Memorandum by the Assistant Chief of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs (Hamilton)

Conversation: Dr. H. H. Kung, Chinese Minister of Finance;
Dr. C. T. Wang, Chinese Ambassador;
Mr. Hornbeck;
Mr. Hamilton.
Present: Mr. P. W. Kuo and Dr. Clarence K. Young.56

During the course of and following a luncheon given by the Chinese Ambassador at his residence at Twin Oaks, the Chinese Minister of Finance, Dr. H. H. Kung, referred to the fighting which had occurred at Wanpinghsien and asked what information the Department had received in regard thereto. In reply Mr. Hornbeck gave a brief outline of the information which we had received. Dr. Kung then said that the fighting was due to aggression on the part of the Japanese and that Japanese troops had no right to be in the place where the fighting occurred, even under the terms of the Boxer Protocol of 1901.57 Dr. Kung then proceeded to say that in 1901 the Chinese Government had agreed to the terms of the Boxer Protocol which [Page 133]provided that foreign governments might maintain at Peiping and at certain other points foreign armed forces for the purpose of protecting their legations at Peiping and to maintain open communication between Peiping and the sea; that the foreign governments had now moved their diplomatic establishments from Peiping to Nanking; and that therefore there was no longer warrant for the maintenance by foreign governments of their foreign armed forces at Peiping. The Chinese Ambassador intimated that in his opinion the Chinese Government should endeavor to cause foreign governments to withdraw their armed forces which were stationed in North China by virtue of the provisions of the Boxer Protocol.

Mr. Hornbeck said that if the Chinese Government wished to raise the question with the American Government, the Chinese Government could probably cause the American Government to withdraw its armed forces from Peiping. He said that the Chinese Government might perhaps also cause the British Government and possibly one or two other governments to do likewise. He then asked the question: would Dr. Kung wish to have the American armed forces withdrawn. Dr. Kung immediately and emphatically replied that he did not, unless such withdrawal would be concurrent with withdrawal by all the other governments of their armed forces. He stated that the President had asked him that question and that he had made to the President the same reply.

The Chinese Ambassador said that he believed that where there was a question of principle involved the Chinese Government should press for the carrying out of that principle; and he intimated, although he did not expressly so state, that, even should Japan not be willing to withdraw its armed forces, a useful purpose might be served if all the other governments were to withdraw their armed forces. Mr. Hornbeck then raised the question: what would be the situation should all governments, including the Japanese, withdraw their armed forces from Peiping (and Tientsin). Dr. Kung and Dr. Wang made no express reply to this question but Dr. Kung reiterated that he was of the opinion that withdrawal by the American Government of its armed forces should be contingent upon concurrent action by all the other interested governments. In reply to a further express question, both Dr. Kung and Dr. Wang said that the Chinese were not bothered by the presence of American armed forces in North China.

Mr. Hornbeck then commented at considerable length to the effect that during the last few years the Chinese Government had made substantial progress in many fields; that people who returned from China today were almost unanimous in giving glowing accounts of the constructive activities of the Chinese Government and people; that progress was being made toward unifying China, in finance, in road building, [Page 134]in railway construction, etc.; and that, in general, things in China seemed to be going along extraordinarily well. He said that of course, as Dr. Kung and Dr. Wang both realized, the task of reconstruction in China was not yet completed and there were still many difficulties to overcome. He said that in view of the situation wherein China was making measurable progress in so many lines and wherein things were getting along so well, would it not be advisable for China to continue along this course of concentrating its attention and energies upon reconstructive effort rather than for China to start arguments with foreign governments; was not it advisable that China pursue its program of reconstruction to such a point that when China chose to raise any question with foreign governments, China would have attained such progress and be in such a strong position that the foreign governments so approached would readily listen to the Chinese Government’s proposals.

Dr. Kung said that he realized the force of Mr. Hornbeck’s remarks but that although China itself was preparing for what he felt was an inevitable war with Japan, Japan was also preparing militarily, and he felt that with the passage of each year Japan would become as compared with China comparatively stronger. Mr. Hamilton said that his view differed somewhat from this: that in his opinion what China was doing in the way of effort toward internal construction and building up the strength of the nation and the government was in general on the constructive side, whereas he felt that many of the lines along which the Japanese Government and the Japanese nation were expending their energies were not constructive but were placing additional strains—and weakening strains—upon the government and people of Japan. Mr. Hornbeck said that he concurred in this view. (Mr. Kuo indicated his concurrence.)

Dr. Wang and Dr. Kung both suggested that because of Japan’s imperialistic and aggressive characteristics, it was important that the United States help China. They said that some day the United States would have to face Japanese aggression, unless that aggression should be checked by China. Mr. Hornbeck said that the United States had always been in favor of a strong, unified China. He pointed out, however, that the United States did not adopt certain policies or pursue certain courses toward China just for the sake of helping China. He said that our policies and our attitude were based upon our conception of the interests of the United States, just as China’s policies and China’s attitude and the policies and attitude of any other country were based upon national conceptions of national interests. He said that it was fortunate for us and for China that our policies and our attitude in regard to China coincided with China’s own desire to build up a stable and a strong nation.

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At several points during the conversation the Chinese Ambassador gave evidence of his continued belief in the adoption of the tactics of a revolutionary. He cited his own experience in connection with the 1911 revolution in China and stated that had a small group of revolutionaries not then taken the action they did, the Republic of China would not have been established, at least not at that time. Mr. Hamilton commented that it seemed to him there was a definite distinction between the adoption by an individual of a revolutionary attitude toward a question internal to his own country and the adoption by a government of revolutionary tactics which might lead to war; that a person engaging in revolutionary activity in his own country could, if the revolution proved unsuccessful, either flee or at most lose his life. On the other hand, if persons in responsible control of governmental affairs engaged in revolutionary tactics which brought on war, there could be no running away by a country from that war and the whole country would have to stand the consequences of the war. Mr. Hamilton said that to him it therefore seemed highly advisable that persons in responsible government positions proceed with greater circumspection than need be observed by persons not so placed. Mr. Hornbeck said that it seemed to him incumbent upon persons in authority to endeavor to take the long view and to estimate carefully every possible important contingency and consequence which might result from any contemplated course.

Dr. Kung mentioned again that when he saw the President the President had asked him whether he would like to have American forces withdrawn from Peiping, and Dr. Kung stated again that he had informed the President that he was not in favor of the withdrawal of the American forces alone but that he was in favor only of a concurrent withdrawal of all foreign armed forces.

Mr. Hornbeck complimented Dr. Kung upon his realistic approach to the questions under discussion affecting China.

  1. Advisers of Dr. Kung.
  2. Signed at Peking, September 7, 1901, Foreign Relations, 1901, Appendix (Affairs in China), p. 312.