Mr. Williams to Mr. Fish.
Peking, November 6, 1873. (Received January 23, 1874.)
Sir: Referring to Mr. Low’s dispatches of June 24 and 26, 1872, (Nos. 166 and 167,) in relation to the subject of coolie emigration, and more particularly to his recent one of June 3, 1873, (No. 261,) about the discussion [Page 203] between the Spanish chargé d’affaires and the Chinese government, growing out of their prohibiting the emigration of Chinese laborers to Spanish colonies, I have now the honor to transmit for your information several papers explaining its course and results.
The controversy has been dragging along rather slowly since the date of Mr. Low’s dispatch, but has now come to a pause by the suspension of diplomatic relations between M. Otin and the Yamun.
In Mr. Low’s dispatch he states that “it was finally agreed that their differences should be submitted to the ministers of Russia, Germany, England, France, and the United States, jointly, and that the decision of a majority shall be final and conclusive.” This conference was held at the Russian legation on the 1st of August, continuing four hours, and M. Otin was heard at length upon his complaint.
Previous to this date he had also fully made known his views in conversation and letters, and I inclose a copy of a letter addressed to this legation, from which you can learn the manner of his argument. (Inclosure 1.) The reference in the second paragraph to an order from a planter in Cuba, received by his agent in China, requiring him to procure three thousand laborers to work his plantation there, is the index to the spirit of the document. In it he refers to the “officious reports of some consuls in Amoy,” making his own explanations, and entirely ignoring the treatment of tens of thousands of coolies taken from China to Cuba before 1869, and disputing the right of the Chinese government to complain of that ill-usage, and suspend the fulfillment of the treaty until it can be investigated.
The article on which the claim is founded reads as follows:
Article 10. The imperial authorities will permit those Chinese subjects who may desire to go abroad as laborers in Spanish possessions to enter into contracts with Spanish subjects, and to embark alone or with their families at the open ports of China. The local authorities acting with the representative of Her Catholic Majesty in each port shall make the necessary rules for the protection of the said laborers. It is forbidden to take deserters and people who have been taken against their will. In such cases the local authorities can claim from the consul the restitution of the individual.
In carrying out this article the native authorities require conformity to the code of emigration rules issued in 1866.
In view of the approaching conference and arbitration the Yamun addressed two circular notes to the foreign ministers, containing the two points on which they desired categorical replies, in order to know somewhat the ground they stood on. In my reply I urged the appointment of the proposed commission of inquiry into the past and present condition of the Chinese in Cuba, as the only satisfactory means of arriving at the facts. (Inclosures 2, 3, 4.)
The conference was held at a juncture which quite prevented me from attending it, without such risk to my health by exposure to the sun as I was unwilling to run. I had met all my colleagues, too, at the Russian minister’s office two days before, and our views generally coincided; M. de Geofroy, the French minister, was also unable to be present himself. It was a step in advance on the part of the Chinese officials, and an homage to the power of public opinion. Prince Kung was not there. No protocol was drawn up at the meeting, but I have obtained from the German chargé d’affaires his summary of the points agreed upon, of which he has kindly furnished me a translation:
- The Chinese government to send one or more delegates to the island of Cuba, in order to investigate the condition of the Chinese subjects settled in that place.
- The Spanish government to be at liberty to take part in this investigation, by appointing agents of its own.
- With a view to an impartial inquiry and investigation of the real facts, the representatives [Page 204] of Russia, Great Britain, France, and Germany, who have taken part in this conference, will lay before their respective governments the request of the Chinese government, that the representatives of the said four powers residing at Havana may be instructed to advise and assist the Chinese delegates if necessary. The Chinese government can apply to the representative of the United States with a similar request.
- Both parties to be at liberty to apply again to the representatives of the leading powers at Peking for further decision regarding this matter.
The Spanish chargé agreed to these stipulations, and it would have saved much useless discussion if all present had signed a paper containing their views of the agreement. However, the Chinese officials were committed to so far taking a direct interest in the well-being of their countrymen abroad as to appoint a commission; and in a few weeks the Emperor’s rescript was received agreeing to the proposal, and the names of the persons composing the delegation were notified to all the legations. (Inclosures 5, 6, 7.)
The chief Chinese commissioner, Chan Lan-pin, is now in the United States, connected with the education of the students taken there by Yung Wing last year; I know nothing of his antecedents, but I infer that his being from Kwangtung Province, and knowing the dialect spoken by a large portion of the coolies, has had something to do with his selection. Mr. A. Macpherson is an Englishman, and Mr. Alfred Huber a Frenchman, both connected with the customs service, and conversant with the Mandarin dialect and the written Chinese language. They are accompanied by persons familiar with the dialects spoken at Canton, Swatow, and Amoy, whence all the coolies in Cuba were taken.
I sincerely hope that you will be able to assist this commission in carrying out its objects, either by furnishing its members with such information or suggestions as will help them, and documents bearing on the subject, congressional or otherwise; or by directing the American consul-general at Havana, and the consuls at other ports in Cuba, to assist them officially on the spot in pursuing their investigations. The idea here is, that while the Chinese commissioner acts wholly on his own instructions, and is not to be hampered or controlled by the Spanish authorities, their delegate and the five leading consuls at Havana are to act as assessors, to see that the inquiry is conducted impartially and with due regard to the rights of all parties, and the attainment of the truth. I have supplied Mr. Macpherson with the copy of the decree of O’Donnell in 1860, and the more recent law of Valmaseda, ordering the re-engagement of coolies, which formed the inclosure in your last dispatch, No. 149.
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On the 9th of October, the day after Chãn’s promotion was notified he presented the draught of a protocol in five articles to the Yamun; and when it was declined as unnecesssary and novel, he threw up his office as chargé d’affaires, transferring the interests of Spain to the German legation. The correspondence between the parties was transmitted to all the legations on the 24th, and I append a translation of the Prince’s dispatch with its inclosure, (inclosure 8;) its moderate tone seems to show that he is sure of his position in the step he has taken of appointing the commission.
The five points stated in M. Otin’s protocol were much beyond the sense taken at the conference, and the first one, if adopted, by making the whole board into a mixed commission, would have paralyzed the action of the Chinese commissioner. Yet M. Otin had the right to demand that the Chinese should definitely admit the privilege of the Spanish government to appoint an assessor, if not a colleague, with their deputy; and their unwillingness to enter into an arrangement on this [Page 205] point seems to me to have been partly owing to their fear of, at the same time, binding themselves to pay an indemnity.
In this position of affairs the draught of another protocol in two articles was presented to the Yamun, on behalf of M. Otin, by the British chargé and myself, in a personal interview, and every needed explanation of its bearing given to the Chinese officials. The two articles were as follows:
- The Chinese commissioner to be assisted by a Spanish delegate, and the consuls of France, Germany, Great Britain, Russia, and the United States acting as assessors. No evidence to be taken unless at least three of the assessors are present, who are to have the power of cross-examining the witnesses.
- If the Chinese case be not proven, the question of indemnity to be referred by the Yamun and the Spanish representative in China to the ministers of France, Germany, Great Britain, Russia, and the United States resident in Peking; and the amount to be paid, (if any,) and to whom, to be settled by them.
A few days after the interview I received a note from the officials respecting it, and politely declining to adopt our proposal in adjustment of the disagreement between them and the Spaniards. In this note, after repeating the same assurance which they had given to M. Otin, that they harbored no suspicion of his motives, they added that there was nothing said in respect to a Spanish delegate at the conference, and concluded as follows:
Being apprehensive that our Commissioner Chãn would be unable to carry out his inquiry thoroughly, and would on his arrival in Cuba be unacquainted with its people and usages, we therefore asked the five ministers here to give such directions to their nations’ consuls residing there in respect to assisting our commission on its arrival as would further the satisfactory end of their visit. The appointment of an associate by the Spanish government to conduct the inquiry with the Chinese commissioner was not agreed upon at the conference, and it would be difficult now to add more at present, as you desire. The whole arrangement is as it is given in our reply to M. Otin, and was talked about with Mr. Wade at a personal interview with him, and it seems to be unnecessary to discuss it further.
To this a reply was sent, in which I maintained the understanding received at the conference, and that Prince Kung had admitted by implication that the Spanish government could appoint an assessor; for in his dispatch of the 8th ultimo, (inclosure 7,) he had affirmed as one reason for promoting Chãn, that he would then rank with the Spanish officers living in Cuba. “In all western lands,” I said in conclusion, “it is the usage, when one state sends a special deputy to another, for that state to designate an officer to meet and assist him in harmoniously carrying out the object of his mission. In the present instance such a course is necessary, in order that Chãn and his associates may not, on their arrival, entirely fail in the end for which they were sent to Cuba.”
This was on the 30th instant; and at present all direct relations are suspended between the Spanish legation and the Chinese government. The two foreign associates have reached Peking to receive their instructions from the Yamun; and though there is no doubt about the real desire of the imperial advisers to make the inquiry to which their attention has been directed, and that it will be attempted, I should be greatly disappointed if the efficient and harmonious action of their commission and the five foreign consuls in Cuba should be neutralized by their quibbling over this point. They say that if the Cuban authorities prevent their commissioners from landing and carrying on the inquiry by direct inquiry among the coolies, that no better evidence of the truth of the charges of ill-treatment could be asked for, and the propriety of prohibiting further emigration to Spanish possessions is thereby fully justified. One would desire to obtain the fullest investigation of the actual condition of these laborers, and if it confirms the charges brought [Page 206] of inhuman treatment, so much the better if it is a step toward the abolition of the present system of contract labor in this empire.
The severe measures adopted by the authorities at Canton to prevent coolies of all kinds going to Macao, in order to stop as much as possible the delivery of those who may have been engaged by contract to go abroad, and the summary execution of all crimps and kidnappers who have been caught, have, I hear, made the business so dangerous and losing that most of the barracoons are empty. But the want of energy and perseverance in native officials constantly incites to new attempts on the part of those unscrupulous agents who are ready to fill ships going to Lima or Havana with their countrymen, even at the risk of their own lives.
A traffic like that which has disgraced Macao during so many years cannot be stopped all at once in a country like this; but when it has been made a losing business as well as a dangerous and disreputable one, neither can it be immediately revived.
I have, &c.,