Mr. G. F. Seward to Mr. Burlingame

No. 93.]

Sir: On the 10th of August, I proceeded to Chinkiang in the Wachusett, which vessel was en route for Hankou, to aid the consul in settling the controversy about the north bank; or if this should be impracticable, in getting at the facts for your information. I found it impracticable to settle the matter then. A long correspondence ensued, and I have not been able in consequence, to make my report at an earlier date.

The British consul at Chinkiang was absent upon my arrival, and the vice-consul ill, so that I was unable to concert any line of action with either of those persons. I called upan the Tantai at once; he was unable to give me any information, further than that he would not, at the moment, insist upon his previous request for the removal of the receiving ships, but that he could not consent to the occupation of the north bank by our merchants, neither could he indemnify the merchants for their outlays. He was a new officer, and appeared to be ignorant of the history of the port. I procured from him copies of two despatches from the imperial commissioner, which I enclose, marked Nos. 1 and 2.

The circumstances which bear upon the question are substantially, as follows: When the river was opened, 1861, and for more than three years afterwards, the south bank at Chinkiang was threatened by the insurgents, while there was comparative safety on the north bank. The north bank, moreover, afforded a good anchorage and a ready access to the Grand Canal, which led away through a great country far to the north, and by lateral branches eastward and westward, to all parts of one of the largest and most fertile plains in the world.

It is not to be wondered at, then, that when steamers were allowed to receive and discharge cargo to and from the north bank, a populous town grew up. In five years from 12,000 to 15,000 Chinese had located themselves there, who were engaged in trade, that more or less depended upon, and at the same time aided the foreign steamers.

Our merchants were alive to the prospects of the port, and at an early date located lands sufficient for their probable wants. Those lands were, in the cases of Messrs. Russell & Co., and Messrs. Heard & Co., in actual use at the time the attempt was made, which has [Page 463] since been successful, to drive away the merchants and others, natives and foreigners, from that side. It is to be noted, however, that these lands were rented for a term of fifteen years in each case, and not purchased.

In April, 1865, the Chinese authorities commenced to arrange for a salt station at Chinkiang, by opening a short canal, which was requisite to perfect the connection between districts where salt is manufactured, and the Yangtsi at that point. This new canal is the one shown in the enclosed sketch which divides Messrs. Olyphant & Co.’s land from the salt yard. By it the salt is brought to the store yard, and from thence it is shipped into junks, and carried to interior points.

In June, 1865, the work was so far advanced that the salt junks commenced to rendezvous at Chinkiang. In a few weeks not less than 1,000 junks had collected off the salt yard, as shown in the sketch. They extended in tiers 17 deep, more than three-quarters of a mile below the point, and over ground that had been used for the foreign anchorage, and quite surrounding two of the receiving ships, which latter had to be moored in consequence.

In October strenuous measures were undertaken to force the removal of all residents on the north side. These were steadily persisted in, and at the date of my visit to Chinkiang, the place where, a few months before, so large a number of people had lived, was quite deserted.

There seem to be three questions involved:

1st. Have our vessels the right to anchor on the north side of the river?

2d. Have our merchants the right to rent lands and build houses on the north bank?

3d. Whether the merchants, in view of all the circumstances, can justly demand indemnity for land, &c, on the north bank?

The first question is readily answered.

The final clause of rule 6, of the supplementary treaty, declares that, “the limits of the ports shall be defined by the customs, with all consideration for the convenience of trade, compatible with due protection of the revenue, also the limits of the anchorage, within which lading and discharging is permitted by the customs, and the same shall be notified to the consuls for public information.” Accordingly, as shown in enclosure No. 3, the British consul at Chinkiang and the Tantai consulted together, and concluded that the part of the river near Chih-hwa-chue and Pah-hwa-chue, both on the north bank, would be most convenient for the anchorage, and a proclamation was issued, declaring that to be the anchorage. The reasons given are such as form an admission, on the part of the native authorities, that the south side is unfit for the purpose. Upon this head, other evidence, in abundance, could be offered, if it were necessary or desirable.

Our vessels have therefore the right, under existing regulations, to anchor near the north bank, and these regulations cannot, in view of the facts as admitted by the native authorities, be altered without violence to the convenience of trade.

I have already (in my despatch No. — and its enclosure) argued that our people have the right to rent land and build houses on the north bank at Chinkiang, and it is not necessary for me to go over the ground again. I desire, however, to call your attention to that despatch, and I take the liberty to do so, because I am strongly persuaded of the justice of the views therein expressed.

The answer to the third question is ready, if the second be answered affirmatively. Our people having, as a matter of right, purchased land on the north bank, cannot be required to give it up, bat they may, of course, consent to do so, making their own terms. They are willing, in view of the opposition of the authorities, to give up their lands, upon being recompensed for their actual outlays for them, and, clearly, they could not be asked to do less.

If the second question be answered negatively, there is still something to be said for the merchants, for, as nearly as I can get at the facts, they were ignorant that the Chinese had always held that the permission to trade on the north bank was only temporary, although it would appear from the circumstance that their leases were made for short terms, that they were not able to procure absolute titles. Still they may very well have thought, in the absence of notification by their own authorities, that this was due to a reactionary movement on the part of the Chinese, which deserved no special attention.

Had the Chinese, upon the opening of the river, notified to this office or to the legation that, while the temporary use of the north bank would be permitted, in view of all the circumstances, such use could only extend to the date when the country along the southern bank should be pacified, they would have taken the course which would have saved them (granting that the treaty is to be interpreted as they say) from trouble. But if it is to be held that a lapse of this kind is fatal to them, then, perhaps, the Chinese may turn upon us and say, “We notified the British consul at Chinkiang of our views. If you had sent a consul there to look out for matters, as you are bound to do under the treaty, your officer would have been similarly notified.”

I would not decide the question at Chinkiang simply upon the interpretation of the treaty. I know that you will interpret it liberally for each side, but it should not be forgotten that the Chinese have even been disposed to narrow the limits within which foreigners may have freedom of trade and movement, and that success, in this instance, would be likely to embolden them to action that would be far more disastrous.

[Page 464]

I enclose various copies of letters and documents as shown in the schedule. For replies to various points raised by the Chinese, I refer you to these, instead of going over the ground here. I enclose also copies of the leases in question.

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


Hon. Anson Burlingame, United States Minister, Peking.

[No. 1408.]

The Tantai to Mr. G. F. Seward

Ying, the Tantai of Chinkiang, would inform the consul, in regard to the lands rented by American merchants at Tshih-hwa-cheu, the Tantai has been thinking out a good plan for the settlement of the matter in such manner that the said merchants may not suffer loss.

The Tantai finds that no seal has been affixed to the deeds in question by the local magistrates, and that the deeds are not in the name of the foreign merchants, and that according to Chinese law the land should be confiscated and the vendors should be punished.

The Tantai further thinks that, although the merchants paid out their money for the rent of these lands, they violated the 12th article of the treaty in two points. The first point is that they clandestinely rented lands at a place not open to foreign trade, and the second point is that they did not send the deeds to the local magistrates for seal, which bars any claim upon the magistrate to require a refunding of the moneys paid. But the Tantai further thinks that when the transactions were gone into the merchants had no idea of the position in which they were placing themselves, or perhaps they allowed their perceptions to be befogged by their compradores, so that they paid a good price; so that, if the Tantai should not be more compassionate to them, their losses would be very heavy. But then, if the consul general expects the Tantai to refund the prices originally paid and the expenses that have been incurred, that is too difficult to be done. Besides, at the time of making the sales there were, doubtless, many vague expenses incurred by the original owners, which would render the repayment of the amount nominally paid for the land a matter too onerous to be borne by them now. On both sides (the purchasers and the sellers) there was a breach of law; and now on both sides there should be a yielding to the claims of justice.

Now, as regards the American merchant wanting the price originally paid and the interest, the Tantai thinks, on the contrary, that when the land was rented for 15 years and the price paid was 1,000 taels, as three years have elapsed, there should be a deduction of 200 taels.

The Tantai has already set forth this matter by petition despatched to the imperial commissioner, and his reply has been received that, according to the principles of justice, the half of the price originally paid should be collected from the renters and paid over to the American merchants; and this would be justice to both parties; and the Tantai has asked for permission to require the district magistrate of Kyang-too-Sufien to send this amount to the Tantai, that it may be paid over.

The Tantai thinks that the consul general will see the propriety of this plan; wherefore the Tantai begs that the consul general will speedily make this known to the American merchants, and send him a reply, that the amount may be paid over to the consul general to be distributed.

Hereafter the lands rented at Tshih-hwa-keu will in nowise concern the American merchant, and the four deeds will remain in the Tantai’s office for the record of the case.

B.JENKINS, Interpreter.