Mr. Burlingame to Mr. Seward

No. 122.]

Sir: I have the honor to inform you that, on the 20th of November last, I had an interview with Prince Kung, at the Tsung li Yamen, of more than ordinary interest.

After the usual formalities and felicitations, the Prince dismissed, with the exception of his official suite, his attendants, and proceeded in a disturbed manner to speak of his relations with foreigners. He said they were excellent with all but the French, but that with these, in spite of all he could do, they were not such as he desired. The causes of irritation were their claims on account of their missionaries, and the nature of a correspondence touching affairs in Corea; that the missionaries, not content to spread their faith, to which there was no objection, were political agents, and undertook to absolve their Chinese converts from obligations to their own government, and that they were supported in their pretensions by their diplomatic representatives at Peking; that when he sought, on behalf of a kindred and once tributary people, (the Coreans,) to secure, in the interests of peace, an investigation into facts, before proceeding to extremities, he had been charged with complicity with them, and his own people menaced with attack.

I replied, as I had often done before, that I could not interfere between them and others, more than to proffer my good offices when they might serve to restore friendly relations. I urged the Prince strongly to instruct his officials in the provinces to treat the missionaries with the utmost kindness, so as to avoid all occasion for armed intervention. I said to him that my colleague, M. Berthemy, the French minister, now absent on leave, had said to Sir Frederick Bruce and myself that he did not, nor did his Emperor, sustain any such pretensions as those mentioned by the Prince on the part of the missionaries; that he had informed them that he, and the officials under him, alone represented the political and diplomatic power of France in China, and that I thought, with patience and caution, an amicable solution of their difficulties might be reached.

With regard to Corea I said that, if the Prince had done no more than to proffer his friendly offices, I did not see that he had done more than his duty; and that, if such action called forth menaces, he could rest strong in the consciousness of good intentions, and submit, with confidence, the correspondence to the impartial judgment of the civilized world.

That very evening the despatch marked A, covering a long correspondence with M. de Bellonet, French charge d’affaires, was sent to each one of the foreign legations, and I submit it (with the subsequent despatches marked B) without one word of comment.

I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.

[Page 420]
[Enclosure A.—Translation.]

Prince Kung to Mr. Burlingame.

Prince Kung, chief secretary of state for foreign affairs, herewith makes a communication.

It is well known that since the ratification of the treaties between China and western countries, I have endeavored, by a constant adherence to truth and good faith, in every transaction connected with those countries, to maintain amicable relations with them. A serious quarrel having arisen last summer between the French and Coreans, M. de Bellonet, the French chargé d’affaires, addressed two communications to me respecting it. In my replies to them, I endeavored to act as a mediator, and so to explain the points of the affair that there might not, after all, be any loss of life to either party. This laudable desire was my only motive. Much to my surprise, I have just received a despatch from M. de Bellonet, iu which he quotes the verbal statement of a Corean attendant, together with the gossip of market-places, for the truth of which there is not the shadow of evidence, and brings them up to cast suspicion on me. Seeing, therefore, that he does not meet my laudable desire [to prevent a collision] with the same spirit, but, on the contrary, throws out a suspicion that I am screening and excusing the Coreans, and even have other designs in view, I cannot but be exceedingly dissatisfied with him. He expressly states in his despatch that he thus obtained these rumors, and yet to make from such unsupported rumors charges implicating and upbraiding others, is certainly what I cannot assent to or see the justice of.

I have been on friendy relations with both these countries, and have deemed it best to copy the three despatches of M. de Bellonet. with their replies, and enclose them for your excellency’s information. From them you will no doubt see the merits of the case; copies of the same are also sent to the other foreign ministers resident in Peking.

His Excellency Anson Burlingame, United States Minister to China.

[Enclosures in Prince Kung’s despatch.]


No. 1]
[Translated from the French.]

M. de Bellonet to Prince Kung

Sir: I grieve to bring officially to the knowledge of your imperial highness a horrible outrage committed in the small kingdom of Corea, which formerly assumed the bonds of vassalage to the Chinese empire, but which this act of savage barbarity has forever separated from it.

In the course of the month, of March last, the two French bishops who were evangelizing Corea, and with them nine missionaries, seven Corean priests, and a great multitude of Christians of both sexes and of every age, were massacred by order of the sovereign of that country.

The government of his Majesty cannot permit so bloody an outrage to be unpunished. The same day on which the King of Corea laid his hands upon my unhappy countrymen was the last of his reign; he himself proclaimed its end, which I in my turn solemnly declare to-day. In a few days our military forces are to march to the conquest of Corea, and the Emperor, my august sovereign, alone, has now the right and the power to dispose, according to his good pleasure, of the country and of the vacant throne.

The Chinese government has declared to me many times that it has no authority or power over Corea; and it refused on this pretext to apply the treaties of Tientsin to that country, and give to our missionaries the passports which we have asked from it. We have taken note of these declarations, and we declare, now, that we do not recognise any authority whatever of the Chinese government over the kingdom of Corea

I have, &c.,


His Imperial Highness Prince Kung.

[Page 421]
No. 2.]

Reply of Prince Kung to M. de Bellonet

Sir: I had the honor, yesterday, to receive your excellency’s despatch, in which you inform me that the authorities of the kingdom of Corea had suddenly killed several French bishops and priests, together with a great number of native teachers and Christians, in consequence of which the French government had ordered the commander-in-chief to move his forces; and that seeing that Corea is a dependency of China, and sends tribute, it was proper that I should be informed of these things.

I may here observe, that as Corea is an out-of-the-way country, lying in a secluded corner, and, as is well known, has always strictly maintained its own regulations, I am quite unaware what has led them to put these missionaries and Christians to death. Still, I am sensible of the friendly feelings which have led your excellency thus to communicate to me the reasons for the French government in moving its forces [against that country.]

Seeing, however, that when two countries come to war it involves the lives of their people, as it will in this case—and, therefore, I cannot but endeavor to bring about a solution of the difficulty between them—as the Coreans have killed a number of the missionaries, it seems to me that it would be best to inquire beforehand into the proofs and merits of the affair, and ascertain what reasons there were for this step, so that, if possible, a resort to arms may be avoided. I make this reply for the purpose of suggesting such a course to your excellency’s consideration.

I have, &c,


M. de Bellonet.

No. 3.
[Translation from the French.]

M. de Bellonet to Prince Kung

Sir: I have the honor to bring to the knowledge of your imperial highness the official notification of the blockade of the river Seoul, and the west coast of Corea, by the naval forces of his Majesty the Emperor of the French I beg your imperial highness to be pleased to give this document all the publicity possible, to the end that none may be ignorant of it, and that the interests of the Chinese who trade with Corea may be entirely safe.

I have, &c,


His Imperial Highness Prince Kung.

[Enclosure translated from Chinese.]

Rose, rear-admiral and commander-in-chief of the French naval forces in the Chinese and Japanese seas, herewith issues a notification to all concerned:

Whereas the King of Corea, in a spirit of of inhuman barbarity, having seized and killed several French bishops and missionaries, together with many native Christians, male and female, old and young, I think that his numerous crimes cannot be suffered to pass with impunity. I have determined to proceed against him for his notorious crime, and shall take the forces under my command to attack and subdue his country. All ports and embouchures on the western shores of Corea, leading to the capital, are immediately to be blockaded by the ships under my command, and the vessels of all other nations are for the present forbidden to resort there. If any of them attempt to violate this order and break the blockade, they will be dealt with according to the laws acknowledged among nations in such cases. A special notice.

No. 4.

Prince Kung to M. de Bellonet

Sir: On the 16th of July last I had the honor of replying to your despatch respecting the murder of missionaries and others by the Coreans, and suggested the desirableness and [Page 422] propriety of first inquiring into the circumstances attending the affair, that hostilities might, if possible, be avoided; but up to the present time I have not been favored with an answer. I have, however, to acknowledge your despatch of the 24th ultimo, in which you state as follows:

“The commander-in-chief of the French naval forces has sent me a notice of blockade (of which a copy is enclosed) of all the ports and rivers leading to the capital of Corea, on its western coasts, by the ships of his squadron; and as he will soon attack that country, he has for the present forbidden the vessels of all other nations from going there,”&c, &c.

Your despatch and the notice of blockade are entirely in accordance with the provisions of article XXXI of the treaty, and I have no wish to discuss their purport. But when two countries resort to arms it involves the lives of their people: and as Corea is a very secluded country, lying away from others, and keeping itself aloof by strict regulations, it is not improper to inquire, whether the French government has made any investigation into the circumstances connected with the Christians; and if not. whether such a mode is not desirable as a first step. There may not, after all, be an absolute necessity of a resort to hostilities, and thus human life on both sides will be preserved. On a review of the whole subject, I hope your excellency will also see it in the same light.

I have, &c,


M. de Bellonet, &c., &c.,

No. 5]
[Translation from the French.]

M. de Bellonet to Prince Kung

Sir: I regret greatly that your highness could not divine the reasons which constrained me to keep silence after the offers you made to me in your communication of the 16th of July last. Since you insist on returning to this subject, I believe that I ought to explain the motives of my conduct, begging you to be pleased to remember that I have avoided as much as possible making a communication so disagreeable to the Chinese government.

In the first place, the massacre of the French missionaries is one of those unpardonable crimes which nothing can excuse. It is of no consequence, therefore, for us to know the reasons which led the Coreaos to commit this execrable offence; the deed is done; it is sufficient for us to know that they have thereby rendered themselves culpable, and may be punished for it in a signal manner: the ministers who gave the orders, and the mandarins who executed them, by the loss of their heads and the confiscation of their property, which will be distributed among the families of their victims; the King who tolerated or commanded, or who did not even prevent the crime, by the loss of his throne, and perhaps still more. I have already given the most precise instructions that the culpable mandarins, whose names I have been able to procure, shall be tried and executed as. soon as they fall into our hands. As for the fate of the ci-devant King of Corea, it is now subject to the decision of the Emperor, my august sovereign.

In the second place, I regret to be forced to declare to your imperial highness that the reports that have reached us these five months, and which have been sent to Paris, upon the events in Corea, force upon us very serious suspicions of complicity on the part of the Chinese government. It is affirmed by many that the Corean embassy, which came last winter, brought to Peking the project of the massacre, and carried back a tacit authorization and the approbation of some members of the Chinese government. The notice which was given us of the transit of the Corean mission, through Liantung, was received very lightly, and con sidered as one of those popular rumors which need not put one on his guard. Events have deceived our confidence.

The mystery which later surrounded the three Corean missions which came to Pekin in the month of July; the sending to Corea of an ambassador, publicly announced in the Gazette; the reports of the recruiting and mobilization of Tartar troops, which came to us from the other side of the great wall; this very eagerness to seek an excuse for the Coreans, rather than to show themselves horror-stricken at their crime—all these things, contrary to usages which, unhappily, your highness is not yet acquainted with, will, without a doubt, produce a painful impression in Europe, and will tend to cause the conduct of the Chinese government to be regarded with suspicion. As every one has not the same reasons which I have for believing in the sincerity and good will of your imperial highness, it will be less strange that I should confess some anxiety for an inquiry to those very ones who might have an interest in not discovering the truth.

In the third place, we have been twice the dupes of an inquiry conducted by the Chinese authorities alone, and we shall not begin again. The dissimulation which was practiced in Sz’chula in regard to the affair at Chun-chia-chan, and that which still continues in suspense [Page 423] respecting the murder of Abbe Mabileau. bave given us too severe lessons regarding the insolent manner in which the provincial authorities have abused our confiding fidelity, to prevent our forgetting it for a long time. Your imperial highness ought not yourself to be ignorant of the manner in which many of the mandarins understand the duty of telling the truth to the Emperor, after the material proofs which I have lately presented to you; and you should understand that, having already, dining many months, these proofs in my hands, and only waiting for an occasion to make them known, it has been difficult for me to enter with lively interest into a new inquiry, which would, without fail, lead to the same results.

In the fourth place, your imperial highness is probably ignorant that war, which for us is a pleasure, which the French passionately seek, is far from being detrimental to the people at large. We fight against and seek to destroy the government and its armies; we do all the harm possible in its mllitary and public establishments, as well as in the royal property; but we respect the property of the poor, and the people gain by our presence. Our armies do not live like the Chinese armies by pillaging the countries they traverse, nor in maltreating the inhabitants; on the contrary, our soldiers, well paid and well disciplined, add to the riches of the country by spending their money, and very quickly gain the friendship of the peaceable. That which your highness is, perhaps, also ignorant of, is that the people of Corea, far from being hostile, far from defending a government which oppresses them and reduces them to misery, address us as their deliverers. It was some of the Coreans, and not the Christian Coreans, who furnished to the only missionary who escaped the massacre the means of bringing us the news, saying to him, “go, seek the foreigners, and return with them” They know that we do not make war upon inoffensive people that we are going to deliver them from all the petty tyrants who govern them, that we are going to give them their liberty and riches by opening their country to the commerce and industry of all nations, and that we shall inaugurate the reign of order, justice, and prosperity. And, I tell your imperial highness, very sincerely, we shall have on our side most certainly all the people, who will aid instead of injuring us; and it is they who will deliver up to us the country, the authorities, and the royal family as soon as they see that they can do it without danger.

Finally, your imperial highness will permit me to bring to your notice that the massacre of the French missionaries was an outrage against the government of the Emperor, and such an outrage, it is evident, as cannot be discussed. Moreover, I believe that this conspicuous punishment will be of great advantage to the Chinese government. It will lead the provincial authorities to reflect upon the inexpediency of listening too much to their personal prejudices, without taking into consideration the general interests of the empire nor the new ideas which foreigners bring forward, and which they are ready to support by arms if they cannot otherwise cause them to be accepted. Our expedition in Corea will, perhaps, avert in China a military intervention, which conciliatory efforts of your imperial highness would not probably prevent.

I ought, in closing, to bring to the notice of your imperial highness that military operations once commenced, as they now are, I cannot stop them before we shall have attained the end we have set for ourselves. Every attempt at conciliation will now be useless, unless the cidevant king of Corea surrenders at discretion, and implores the mercy of the Emperor, our august sovereign, trusting to his generosity. It is for your imperial highness to see if you can give this advice to the Corean government.

I have, &c,

No. 6.]

Prince Kung to M. de Bellonet

[No date.]

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your excellency’s despatch of the 11th instant, in which you intimate, in general terms, that it is the intention of the Emperor’s government to screen and protect the Coreans—a most strange and surprising assertion! In my two former replies to your despatches I simply observed that if the French and Coreans came to blows both countries must necessarily suffer injury. There certainly was no desire on my part to become the arbiter, or to interfere [in the quarrel,] but I could hardly do otherwise than urge the propriety of getting at a full explanation of the affair, and witl the laudable desire of thereby preserving the lives of the people of both countries.

In the despatch under reply, the story told by an official attendant of the Coreans, together with the gossip of market places—things for which there is not the shadow of evidence—are all at once brought forward to cast suspicion on me, and obtain a sort of evidence by being put into words in your despatch. Seeing that my laudable desire [to promote peace] does not meet your excellency’s views, but that, on the contrary, you make it a ground for suspecting me of other designs, I cannot but feel very highly dissatisfied.

[Page 424]

You remark in your despatch that the Coreans have sent officers to Peking, and that China has despatched her agents to Corea; but this practice is of very long standing, and no recent thing. The officers who came from thence, and ours who went thither the present year, came and went on affairs of ceremonial, and in accordance with long-established usage: having no reference to the quarrel between France and Corea, they were not to be set aside or abrogated.

The remark that you make that China is preparing troops to take part in the conflict is sufficiently answered by simply stating that if his imperial majesty had decided to levy and prepare his forces, everybody would have heard or seen it. That there is nothing of the kind intended is so plain that it is needless to argue the point further; but its insertion in your despatch indicates a design to avail yourself of such talk in order to implicate and embarrass others. You mention whence these rumors have come, and yet from such unproven reports you proceed to argue as if they were true. Is such a procedure compatible with friendly relations between nations? Seeing, therefore, that my efforts in the interests of peace do not at all meet your views, but that you rather make it an occasion of calumny, no room is left for any further discussion or arrangement of the matter; but it seemed to be incumbent on me, in view of the friendly relations which should be maintained between our governments, to make a reply to your present communication.

I have, &c,


M. de Bellonet, Charge d’Affaires, &c.

No. 7.

M. de Bellonet to the Foreign Office

I have already many times had occasion to say to your excellencies that your ignorance of diplomatic and international usages has caused you to take steps which have been wrongly interpreted in Europe. That which you have just done, in submitting our correspondence on the subject of Corea to the representatives of powers in Peking, comes in this category. I have certainly no objection to make to the Chinese government’s communicating my despatches to my colleagues. This publication will be interpreted as a last effort in favor of Corea, and, consequently, will prove that I have not been wrong in writing what I have. But diplomatic usages demanded that in this case I should have been previously informed by the Chinese government, and that a copy of the circular addressed to my colleagues should have been sent to me. This has not been done, and I have a right to find fault. I, therefore, inform your excellency that I submit your proceedings to the appreciation of his Majesty’s government, asking them if they do not think proper to demand satisfaction; and I confess that I do not exactly understand why, since the Chinese government believe that I seek to find fault, it has given me so good an occasion to satisfy my desire.

Since my despatches regarding Corea are made public, I send to your excellencies the official copies in French required by the treaties, and with which I had thought it possible for me to dispense, on account of the departure of many of the employes of the legation. I have sent the same to all my colleagues; and as it seems to me, from the last despatch of Prince Kung, that the Chinese government has comprehended neither the ideas which I expressed nor the sentiments which made me express them, I instruct Mr. Lemaire to explain each of my ideas to them word for word.

I hope that this lesson will prove once for all to your excellencies the need of having European interpreters, by showing you the impossibility of speaking of political affairs while employing a language as imperfect as the Chinese.


His Imperial Highness Prince Kung.

No. 8.

From Foreign Office to M. de Bellonet

[No date.]

Sir: We have the honor to inform your excellency that Mr. Lemaire, the interpreter of the French legation, brought your note on the 25th of November, together with the original texts in French of your several despatches of July 14, October 24, and November 10, which you furnished [Page 425] to this office in accordance with Article III of the [French] treaty. We have put them on file.

In regard to the quarrel between France and Corea, we may observe again, that China has shown neither a desire to be unjustly partial, nor to constrain either party. From your previous despatches, in which you so hastily quoted certain rumors, and acted upon them as if authentic, we could only infer, after the most careful examination of their contents, that you wished to charge this government with the design of screening and protecting Corea. Being wholly unwilling to rest quietly under this imputation, his imperial highness Prince Kung, after his last reply to you, sent copies of the entire correspondence to all the foreign ministers resident in Peking, in the hope thereby of showing them his real purpose, which is to do all that China can do to preserve the peace between those two countries. It appears as if your excellency did not entirely appreciate our motive in doing so; for in the note under reply you say, “I certainly have no objection to make to the Chinese communicating my despatches to my colleagues; but such a publication will be regarded in Europe in the light of a last effort in favor of Corea, and consequently it will be thence inferred that I was not wrong in writing what I did.”

In your former despatch you observed that China designed to protect the Coreans, and acknowledged that this assertion was founded on a rumor: and now in the present note you say that this government is aiding them. This charge is certainly one of your own making, and yet you tell us plainly that you are asserting nothing which is unfounded.

It appears to us that you have altogether misapprehended the laudable desire of this government throughout to preserve the peace between Corea and France. We have, indeed, not yet learned what the other foreign ministers say respecting the charge made against us, that we are aiding the Coreans; but on our part we certainly are not inclined to admit such an unfounded aspersion. You said that these ministers all have a suspicion that China intends to protect the Coreans; and it was for the purpose of enabling them to judge for themselves whether your words were well founded or not, that we sent them the whole correspondence. We were desirous of avoiding a long discussion upon the point with you; and you yourself can but see that our only desire in doing so was to clearly make known to them our real intentions.

In sooth, if the allegations which your excellency has brought against this government had been kept quiet, and. we had said nothing publicly in explanation of our views, it would surely have worked a great reproach to his imperial Majesty’s fame. It is a plain point, and need not here be discussed, whether such a step was likely to prove detrimental to you or not.

When his imperial highness urged you to send to Corea and have careful inquiries made first into the reasons why the Christians had been maltreated and not immediately proceed to hostilities, it was done with the sincere desire to see if it was possible to bring about a clear understanding upon the affair; but as you delayed answering him for a long time, he deemed it only respectful to request a reply; the more so, as your despatch [announcing the blockade] intimated that hostilities would ere long commence, and that you had not then power to stop them. If you had sooner informed him that such was the case, there would of course have been no need of requesting a reply.

The original texts of your three despatches, (including that of November 10,) which you have sent to this office, according to the provisions of the treaty, have all been clearly explained by the interpreter, Mr. ternaire, and shown to be in accordance with their Chinese translations. He is well acquainted with the Chinese language, and fully competent to manage and arrange to mutual satisfaction such things as arise between us. The French text of your despatch of the 10th of November, which he brought, has been placed with its translation; and so have the texts of those of the 14th of July and 24th of October. It will be proper to communicate your present note and our reply, also, to the other ministers, as they relate to and explain the previous despatches, and each of them can then clearly understand the merits of the case for himself. In sending the copies to them of the first correspondence we did nothing which we were unwilling to have you know; but we did not consider ourselves required to let you know our intention to do so, and then forward them, [as if by your leave.] As the present note from your excellency is to be understood only by reading the previous despatches, the reasons for furnishing others with copies of this reply, and that note, are now fully stated for your information.

Availing ourselves of this occasion to wish vou every happiness, we enclose our cards.

WAUSIANG, And five others, members of the foreign office.

His Excellency M. de Bellonet, &c., &c., &c.