to Mr. Frelinghuysen.
Peking, March 31, 1884. (Received May 19.)
Sir: In my dispatch to the consul-general, I requested him to obtain from the various consulates information as to the state of public opinion throughout China, especially in reference to the present abnormal condition of public affairs arising out of complications with France. The importance of this inquiry, considering that we have so many American citizens at the ports and at missionary stations in the interior, whose protection is the duty of the legation, will be apparent to the Department.[Page 89]
From reports which have been furnished in response to this suggestion it will be found that there is a warlike spirit in various provinces.
Mr. Stevens says that in Ningpo there is “a continuous preparation for war by those in authority.” New forts have been built and old ones repaired. Mr. Stevens believes that the harbor of Ningpo will be a naval rendezvous for China in the event of a war. I note also that preparations to impede navigation at Ningpo are in embryo. Mr. Stevens estimates the number of soldiers as 16,000, but should necessity arise there might be 30,000. It is pleasant to note that the temper of the people towards foreigners is friendly and cordial.
Mr. Bergholtz informs the legation that all is quiet at Chin Kiang.
From New Chwang I learn in the report of Mr. Bandinel that there are important military movements.
At Port Arthur there are 6,000 troops, under a Mohammedan leader, well disciplined, strong, and tree from opium smoking. Instructions have been sent to the Tartar general to raise 2,000 more, but the experiment seems to languish from the want of funds. There is no sentiment of ill will against foreigners.
Tien-Tsin, as the gateway to Peking; the most important commercial city in the north and the home of the viceroy Li, is worthy of special notice.
Tien-Tsin is the headquarters of serious military preparations, the functions of Li at this time being practically those of a lieutenant-general of the Empire. There are eight fortified camps, where are quartered 4,800 troops, one-half cavalry, the remainder infantry; an additional force of 3,000 is being raised. The enlistment system really amounts to a conscription, or it might be a levy en masse, something akin to the press gang which was in vogue in England during the last century. The term of service is not specified. The infantry soldiers receive $3.60 a month, the cavalryman $7.20, out of which he must provide for his horse. The soldiers furnish their food and clothing. They are armed with foreign guns and drilled according to western, I presume German, tactics.
Mr. Wingate does not note at Foo-Chow any special military movements except the multiplication of barriers in the city. He is not sure whether this is meant to guard against foreigners or prevent thieving. There is a small military force at Foo-Chow, 300 perhaps, each soldier paid 1,000 cash, or $1, per month. A thousand troops have been brought from one point and 3,000 are expected from another. The same complaint comes from Foo-Chow that we hear elsewhere, namely, the want of money. It was proposed by the viceroy to raise a million taels, or, say, $1,400,000, as a “patriotic contribution”—in other words, an enforced loan. It appears, however, that the people who had the money proposed that the officials should first raise the amount, and they would then say what they would do. It was also suggested to levy a tax upon rice, but this the people would never admit. With salt taxed to its utmost value, taxed so heavily as to make it a luxury, the objection of the people to a tax upon rice is not a surprise. Mr. Wingate reports that the feeling of the people towards foreigners is what might be called courteous apathy, and as to war with France, ignorance and indifference.
Hankow is reported as peaceful.
Mr. Goldsborough sends an interesting dispatch from Amoy. The relations between foreigners and Chinese are satisfactory. He notes, however, in the form of a proclamation from the subprefect at Amoy, threats against the dynasty on the part of some pretender to the throne. [Page 90] The tone of the proclamation may indicate to the Department a spirit of unnecessary alarm. But when we remember the trifling causes which germinated in the Tai-ping rebellion, keeping China in sedition and turmoil for years, causing the devastation of provinces and the loss of millions of lives, the effect of which is still felt, it is easy to understand the anxiety of the Government at the appearance of the slightest pretension to overthrow the dynasty. Rumors as to adventures of the same character came from Hankow last summer, and I have had occasion to note them in Peking.
I have dwelt upon Canton affairs so fully in former dispatches that I need do no more than refer to the dispatch of Mr. Seymour.
But exceptional circumstances exist in Canton. The people have the aggressive and restless spirit which we are so apt to find in southern latitudes—haughty, impetuous, brave. Although the Cantonese, because of their long intercourse with foreigners, going back to the early days of the East India Company, and because of the many thousands who, having lived in the United States and the colonies of Great Britain, are now at home again, and their consequent familiarity with western ways, would be supposed to have a kindly feeling towards foreigners, the reverse is the truth.
There is more trouble in Canton and we have more anxiety as to the public peace in the Cantonese provinces than in any part of China. Other provinces are torpid, and seeing little of the foreigner care less about him. Their feeling is that of contempt and curiosity, not enmity. Canton is near to the seat of war in Tonquin, and suffers from this proximity.
While, therefore, we must accept the fact that China is in a seething, troubled condition, I cannot note any phenomena that would justify alarm as to the safety of foreigners. And although I have been asked by American citizens in the interior whether it was prudent for them to leave their work and come to the sea-ports, where they would have the protection of our ships, I have seen no reason to give such advice. In conversation with my colleagues I have heard no feeling of apprehension.
While one part of the Empire may be peaceful, there may be turmoil in another. Nor are the people homogeneous; thus, a northern Chinaman may dislike a foreigner, but he hates a Cantonese.
There are deep, wide fissures in China. The dialects are so peculiar that natives of one province cannot understand the inhabitants of another. The Divine interdict which led to the confusion of tongues has fallen upon China, and a Cantonese in the eyes of a Pekingese is as much an alien as an Algerine or a Turk. Out of this comes an absence of national public spirit, the sentiment which during our own war was known as “loyalty.”
These local animosities, arising out of the want of intercourse and free communication between the provinces, may be regarded as the principal reason why a great and densely populated Empire should be so easily governed by an alien race, vastly inferior in numbers.
I have, &c.,