No. 75.
Mr. Foulk to Mr. Bayard.

No. 275.]

Sir: I have the honor to submit the following report of an attack by Chinese subjects upon the Corean customs officers at Chemulpho on the 25th and 26th ultimo.

It appears that some time since the customs officers at Chemulpho received word that a discharged telegraph operator, a Chinese, was buying up quantities of red ginseng in Corea; and again they learned recently that a large quantity of red ginseng was about to be sent from Seôul to Chemulpho. In anticipation of an attempt of the Chinese to smuggle this red ginseng out of Corea through Chemulpho, they increased their watchfulness, and it would appear that by the 25th ultimo every avenue of escape of the ginseng had been closed at Chemulpho.

For several days before the 25th, parties of Chinese had been coming down from Seôul, many of them to take passage for China aboard the Chinese gunboat Ching Hai, which, was to sail on the morning of the 26th. These civilian passengers were furnished with passes to go in the gunboat by the Chinese consul at Chemulpho. Among them was one Ling, who was suspected of being the leader in the case of ginseng smuggling at hand * * * In all, upwards of twenty Chinese subjects were to take passage on the gunboat.

On the afternoon of January 25 the commissioner of customs at Chemulpho went to the Chinese consul there to confer with him in regard [Page 211] to the right of the customs officers to make search of effects of persons to sail in the Chinese gunboat, such search having been protested against by the Chinese on various grounds, chief of which was that they had passes from the Chinese authorities to take passage in her, and she was a Chinese naval vessel. While this conference was in progress one of the customs officers learned that a large quantity of ginseng had already been placed on board the gunboat, and that a further quantity was to go on board during the evening. A little later, about 5 p.m., he heard that a determined attempt—to involve fighting if necessary—would be made by the Chinese in combination that evening to get their ginseng off to the gunboat.

At about 7 o’clock, a Chinese was stopped at the custom-house on his way to the beach, by a Corean watchman, whom the Chinaman promptly struck. An American of the customs service, Mr. Charles Welch, went to the rescue of the watchman, and led the Chinaman to the general office, to retain him there until the commissioner returned. The Chinaman called out Tor assistance, and was heard over the Chinese settlement, which is close by. In a few minutes Mr. Welch was set upon by eight or nine Chinese, the leader being Ling. He was cuffed and beaten, but escaped without serious injury.

At the same time the customs offices were filled with the Chinese who were in the settlement, whose manner was threatening and excited. A secretary of the consul, who was present, warned the customs officers, most of whom were foreigners, to escape from the offices, as an attack was about to be made. They had hardly gotten clear of the rooms when the mob began to demolish the furniture. The windows were smashed, and the room and part of the building made a wreck. The customs officers having been driven away, the custom-house was left in possession of the Chinese, with a clear field to dispose of their effects as they willed. The Chinese consul appeared later on the scene, and summoned twelve sailors from a Chinese gunboat in the harbor. The Chinese mob then dispersed, and the Chinese sailors remained, to guard the customhouse during the night with several of the customs officers who had returned to their post.

On the following morning the entire Chinese community united in a demonstration against the customs foreign employés, which was shown by their closing their places of business, one of which is a hotel at which the customs officers take their meals. The English vice-consul vigorously enjoined the Chinese consul to take steps to suppress the disorder, and the latter issued a proclamation, a copy of translation of which I inclose. In this the people were directed to open their shops, which was done. On the morning of the 26th the guard of sailors was relieved at the custom-house by one of Chinese marines.

It would appear that on the morning of the 26th Ling, with others of the Chinese who had come from Seoul, was actively engaged in fomenting further trouble * * * At about 11 a.m. a party of the riotous Chinese went in search of a Corean customs watchman, and utterly destroyed a watch-house on the beach. As there was every appearance of further trouble, in case of which it was believed the Chinese guard of marines would be useless or inefficient, Mr. Stripling (English), the commissioner of customs, urgently requested of Mr. Parker the use of a guard of English marines from the Swift, then lying in port, to protect the customs. Acceding to this, the English marines were summoned by Mr. Parker rather for the protection of the English consulate. They had not yet arrived, when the Chinese again closed their shops and gathered in a threatening body at the customs-house, the [Page 212] Seôul Chinese being the leaders. At this time a serious affray was only prevented by the endeavors of the customs officers to prevent the Chinese marines from firing into the mob. At the most critical time the English marines approached on their way from the Swift. This had the effect of quieting the mob, which slowly dispersed.

With this the affair was practically ended, though many threatening rumors were current for several days.

The gravity of the affair as a lawless demonstration, involving acts of violence on the part of a community of Chinese subjects against an institution of Corea, was fully brought to the notice of the Chinese authorities at Chemulpho and in Seôul by the foreign representatives.

The Chinese consul at Chemulpho was summoned to Seôul, and brought with him a number of the riotous Chinese. Mr. Yuen at once began a trial, which was attended by Mr. Merrill, the chief commissioner of customs of Corea, and Mr. Welch, the customs officer who had been assaulted. After a few hours’ deliberation Mr. Yuen, the Chinese representative in Seôul, announced the trial ended, and that four Chinese were convicted and would be severely beaten, and deported. These Chinese had taken a wholly insignificant part in the affair, while the head, Ling, and other leaders in the affair, had been exempted from punishment. During the trial so marked a disposition of the Chinese court to screen these leaders was shown, that Mr. Merrill despaired of obtaining justice and left the court, and telegraphed an appeal to the viceroy, Li Hung Chang.

This appeal would appear to have been effective, for on the following day a rehearing of the case was held by Mr. Yuen, from which resulted the conviction of the six principal actors in the affair, including Ling, and their sentence of deportation from Corea; while an order was issued to cause the Chinese community at Chemulpho to make good the damage committed on the customs-house. It was shown conclusively that the customs officers had simply done their duty, and were clear from any charge whatsoever against them * * *

After the first hearing of this case by Mr. Yuen, the president of the foreign office ordered a Corean watchman of the customs to be severely punished, doubtlessly at the instance of Mr. Yuen. Mr. Merrill vigorously protested against this, and caused the order to be revoked. * * *

This outrage upon the Corean customs partakes strongly of the character of a protest on the part of the Chinese community in Corea against their being required to pay duties to Corea or subject themselves to the customs laws in other respects * * *

The recent disturbance at Chemulpho, as based upon attempts to smuggle red ginseng, has already given rise to discussion as to the expediency of making new regulations relative to the red ginseng export from Corea. At present the export is wholly forbidden under the treaties, and the whole crop of red ginseng is carried to China by the annual Corean embassy overland, the greater part to be sold in Peking. Ginseng can only be cured to become “red ginseng” by the agents of His Majesty the King of Corea at Songto. A part of the crop is given to the embassy to China as compensation for services; the balance is the exclusive property of the King. The whole crop is estimated at about 1,000 piculs, the highest estimate of revenue being $240,000. A tax is collected on the ginseng farms at Songto and on the ginseng in transit to China at Oijũ, the aggregate of these taxes being commonly reported as sufficient to meet half the expenses of the Government. Ginseng has a fabulous value as a medicine to the Chinese, and attempts to smuggle it only to be expected. The difficulties of preventing [Page 213] this, under the present system of management of the crop, would seem to be almost insurmountable. It has been proposed that the export of it be permitted at the open ports under high duties.

I have, &c.,

Ensign, U. S. Navy, Chargé d’Affaires ad interim.
[Inclosure in No. 275.]

The consul of Jenchuan and appointed prefect of Ta-min-ho-li.

This is to notify that last night the examiners and others of the custom-house, relying on their brutality, ferociously wounded our merchants and others, for which I have already reported the circumstance to his excellency Yuen. Who are right and wrong will be decided by public opinion, and his excellency himself has the power to judge.

The merchants and others should await quietly the inquiries and do their business.

Now, I have learned that the merchants and others, for reason of the bad treatment they have received, want to stop business-which must not be done. To this effect I issue this proclamation, to invite the merchants and others to continue business as usual to-day, and carefully attend to this.