Mr. Burlingame to Mr. Seward

No. 126.]

Sir: Please find enclosures 1, 2, and 3, relating to newspapers printed in the Chinese language.

The letter of Prince Kung (1) was sent to each of the legations, and the representatives of the treaty powers, after consultation, and considering the value of the freedom of the press, agreed to reply substantially as I have done, thanking the Prince for his liberal views on the subject of printing, and pointing out the remedy for libels under our laws, but refusing to repress by harsh measures the freedom of the press.

The answer seems to have been satisfactory

I sent to our Consul General Seward the enclosure 3, that our countrymen might take such precautions as would seem to be necessary to give the injured Chinese the benefit of their treaty rights.

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


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

[Page 450]

Prince Kung to Mr. Burlingame

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

It has lately been reported at the foreign office that the newspapers in the Chinese language circulated at the open ports, which are printed and circulated By foreigners, have repeatedly contained articles defaming the officers of this government. As native traders and others constantly read these newspapers, if the officials are maligned in them, it will seriously injure their reputation and influence, and moreover lead the people whom they rule over to become disaffected and despise their authority.

It is probable that those who issue these newspapers are unaware that such an offence comes within the scope of the statute respecting posting anonymous placards, which prescribes a severe punishment for the offence; In China, as elsewhere, good and bad people act differently; and there are many reckless persons who, caring nothing for themselves about being branded as criminals, disseminate unfounded reports, either openly promulgating the charges themselves, or secretly engaging others to do it for them, and all to create disturbance. Your fellow-countrymen cannot for themselves inquire into these reports, but they give them wide currency by printing them for distribution. I am disposed to think that the laws of the United States also forbid and restrain such offences, and punish those who defame and injure the reputation of officers or people.

In saying this I have no desire to prevent the general discussion of such things as are of public importance or trustworthy, or of whatever relates to China of common interest to all classes; but to permit people to write baseless calumnies against officers is really doing an injury to the reputation of his Majesty himself.

It is incumbent on me, therefore, to request your excellency to issue an equitable regulation, which will restrain these proceedings, and prevent the officers of the country being thus maligned by unfounded accusations through the newspapers in future; and it is for this purpose that the present communication is sent to you and the other foreign ministers in Peking.

His Excellency Anson Burlingame, United States Minister to China.

Mr. Burlingame to Prince Kung

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge your imperial highness’s despatch of the 30th ultimo, in which you inform me that the newspapers in the Chinese language at the open ports, printed by foreigners for circulation, have of late frequently contained articles defaming the officers of the Chinese government, calculated to injure their character and influence among the traders and others who read them; and that as this offence comes within the scope of the [native] statute concerning posting anonymous placards, the penalties of which are extremely severe, you accordingly desire me to issue some equitable regulation restraining or stopping such things [by Americans,] &c., &c.

I may remark, in reply, that the laws of the United States against circulating slanderous reports are likewise severe; but I am much pleased to see in the despatch under reply the sentence which informs me that you have no desire to prevent the general discussion of such things as are of public importance or trustworthy, or of whatever relates to China of common interest. This observation clearly shows that the foreign office has candidly and fully weighed the advantages and abuses of newspapers.

I infer, therefore, that the laws of China and of foreign countries respecting circulating slanderous accusations defamatory of officials are not unlike in their strictness; but as your imperial highness has not, in the present case, specified any citizen of the United States by name as having slandered the officers of the Chinese government, I have no grounds for taking any action in the matter, However, I may state, in conclusion, that if any person is slandered in these newspapers, he can enter his complaint at the American consulate, stating particulars of names and date of the paper, and with these details: of evidence in the case, the consul himself can examine and decide it. If it shall be ascertained that a native has written the report, and got the foreigner to print it for him, he shall be sent to his own authorities for examination. But if, on the other hand, be proven that an American has wilfully printed false charges against a Chinese, the consul will decide the case according to the laws of the United States.

I have the honor to be, sir, your imperial highness’ obedient servant


His Imperial Highness Prince Kung, &c., &c., &c.

[Page 451]

Mr. Burlingame to Mr. G. F. Seward

Sir: In forwarding to you the enclosed correspondence with Prince Kung relating to news papers in the Chinese language printed in this empire by our countrymen, I have only to observe that the object in view on his part is rather to check abuses which might arise from too much license, than to deter persons from publishing papers. If you have knowledge of any American engaged in printing a newspaper in Chinese, I wish you to inquire of him whether it is issued with his imprimatur, stating the name of the printer and the place of its publication, and in case they are not given on each separate issue, to request him to do so.

It is highly desirable, in view of the great importance of this means of enlightening the Chinese people, that it be conducted by responsible persons.

I am, sir, respectfully, your obedient servant,


George F. Seward, Esq., United States Consul General.

Circular relative to the Coolie trade.

Sir: I subjoin a copy of a resolution on the subject of the Coolie trade, which has recently unanimously passed both houses of Congress. It is believed to, correctly represent the moral sentiment in this country on the subject of that trade, which is now prohibited by law, except when the consul, at every port, where coolies may embark, may be required to certify, upon full examination., that this embarcation is not forced or procured by fraud, but is voluntary. There is reason to believe, however, that this important requirement is sometimes, perhaps often, disregarded. You are consequently directed to make use of all, the authority, power, and influence at your command, towards preventing and. discouraging the carrying on of the traffic referred to in any way. With refer-enee to the officers of foreign governments, that influence must of course be, discreetly exercised, without giving just cause of offence, in a matter which may be tolerated by the laws of their respective countries.

I am, sir, your obedient servant.


Anson Burlingame, Esq., &c., &c., &c.


Whereas the traffic in laborers, transported from China and other eastern countries, known as the Coolie trade, is odious to the people of the United States, as inhuman and immoral; and whereas it is abhorrent to the spirit of modern international law and policy, which have substantially extirpated the African slave trade: to prevent the establishment in its place of a mode of enslaving men differing from the former in little else than the employment of fraud instead of force to make its victims captive: Be it therefore—

Resolved, That it is the duty of this government to give effect to the moral sentiment of the nation, through all its agencies, for the purpose of preventing the further introduction of Coolies into this hemisphere, or the adjacent islands.

Ordered, That the Secretary lay the foregoing resolution before the President of the United States.


J. W. FORNEY, Secretary.