to Mr. Evarts.
Peking, February 28, 1881. (Received April 27.)
Sir: I desire to call your attention to a change which the Chinese Government has recently made, and made in an objectionable manner, to the regulations for the chartering by foreigners of junks on the Yangtze River.
I inclose a dispatch from Mr. Consul Shepard, of Hankow, which gave me my first information on the subject, and which states very clearly what has happened at Hankow.
It appears that ever since the revised regulations “of trade on the Yangtze Kiang” (for which see Mayer’s Treaties, pp. 209–211), which went into effect in January, 1863, the regular course of business in chartering and dispatching junks has been substantially as follows: The original charter-party, in Chinese and in English, was deposited in the consulate. The consul then made an application to the foreign customs [Page 235] for a “special junk pass” for the charterer. On the presentation of this paper to the customs the charterer was allowed to ship his cargo. He then received from our consul a clearance on which it was expressly stated: “The United States flag is not to be raised on the junk.” He was then furnished by the foreign custom, 1st, a river pass and arms certificate; 2d, a cargo certificate in English and Chinese; 3d, a duty-paid receipt and a tonnage-dues receipt in one document; and, 4th, a bond certificate. Provided with these documents the junk proceeded on her voyage down to Chinkiang with no further detention at customs stations and lekin barriers than was necessary to examine her papers. But if she lacked anyone of the above named papers, she was liable to be detained or even turned back. This procedure has been followed for about eighteen years.
On the 29th of November last, Mr. Jenkins, an American citizen, who has been engaged in chartering junks at Hankow, found, to his surprise, on applying to one of the shipping hongs, that the native owners had been notified, as they said, that hereafter they would be required to pay port dues along the route on a junk chartered by a foreigner, and that they would be held responsible for lekin dues on the cargo at every barrier, even though it had paid duty at the foreign customs.
Bear in mind that no notice of any contemplated change in the regulations had been given by the provincial authorities to our consul, or by the Tsung-li Yamên to the foreign ministers.
On the 6th of December a proclamation, a copy of which is inclosed, from the Wu Chang prefect was posted on the walls of Hankow, notifying boat hongs and boat owners that the owners of junks must pay the port dues to the native customs even when the junks are chartered by foreigners.
On the 8th of December Mr. Jenkins learned on inquiry at the foreign customs that they would not receive tonnage dues on chartered junks, nor would they note on the papers they should issue the payment of such dues to the native customs. Some correspondence ensued between the consul and the commissioner of foreign customs, which it is not necessary to dwell upon here further than to say that, in answer to an inquiry by the consul, the commissioner informed him in a brief note that no change had been made except the adoption of the procedure described in article VI of the Yangtze regulations, namely, the levying of port dues instead of tonnage dues, and when the consul rejoined, giving the substance of the reports which the junk owners had brought of the intended detention of chartered junks, and assessment of lekin on the cargoes at every barrier, the commissioner, very improperly, as I think, omitted to make any reply.
December 24, Hoo, Taotai of Hankow, sent the consul a dispatch which, substantially in the language of the prefect’s proclamation above referred to, gave him notice of the change in the regulations, and on December 27 the consul received a similar dispatch from the Ichang taotai. Accompanying the latter were extracts from correspondence had in 1877 between the foreign office and Mr. Fraser, then Her Britannic Majesty’s chargé d’affaires at Peking, concerning the levying of port clues on a native boat, in which an Englishman and his family reached Wuhu. The conclusion of the correspondence is not given, but the British minister has promised to obtain it for me. In its present form it is of no value, and therefore I do not transmit it to you.
You will observe in reading the prefect’s proclamation that the orders of the Tsung-li Yamên reached him on the 6th of November, and [Page 236] yet it was not until the 24th of December that the taotai of Hankow wrote to our consul on the matter.
It is probable that the Chinese have been prompted to their action by their desire to correct certain abuses which have sprung up on the Yangtze. It is also highly probable that the government has been defrauded by foreigners selling their names to Chinese in chartering junks and securing transit passes which prevented the levying of port dues and lekin. Of course we do not object to their seeking a remedy for this trouble. We are bound to do what we can to prevent our citizens from becoming parties to any such fraud. But the remedies must be sought in consonance with the treaties. Mr. Consul Shepard in his No. 357, to the taotai, referred to in his dispatch, quoted the stipulations concerning the hiring of boats, which are found in the several treaties, and made substantially the summary of principles which is found in his dispatch.
After learning from my colleagues of the diplomatic corps that none of them had received from the Tsung-li Yamên any announcement of the new regulation, I sought an interview with the foreign office, and on the 13th instant had a long conference with them on the matter under consideration. I began by inquiring whether any new regulation had been made by them concerning the chartering of junks by foreigners. They said, “No;” but an old one had been enforced. I asked if it had been enforced during the last seventeen years. They admitted that it had not been. I asked if the provincial authorities were not derelict in not informing our consul of so important a change until seven weeks after they had received their information. They said, “Yes.” I then asked if they did not think that it would have been better for the Tsung-li Yamên to inform the foreign ministers at the outset, so that the ministers could notify their consuls, or make objections, if they had any to make. They were less willing to condemn themselves than they had been to condemn the provincial authorities. They argued that the regulation concerned natives alone, not the foreigners. Of course I reminded them that it very deeply concerned foreigners who chartered junks, and that to make so important a change in a procedure which had been recognized for seventeen years without giving the ministers and consuls timely notice was a step well calculated to cause trouble. I then sought to ascertain what their order really was. They referred to frauds which had been practiced, and said that the requirement is simply that the native owners must pay port dues according to Chinese law. This requires, you will remember, that a native boat pays port dues at every port she enters, while by the treaties foreign vessels engaged in the coastwise trade pay only once in four months, no matter how many ports they enter. They assured me, however, contrary to Mr. Shepard’s apprehensions, that the regulation does not in any way change the status of a cargo on which the foreigner has paid duties, that such a cargo is not to be subjected to lekin anywhere on the voyage if the shipper, has all the proper papers as before except the certificate for the payment of tonnage dues. The boats, they said, might be stopped at Kinkiang and Wuhu for port dues, to be paid by the owners.
They argued that their action was sustained by article VI of the Yangtze Regulations, a part of which I copy:
Article VI. Native craft, owned or chartered by British merchants, will pay duty ont their cargo at the rates leviable on such cargo under the treaty tariff. All such craft will further have to be secured by bond in the manner laid down in the provisional rules published on the 5th December, 1861; and on entry into any port will pay por dues according to Chinese tariff. * * *
I asked them how they could reconcile their new regulation with the following clause in the (amended) twenty-second article of the French treaty of Tientsin, which amended article was adopted in 1865, two years after the adoption of the Yangtze regulations: “Native craft, chartered by French merchants, shall in like manner (i. e. to French vessels) pay tonnage dues once in every four months.”
It would seem that they had forgotten or overlooked this provision. For at first they denied that there was any such provision. But when the treaty was brought they could of course deny no longer. They admitted that the matter deserved consideration. After some reflection and consultation they intimated that this might not apply to the Yangtze ports, but only to the seaports. On my requesting them to show me the authority for any such exemption they were unable to do so. I told them in conclusion that I would not press the point any further at that time, but I begged them to give the matter their careful attention. I chose to drop it there for the time, because the other foreign ministers have evinced much interest in the subject, and it is not improbable that some joint action may be taken which would be more likely to secure a result than my unaided prosecution of the matter.
In reviewing the subject it is clear, I think, that, even if the action of the government in changing the usage of eighteen years is justifiable at all, the neglect of the Tsung-li Yamên to inform the foreign ministers of their decision and the neglect of the provincial authorities promptly to inform the consuls of the orders received from Peking are deserving of grave censure.
Further, it is my opinion that the adoption in 1865 of the amended twenty-second article of the French treaty supersedes the sixth article of the Yangtze regulations so far as this sixth article is irreconcilable with it. I have reason to believe that most, if not all, of the foreign ministers here will agree with me on that point. We shall probably soon have a consultation on the subject. Until we have conferred I shall defer action.
Meantime I am informing Mr. Consul Shepard of the details of my interview with the foreign office, and am authorizing him to inform our citizens of the assurance which the foreign office has given me that the cargoes of foreigners, when shipped in junks, are not to be subjected to lekin if the duties have been duly paid. Of course such a levy would be the most flagrant violation of the treaties.
I have, however, called the consul’s attention to the need of exercising the utmost vigilance to prevent any of our citizens from becoming parties to such frauds as may have stimulated the Chinese Government to take the action complained of.
I have, &c.,
- Inclosures referred to omitted from this publication.↩