W. Reginald Wheeler
China and the World War




At the outbreak of the World War, as has been related, China declared its neutrality, and bent all its energies to the building up of its newly-founded republic. But before the middle of the third year of the war had passed, it became apparent that the Republic must take some stand in relation to the issues of the great struggle. Four conditions influenced it in this regard. The Republic seemed at last to be making headway toward stability and permanence, and with the new national consciousness came a clearer realization of the principles at stake in the war. Secondly, China desired a place at the Peace Conference which would settle the question of the disposal of Kiaochow and the German interests in Shantung and, as she hoped, would review the Twenty-one Demands. In 1905 in the Portsmouth Treaty, Japan had negotiated directly with Russia concerning Manchuria, although it was a province of China, and China was not admitted until the final decisions were reached. This was a precedent which China could not afford to see repeated in Shantung, if she were to continue as a sovereign state; and so she was ready to make any effort to gain a voice in the eventual international conference. In the third place, America seemed to be more and more turning toward some sort of active participation in the conflict, and China desired to keep its foreign policy close in accord with that of the nation which it regarded as its best friend. Finally, two incidents in its foreign relations in the latter part of 1917 had aroused China afresh to a consciousness of its weakness and its lack of international standing. These two events were the Chengchiatun dispute with Japan in Manchuria, and the Lao-hsi-kai incident in Tientsin with the French Government.

Chengchiatun was a Manchurian market-town situated near the Mongolian border. It was of some importance as a trade centre and had been menaced by one of the Mongol brigands at the time of the Manchu restoration. The Twenty-eighth Division of the Chinese army had been stationed there to protect the town and preserve order. In August a detachment of Japanese troops was sent there to carry out manoeuvres. Their presence in that portion of Manchuria could be justified only by a most liberal interpretation of Japanese treaty-rights. On August 13, a dispute arose between a Japanese merchant named Yoshimoto and a Chinese fish-pedlar; the Japanese attempted to punish the pedlar; a Chinese soldier interfered; other soldiers of both nationalities came up; and a mÍlÈe resulted, in which several Japanese and Chinese were wounded and killed. Exaggerated reports were published in the Japanese press and its Government at once took up the matter and demanded a series of privileges and concessions in that region and the neighbouring territory. The first demands were:

1. Punishment of the General commanding the Twenty-eighth Division.

2. The dismissal of officers at Chengchiatun responsible for the occurrence as well as the severe punishment of those who took direct part in the fracas.

3. Proclamations to be posted ordering all Chinese soldiers and civilians in South Manchuria and Eastern Inner Mongolia to refrain from any act calculated to provoke a breach of the peace with Japanese soldiers or civilians.

4. China to agree to the stationing of Japanese police officers in places in South Manchuria and Eastern Inner Mongolia where their presence was considered necessary for the protection of Japanese subjects. China also to agree to the engagement by the officials of South Manchuria of Japanese police advisers.

And in addition:

1. Chinese troops stationed in South Manchuria and Eastern Inner Mongolia to employ a certain number of Japanese military officers as advisers.

2. Chinese military cadet schools to employ a certain number of Japanese military officers as instructors.

3. The Military Governor of Mukden to proceed personally to Port Arthur to the Japanese Military Governor of Kwantung to apologize for the occurrence and to tender similar personal apologies to the Japanese Consul General in Mukden.

4. Adequate compensation to be paid by China to the Japanese sufferers and to the families of those killed.

These privileges if granted would have paved the way for a Japanese Protectorate over Southern Manchuria and Eastern Mongolia. Negotiations continued during the fall and final agreement was reached on the five following terms:

1. The General commanding the Twenty-eighth Division to be reprimanded.

2. Officers responsible to be punished according to law. If the law provides for severe punishment, such punishment will be inflicted.

3. Proclamations to be issued enjoining Chinese soldiers and civilians in the districts where there is mixed residence to accord considerate treatment to Japanese soldiers and civilians.

4. The Military Governor of Mukden to send a representative to Port Arthur to convey his regret when the Military Governor of Kwantung and Japanese Consul General at Mukden are there together.

5. A solatium of $500 (Five Hundred Dollars) to be given to the Japanese merchant Yoshimoto.

This settlement was generally satisfactory to the Chinese; but the original demands had caused them much anxiety, and impressed upon them the necessity of securing a better understanding of their rights as a sovereign power.

The Lao-hsi-kai incident with France was of less importance. The French Consular authorities of Tientsin desired to have their concession extended and had been negotiating with the Chinese Government for additional space. The negotiations had dragged on for some years and a final agreement had been practically reached concerning this additional grant of land which was to be put under the jurisdiction of a joint Franco-Chinese Administration. Some additional opposition was raised by the Chinese, and finally the French Consul-General sent an ultimatum demanding that the Chinese police be removed and the additional territory be placed under French supervision and control. The time-limit of the ultimatum having expired, a French detachment of soldiers took possession of the property; the Chinese policemen were removed and imprisoned; and French sentries were stationed along the boundary. Protests arose from the Chinese of the city and of North China; the native servants and employÈs of the French Concession left in a body. The arrested Chinese police were ultimately released but no immediate settlement was reached concerning the matter in question. The incident could easily have been averted and was not of great importance, except as it was used by German propagandists, but it served to increase China's desire to be treated as an equal by the European Powers.

For the reasons cited, the country was ready in the fall of 1916 to step out into a more active participation in the world's events, and when President Wilson sent out his peace inquiry of December 19, 1916, China answered at once, expressing its willingness to join in the international effort to eradicate wars of aggression; "to assure the respect of the principle of the equality of nations, whatever their power may be, and to relieve them of the peril of wrong and violence." The note of the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs to the American Minister at Peking was as follows:

"I have examined with the care which the gravity of the question demands the note concerning peace which President Wilson has addressed to the Governments of the Allies and the Central Powers now at war and the text of which Your Excellency has been good enough to transmit to me under instructions of your Government.

"China, a nation traditionally pacific, has recently again manifested her sentiments in concluding treaties concerning the pacific settlement of international disputes, responding thus to the voeux of the Peace Conference held at The Hague.

"On the other hand, the present war, by its prolongation, has seriously affected the interests of China, more so perhaps than those of other Powers which have remained neutral. She is at present at a time of reorganization which demands economically and industrially the co-operation of foreign countries, a co-operation which a large number of them are unable to accord on account of the war in which they are engaged.

"In manifesting her sympathy for the spirit of the President's Note, having in view the ending as soon as possible of the hostilities, China is but acting in conformity not only with her interests but also with her profound sentiments.

"On account of the extent which modern wars are apt to assume and the repercussions which they bring about, their effects are no longer limited to belligerent States. All countries are interested in seeing wars becoming as rare as possible. Consequently China cannot but show satisfaction with the views of the Government and people of the United States of America who declare themselves ready, and even eager, to co-operate when the war is over, by all proper means to assure the respect of the principle of the equality of nations, whatever their power may be, and to relieve them of the peril of wrong and violence. China is ready to join her efforts with. theirs for the attainment of such results which can only be obtained through the help of all."

Thus China was ready to act, when the German Government threw down the challenge to the civilized world by its declaration of unlimited submarine warfare. America severed diplomatic relations, and on February 4th sent a note to China, as to all neutrals, suggesting that they follow its example. In less than a week the Chinese Republic actually took this step. Writing from China on February 16th, the author described the decision as follows:

Hangchow, China, February 16.

"The severance of diplomatic relations between America and Germany has had far-reaching effects in China. I was in Shanghai when the news came and the city, in which there are over 20,000 foreigners, including 1000 Germans, was greatly stirred. Crowds gathered around the bulletin boards, just as they did in Europe during the first days of August, 1914. The English and French were openly elated; the Germans were correspondingly depressed; and the Chinese appeared in doubt as to their action in this crisis. The American gunboats and cruisers in the harbour were loading supplies and coaling, in preparation for departure in case a declaration of war necessitated such action.

"The indecision which at first marked the action of the Chinese and their government, has been cast aside by the decision of the government on February 9, when it boldly followed the course of America by sending a similar declaration to Germany. This action has been greeted on all sides as a sign of the virility of the present republican government, and the first step in modern participation in world affairs.

"After America severed relations with Germany there was serious discussion at Peking of China's future action. The younger element in the government were eager to follow America's example; the older, more conservative leaders counselled caution and a maintenance of neutrality. The most experienced statesmen, including Liang Chi-chao, who is so largely responsible for the present Republican government, were summoned to the capitol for conference. Finally, after an all-day meeting on February 9, decisive action was agreed upon, and notes were sent to Germany and to America. The note to Germany follows:

"'A telegraphic communication has been received from the Chinese minister at Berlin transmitting a note from the German government dated February 1, 1917, which makes known that the measures of blockade newly adopted by the government of Germany will, from that day, endanger neutral merchant vessels navigating in certain prescribed zones.

"'The new measures of submarine warfare inaugurated by Germany, imperiling the lives and property of Chinese citizens to even a greater extent than the measures previously taken which have already cost so many human lives to China, constitute a violation of the principles of public international law at present in force; the tolerance of their application would have as a result the introduction into international law of arbitrary principles incompatible with even legitimate commercial intercourse between neutral states and belligerent powers.

"'The Chinese government, therefore, protests energetically to the imperial German government against measures proclaimed on February 1, and sincerely hopes that with a view to respecting the rights of neutral states and to maintaining the friendly relations between these two countries, the said measures will not be carried out.

"'In case contrary to its expectations its protest be ineffectual the government of the Chinese republic will be constrained to its profound regret, to sever diplomatic relations at present existing between the two countries. It is unnecessary to add that the attitude of the Chinese government has been dictated purely by the desire to further the cause of the world's peace and by the maintenance of the sanctity of international law.'

"On the same day China, through its Foreign Minister, sent the following note to the American Minister in Peking for transmission to the United States Government:

"'I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your excellency's note of the 4th of February, 1917, informing me that the government of the United States of America, in view of the adoption by the German government of its new policy of submarine warfare on February 1st, has decided to take certain action which it judges necessary as regards Germany.

"'The Chinese government, like the President of the United States of America, is reluctant to believe that the German government will actually carry into execution those measures which imperil the lives and property of citizens of neutral states and jeopardize the commerce, even legitimate, between neutrals as well as between neutrals and belligerents and which tend, if allowed to be enforced without opposition, to introduce a new principle into public international law.

"'The Chinese government also proposes to take such action in the future as will be deemed necessary for the maintenance of the principles of international law.'

"The China Press, an American newspaper of Shanghai, comments thus upon this action:

"'The note of warning to Germany marks a bold and heroic departure from historic precedent for China. It shows that things are moving in the republic, and moving rapidly, and we believe that it will be fully justified by events.'

"In commenting on the action, the Peking Gazette, a native paper, says that 'The decision arrived at is in every sense a victory of the younger intellectual forces over the older mandarinate, whose traditions of laissez faire and spineless diplomacy have hitherto cost China so much.'

"These sentiments are re-echoed in various other native papers that decry 'Prussian militarism'--and advise China's following America's action. The reasons underlying the decision are expressed fairly well by the Kun Yuan Pao in an editorial which appeared under the headline 'Now or Never,' the day before the government acted:

"'This is the time for action. We must range ourselves on the side of justice, of humanity and of international law. We must also win a place for ourselves, friends, in the council of nations by prompt and decisive action. Now, Germany's submarine policy and the United States' resolute stand against lawlessness and wholesale atrocity have given us the opportunity.

"'Germany's submarine policy is a challenge to the world. America has accepted the challenge. Shall we do otherwise? If we have a particle of respect for ourselves, the way pointed out by the United States is the road to honour and self-respect.

"'Then, is it not altogether unprofitable to join the allies if we consider the question only from a national point of view? In the present state of the world, it is impossible for any nation to stand alone. We must have allies, if not so sanctified in treaties, yet in a mutual bond of sympathy. This is the best opportunity for us to win friends among the powers. Possibly we will have only a little say in the peace conference, but since we have been willing to help Great Britain, France, Russia and the United States, our appeal will not be unheeded when we should be in difficulties. Although we have been observing the strictest neutrality in the war, there are many questions at the peace conference which will touch us vitally. There is, for instance, the question of Tsingtao to settle, and the Japanese actions in Manchuria and in connection with the Twenty-one demands will have to be brought up in review. Cultivate friendship when our friends are in need, and not when they are above wants. Now or never must we show the world that this is a nation which is not always on the sick list, but living, pulsating and with a fighting spirit.'"

After the sending of the Chinese note to Germany nothing was heard from that quarter for several weeks. Then came the torpedoing of the French ship, Atlas, on which were over five hundred Chinese labourers. The Cabinet was in favour of breaking off relations, and on March 10th the question was sent to Parliament for decision. The Lower House upheld the Cabinet decision and the next day the Senate did the same.

The long-awaited German answer arrived on the day the Lower House voted. In part it was as follows:

"The Imperial German Government expresses its great surprise at the action threatened by the Government of the Republic of China in its note of protest. Many other countries have also protested, but China, which has been in friendly relations with Germany, is the only State which has added a threat to its protest.

. . . "Germany's enemies were the first to declare a blockade on Germany and the same is being persistently carried out. It is therefore difficult for Germany to cancel her blockade policy. The Imperial Government is nevertheless willing to comply with the wishes of the Government of the Republic of China by opening negotiations to arrive at a plan for the protection of Chinese life and property, with the view that the end may be achieved and thereby the utmost regard be given to the shipping rights of China. The reason which has prompted the Imperial Government to adopt this conciliatory policy is the knowledge that, once diplomatic relations are severed with Germany, China will not only lose a truly good friend but will also be entangled in unthinkable difficulties."

This note arrived too late to have any effect on Parliament, which upheld the decision of the Cabinet as indicated.

The mildness of Germany's note of March 10th was rather a surprise to the inhabitants of China, who remembered the seizure of Tsingtao in 1898, and other actions in Shantung as the result of the murder of two German missionaries; and the ruthlessness of the German troops at the time of the Boxer uprising. A leading Chinese lawyer commented on the change of attitude, his remarks being an indication of the new position won by China in world-politics:

"The troops under Count Waldersee, leaving Germany for the relief of Peking, were instructed by the War Lord to grant no quarter to the Chinese; on the other hand, the latter were to be so disciplined that they would never dare look a German in the face again..(11) The whirligig of time brings in its own revenge, and today, after the lapse of scarcely seventeen years, we hear the Vossische Zeitung commenting on the diplomatic rupture between China and Germany, lamenting that even so weak a State as the Far Eastern Republic dares look defiantly at the German nation! "

On March 14th the German and Austrian Ministers and their staffs were handed their passports and the German and Austrian interests were turned over to the Dutch Legation. Thus did China take its first step toward participation in the cause of the Allies.

Chapter Five

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