No. 107.
Mr. Holcombe to Mr. Evarts.

No. 123.]

Sir: In my dispatch, No. 69, of November 12 last, I had the honor to lay before you certain correspondence which had passed between the consular body at Shanghai and the diplomatic corps here, and between the latter and the Chinese foreign office, in regard to the rules agreed to early in 1878, for the conservation of the harbor at Shanghai.

That correspondence was closed by a note from Prince Kung, in which he stated that he had referred the several questions raised to the northern and southern superintendents of foreign trade for their consideration.

I have now the honor to hand to you herewith a translation of a further note from the Prince, in which he communicates the opinion of the two high officials mentioned above, that the authority and jurisdiction of the harbor-master should be restricted to the limits of the foreign concessions $ assumes that the Chinese Government has the power to modify the rules without the consent of the foreign representatives; and asks us to instruct our consuls at Shanghai in accordance with the terms of his note. * * *

Some time having elapsed after the receipt of this latter note from the Prince, and the senior minister, Mr. Brenier de Montmorand, having evinced no disposition to take further action in the premises, I brought the subject to his notice and expressed the opinion that a joint answer should be prepared. He informed me that he had not thought of doing anything further; that, in point of fact, he had been opposed to the rules from the beginning, and had only agreed to them out of deference to the wishes of his colleagues. He, however, added that he would submit a draft of a response for our approval. Two days later he submitted the form of an answer, of which I inclose a copy in French and English.

As none of his colleagues agreed with Mr. Brenier that the draft suggested by him was in the most desirable shape for presentation to the Chinese, although approving its general sense, he at once sent his answer to the foreign office and left his associates to make such reply as should seem best to each. After consultation with my colleagues, the chargé d’affaires of Russia and Germany, we sent an answer substantially identical. A copy is inclosed of the note sent by me.

Having taken this action, I went, with the advice and consent of the representatives mentioned above, to the foreign office and discussed the subject with the ministers, all of whom were present. They did not seem to be thoroughly informed as to the nature and operation of the rules in question, and hence exaggerated some of the difficulties in the way of their enforcement. My explanations seemed to give them much satisfaction, and the interview was, I think, productive of good. They promised to refer the subject again to the northern and southern superintendents of foreign trade, and to urge the enforcement of the rules as originally agreed to. They stated, however, that a little delay would be necessary, as the British Government is, at the moment, unrepresented in Peking, and it would be advisable to await the arrival of Sir Thomas Wade, who is expected here in March. To this, of course, no objection could be raised.

I beg, respectfully, for your approval of my action as narrated herein.

I have, &c.,

CHESTER HOLCOMBE.
[Page 214]
[Inclosure 1 in No. 123.]

The Foreign Office to the French Minister .

Unofficial.]

Sir: In the matter of the rules for the conservation of the harbor at Shanghai, and referring to your excellency’s two notes to us, and to our reply to the effect that we had requested the northern and southern superintendents of foreign trade to cause the subject to be taken into consideration, and that we would address you again when their reports should have been received, we have now the honor to inform your excellency that those reports are before us.

According to the statements of the intendant at Shanghai, the area defined within yellow lines upon a chart sent by the acting inspector-general of customs, and extending from the Little East Gate of the Chinese city of Shanghai, in a southerly direction, to the south tea and silk customs barrier, is called the suburbs of the city, which it is proposed to put within the jurisdiction of the harbor-master.

This area is to the south of the French concession, and the land along the river here is all owned by Chinese. The number of shops is immense, and the wharves and jetties are as thick as a forest. In the river, Chinese vessels from Ningpo, Tientsin, Foochow, and Canton, to the number of many thousands, are accustomed to lie at anchor. An immense number of small craft from the interior are also constantly coming and going. For hundreds of years jurisdiction over this area has been exercised by the magistrate of Shanghai, and no obstruction to the course of the river has resulted.

The masters of Chinese craft and other persons, having heard that it was proposed to put the area in question under the control of the harbor-master, have petitioned the magistrate in great numbers to prevent this action. It is to be feared that if their wish is disregarded they will rise en masse and cause serious disturbances.

The area to be hereafter under the jurisdiction of the harbor-master should be that embraced within the foreign concessions. There is no necessity for placing him also in control of parts outside of those limits. In regard to the river at Weisung, the signal master has hitherto had control for a distance of three miles, and this area might be put under the general supervision of the harbor-master. Modification of the rules in the sense indicated above is requested.

In regard to this subject we have the honor to observe that the rules in question were enacted by China herself, with a view to the protection of the harbor of Shanghai. If there are local obstacles to their exact application, then they ought certainly to be modified so as to be satisfactory. Having received the reports of the northern and southern superintendents of trade, we have the honor to communicate their substance to your excellency for your consideration, and to request that you will transmit it to the several foreign representatives in this city and instruct your consul in the premises.

Cards and compliments.

[Inclosure 2 in No. 123.—Translation.]

To their Excellencies the Ministers, Members of the Tsung-li Yamen:

Gentlemen: I have communicated to my colleagues the letter your excellencies did me the honor to address to me on the 11th January last, and beg to say we are unanimously of opinion that the regulations relating to the harbor of Shanghai having then consented to between your excellencies and the members of the diplomatic body at Peking, no alterations can be made by the Chinese Government in these regulations without the assent of the parties thereto.

Please accept, &c.

  • The Minister for France in China,
    Doyen of the Diplomatic Body.
  • The Minester for Peru.
  • The Chargé d’affaires for Russia.
  • The Chargé d’affaires for Germany.
  • The Chargé d’affaires for the United States.
  • The Chargé d’affaires for England.
[Page 215]
[Inclosure 3 with dispatch No. 123.]

Mr. Holcombe to Prince Kung.

(Red note.)

Sir: His excellency the minister for France has furnished me with a copy of your Imperial Highness’s note of the 11th ultimo, to him, in the matter of the rules for the conservation of the harbor at Shanghai. In this note Your Imperial Highness states that these rules were enacted by China herself, with a view to the protection of the harbor at Shanghai, and that if there are local obstacles to their exact application, they ought to be modified so as to be satisfactory, &c.

I notice with regret and surprise that Your Imperial Highness is of opinion that the rules in question should be modified, and that such modification is possible without the consent of the various diplomatic representatives in this capital.

These rules as proposed by Your Imperial Highness, and agreed to by the several foreign representatives in January, 1878, gave certain powers and authority to the harbor-master at Shanghai, over a class of Chinese and foreigners, and put a portion of the river under his immediate jurisdiction. Your Imperial Highness was well aware; that in order to make the rules in question operative within the foreign concessions and generally in their application to foreigners, the consent and co-operation of the foreign representatives was necessary. That consent was asked, and without exception the ministers resident at Peking, believing the rules to be formed with a view to the conservation of the harbor at Shanghai, and in the interests of foreigners and natives alike, cordially granted the concessions, and gave the necessary instructions to their respective consuls. And further, they reported their action to their several governments and received their approval. Hence the rules stand in the light of a convention agreed to between China and the several powers represented at Peking, and, this being the case, it is self-evident that no modification is possible without the previous consent of both parties to the original agreement.

As representing one of the parties to the convention, I am unable to give my consent to the modification of the rules in question.

By reducing the area of the application of the rules we not only lessen their practical utility, but it even becomes doubtful whether their enforcement in the remaining district will serve any useful purpose.

The intendant at Shanghai, in his note as quoted by Your Imperial Highness, fails utterly to give any valid reason for the modification which he proposes. The harbormaster, to whom the rules give a certain limited jurisdiction over the area in question, is not a foreign official, but a Chinese employé and directly under the control and direction of the Government of China. The area mentioned and the shipping and other interests within it would therefore come in no sense under foreign control. The Taotai manifestly mistakes the situation and exaggerates the opposition of the people when; he represents that disturbances are likely to result from an attempt to apply the rules to the area mentioned. There are perhaps foreign ship-owners and masters who object to the enforcement of the rules against them, but this of itself would hardly cause any foreign representative to withdraw from the convention, so long as he believed that; the rules were well calculated to preserve and protect the general interests of the port, and of the large amount of shipping which frequents it.

Confident that the rules in question, if faithfully enforced, will be of great benefit to the harbor of Shanghai and to natives and foreigners alike, and, resolved on my part to conform strictly to the terms of these rules as originally agreed to, I beg leave to request Your Imperial Highness to instruct the intendant at Shanghai to conform on his part, as the local representative of Your Imperial Highness’s government, to their stipulations, and thus to end the discussion of the subject.

I have, &c.,

CHESTER HOLCOMBE.