The Consul at Tihwa ( Ward ) to the Secretary of State

No. 26

Sir: I have the honor to refer to this Consulate’s despatch no. 15, dated July 16, 1945, covering the Sinkiang Revolt from the middle of May to the middle of July, and, further in that connection, to set forth below for the records of the Embassy and the Department a connected chronicle of the further course of the revolt up to the end of October, 1945.

[Here follows detailed report.]

At a formal official celebration of the signing of the Sino-Soviet Treaty,60 held about ten days after that event, the Chairman of the Province of Sinkiang, seated next to me (with the Soviet delegation just across the aisle) informed me in Chinese—and insisted on an interpretation being made for me in English—that “China and America will always be allies, because each believes in the sanctity of treaties; according to Marxist ‘dialectic’, however, it is a clever and praiseworthy thing to make a treaty and then break it immediately; that is what the Soviets have just done, and that is why it will never be possible for either America or China to be friends of the Soviet Union.”*

It was repeatedly said during September that the American Ambassador to China was coming (or, alternately, had come) to Tihwa, accompanied by a high-ranking general officer on the active list of the U.S. Army, for secret conferences with the Chinese civil and military officials on the spot as to the defense of Sinkiang (against Soviet Russia). General Chu Shao-liang himself confidently expected an American visit and looked to it to save his political position, as he felt no doubt of his ability to convince a fellow army officer that Sinkiang was already practically being invaded by Soviet armies. [Page 1019] After the bombing of Wusu it was rumored that some one hundred and fifty American army planes were on their way to Tihwa to avenge the attack.

A public declaration to the people of Tihwa that American intervention was imminent appeared on the large bulletin board inside the South Gate of Tihwa City on or about the 15th of September. On the afternoon of that day I drove through that gate on the way to an appointment with the Chang Kuan.61 There was such a large crowd around the bulletin board (where OWI pictures supplied by this office are usually posted) that it was with some difficulty that the car got by. The driver (an employee of the local Government garage from which the car was borrowed) told me that the crowd was reading an important official notice which had been posted that day. The following Monday morning in the office I was informed that the notice was said to state that President Truman had issued a warning to the Soviet Union against the further breach of its new treaty with China in its relations with Sinkiang. I sent the office messenger down to the bulletin board to make a copy of the text of the message, but when he returned he explained that just as he got to the part concerning America a gendarme officer and two privates came through the crowd and took down the bulletin. The messenger asked if he might complete copying it, but was told that he must see the proper authorities for permission to do that. I went down the same afternoon to the “Foreign Office” to ask for a copy of the document with the intention of entering a protest against any deliberate misquotation of the President or other falsification of fact which it might contain. The very friendly Special Commissioner, Liu Tse-jung, informed me that it was on the basis of a protest which he had entered that morning that the notice had been removed, and asked that I consider the matter closed. I pressed my request for a true copy of exactly the text that had been posted, but the Special Commissioner would not retreat from his assertion that in the present situation in Sinkiang to ask for a copy of that document would make his position in the Province an impossible one. He repeated orally the text of the document, his statement of it checking with the recollection of the Consulate messenger and other persons who had read it: it had, in fact, quoted President Truman as pointedly reminding the Soviet Government of its treaty obligations vis-à-vis Sinkiang, and, in connection with the President’s alleged statement, had set forth the flat assurance that if Sinkiang were further threatened, the American Government would come to the defense of that Province. This [Page 1020] latter statement was so worded as to seem to have come from the lips of the President.

The bulletin had been prepared by the Chief of the Propaganda Section of the local Kuomintang, and had been issued by the Provincial Government to quiet the Han residents of the city, who, as the document itself suggested, were fleeing the city in great panic, the sidewalks being lined on either side the length of the main street with the household belongings of Chinese who were trying to sell their things to realize enough money to pay the daily more exorbitant price for a place on truck to Hami. No effort was made to claim any basis in fact for the statements concerning the President, and the Special Commissioner took no exception to my characterization of the bulletin as a grave distortion of the truth which could not conceivably help and might have been very harmful to relations between three friendly states, particularly in the more immediate and local aspects of those relations in Sinkiang.§

The almost unconscious hope of the Chinese that America can be got to involve herself in Sinkiang is in the first instance of course an expression of the age-old Chinese strategem of “Using the barbarian to control the barbarian”, following logically enough from the conviction that the battle is with Soviet Russia, a belief which in turn is essential to the self-respect of individuals involved in a regime unable to face its own glaring weaknesses or to entertain the thought that any outright revolt against itself could possibly be explained on any other basis.

The idea that America will come and fix everything up is, however, more than a kind of self-deceit: it is at the same time a sincere tribute to America and a testimony to American prestige not only in China but Central Asia. There are other witnesses in Sinkiang to this prestige: on more than one occasion, Muslims of some influence in their communities have told me in all seriousness that the Turkis do not want to turn to Soviet Russia (of which the more well-to-do Turkis are afraid) and have no confidence that China can ever be got to [Page 1021] reform her treatment of them; but that they would be happy if America would accept a kind of administrative guidance over them.

[Here follows report on mission of General Chang Chih-chung.]

IV. Comment.

There have been, since the outbreak of the Sinkiang revolt, two steps in learning, two essential conceptions, which it was necessary for the Chinese mind to grasp before a real solution of the problem posed by the revolt was possible.

The first of these steps, the first of these concepts, has been that the revolt was essentially and basically an internal problem. As long as the Chinese would not accept this concept, it was impossible for them even to approach the problem. As long as they insisted both officially and privately that the good people of Sinkiang would never have turned upon their beloved Chinese masters unless they had been practically forced to do so by the nasty Soviets, the only consistent course which they could follow was to go to war with the Soviets, which even in Sinkiang was understood to be a short-cut to national suicide. On the other hand, the acceptance of this first concept offered a formula whereby—even if the revolt had been Soviet-instigated—a basic approach to the problem could be made.

It is to the very great credit of Chang Chih-chung, and no less to that of Liu Tse-jung, that both have clearly visualized, seized completely upon, this first concept. It is doubtful if either Chungking or Washington realizes the pass to which Chinese governance in this Province had come by the tenth of September, or how much has already been saved by Chang and Liu.

The second step in learning, the second essential concept, is as simple as the first: that is, that there is no necessary connection between “communism” and “autonomy”; there is no reason why a non-communist government should regard itself as debarred from employing the approach to subject peoples embodied in the idea of autonomy. Nor is there any reason why, in non-communist hands, this approach should not be just as effective as in those of Soviet leaders. The formula is one readily available to any government which really seeks the welfare of its people.

Speaking specifically of the present situation in Central Asia, it can definitely be said that the failure to grasp this second concept in dealing with the problem of Sinkiang will only confirm the whole Turki youth in the contrary belief, a belief which is already spreading among them, that communism is the only road to autonomy.

[Page 1022]

To deny the Ining revolutionists a real degree of autonomy, or to turn them back with empty promises, is to assure the ultimate loss of Sinkiang to China, and much bitterness and bloodshed besides.

But if in Tihwa this second step in learning, this second concept, can also be grasped, and grasped in the next few weeks or months, at least in Sinkiang there will be real hope for peace and a contented native people, to whatever courses other colonial powers may by then have committed themselves in other parts of Asia.

Respectfully yours,

Robert S. Ward
  1. August 14, 1945, United States Relations With China, p. 585.
  2. In reply, I suggested to the Chairman that, since General Chu, who was supposed to be sitting just across the aisle next to the Acting Consul General of the U.S.S.R., had not come to the party, he (the Chairman) might care to move across and occupy the vacant chair. He did so. [Footnote in the original.]
  3. General Chu.
  4. i. e., lie would be regarded as pro-Soviet, or as trying to cast doubt on the “truth” of the bulletin. [Footnote in the original.]
  5. A place on a bus cost between $50,000 and $90,000 Sinkiang currency; the permit to leave cost over SK $10,000 (i. e., in bribes) and, although the Manager is completely innocent of that fact, I have personal knowledge that some at least of the clerks of the Central Bank took SK $400 for each SK $10,000 changed (during the heavy run on that institution by people changing SK to Chinese currency). If the Manager approved the request to change a given sum this bribe did not have to be paid to the clerks; several Chinese came to me to get me to get the Manager’s approval for their exchanges of money. [Footnote in the original.]
  6. I did not report this incident at the time to avoid any possible embarrassment to Liu, whose presence is essential to a settlement of the Sinkiang revolt. [Footnote in the original.]
  7. I3 I2 Chih4 I2—under the Empire the basic tenet of Chinese foreign policy—has somewhat the connotation of the more homely “to fight fire with fire”. [Footnote in the original.]
  8. which would represent the most extreme form of involvement. [Footnote in the original.]