Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress, With the Annual Message of the President, December 1, 1884
to Mr. Frelinghuysen.
Peking, January 29, 1884. (Received March 31.)
Sir: The Department will learn from the memorials addressed to the throne, which I have the honor to inclose, the extent of the suffering now prevailing in the northern provinces of China, caused by the floods of last year, and the consequent destruction of the crops for hundreds of square miles.
I have, &c.,
the famines in the north.
Li Hung Chang has addressed a memorial to the throne, in which he refers to the great distresses among the poor arising out of the floods in the northern provinces of China, and especially in the country surrounding Tien-Tsin and Peking.
With the arrival of winter the floods have left the higher-lying ground, but all the low-lying lands continue to present the aspect of an unbroken sea, which must shortly be frozen over, adding the misery of cold to the sufferings of people already borne down with hunger, and precluding the possibility of hoping to be able to sow the crops in spring. The funds available for the relief of this distress are already more titan exhausted, and the drain upon the provincial revenue from other sources is considerably more than it can bear. Under these conditions it becomes necessary to look elsewhere for means, and the only plan that suggests itself is to encourage private contribution by the offer of honorary rewards. The abolition of the purchase system has at present reduced the rewards that are allowed to be granted to mere empty [Page 65] rank or patents; which it is found are not a sufficient inducement to encourage people to come forward at all liberally, while the proposal to give buttons and promotion as an extension of this system can only be availed of by the wealthy classes. The board have made an exception to this rule in Shantung, where full payment of contributions is allowed to be rewarded by the bestowal of a chien sheng degree, and the memorialist would now beg that this privilege may be temporarily extended to the province of Chihli, and withdrawn as soon as the necessity which dictates the innovation shall cease.
An imperial decree grants the above.
suffering in the northern provinces.
[From the Peking Gazette.]
A long memorial from the governor-general, Li Hung Chang, and the governor and governor adjoint of the Shun-t’ien prefecture, detailing the measures they propose to take to relieve the distress in their respective jurisdictions by the sale of grain at reduced rates and other means.
Some time since the board of revenue communicated to the memorialists a memorial submitted to His Majesty by a censor urging the necessity of selling grain at reduced rates in Peking, with their minute thereon, in which they expressed a fear that the capital would be invaded by large numbers of poor in search of food unless timely measures were taken to anticipate their arrival. They accordingly suggested that the province of Chihli might be called upon to supply 100,000 taels, and that other provinces, with the exception of Hupei, Shan Tung, and Chekiang, where there was also much distress, might be directed each to contribute 30,000 taels from their opium lekin fund, or its equivalent in grain, and send it to Chihli, where the memorialist Li Hung Chang would devote the money to the purchase of grain, a portion of which would be sent to Peking, to be sold there at reduced rates. The scheme having received the sanction of His Majesty, it was communicated to the memorialists, who have been in constant correspondence on the subject, and now beg to submit an account of the arrangements they propose to make. They would premise that in the year 1876, when a similar arrangement was called for, the sum of 140,000 taels was devoted to the purchase of 87,000 piculs of grain, which was sent to Peking, and there sold at reduced rates from the 1st to the 8th moon of the year. The losses on these sales, inclusive of the cost of carriage, was 114,000 taels, which was defrayed out of funds at the disposal of the board and the coast-defense fund. The memorialist Li Hung Chang then proceeds to record, in somewhat complicated and guarded language, his objections to the issue of relief in the form of cheap grain: first, because it is impossible to determine the genuineness of the poverty of the purchaser; secondly, because the tendency of Pekingese to eat their grain in the form of flour renders it necessary to have it ground by millers, who are certain to levy toll on what passes through their hands; and, thirdly, because the present stagnant condition of trade will prevent that substantial aid from merchants being afforded which on former occasions was one of the chief elements which conduced to the success of the undertaking. As, moreover, the governor-general cannot be responsible for the managment of the enterprise in the Shun-t’ien prefecture, he begs to retire from the control as far as that region is concerned, and to leave it to the governor and governor adjoint. As it is the chief object of the board of revenue to provide against a pauper invasion of Peking, he opines that this object will be met by applying the system it is proposed to introduce to the Shun-t’ien prefecture alone, and he would suggest that 40,000 piculs of grain from the Peking granaries be placed at the disposal of the governor and governor adjoint of Shun-t’ien, tor disposal in the manner that further inquiry may show to be advisable. He is prepared, if this suggestion meets with His Majesty’s approval, to furnish 100,000 taels to be expended by the above officers in relief.
Approved by rescript.
A further memorial from Li Hung Chang with reference to the funds he has been called upon to provide for the purchase of the grain required for the object specified in the preceding memorial.
The board suggested that the arsenal fund should contribute 40,000 taels and the opium duties another 40,000 taels; but on reference to the manager of the former establishment and the customs taotai, these officers represent that they are not in a position to meet these claims on their resources. The arsenal at Tien-Tsin is supported by a grant of one-fourth of the foreign customs revenue, supplemented by a contribution [Page 66] paid from the duties collected from the China Merchants’ Company. These grants have been found insufficient of late years to meet the increased expenditure entailed by the extra provision of ammunition required by the different provinces and the purchase of foreign machinery which this larger output requires—so much so that the accounts show a large deficit, which for the last three years has been partially met by a monthly grant of 10,000 taels from the board of revenue. The duties on foreign opium and dues collected from the China Merchants’ Company are amalgamated under one head, and four-tenths of the total receipts are paid over to the arsenal, with the exception of one-fifth of the China Merchants’ Company’s duties, which are set apart for the use of the board of revenue. The balance, which is far from considerable, is devoted to the maintenance of coast defenses and payment of troops; but as it is inadequate for this purpose, it is supplemented every year by drafts to the amount of several of lacs of taels on the funds which should properly be sent to the provincial capital by the salt commissioner. This state of financial embarrassment, which is the normal condition of the province in ordinary years, is naturally augmented in times of widespread distress like the present; and, as the claims of the board cannot possibly be met in the manner suggested, it becomes necessary to seek for other means of meeting the difficulty. The establishment known as the chih ying chii, or general accountant’s office, which meets demands for payments on different accounts, has in hand at this moment principal funds which bear interest, and the memorialist would suggest that this fund be drawn upon to the extent of 100,000 taels for the purpose above mentioned.
Granted by rescript.