1-242 To General John J. Pershing, December 26, 1926

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: December 26, 1926

To General John J. Pershing

December 26, 1926 Tientsin, China

My dear General:

Mrs. Marshall and I were delighted to receive your long letter with the news of what you had been doing this past summer. We get occasional briefs of your movements from the newspapers, but these never cover any but official affairs and, therefore, are not very satisfying. I appreciated your taking the time to write me in some detail of how the world has been going with you.

Life out here goes on much the same each year. We are either just out of near trouble with the Chinese or trouble is hovering near us. At present the Cantonese troops are waging very successful warfare in central China and are threatening Shanghai. Officials in Peking have their wind up pretty badly, fearing the Southern part will leap into control of North China any month, through successes in the field and treachery on the part of leaders in this section. They fear that the Kuomingtang (Southerners) will sweep into power and calmly disregard all treaty stipulations as to concessions and extraterritoriality, in the enthusiasm of conquest and in the belief that the Powers are really unwilling to risk actual fighting over the question.1

In anticipation of some such unfortunate outcome, I was sent up to Peking two weeks ago, over the road by auto, to determine the condition of the road and look over the bridges. The country is filled with troops and they establish toll gaits at frequent intervals, and generally conduct themselves in a very high handed manner. It never requires more than a spark to set off an explosion. However, I have learnt that these people are really very simple minded in some ways, and a little polite pleasantry and a touch of Chinese polite formality in expression, smooths the way in most instances. My own vocabulary is now sufficient, about 2500 characters, to deal with any ordinary conversation, so I went through without a serious hitch, except that they held me at the East Gate of Peking for an hour. It was rather cold traveling in an open car, with the thermometer down to ten above and a strong wind blowing.

The situation in China is actually more critical this winter than at any time, so the old fellows tell us, since the Boxer days. Business for foreign firms has gone down the hill steadily the past two years and a number of the smaller American firms have closed up shop and gone home. Most of the American business men I met her in 1924 have given up and returned home.

How the Powers should deal with China is a question almost impossible to answer. There has been so much of wrong doing on both sides, so much of shady transaction between a single power and a single party; there is so much of bitter hatred in the hearts of these people and so much of important business interests involved, that a normal solution can never be found. It will be some form of an evolution, and we can only hope that sufficient tact and wisdom will be displayed by foreigners to avoid violent phases during the trying period that is approaching. And yet it is expecting too much to belief that matters can be readjusted quietly and wisely, with continued public pronouncements by politicians such as Borah and Lloyd George. There may be truth in what they say, but you cannot yell such messages at an excited crowd without the danger of violent and unreasoning outbreaks.2 We have a good example of the difficulties of the problem, here in Tientsin. Two editors are daily attacking each other in their respective editorial columns, over the proper metod of meeting each new crisis or question. One is an American, the brother of Fox of the Washington Post, and the other is an Englishmen named Woodhead, to whom Martin Egan gave me a letter of introduction. They are 180 degrees apart in their views. Both are here on the ground and both are Anglo-Saxons and better informed that almost any other men in China. The first trouble is, one hates every thing British and the other hates every thing American. Woodhead talks China but is thinking about Shylock and war debts. Fox reacts in the opposite fashion. The Chinese read and rest assured that the foreign powers will never be able to meet on a common agreed upon ground.

Speaking of war debts, the feeling of these Britishers here, also the Belgians to a more polite degree, is so bitter that intercourse with them is too difficult to be attempted. The British officers and the few higher born or bred compatriots of theirs out here, are sufficiently agreeable, but the common run of business men, who make up the bulk of this rather large foreign community, are so openly rude and offensive, that it pays to avoid them unless one is willing to frankly mix it up with them, which an Army officer on foreign service here hardly dares to do. Fortunately we have such a large Army community and such unusually charming people that we have little or no time for outsiders.

I have run off into a lot of local interests that will bore you, I fear, but there is not much else for one out here to write of. I can only ask questions about things at home, and I do not want to tax you in that manner. By the way, what has happened to Adamson? I have written him, enclosed notes for him in letters to you, etc., but not a word. I always knew he was quiet and reserved, but he seems to have gone completely into the silence so far as I am concerned.

The social life with us is very attractive, frequent tea and dinner dances in the beautiful country club, skating parties, riding breakfasts, numerous home parties, amateur theatricals, indoor squash and tennis,—there is something to do every day if one is so disposed. And the young people are a most attractive crowd, far above the average Army garrison, both intellectually and in personal charm. I have two beautiful Mongolian ponies now, tame as kittens, though it took a long time to win their confidence.

By the way, a few weeks ago a note arrived from Cameron Forbes, written at Miyanoshita in Japan, telling me that he would pass through Tientsin with two nieces. He finally arrived and we had him here at our house. He claimed to be in splendid health, except for a temporary “dust” cold, but I did not fancy is looks at all. For one thing, I think he is seriously overexerting. He told me that every morning on the boat at four o’clock he turned out and ran several miles on the deck, followed by other strenuous exercises. His face shows the strain of just such performances. I know I would not go tearing around at any such rate. I take a large amount of exercise every day, but not such violent exercise as running several miles. Squash tennis is pretty lively, especially when I undertake to beat these young fellows, which I usually do, but it is not prolonged like straight running, and you can pause for a needed breath.

The Governor was enroute to Manila, but he told me he had written to General Wood from the States and again from Japan, and had never received any acknowledgement of either letter. He was much concerned, for I think he rather expected to stay with General Wood at the Malacanan. He plans to be in the Islands six weeks. He has been writing a voluminous treatise on the Philippines, with the assistance of Carpenter, who has evidently been staying with him for a long time. He had a trunk locker filled with the manuscript and his references, and wanted to talk of little else, except his most recent play, produced at Naushon last summer. I had some of our young polo players in for dinner, ostensibly to do their duty by the girls, but I drew the Governor out on his polo set up at Norwood, and they sat at his knee entranced. He was much pleased.

I do not imagine he will be a very popular person in the Islands at this particular period, especially if they get the idea he is writing a book on the question. And certainly he will mention it.3

I believe I mentioned in one of my letters that Doctor Heiser (?) of the Rockerfeller Tropical Medecine Foundation passed through Tientsin last year and spent an evening with Mrs. Marshall and myself. In fact he talked to us until two in the morning. I took him to his boat and put him to bed. Reilly, ex Rainbow Division, spent some days with me. He was here representing the Hearst papers, and, incidentally, he was actually on the ground in the field at the most dramatic and exciting episode in last year’s revolt against Chang Tso lin.4 He had the thrill of standing with an artillery commander when he heard a loud rumpus in rear, and turning saw a brigade of cavalry charging down on them, the nearest less than 100 yards distant. This cavalry maneuver turned an advance into an instant route, and Chang captured the rebellious leader with his wife and cut both their heads off immediately.

The gentleman you wrote me the letter of introduction for, never turned up. It is possible that he was discouraged by the difficulties of travel in North China and merely touched at Shanghai. A number have done this. In fact, few tourists have attempted to go to Peking since October 1925.

I see by the press despatches that General Dawes wins a peace prize.5 Good for him. This will give him fine political capital for his future aspirations, which he undoubtedly has. I will write him my congratulations, but I am always in doubt as to what to say to him. He is too busy reading between the lines.

I had a cable two weeks or more ago from General Ely asking if a detail on the War College faculty would be agreeable to me. This is the sixth time I had been asked since 1919 and I accepted. General Wells had asked me to go to Benning in 1924 so that he could have me made assistant commandant there, but I preferred China. Then he wrote to me a year ago and said he would like to arrange for me to take that detail on my return, but before his letter reached me he had been transferred to the W.D. staff. As Collins has never mentioned the matter since he took control,6 I decided the “bird in the hand” should be my choice, though I had no thought of going to the War College. Mrs. Marshall, however, is radiant over the idea of a beautiful house at Washington Barracks. I suppose this will mean that I sail on the May 10th transport instead of on the following boat, some time in September. When I return I will have had about eleven years foreign service, and as my contemporaries in the field artillery have three or less, I will be well heeled.

This is a very long letter and a most disconnected one. I hope it does not bore you, but you were always very patient with my monologues. Mrs. Marshall and I would have liked to send you a Xmas rememberance, but we could find no way to avoid your having to pay the duty at your end of the line, and that would make a sorry gift.

We send you are affectionate regards with every good wish for you in happiness and health in the New Year.

Faithfully yours,


Document Copy Text Source: John J. Pershing Papers, General Correspondence, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Document Format: Author-typed letter signed.

1. In January, 1926, Wu P’ei-fu and Chang Tso-lin reached an agreement to attack Feng Yu-hsiang’s forces. On March 22, Feng withdrew from Tientsin, and over the next month established his armies north of Peking. Although Feng then left for a visit to the Soviet Union, his army continued to fight, and in September allied itself with the rising power of Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang.

The Kuomintang, whose power base was in south China’s Kwantung province, had long desired to eliminate the tuchuns and to unify the country with a great Northern Expedition. During the spring of 1926, Chiang consolidated his power over the Kuomintang, and in June his National Revolutionary Army began military operations. By the end of 1926, Chiang’s forces were consolidating their control over the lower Yangtze River valley. The American reaction to these events is described in U.S., Department of State, Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, 1926, 2 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1941), 1: 591-743.

2. Senator William E. Borah, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, in a speech on November 16, warned the United States and other countries against any imperialistic or forceful policy toward China. David Lloyd George, former Prime Minister of Great Britain (1916-22), in a speech on December 4, sympathized with the Kuomintang movement in China—insisting that it was not a Communist movement, but a struggle to obtain the fundamental rights of any self-respecting nation—and discouraged British involvement.

3. In 1921, President Harding sent Major General Leonard Wood, who assumed office on October 15 as governor-general of the Islands, and former Governor W. Cameron Forbes to the Philippines to make a survey of conditions. Their report recommended that the United States not grant the Islands independence until the Filipinos had had time to absorb the lessons they had received and to master the governmental powers they already possessed. On July 16, 1926, the Philippine legislature unanimously adopted a resolution declaring the Filipino people’s desire for immediate independence. The book Marshall mentions is probably The Philippine Islands, 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1928).

4. Henry J. Reilly (U.S.M.A., 1904), who had commanded the Forty-second (Rainbow) Division’s 149th Field Artillery during the World War, was editor and publisher of the Army and Navy Journal, 1921-25; and after August, 1925, he was editorial commentator in China for the Hearst newspaper chain.

5. Charles G. Dawes, acting as a private citizen, headed the committee that submitted the plan which the Reparations Commission adopted; the plan went into effect in September, 1924. He was awarded—jointly with Sir Austen Chamberlain, British Foreign Secretary—the 1925 Nobel Peace Prize for the “Dawes Plan.”

6. Brigadier General Edgar T. Collins, a member of the General Staff between 1920 and 1924, had replaced Briant H. Wells as commandant of the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 1, “The Soldierly Spirit,” December 1880-June 1939 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), pp. 293-298.

Digital Downloads




Holding Rights: Public Information
Holding ID: 1-242

Rights: Public Information