893.4061 Motion Pictures/191

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

No. 220

Sir: I have the honor to refer to despatch No. 572 of July 9, 1936 from the American Embassy, Peiping, to the Department on the subject: “Confiscation of Motion Picture Films by the Censorship Committee”.

Mainly for purposes of record I have the honor to recount below the course of the informal attempts made by the American Embassy, Nanking, to obtain a reversal of the order of confiscation. Acting under the instructions given by the American Ambassador, as reported on page 2 of the latter’s despatch of July 9, Mr. Peck continued his discussion with Mr. Lo Kang, Director of the National Motion Picture Censorship Committee. On July 23 Mr. Peck held another long conversation with Mr. Lo Kang in which he largely reiterated the arguments advanced on July 1, as already reported to the Department.64 At one stage Mr. Lo Kang attempted to justify the confiscation of the films by saying that a warrant was supplied by practice in other countries, for example in Soviet Russia any printed material or films, or even photographs, were confiscated by the authorities if they were prejudicial to Soviet interests. Mr. Peck admitted that this was probably true and added that it would be very interesting to learn whether Chinese practice in such matters followed usage obtaining in the Soviet Union, based upon a Party dictatorship superior to all law, or democratic principles as followed in the United States, where private persons have rights protected by law, even as against the American Government. The question was presented, Mr. Peck observed, whether China is being governed as a party dictatorship or as a democracy under the control of law. This presentation of the [Page 672] implications involved in confiscation seemed to nonplus Mr. Lo Kang and he asked that he be allowed, as a favor, to discuss the matter further with his colleagues.

Another interesting development from this conversation was the assertion that, according to Mr. Lo Kang, one reason the Chinese authorities feel themselves justified in taking strong action against American motion picture producers lies in the fact that the American Government has openly admitted its inability to exercise any legal restraint over the production of motion pictures and is, therefore, unable to accompany its protests with any assurances for the future.

On July 30 Mr. Peck made another attempt to get a decision from Mr. Lo Kang, but without success, and at this time Mr. Lo Kang left Nanking for a vacation of one week. In view of the apparent failure of the efforts at informal settlement in conversation with Lo Kang, Mr. Peck on August 4, called on the Director of the Department of International Affairs of the Foreign Office.65 A memorandum of the conversation is enclosed.66 It will be noted that Mr. Peck said that the American Embassy strongly protested against this confiscation of American property and pointed out that so far as the circulation of these pictures throughout the world was concerned, the confiscation of one copy of each would have no appreciable effect. Mr. Wu promised to look into the matter and communicate with Mr. Lo Kang. On August 8 Mr. Peck, telephoned to Mr. Wu and was informed that the views of the Embassy as explained on August 4, 1936, had been communicated to the National Motion Picture Censorship Committee “for its consideration”, but that no reply had been received from the Committee. On August 10 Mr. Peck again talked with Mr. Wu Sung-kao, Director of the Department of International Affairs, and was informed by Mr. Wu that in writing to the National Motion Picture Censorship Committee, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had urged the Committee to revise the two films in such a way as would permit of their being exhibited in China. Mr. Peck said that he appreciated this effort to bring about the granting of permission for the exhibition of the pictures in China, but he emphasized that the Companies had not made this the main issue in the present case. The main issue was the confiscation of property.

On August 13 Mr. Peck telephoned to Mr. Wu and was informed that the National Motion Picture Censorship Committee had not yet returned any reply to the Foreign Office communication concerning the confiscation of these two films. Mr. Peck said that the American Ambassador had authorized him to endeavor to settle this difficulty through friendly informal conversations, but had instructed him to [Page 673] write formally to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs if such endeavors proved fruitless. Mr. Wu said that he agreed with the position taken by the American Embassy in regard to the confiscation of the films and he would continue his efforts to persuade the National Motion Picture Censorship Committee to rescind its confiscation order. Mr. Peck inquired whether it would assist, or hinder, Mr. Wu’s efforts if the Embassy were to address the Foreign Office formally in the matter and Mr. Wu replied that he thought a formal communication would be a good thing. Mr. Peck then addressed a note to the Foreign Office in the name of the American Ambassador67 setting forth the protest of the Embassy against the arbitrary and illegal seizure of American property, as represented by the confiscation of these films.

In explanation of the difficulty encountered in handling a matter of this sort it may be pointed out that the Censorship Committee is not a department of the National Government, but functions under the control of the Nationalist Party Central Headquarters (Kuomintang). The Party is, in theory, quite distinct from and even superior to, the Chinese Government. In many cases it is evident that the amenities of international intercourse have no weight with the authorities of the Party, who keep themselves in seclusion. In an attempt to overcome this attitude Mr. Peck has tried to make Mr. Lo Kang feel that in managing motion picture matters he is dealing with a subject which has an important bearing on the cordiality of relations between the people of China and the people of the United States. Mr. Lo Kang seemed to react favorably to this appeal.…

Although without direct bearing on the subject under discussion it is relevant to remark that the American Embassy, Nanking, is constantly having occasion to emphasize the view of the American Government that officials of the Nationalist Party are not from that circumstance officials of the Chinese Government. This is often disconcerting to the officials of the Party, especially when it becomes a matter of inability to obtain an official visa on a passport. Mr. Peck has had occasion to point out to Party and Government officials that neither the Chinese Government nor the Nationalist Party have ever officially taken the position that the Nationalist Party is a part of the Government, even though the highest officials of the Government owe their appointment to the highest organs of the Party. Government officials apparently are not above taking a certain satisfaction in the discomfiture of Party officials when denied recognition which is accorded to officials of the Government.

Respectfully yours,

For the Ambassador:
Willys R. Peck

Counselor of Embassy
  1. See Embassy’s despatch No. 572, supra; memorandum of conversation not printed.
  2. Wu Sung-kao.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Not printed.