenure by American citizens and organizations in China would probably not be productive of satisfactory results; until there occur new basic developments, therefore, the Embassy intends to limit itself to following the subject with attention and dealing with local questions as they arise.

Respectfully yours,

Nelson Trusler Johnson
  1. Not printed.
  2. None printed.
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  4. Not printed.
  5. Cf. also despatch No. 167 of May 21, 1936, from the Embassy at Nanking to the Department, and despatches No. 184 and No. 213 of May 15 and May 29, 1936, respectively, from the Shanghai Consulate General to the Embassy. [Footnote in the original; despatches not printed.]