The Ambassador in China ( Gauss ) to the Secretary of State
[Received February 26.]
Sir: Referring to the Embassy’s telegrams no. 34, January 6, 4 p.m. and no. 151, January 24, 3 p.m., in regard to the organization of a group of young Chinese military officers for the purpose of ridding [Page 320] the Government of corrupt and inefficient high ranking civil and military officials, I have the honor to enclose a copy of a memorandum dated February 3, 1944,46a prepared by Second Secretary John S. Service, on detail to General Stilwell’s headquarters, regarding this subject and to report further alleged details of the plot.
Summary. The group of young Chinese army officers reportedly organized to obtain the removal from the Government of high ranking civil and military officials believed to be guilty of corruption and inefficiency is variously estimated to number between 200 and 600. The plot was allegedly discovered by agents of General Tai Li, the head of the Generalissimo’s notorious secret police, after President Chiang Kai-shek’s departure for the Cairo Conference in late November 1943. Upon President Chiang’s return, 16 of the ringleaders are said to have been arrested and shot. Chinese Government officials are apparently reluctant to discuss the matter and some of them deny the truth of the story, in some cases alleging that one of the ringleaders was a Communist and in others that this same ringleader does not exist. One highly placed Chinese military official is said to have admitted the existence of the plot but to have ascribed the affair to Communist machinations. There is no evidence that the plot was directed against President Chiang, who is believed to retain the complete loyalty of the army. The plot has apparently been broken up but may be taken as an indication of strong dissatisfaction in the country with present Chungking policies. End of Summary.
The Organization and Its Aims
The organization of young officers is said to have had its beginning in the seventh class of the Military Staff College near Chungking. (The Staff College was established in the early days of the Republic and was first located at Peking. The 20th class graduated in December 1943, and the 21st class is scheduled to begin during the spring of this year. Students, who number approximately 300, are drawn from army officers of all branches, usually lieutenants but sometimes ranking as high as major. The Generalissimo is titular head of the College, the administrative head being General Hsu Peiken, who was Chief of Staff to General Hsiung Shih-hui’s Military Mission to the United States. General Hsu is a graduate of the College (6th class) and was appointed to this position shortly after his return from the United States, succeeding General Yuan Chao-chang, who is now in retirement. The College has a faculty of some ten professors.)
The movement rapidly spread to include all classes of the Staff College, from the 7th through the 17th. The group allegedly contains Whampoa Academy officers and also Japanese-returned students, and according to one reliable informant includes officers of the Ministry of War and of the Board of Operations and the Board of [Page 321] Political Training under the National Military Affairs Commission. One Chinese source states that the group numbered approximately 200 young generals in key positions but that no aviation or naval personnel was included. The officers are variously said to include only young generals, many of them division commanders, and to include officers of ranks ranging from generals to lieutenants. Two of the Embassy’s sources allege that officers of the Chinese Expeditionary Forces in Burma and India were involved in the plot and the ramifications of the movement were evidently widespread as the group allegedly included officers in various parts of the country.
According to reliable neutral Chinese sources, the objectives of the conspiracy are said to have been the removal from office of high ranking civil and military officials believed by the army officers to be guilty of corruption and inefficiency. The only officials named by these informants are Dr. H. H. Kung, Vice President of the Executive Yuan and Minister of Finance; General Ho Ying-chin, Chief of Staff and Minister of War; Dr. Chen Li-fu, Minister of Education; and Mr. Chen Kuo-fu, Kuomintang leader who together with Dr. Chen Li-fu is the leader of the powerful, reactionary “CC”47 clique in the Party. There are no indications that the plot was directed against the Generalissimo, who is believed to retain the complete loyalty of the officers of the army. Other officials against whom the movement was directed are said to include the graduates of the earlier classes of the Staff College (1st to 6th class) whom the young officers believe to be inefficient and who apparently have a monopoly on the important posts and commands.
An entirely different version of the story was told to an American newspaper correspondent by a member of the Whampoa military group of officers. According to this Chinese, there was no plot as such directed against corruption and inefficiency in the Government, the entire affair being merely a struggle for supremacy between the Staff College officers and the Whampoa military clique. General Ho Yingchin advocated the German style system of assigning to the War Zone Commanders an experienced Chief of Staff higher in rank than the commanding general in the field instead of subordinate to him as is the case at present in the Chinese armies. These chiefs of staff were to be drawn from graduates of the Military Staff College and their conspiracy was directed against the Whampoa group, not against General Ho.
In his memorandum, Mr. Service states that General Chang Chihchung admitted to a reliable Kuomintang newspaper correspondent (who is described as being both pro-Kuomintang and anti-Communist) the existence of the plot along the general lines set forth in the Embassy’s telegrams under reference. General Chang is said to have [Page 322] revealed that two of the demands of the conspirators were (1) the removal and execution of Dr. H. H. Kung and (2) Central Government-Communist cooperation in an offensive against the Japanese. In this explanation of the plot, as was the case in that of the previous paragraph, there is no mention of General Ho as one of the objectives of the plot and this version of the story attempts to place the blame for the whole affair on the Communists, who are said to have established contact with the army officers by posing as English teachers.
Criticism of the Government
Criticism of the Government and the Chungking high command by many sources has been rather widespread during recent months, such criticism apparently being aimed chiefly at Dr. H. H. Kung and General Ho Ying-chin. Younger army officers are said to feel that the miserable condition of the Chinese Army, with lack of sufficient food and medical attention, can be attributed to both Dr. Kung and General Ho. The latter is charged with having no qualifications as a military leader and with maintaining under dummy names several trading companies engaged in trade between free and occupied China by means of which he has grown rich. Concrete evidence of this dissatisfaction was given to foreign press correspondents during their trip to the Hunan front in December 1943 when the Chief of Staff of General Hsueh Yueh voluntarily offered strong criticism of Chungking policies to American correspondents (Embassy’s telegram no. 151, January 24). Similar statements were made to an American Army officer at the same time by the adjutant of General Hsueh, this Chinese officer alleging that many prominent Chinese military leaders are critical of Chungking policies (Embassy’s despatch no. 2019, January 1447a).
It is reported that some time during December a letter was sent to the Generalissimo signed by about 70 Army Commanders requesting the resignation of General Tai Li, the charge being made that his activities were greatly interfering with the Army. General Chang Chun, Chairman of the Szechuan Provincial Government, is also said to have made a recent complaint against General Tai due to the latter’s bungling in connection with Army interference with some matter in south Szechuan.
Other instances of dissatisfaction with the Central Government in recent months include public criticism of the Chungking administration by Marshal Li Chi-shen at a mass meeting at Kweilin in November (Embassy’s despatch no. 1862, November 27)48 and remarks critical of the Central Government’s military policy reportedly made by General Pai Chung-hsi, Deputy Chief of Staff (Embassy’s dispatch [Page 323] no. 2121  of January 14). General Li Tsung-jen, Commander of the 4th War Zone and one of the Kwangsi leaders, is said to maintain none too cordial relations with the Generalissimo.
In a country where a free press exists and where open criticism of the administration is permitted, criticism such as that described above would pass relatively unnoticed. In present day China, however, there is exceedingly strict censorship both of the press and of all publication and the repressive methods of the various secret police organizations definitely discourage any tendency toward open criticism of the Central Government. For that reason any real dissatisfaction with Chungking policies might be expected to remain underground until the moment arrives when that dissatisfaction can be made the impetus for action. This plot of the young generals possibly represents an attempt to translate the criticism of Chungking policies into concrete action aimed at removing some of the causes of the dissatisfaction.
Plans of the Conspirators; Discovery of the Plot
According to reliable sources, the plot envisaged the seizure of the Generalissimo at Kunming upon his return to China from the Cairo Conference. The plotters then intended to force him to issue orders for the removal from office of Dr. Kung, General Ho Ying-chin, the two Chen brothers and other unnamed officials. (Unconfirmed rumors implicate General Chen Cheng, formerly in command of the Chinese Expeditionary Forces in Yunnan, who has been at Chungking since some time in November. It is possible that General Chen’s presence at Chungking at the time of the discovery of the plot was not entirely accidental as, if he were connected with the plot, he would be in a position to take quick action at the time of the Generalissimo’s seizure at Kunming and would be able to dissociate himself from the group at Kunming if the plot failed. It is reliably reported that General Chen has also been relieved of his command of the 6th War Zone and that he may resign his post as Chairman of the Hupeh Provincial Government. General Chen, who remains at Chungking, is believed to be seriously ill and no confirmation can be obtained of his connection with the plot.)
Other sources state that the plans of the young officers had not been completed when the plot was discovered by General Tai Li’s agents. Two reliable sources state that the plot was discovered through suspicion aroused by the receipt by General Wang Feng-chi, a divisional commander in the Chinese Expeditionary Forces in Yunnan, of many letters from various parts of the country. Apparently sufficient evidence was found in the possession of General Wang to incriminate other conspirators.[Page 324]
A local Communist source was at first inclined to dismiss the story of the plot as of no consequence, alleging that the action was that of a group of “young fascist officers” whose aim was to seize power rather than to rid the government of corruption and inefficiency. This informant states that five to six hundred officers were involved but that the numbers prevent the execution or drastic punishment of the entire group.
According to usually reliable sources, 16 generals have been arrested and shot for their share in the plot. The only names which have been mentioned in this connection are those of General Wang Feng-chi and General Yu Cheng-wan, Commander of the 57th Division which fought at Changteh during the recent Tungting Lake campaign. There have been conflicting reports as to the fate of these two generals. On several occasions since the Changteh battle there have been rumors that General Yu had been shot for his failure successfully to defend Changteh or to die with his troops in its defense. It is generally agreed, however, that General Yu withdrew from Changteh only after his forces had been reduced to a few hundred men and his defense of the city is one of the more creditable performances of the Chinese Army during this war. Although the defense of the city was ordered by the Generalissimo, it is believed, because of the simultaneous holding of the Cairo Conference, it is hardly credible that General Yu would have been shot for his withdrawal from the city under the circumstances above described. There have been rumors that some of the arrested officers when brought before the Generalissimo urged him to awaken to conditions in the country and that one officer bitterly attacked Dr. Kung and General Ho, saying that he was willing to die for his country as a soldier but that he wished with his dying breath to voice his opposition to the two above-named officials.
Sources of Information; Accuracy of the Reports of the Plot
The report of this plot first came to the Embassy’s attention in late December 1943 through a thoroughly reliable foreign source who stated that he had been informed of the matter by a high ranking trustworthy Chinese official. It was not until a week later that the Embassy was able to obtain confirmation of the report from other sources—in this case from an independent Chinese critical of the Government but with close connections with Chinese military circles. This second informant’s knowledge of the plot purportedly came from General Pai Chung-hsi’s office. Communist sources at Chungking admitted the accuracy of the story but seemed to feel that it was of little importance. The third source of the report was two independent Chinese newspaper correspondents who stated that they had obtained the story through Chinese military sources, one of them in [Page 325] the National Military Affairs Commission. Central Government and Party officials have apparently been extremely reluctant to discuss the matter or else have denied the truth of the report. The Embassy has hesitated to bring up the subject with most Chinese Government officials due to the feeling believed to exist among many Party and Government officials that all foreigners are spies and to the obvious unwillingness of so many of those officials to talk freely with foreigners. One former Chinese Government official has informed the Military Attaché49 that General Wang Feng-chi is a Communist, Chinese military intelligence officers deny any knowledge of General Wang’s existence and another very prominent Chinese (believed to have connections with General Tai Li) states that there is no foundation for the rumor.
The story of the plot has become fairly well known and the Embassy is inclined to believe that the story is in its general outlines correct. The sources of the Embassy’s information have always been very reliable and only one of the informants has any record of opposition to the Government and possible connection with the Chinese Communists. It was this source who informed the Embassy of the report from General Pai’s office. The Military Attaché is inclined to discredit the story, as high Chinese military officials and another prominent Chinese, who should know of the existence of such a plot if it were true, have denied the report to him. The Military Attaché has informed the War Department that the report was in his opinion circulated by the Communists in an effort to discover the presence and whereabouts of General Wang, but this assumption scarcely seems warranted from the information available.
Although the plot has apparently been completely broken up in so far as the attainment of its immediate aims is concerned, the fundamental grievances of the officers concerned remain unanswered. While the Generalissimo himself was not threatened by the conspirators, he must inevitably be brought to a realization that many of the Kuomintang leaders in control lack the support and sympathy of various elements throughout the country. There seems, however, little chance that the Generalissimo will take any action to remove Dr. Kung and General Ho from office or that he will adopt measures of any kind to remedy the grievances of the officers concerned. The Generalissimo has few key men in whom he places absolute trust and the two most important figures in that respect are Dr. Kung (who is also his brother-in-law) and General Ho. It is worth noting, however, that in spite of the increasing volume of criticism directed against the Kuomintang and the policies of the Chungking administration no part of [Page 326] the criticism of corruption and inefficiency attaches to the Generalissimo except in relation to his failure to rid the Government of corrupt and inefficient elements. His reputation remains unimpeachable and Chinese intellectuals and liberals alone are directly critical of him, many of them feeling that General Chiang pays only lip-service to democracy and liberalism, that he is at heart a fascist and that he now interests himself in educational, cultural and economic matters lying outside his province and beyond the range of his ability.