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

No. 206

Sir: I have the honor to comment to you on general political conditions in China largely as background for the Communist Party issue and for guiding future American policy. In the following paragraphs I am drawing largely upon a memorandum by Dr. Nathaniel Peffer94 written at my request after a verbal report. His impressions are based upon wide travel and contacts with all types of intelligent Chinese, many of them old friends of his. His summary has given factual confirmation of my much more restricted opportunity for observing current trends of thought and caused me no surprise. There are, however, hopeful and progressive factors which to some extent neutralize for me his extreme pessimism.

Perhaps the most serious feature is what is usually spoken of as the wide-spread corruption and inefficiency of the Government. This is even worse than the references in print which have come to my notice. It includes misrule, exploitation, graft, favoritism, incompetence and callous indifference to the welfare of the masses. There is also much ruthless and irresponsible repression, savoring strongly of fascist methods, and inspiring fear and resentment quite generally among intellectuals. The great majority of those in positions of authority are military rather than civilian officials.
Conditions such as these have naturally produced disillusionment and disloyalty among practically all well informed people. This is the more unfortunate in view of the high expectations which the new form of government had aroused. After V–J Day the populace in Japanese-occupied regions eagerly welcomed the returning representatives of their own Government, but this changed to surprise and then to bitter disappointment when they began to suffer from the extortion, blackmail and injustice everywhere practiced. The principal reason for the support of the Kuomintang among those who do not in some way benefit from its political power is the hatred of Communism. On the other hand, many even claim that there is little to choose between the evils of the two regimes. While it is generally [Page 388] conceded that under well-established Communist control there is less “squeeze” and apt to be more active efforts for improvement of the livelihood of the poorer classes than under the Kuomintang, the oppression and violence which initiate and accompany this state of affairs is so repugnant to many that they are led to prefer the ills they know to those they know not of.
General economic and monetary consequences of the political turmoil are exceedingly serious and unless peace and stability can soon be restored may lead to governmental and fiscal chaos. The material hardships are a potent factor in weakening the popular morale and producing discontent or subversive activity.
The Communists have for some time past been carrying on vigorous anti-American propaganda and this will probably be greatly intensified from now on. This is largely mendacious and with the practical aim of achieving our withdrawal. It should be considered primarily in the light of prevailing non-Communist sentiment regarding American policy. The following quotation from Dr. Peffer is sobering.

“America is losing moral prestige in this country. There is beginning to emerge even a kind of resentment. Adherents of the Kuomintang and what may be called the reactionary resent that we do not give more active help toward crushing the Communists—and Russia by implication. A large class among business people, academic people, civil servants resent that we give the government just enough support to enable it to believe that it can act with impunity without putting on it enough pressure to make it change its spirit and its practices. The radical but not Communist think that our support both makes civil war possible and entrenches the worst elements in power. The extreme left is resentful because it believes we are entrenching a fascist regime in return for its being a tool for our own purposes, which it deems to be imperialistic domination. The charges against us vary according to source; but they are charges. For the first time we are under both resentment and suspicion. If one hears references now to America as the friend of China, one hears it with ulterior connotations—from those who want us to put in enough military force to defeat the Communists or from those who want us to use our power to compel the Kuomintang to reform. But for the first time America begins to occupy a new role in Chinese thought, and it is a role that denotes a loss of moral prestige. It ranges from disillusionment to open anti-Americanism. And it should not be ignored or underestimated.”

As against this gloomy outlook there are also reassuring features which should not be overlooked:
In the Government itself there have never been in my experience so many men of unquestioned integrity and genuine patriotic purpose as at present. This applies especially to those in the highest positions but it is true of not a few in all ranks, notably among the younger [Page 389] employees. There has been steady progress in this respect. The system and the accepted standards are vastly better than under any of the dynasties. The very attempt to overthrow the last of these, in shattering the whole administrative structure before the populace had been trained for republican citizenship and officials impregnated with the new and necessary concepts of public responsibility in a democracy, is largely accountable for the current evils, and all this has been aggravated by Japanese intrigue or invasion virtually since the founding of the Republic. More recently the civil strife has produced excessive living costs and mounting inflation, making it impossible for the great majority to subsist on their salaries. The lack of security is an influential factor. President Chiang Kai-shek complains that he has recently executed eleven offenders for graft without any apparent salutary effect on others. One is reminded of the French proverb, “To know all is to forgive all”. There are also very specific plans for reform in these matters as well as in improving the people’s livelihood as soon as greater stability can be secured. The personality of President Chiang, his inflexible and courageous determination, the purity of his personal and public behavior, and his prestige even now in the public mind, is an incalculable factor. He has the shortcomings of his training, tradition and temperament, but his continuing leadership is at once an evidence of his fitness for this and the greatest single reliance in the present troubled situation.
In a sense the popular criticism of the Government and the prevalent disaffection can be regarded as merely a symptom of the long-continued internal disorders. It may be somewhat discounted by the Chinese tendency to negative criticism in which they are adept. Ancient social patterns have hindered solidarity and discouraged individual efforts at reform. Democratic government will probably always be as bad as the people let it be and the true corrective for the nascent democracy in China is therefore an aroused, organized and articulate citizenship. Even the present struggle is in part the crude beginnings of this awakening.
Once peace has been restored and some assurance of stability, economic conditions ought rapidly to improve. The Chinese people have a marvelous recuperative capacity and need only to be not too seriously interfered with by the authorities. The Government has elaborate plans for improved rail, highway, air and water communication, new sources of power, agricultural and industrial development, etc.
As to anti-American trends I do not question the validity of Dr. Peffer’s impressions. The reverse aspect of the national consciousness of the last few decades is anti-foreign feeling. This is latent in each individual and may at any time easily become passionately active in mass movements or in sullen personal attitudes, whenever one or another country furnishes the provocation. It is no imaginary danger in the case of our country and Dr. Peffer’s testimony is a timely warning. In fact, I wonder if those who spoke with him were not—unconsciously perhaps—prompted by this intention. Almost all Chinese have turned to us so expectantly in their national distress that they can easily have the violent revulsion which so acute an observer has already sensed. As against this my personal experience has been just the reverse ever since my release from Japanese captivity in [Page 390] August of last year. Both before my departure for the United States last November and since my return at the end of April I have never known such grateful appreciation of all that we have done and are continuing to attempt for China, nor such cordial friendliness. This is reflected in countless personal comments or letters, in newspaper editorials and in many subtle indications. If there is now a potential outburst of anti-American sentiment there is also a solid basis for strengthening the traditional good-will and the desire for close and lasting cooperation which have grown out of past relationships. But the situation calls for the most careful consideration of our policy and of the forms in which this will be expressed in the months that lie immediately ahead.

Respectfully yours,

J. Leighton Stuart
  1. Professor of international relations at Columbia University, New York.