to Mr. Frelinghuysen.
Peking, October 10, 1882. (Received December 1.)
Sir: In my dispatch No. 33, dated the 9th instant, I had the honor to give you some notes of a conversation with his excellency Li Hung Chang, when I called upon that statesman at his yamên in Tien-Tsin. The next day his excellency returned my call and remained for a long time, talking especially about the opium question, and the desire of the Chinese Government to free the country from that evil.
His excellency said that China was very much indebted to the United States for the moral effect of the article in the treaty signed by Messrs. Angell, Swift, and Trescot. He was anxious to have some policy adopted by his Government that would be satisfactory to the English cabinet, and at the same time enable the Chinese authorities to control an evil that was menacing the happiness of the whole people.
I said in reply that the practical difficulty as to the opium trade was the question of India’s revenue. I alluded to my visit to India, and the interest which, as a traveler, I had taken in the problem of British rule over that venerable, vast, and historic Empire. Imagination had made India a rich country. It was poor. There was a large debt. The revenues came from three sources mainly—land, opium, and salt. A tax upon salt was like a tax upon sunshine. Yet it yielded annually nearly thirty-five millions of dollars. It was always a problem to balance an Indian budget. The last budget I had seen showed a revenue of about $342,000,000 and an expenditure of about $348,000,000. Of this expenditure over $70,000,000 went to England, and was really so [Page 124]much of a drain upon India. Opium yielded $50,000,000. It was a certain, steady, growing revenue, having increased from $40,000,000 to $50,000,000 annually in ten years. The Government held the monopoly as much as England and France held a monopoly in tobacco. It was Napoleon’s idea of raising a revenue from the vices and luxuries of a people. It would be a serious problem to govern India, with a budget now so hard to balance, and to take from that budget $50,000,000. In that financial problem alone seemed to be the heart of the whole opium question.
The viceroy said he had looked into this aspect of the opium question and recognized the embarrassments of the British Government. China was willing to make any concession that would assist England in India. What made the present situation so painful to China was that the opium vice had been nurtured as a source of revenue and was growing every day, China was compelled to admit opium or run the risk of another war.
I said that I did not believe that public opinion in England, America, or any other enlightened nation would consent to war for mere purposes of revenue. We might almost as soon expect to see war in favor of slavery. The people of England had shown what sacrifice they would make for a principle by the abolition of slavery in the West Indies. This came only after a long agitation and entailed a great charge upon the English exchequer. What brought about West India’s emancipation was systematic agitation and ceaseless appeals to the conscience of the English people. We had seen the same forces at work in America. The best way to bring public opinion in England to a recognition of the enormity of the opium traffic was to keep the question always before the people.
The viceroy said he appreciated that necessity, and the value of constant appeals to the conscience of England. He was glad to know there was already a sentiment at work, a society under the presidency of Earl Shaftsbury. In this society were many leading men, members of Parliament and others. They had brought the matter before Parliament, and would do so on every occasion. He had written a letter to this society, which he would be glad to show me. [Inclosure 2.]
I said I would value any expression his excellency had made upon the opium question, and would send it to my Government. I could not, however, hope to see a way for the settlement until some new source of revenue was found for India.
The viceroy said he had been considering a plan, and had spoken to some English friends about it. His idea was that the trade could be limited to a period of twenty-five or thirty years, diminishing so much every year, and terminating at the end. This could give the British authorities in India time to develop some new source of revenue to take the place of opium.
I asked his excellency if the British cabinet had shown any desire to accept such a plan. The viceroy said if made in good faith he did not see how it could be declined. What he wanted, however, was the active good-will of the United States.
I answered that the United States had shown its good-will in two ways. The first was in the restrictions upon Americans dealing in opium. The second was in our confirming that restriction in our recent treaty with Corea.
The viceroy said the action of the American Government in each case merited and received the gratitude of China. “At the same time,” I continued, “while this example would have a certain moral influence, [Page 125]the practical solution of the question remained with England, and the way to solve it was to show England how to govern India with a revenue less than now by as much as $50,000,000 a year.”
The viceroy said this was the concern of England, not of China. The wrong remained all the same if it gave $500,000,000 a year instead of $50,000,000.
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The viceroy repeated the desire of his Government to suppress the trade. He again referred to his anxiety to have the active support of the United States, and said the Government had been considering the propriety of sending an embassy to England and to the other powers to present the case of China on the opium question.
I answered that, apart from the opium question, there were other reasons to favor the propriety of sending an embassy of high rank to the western powers, an embassy that would represent the controlling forces in the Government. Peace and the best understanding upon all subjects were served by unrestricted and constant friendly intercourse between nations. The embassy of Mr. Burlingame had been of great advantage to China. The Japanese had sent two special embassies to the United States. One came under the old Tycoon Government, over twenty years ago, and was the first personal knowledge gained of Japan by western powers. Then came another, an imposing embassy, under Mr. Iwakura, the present junior prime minister, and with a large representation of eminent Japanese statesmen. This mission secured to Japan a favorable treaty from the United States. Another embassy was now in Germany under Governor Ito, formerly secretary of the home department, its purpose being the study of the German system of government. Nothing would be more certain to attract public attention than an imposing embassy from China. It should contain officials of the highest rank, with a large retinue. I ventured to add that the viceroy himself might do service by going as the head of the embassy, as Mr. Iwakura did from Japan.
The viceroy said he would like to go, especially to the United States, but did not see how he could do so. If the embassy was sent it would contain men of the highest rank. He then asked whether I could suggest any plan, or whether the United States Government would, to eradicate opium.
I repeated that the Government had shown its desire to aid in this work by our treaty. I had no doubt it would listen with care to any representation China would make, and consider what was best. My own judgment was that unless there was some agreement between China and the Indian Government, looking toward an extinction of the trade in a given number of years, there was nothing to be done but to agitate. Public opinion was supreme in England, as in America, and once public opinion was awakened, to the sin of the traffic the Government would find a way to stop it. We had slavery in America, which, twenty-five years ago, seemed dominant and immortal 5 but public opinion destroyed it. The viceroy said that the war was a terrible price to pay. I said yes, but the war was an expression of public opinion, and succeeded only because public opinion was in earnest.
The viceroy remarked that slavery was an evil, but opium-smoking a greater evil.
I observed that China should convince the world that she was sincere in her dislike to opium by trying to control the consumption. There were many ways in a Government so strong as China by which at least the use of opium could be restrained.[Page 126]
The viceroy replied that he was considering how best to do this in Tien-Tsin and the Chihli province. He asked if I had any suggestions to make.
I answered that I was not familiar enough with Chinese methods to venture a suggestion. It would not be difficult, I thought, to put opium shops under police supervision, and gradually tax them out of existence.
The viceroy affirmed that there was nothing about which he was more in earnest than in dealing with the opium question. In this resolution all the statesmen in the Government were agreed.
During the lull in the conversation one of the officials of the viceroy, a taotai, said the Chinese were anxious to know if we could do anything to aid in education.
I asked in what way our Government could be of service.
The taotai said the Chinese were anxious to have good officers for their army and navy. He knew we had fine naval and military schools in our country. The Japanese had had young men educated there, and it always seemed strange that China could not have the same privilege.
I said this was a subject upon which I could not speak without authority. The Government would be quite as willing under the laws to educate Chinese as Japanese. Our people had shown how much interest they felt in the education of Chinese by their regret at the sudden removal of the boys from the Hartford school.
The taotai said the Government would like to send forty boys to our military and naval schools. They would be of the very best families and would do credit.
I said, that if everything else was convenient, it would be difficult to find accommodation for so many scholars. The schools at Annapolis and West Point were built for a certain number of pupils, and we could not well add to the number. “But,” I continued, “why not, instead of having a few pupils educated in America, have your own schools at home, based upon American ideas? What a Government wants is a permanent school that would send out so many young men every year and admit so many, so as to keep up the supply of officers. That could only be done at home, as was now done in Japan. I have no doubt, if the matter were submitted to the Government, there would be every desire to render China the best advice and assistance.”
The taotai said this matter of education was one which the viceroy had very much at heart.
The viceroy and party then took leave. His excellency said he hoped soon to see me again to have conferences upon many questions about which China craved the advice and the assistance of the American Government.
The opium question is one in which the United States can only have a moral interest, as our citizens do not cultivate the poppy and have only had a slight interest in the trade. The Chinese are very anxious for us to use our efforts to induce the English to agree upon a policy that will in time put an end to the present traffic. The extent of the misery coming from opium will be found in an extract from a recent address of Dr. Dudgeon, a well-known Scottish surgeon, resident here, which I inclose. The principal argument in favor of the opium trade is that the Chinese will smoke it, and that the habit cannot be eradicated. * * * As to the home culture, I suppose that China feels that if opium cannot be kept out of the country, their people might as well make some money out of the crop as the Indian husbandmen. If the trade could [Page 127]be suppressed, the imperial Government, as the viceroy said with energy, would soon put an end to the home cultivation of the poppy.
I cannot doubt the sincerity of the Chinese authorities, especially of Li Hung Chang, in their desire to suppress opium. A copy of his excellency’s letter to the British Anti-Opium Society, which he gave me, I add as an inclosure. I believe that if the English can see a way to make up the deficit in the Indian revenues which a stoppage of the opium trade would involve, they would be glad to wash their hands of the whole business. This more especially as the anti-opium agitation will grow if the Chinese carry out the suggestions of Li and send an imposing embassy to the various courts to protest against the wrong they endure from Great Britain.
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You will note also the conversation about the education of young Chinese in our military and naval schools. I repeat it as an interesting illustration of the desire of the Chinese to form closer relations with America and accept the advantages of our civilization. I was hoping that opportunity would allow me to discuss at length the recall of the young men from Hartford, a subject upon which I am anxious to confer with the high authorities. But the Chinese gentlemen were my guests, and it would have been a trespass upon the sacred rights of hospitality to have introduced a question that might involve criticism or controversy.
I have, &c.,