China and the United States

“The Chinese Question is no longer one of diplomatic negotiation as to the admission of that people to the United States, but, considering recent happenings, now involves the honor and good name of our country.”

Only to my long residence in the far East can I attribute an invitation received some years ago to address a celebrated club in a summer city on Our Relations with China, and our Interests in that Country. Having warned the members that I should tell them a very different story from those they had heard narrated in time past, I proceeded to destroy their illusions; and my summing up was to the effect that our relations there were as bad as they could possibly be, and we had no interests. Of course I should claim, on such an occasion, a latitude of expression not permissible in the pages of a magazine, but this petulant peroration was not very far from the truth; for, if we had substantial interests in the East, our people would not display such crass ignorance and indifference about China and Chinese affairs as they do now. So marked, indeed, is this prevailing ignorance, that one may well despair of making an impression thereon; but it must be attempted at this time, in view of the fact that the Chinese Question is no longer one of diplomatic negotiation as to the admission of that people to the United States, but, considering recent happenings, now involves the honor and good name of our country.

To judge from the utterances of the press, speeches in Congress and elsewhere, and reports at various times, also from the opinions of nine persons in ten with whom one converses on the subject, our people have given credence to some absolute fallacies in the matters of our (1) diplomatic, (2) business, and (3) missionary standing with the Chinese; and some facts bearing upon these three different points may not be amiss.

(1.) Our diplomatic standing. The Chinese statesmen are extremely able; far more so than is generally believed. I had it from the late Charles Sumner’s own lips that Sir Frederic Bruce told him the officials of the Tsung Le Yamun, or Foreign Office, were “unequaled for character and ability.” When Mr. Sumner asked him if he made no exception, not even Palmerston, Sir Frederic repeated his assertion; and this was strong testimony from the man whose embassy even the guns of Sir James Hope’s fleet could not force past the Peiho forts. It is certain that these able diplomatists have a very correct and comprehensive knowledge of the methods adopted by foreign nations in dealing with them, and classify said nations very distinctly in their estimates.

Two of the powers have dealt successfully with China: the Russians, and, after them, longo intervallo, the English. The former manage their affairs in the Oriental manner, and their influence at Pekin has always been great. Just as they press eastward and southward in central Asia, so do they patiently, but with grim persistence, advance upon the northern borders of China, Japan, and Corea, and toward a satisfactory open port on the Pacific. The southern line of eastern Siberia made a great stride in 1858; and in 1867 the Russians took the upper half, and in 1875 the lower half, of the Island of Saghalien. Their remedy for grievances is a “rectification” of the frontier; and, when three of their countrymen were accidentally included in the Tientsin massacre of 1870, a witty man said epigrammatically, “Pour enterrer ces trois Russes là, il faudra un grand morceau de terrain.”

The English, in the early days of their intercourse with the Flowery Land, submitted to slights and indignities which would now seem incredible; but, after they had once adopted a firm policy, they carried it out with considerable force. In three wars, those of 1840, 1857, and 1860, they wrung one concession after another from their adversaries; and the commercial facilities now enjoyed in China by foreign nations are due to the impact of the strong British battalions. Such policy has two great merits: it is forcible and it is consistent; and those with whom it is practiced have a perfect comprehension of its aims and methods. Then, again, both Russia and Great Britain maintain legations at Pekin on an adequate scale, and omit none of those formalities and ceremonials which are so congenial and impressive from an Oriental point of view.

In their dealings with China, these two great nations have, it cannot possibly be denied, found their account. They may be feared, disliked, hated even, but they are thoroughly and habitually respected. How is it with us? From the very first we have taken a course which is humiliating, hypocritical, and Pharisaical. We should never have advanced a foot nor gained one concession but for the guns of the English; and we have invariably waited until they spent all the needful blood and treasure, and then crawled in behind them and demanded (under what is called the “most favored nation clause” in the treaties) our share of privileges. It cannot be too strongly asserted that China dislikes all foreigners, and would have none of them, if she could help it; but that, when she has been forced at the point of the bayonet to admit thousands of English, she cares little about tens and hundreds of Americans who follow in their train. We even come boldly in with our little bills, when the Chinese power has been humbled, and the quart d’heure de Rabelais has arrived. After the destruction of Canton the Americans collected pay for all property which was sacrificed, down to dressing-gowns, slippers, and meerschaum pipes; and one individual put in a claim of $15,000 for “loss of peace of mind.”

In just three cases have we made belligerent demonstrations. Two were creditable: the landing of a force at Shanghai in 1854, to act in conjunction with others against Chinese troops threatening the foreign settlement, and the attack by Commander (afterwards Admiral) A. H. Foote on the barrier forts in the Canton River in 1856, after he had been fired on and was compelled to do something. The third was one about which an immense amount of fable has been narrated and false sentiment expended; so the true story may be worth telling here.

When the mission of Sir Frederic Bruce arrived at the mouth of the Peiho River in 1859, en route for Tientsin and escorted by the fleet, the Minister was informed that he could not pass, but must take another course. This declaration, coming from a lately conquered power, was more than Sir Frederic could bear, so he simply asked the admiral to break the way for him. Then ensued the celebrated repulse of the British, for the painful details of which there is no room here. It cost them the lives of some of their bravest and most distinguished naval officers and many fine seamen. But they took royal revenge for the defeat next year, when their own column under Sir Robert Napier, and the French under General Collinet, assaulted the works on one side, and a powerful fleet of gun-boats bombarded them from the other; and when one fort was carried and another blown up almost in the twinkling of an eye.

After the disastrous occurrences early in the fight of 1859, Admiral Hope sent for reinforcements, which were waiting in boats. Near these boats was a small chartered steamer, called the Toey-wan. As the United States frigate Powhatan drew too much water to come in, the American Minister and his staff had been transferred from her to this small vessel, that they might, as usual, follow in the wake of the English. On the Toey-wan was also Flag Officer Tatnall; and, when he saw the British boats waiting for a tow, he rashly volunteered to give it with the little passenger ship, and did so. Then, entering his barge, he went to the British flag-ship to call on the admiral. During this call, the men from his barge climbed on deck and helped work the British guns (a very natural thing for brave and irresponsible “Jacks” to do); but, in the discharge of his duty, the coxswain was killed by a shot. It was on this occasion that the flag officer used the expression “Blood is thicker than water!” which, although somewhat dubious of application, sounds, as it sounded then, particularly well, and has made a capital text for poems and essays. As a matter of fact, however, this officers course was wholly unjustifiable, from the traditional American standpoint. Had we ever adopted a vigorous and aggressive policy, or given the English substantial backing, as (with almost no commercial interests at stake) did the French, it would have been natural and right enough to lend them a hand in that time of trouble. But no! Our Minister, passed in by a kind of back door, rode to Pekin in a yellow cart; and we lifted up our hands and thanked God that we were not as those wicked English, who attack the poor Chinese. Yet, really, our officer had committed an act which with a strong nation would have been an inevitable and immediate casus belli. Even with Chinese, it is surprising that it was not; and we may be sure that the astute officials of the Foreign Office made a note of it for future use.

At Canton in old days, and at Shanghai and Pekin of late, our ministers have made their stays, entered their protests and demands, written their dispatches, and gone away, leaving the late Dr. S. Wells Williams, nine or ten times, chargé d’affaires. They have borne, as best they could, the humiliating contrast between their position and that of their colleagues; and I believe only one of them was actually refused entrance to Pekin, and finally smuggled in on a friends passport. I am happy to say that another, the late Mr. Anson Burlingame, displayed such ability to rise superior to circumstances and make bricks without straw, that the astonished Chinese thought him far too good a man to represent so weak a nation as in their eyes, the Americans are, and promptly adopted him as an envoy of their own.

And now, to this long, monotonous tale of poor and feeble dealing is added, as a sequel, a scandalous treatment of the immigration question.

(2.) Our business standing. Here, fortunately, we deal with figures and facts which he who runs may read. Optimists think our trade with China important and improving; on the contrary, it is in a wretched condition, and going from bad to worse. One after another, most of the great American China houses of the last generation have met with misfortunes, or withdrawn from a difficult and losing business. Our fine clipper ships, which carried cargoes not only to this country, but also to England, are but a memory. Of the teas received in this country from China, the bulk are bought by Englishmen under English credits, shipped in English vessels, and sold in New York by Englishmen for English account. In exports, we talk about our cotton goods, and every now and then some optimistic and wholly misleading paragraphs in this connection appear in the papers. A computation made not long ago shows that the English shipped as many goods in a week as we in a year, say about fifty-two times our allowance. Our manufacturers care nothing about the nature of Chinese demands, and think only of getting rid of a surplus; and the absence of banking facilities and credit here, as compared with England, is a fatal handicap.

Occasionally we hear of a chance of our getting contracts in this country for railroad materials or construction. In view of what will be shortly narrated, nothing could be more improbable.

(3.) Our missionary standing. There is a sort of disparaging cant current in this country on this subject, which is as ignorant as it is vicious. The faithful work, the devotion, and the genuine, unmistakable success of our American missionaries in time past should be a source of pride to the country, as they are of gratitude to the churches. I have had, in a long residence in China, unusual facilities for gaining information on this much-misunderstood subject, and I distinctly challenge any disproof or criticism of my assertion.

Now, however, with what sinking hearts must these faithful workers contemplate the prospect before them! Suppose one of them were to meet an intelligent Chinaman, and speak to him of the gospel of peace and good-will. What is he to say when, with that imperturbable and exasperating coolness which the race know so well how to assume, this benighted heathen asks him if he come not from where they exemplify the teachings of this gospel, and uphold the kingdom of the Prince of Peace, by murdering his poor countrymen in cold blood; when he asks him how, in the name of all that is good, he can preach this gospel in China, while proclaiming himself a citizen of the United States; and when he bids him go home and convert his own countrymen before he presumes to teach the Chinese?

In these our missionary relations, we have indeed fallen upon evil times.

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Of course there is something to be said on the other side of these questions, or there would be were our relations with the Chinese as they were a few years ago; but the laches on their part in the matter of treaty observance are so insignificant, in the light of recent occurrences, as not to be worth mentioning. Of these same occurrences it remains to speak.

The treatment of the Chinese who have had the misfortune to come to this country has been very bad indeed, and culminated in a perfectly logical way. Other people, notably other aliens, have objected to their presence, and set themselves to work to make the lives of these “moon-eyed lepers” as unbearable as possible. The poor wretches have been disgracefully, abominably, and cruelly maltreated, harried from place to place, cursed, beaten, and stoned; but it was reserved for certain residents of the Territory of Wyoming to cap the climax of cowardly and brutal dealing by such deeds of darkness as ought to make our people shrink with horror from their very recital.

A number of these unfortunates ran the long gauntlet of suffering from the Pacific coast to this inland Territory, to work in the coal mines. The white people, the Caucasians, similarly employed, requested them to join in a strike, which they were disinclined to do. Then these same white men took Winchester rifles and shot them down in cold blood! I could not and would not here narrate the ghastly details of this dreadful massacre, but they can readily be imagined. Those, indeed, who were killed at once had the easier fate; for the wounded died lingering deaths in the surrounding desert. It will be remembered that these murderers are not Geronimo, Natchez, and their followers, at whose atrocities the country stands aghast; but they are far worse. The Indians are seeking revenge for some fancied, but many real and grievous wrongs; these others are carrying to its legitimate conclusion the favorite Western theory that “the Chinese must go.” They seem to have earned the good will of their neighbors, for it cannot be ascertained that, up to the present time, any one of them has received punishment, nor even a meed of disapprobation. Upon our diplomatic, business, and missionary relations with China, as just outlined, these doings will have a fatal effect.

There are those who call this a Christian nation; and they will admit that, if it be such, it is liable to the retributive justice, the certain punishment, prepared for countries as well as individuals who sin against knowledge. Furthermore, let a word of warning and prediction, from one who knows the Chinese well, be here recorded. Their memories are long, and time is fleeting. Some day they will collect their bill, — and it will be made up with compound interest.