No. 34.
Mr. Russell to Mr. Frelinghuysen.

No. 319.]

Sir: In my dispatch No. 277, November, 1883, I had the honor to inclose for your information the details in the possession of the legation regarding the riot in Canton.

It is now my duty to report upon subsequent events, and especially upon the efforts of the representatives of foreign powers in Peking to bring about a settlement.

As soon as I learned of the Canton riots I had a conversation with the grand secretary, Li, who said there would be no difficulty in the payment of the American claims for the losses sustained by our citizens, and that orders for their payment would be given. This assurance was confirmed by the ministers of the yamên.

There were diverging theories in the minds of the various legations as to the cause of the riot, and whether or not the cause could be found in the failure of the Canton viceroy to do his duty in preventing and suppressing it.

* * * * * * *

The first suggestion as to a means of settlement came from his imperial highness Prince Kung, in an informal note to this legation dated October 13, 1883. In this his imperial highness said that Mr. Consul Seymour was willing to render his good offices towards mediation; that his imperial highness was pleased with this offer, and asked me to instruct Mr. Seymour to do what he could to secure a just and equitable arrangement.

While it was a gratification to the legation to know that Mr. Seymour was held in esteem by the Chinese, there were practical difficulties, arising out of diplomatic relations here, which prevented my encouraging his plan.

At the same time it seemed to the legation that this abstract proposal of mediation on the part of the Chinese contained within it the germ of a most important principle, and that if we could establish it as a precedent it would go far towards making easy the settlement of difficulties of the same character.

This view was shared by my colleagues of England, France, and Germany. As their representative and in their name I entered into negotiations [Page 53] with the yamên. After some conversations and explanations with the ministers, and a verbal understanding that we were in accord, his imperial highness addressed to the. powers concerned an informal note, dated November 11, 1883, which I inclose.

In this note you will see that the yamiên, instead of asking Mr. Seymour to act, proposed a board of arbitrators, to be composed of three persons who should be acceptable to all parties.

This proposal was accepted by my colleagues and myself in a joint note dated November 21, 1883. There was one amendment, namely, that the members of the board should be of equal rank, without one having the special supervising power of a referee, and that the decision of a majority should be accepted as final.

There was a verbal understanding that all losses should be paid within sixty days after the award. We also agreed, at my nomination that the Hon. Mr. Grosvenor, Her Britannic Majesty’s chargé d’affaires, should represent the foreign powers.

This note was not written until after many conferences with the yamên, and a clear understanding that the jurisdiction of the proposed board should be confined to the assessment of the money claims for damages, and that other questions, political or otherwise, should be debarred. It was therefore with surprise, and not without some pain, that I received from his imperial highness a note, dated November 23, in which a new principle was inserted. The riots, according to the prince, having originated in murder, “an investigation into the causes of the riot should be the objective point.” Then should come the punishment of the guilty parties “according to their deserts, and there would be no difficulty in bringing out the truth in regard to damages to property.”

This note was a surprise. It struck at the very root of the arbitration, and was a departure from all our agreements with the yamên.

The question advanced by the prince concerned England alone. It was a question also involving principles and rights which neither England nor any other self-respecting power could submit to a court of arbitration. Whatever might be thought of the manslaughter by Logan, and what was regarded as the lightness of his sentence and the imperfections of his trial, he had been tried by an English judge, before an English jury, according to English law, and there was no power, not even the power of the Queen, which could put him in peril of his life a second time. This I had said again and again to the ministers in conversation, adding that the same law prevailed in the United States and in other civilized nations, and that it was vain to intrude it upon an arbitration which meant to decide one point, namely, what foreigners lost at the hands of a Chinese mob. But there was a war party in the cabinet; the feeling at Canton was uneasy; the viceroy at Canton was telegraphing his fears; and while the ministers of the yamên might be willing to continue the negotiations on the basis agreed upon and detailed in our joint note, the privy council, to whom the ministers appeal, insisted upon the modification.

It only remained for the representatives of the four powers to meet in conference and, after reading the prince’s note, reject the terms proposed. This was a unanimous decision, expressed in a joint note to the yamên dated November 25.

I was loath to abandon the advantages embodied in the principle of the arbitration, and this feeling was shared by my colleagues. I did not set much value upon any other point so far as American interests were concerned. I was indifferent as to whether we had a representative on the proposed board, and never encouraged the idea. As the subjects [Page 54] of Great Britain in Canton had sustained the greatest losses, it seemed only fair that an Englishman should represent the foreigners, especially one with the rectitude and impartiality of Mr. Grosvenor. As the Germans had the second largest claim in losses, I would vote for any gentleman named by Germany. While I would accept an American as a judge, and take such a nomination either by the Chinese or the foreign powers, I had no name to present. My only anxiety was for the principle. The assurance of the Chinese authorities left me no reason for anxiety as to all American claims being paid; and as to the value of these claims, the verdict of any court where a German and an Englishman were in the majority would satisfy me. As a principle of diplomatic intercourse, the acceptance by the Chinese of an arbitration in manner and form as proposed I deemed an important advantage.

In my conference with the yamên the ministers presented their ease at length and with some feeling. They held that, as a British subject, Logan had led to the riot by an assault upon an innocent Chinaman, taking his life; that the British Government was responsible for the consequences of the riot, and should even pay the damages claimed by foreigners. They contended that Logan’s trial was so unsatisfactory that nothing would satisfy Chinese public sentiment in Canton but a new trial and capital punishment of the offender. They claimed also that the British Government should pay an indemnity for the Chinese slain and wounded by Logan, even as China had paid an indemnity to Great Britain when Margary was slain, and also to France after the riots in Tien-Tsin and Shanghai. The ministers furthermore said that while Mr. Grosvenor was known and personally held in high esteem by the yamên, and his proposed nomination as one of the board would be agreeable, the viceroy, the authorities, and the people of Canton were so much opposed to any Englishman having a place in that tribunal that they must insist upon the withdrawal of his name.

I replied that all questions as to “British justice,” “indemnities,” “responsibilities,” and so on, were matters which concerned alone the British crown. As to the nomination of Mr. Grosvenor as our representative, we could not withdraw it. The powers had a right to name whom they pleased. They could not allow that right to be criticised. This would be to destroy the integrity of arbitration. Mr. Grosvenor had been named unanimously, without his knowledge or request, and to withdraw his name would be a discourtesy to which none of his colleagues would be a party. I was then asked why our legation would not take Mr. Holcombe or Mr. Seymour in Mr. Grosvenor’s place as the foreign representative. I answered that the proposal of the name of any American official was a compliment, but I would not consent to it. We had named Mr. Grosvenor, and his name must stand.

The ministers said they would confer with the prince and the privy council and see what could be done. They were evidently as anxious as myself to come to some arrangement, and our conference ended with the expression of a common regret that there seemed to be no ground upon which we could agree.

The next day I had a note from the yamên that they would come and see me, and at 2 o’clock we had a long conference at the legation.

The ministers were Ch’en, Chow, and Woo. We began with the quaint oriental metaphor that they were “ill with the evil of contention and war and bad feeling, and had come for medicine.” The privy council had been much in debate and wanted a compromise. They went over the whole ground of the controversy, and said they had weighed with care the arguments of our legation. They now had a [Page 55] new proposal. They would no longer object to Mr. Grosvenor. All questions at issue with Great Britain they would reserve, with one exception, namely, the amount of indemnity to be paid to the family of the Chinaman slain by Logan. That the prince must insist upon submitting to the proposed board. The prince said China paid indemnities for murdered foreigners, and now foreigners should pay indemnities for murdered Chinamen. If we would accept a note couched in these terms, they were prepared to name Kung Yi T’u, a high official, as their agent; and as Mr. Grosvenor was a secretary of legation, and should have a colleague of his own rank, they would be willing, if the powers consented, to withdraw Mr. Seymour’s name and accept that of Mr. Holcombe. This agreed upon, or any other third man we preferred in Mr. Holcombe’s place, they would at once enter upon the question and pay all awards within sixty days. They again and again expressed their anxiety to have the matter at an end. They gave me plainly to understand that in this they were acting under the orders of the privy council.

While the withdrawal of every point with the exception of an indemnity to the family of the slain Chinaman seemed to be an important step in the negotiation, I still pressed the ministers to return to their original ground, and, as we had agreed, consider no question but the losses. Although I could not speak for Her Britannic Majesty’s Government, I felt sure that there would be a way to reach the “indemnity” question without bringing it before the board. A small, a very small sum would have been all that the family of the class of the murdered Chinamen could expect. A present, say, of £500 would have been to the family a princely fortune. I did not express any thought of this kind to the ministers. But I was persuaded that in the event of a successful arbitration, the Chinese paying the losses within sixty days after the announcement of the award, the British legation would readily have seen its way, as an act of benevolence, laying aside any question of policy, to recompense the family of the slain Chinaman. It was the certainty in my own mind, looking over the whole affair from what might be called a common-sense business point of view, that the British minister would reach such a conclusion when he came to consider the whole question, that led me to press upon the ministers the propriety of abandoning the indemnity point, and all points that had not been agreed upon before we wrote our joint note.

In this case you will see that the yamên ministers were fortified by the opinion of one Mr. Francis, who is, I am told, an English barrister, holding the retainer of the Chinese authorities and supposed to know English law. Upon the point, therefore, that there should be no arbitration which did not recognize the indemnity claim, the Chinese were inflexible.

Sir Harry Parkes returned from Corea on the 9th; I saw him the day following. His excellency would never consent to the demand of the yamên ministers that any question of indemnity should go before the board. He was willing to accept the board, as had been arranged in our joint note. I was gratified to hear from Her Majesty’s minister the volunteer expression of his hope and belief that Her Britannic Majesty’s Government would be glad, as an act of benevolence, to make some reparation to the families of the slain, in this confirming the impression which had governed my counsels to the yamên. There was no way in which I could convey this intimation to the yamên without an intrusion upon an affair which alone concerned my colleague.

In my opinion, the decision of the British minister as to in admissibility [Page 56] of the indemnity question, which I anticipated, and the immovable position of the yamên in insisting upon it, closed the negotiations.

The subsequent action taken independently by the legation to secure the payment of our claims will appear in the inclosures to this dispatch as an appendix to the report.

I have, &c.,

[Inclosure 1 in No. 319.]

Prince Kung to Mr. Young .


Sir: Upon the 12th instant I received a telegram from Viceroy Chang, at Canton, saying that Mr. Consul Seymour was willing to render his good offices in the adjustment of matters connected with the Canton riot.

I am exceedingly pleased with this offer, illustrating as it does the earnest and faithful regard in which your consul holds the existing good relations between our two Governments, and I believe you will give a ready assent to this offer.

May I beg you to instruct Mr. Seymour by telegraph to exercise his good Offices between the parties in interest in this business in a just and equitable manner, to the end that all questions may be speedily adjusted, which is a consummation much to be desired.

Cards and compliments.

[Inclosure 2 in No. 319.]

Prince Kung to Mr. Young .


Your Excellency: In the matter of the pillage of Shameen by the Cantonese, the Chinese Government propose to nominate a gentleman to deal with it, and it becomes my duty to request the repersentatives of the several Governments interested to consult together and name a gentleman to arrange matters with the nominee of this Government. The two persons thus appointed should choose a third person as referee, in order to avoid controversy.

It is my duty to request your excellency to notify this office of the person whom you may see fit to nominate, and upon receipt of this information the name of the nominee of this Government will be communicated to your excellency.

Cards and compliments.

[Inclosure 3 in No. 319.]

Foreign ministers to the yamên.

The undersigned representatives of the United States, Germany, France, and Great Britain present their compliments to his imperial highness and their excellencies the ministers of the yamên, and beg leave to acknowledge the note of their excellencies dated November 11, 1883.

In this note your excellencies propose, in reference to the pillage of Shameen and the outrages upon foreigners by a Cantonese mob, to nominate a gentleman to deal with it on behalf of China. You then ask the representatives of the powers interested “to consult together and name a gentleman to arrange matters with your nominee. The two persons thus appointed should choose a third person as referee, in order to avoid controversy.”

The undersigned have read and carefully considered this communication, and Mr. Young, acting in their name, having had a conversation with your excellencies as to the exact meaning and scope of your proposition, have now the honor to accept it, and in doing so to recognize on the part of your imperial highness a desire to do all in your power to atone for the injury inflicted upon our people by a Chinese mob.

In acquainting your Imperial highness and your excellencies with this determination, the undersigned, in order that there may be no misapprehensions, will present the [Page 57] case as they understand it. It is agreed hat these gentlemen shall form a board of arbitration, that they shall be judges of equal rank and authority, that in all questions a majority of the board shall decide, and at the close of the discussion an award of the amounts due to each claimant shall be paid by the Government against whom it is given, without delay and without appeal by any of the arbitrators to any higher authority whatever.

It is understood likewise that the decision of this board as to the money losses in Canton is to be final, and the undersigned, in the name of their Governments, upon the payment of the awards made within a reasonable time, not less than thirty days after the award, will regard the case as absolutely closed, and hold the Chinese Government free from any further recourse as to claims arising out of the Shameen riot.

The undersigned would also suggest that, as the season is late, and it is important to have this business ended, after the yamên, on the one part, and the undersigned, on the other, have named their representatives, that the yamên and the undersigned should in conference name a third gentleman who would be entirely acceptable to both sides. A selection made in this manner would come within the principles of a just and equitable arbitration.

If this statement of the case shows that we have rightly construed the meaning of your dispatch, the undersigned, upon the receipt of that information, of such assurances as are requisite to make the arbitration a valid tribunal, and of the name of the gentleman you propose as your representative, are prepared to name their representative and do all in their power to bring the business to a satisfactory termination.

Accept, &c.

    United States Minister.
    Chargé d’Affaires for Germany.
    Chargé d’Affaires for France.
    Chargé d’Affaires for Great Britain.
[Inclosure 4 in No. 319.]

Prince Kung to the foreign ministers.

Your Excellencies: Upon the 21st instant I had the honor to receive your collective note, in which it was stated that you accept certain propositions made by this office in an earlier note in regard to disposing of the Shameen case, and that yon recognize a desire to do all in my power to atone for the injury inflicted upon foreigners by a Chinese mob; that an arbitration is meant in which a majority shall decide all questions, and that an early disposition of the case is much to be desired, &c.

In the Shameen affair the prince and ministers would observe that, it having originated in murder, an investigation into the circumstances of the riot should be the objective point. These circumstances being correct, the guilty parties could be punished according to their deserts, and there would be no difficulty in bringing out the truth in regard to any damages to property.

This was the purpose of the prince and ministers in their proposition in an earlier note to appoint aboard of arbitration; and I beg your excellencies to take it into consideration.

[Inclosure 5 in No. 319.]

Prince Kung to Mr. Young .


Your Excellency: Upon the 17th instant you came to this office with Mr. Secretary Holcombe and in person presented a memorandum in three points upon the mode of dealing with the Shameen affair. This memorandum I have attentively considered.

It inquires whether my original proposition meant an arbitration of the losses sustained in the riot or an inquiry into the circumstances of the disturbance.

[Page 58]

In my opinion, an examination into the circumstances which gave rise to the riot ought certainly to be made the leading point of any inquiry. These circumstances being correctly understood, the responsible parties ought to be punished as they deserve, and if there are claims for damages there would be no difficulty in bringing the fact to light. I am confident your excellency will agree with me in this view.

In regard to the dispatch received from the several representatives, as it does not agree with my original idea, a separate response has been made to it. I am aware that your excellency transacts all business in an amicable spirit, and that you will be able to evolve a satisfactory scheme out of these two plans.

Cards and compliments.

[Inclosure 6 in No.319.]

Foreign ministers to Prince Kung.

The undersigned have received and read the communication which your imperial highness was good enough to make to them on the 23d instant.

They have to observe in reply that the circumstances which may have led to the burning and pillage of Shameen do not in any way concern them in their corporate capacity. They therefore find themselves under the necessity of declining any participation in the appointment of a commission the object of which would be to arbitrate upon the events which led to the burning and pillage in question. The only subject with which the undersigned have any concern in their corporate capacity is the amount of money to be awarded to the various foreigners who have suffered in property through the lawless action of the Canton mob.

The undersigned can only regret that the Chinese Government should have introduced into an arrangement which at the outset promised such satisfactory results to all parties matters on the discussion of which they cannot consent to enter.

The claims which the Governments of the United States, Germany, Great Britain, and France have to make upon the Chinese Government for the losses sustained by their respective citizens and subjects will now be brought forward by each representative at the proper time.

    United States Minister.
  • G. von TATTENBACH,
    Chargé d’Affaires of Germany.
    Chargé d’Affaires of Great Britain.
    Chargé d’Affaires of France.