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

No. 556

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Embassy’s despatch No. 1143 of March 22, 1937,39 reporting the decision of the Boards of Directors of the University of Nanking and of Ginling College, to register their land holdings in Nanking in the names of their respective Boards of Founders (American) in the United States and not in the names of their respective Boards of Directors (Chinese) in China.

The Embassy has just received a letter from the President of the University of Nanking, a copy of which is enclosed,39 calling attention [Page 248] to the fact that all the land held by the University is American property; the Embassy has also received a copy of a letter dated August 4, 1937 from the President of Ginling College to the American Consul General at Shanghai, inviting attention to the fact that the college has almost completed the registration of its property in the name of its Board of Founders.

The President of Ginling College recently called at the Embassy and did not disguise the fact that when the Board of Directors decided to decline the generous offer of the Board of Founders of Ginling College to present the property held by the college to the Board of Directors, it was influenced by an anticipation that a crisis might arise when the ownership of the property by an American juridical person might prove to Be a safeguard. In the Embassy’s despatch of March 22, 1937 it was pointed out that the authorities of the University of Nanking in similarly declining a gift of the property used by the University were actuated by the same idea.

In Peiping an analogous situation has arisen in connection with Yenching University. Since arriving in Nanking I have been informed by Counselor of Embassy Lockhart that Yenching University wished to display the American flag. In reporting this circumstance Mr. Lockhart referred to the Department’s instruction to the American Minister in Peiping, No. 871 of May 23, 1928,43 and expressed the opinion that under that instruction it was difficult to see how the Embassy could intervene on behalf of Yenching University, an institution registered with the Chinese authorities and under Chinese control. I replied to Mr. Lockhart that I agreed with him and that I felt that the most the Embassy could do, if necessity arose, would be to inform the appropriate Chinese and Japanese authorities of the American interest in the institution.

The Department will recall that in its instruction of May 23, 1928 it re-affirmed its policy of refraining from intervening on behalf of American concerns unless the latter are under effective American control. This instruction was drafted, I assume, with a special reference to intervention between American institutions and the Chinese authorities. Nevertheless, the policy of declining to assume responsibility for institutions not under American control would seem to be on an equally sound basis in the case of intervention between such institutions and the Japanese authorities. All the indications are that the Japanese military now completely dominate the Peiping area. It is well-known that the Chinese student class are very much imbued with Nationalistic ideas. It would be hard to predict the dilemma into which the Embassy, or American Consulates, might be led if American intervention were to go to the length of attempting to make [Page 249] American-owned property a place of asylum where Chinese students and others might be able to carry on anti-Japanese activities immune from Japanese control extending over the surrounding area. I understand that a question of this sort confronted American schools and the American Consulate in Tsingtao during the period of Japanese occupation of that port during the Great War.

It is too early to attempt a forecast whether Japanese control will be extended over Nanking, but if that occurs, it is my intention to limit intervention on behalf of institutions which, although using American-owned property, are Chinese juridical persons to placing on record with all the authorities concerned the nature of the American interest involved. The problem of protecting American life is, of course, one that will receive paramount consideration in all circumstances.

Respectfully yours,

Nelson Trusler Johnson