No. 115.
Mr. Knight to Mr. Evarts.

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your dispatch No. 20 of the 20th of April last.

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During my term of office I have given much consideration to, and have [Page 235] frequently addressed the Department upon the subject of the urgent need of providing regular interpreters to our consulates in this country—a need which no one I dare say will deny—must soon be supplied if the work of the offices is to be carried on with intelligence and dignity as the Empire advances, and the increasing commercial interests of our country in this direction be properly watched over and guarded.

In this connection, and on the occasion of my taking leave of the consular service, I would beg, sir, to recall to your recollection the Chinese educational scheme I had the honor, when at home in 1877, to propose for Harvard University, a scheme which now promises to be successful, and one which, I feel assured, will provide our consulates in two years with the interpreters so much demanded.

In order to remind you thoroughly of my scheme, I take the liberty of inclosing printed copies of my correspondence with President Eliot, of Harvard, on the subject.

I have now the gratification to add that a Chinese gentleman, who is fully competent for the teachership, will arrive at Cambridge in time for the next October course of instruction; and I boldly, though most respectfully, would ask the government to consider the propriety of signifying to President Eliot, without great delay, its willingness to appoint from the class a certain number of scholars to permanent and promising positions in our legation and consulates in China; and now that the Chinese have established a legation in Washington, the government may think well of appointing regular Chinese interpreters therefrom to the State Department.

I have, &c.,

[Inclosure 1 in Mr. Knight’s letter.]

Mr. Knight to Mr. Eliot.

proposal for teaching chinese at harvard university.

Dear Sir: A commercial and official experience in China for the past fifteen years has convinced me that a great mistake has been made by residents in not acquiring a knowledge of the language of the Country on their arrival, rather than depend thereafter on the so-called “Pigeon English” for communication with the people of that great Empire. The changes which have taken place the last few years in China, where our commercial and diplomatic interests are increasing, and where I am confident they will continue to increase until they exceed in importance those of other occidental nations, have made this error most painfully evident.

Since my return to this country the knowledge that many European universities, and that of Oxford as well, had established professorships of Chinese, and that Yale College contemplated doing so with the view of appointing Dr. S. Wells Williams,, L. L. D., to the chair, has drawn my attention, as you are aware, sir, to the desirability of some provision being made for introducing instruction in the Chinese language into Harvard University.

Few, if any, who have had experience in China during the last ten years, will dispute my assertion that for young men who will study with the view of pursuing a certain career away from their native land, China offers an exceptionally rare field for success and honor. To be practical, I may say that our legation at Peking will offer two permanent positions, that of secretary of legation and Chinese interpreter, and that I am assured that our consulates will hereafter be given to capable men who have made the language of the country their study.

To those who prefer a commercial life, there will be a number of opportunities open, as both merchants and bankers there recognize daily the necessity of independence from the Chinese shroff or treasurer, on whom now they must chiefly depend.

The foreign Chinese customs service (in which already Harvard has four graduates, [Page 236] one, who after about twelve years’ service, is now a commissioner, in the enjoyment of a salary of nearly £2,000 per annum, and three others, who have made such excellent progress in two years in the language and in gaining a knowledge of their duties as to receive $150 per month) will have, I am sure, a number of excellent positions for those who have the forethought to study for them. But for those whose aim will be for a distinguished career in some profession, China, it is my belief, will prove the most satisfactory country for eminent success and honor.

The one small railroad, of but eleven miles, now running from Shanghai to Woosung, in China, is but the opening wedge, it is commonly believed, to vast lines across the Empire, equalled only at present in our own country, and this fact should stimulate students who will follow the profession of civil engineering to study for fame in that direction, and to assist in opening up, by the aid of surveys, telegraphs, and railroads, that vast empire to civilization.

It is well known that China is as rich in minerals as is our own favored country, and the employment of an English expert in the coal fields of Formosa and the constant assertion by all who best are qualified to express an opinion that the Chinese must and will employ foreign mining engineers should be sufficient to induce some to learn the language with the determination of pushing their fortunes there. To those who will enter the law school of Harvard, China presents a field for a most lucrative practice. Already do the lawyers at Hong-Kong and the treaty ports in China, now mostly London barristers and solicitors, realize the value of their Chinese business, and feel greatly the want of the Chinese language, in the person of an intelligent and honorable foreigner in their offices. And as more ports are opened and mixed courts established for the adjudication of cases between foreigners and Chinese, it may well be expected that those who become lawyers may advantageously go out from this country, where the profession is so crowded, to one where its honors are as yet so lightly competed for.

Having pointed out that, in visiting China, young men may find many opportunities for furthering their interests in a pecuniary point of view, it is not to be forgotten that in doing so they will extend the means of communication between the Western world and a large portion of the human race, which is now practically excluded from the family of nations—an honorable office. Moreover, there is in China an almost untouched field for the traveler, the scientific man, and for many others, which might well attract many minds, apart from the consideration of emolument, for they would find an unexplored country and an unexplored literature, both of vast extent, and although in science we should teach, it is far from improbable that we may in the arts be able ourselves to acquire some valuable empirical knowledge which has come down from a remote antiquity.

I do not propose to you at present the establishment of a Chinese chair, as I am not aware how far an appeal to the public would be responded to; but I think the main object in view may be reached by bringing from China one or two native teachers, by the aid of whom, with the excellent books now attainable, any resolute scholar may acquire a knowledge of the language by a system generally pursued by students at Peking. This would involve but a very moderate annual expense, and if it meets your approbation, I shall be happy to see what can be done in the community with regard to funds.

I am, &c.,