The Thraldom of Japan
IN the Atlantic Monthly for May, 1881, an article entitled The Martyrdom of an Empire was published, with the design of dispelling a variety of popular delusions respecting the condition of the most interesting, intelligent, and progressive of Eastern nations, and disclosing the hardships which that nation had suffered from governments that held it bound by treaties of ostensible friendship and good-will. It was shown that Japan’s honorable endeavors to demonstrate her claim to recognition as an independent civilized state had been for a score of years frustrated by the deliberate opposition of diplomatic and consular agents from European and American powers, whose combined action had gradually taken the form of aggressive hostility to a country which merited the sympathy and the hearty support of every enlightened community. It was explained that the main purpose of this obstruction was to hold the newly opened empire in a species of commercial bondage, and to render it perpetually tributary to the great trading nations, with England at their head. The methods by which the British minister and the majority of his colleagues sought to execute their schemes were plainly described, and the hopelessness of Japan’s position was set forth distinctly, but without exaggeration. In no direction, at that period, could she look for relief from the oppression which threatened to crush down her worthy ambition, and to deprive her of the essential attributes of a sovereign state.
The interests which were united in keeping the struggling empire in subjugation were too numerous and too powerful to allow such an exposure to pass without protest. In England, especially, vigorous attempts were made to controvert the facts presented in the Atlantic Monthly, and to prove that Japan was in no sense entitled to the commiseration of the world at large. One set of writers declared that she had utterly failed to justify her plea for deliverance from the thraldom imposed by the treaties, and that the restrictions complained of were only those which experience showed to be necessary in dealings with an alleged barbarous race. Others proclaimed that Japan was entirely free from constraint of any sort, and that, in her exemption from the legal and moral obligations elsewhere exacted, she was in a fair way to become the spoiled darling of nations. The British minister came forward in his own defence with a valor so far outrunning his discretion that he overthrew with his own hands the structure of personal authority he had been carefully building for fifteen years. His avowals of affection for Japan were so vehement, in public and in private, and his denials of her injuries were so profuse as to excite suspicion, and but for the interposition of accidental circumstances he would have been made the subject of a stringent parliamentary investigation. With respect to the article in the Atlantic, he was pleased to say, with affected derision, that he desired only that it might be perused. It was perused ; and the minister was never permitted to resume the sway he had so long exercised in the farthermost East. After a slight delay, he was transferred to another scene of action, and the country which he had harassed and goaded almost to desperation, in his determination to drain its resources for the benefit of his mercantile clientèle, was freed forever from the bane of his presence.
But it was not to be expected that the removal of a single opponent could restore the liberties which had been withheld by the joint efforts of a body of adverse ministers. The system by which Japan was compelled to languish in poverty and abasement was not likely to be relaxed so long as the terms of the treaties could be enforced. The needs of their trading fellow-countrymen were paramount with the envoys from the manufacturing nations ; and as the power to despoil would vanish with their victim’s enfranchisement, every influence was arrayed against the consummation of her wishes. From one government alone was it possible to look for consideration or assistance. The United States, unlike most of the European powers, had no political complications in Asia, and were under no necessity of forcing their products upon an Oriental people by unjust or dishonorable means. American commerce could find outlets enough without constraining a reluctant country to admit goods under conditions ruinous to its own industries and destructive to its material welfare. At any time within the past dozen years, the government at Washington might have supplied opportunities for Japan to regain her lost privileges, and to assume the station to which she is as clearly entitled as any of the nations which strive to degrade her. All that was requisite was to enact a new treaty, from which the objectionable features of the original compact should be excluded. Such a treaty once in operation, the European league would straightway be obliged to readjust the general methods of intercourse, and the disabilities which are wearing the life out of the gallant little empire would disappear, leaving it free to assert its dignity as an unfettered member of the confederation of states, to develop its domestic possessions, and to make its way unmolested to the prosperity it has been diligently but vainly pursuing.
The injuries which Japan suffers under the present treaties are chiefly due to the stipulations binding her to an unalterable scale of customs duties, — nominally five per cent. ad valorem upon all goods, — and to the toleration of foreign courts of justice within her territory. Either of these provisions would be fatal to the independence of any country. To measure the harm and the humiliation which they inflict, it is necessary, for an American citizen, only to imagine Congress relinquishing the right to regulate the tariff and turning it over to European riders, and to contemplate the existence of European tribunals in the seaports of the United States, exercising unlimited jurisdiction over the natives of the countries variously represented. No one requires to be told that, under degradations of this description, the republic would be little better than the tool or plaything of transatlantic powers. It was to escape from impositions less severe that the North American colonies assumed the hazards of the Revolution. The burden was fastened upon Japan at a time when she was helpless to defend her rights, even if she had been fully cognizant of them. At the instigation of President Pierce’s Secretary of State, the harsh conditions were formulated by a minister who did not hesitate to declare that they were “ against his conscience,” and that he was stricken with remorse at seeing them extended beyond the brief period he had assigned to them. The treaty which he negotiated — the first of the series unwarily signed by the “Taikun’s ” officers — was copied literally by the European envoys who followed him, excepting in details, by which they managed to secure extraordinary benefits to their trading countrymen at the cost of the Japanese. The representative of the United States was careful to provide, as he thought, for a removal of the tariff restrictions as long ago as 1864, and of the extra-territorial license in 1872 ; but by the incautious use of a single word he made it possible for the foreign governments to hold Japan indefinitely — that is to say forever — to the damaging terms. Instead of adopting the usual course, and fixing a time for the termination of his agreement, leaving it to be replaced by another, he arranged for “ revisions ” at the abovementioned dates. The allied powers have never ceased to take an unworthy advantage of this verbal accident, and, while signifying their willingness to “ revise ” to any extent, have contrived that no effective result should ensue, and that no propositions satisfactory to Japan should be accepted. Meanwhile, for a quarter of a century, that empire has undergone heavy losses, and been subjected to the disgrace of an alien authority in occupation of a portion of its soil, for the performance of functions disregardful and defiant of its laws.
Setting aside the question of national indignity, the government labors under a financial strain which is fast becoming unbearable. The Budget last issued, for 1887-88, showed an estimated disbursement of nearly eighty million yen, or silver dollars. In most Western countries, the public debt is largely covered by the revenue from customs. In England, the duties bring an average of £20,000,000, — about one half of the total outlay. In the United States, the expenditure is entirely defrayed from this source. In Japan, a little over two and a half millions of yen are collected, — about one thirtieth part of the amount required. The item of income upon which all other nations place the greatest reliance is here reduced to insignificance, owing to the fact that no impost higher than five per cent. can be gathered, while upon almost every article the rate is cut down to three and a half or four per cent. How, then, are the funds obtained which are needed for government business ? Principally by levies upon the land occupied by the agricultural classes.
Forty-two and a half millions are taken from the people upon whom taxation should fall most lightly. The hard necessity is deplored by none more deeply than by the rulers of Japan, but no alternative is left them. It is even possible that they may be compelled to increase the burden. Desiring to relieve the farmers in every practicable way, they have in late years raised the tax upon sakè (domestic wine), until it now produces thirteen and a half millions ; but this has been done in constant apprehension lest the manufacturers close their works, and commence importing on a large scale. With nothing but a duty of three or four per cent. to stand in the way, producers in China might supply sakè for the whole country, and the entire weight of taxation would then fall upon the tillers of the soil. Few races are more patient and docile than the Japanese. They understand, in a good measure, the difficulties of the situation, and are patriotically disposed to assist the authorities to the extent of their ability. Their cheerful compliance with demands which have often reduced them to pitiable extremities, and their readiness to submit to privations which no other people would have voluntarily borne, are traits that would elicit the respect and admiration of all men, if the inner history of the empire during the past twenty-five years could be laid bare. But for their forbearance and devotion, the efforts of Japan, as a nation, to establish its title to general confidence and esteem would have been unavailing. Yet their endurance has a limit, and indications of restlessness under excessive pressure have occasionally disturbed the public tranquillity. The government has at times been seriously embarrassed in the endeavor to reconcile its own necessities with those of the peasantry. Immediate relief could be afforded by the application of a reasonable duty upon imports, but this is resisted by the diplomatic agents, with menaces of violence in case the covenant is not strictly observed. The moral fraud by which the action of the treaties is prolonged is at all times supported by a formidable array of physical force.
The poverty which oppresses Japan might have been alleviated long ago, if opportunity had been given for the development of her yet unproductive resources. Capital is scanty at home, but foreign wealth is clamorous for entrance, and would be welcomed if it could be safely admitted under the other dangerous provision of the treaties. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that enterprises in which strangers are concerned cannot be sanctioned while participants from abroad are amenable to no authority but that of consular or other imperfectly constituted courts, the capacity and integrity of which are frequently open to the gravest suspicion. If foreigners were allowed to control important operations in the interior, the country would be as surely drained of its slender pecuniary reserves as it was robbed of its small stock of gold coin, in the early days of external relations. Yet Japan is accused of seeking to maintain the ancient policy of seclusion, and of creating impediments to the intercourse which in truth she most ardently desires. She feels, naturally, that this intercourse should be regulated upon a basis of security to herself, not merely in conformity with the interests of outside speculators. She has given ample evidence not only of good intention, but of thorough ability in the reorganization of her judicial machinery, and there is probably not one among the diplomatists now in Tokio who is not profoundly convinced that justice would be more surely, more rapidly, and more equitably administered than it now is, if the entire body of extra-territorial courts were swept away, and the Japanese jurisdiction extended over all alien residents. But the fallacious argument is forever repeated that Japan is not prepared for so momentous a change, and that she must consequently be bound down by the shackles which were fitted upon her thirty years ago, before she had taken the first step in that extraordinary career of progress which is the marvel of all who have studied her onward course.
This is known to be a false argument by those who most persistently advance it. In no department of her national affairs has Japan failed to respond to every test that can be applied to an enlightened government. Her foreign office has sustained itself with vigor and courage against the consolidated assaults of a diplomatic corps only one or two members of which have ever pretended to be actuated by amicable or kindly motives, and the officers of her legations and consulates, throughout the world, have suffered nothing by comparison with those of other nations in all that relates to the proper comprehension of and regard for their position, the courtesy of their demeanor, or the skillful performance of their labors. Her financiers have shown a dexterity, in circumstances of singular and exceptional difficulty, which has won for them tributes of appreciation from authorities not accustomed to yield to impulse or enthusiasm. From the chaos which prevailed at the close of the civil war, in 1868, they have produced such order and method as are not always visible in the fiscal concerns of European states. As an incidental result of their exertions, it may be mentioned that five years ago they set themselves to the task of restoring to specie value a paper currency which, owing to internal disorders, had depreciated fiftyfive per cent., and accomplished the work in less than two years. What the European credit of Japan is to-day may be understood from the avidity with which her few outstanding securities are sought for by English investors. Respecting her military establishment we have the testimony of General Grant, who, after an exhaustive examination, pronounced the army of the Mikado a model of compactness, discipline, and effective combination. It was his judgment that a well-appointed body of ten thousand Japanese troops could make their way through the length and breadth of China, against all odds that could be brought to confront them ; and this conviction was not founded especially upon the reputation of the soldiers for boldness and bravery, but upon the excellence of their organization, which he believed would uphold them in every emergency that an army in Asia could be called upon to encounter. The navy has received similar approval from equally competent observers, and in the ports which the national ships have visited the Japanese sailor has a name which his country may well be proud of. The commercial marine commends itself to approbation by the precision and regularity with which the flourishing lines of steamships to China, Siberia, and Korea are conducted, nominally by private companies, but under the general supervision of the government.
Departments devoted to domestic affairs are not open to the same scrutiny as those just referred to, but enough is known to give assurance that a corresponding activity and energy pervade them. It is to the honor of Japan that none of the inhabitants are absolutely illiterate, and her elaborate and thorough system of education is extolled by all who have made it a matter of investigation. Perhaps the most remarkable evidences of enterprise are supplied by the public works. Of the railways which connect a number of provinces, it can be recorded that their management affords no ground of complaint to critics who are constantly on the watch to detect delinquencies, and that in the fifteen years since they were introduced scarce half a dozen accidents have been reported, — not one, it is claimed, for which the parties in control could be held accountable.
The lighthouse system is truly a magnificent monument of spirit and liberality, maintained, it should never be forgotten, for the benefit of humanity at large, and not with a narrow view to Japan’s selfish interests, since the homekeeping navigators have little need of the safeguards munificently provided upon the coasts of their country. The mint, which was established nearly twenty years ago, partly to obtain relief from the inconveniences of a foreign metallic currency, and partly to secure the prestige which belongs to an independent national coinage, gives characteristic evidence of artistic taste as well as mechanical dexterity ; the gold and silver tokens being pronounced by connoisseurs superior in beauty of design, and at least equal in workmanship, to those of any other country.1 Telegraphs unite every part of the islands, and it is worth while to mention that wherever foreigners dwell, or are likely to penetrate, the operators are required to speak foreign languages, — a mark of consideration not found, nor looked for, in less remote lands. The post-office enjoys a distinction almost unparalleled, even in the most advanced Western nations. With one exception, it is the only institution of its kind the receipts of which often so far exceed the expenses as to contribute materially to the revenues of the state. What this implies, in its bearing upon the character and intelligence of the people, as well as upon the facilities afforded for communication in an unusually rugged and broken country, it is unnecessary here to point out. Nor should much persuasion be required to satisfy American readers as to the ability and trustworthiness of a government which can present such a list of successes in the various branches of its administration.
In the face of all this, Japan is insolently told, and the world is expected to believe, that she cannot support her pretensions to the control of the judiciary within her own dominions. That she is fully qualified in all other respects for efficient and salutary self-rule no one ventures to dispute. Nor is her capacity to exercise legal authority over her thirty-five millions of subjects questioned by any living soul. There is not a country on the earth where the courts perform their duties with greater promptitude or more scrupulous integrity. Crime is rare ; partly, no doubt, because of the order-loving instincts of the race, but also because of the firmness and celerity with which it is punished by the guardians of public tranquillity. The laws, however, are moderate, and are never known to be enforced with undue harshness. The best fruits of European legislation have been grafted upon the strongest foundations of the indigenous stock, and a more comprehensive and well-adjusted criminal code cannot be found in any community. The judges are men of education, high social position, and unassailable probity. But this is not enough for the fastidious anxieties of a couple of thousand foreigners, temporarily abiding in half a dozen trading settlements. The mere statement of their position ought to cover it with ridicule and opprobrium, and to carry universal conviction that the denial of Japan’s claim for relief from the petty, peddling caricatures of tribunals which offend her sovereignty and cripple her progress is a dishonor to the nations which thus afflict her. Ever since the handful of strangers planted themselves on the rim and edges of the empire, a dozen or more consular officials have assumed an authority conflicting in every detail with that of the realm. The greater number of these officials have been mere hucksters, whose qualification to act as judges would be laughed at by their own associates. In many instances there has been no pretense of legal training, and scarcely a pretense of common honesty, or of any intelligence beyond that required to drive sharp and disreputable bargains. A few exceptions to this odious rule have been seen in consulates whose incumbents are forbidden to engage in trade, but even these have rarely proved equal to their weighty responsibilities. Within the political lifetime of the present United States Executive,— or, more definitely, less than two years ago, — it was found necessary to recall an American consul from Yokohama for gross incompetency ; his behavior on the bench having shown him to be completely ignorant of law, and otherwise disqualified for the serious and important judicial functions he was expected to discharge. He had held his office only a few months, when his removal was imperatively demanded by a community which is ordinarily disposed to tolerate almost anything that does not interfere with the money-making opportunities of the majority. The English representatives have set the solitary example of providing courts in which at least the appearance of decorum and dignity is preserved, but these are not so constituted as to withstand the criticisms which any lawyer of ordinary perception might bring against them. And if they were the perfection of human wisdom, they would still have no business where they are. They should be driven forth without delay, together with the entire ring of discreditable “side-shows,” where the law is travestied and justice is made a by-word of mockery and shame. But they are kept to work mischief in the foreign districts by the decree of a little knot of envoys, some of whom cannot muster half a dozen fellow-countrymen from one end of the empire to the other.
Is it not an enormity that such men, merely because Japan was in past years cajoled or coerced into signing deceptive treaties with their governments, should now have a voice in withholding autonomy from a country far more civilized, in several instances, than those which they represent ? Imagine Peru or the Sandwich Islands barring the way to the legitimate independence of an active, industrious, orderly, and useful people like the Japanese ! It is probable that not a solitary subject of Hawaii or Peru, excepting now and then an official messenger, ever set foot within the Mikado’s dominions ; but, nevertheless, the “ interests ” of those majestic powers must be conserved. Peru, when she recovers from the shaking up recently inflicted by Chili, may take to exporting guano. Japan may possibly be in need of guano at some future day. Then, “ how handy it will be to have it in the tariff ” that guano must not be taxed over five per cent. at the ports of entry! It does not matter whether this particular suggestion has, or has not, been pressed into service ; it is precisely the sort of argument, worthy of Mrs. Toodles in her most inspired flights, which is employed to rivet the chains that have impeded a nation’s progress for twenty-five years. Again, however distant the period when a citizen of Peru or Hawaii may chance to disembark at Yokohama, it is of the highest moment to make sure that he shall never be exposed to the perils of Japanese jurisdiction.2 Ridiculous as such pretensions must appear, those of most of the European states are hardly less so. Spain, which has never neglected to take a high and mighty stand in diplomatic discussions, has three subjects living in Japan. Belgium has four. Only four Western countries can show more than one hundred residents.3 The English and Americans outnumber all the rest, two to one, and yet it happens that the representatives of these two nationalities have at different times manifested at least a partial willingness to listen to Japan’s demands. The inferior agents, who have no moral right to meddle at all, are invariably the most conspicuous in their antagonism. It gratifies their sense of importance to make objections, — to interpose fictitious doubts and scruples, especially at moments when the guardians of more substantial interests appear likely to act in harmony. As these latter are not, after all, genuinely desirous to extend encouragement, and are led in that direction rather against their will, and only when reason and common sense afford them no ground of opposition to stand upon, the spiteful interpellations of the nonentities are solemnly admitted to debate, and the gathering influences of order and justice are rudely dispersed. A peevish word from one of these insignificant intruders has oftentimes broken down the fabric which years of persevering toil had nearly brought to completion.
In May, 1886, the latest effort was made by the Japanese rulers to reconcile the discrepant elements, and to secure from the several powers an acknowledgment of the manifest rights above described. The delegates from Europe and America assembled in Tokio, and the plea of the treaty-burdened government was submitted anew, with an eloquence and an intensity of feeling seldom exhibited in international councils. None but a body of men resolved to allow no consideration, I will not say of generosity or humanity, but of equity or fairness, to disturb their preordained judgment could have listened unmoved to the evidences then presented of patient endurance under prolonged and wasting adversity. A few, indeed, were softened by momentary impulses of compunction, but they were speedily reminded by their less emotional colleagues that hearts and consciences are not included in the prescribed outfit of a commissioner to Eastern courts. The conferences were continued, by the assiduous endeavors of the parties most deeply concerned, until the summer of 1887, when, wearied and disheartened, Japan withdrew from the struggle, confessing herself once more defeated. It was a foregone conclusion. The European contestants, as a body, never meant to yield, and they never will yield, unless some force not yet invoked or applied shall be brought to bear upon them. In vain the Japanese proffered concessions touching the extreme verge of national selfrespect. They were ready to pledge themselves to no increase of customs duties which could be called excessive by any of the contracting powers. They were ready to accede to all reasonable proposals — and to many that were not reasonable—for the alleged or imaginary amelioration of the judiciary. They went so far as to guarantee that their roll of judges should be augmented by a body of European and American experts, who should constitute a majority in every court before which aliens might be required to appear. But this arrangement would have entailed an enormous expenditure, for the number of proposed additions was estimated to exceed the entire judiciary of Great Britain. Upon one point, however, they found it necessary to assert a position of their own. They would not consent to any measures tending to assimilate their tribunals to those of Egypt, throughout which wretched country a system of “mixed courts,” subject to the manipulation of foreign agents, has spread incalculable confusion and disorder. The operations of these judicial monstrosities have proved disastrous wherever they have been introduced. They have made the Egyptian bench a synonym of infamy all over Europe. The envoys are well advised of their character, but they could not be turned from their resolve to force them or equivalent impostures upon Japan. Can it be supposed that they acted in candor and sincerity ? Is it not easier to believe that, knowing the Japanese to be immovably opposed to the proposition, they selected it as their ultimatum, allowing it to appear that they would concede anything or everything else, but must make their stand at this preconcerted line of resistance ? Those who best comprehend the situation do not doubt that if Japan, in a moment of aberration, had granted this ruinous condition, her adversaries would instantly have occupied another ground of contention, and there maintained the fight with all the old obstinacy and acerbity. Nor do they doubt that every attempt to settle the question of revision by means of conferences with the diplomatic corps will be futile. It is by other methods that Japan must seek to extricate herself from the entanglement. The courses which suggest themselves as available are not numerous, nor are they absolutely certain, while she lacks the strength or spirit to assume, in case of need, an attitude of firm defiance to aggression ; but among them there are two which offer chances of emancipation not to be discerned in any other direction.
The first expedient requires the coöperation of a friendly government sufficiently powerful to disregard the remonstrances of the great mercantile nations. Not many of Japan’s allies stand in this exceptional position, and there is probably but one with which she is willing to hold relations of confidential intimacy. With the United States she has always been ready to unite herself in the closest ties. On two occasions since 1872, the year originally appointed for revision, Japan has sought to procure a separate treaty with America, the terms of which, admitted on all sides to be fair and liberal, were calculated to re-invest her with the rights of which she was deprived in 1858. In no particular could the United States have suffered inconvenience from the execution of the proposed agreements. On the contrary, superior privileges were accorded to Americans, and material advantages insured in the future development of our Eastern commerce. In both instances the department of state allowed the Japanese to believe that the instrument would be accepted, ratified, and proclaimed within a limited time ; and in both instances the consultations were broken off at the last moment, our secretary having been notified that the proceeding would be disagreeable to certain European powers, and to England especially. That was the apology for withdrawing a pledge upon which the patriotic aspirations and the substantial welfare of a nation largely depended. Fortified by an honest treaty with the United States, Japan could confidently reckon upon a similar reconstruction of her relations with other governments. Not one of them would stand out after the republic had set the example of upright dealing. But it has always been the practice of our Executive, so far as Japan is concerned, to keep the word of promise to the ear, and break it to the hope. In his last message to Congress, President Cleveland declared that “the United States have lost no opportunity to testify their constant friendship by supporting the just claims of Japan to autonomy and independence among nations.” As a matter of fact, the United States have never taken one decisive step toward supporting Japan’s autonomy and independence. During the protracted series of conferences which terminated last summer, our minister carefully abstained even from giving the Japanese the benefit of his favoring countenance. His excuse for withholding it, according to the best testimony that can be gathered, was that the Mikado’s advisers had latterly displayed a disposition to rely upon Germany, rather than upon his own country, for aid and comfort. As if Japan, after laboring fruitlessly for years to obtain the necessary assistance from America, were not warranted in looking to any trustworthy quarter for satisfaction! Did we blame the Italians, at various periods of their struggle for unity and self-rule, for accepting the services first of one power, and afterward of others, even at the risk of exposing themselves to accusations of ingratitude ? It was a question of national life or death with them, and to secure from every source all that could add to their strength was one of their highest and most sacred duties. In our own time of trial, twenty-five years ago, we were taught the feebleness of sentimental associations, and were ready, on a critical occasion, to set aside the attachments of the past, and to welcome substantial aid from a more recent ally. Russia, with her splendid fleet in New York harbor at our disposal, was more to us than France, the remembrance of whose ancient friendship was for the while effaced by our indignation at the intrigues of Napoleon III.
If it be true that Japan has been compelled to turn for help to Germany, the circumstance is not creditable to ourselves. She should never have been required to sue even to us, in the first place. If ever a strong country were bound by duty to stand in steadfast friendship by a neighbor, it is the duty of the United States in the case of Japan. We forced her out of the seclusion in which she was reposing, very happily on the whole, and plunged her into a whirlpool of international agitation, in the vortex of which she has more than once been nearly engulfed. It was the verbal blunder of the first American minister — a man of the loftiest character, who would rather have cut off his hand than consciously allow it to inscribe a sentence of lasting ignominy upon a people whom he loved — which involved Japan in all the difficulties that have befallen her ; and it is lamentable to reflect that nothing has since been done, on our side, to remedy the evils caused by his careless oversight. It would cost us nothing to repair the long-standing wrong. Instead of asserting, year after year, that the United States have testified their constant friendship, and have supported Japan’s claims to independence, the President should affirm the immediate want of a new treaty with that empire. This is what General Grant intended to do, if the opportunity had been afforded him, and what he urged other occupants of the White House to do, — for he had learned by personal observation how iniquitously Japan is used. No troublesome preparations are required to put affairs upon the proper footing. The state department has the draft of a perfectly satisfactory agreement, which awaits only signature by the Executive and acceptance by the Senate. The work of half a day at Washington would give all the relief that is asked for, and restore the brightness and activity of hopes that would long ago have expired if not sustained by the faith and fortitude of a people who know that their cause is too righteous to be abandoned in despair.
The second expedient has often been considered, but the statesmen of Japan shrink from employing it until every other alternative shall have been exhausted. It is to formally notify the powers that the treaties are no longer endurable, and that upon a fixed date they will be declared null and void, with the exception of the opening clauses proclaiming peace and good-will between the respective parties. This measure was earnestly advocated by the late E. Peshine Smith, the ablest and most learned of legal counselors who have served the Mikado, and it is supported by numbers who hold to the conviction that no European government would undertake to maintain by force the present condition of affairs. The United States would assuredly favor the plan, and there is reason to believe that Russia and Italy would likewise approve it. Under existing circumstances, Germany could not well refuse to concur, nor could England make any open show of opposition. Austria would probably be indifferent, and France would scarcely attempt a repetition of her wild adventures in Tonquin, five years ago. Of the other European states, there is not one to whose dissatisfaction Japan need give an anxious thought. Nor is it conceivable that they would be permitted by the community of nations to throw the Eastern world into a tumult by threatening war on so frivolous a pretext. What Japan apparently fails to realize is that the states of Europe, acting separately, would look at the situation in a very different light from that which has continually guided the joint body of envoys in Tokio. These individuals have their vanity to glorify, their masquerade of dignity to keep intact, and the lustre of their personal consequence to preserve undimmed,—concerning all of which their respective governments care not a particle. By their united efforts they succeed in preventing a reform which, if once consummated, might set them down a peg or two, but which their superiors at home would make no effort to overthrow. It is one thing for the combined diplomatists to resist a project and retard its fulfillment by threats of dire import, and quite another thing for the several nations to take up arms for the reversal of a measure that has been put in effective operation. The Japanese overlook this distinction, or at least decline to give it sufficient weight. Undoubtedly, they are bound to observe caution in all that they do. Their reputation, as a race, for courage and patriotic devotion is beyond suspicion, and it happens that the officials who at present wield the controlling authority have proved their fearlessness and gallantry under circumstances which have made them conspicuous in a land where all are brave. But it is not now their own lives or fortunes that are at stake. The welfare and the safety of the whole people are in their keeping, and they may be pardoned for calculating the various hazards with the minutest care. And in any case it is best that the forms of amity and courtesy should not be set aside. Knowing this, and knowing how much good could be accomplished by a timely departure from the frigid policy of national selfishness, the government of the United States could not greatly err in joining hands with Japan for the redress of grievances for which the former is in a great degree responsible. It has shown that it can, when so inclined, slip out of the groove in which the international systems of Europe invariably run, and the excellent results of these occasional deviations should serve as a guarantee that further and more important independent movements would be equally judicious and successful.
A striking and pertinent example may here be put in evidence. Twelve years ago, a vast deal of inconvenience was caused by the postal complications in the open ports of Japan. Each country there represented had a post-office of its own, attached to the consulate, for the alleged benefit of the foreign residents, but more generally for the solace of the consuls, who were allowed such perquisites as the rents of boxes and a percentage upon the sales of stamps. The Japanese authorities called attention to the confusion which prevailed, and suggested that the dozen or more conflicting agencies be abolished, undertaking at the same time to make proper arrangements for the conveyance and distribution of all mails to and from other lands. From the outcry which immediately arose, it might have been imagined that nothing short of confiscation of the sum total of foreign possessions had been proposed. The European representatives protested in language of gross insult and abuse, — which, indeed, was at that period the usage, whenever an opportunity for the display of insolence could be discovered. The United States, however, decided to give the scheme a trial. Dissent and remonstrance poured in from every interested quarter, and no efforts were spared to dissuade the government at Washington from what was stigmatized as a fatal weakness. Even the American officials in Japan joined in the clamor. But the Japanese were encouraged by General Grant’s administration to pursue their purpose, and it presently became apparent that the Americans were reaping the advantages of a mail service so incomparably superior to any previously known as to excite the envy of all the other nationalities. Before long, the European merchants in Yokohama sought to be admitted, and were admitted, to the new privileges; but the irreconcilable band of diplomatists endeavored to throw discredit upon the Japanese enterprise by insisting that the separate offices should be kept open long after they had ceased to be used by the persons for whose security it was pretended that they were indispensable. In course of time, the merits of Japan’s mail system came to be popularly acknowledged throughout Eastern Asia, and until recently it supplied the only acceptable facilities for communication in the ports of China, as well as on its own territory. The hostile ministers fought vehemently against its recognition, under the inspiration of their doyen, who never willingly surrendered his cherished prerogative of obstructive leadership, and by various devices strove to impair its efficacy. When even the British envoy was at last compelled to follow in the line marked out by the United States, and close his deserted agency, he revenged himself by trying to provoke unseemly altercations with the attachés of the department, and forcing contemptible quarrels upon its directors. Disregarding these stratagems, and many others which cannot here be narrated, the Japanese post-office stood to its work, advanced steadily in repute and capacity, and is to-day, in its way, one of the model institutions of the world.
What happened in that instance is morally sure to happen in every instance where Japan assumes control of her legitimate business ; and her restoration to such complete and untrammeled authority as is exercised by other civilized states cannot come a day too soon for the practical benefit of all who hold relations with her. The question which her leaders have to consider, since the rebuff inflicted upon them last summer, is whether the decisive step of annulling the onerous treaty provisions should or should not be longer deferred. The question for fair-minded Americans to ask themselves is whether their government is justified in its continued neglect to perform an act of honorable reparation. It would do no harm if they should regard it, for the sake of clearer understanding, in the aspect of an injury suffered by an individual, instead of by a nation. The case is like that of a man unfamiliar with the sharp ways of the world, upon whom a hard bargain is fastened, without any definite comprehension, on his part, of its purport or conditions. He is compelled by the attorney of a powerful neighbor, in satisfaction of a caprice, not of any tangible claim, to subscribe to an agreement requiring him to pay annually one sum of money for a term of five years, and another sum for a term of fourteen years. Additional obligations are exacted, the meaning of which is obscure to him in the beginning, but which he soon discovers to be degrading to his character. Several witnesses of the transaction resolve to take similar advantage of the victim’s simplicity and inexperience, and constrain him to sign identical documents for their advantage. At the expiration of the specified periods, he announces that his indebtedness is at an end, and asks that the bonds be canceled. But the crafty speculators have meanwhile found that a particular word in the original contract can be interpreted so as to enable them to extort the yearly payments for all eternity, which they forthwith announce their intention to do. They moreover persuade the holder of the instrument earliest executed to unite with them in this conspiracy for plunder, notwithstanding that his own instincts are averse to it, and that his attorney repudiates the distortion of language, declares that it was “ against his conscience ” to impose the burden even in its mildest form, and gives public assurance that all liabilities were meant to expire at the dates he had fixed. As years go on, the position of the sufferer becomes insupportable. His home is desolated by penury, and his children are naked and hungry. Worse than this, his name is covered with contumely, his pride is broken, and he cannot hold his head erect among his fellowmen. He undergoes the torment and the ignominy of slavery. Over and again he cries out against the cruel injustice of his lot, but his feeble voice is overpowered by the jeers of his persecutors. He pleads, not for empty phrases of affected sympathy, but for the honest acknowledgment of his rights, to the neighbor who first set the example of depredation, and the accidental mistake of whose agent has alone made the merciless spoliation possible. The appeal is made to one who stands at the summit of an unparalleled prosperity, who has no real desire or purpose to inflict pain, and who has shown himself capable of magnanimity on memorable occasions. But to this recital of flagrant wrongs he gives no generous response. He listens, however, not wholly unconcerned, and at intervals lets fall a whisper which, if repeated aloud and in sincerity, would fill a sinking heart with hope and cheer. How shall it end ? Will he, still heedless of the prompting of honor and rectitude, withhold the gracious utterance ; or, with a single word spoken in good faith, dispel the hardships of a fellowbeing’s career, turn the shadows of his life to brightness, and speed him in the course of liberty and happiness ?
Not widely different is the attitude in which Japan now stands among the nations. What shall her destiny be ?
Scarcely had the preceding lines been written, when the telegraph brought intelligence of a grave political crisis in Japan, resulting directly from the refusal of the European ministers to recede from their inimical position. The rupture of negotiations was ostensibly grounded upon Japan’s unwillingness to give over her judiciary, body and soul, to outside domination. After her commissioners had agreed that foreign judges should actually outnumber the native officials on the bench, in all cases where aliens were concerned, it was furthermore insisted that these judges be directly nominated by the envoys, and that all laws and modifications of laws, rules of procedure, details of organization, every thing pertaining to the administration of justice, be virtually controlled by the diplomatic corps. Overwhelmed by the embarrassments of their situation, and perhaps unnerved by the strain they had undergone, the Japanese delegates unwisely consented to take the requirement into consideration ; but at this point the voice of the people was heard in such vigorous remonstrance that the preposterous proposition was rejected, and the convention was dissolved. Dissensions in the government were the inevitable consequence. One minister of state vacated his office, to signify his lack of confidence in the policy of conciliation thus far pursued by the majority of his colleagues, and the feeling engendered by this act culminated in a general cry for the resignation of the statesman (Count Inouye) who during the past seven years, it was declared, had striven to carry through the revision of the treaties by the Fabian method of retreating before every advance of the enemy.
This is not a fitting time to discuss the expediency or propriety of Inouye’s various processes. That he is the ablest man who in recent years has conducted the external relations of Japan few would venture to deny. His talents are of the highest order, and his devotion to his country’s interests and honor is unimpeachable. But he seems to have trusted too long to a plan of action which is fated forever to fail. The stars in their courses will fight against any of his race who put faith in the friendly pretenses of the Western diplomatists. His loss will be severely felt, not only in the department which he led, but in the government of which he was unquestionably the presiding spirit. It is not possible to indicate, in ordinary expressions of regret, the impression produced by the spectacle of a ministry subverted and the political machinery of a nation wrecked through the mischievous machinations of a band of interloping meddlers. But it seems at least to enforce more emphatically than ever the moral set forth above, that the true principle to be adopted by Japan is a resolute and undaunted assertion of her sovereign privileges. If a man like Inouye cannot succeed by following the opposite theory, its worthlessness should be patent to all eyes. There are already signs of a brisk movement in the contrary direction. A popular leader who is believed to recognize the necessity for courageous activity has been called from retirement to a seat in the cabinet. It is rumored that he will presently be reinforced by the single Japanese statesman who can vie with Inouye in breadth of intellect, practical sagacity, and fertility of resource. The sooner the name of Okuma Shigenobu is added to the list of ministers of state, the greater the likelihood of a speedy vindication of Japan’s long-sacrificed rights and independence.
E. H. House .
- The Japanese metallic currency suggests a conspicuous instance of foreign detraction and ill-will. For many years after its merits and its conveniences were thoroughly established, its circulation in the foreign settlements was virtually prohibited, the banks and the shopkeepers alike declining to accept it, on the ludicrous pretense that the ungainly, variable, and easily counterfeited silver pieces imported from Mexico were the more trustworthy and “conservative” mediums of exchange. The refusal was instigated by the European diplomatists in Tokio, who persisted in their opposition until the commercial constituencies awoke to the absurdity of their action, and put an end to the system of exclusion. It was charming to mortify and vex the Japanese for a series of years; but when the aliens found they were denying themselves a valuable privilege, they took an entirely new view of the situation.↩
- There was a time, fortunately for humanity, when Peruvians were liable to Japanese authority. In 1872, before a treaty with that country had been signed, a Peruvian coolyslave ship, the Maria Luz, bound from Macao to Callao, with hundreds of imprisoned Chinamen on board, was driven by stress of weather into Yokohama harbor. Every effort was made to conceal the character of this vessel, but it was discovered through the attempts of some of the victims to escape by jumping overboard and swimming to other craft near by. She was immediately seized, and the captives were liberated and sent home by the Japanese government, notwithstanding the opposition, and in several cases the hostile threats, of the foreign representatives, excepting only those of the United States and England. The legations of these two countries were under the temporary control of chargés d’affaires. If the ministers had been at their posts, one of them certainly, and the other probably, would have taken a position adverse to Japan, which would then have been obliged to fight entirely unsupported against this nineteenth-century barbarism. It is worthy of note that if Peru had at that date held diplomatic relations with Japan, the latter would have been absolutely powerless to interfere. As it was, her magnanimous and intrepid action led the way to the complete destruction of the infamous cooly traffic.↩
- The following is a list of the Western countries diplomatically represented in Japan, with the number of residents in that empire belonging to each : Hawaii, none ; Peru, none ; Spain, 3; Belgium, 4 ; Russia, 21; Sweden, 28; Italy, 29; Switzerland, 32; Austria, 35; Portugal, 44; Holland, 63; Denmark, 64; France, 178; Germany, 286; United States, 497; Great Britain, 1179: total, 2463. The few officials of legations, etc., are, of course, not included.↩