No. 150.
Mr. Denby to Mr. Bayard.

No. 482.]

Sir: The suzerainty of China over the great territories surrounding the Empire is one of the most difficult and shadowy questions arising in Eastern affairs.

It confronts you now in Corea. It confronted the French in Tonquin, the British in Upper Burmah and Thibet. The claim of suzerainty by China might be passed over as a harmless one, which time and information of international affairs may correct, but by reason of it China raises barriers against European trade.

It is well understood that the secret opposition of China to the opening up of trade communication with Thibet defeated Mr. Coleman Macauley’s mission here a year ago. In the case of Upper Burmah China’s claim to suzerainty lay dormant until Great Britain occupied Burmah. She then used it to defeat Mr. Macauley’s plans, to secure the Hong-Kong opium convention and the abandonment of Port Hamilton by Great Britain. She contrived also to perpetuate her claim of suzerainty by obtaining from the British Government a pledge that the decennial missions from Mandalay to Peking with presents to the Emperor, should be continued. She insisted also that the head of the Burmese hierarchy and not a British official should conduct the mission.

This year she ostentatiously granted to Corea a remission of tribute for the coming year because of the poverty of that kingdom and her gracious good-will toward it.

By referring to my dispatch No. 94, of date February 17, 1886, it will appear that the Tsung li Yamên, under date of February 16, 1886, enumerated, as some of the dependencies of China, Corea, Lewchew, Tonquin, and Annam, Siam, Burmah, Nanchang (the Laos country) Ghoorkat, with the statement that these countries had all received an imperial patent or title from China as dependent or tributary states. Besides these it was stated that there are dependent territories included in the register or census of China, and as they embrace an area of several tens of thousands of li, it is no easy matter to state their names and boundaries seriatim.

Another illustration of this claim of suzerainty is now furnished in the case of Nepaul. The Emperor now claims to be the protector of this Himalayan hill state. A mission was sent from Nepaul to China, It first went to Lhassa, the capital of Thibet, where it was received with great distinction. It then proceeded to Peking, carrying presents and a letter from the ruler of Nepaul to the Emperor. The letter is addressed by Erdeni, the King of the Ghoorkas, “who humbly prostrates himself with nine obeisances before the throne of his great majesty, whose fostering kindness is like the overspreading vault of heaven and the rays of the sun and moon, and whose benevolence is extended to a myriad kingdoms.” The letter contains much more of this hyperbolical adulation. It is dated August 6, 1886. The Emperor of China indorsed on it “We have perused this letter.”

The Indian papers advise that some understanding should be come to with China as to her claim of suzerainty over Nepaul and other British possessions. They view this claim with distrust, and fear that serious [Page 223] difficulty may supervene if at any time the action of Great Britain as to her frontier possessions should be claimed as an infringement of the rights of China.

While I was writing this dispatch a communication came from Mr, Dinsmore, detailing the opposition of the Chinese minister to the sending of a minister to the United States, Mr. Dinsmore informs me that the Chinese minister claims that in our treaty with Corea “it is distinctly stated that Corea is the vassal state of China.” There is color for this assertion in the remarkable letter of the King of Corea to the President of the United States, which was delivered to Commodore Shufeldt during the negotiations, May 15, 1882 (see Mr. Holcombe’s dispatch to the Department, No. 133, June 26, 1882).

The first sentence is this: “Chosen has been from ancient times a state tributary to China.” But it also claimed that the treaty is made between equal states, and that the United States have nothing to do with the “various duties” to China.

China can not now be heard to object to the sending by Corea of ministers abroad, because she consented that Corea should make treaties with the foreign powers. Nevertheless the condition is peculiar. Here Corea, preliminary to the making of a treaty, solemnly notifies the power with which it treats that it is tributary to China.

What restrictions, if any, on the intercourse with other powers, the suzerain may impose, are to be carefully considered. I simply make the suggestion as worthy of some consideration.

I have, etc.,

Charles Denby.