Mr. Williams to Mr. Seward

My Dear Sir: I long since received your note of June 4th, 1866, informing me that you had directed a portrait of Washington to be sent out for presentation to Sen Ki-yu, a member of the foreign office of this government, who had written a eulogy upon him.

As it has not yet come, and I have heard nothing from Shanghai of its arrival there, I have thought it advisable to inform you, and no longer delay to send you the translation of the notice (in duplicate) given by Sen in his geography of the life and character of Washington. It is very brief, and, as you will perceive, has many errors; but it is noteworthy as being the first attempt by a native scholar and high official to give his countrymen an account of foreign countries and their great men. He cannot read a word of any other language than his own, and collected the details in his geography by personal inquiries among the few foreigners whom he met at Amoy and Fuh-Chow in 1844-49, who could talk Chinese. Naturally enough, the mistakes throughout the work are numerous; but his desire to show the educated men of China that the people of other lands, who had recently compelled the Emperor’s envoy to sign the treaty of Nanking, were not the barbarians they were thought to be, is apparent throughout. For his favorable notices of them, he was dismissed from his high post of governor of Fuhkien when the Emperor Hienfung acceded to the throne in 1850, and remained in private life till he was called last year to fill a vacancy in the foreign office, an appointment given him on account of having published this same work.

I am, respectfully, yours, very truly,


Hon. William H. Seward, &c., &c., &c.

Extract from the Geography of Sen Ki-yu, giving an account of the establishment of America by Washington.


United States of America.*

America is a vast country. Owing to its merchants’ ships carrying a variegated flag, it is usually known at Canton as the Hwa-ki Kwoh, or flowery flag nation. It is bounded north [Page 454] by English territory, and south by Mexico and Texas; its eastern border lies along the great western ocean, while its western is on the vast ocean, a distance of about 10,000 li*lying between them. From north to south the distance is between 5,000 and 6,000 li in the widest parts; and from 3,000 to 4,000 li in the narrowest. The Appalachian range winds along its eastern coasts, and the great Rocky mountains enclose its western borders, between which lies a vast level region many thousands of miles in extent.

The Mississippi is the chief of the rivers; it sources are very remote, and after running more than a myriad li, in a serpentine course, it joins the Missouri river, and the great united river flows on south to the sea. The other celebrated rivers are the Columbia, Mobile, Appa lachicola, and Delaware. Great lakes lie on the northern border. Towards the west they are divided from each other by four streams, and are called Iroquois or St. Clair, Huron, Superior, and Michigan. To the east lie two others, Erie and Ontario, which are joined to each other. These lakes together form the boundary between the United States and the British possessions.

It was the English people who first discovered and took North America and drove out the aborigines. The fertile and eligible lands were settled by emigrants moved over there from the three [British] islands, who thus occupied them. These emigrants hastened over with a force like that of the torrent rushing down the gully. Poor people from France, Holland, Denmark, and Sweden, also sailed over to join them; and as they all daily opened up new clearings, the country continually grew rich in its cultivated lands. High English officers held it for their sovereign, and as cities and towns sprung up all along the coasts, their revenues were collected for his benefit. Commerce constantly increased in extent and amount, so that thus the inhabitants rapidly became rich and powerful.

During the reign of Kienlung (A. D. 1730—1796) the English and French were at war for several years, during which the former exacted the duties throughout all their possessions, increasing the taxes more than previously. By the old tariff, for instance, the duty on tea was levied when it was sold, but the English now required that another tax should be paid by the buyer. The people of America would not stand this, and in the year 1776 their gentry and leading men assembled together in order to consult with the [English] governor how to arrange this matter, but he drove them from his presence, dispersed their assembly, and demanded that the tax be collected all thè more strictly. The people thereupon rose in their wrath, threw all the tea in the ships into the sea, and then consulted together how they could raise troops to expel the British.

There was at this time a man named Washington, a native of another colony, born in 1732, who had lost his father at the age of 10, but had been admirably trained by his mother. While a boy he showed a great spirit, and his aptitude for literary and martial pursuits, and love for brave and adventurous deeds, exceeded those of ordinary men. He had held a military commission under the English, and during the war with France when the French leagued with the Indians and made an irruption into the southern provinces, he led on a body of troops and drove them back, but the English general would not report this expeditious operation, so that his worthy deeds were not recorded, [for his promotion.]

The people of the land now wished to have him to be their leader, but he went home on plea of sickness and shut himself up. When they had actually raised the standard of rebellion, however, they compelled him to become their general.

Though neither troops nor depots, neither arms nor ammunition, stores nor forage, existed at this time, yet Washington so inspirited everybody by his own patriotism, and urged them on by his energy, that the proper boards and departments were soon arranged and he was thereby enabled to [bring up his forces and] invest the capital. The British general had intrenched some marines outside of the city, when a storm suddenly dispersed his ships. Washington improved the conjuncture by vigorously attacking the city, and succeeded in taking it.

The English then gathered a great army and renewed the engagement; he lost the battle completely, and his men were so disheartened and terrified that they began to disperse. But his great heart maintained its composure, and he so rallied and reassured his army that they renewed the contest, and victory finally turned in their favor. Thus the bloody strife went on for eight years—sometimes victorious and sometimes vanquished. Washington’s determination and energy never quailed, while the English general began to grow old.

[The King of] France also sent a general across the sea to strengthen the tottering state; he joined his forces with those of Washington, and gave battle to the British army. The rulers of Spain and Holland likewise hampered their military operations, and advised them to conclude a peace. The English at last could no longer act freely, and ended the strife in the year 1783, by making a treaty with Washington. According to its stipulations, the boundary line was so drawn that they had the desolate and cold regions on the north, while the fertile and genial southern portions were confirmed to him.

Washington having thus established the state, gave up his military command for the purpose of returning to his farm; but the people would not permit him thus to retire, and obliged him to become their ruler. He, however, proposed a plan to them, as follows: “It is very selfish for him who gets the power in the state to hand it down to his posterity; in filling the [Page 455] post of shepherd of the people, it will be most suitable to select a virtuous man.” Each of the old colonies was thereupon formed into a separate State, having its own governor to direct its affairs, with a lieutenant governor to assist him,* each of whom held office four years. At the general meeting of the people of a State, if they regard him as worthy, he is permitted to hold his post during another term of four years; but if not, then the lieutenant governor takes his place. If, however, the latter does not obtain the approbation of the people, another man is chosen to the dignity, when his time is expired. When the headmen of the villages and towns are proposed for office, their names and surnames are written on tickets, and thrown into a box; when everybody has done so, the box is opened, and it is then known who is elected by his having the most votes, and he takes the office. Whether he has been an official, or is a commoner, no examination is required as to his qualifications; and when an officer vacates his place, he becomes in all respects one of the common people again.

From among all the governors of the separate States, one supreme governor (or President) is chosen, to whom belongs the right to make treaties and carry on war, and whose orders each State is bound to obey. The manner of his election is the same as that for a governor of a State: he holds his office four years; or if re-elected, for eight. Since the days of Washington (who died in 1799) the country has existed 60 years; there have been nine Presidents, and the present incumbent (Tyler) was elected from Virginia.

When Washington made peace with the British, he dismissed all the troops and directed the attention of the country entirely to agriculture and commerce. He also issued a mandate saying, “If hereafter a President should covetously plot how he can seize the ports or lands of another kingdom, or harass and extort the people’s wealth, or raise troops to gratify his personal quarrels, let all the people put him to death.” He accordingly retained only 20 national war vessels, and limited the army to ten thousand men. The area of the country is very great, and every one exerts himself to increase its fertility and riches; the several States have all one object, and act together in entire harmony; the other nations of the world have therefore maintained amicable relations with the United States, and have never presumed to despise or encroach on them. During the 60 years that have elapsed since peace with England, there has been no internal war; and [their trade has increased so that] the number of American merchantmen resorting to Canton yearly is second only to those of Great Britain.

It appears from the above that Washington was a very remarkable man. In devising plans, he was more daring than Chin Shing or Han Kwang: in winning a country, he was braver than Tsau Tsau or Liu Pi. Wielding his four-foot falchion, he enlarged the frontiers myriads of miles, and yet he refused to usurp regal dignity, or even to transmit it to posterity; but, on the contrary, first proposed the plan of electing men to office. Where in the world can be found a mode more equitable? It is the same idea, in fact, that has been handed down to us [Chinese] from the three reigns of Yau, Shun, and Yu. In ruling the state he honored and fostered good usages, and did not exalt military merit, a principle totally unlike what is found in other kingdoms. I have seen his portrait. His mien and countenance are grand and impressive in the highest degree. Ah ! who is there that does not call him a hero?§

  1. It is also called Collected Nations of America, Confederated Countries of America, United Leagued Nations, and United all States, (i. e., these different Chinese names have been used.)
  2. This flag is an oblong banner with red and white stripes alternating; in the right-hand corner is a small square of a black color, wherein are drawn many white spots arranged in a form resembling the constellation of the Dipper.
  3. This is a vague expression for a vast distance; three li are usually reckoned to equal an English mile.—Translator’s note.
  4. Sometimes the lieutenant governor is a single officer; in other cases several persons aid the governor.
  5. They are also changed biennially, and sometimes annually.
  6. When he has held the office for eight years, he cannot be re-elected.
  7. Chin Shing and Han Kwang were two patriotic generals, who endeavored to overthrow the Tsin dynasty (B. C. 208} and restore the feudal system, and re-establish their own prince in his state. Tsau Tsau and Liu Pi were rival chieftains (A. D. 220;) the first of whom destroyed the great Han dynasty, and the second, after surviving all his own efforts to uphold it, founded a small state himself in the west of China. The “four-foot falchion” is an allusion to the celebrated sword of Liu Pang, the founder of the Han dynasty (B. C. 202,) with which he clove in twain a huge serpent that crossed his path. The three monarchs, Yau, Shun, and Yu, were among the earliest Chinese rulers (B. C. 2,357—2,205,) and were chosen to fill the throne on account of their virtues.—Translator.