to Mr. Frelinghuysen.
Peking, December 6, 1882. (Received January 23, 1883.)
Sir: In my dispatch No. 43, dated October 18, 1882, I had occasion to dwell at some length upon the case of Mr. Wetmore, an American merchant doing business in Shanghai, who complained to the legation that the Chinese authorities had interfered with his rights under the treaties. I have now the honor to report at length the further developments in this case, and to note with regret that it has assumed proportions of exceptional gravity.
The situation when I wrote my dispatch No. 43 was briefly as follows: Mr. Wetmore, a merchant, seeking honest means of gain and acting within his treaty rights, issued a prospectus asking subscriptions for snares in a proposed company for the manufacture of cotton yarn. In doing this he was following many precedents, as there was already in existence at Shanghai various forms of industry under foreign control, manufactories of acids, bricks, leather, flour, ironware, matches, silk and glass. These industries were protected by the treaties and recognized by the Chinese authorities. Mr. Wetmore, therefore, felt that he was acting not only within his rights, but in accordance with custom, when he proposed to add another source of wealth to the prosperity of Shanghai.
Although the Chinese imperial authorities had never assented to the rights of foreigners to manufacture in the open ports, there had been a tacit acquiescence, and their objections had never gone beyond discussions between the foreign office and the diplomatic representatives. To these discussions I shall refer later in giving the Department a summary of the history of this case.
After Mr. Wetmore’s prospectus appeared, offering to the public shares in his company, there was published in a Chinese Shanghai newspaper an announcement to the effect that the proposed enterprise was illegal in this, that it was in contravention of a monopoly granted by the superintendent of northern trade, Li Hung Chang, to another company, composed of Chinese capitalists, for the manufacture of cotton cloth.
Mr. Wetmore’s enterprise was intended to invite Chinese capital. At Shanghai and other open ports Chinese capitalists seek foreign investments with avidity. * * * The effect of the announcement in the Chinese paper was, therefore, to alarm the investors. As a consequence the notice interrupted the enterprise of Mr. Wetmore and brought it to a standstill after he had taken a great deal of trouble and spent much money. This publication was followed by an official announcement from the taotai of Shanghai to our vice-consul-general, in which the taotai recited at length his objections to the proposed company, and communicated a copy of an order from the superintendent of northern trade, [Page 153]directing him to protest against its formation and use its power to prevent it.
Mr. Wetmore contended that, while the monopoly granted to the Chinese company was for the manufacture of cotton cloth, his company proposed to manufacture cotton yarn, and that there was as much difference between the two processes as between tanning leather and making shoes; consequently there was, as a matter of fact, no invasion of the Chinese monopoly. The legation, while admitting the force of this reasoning, felt that there was still greater force in the clear meaning of the treaty, a meaning that has been in dispute for some time with the Chinese Government.
I accordingly addressed a dispatch to his imperial highness Prince Kung, pointing out the injustice that had been done to Mr. Wetmore; that he was acting within his treaty rights, and that, even if a monopoly had been granted by the viceroy, such a monopoly could not be valid under the treaty, as a treaty was the supreme law of the land, a law that no vice-regal mandate could set aside. I ventured to remind the prince that a large number of his countrymen had established themselves in many parts of the United States, engaged in all kinds of manufacturing and mercantile pursuits, from which they had secured large profits; that this had been done under our laws, and what our Government had for years conceded to Chinese in all sections of the country his imperial highness could have no delicacy in conceding to Americans in the few open ports.
As the question at issue, namely, the construction of a treaty meaning as to rights of foreigners to manufacture, affected all foreigners in China, I submitted the question to the diplomatic body in Peking. The unanimous voice of my colleagues was that the Chinese authorities in Shanghai had taken an untenable position; that Mr. Wetmore was acting within the treaty, and that they would support any representation that might be made to the foreign office in his behalf.
The question was now between the representatives of the foreign Governments and the Chinese foreign office.
It may not be without interest to the Department that I should briefly give a history of the negotiations which preceded this incident, and which have from time to time been communicated to you by my predecessors.
On the 27th of June, 1858, at Tien-Tsin, the envoy of the French Emperor signed a convention with the Chinese ministers which in time had due and solemn ratification. Article VII of this convention was in these words:
Les Français et leurs families pourront se transporter, s’étahlir et se livrer an commerce on à l’industrie en toute sécurité et sans entraves d’aucune espèce dans les ports et villes de l’Empire Chinois situés sur les côtes maritimes et snr les grands fleuves, dont l’énumération est contenue dans l’article précédent.
On the 2d of November, 1865, the envoy of the King of Belgium signed, at Peking, a convention with the imperial Government, which was also solemnly confirmed and accepted. Article XI of this treaty was as follows:
Les Belges et leurs families pourront se transporter, s’établir et se livrer au commerce ou à l’industrie en toute sécurité et sans entraves d’aucune espèce, dans les ports et villes de Canton, Swatow, Amoy, Foo-Chow, Ningpo, Shanghai, Nanking, Chinkiang, Kinkiang, et Hankow sur le fleuve Yangtze; Chefoo, Tien-Tsin, Niuchuang, Tamsin et Taiwaufoo dans l’ile de Formosa; et Kiungchow dans l’ile de Hainau.
The mandatory sentences in these covenants are, as you will observe, identical.[Page 154]
In Article XXX of the convention signed by my predecessor, Mr. Reed, at Tien-Tsin, on June 18, 1858, it is expressly conceded that a privilege granted to any nation, or the merchants or citizens of any nation, by the Ta Ching Empire, any “right, privilege, or favor, connected either with navigation, commerce, political, or other intercourse which is not conferred by this treaty, such right, privilege, and favor shall at once freely inure to the benefit of the United States, its public officers, merchants and citizens.” In Article VI of the convention signed at Washington on July 28, 1868, between my predecessor, Mr. Burlingame, acting as the envoy of His Majesty, and Mr. Seward, then Secretary of State, the same covenant is affirmed. Consequently American citizens are entitled to all privileges granted by the imperial Government to subjects of Belgium and citizens of France.
These treaties form the ground-work of the position taken by the legation and the foreign representatives. In the dispatch No. 212 of my predecessor, Mr. Angell,* he reports the result of certain conferences between the American and other legations, a reference to which will be instructive at this time as throwing light upon the points at issue. Mr. Angell reports that during the summer of 1881 the foreign office was disposed to an amicable construction of the treaties, one that the foreign powers could accept. Suddenly he writes: “The Chinese ministers came forward with so important and unacceptable modifications that the diplomatic body, at their meeting of July 11, 1881, were agreed that it was useless to prolong negotiations on such a basis.”
This change of demeanor on the part of the Government may be dated as the inception of a policy which has been steadily resisted by the foreign powers, and which culminates in the unfortunate condition of affairs now existing at Shanghai.
Mr. Angell’s dispatch contains the report of an interview between his excellency Mr. Von Brandt, the German minister, acting in the name of the diplomatic body, and the foreign office. This interesting, and, I might add, historical document shows that the Chinese Government had resolved to advance two propositions. The first was that foreign goods, admitted duty free and shipped coastwise, should pay coast-trade duty. The second was that goods manufactured from native produce bought at the port should be subjected to the same regulations as goods manufactured from produce brought from the interior under transit pass. Mr. Von Brandt held that these demands were in discord with the treaties, and this legation shared his opinions.
* * * * * * *
Mr. Angell regarded the declaration of the yamên as bringing the discussion to a standstill. The next reference to the subject is contained in a dispatch from my predecessor, Mr. Holcombe, No. 36, dated December 27, 1881.† Mr. Holcombe reported that the Chinese were “firm in their new policy,” and that “no progress had been made in the negotiations.” In his dispatch will be found an inclosure from Prince Kung to the diplomatic body, dated September 29, 1881, in which his imperial highness gives his construction of the treaty provisions quoted above, a construction worthy of note, because the ground therein taken is for the first time advanced by the imperial Government. The foreign powers claim that under the treaties any foreigner may engage in lawful business or industry and have access to the ordinary markets, foreign or [Page 155]domestic. This is an intelligible right, one that contracting powers would naturally secure by treaty.
This expression [says the prince, referring to the provisions above quoted] relates to the exemption of sundry laborers in general, and means that Chinese and foreigners are permitted to engage themselves as laborers and workmen and work, but with the manufacturing of goods it has nothing to do, nor does it signify that goods so manufactured may be sold as a matter of course.
The position, as Mr. Holcombe reported in his dispatch, was substantially this: The treaty powers maintained that in their conventions the right of foreigners to engage in honest manufacturing industries was conceded, and that it was open to them to employ their capital and skill for the advancement of their interests in China. The prince claimed that the meaning of the conventions was that Chinese might hire foreigners as laborers, or foreigners engage Chinese for the same purpose, but that foreigners could not enjoy the commercial fruits of any such labors. The mere statement of this construction of the treaties will demonstrate its absurdity. It embodies, however, all that the legation can discern in the Chinese side of the controversy.
As another chapter in the history of these negotiations, I would call your attention to the dispatch of Mr. Holcombe, No. 92, dated April 29, 1882.* Over four months had passed, during which the question had lain dormant. There had been discussions between the foreign representatives and the foreign office, endeavoring to reconcile the varying constructions of the treaties. The legation then had only to report that the Chinese Government was even more resolved to maintain the impossible reading advanced by Prince Kung. The Government maintained that, under the treaties, foreigners had no right to engage in manufactures in China, and that, if they so engaged, goods so manufactured “must invariably be exported, and could not be sold in China.” It was further reported to the Department that, in the opinion of the entire diplomatic body, there was no treaty stipulation that could afford a just basis for either of these assumptions. The legation at the same time believed that there was “no present prospect of reaching a satisfactory arrangement upon the questions at issue.”
The Department will see that these discussions were of an amicable character; that the parties in interest were sincerely striving to come to an honest and advantageous understanding; that the Chinese, while advancing conclusions which we could not accept, had taken no steps to enforce them, or in any way to interfere with existing interests, or to hamper the enterprise of foreign merchants. The first move in an unfriendly way was the attempt detailed in the beginning of this dispatch, namely, the orders of the taotai of Shanghai to destroy Mr. Wetmore’s company. Even this attempt, you will see from my dispatch No. 43, was taken up by the legation as a diplomatic question, and in a spirit of entire friendship with China, and a desire to come to a good understanding.
All questions at issue were, as I have said, in amicable discussion with the members of the foreign office, with an earnest desire to come to a just interpretation of the treaties, when the legation was informed by the vice-consul-general that an order had been issued by the viceroy of Nanking for the arrest of the compradore of Mr. Wetmore’s business firm. The order was issued in secret, and under its terms the compradore was to be taken from Shanghai to Nanking and there tried for having taken part in the Taipingrebellion “by giving aid and comfort to the rebels,” the Taiping rebellion having been suppressed in 1865.[Page 156]
The office of a compradore is peculiar to the East. We have nothing like it in western business systems. The compradore is middleman, interpreter, business representative, confidential agent, the main link between his chief and the native merchants. In the foreign houses the compradore is an important factor. Consequently the proposal to arrest this person was a serious menace to the harmony of Mr. Wetmore’s business.
He was my boy [says Mr. Wetmore] when I first came to Shanghai in 1861, and has served me in various capacities since, having been compradore of my present firm for many years.
As to the charge of complicity with the Taiping rebellion, the pretext for the viceroy’s warrant, Mr. Wetmore bears explicit testimony:
I believe [Mr. Wetmore says] there is not the slightest scintilla of evidence to show that he ever aided or abetted the rebels in any way. I have ever considered him a most loyal and patriotic man, spending large sums every year for the poorer classes of his countrymen. He is most charitable and kind-hearted.
Mr. Wetmore further drew the attention of the legation to the consequences of the arrest, and his opinions are worthy of careful consideration, coming from a gentleman long familiar with the ways and methods of Chinese law:
What a chance would he have [asks Mr. Wetmore] at Nanking before a viceroy like Tso * * * and among strangers who knew nothing of his antecedents, and confronted with false withesses prepared to swear anything? How could any man, without notice of the specific charges against him, be prepared on the spur of the moment to rebut anything that he might be charged with having done twenty years ago?
While asking for the protection of his compradore upon the grounds of justice and humanity, Mr. Wetmore calls attention to the injury inflicted upon his business by the issue of the warrant.
Our business [he says] has suffered by the close confinement on our premises, which prevents him from going out and attending to our interests, and were he removed those interests would suffer still more severely, as we have contracts outstanding under his control, and many matters of importance which would suffer by his removal.
Here was a clear statement of wrongs and grievances which had been suffered by an American citizen, and to which the legation could not turn a deaf ear. At the same time there was the extreme delicacy and impropriety of any attempt on our part to interfere between the Chinese authorities and the administration of Chinese law. The viceroy, as the ruler of the province, had the undoubted right to execute the will of the Emperor upon Chinese subjects in his own way. Whatever we might think of the barbarous and summary forms of his procedure, under our treaties we had no power to interfere. Nor has it ever been the practice so to do.
Chinese subjects charged with crime have never been allowed to take refuge in the foreign concessions. If the man had been charged with felony, with prima facie evidence of guilt, the order for his arrest would have been approved as a matter of course. I hesitated to take a step that might look like a wanton interference on the part of the United States with the Chinese laws. At the same time I was bound to feel satisfied that the legal machinery of China had not been used to the injury of an American interest.
Laying aside any question of humanity or sympathy for the compradore suddenly summoned from his peaceful calling to a fate that meant ignominy, torture, ruin and death, ignoring the manifest absurdity of arresting and trying a man for taking part in a rebellion which came to [Page 157]an end seventeen years ago, I looked at the question solely as an attempt to injure an American citizen in his business. Under our treaties and forms no Chinese warrant can be served upon a Chinaman in the employ of a foreign resident or living in a foreign concession, without the permission of the consulate or legation under whose flag the foreign resident finds protection. I therefore approved of the action of Mr. Cheshire in refusing to sign the viceroy’s warrant, and instructed him * * * to do so until he had the further orders of the legation.
I cannot [I said] see my way to approve the service of the warrant until I am satisfied that its issue is not meant to intimidate American merchants pursuing a lawful calling, and destroy an American enterprise which is under the protection of the treaty.
The motive for the proposed arrest of the compradore was, according to Mr. Wetmore, to punish him for having taken shares in the cotton yarn company, and, by this act of terror, to prevent other Chinese capitalists from doing the same thing. Upon this point the legation anxiously awaited evidence, as upon it the whole question turned. If the impressions of Mr. Wetmore had upon inquiry proved to be only impressions, it would have been the duty of the legation, however painful, to have withdrawn its objections. Awaiting the result of the inquiry, the warrant was held in abeyance, but not disallowed.
Mr. Cheshire, the vice-consul-general, in his creditable anxiety to serve American interests, thought it would be well to visit Nanking and have a personal interview with the viceroy. * * * Mr. Cheshire reached Nanking on the 22d of October and saw the viceroy. * * * Mr. Cheshire asked the viceroy as to the origin and nature of the charges against the compradore, and said he had “reasons to believe that they were made solely for the purpose of interfering with the cotton yarn company.” To this the viceroy answered that the compradore had been a rebel and should be punished, and that the charge originated “with a man connected with the rival cotton yarn company.” This was an important point of evidence, as showing the spirit that had inspired the charge. The viceroy then expressed himself as hostile to all foreign manufactures, “especially when machinery was to be used,” as an interference with the manual labor upon which Chinese industry mainly depends. Mr. Cheshire does not appear to have had a satisfactory interview, and, before leaving the viceroy, handed him a statement, in Chinese text, setting forth the actual facts in the case of the compradore. While disavowing very properly any purpose of screening a Chinese subject, guilty of rebellion, from the laws, Mr. Cheshire claimed as a right that the case should be tried, according to custom, before the mixed court at Shanghai, where our officials could attend and see that justice was rendered.
When the legation received the dispatch in reference to the visit to Nanking, I suggested that Mr. Cheshire had gone on the errand without acquainting me with his purposes, and I expressed this feeling in a dispatch which I addressed to him. In questions of this nature, purely diplomatic in their character and affecting the relations of the two countries, my judgment is that we should know only the central Government to which the minister is accredited. * * * Mr. Cheshire’s visit had this result, that the statement of the viceroy confirmed the impressions of Mr. Wetmore as to the real reasons for the proposed arrest of his compradore, namely, because he had taken shares in a foreign company. It also showed that the viceroy was inimical to foreign interests and [Page 158]enterprises, and was determined to suppress them by the use of his provincial authority. * * *
While, as I said, this interview confirmed the impressions of Mr. Wetmore as to the actual motives prompting the order for the arrest of the compradore, and strengthened the legation in our refusal to permit it, conclusive evidence was not long in coming. In a letter, dated November 7, Mr. Wetmore details at length the circumstances of an offer from the Chinese to compromise and close his case. In a letter dated November 4, Mr. Wetmore informs the legation that overtures had been made to him, through go-betweens,” to the effect that if he would give up his pretensions, acknowledge the Chinese monopoly, and wind up his own company, “they would guarantee the withdrawal of the warrants.” * * * Mr. Wetmore was asked to sign a “security note,” binding himself in certain sums of money to “undertake to close and stop at once the yarn rolling company in conformity with the monopoly of manufacture already granted by China, and to return all the money subscribed by shareholders, and wind up the company.”
Another note was presented, in which the Chinese merchants in control of the Chinese franchise agreed to bind themselves, at the penalty of certain forfeit, to petition the viceroy to “close the case” against the compradore, provided Mr. Wetmore abandoned his project.
This extraordinary and degrading proposition made the duty of the legation clear. * * *
If the compradore had been guilty of crimes which justified so high an official as the viceroy of Nanking in issuing his warrant, then the law should have taken its course. If he had striven to overturn the dynasty and ruin the Empire, it was the duty of the viceroy to have vindicated the supremacy of the law. But when an offer was made to withdraw the warrant and permit a Chinaman charged with a capital crime to go untried and unpunished, provided his master withdrew his enterprise, there could be but one decision, and this was to confirm the legation in its resolution and refusal to permit the forms of Chinese law to be used to destroy American interests.
In this conclusion the legation was confirmed by the unanimous voice of the diplomatic body in Peking.
Mr. Wetmore declined the proposal, and Mr. Cheshire suggested that the compradore, instead of going to Nanking to be beheaded, should be tried before the mixed court in Shanghai. The Chinese accepted this suggestion, and I suppose the case will here end. I cannot but regret that the suggestion was made. * * * The effect of the reference to a mixed court will be to release the compradore, but all the moral and material advantages of the controversy remain with the viceroy. * * * In the mean time the viceroy had carried his point, so far as to paralyze the enterprise of Mr. Wetmore. He had established a dangerous precedent, by showing that it was only necessary to threaten to arrest a foreign compradore, to successfully attack a foreign business interest. He made it known to Chinese investors that any subscription to a foreign enterprise, even when guaranteed by treaty, subjected them to the terrors of a criminal prosecution; and in the event of our asking the foreign office for explanations, we should have for answer, and an answer that could not be gainsaid, that the mixed court, in which foreign officials take part, had been allowed to decide the case.
As it was, the position in which the Chinese had placed themselves, when they made their ignominious proposition, was so untenable that [Page 159]the Peking Government would have been compelled to disown the whole proceeding.
I expressed this view in a dispatch to Mr. Cheshire, * * * and again said he must take no steps at Shanghai without conferring with the legation. I instructed him further not to allow any judgment to go into effect until the evidence satisfied the legation that the accused had fallen within the just province of Chinese law and been guilty of some more serious offense than the purchase of shares in Mr. Wetmore’s company. I was emphatic in this, because, in all the steps that had been taken, the legation was in harmony with the representatives of other powers, and I deprecated any consular action that might disturb this harmony. I had no desire to censure Mr. Cheshire, who has shown the utmost zeal in the whole business; but the question had assumed diplomatic proportions, and must, sooner or later, be settled with the foreign office, and I could not delegate that power to a vice-consul-general or allow him to transfer the responsibility for a serious act of aggression and violence from the imperial Government to a provincial viceroy.
The incident of the proposed arrest of the compradore * * * passes away.* * * I have written about it at length because it will explain to the Department the strange antipathy towards foreigners which animates the Viceroy’s course, and because I am anxious that my Government should know clearly and minutely the reason which led the legation to take the extreme steps of interfering between a Chinese ruler and a Chinese subject. I am in hopes that the Department will feel that I did no more than use the power of the legation for the protection of an American interest, and that it was done with a due regard to the rights and susceptibilities of the central Government.
The legation was so impressed with the gravity of the situation, an impression, which, as I have said, was shared by some of my colleagues whose long experience in Peking gave their opinions value, that dispatches were addressed to the vice-consul-general instructing him minutely as to the course he should pursue. It was important, as I have said, that the consulate-general should take no step of an important character without consulting the legation. We were acting in harmony with our colleagues, and * * * I deprecated any action that might disturb that harmony. * * * The question was one which had long been considered in Peking and the decision could not be remanded to Shanghai. I expressed the hope that the antipathy to foreigners was but a whim of the Nanking viceroy, a temporary and evanescent caprice which would be disowned at Peking. This hope, however, reviewing the negotiations which I have sketched, rested upon a slender foundation. Accordingly it was with alarm, but not without surprise, that I learned in a private note from the Vice-consul-general that the viceroy had issued further orders, which showed a continued antipathy to foreign interests.
Some months since a foreign company introduced the electric light into Shanghai. This invention added a new attraction and a new comfort to this splendid settlement. An order came from the viceroy forbidding all Chinese establishments to use the lights, and directing the local police to enforce his command.
This was followed by a decree of more serious moment. The American house of Russell & Co. has for some time past been engaged in the manufacture of silk filatures. Heretofore the business has never been interrupted, the Chinese allowing it to run unmolested while the question of its legality under the treaties was under discussion in Peking. The viceroy requested the vice-consul-general to stop the manufactory, [Page 160]and also asked the British consul to do the same thing with an English house engaged in the same business.
I telegraphed Mr. Cheshire that the legation could not consent to this act of violence, and would regard its enforcement as another infraction of treaty rights. He was directed to call the attention of the Chinese authorities to the fact that all questions at issue, and more especially the question of manufactures, were now under discussion with the foreign office that the discussion was proceeding with amity and a sincere desire to arrange all differences upon a basis that would serve the best interests of all,” and that, pending this, the legation could not but regard it as an act of “discourtesy for the provincial authorities to interfere with American interests by acts of violence.” I pointed out that such a course, so unusual and so marked in its unfriendliness, could only give an irritating character to my negotiations, that should be conducted in the friendliest spirit, and engender complications that wisdom and candor on the part of the authorities would avoid.
* * * * * * *
The Department will note in the correspondence between the taotai and Mr. Cheshire in reference to the suppression of the silk filature business of Russell & Co., a change of ground by the authorities in Shanghai as to their motives for suppressing foreign industries. When the decree was issued forbidding Mr. Wetmore to proceed with his company, the argument of the Chinese was, as I explained above, that Mr. Wetmore was invading a monopoly granted by Li Hung Chang to a native company for the manufacture of cotton cloth. The taotai held that the making of yarn was virtually the making of cloth, and that the imperial Government, in granting this monopoly, was, to use his own illustration, following western precedents, and especially the patent laws of many western nations.
The legation differed from this view, and held that the spinning of yarn and the weaving of cloth were separate industries. We questioned whether, under the treaties, it was within the province even of the Emperor to grant the monopoly claimed by the Chinese company. At the same time, I felt that the arguments of the taotai embodied legitimate grounds for differences of opinion. We might convince the yamên that the taotai was wrong. The yamên might convince us that the legation was in error. In that spirit, a spirit of inquiry and courteous protest, the legation addressed the foreign office, feeling that the question was simply how far we should respect the monopoly granted by Li Hung Chang, and how far such a monopoly was consistent with the treaty when it affected American interests. The legation entered into this discussion, willing to be convinced if our predecessors were wrong. If Mr. Wetmore or any other American had invaded the privileges of a Chinese subject, if his company was a violation of Chinese law, it would not, however much we might regret the loss or the inconveniences to that gentleman, have been to the dignity or honor of the Government to have maintained his claim. The decrees against the silk filature manufactory and the electric lights, however, showed that the true feeling of the taotai was not the protection of his cotton monopoly, but the expression of a general policy of antagonism towards all foreign industries in the open ports.
For the first time, therefore, in this long discussion of treaty rights to manufacture, the diplomatic body was brought face to face with the resolution of the Government to forbid any form of foreign industry and to enforce the interdict by acts of violence. It was no longer an amicable controversy in Peking, construing the meaning of Chinese characters, [Page 161]debating the etymology of French nouns and verbs, seeking out hidden and strained constructions of treaty sentences, but a body of officious subordinates, assuming offensive authority, bidding policemen to arrest Chinamen who had dared to purchase shares in foreign companies, and asking the foreign merchants not only to cease from the enjoyment and performance of their treaty rights, but to become spies and informers, and render up to the terrible relentless forms of Chinese justice all Chinamen who had shown enough confidence in their mercantile honor to share in their enterprises.
The question which still remained unanswered, although the answer was sought with earnesthess, was, How far did the acts of the Shanghai officials represent the will of the imperial Government? * * * There was still the impression in Peking, in diplomatic circles, that the policy of repression in Shanghai was the caprice of Tso Chung Tang, the governor-general at Nanking.
* * * * * * *
Although these offensive mandates were issued in the name of the viceroy, * * * there came indications from provinces beyond the vice-regal dominion showing that anti-foreign influences were at work in other parts of the Empire, and conveying the impression * * * that the new policy was the inspiration of the Government.
While the legation was considering the news that the viceroy had put under ban the electric light at Shanghai, it was informed of a new incident at Amoy. The German consul telegraphed his minister in Peking that the Chinese authorities had forbidden a German subject at Amoy to continue his manufacture of iron ware, and forcibly closed the works. The German minister telegraphed the consul to reopen the works, the manager to enter a bond to make good any damage that the Chinese might maintain against him.
In an interview between the German minister and the foreign office the legation was informed that the Chinese ministers denied all knowledge of the incident at Amoy. They said, furthermore, that they had not heard of the order in Shanghai suppressing the electric light, and were not disposed to believe the story, as the taotai was an enlightened ‘ man, having been in Europe, and that, knowing all about electric lights and other useful inventions, he would rather welcome than reject them.
When the minister, however, asked the foreign office to telegraph an instruction to Amoy and other ports to prevent a renewal of the oppressive interdicts against German subjects, the answer was that such a way of procedure was not customary in China. The minister then replied that if the Chinese Government could not find a way to protect Germans who were in the harmless enjoyment of treaty rights he would do so himself, and put upon the Chinese Government the responsibility for all the consequences.
In our discussions and correspondence arising out of this complication the legation has never assumed that there was any intentional unfriendliness on the part of the Government. I never lost sight of the undoubted right of China to do what she pleased with her own. I was ready, if any representation was made as to the harshness or the burden of a treaty, to unite in asking the Government for amendment or remedy. We pursued this course with China when we made the convention on the emigration question, and would not decline the same office if sought at our hands. I have cherished the hope that the result of the conferences between China and the foreign representatives would be to the advantage of China in persuading the ministers to adopt more enlightened measures affecting commerce. I have observed with pleasure in [Page 162]reading the minute and elaborate narratives of the discussions between the foreign office and my predecessors and other foreign ministers in the archives of the legation, that the spirit inspiring the counsels of the ministers has always been friendly to China, animated by a desire to serve her best interests, and showing wisdom and foresight. To bring China abreast of western civilization, to develop the wonderful resources of her territory, to enable the Government to appease famine, stifle pestilence, and subdue rebellion, to encourage her enterprise and skill, and in every way to confer upon the people the benefits of a sound and practical civilization, this seems to have been the constant aim of the representatives of foreign powers.
Why should China, therefore, resist advice that redounds to her advantage, even to the extent of permitting an infraction of treaty rights and acts of violence towards an American interest? * * * An interesting illustration of the methods of Chinese reasoning, especially the reasoning which inspires the policy which the legations are now resisting, will be found in the dispatch addressed by the taotai of Shanghai to our acting consul-general in reference to the suppression of the silk filature factory of Russell & Co. The taotai says that one-half of the population of the provinces of Kiang-Su and Che-Kiang is engaged in farming and the other half in weaving silk. These provinces are among the most populous in the Empire. Kiang-Su, with a geographical area about the same as Pennsylvania, has a population of over 37,000,000. Che-Kiang, a province a fraction smaller than Ohio, has over 26,000,000, a density which will be more readily appreciated when we remember that in Kiang-Su this gives 850 souls to the square mile, and an average of 671 in Che-Kiang. The government of a population so vast and so dense, one-half of which depends for bread upon silk weaving, is a task that might perplex any ruler. The taotai, accordingly, expresses the fear that—
Should foreigners introduce and use machinery for the purpose of weaving silk, the difference between the amount of work done by manual labor and that done by machinery being very great, the latter system, it is feared, would render the Kiang-Su and Che-Kiang people helpless, which would be very detrimental to their interests.
There is something plaintive in an argument of this kind, and, however much we may feel it is based upon an erroneous conception of the laws of political economy, we cannot help feeling that the minds of the Chinese rulers are governed by the same processes of reasoning which led the weavers in England to destroy the first steam-power looms, and which we see every day among laboring classes in the presence of new labor-saving inventions.
The taotai further points out that as an export the silk trade is of the first importance to the Chinese revenue. Foreigners had never engaged in its manufacture, and for them to do so now would not only “deprive Chinese who depend on silk reeling of their means of support,” but divert revenues from the imperial treasury. “Moreover,” continues the taotai, in emphasis of his argument, “the Chinese who depend upon reeling silk and weaving silk goods for their support are countless in number, and they would be in a pitiable plight if they were suddenly deprived of their employments and the means by which they obtain their support”; and that “the question of the support of such large hosts of people, it is feared, under the circumstances, will lead to trouble and complications.”
The taotai expresses his opinion that the foreign firms which introduce machinery are acting as secret agents for certain evil-minded Chinese capitalists, and he asks that the names of these Chinamen be [Page 163]given to him that they may be arrested and committed for trial. In other words, an American official is expected to aid the Chinese authorities in punishing Chinese subjects for taking shares in an American enterprise.
The taotai further pointed out that, after a careful reading of the treaties, he could find no warrant for the foreign industries. Evidently the taotai adopted the imperial construction of the covenants I quoted above, and believed that when the treaty powers and the Emperor solemnly agreed to allow foreign industries in the open ports their real meaning was that Chinese could hire foreigners, or foreigners hire Chinese to do their work, but that the results or profits of such work should not inure to them in the way of trade.
This communication from the taotai to the vice-consul-general is worthy of the careful and respectful consideration of the Department. It shows, I think, that the Chinese authorities are really struggling with problems in the government of densely peopled provinces, problems in the guidance of labor, trade, commerce and redundant population which have embarrassed the statesmen of more civilized powers. While doing all we can to convince them of the errors of their reasoning we cannot but sympathize with their anxiety. This sympathy, however, does not permit us to view with any less concern the attempt to interfere with our conceded treaty rights by acts of violence. So, in presenting the Subject to Prince Kung, the aim of the legation has been to point out in clear terms the injustice of the whole proceeding, its discourtesy and wrong. We have constantly said that the Government wished to hold enlightened and friendly relations with China, and that we desired an intercourse, the benefits and advantages of which were reciprocal. If any convention existed which experience showed bore with undue stress upon the Chinese and was injurious to them, our Government would consider in the friendliest spirit any statement China would make. The legation has constantly cherished the hope that the discussions and conferences now so long in progress between the foreign office and the diplomatic body would convince the Chinese authorities that the fears of foreign competition so pathetically expressed by the taotai of Shanghai were founded upon a wrong conception of the laws of industry and prosperity, and that so far from the introduction of machinery, as in the reeling of silk, proving a detriment to the people, or imperiling their means of livelihood, experience would show in China as it has done in England, France and America, that it would add to their comfort, their worldly advantage, give them surer and better means of livelihood, and materially increase the imperial revenue.
That to carry out the rude and crude ideas of the taotai would be to recede and not advance in the path of civilization. Whether this hope is to end in disappointment or otherwise, the Chinese authorities, if they follow our arguments, cannot fail to see that for a provincial authority, while these conferences were proceeding, to interrupt them by an act of violence towards an American merchant, to the serious injury of his business, to his annoyance, discomfort, and pecuniary loss, was a most unfriendly act, and could not fail to be regarded as such by my Government. If the treaty were disadvantageous it should be amended. So long as it was a treaty the honor of His Majesty as well as of my own Government was involved in its faithful observance. Following this line of thought the legation has contented itself with asking from the Chinese Government an investigation into the acts of the provincial authorities. My hope is that the legation will be able to report that [Page 164]these acts of violence have met with the severest censure that they in no way embodied the spirit or the policy of the Government, and that henceforward American merchants would not be molested in the enjoyment of their due and lawful rights.
I am afraid I have written you at wearisome length upon this incident, but its gravity must be my excuse. I have given you its history from the beginning, and if I have made my meaning clear, the Department will see that the situation is full of embarrassments. How far the Government will press its policy, which, although apparently new, will seem from my narrative of our diplomatic negotiations to be slow but steady growth, is a problem. If the position taken by the foreign office is maintained and accepted by the foreign powers, then our treaties are of no more value, so far as the rights of merchants in China are concerned, than so many ropes of sand. If the right to engage in honest labor and to enjoy the profits of that labor is denied to-day the right to buy and sell may be denied to-morrow. These rights withdrawn, foreigners can have no interest in China, except those who come for study, observation, amusement or instruction.
Settlements like Shanghai, which have grown into imperial splendor and wealth in a few years as a consequence of a generous commercial system, and which have added so much to the prosperity of the Empire, will shrink up and vanish like the great cities of the Mediterranean, which were the glory of the early days, and whose fame only lives in the romance and tradition which tells of Carthage and Tyre. China will lapse into the dark ages, no longer a living, active influence, but sluggish, inert, and dead, a prey to internal dissensions and external schemes of aggrandizement. There are statesmen in China who cannot fail to see this among the other consequences of a course which has already arrayed against the foreign office the whole diplomatic body. My hope is that the influence of these men will be felt in the imperial councils, and that the complication may result in a recognition by China of the true principles which should govern intercourse among nations. Such a result would be a happy consequence, and nothing will do more to bring it about and to give these statesmen the Weight in Chinese affairs which their wisdom and foresight justify than that the foreign Governments should resist, by every species of argument and persuasion, the reactionary tendencies now in force. * * *
I have, &c.,