to Mr. Frelinghuysen.
Peking, February 4, 1883. (Received April 23.)
Sir: In my dispatch No. 69 I sent you a copy of a note addressed by the legation to his imperial highness Prince Kung, concerning Mr. Wetmore’s interests in Shanghai, and discussing the right of Americans to engage in manufactures at the open ports.
I have now the honor to inclose a copy of a reply from his imperial highness and my answer to the same.* * * The position of the Chinese Government on this question of the rights of foreigners to manufacture is expressed in these various communications with more frankness than has yet been shown. It is not now so much a difference of opinion as to the construction of treaty phrases as the dread of danger to the laboring interests and the revenues of China from the introduction of foreign machinery. His imperial highness points to our tariff system and our protection of home industries as a precedent, and intimates that any policy of commercial exclusion on his part would be following our example.
According to the prince, we impose a heavy duty upon certain manufactures in order that their unrestricted import should not interfere with our own laborers. China, on the contrary, imposes light duties. The question of manufactures is one involving, first, the revenues of the Empire, and second, the welfare of the working people. If, for instance, there should be an uncontrolled manufacture of cotton, silk and satin at a fort like Shanghai, the foreign machinery would so far surpass the antique and Clumsy methods now in use that millions of Chinese weavers would be thrown out of employment. This argument is presented with even more feeling in the letter addressed by the viceroy of Nanking to the vice-consul-general.
Chinese [says the viceroy], require many days to do what a foreigner can do in a few minutes. Chinese use much labor and expense, whereas the foreigner, saving money and time, can sell at any price. Of course we cannot compete with him. The consequences would be that the Chinese workmen would give up working; and what could I do with all these millions of men who have lost their work? The stronger would become the robbers, and the weaker beggars, and the local authorities would not be able to keep them in check. They would be robbing and stealing, and the state of affairs would be worse every day.
Of course, the only reply can be, “Here is the treaty and we stand by it.” At the same time there is something pathetic in the viceroy’s appeal. While the fallacy of these apprehensions is known to students of modern political economy, we should remember that the knowledge only came in recent years, and that there are even now ruling minds in states of the highest civilization who hold the opinions of the viceroy and the cabinet. The history of commerce and trade is the history of a struggle between these arguments and a more enlightened public opinion. The invention of the spinning jenny, to take a single illustration, which revolutionized the cotton industry and laid the foundation of the stupendous trade in cotton which England now controls, led triots. Mobs of anxious weavers, moved by fears like these which agtate the Nanking viceroy, searched the country and destroyed ever spinning jenny that could be found.[Page 192]
It is difficult to answer or remove apprehensions of this nature, but in my response to his imperial highness I pointed out their groundlessness, and even intimated that there was more reason for fear on the part of the western nations as to the effects of improved machinery in Chinese hands upon their own industries. The cheapness of labor, the thrift, patience, industry and skill of this peculiar people once applied to the manufacture of cotton and silk by the methods used in England and France, would make it difficult for Manchester and Marseilles to hold their own. I note an apprehension of this kind in California in the form of a new movement demanding that Congress should prohibit the importation of all Chinese manufactures.
There is another feature in this correspondence worthy of scrutiny. His imperial highness sent recently to the foreign legations a reply to our joint note upon the construction of the treaties. It formed an inclosure to my dispatch No. 116. He now sends a special note to the American Government. It is an entreaty as well as an argument. It is an appeal to the United States to look with humanity upon China, and not join with the other powers in forcing upon her a policy which her rulers believe would mean privation to millions, the disintegration of her social system, the disbandment of her laboring classes to be no longer patient, law-abiding workingmen, but driven to beggary and rapine.
The Department will, I trust, consider that my reply to his imperial highness shows that the legation is not indifferent to this appeal, and not unwilling to consider the embarrassments of statesmen called upon to govern a vast population. At the same time this opens a large question and one that cannot be too carefully studied.
The legation, as you are aware, in dealing with China, has, by a custom that now has almost the force of law and tradition, acted in harmony with the other powers, furthering what is known as the policy of co-operation. Many advantages have come from this; foreigners have stood upon so uncertain a ground that union and confidence in each other became necessary for their protection.
I am disposed to believe from the tone of this dispatch that China would like us to abandon this policy, as we did in Japan, when we signed our latest convention with the Mikado. So far as it means the union of the foreign powers to maintain treaty privileges and protect their citizens against a vast, impulsive, suspicious population, it is the instinct of self-preservation, and we have had as much to gain by it as any other power. There was in some respects a departure from it when we inserted the opium clause in our treaty. * * *
The Government with whom we have been most in sympathy is Germany. This goes back to 1869, as you will see in a dispatch addressed by Mr. Fish to Mr. Bancroft, No. 148, and dated in August of that year.
The German chancellor, Bismarck, as it there appears, was anxious that America and Germany should act together in Asiatic questions, and Mr. Fish assented so far as to unite with the Germans in their efforts to obtain from China a port or an island as a coaling station. He also used his good offices to induce France during the war with Germany to consent to a neutralization of the Pacific Ocean, although the effect of such an act would have been to the advantage of Germany as the smaller naval power. In recent years Germany has shown activity in the East. Her policy has been eager, decisive, and peremptory, going so far within the past few weeks as to land troops on Chinese soil, and prevent the Chinese from carrying out their interpretation of the treaties. The advance of German influence in the East has been marked and [Page 193]steady. As Germany has never shown any yearning for colonial acquisitions, and her commercial interests in China are much less than those of England and the United States, I am disposed to regard her vigorous interference in Asiatic affairs as an expression of the national energy. * * *
England has large interests in China. She has the greater part of the carrying trade. She is bound to protect her opium monopoly. It is necessary for that protection that she should watch and direct every change in the fiscal system of this Empire. * * * The dispatch of Prince Kung, and the firmly expressed opinion of the Government, leave two courses open to the Department. The first is to stand by the treaties, and exact their scrupulous observance. The second is to take counsel with China as to her hopes and fears concerning foreign manufactures and make a new convention, granting her request for their suppression.
All of this is for the Department in its wisdom to determine. It only remains for the legation to insist upon the treaties and to protest against the extreme unfriendliness of such an action as the interference by the viceroy of Nanking with Mr. Wetmore’s business in Shanghai. In all our discussions with the cabinet it has been my aim to keep these two questions apart, namely, our rights under the treaties as they are, and China’s undoubted right to ask for an amendment of any covenant which experience proves to be oppressive.
In this spirit I have asked his imperial highness to consider the gravity of the recent transactions in Shanghai, about which I have written you so fully, and to note the sense of wrong felt by the legation as to the conduct of the provincial authorities. I have done this most disagreeable duty with reluctance, and trust that my manner of doing it will meet with your approval. I have the utmost sympathy and respect for the perplexities of statesmen, who have the severest task in the problems of government ever given to the rulers of men. I value the desire of the Chinese to be on terms of close intimacy and friendship with the United States, and their wish to seek our counsel and aid. I believe in the sincerity of this feeling, and that its encouragement will add to our influence in Asia. This has been my constant aim in performing the duties of minister, and I am strengthened in it by the knowledge that it expressed the wishes of the Department. You can, therefore, understand the regret with which it has been my duty to address the cabinet the dispatch which I inclose. I could not feel, however, that any less firm a tone would have been consistent with the dignity of the Government. I am in hopes that the prince will see that the emphasis with which I dwell upon the conduct of his subordinate officials is not inconsistent with a sincere friendship for China.
I have, &c.,