File No. 8602/16–19.

Minister Rockhill to the Secretary of State.

No. 957.]

Sir: In the legation’s dispatch No. 898 of April 7 last was inclosed copy of a note addressed by the dean of the diplomatic body to the president of the Wai-wu Pu in relation to the levying of likin on foreign merchandise within the limits of the harbors at the treaty ports. It was stated therein that the treaty powers held that the duty-free area of an open port comprises the whole area of the port, the harbor included.

I have now to inclose a copy of the reply of the Prince of Ch’ing to the note of the dean, in which he traverses the statements made as to the limits of free areas at treaty ports and clearly defines the question at issue between the treaty powers and the Chinese Government.

The diplomatic body, after the receipt of the above note, decided upon reviving the discussion of the general question where it had been left in 1888, when, after a meeting between certain diplomatic representatives and the ministers of the Tsung-li Yamen, the former submitted their views on the subject in a collective note dated April 28, 1888. This note remained unanswered. I inclose a copy for convenient reference.

The ministers of the Netherlands, Great Britain and myself, having been asked by our colleagues to undertake in their names the discussion and settlement of the matter with the Wai-wu Pu the note, a copy of which I inclose, was sent to the Prince of Ch’ing on the 8th instant.

I have, etc.,

W. W. Rockhill.
[Inclosure 1.—Translation.]

The Prince of Ch’ing to the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps.

Your Excellency: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 3d instant, whereby, on behalf of the foreign representatives you [Page 143] transmitted for the information of my board copies of correspondence which has recently passed between the consular body at Shanghai and the customs taot’ai on the subject of the levy of likin on foreign merchandise within the harbor limits of the port.

It had always been held by the Government of the treaty powers that the duty-free area of a port, which, under the treaties, has been declared open to international trade, comprises the whole area of the port, including, of course, the harbor thereof, and that the taxes and charges leviable on foreign goods imported therein and native goods exported therefrom are those only which are specified in the treaties.

Further, as regards foreign imports, it has always been held that even after they have been sold to Chinese firms they are not liable to further taxation within the treaty port area; and it is only by strict observance of these principles that the proper distinction can be preserved between “treaty port” and “interior.”

Your Excellency requested that the Shanghai likin authorities may be instructed to conform with this principle and make no exactions on foreign imports, whether in foreign or native hands, or on foreign-owned produce intended for export, with the treaty port area.

My board finds that in none of the treaties it has been clearly expressed how the limits of a “treaty port” and the “interior” must be defined. In the Chefoo convention between China and Great Britain, Section III, it is said that no likin ought to be collected on foreign goods within the concessions of the open ports. Afterwards it appears from the additional articles to this agreement that this question required further consideration. All this shows that the above is a question which has not been properly settled between China and the foreign powers.

Up to now the foreign ministers in Peking held the opinion that the four words “T’ung shang k’ou ngan “(treaty port) comprised the port, the city, of the port, and any road or water way connecting these two. To this defining of limits my department never agreed.

This time the consular body in Shanghai holds that the limits of the port are determined by the imperial maritime customs in accordance with the requirements of the shipping visiting the port, and that within the limits thus determined the levy of likin is not permissible. This contention is only a proposal from the consular body and can not be taken as definite.

The levying of likin in Shanghai is of long date; if foreign imported goods have paid transit dues, and if native exported products are provided with a transit pass, then it is impossible to levy likin, which would be against the treaties.

Why dispute when by doing thus a great deal of difficulties may arise about measures which have been accepted for ever so long.

I consider it my duty to bring the above to your excellency’s notice, as dean of the diplomatic body, with the request to inform the different ministers in Peking as to the contents of same.

A necessary dispatch.

[Inclosure 2.]

The foreign representatives at Peking to the Prince of Ch’ing and minister of the Tsungli Yamen.

Your Highness: At the meeting which took place on the 25th instant between the representatives of Germany, Great Britain, and the French Republic on the one side and some of the ministers of the Tsungli Yamen on the other, T. E., the Chinese ministers contended that under the treaty of Nanking only the ports were opened and not the towns, and that therefore Chinese produce bought in the towns mentioned in that and other treaties was subject to the payment of inland dues on being brought to the port for shipment.

The terms used in article 2 of the treaty of Nanking to designate the places opened for foreign trade are cities and towns, and no discrimination is made with regard to ports.

The Anglo-Chinese treaty of 1858 uses in Article II the terms of cities and ports for Neuchwang, Tangchow, Taiwan, Chaochow, and Kiungchow; the [Page 144] Franco-Chinese treaty of the same year uses in article 6 indeed only the term of ports, but even if there could be any doubt as to the significance of this expression, it is in article 7 explained by the use of the words “ports et villes,” at which French merchants are given the right to trade; in article 7 of the Franco-Chinese treaty of 1860 the town and port, la ville et le port of Tientsin are expressly mentioned as opened to French trade under the same as all the other towns and ports mentioned in the treaties; the American-Chinese treaty of 1858 uses the term of “ports and cities “at which American citizens are allowed to trade; the German-Chinese treaty of 1861 uses the term of “ports et villes” at which German subjects can freely trade, and the same expression is used in the Belgian-Chinese treaty of 1865, Article II. In the other treaties the expressions “ports and towns” are alternately used, so that no doubt can exist that everywhere the expressions used are intended to designate the administrative unity called a town and not a part of it, which might be called the harbor or port of the town.

In all the treaties above mentioned, concluded since 1858, the foreign text is declared to be the one which in case of differences of opinion is to be held as the correct one.

The undersigned representatives of the German Empire, the United States, Japan, Great Britain, Spain, Russia, the French Republic, and Belgium must therefore protest strongly against any attempt on the part of the members of the Tsungli Yamen or other high Chinese officials to reduce the rights of foreign merchants to reside and trade at the towns open under treaty to the one of residing and trading in that part of the towns mentioned in the treaties which may have been set aside for shipping purposes.

No further settlement having existed at the time of the conclusion of the treaties, it is self-evident that they can not have been meant by the use of the terms “towns or ports.”

The further attempt of the members of the Tsungli Yamen made at the conference above referred to deduce from section 3 of article 1 of the Chefoo convention that, because in that arrangement it was proposed that only within the foreign concessions no likin was to be levied on foreign imports, likin might be levied on Chinese produce without the foreign concessions at the places open to foreign trade under the treaties can hardly be looked upon as a serious one, as section 3 of the Chefoo convention has as yet been neither ratified by H. B. M.’s Government nor approved by any Governments of the other treaty powers.

The undersigned avail themselves of this opportunity to renew to His Highness and Their Excellencies the assurances of their highest consideration.

  • Herr von Brandt, Germany.
  • Mr. Denby, United States.
  • Mr. Jabearo, Japan.
  • Sir J. Walsham, Great Britain.
  • M. Rodrigues y Munos, Spain.
  • M. Coumany, Russia.
  • M. Lemaire, France.
  • M. Michel, Belgium.
[Inclosure 3.]

The Ministers of The Netherlands, the United States, and Great Britain to the Prince of Ch’ing.

Your Highness: The undersigned, having been authorized by the diplomatic body to discuss and settle with Your Highness the question concerning the levy of likin within treaty port limits, have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of Your Highness’s note of the 10th of April last, which has been carefully considered by them.

In this note Your Highness observes that the limits of treaty ports in distinction to interior has never been defined by treaty and that the Chinese Government have never accepted the definition formulated by the foreign representatives. Your Highness contends therefore that likin is leviable on all foreign [Page 145] imports unless they have paid transit dues, and similarly on all native produce for export unless it is covered by a transit pass.

According to this contention China would be entitled to collect transit dues on all merchandise. But the treaty stipulates clearly that the payment of transit dues is only leviable, in the case of imports, on notice being given at the port of entry from which such imports are to be forwarded inland, of the nature and quality of the goods, the ship from which they have been landed, and the place inland to which they are bound; and in the case of exports, on produce purchased in the interior which has to be inspected at the first barrier it passes on its way to the port of shipment, and on arriving at the barrier nearest the port notice must be given to the customs, and the goods are passed on payment of the transit dues.

Such is the procedure laid down in rule 7 appended to the British treaty of Tientsin; the essential points being in the case of imports that they are to be conveyed away from the treaty port into the interior, and in the case of exports that they are purchased in the interior for conveyance to a treaty port.

From this it is abundantly clear that foreign imports, in respect to which no notice has yet been given to the customs that they are to be forwarded inland, are exempt from transit dues while remaining in the treaty port; and that exports, not purchased in the interior, but in the treaty port itself, are similarly exempt from transit dues.

It then becomes a question, as indicated in Your Highness’ note, where the treaty port ends and where the interior begins. Your Highness states that no definition of limits has ever been made to which both China and the treaty powers have agreed. In the absence, therefore, of an explicit definition acceptable to both sides, the intention of the treaties must be examined, and it will doubtless be conceded that the imposition of import duties on foreign merchandise was intended to admit those goods to particular markets in China, and that it was not intended that these goods should pay other dues until transferred to more distant markets in the interior. Similarly with native products it was only intended that when there were purchased at a more distant market in the interior for conveyance to a treaty port, and shipment abroad, they should pay a transit due in excess of the import duty.

That the foreign powers, in negotiating the treaties, intended that a fairly liberal area should be comprised by the term “treaty port” or “port open to foreign trade” is evidenced by the use of the terms “cities and towns “in the English text of the British treaties and “ports et villes” in the French treaties; also by the rules regarding the issue of passports for traveling in the interior, where no passport is called for within 100 li of the treaty port.

The tendency, on the other hand, of the Chinese authorities has been to restrict the meaning of the term within the narrowest limits, with the consequence that the tariff on a basis of 5 per cent ad valorem becomes in effect transformed to a 7½ per cent tariff; and the fact that this unsatisfactory condition of things has existed for years, involving constant friction beween China and the treaty powers, should, we venture to hope, render Your Highness desirous of finding a remedy by introducing methods of taxation less irksome to trade and conformable with the treaties.

The position of the treaty powers in this question is well known to Your Highness. They contend, as they always have done, that the term treaty port includes the city and its approaches by land or water, and further that no matter whether a place has been opened to foreign trade under treaty or by the spontaneous act of the Chinese Government the same principle must apply for the sake of uniformity.

The foreign representatives trust, therefore, that this matter may engage the serious attention of the board, and that they may be favored with a reply at an early date indicating the course of action which the Chinese Government proposes to pursue.

We avail, etc.,

  • A. J. Van Citters.
  • W. W. Rockhill.
  • J. N. Jordan.