No. 81.
Mr. Seward to Mr. Evarts.

No. 402.]

Sir: On the 19th December last I had the honor to address a letter to you in regard to a representation made by the Shanghai Chamber of Commerce that the harbor at Shanghai, and the approaches to it, are deteriorating, partly in consequence of natural causes and partly of the encroachments made by building wharves, depositing ballast in the stream, &c., and expressing my opinion that the subject deserved careful attention, and can best be dealt with by establishing a system of harbor control, and by securing the appointment of an engineer, to whom shall be committed the larger question of river conservation.

In pursuance of the views then expressed, I draughted a code of rules for the harbor, and submitted them to my colleagues, by whom they were accepted, and who agreed that it would be wiser to ask the inspector-general of customs to place them before the government than to do so ourselves.

On the 31st ultimo the foreign office communicated to the members of the diplomatic body the rules so agreed upon, with a dispatch setting forth the fact that they had been proposed by Mr. Hart, and asking the [Page 104] foreign ministers “to instruct their consuls to observe them.” I inclose a copy of this communication.

Yesterday my colleagues met to consider the answer which should be made to the foreign office, and, somewhat to my surprise, the point was raised that the letter of the foreign office is objectionable, since it evinces a disposition to deal with the matter as if by right of sovereignty, and to ignore the fact that the rules can be made of binding force only by the conjoint action of the government and the several members of the diplomatic corps. It was pointed out in particular that the form of preamble adopted by the diplomatic body was omitted from the rules, and that this was significant, since it contained an indication that the rules must be a joint issue. I say that this was a matter of surprise to me, for while I recognize the fact that the rules can be given full effect to only with the assistance of the foreign authorities, there is, as I think, no reason to believe that the preamble was intentionally omitted; and, on the other hand, the fact remains that the foreign office has communicated the rules to us, and requested us to give them sanction by transmitting them with appropriate instructions to the consuls at Shanghai.

It may be said, moreover, that the government may of right expect the co-operation of the foreign authorities in such matters, and would have just cause of complaint against them in case of their refusal.

After considerable discussion, in which I urged that it was desirable to act with care lest the whole business should fail, the subject was left open for further consideration.

I need not say that I shall be much disappointed if, after so fair a beginning, the measures demanded from Shanghai shall not be accomplished.

I have not lost sight of the larger question, that of the conservation and improvement of the approaches to Shanghai. I had hoped that it might be possible to procure the appointment of an engineer to examine the Woosung Bar, &c., but I find that I cannot commit Mr. Hart to undertake so large an expenditure out of funds at his disposal, and that it is not likely that the foreign office can be prevailed upon to make a special appropriation for the purpose. Under these circumstances, I have been compelled to fall back upon a proposal to submit reports heretofore made upon the bar and river, showing a wide range of opinion, to the best authorities in England and elsewhere for a statement of their views and conclusions.

The proposition was brought by me before my colleagues at our meeting of yesterday, but it did not appear to meet their approval, chiefly, as I judge, because it seemed to them an inadequate step. I could not but remark, however, that no other proposal was advanced. I shall urge it again at our next meeting.

I have, &c.,

[Inclosure in No. 402.—Translation.]

Prince Kung to Mr. Seward.

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

Upon the 9th January, 1878, a letter was received from Mr. Inspector-General Hart, setting forth that, of the various treaty ports, Shanghai is by far the most important, both as being the point of collection of the merchants and people of all nations; the place at which merchandise of all classes, whether for export or import, concentrates; [Page 105] and where ships from all parts of the world congregate, and to and from which they come and go continuously.

The Hwang-pu River, upon which Shanghai is situated, is not a large stream. Hitherto, jetties and oilier works have been constructed at all points along the hanks of the river opposite the city and in the foreign concessions. The channel, because of its being narrowed in this way, and also by reason of earth, sand, and stones being discharged into it, has by degrees become shallower. The effect thus already produced is not light. In order that in the future the harbor may not further deteriorate, some satisfactory plan of conservation should be devised.

By the determination of a plan to which those concerned may conform, and the establishment of regulations to be observed by the merchants and people, can the protection of the harbor alone be permanent, and the desired end be obtained. If the depositing of stone, sand, and earth within the harbor limits can be prohibited for the future, and if limits can be fixed upon both banks of the river within which it shall not be allowable to build jetties and similar works, it would seem that the protection of the river against further deterioration from these causes would be secured.

The protection of the harbor in all its branches should be committed to the harbormaster by virtue of his office. But in committing it to him, as it affects the interest of both the Chinese and foreigners, the modus operandi should first be communicated to the Chinese local authorities and the consular authorities, in order that no difficulties may be met by the harbor-master in carrying the project into execution, and in order that where joint action is necessary such joint action may be had. Hence, it seems best to communicate in advance the regulations which ought to be observed in this business, in order that provision may be made against difficulties which otherwise might arise at the moment of putting them into operation.

A draught of seven rules was forwarded with Mr. Hart’s communication.

I have the honor to observe that the several points presented by Mr. Inspector-General Hart have for their object the conservation of the harbor, a matter of great interest to merchants and people. It becomes my duty to forward to your excellency a copy of the proposed regulations, and to request that you will instruct your consuls of the several ports (sic) to observe them, and that you will favor me with an early reply.

His Excellency George F. Seward,
&c., &c., &c.