No. 38.
Mr. Young to Mr. Frelinghuysen.

No. 350.]

Sir: * * * On the 10th of January I was informed by the British minister, Sir Harry Parkes, and the German chargé d’affaires, Count Tattenbach, that dispatches had been received from their consuls at Canton saying that the Chinese authorities were preparing to obstruct the water approaches to Canton, and that the effect of these obstructions would be to imperil, if not to prevent, navigation. The German consul reported that Whampoa would “be totally blocked.”

I telegraphed Mr. Consul Seymour for information, and his reply I inclose. Mr. Seymour, as you will observe, said that there would be “serious obstructions without equivalent benefits.”

Two questions arose which in the opinion of the legation required immediate attention.

The first was that by the terms of the treaty of Tien-Tsin, 1858, concluded between China and the United States, in Article XXVI, United States vessels, in the event of war between China and other powers, were to have free access and egress in the open ports. “It is further agreed,” says the treaty, “that in case, at any time hereafter, China shall be at war with any foreign nation whatever, and should for that cause exclude such nation from entering her ports, still the vessels of the United States shall not the less continue to pursue their commerce in freedom and security, and to transport goods to and from the ports of the belligerent powers,” &c.

The second was that the Chinese authorities, in a time of peace, were performing a belligerent act directed against the commerce of friendly powers, an act which if permitted at Canton would stand as a precedent for closing every port in China.

I was not disposed to lay much stress upon the first of these propositions, [Page 67] or even to make it a matter of serious debate with the Government without asking for your special instructions. To be sure, the stipulations of the treaty are plain. It was made, however, in 1858. Since then the methods of offensive and defensive warfare have been revolutionized. The United States, during the rebellion, saw fit to obstruct the channels in Charleston harbor by sinking ships laden with stone, to secure an effective blockade. Germany, during her latest war with France, protected her Baltic ports with torpedoes. I should have felt some embarrassment in seeking to persuade the yamên that what Germany and the United States regarded as honorable warfare could not be permitted to them.

At all events, I should have deemed it wise, before making any representation to the yamem, to have asked the Department for further instructions as to how far my Government was disposed to assert our rights under the article I have quoted.

As to the second proposition, I could see no doubt as to my immediate duty. The situation was this: The viceroy of two provinces, a local official, upon his own responsibility, without asking the orders of his Government and without any communication to the foreign powers of such a contemplated act, proposed to do what could only be regarded as an extreme and supreme measure of war, namely, to close a port open to us by the treaties. This was to be done when China was at peace, and before any declaration of war, or even an intention so to declare, had been published. If the obstruction of Canton, under these circumstances, was permitted, without a prompt and decisive protest, there would be no reason why this or a subsequent Government, the Canton viceroy, or the ruler of other provinces should not obstruct and close every port in China. And while it might be said that motives of self-interest and the natural desire of the Chinese to profit out of foreign commerce would render such apprehensions improbable, yet one can never cease to remember that in China there is a powerful and what some observers regard a dominant anti-foreign sentiment, which would regard such a measure as excluding all foreigners from the Empire as an act of the highest patriotism.

The question was one which under ordinary circumstances I should have submitted to the diplomatic body. But on account of the relations between China and France, I believed, on reflection, that separate action, and especially in my own capacity as the American representative, would be the most effective in securing the ends of peace. With this view I requested an interview with the ministers of the yamiên. The result was a long conversation, a report of which is inclosed.

It would be superfluous to repeat what is written with so much detail in this report.

* * * * * * *

There were two points which I especially urged upon the ministers in my conversation. The first was that I came in neither a complaining nor an unfriendly spirit, but to advise their excellencies as to the impropriety of the action taken by the Canton viceroy. And in making this statement I knew that I was expressing the feeling of Sir Harry Parkes and Count Tattenbach. We had no disposition to embarrass China, or even appear to censure an official for doing what he deemed best to defend his country. But, and this was the second point of my argument, we were doing China an office of courtesy. It was her interest, even should there be war, not to throw aside the benefits which international law secures to belligerent powers. Supposing events with France were to impose upon China a supreme contingency, the first duty [Page 68] of Chinese statesmanship would be to seek the good will of the powers which had no concern in the enterprises and adventures of France. The measure proposed at Canton was aimed at all nations holding commercial relations with China, and not merely France alone. It was, as Mr. Consul Seymour reported, a measure of doubtful utility; to quote his exact words, resulting in “serious obstructions without equivalent benefits.” It would only irritate friendly powers who were bound to protect their commerce and their people, and who could not under any circumstances consent to the abrogation of a treaty by a provincial official.

To these and correlative arguments which I pressed upon their excellencies again and again during a long conversation, they replied with a rude logic which was not without force. “If,” they said in substance, “the western powers are well disposed towards China, if your Government is, as you say, friendly, why do you not interfere and compel France to cease her assaults’? If America is China’s true friend, why docs she not show her friendship in this hour of emergency? Here comes the robber with torch and steel to invade our house. You are our guests. Why will you not assist us in keeping the robber out? China has made other nations rich with her trade. She longs to pursue that beneficent pursuit. Why should not those who share these benefits make some return?”

It was not difficult to see that other arguments animated the yamên, and in presenting this view of the case I think I am giving the principles underlying the present policy of China towards foreign powers. “Why,” they say, “should China, under any circumstances, make war? Why not compel the foreigner to do so? Great Britain, Germany, Russia, the United States, are dying for our trade. They know that it is an essential factor in their commercial greatness. Without our silk, our tea, and so on, they would be poor indeed. They are great powers, with guns and ships and torpedoes and other inventions. Why, therefore, is it not the highest wisdom to impress upon these nations the peril involved in the withdrawal of the Chinese trade, and thus compel them to save China from the invader?”

This theory, deeply rooted in the minds of the ministers and adverted to again and again, as the Department will note in my conversation with their excellencies, made it difficult to come to an understanding, or to divest any advice that could be given as to the impropriety of proceedings like those complained of at Canton of the suspicion of insincerity. If we were friends to China, we should show the efficiency of that friendship by controlling France. There was also the further proposition that China was justified in taking any step to protect her soil. This was the sovereign right of self-preservation. It was difficult to show how, as friendly powers, we should not aid China in opposing an enemy, or, failing in that, how we should contest her own right to do so. The only argument that seemed to make an impression upon the ministers was that China, by doing acts of war in time of peace, which affected the interests of friendly nations, was invoking an opposition from those who wished her well, and whose friendship might not be without its advantages should war ensue with France.

My conversation with the ministers was followed by interviews between them and the representatives of Great Britain and Germany. A memorandum of these conversations was given to me by Sir Harry Parkes and Count Tattenbach, and will be found as inclosures. The Department will observe that the position assumed by the legation in presenting our case was confirmed by my British and German colleagues.

[Page 69]

Although we could not induce the yamên to give us a formal withdrawal of their policy, nor to make any promise that what had been done at Canton might not be repeated at Shanghai and Tien-Tsin, the practical effect of our joint action was to arrest the obstructions proposed in Canton, and to show the Government that we could not permit what had been attempted as a precedent. I did not feel myself at liberty to go beyond an earnest and at the same time a friendly protest.

The point at issue was so important, and the possible action of the yamên so uncertain, that I felt bound to submit it without delay to the Department. This was also done by the British legation. The dispatch of Sir Harry Parkes to Lord Granville, and his lordship’s answer, will be found as inclosures.

I also requested Admiral Davis, now at Shanghai, to have some skilled officer examine the nature of the proposed obstruction. Such a report would have a technical value, as that of a professional expert, apart from the judgment of the consular gentlemen upon whose information we act.

The correspondence is herewith submitted to the Department. I am persuaded that you will agree with me that, considering, on the one hand, our rights under the treaties, and, on the other, the practical embarrassments which confronted China, wishing under no circumstances to appear harsh and stern, the position taken by the yamên made our duty clear; that this duty was to protest against a grave violation of treaties and of international law. I endeavored to do so in a way that would show the ministers that no nation, under existing forms of civilized society, could venture upon deeds of this nature without doing herself in the end a grave injury; that treaties and international law were made for the common welfare of mankind, and that in their sanctity China had no small share.

To have overlooked the action of the Canton viceroy, to have permitted a precedent which at any time, under the reactionary influences possible in China, would have fatally wounded every foreign interest, would, in my opinion, have been a serious neglect of duty. I trust that the action of the legation will meet with your approval.

I have, &c.,

[Inclosure 1 in No. 350.]

Memorandum of a conversation between Mr. Young and the ministers of the tsung-li yamên, January 14, 1884.

Mr. Young, after the exchange of the-usual courtesies, said to their excellencies that he wished to confer with them in reference to circumstances at Canton as reported to the legation by Mr. Consul Seymour, and to the British and German legations, likewise, by their consular representatives. From these telegrams, the contents of which he submitted to their excellencies, it would appear that the viceroy at Canton had notified the consuls that the river north and south of Dane’s Island would be blocked by the construction of a wooden bridge, and that there would be left for navigation an opening in the bridge seventy Chinese feet, or about eighty feet, in width. The reason assigned for this measure to the British consul was the necessity of having torpedo practice. According to the British consul, this opening in the bridge would be sufficient for the passage of British vessels of war, but insufficient for usual navigation. The German consul reported that the Whampoa and Canton Rivers would be blocked, the one totally, the other with the exception of the passage referred to. The German consul was of the opinion that while the steamship navigation would be difficult, ship navigation would be impossible. The American consul had reported that the reason given by the viceroy for the proposed blockade was to [Page 70] open communication between the opposite forts and torpedo defenses. In the opinion of the consul, it would be “a serious obstacle without equivalent benefits.”

Mr. Young said there were two or three considerations of a grave character which he wished to present to their excellencies. At the same time he would like to know how far the news that had been received from these consulates was confirmed by the news in the possession of the yamên.

The minister Chang said that the yamên had been told by the viceroy at Canton of his purpose to build certain defenses covering the approaches to Canton, and that these defenses would involve a partial obstruction of the Canton River. But that care would be taken to so build them that foreign commerce and foreign men-of-war could go to and from Canton in safety.

Mr. Young said that he much regretted that the information he had laid before their excellencies did not justify this impression. On the contrary, it was the belief of the consular gentlemen whose telegrams he quoted that the practical effect of obstructing the channel as proposed would be to close the port of Whampoa and practically seal up Canton. “Mr. Seymour,” continued Mr. Young, “expressed also the decided opinion that it would ‘be a serious obstruction without equivalent benefits.’”

The minister replied that Mr. Seymour’s dispatch seemed to be an extravagant expression of opinion.

Mr. Young said, as Mr. Seymour had the reputation of holding the viceroy’s confidence, and had been criticised for what were called his “Chinese sentiments,” such an expression, deprecating as it did the viceroy’s action as unnecessary, was entitled to special value. However, on that point Mr. Young did not lay much stress. He knew that Mr. Seymour was not an engineer, and he therefore had requested Admiral Davis to have the character of the proposed obstructions examined by a competent naval officer. That report would have technical and scientific value. What Mr. Young wished, however, to point out to their excellencies was that the Canton viceroy had made a grave error.

  • First. The viceroy was committing an act of war in a time of peace, an act of war against neutral and friendly powers who had given China no cause for aggression.
  • Second. He was violating the treaty in this, that while Canton was an open port, as provided in Article XIV of the treaty of Tien-Tsin in 1858, the viceroy proposed to close it.
  • Third. That if the Chinese Government claimed the right to close Canton without due notice to the contracting powers under treaties now in force, there was no reason why Tien-Tsin, New Chwang, Shanghai, Ningpo, Foochow, and every open port should not be closed. This, Mr. Young submitted, involved an assumption of authority on the part of the Chinese that could find no warrant in the treaties.
  • Fourth. That regarding the right of China, as a proper means of defense against an enemy or even as an act of war, to blockade her harbors and channels by artificial obstructions, there remained the stipulations in the convention signed between China and the United States in 1844 and 1858. By Article XXVI of the latter treaty it was expressly declared “that in case, at any time hereafter, China shall be at war with any foreign nation whatever, and shall for that cause exclude such nation from entering her ports, still the vessels of the United States shall not the less continue to pursue their commerce in freedom and security and to transport goods to and from the ports of belligerent powers, full respect being paid to the neutrality of the United States.” To this were added certain restrictions preventing our ships under these circumstances from giving aid to the belligerents against China.
  • Fifth. That while the viceroy was doing an illegal act, and, according to friendly authorities, an act of questionable advantage to the defenses of Canton, he was adding to the cares and perplexities of the Government by creating an issue which could by no possibility strengthen Chinese relations with friendly powers.

The ministers said that “we must regard what was done in Canton as the act of a local official charged with the defense of that port, that he was entitled to defend it in his own way, and that if the yamên were to hamper him with objections and instructions, and if by any chance there resulted mischief to Canton, the yamên and not the viceroy would be answerable to the Emperor with their heads.”

Mr. Young answered that this was a proposition which could not be accepted for a moment. The foreign ministers were not accredited to the Canton viceroy, but the Emperor of China, and they must transact their business with the ministers of His Majesty.

The ministers then replied that the yamên were willing to accept the responsibility of the viceroy’s acts and to defend them upon the highest grounds, namely, the necessity of self-protection. China was now attacked by a foreign power.

“By what power?” Mr. Young inquired.


“If you are at war with France,” Mr. Young answered, “why not give the powers notice, so that our Governments can act accordingly? But I do not know that you are at war with France. On the contrary, I am bound to consider the relations between [Page 71] France and China unbroken, especially as I know that Prince Kung paid his annual visit of courtesy and friendship to the French legation a few days ago, and I saw the French flag flying over the French legation an hour ago.”

“But,” said the ministers, with some warmth, “the world knows, the diplomatic body knows, that France is at war with China. Hanoi has been taken, Santoi has fallen; French troops are fighting Chinese troops in Tonquin, a Chinese dependency. If you find ground for complaint in the measures of defense at Canton, go to the French, legation.”

Mr. Young replied that he was not accredited to the French legation, but to the yamên. He wished their excellencies to believe that he did not come in a complaining mood, or to add to the troubles of the yamên. The propositions he had presented arose out of a state of affairs for which the Chinese are responsible, and he was certain the more gravely the ministers considered them the better it would be for the interests of China.

“But,” said Chang, “we have had no complaint from the British minister, none from the German minister. They know what has been done in Canton, and both ministers consent.”

“I must,” said Mr. Young, “disturb that illusion. These events at Canton have been the subject of earnest conferences between Sir Harry Parkes, Count Tattenbach, and myself, and I am speaking with a full knowledge of their opinions. It was deemed best that I should present to you, in the friendliest and at the same time the most earnest way, our objection to an unfortunate and unlawful policy. I shall not fail to communicate to Sir Harry Parkes and Count Tattenbach what passes in this conference.”

Mr. Young then repeated the case as presented above, and again read the telegrams detailing what had taken place at Canton.

The ministers, speaking through Chang, then went into an elaborate exposition of the Chinese side. In the first place, they said, we must recognize it as a friendly act on the part of the viceroy to notify our consuls. He had made no such notification to the French.

Mr. Young interposed by saying that there should be no question of friendliness either on his own part or that of his British and German colleagues. As for himself, and he knew he might venture to say as much for his colleagues, they could not approach China in a friendlier spirit than was now entertained.

The minister Chang continued in a long speech, which assumed the form of a declamation, interspersed with metaphors and invectives. China was in the position of a house-owner, a host. This host had three guests—England, Germany, and America. They were living in happy communion. Suddenly the host, China, sees a robber come, France. This robber means to plunder the host, take his life perhaps; it may be, injure his guests. What should the guests do? Plainly combine and help the host turn out the robber. That they will not do. The host then proposes to close one of the doors in his house, Canton, so as to give the robber one less chance of entrance. And the guests now wish to interfere, oppose their host’s plans for protecting his house and his friends, and say that the host shall not hunt and capture the robber.

Mr. Young replied that the illustration was interesting; but it failed in one essential point—China had not declared France to be “a robber.” When she did, the guests would do what the laws of nations commanded as just alike to China and France.

“Why,” said Chang, “do not neutral powers who have large interests in China, and whose friendship we recognize and accept—why will not England, Russia, Germany, and America unite and compel the French to behave towards China? China wants your friendship, wants to trade with you, wishes you no harm and no harm to France. Why can you not join and compel France to cease molesting China? Give us a guarantee that you will do so and there will be no obstructions.”

Mr. Young replied that the action thus proposed was of too grave and momentous a character to be discussed by any but the rulers of the nations whose officers were thus invoked. Of course any anxieties their excellencies might entertain as to the safety of China, or perils threatening her peace and autonomy, would be heard with sympathy by friendly powers. But a request like this, even if the granting of it were feasible, could not but be regarded as an admission of weakness on the part of China. It was virtually placing China under the protectorate of the powers named, and Mr. Young did not think their excellencies craved that position. These powers, each and all of them, had their own interests to regard, interests in which France was more or less involved. They were all friends, some allies, of France. The proposed joint intervention did not come within the range of diplomatic possibilities, and if the ministers valued Mr. Young’s opinion on the subject it would be this, that China in making such an appeal was practically offering to surrender her independence, and to admit that she could not protect her Empire.

“Again,” said Chang, “what we are doing is in defense of your commerce.”

Mr. Young said he did not quite see that; but the powers concerned, the United [Page 72] States certainly, could defend their own commerce, and China should allow no anxiety of that kind to disturb her councils.

“You do not,” said Chang, “deny China the right to defend her own territory?”

“On the contrary,” Mr. Young answered, “I applaud the right.”

“Then what would you have us do to defend our country? Here is the robber coming, coming, coming [with much animation of gesture]; we want to keep him out, we want to close the doors, and you say no! What, under the same circumstances, would America do?”

“I will tell your excellency,” Mr. Young replied, “what America would do, what America has done. We should build forts, arm vessels of war, cover the shores of our harbors with batteries, perfect a torpedo system, drill soldiers, plan railways and canals for transportation, call out our people, give them arms, and if the enemy came, fight him. But we shall never, especially in time of peace, obstruct our natural channels of commerce, given by Providence for the good of mankind, and of which there are few enough in the most favored countries. This we should not do in times of peace, and we should do it with reluctance and only as an extreme necessity in time of war.”

“But America,” said Chang, “did it as an act of war.”

“As an act of war, yes,” Mr. Young replied. “We did it as an act of war against an enemy in Charleston. The circumstances there, although I am speaking to your I excellency from recollection and may not be accurate in minor details, were these: The United States was at war. Her belligerent rights were recognized. Blockades were maintained. Fleets and armies were in motion. The effect of the war was to inflict upon the people of other nations who needed our products for manufactures, England especially, great hardships. These hardships were accepted, as an incident of war, without a protest. We sank ships laden with stones in the channels leading to Charleston. This we did as an act of war. But other nations protested that it was a violation of the laws of nations to seal up permanently a harbor. My Government gave an assurance that the obstructions would be removed when the war ended, and this was done.”

“China will do the same,” replied Chang.

“But your excellency,” said Mr. Young, “must excuse me if I again, with some emphasis, call your attention to the divergent circumstances. What we did as an act of war, and not without protest from friendly nations, you are doing as an act of peace. Even as a war measure some of the neutral nations might protest, as they did against the United States. We certainly should have the right to do so under the twenty-sixth article of the Tien-Tsin treaty. If other nations have not that same right in their conventions, the favored-nation clause gives it to them. As a consequence, even if war were declared, and we entered upon our duties as neutrals dealing with belligerent powers, the question would still be open. Undoubtedly China in a state of war would receive from foreign friendly powers every consideration as to the means she deemed necessary for self-defense. But supposing the waiving of this article was the result of the forbearance of friendly powers; supposing obstructing your rivers was re-graded as within your rights, despite this treaty; you then might do against an enemy, and not without a protest, what you are doing now against friends.”

“But how can you call the capture of Hanoi peace?” asked Chang.

“You have not declared war,” said Mr. Young, “and how can we regard it otherwise than as an act that does not concern you? You have remanded the whole business to diplomacy; the Chinese minister is in Paris, the French minister is in Peking. If you are at war, say so, and I will so inform my Government.”

“We have,” said Chang, “no evil intention to any country but France.”

“Why, then, to annoy France,” Mr. Young asked, “do you an act of questionable value to China, of little moment to France, and which compels remonstrance from friendly powers?”

“There is no ground for irritation,” was the reply. “We only block one channel partly, the other not at all.”

“Our information,” said Mr. Young, “does not sustain that view. Here are telegrams from three consuls. They agree on one point, namely, that there is obstruction. Laying that aside, however, without asking whether the obstruction is small or great, we must come again to the essential point. If China can in a time of peace obstruct one channel without even communicating her reasons for so doing to the foreign powers, why may she not do the same to every port in China? His excellency must certainly see that to allow this right to go unchallenged is to place every foreign interest in China at the mercy of any viceroy. You obstruct Canton to-day; why may not the viceroy Tsao obstruct Shanghai next day, and the viceroy Li, Tien-Tsin the day following. Millions, many millions, of foreign property in China, under the safeguard of treaties, would by such acts shrivel up in a day.” Mr. Young was not discussing such extreme acts as a probability, but it was a possibility, and diplomacy could not overlook what was possible in a matter so important. It was in assuming this most untenable prerogative that China seemed to have made her gravest blunder.

[Page 73]

“Suppose,” replied Chang, “that your Government, with the governments of England, Germany, and Russia, were to guarantee that France would not rush in suddenly and take Canton, or that France would not make war without due notice, so as to give us time to prepare; we could then give you the assurances you wish. What is the use of your being friendly, and of our seeming friendship in England and Germany, if your friendship counts for nothing in this hour of trial?”

Mr. Young said that he could not enter upon these questions, however much he might regard them as worthy of sympathy. His excellency made the mistake of supposing that the friendly interest of one power in another meant an obligation to fight its battles. That rule did not prevail in private life, much less was it a principle of international law. Contingencies might arise, as one of the consequences of war, wherein the neutral powers might come to the aid of China, as they came to the aid of Turkey after her war with Russia, compelling Russia to revise the treaty of San Stefano. The friendly neutral powers would serve China so far as it served their own interests. This might seem a cold and selfish declaration, but Governments could not exist upon any other footing. It would naturally follow, therefore, that the true policy of the yamên would be in no way to alienate friendly powers. If the pressure of France upon China were to injure the interests of the maritime powers, they would act without any suggestion from China. There could be no greater folly than to take a course which made such action impossible, and this would certainly be the case were the yamên to follow the policy of the Canton viceroy.

“But” replied Chang, “here are the French vessels in Chinese waters, surveying, spying, and why don’t they go away? The French are to blame for it all. We claim the right to close our ports, to defend our country; and if the foreigners complain, we can only answer, Go ask the French! Take the French away! The French are troubling trade; go take them away! It is a matter between you and France; don’t trouble us! We mean to defend our country!”

Mr. Young answered that he was sorry to hear these opinions. They could not come to good, and he was sure when he made these sentiments known to his English and German colleagues they would share his regret. It showed a timid and unjust policy on the part of the yamên, one that would not strengthen China in the eyes of foreign nations. If China were a great Empire she could take care of herself without doing wrong to neutral powers. On the contrary, this policy of entreaty, invective, and deprecation could only be regarded as weakness. The yamên called France an enemy. Well, let that be granted; was that any reason why other nations should be treated as enemies, why the American minister should come to-day to protest against an act which his excellency does not deny is an invasion of the treaties and an infraction of international law?

“As soon as we have peace,” said Chang, “all will be right.”

“But is there war?” Mr. Young inquired. “Will your excellency write me an official note saying that what you have done is an act of war, and will be undone when peace is proclaimed? Or will you authorize me to say to Sir Harry Parkes and Count Tattenbach that China is at war?”

The ministers made no answer. Mr. Young again pressed them, and especially upon the point that the right to blockade one river meant to blockade all.

“We have not done so,” was the reply. “You have it in your power to end all this. Take the French away from Tonquin or give us an assurance that they will not blockade or burn our ports.”

Mr. Young said that he was much afraid that the subject was one upon which there could be no further conversation. He was sorry to have so unsatisfactory a report to make to his colleagues. He must now ask Prince Kung to address a note to the diplomatic body or to the American legation explaining his reasons for this action. He would like to have these reasons in an official form, in order that he might give officially the objections he had presented in this conversation.

The ministers said at first that they would send the note. After some conference, it occurred to them that any note to the diplomatic body would of necessity include France, and they wished to conceal their purposes from France. They would, therefore, confine their statements to verbal communications with myself and certain of my colleagues.

Mr. Young replied that it was a matter of minor consequence, and he did not wish to intrude upon any reserve the yamên thought necessary to use towards the French legation. He must, however, ask their excellencies to take a formal note of the fact that the American legation protested against the act of the Canton viceroy as an express violation of treaties and as the establishment of a precedent which might at any time be fatal to foreign intercourse with China.

The ministers, with energy, claimed their right as Chinese to defend their country, a right superior to international law.

The discussion was protracted, lasting over two hours. All the points that are embraced in this report were gone over again and again, sometimes with feeling on the part of the ministers, but in the end the tone became friendly and in a certain degree [Page 74] pathetic. The ministers dwelt repeatedly upon “the peaceful disposition of China,” upon “French aggressions,” upon “the duty of foreign friendly powers to show their regard for China by an active interference,” and that upon no nation did this duty devolve more strongly than Great Britain and the United States. The China trade had made these friendly powers rich, and now why should China be abandoned, and not only abandoned, but, when China proposed to defend herself, be assailed by friendly powers?

It was difficult to enter upon these arguments, or, at the same time, to refrain from doing so. I said, however, that if their excellencies wished to seek a reason for their helplessness in presence of a supposed foreign enemy, it would be found, perhaps, in the failure of the Imperial Government to avail itself of those agencies which are so highly developed in our western civilization, and upon which western nations depend for development and self-protection. There was no time to enter upon that, however, and Mr. Young merely advanced the suggestion as a reply to any reproach that could be visited upon the neutral powers for their apparent apathy and indifference. We could not change the laws of nations or the relations between nations to meet an emergency in the affairs of China for which we were not responsible. And if, as I sometimes fancied, the diplomatic policy of the yamên was to put some stress upon the neutral powers, in the hope of awakening alarm as to the probable effect war might have upon their trade, in the hope that from that alarm intervention might come, I could imagine no more useless proceeding.

The ministers asked Mr. Young if he would present their views to his British and German colleagues, and trusted he would impress upon Sir Harry Parkes and Count Tattenbach the fact that what they had done in Canton was in no sense unfriendly. They wished very much to retain the friendly regard of those ministers, and hoped Mr. Young would so present their case as to strengthen their friendship.

Mr. Young said this was hardly necessary. He knew of no two ministers who had friendlier feelings toward China than his colleagues. Mr. Young would report to them what had taken place, and as his report would be discouraging and unsatisfactory, their excellencies would soon have an opportunity of meeting the representatives of Great Britain and Germany in person. Mr. Young brought the interview to an end by saying that he would telegraph the substance of what had been done to his Government, and await instructions before venturing further observations.

[Inclosure 2 in No. 350.]

Memorandum of interview.

Sir Harry Parkes, accompanied by Messrs. Hillier and Everard, called by appointment at the yamên, and was received by the ministers Ch’en, Wu, and Chang.

Sir Harry Parkes explained to their excellencies that, as he had mentioned in his letter asking for an interview, Mr. Young, the United States minister, had informed him of what had passed at his visit to the yamên on the previous day, and in consequence of their excellencies’ remarks on that occasion he had felt it his duty to call and clearly explain to them on his part that in obstructing the navigation of a treaty port in time of peace the Chinese Government were taking a step which was illegal, unnecessary, and injurious to the interests of friendly powers.

Chang-ta-jên, who was the chief speaker throughout the interview, said that he had hoped that the explanations given to Mr. Hillier when he called at the yamên on the 12th instant, together with their conversation of the previous day with Mr. Young, would have been sufficient to have placed Sir Harry Parkes in full possession of the views of the yamên upon this subject. Before proceeding to any further discussion of the question he would like to ask Sir Harry Parkes whether the object of his present visit was to obtain further information or to find fault.

Sir Harry Parkes replied that he had come to tell the ministers that the step taken by the viceroy at Canton was illegal in itself, was useless as a defensive measure, and was injurious to British and foreign interests generally. It was illegal because no country had a right to close her ports except in case of war, it was useless because it was a most imperfect means of defense, and it was injurious because one port had been completely closed and the access to another had been considerably obstructed.

Chang-ta-jên rejoined that it could not be illegal for China to take measures for her own safety. In the face of all that had occurred it was incumbent on the Government to make preparations for threatened aggression by the French, and it was difficult to say that France was not at war with China, though no formal declaration of war had been made. China herself was loath to declare war, for she was not prepared to assume the offensive against France, and it was to be assumed that it was not the [Page 75] wish of neutral powers that she should do so; but the action of the latter in Tonquin and their intention to seize Hainan, Formosa, Chusan, and other places in China, as telegraphed by the Marquis Tsêng and communicated from other sources, were sufficient to justify the assumption that France intended to make war on China. The previous conduct of France did not entitle her to being credited with respect for international law, and it was always possible that she might make a sudden descent upon Canton. It was to guard against such a descent that the precautions complained of had been taken by the viceroy of the two Kwang provinces.

As regarded the legality of the measure, the yamên maintained that as trade was not obstructed, but only slightly impeded, the Chinese Government could not be accused of blocking the ports. The Whampoa Channel was required for torpedo practice, and the Chinese Government was justified in barring it to foreign ships on this ground alone. Apart from this consideration, the viceroy at Canton was in supreme command, and the yamên could not interfere with any arrangements he might see fit to make as a protection against invasion. The powers of a military commander-in-chief in China were necessarily large, as he might have to answer with his life for any error of judgment or tactics. Sir Harry Parkes would readily perceive that if the yamên were to interfere with his arrangements, the viceroy might, reasonably or not, attribute his failure to their interference. They could not, therefore, take upon themselves to fetter his action so long as he did not infringe the treaties, which they considered he had not done.

As regarded the injury done to foreign interests, while they maintained that this was not at present grave, the ministers considered that the Chinese Government was entitled to some consideration. The subjects of friendly powers in China might justly be expected to share in her fortunes and reverses, and it was simply out of consideration for foreign interests that access to Canton had not been entirely shut off.

Sir Harry Parkes considered that the yamên were bound to interfere precisely because the viceroy was infringing the treaties—he did not say intentionally, but from a mistaken view of his duty—and it was to the central Government that the British Government must look for a rectification of the mistake. Torpedo practice could not be assigned as a justification of the measure, as that practice could be carried on elsewhere without injury to foreign interests. He was fully alive to the difficulty that the Chinese Government was placed in, but he was bound to point out to them that their difficulties would be increased by persistence in a course which was useless as well as injurious. The blocking of rivers was an obsolete measure in modern warfare. The main defenses of the Canton River were practically those at the entrance at the Bogue, and it was there that precautions ought to be taken. If defenses were required within the course of the river between the Bogue and Canton, these need not involve the obstruction of that limited portion of it which formed the port of Whampoa. A point two or three miles above the one chosen by the viceroy would have been as effective for defense and would have left the port free. The ministers must be aware of the friendly intentions by which the British Government were actuated, sentiments which, he might add, were shared by Germany and the United States, but he could assure them that if the Chinese Government persisted in inflicting avoidable injury on foreign interests, the sympathy of neutral powers in this unfortunate difference would be alienated from China and proportionately transferred to her opponent.

Chang-ta-jên having asked whether he understood Sir Harry Parkes to say that there would be no objection to the channel at the Bogue forts being blocked, his excellency was told that there was no necessity to block that or any other channel open to foreign navigation unless war were actually declared. The blocking of a port was a destructive, not a defensive measure. The passage of the Bogue or any other passage could be closed by torpedoes in a few hours, but all passages open to international commerce should certainly be left open until a state of war had been proclaimed, and no nation could assume the offensive previous to a formal declaration of war.

This, said Chang-ta-jên, was the very point he wished to arrive at. If China could be certain that France would be guided by the laws of war in her future action, and an authoritative assurance could be obtained from any quarter that France would not attack without due notice, Chang-ta-jên would promise, on his own responsibility, that the obstruction at Canton should be removed.

Sir Harry Parkes having observed that the minister could not expect to receive such an assurance from himself, went on to say that in pressing his contention he was influenced by the consideration that there was a grave principle involved. What was done at one port might be done at others, and thus the large commercial interests of Great Britain and other neutral powers in China might at any moment be jeopardized.

Chang-ta-jên rejoined that the neutral powers ought to address themselves to France, who was responsible for all the inconveniences to which they were or might be put, and they should bring their influence to bear to effect a settlement of the question [Page 76] at issue. His excellency knew, he said, of the existence of a secret compact between the neutral powers to protect the treaty ports in case of war.

Sir Harry Parkes was ignorant of any such compact as that referred to by Chang-ta-jên. The only compact that he had any knowledge of was an understanding between four powers to co-operate in the protection of their respective subjects and citizens at the treaty ports—protection, it should be observed, against aggressive acts on the part of the Chinese populace, not against the action of a belligerent. The ministers might be satisfied that as soon as France took any illegal step which was prejudicial to British interests a protest would be at once made. So far no such action had been taken by France; and in any case such a protest would be addressed to the French Government direct, just as Sir Harry Parkes’s present protest had been made direct to the Chinese Government.

Chang-ta-jên had referred to the influence that the British Government could bring to bear in inducing the French to come to some understanding about the question at issue. The ministers of the yamên must surely remember that they had distinctly declined to accept the good offices of the British Government when these were offered to them four months ago, a fact which Sir Harry Parkes greatly regretted at the time.

The ministers at first denied all knowledge of any such offer having been made, and declared that the Marquis Tsêng had never reported the particulars of his visit to Lord Granville and the conversations that had taken place at Walmer Castle with reference to Tonquin affairs, but they eventually receded from this position and said that Chang-ta-jên’s reference to the influence of the British Government was not meant to imply mediatory action, but a recommendation to France to abandon the untenable position she had assumed.

The conversation above reported was continued for over two hours, the Chinese ministers repeating again and again that they were justified in taking the step which was complained of, and meeting Sir Harry Parkes’s reiterated protest with a denial of the justice of his arguments.

Sir Harry Parkes finally informed their excellencies that, having said all that there was to be said on the subject, he must beg them to make a note of his formal protest against the action of the viceroy at Canton, and to remember that this protest had been made if that action should entail the serious complications he apprehended. He should consider it his duty to report to Her Majesty’s Government, by telegraph, that one approach to Canton had been completely blocked, another partially so, and that the anchorage at Whampoa had been closed to foreign vessels; that this measure was not only seriously detrimental to mercantile interests, but that it was also useless as a defensive precaution and was unjustifiable in a time of peace.

Chang-ta-jên replied that the yamên would also telegraph to the Marquis Tsêng instructing him to lay the state of the case before Her Majesty’s secretary of state for foreign affairs. His excellency produced a telegram from the viceroy at Canton to show that the latter had already informed the Marquis Tsêng by telegraph of the action it was proposed to take, and he asked Sir Harry Parkes to add to his telegram the answer of the yamên to his objections. This answer was in sum that one channel of the Canton River was blocked as a precaution against the enemy, one channel was left open for purposes of trade. France was on the verge of making war on China, as was proved by the reports telegraphed by the Marquis Tseng to the effect that the French proposed to seize Hainan, make a descent on Kwangtung (Canton), and take possession of Formosa, Chusan, and other places.

Sir Harry Parkes asked on what authority the Marquis Tsêng had reported these alleged intentions. He (Sir Harry Parkes) had seen rumors to this effect in the newspapers, but he thought that these reports should not be accepted as fact on the authority of newspaper statements alone.

The ministers replied that the Marquis Tseng might have been influenced by what he had seen in the French press, but, taking his reports in connection with what they had heard from other sources, the ministers considered there was some foundation for the intentions attributed to the French. Of course Sir Harry Parkes would regard this information as confidential.

After some further discussion Sir Harry Parkes assented to add the substance of the reply of the yamên to his telegram, but urged that the ministers should fully explain the grounds of their action in their instructions to the Marquis Tseng, for communication to Her Majesty’s Government. He warned their excellencies that Her Majesty’s Government, as far as he could judge, would not regard their action in this matter as satisfactory, and the ministers must kindly remember that he had been guided by a most friendly spirit in advising them to abandon a line of action which was calculated to be of no service to themselves, and which, as he believed, would add considerably to their embarrassments.

[Page 77]
[Inclosure 3 in No. 350.]

The imperial chargé d’affairês paid a visit to the tsung-li yamên to-day, accompanied by Mr. Arendi, interpreter to the legation, and found there present the ministers Chen-lan-pin Wu-ting-fên, and Chang-pei-lun. He informed the ministers that, according to news which had reached him from the German consulate at Canton, the governor-general there had ordered the closing of the northern branch of the river leading to Canton, whereby the sailing-ship anchorage at Whampoa will be entirely cut off from communications. He held that the governor-general was not legally authorized to close a port which was open by treaty. He therefore found himself obliged to protest against this measure, and to intimate that the Chinese Government would be held responsible for any injury which might thereby accrue to German subjects.

Chang-pei-lun replied that, according to the view of the Chinese Government, the responsibility for the effects of the step which the viceroy had notified, a step which was certainly unusual in time of peace, attached not to China, but rather to France, which had, without declaring war, committed, and was continuing to commit, a number of acts against China which were hostile and only admissible in time of war. Under these circumstances it must at least be allowed to the latter power to defend herself against further attacks on the part of France, and to take at once the precautionary measures which were imperatively necessary, for who could tell whether France might not suddenly make an attack upon Canton, even without a declaration of war? Moreover, continued the minister, the proposed measure would not hinder navigation, or would only do so to an insignificant degree; it would be only transitory, and could, in fact, be regarded in no other light than perhaps the temporary closing of a street in need of repairs, which also momentarily caused slight inconvenience. The minister then laid before the imperial chargê d’affaires a copy of the telegram which he said the yamên had received from the viceroy of Canton with reference to the measures in question.

The minister pointed out that, according to this telegram, obstruction to navigation did not appear to exist. Be that, however, as it might, precautionary measures were demanded for Canton much more urgently than elsewhere—on the one hand, because of the neighborhood of the coast of Annam, whence the French fleet could reach Canton in a few days, and, on the other hand, in view of the question which was openly debated in the French press as to the advisability of occupying Chinese territory, for example, the island of Hainan, as a guarantee for a war indemnity to be paid by China.

The imperial chargé d’affaires replied that it was far from his intention to contest the right of China to take those measures which seemed necessary for the defense of her frontiers from a possible hostile attack. But it appeared to him that the defense of Canton especially could be sufficiently prepared by other means, without its being necessary to interrupt navigation. The Chinese Government must perceive that by interrupting navigation at Canton in time of peace and without necessity they might easily offend the neutral powers, the more so that the treaty powers would not be able to divest themselves of the apprehension that as Canton was closed to-day, so to-morrow other ports more important to commerce would be closed without sufficient reason. He therefore begged the ministers to send instructions to the viceroy of Canton to make the measures for military defense accord with the just claims which the treaty powers were entitled to make with reference to the non-obstruction of trade and navigation.

Chang-pei-lun replied that as the viceroy was answerable for the defense of Canton, the tsung-li yamên could not give him any directions without burdening themselves with a responsibility which could not be incurred without the gravest hesitation. He would candidly avow that had he been viceroy of Canton he would have preferred not to resort to the measure under discussion. The tsung-li yauiên would indeed agree to go so far as to make a representation to the viceroy in the sense that they would submit to his consideration whether it were advisable to raise up three enemies, in addition to the one which existed already, by certain measures, although more or less warrantable under the circumstances. But the yamên could neither themselves give an order to arrest the proposed measures nor could they memorialize the throne with a view to obtaining such an order, for in case Canton were really lost the yainên would in that event be properly chargeable with the blame.

With regard to the other ports besides Canton, he would give an assurance that the Chinese Government did not at present contemplate closing them. Should, however, similar precaution become necessary at other places, every imaginable regard would be paid to the interests of navigation and commerce. The uninterrupted continuance of trade was in fact of the greatest importance to China, for the latter, as he would frankly confess, was more than ever in need, in these hard times, of the [Page 78] duties paid by foreign trade. Should, indeed, added the minister, the neutral powers be willing to induce France to declare that she would not attack the Chinese ports, China would not hesitate on her part to give a formal declaration binding herself not to obstruct trade and navigation in any of the open ports.

The imperial chargé d’affaires answered that he was not in a position to discuss this point, upon which Chang-pei-lun remarked that his suggestion was only made in jest.

Chang-pei-lun then continued that China had no intention of declaring war against France. If, however, China were prohibited from taking the necessary precautions, she might be driven to a declaration of war. It was, indeed, useless to think of coming to an amicable understanding with France so long as the latter did not put a stop to her hostile action in Tonquin.

Chang-pei-lun then gave a new turn to the conversation by thanking the imperial chargé d’affaires, in the name of his colleagues, for his friendly attitude, but at the same time gave expression to his concern that Sir Harry Parkes appeared to consider the affair from a harsher point of view than the imperial chargé d’affaires or the American minister. The telegram which Sir Harry Parkes had intended sending to his Government was very strongly worded and had contained, among other things, the expression that the Chinese Government had closed the port of Canton without reason, when war did not exist. The yamên has requested Sir Harry Parkes rather to express it that the Chinese Government, in a moment when war might at any moment break out, had found itself obliged, &c. The dispatch of any telegram at all by Sir Harry Parkes on this question was indeed highly unsatisfactory to the yamên. Perhaps it might even be yet possible to induce Sir Harry Parkes to renounce his intention of sending the telegram. Would it not be feasible, at any rate, for the imperial chargé d’affaires, in conjunction with Mr. Young, to talk it over with Sir Harry Parkes, and endeavor to induce the latter to take a milder view? In this case it would be agreeable to the ministers to meet Sir Harry Parkes, Mr. Young, and the imperial chargé d’affaires together, which would serve the purpose of removing any unsatisfactory feeling in connection with the subject under consideration.

The imperial chargé d’affaires expressed his willingness to communicate the substance of the conversation which he had had to-day to Sir Harry Parkes, and to verbally inform the yamên of the result of his conference with the British minister.

[Inclosure 4 in No. 350.]

Viceroy Chang to Her Majesty’s consul.

Sir: I have the honor to inform you that I am in receipt of the following representation from the members of the central board of military affairs for the province of Kwangtung:

“We have respectfully to observe that two defense camps having now been established on the Canton River at the port called Pak T’u Kong [eastern part of Dane’s Island], means must be found of effecting free communication between them across the river, for the convenience of traffic. Further, a torpedo establishment having been set up at Whampoa, where torpedo practice is constantly carried on, means should also be taken for blocking the passage of the river at this point, in order to prevent injury to vessels from striking against the torpedoes on their passage up or down. After consultation with General Wu, commanding the Huai force, it has been proposed to construct a wooden bridge for the passage of the troops over the river between a point near the west ridge of Pak T’u Kong and Sha Lu [south bank of Dane’s Island and opposite bank].

“As, however, there is continuous traffic of junks at this point, and the greater part of the foreign steamers entering the Canton River also use this route, it is proposed to leave a passage 6 or 7 chang in width (60 or 70 Chinese feet) in the middle of the bridge, where the water is deep, for the convenience of such vessels.

“The route by Whampoa has not hitherto been employed by the larger foreign vessels coming up or going down the river, and since torpedo practice is now constantly going on, the free passage of the river there cannot but be barred, in order to prevent accidents to the shipping. Accordingly, after consultation with Major Huang Ch’un Yo, in command of the commissioned junk fleet, it has been arranged that the whole breadth of the river from Tû Chu (Louisa Island) and T’ou Sha (Flat Island No. 4) shall be completely closed and access barred by a vessel stationed on the spot, and other impediments, with a view to preventing damage being done to vessels by the explosion of torpedoes.

“The various communications and instructions having been issued, it is our duty to [Page 79] draw up a representation on the subject, requesting that orders maybe given that the various defense corps on land and water be duly informed, and also that communications be addressed to the members of the consular body, in order that they may notify all steamers that such vessels must, when ascending the river, use the Sha Lu route, that they must avoid collision with the wooden bridge, and must no longer use the route by Tû Chu (Louisa Island), in order to avoid injury.”

Accordingly, on receipt of the foregoing, I have sent out the necessary communications, and have now the honor to address a request to you that you will give instructions to steamers belonging to subjects of your flag to conform to the above.

I have, &c.,

_____ _____
[Inclosure 5 in No. 350.]

Prince Kung to Mr. Young.

His imperial highness Prince Kung, chief secretary of state, herewith makes a communication.

His imperial highness Prince Kung and the ministers of the yamên present their compliments to his excellency Mr. Young, the American minister, and beg to make this communication.

His imperial highness has received a telegram from the viceroy of the two Kwang provinces, Chang-ta-jên. In this the viceroy informs his imperial highness that, regarding the proposed experiments in torpedo warfare, which it is proposed to practice in the Canton River, so long as there were no actual hostilities there would be left a space of over 100 feet for the convenience of vessels entering and leaving the port.

The viceroy also says that the admirals and consuls agree that the proposed arrangements for torpedo practice do not affect the convenience of commerce.

Cards and compliments.

[Inclosure 6 in No 350.—Telegram from the governor-general.]

Ministers of the yamên to Sir Harry S. Parties.

canton obstruction of port.

Semi-official, No.—.]

The ministers of the yamên present their compliments to Sir Harry Parkes, and have the honor to inform him that they received yesterday a telegram from Chang ta-jen, governor-general of the two Kwang provinces, informing them, with reference to the torpedo practice, that while nothing occurred* there would be a space of over 100 feet [left] for the convenience of steamers and sailing vessels entering and leaving [the port]. Neither the commander-in-chief [? admiral or admirals] nor consul [or consuls] had made any dissentient remarks.

There was really not the slightest injury whatever to mercantile interests.

Usual compliments.

  1. I. e., no trouble with France.
  2. Of Whampoa? Ministers believe Whampoa is meant; “sailing vessels” appears to indicate this.