Dispute with the Chinese about the lorcha "Arrow" — Lorchas and their crews — Abuse of the English flag — Right of entrance into the city of Canton — The Chinese outwit us in diplomacy — True causes of our position in Canton — We have ourselves to blame — The policy which ought to be pursued — The city of Canton must be opened — Foolish restrictions on foreigners and their trade ought to be abolished — Direct communication with the court of Peking — Method of carrying cut these views — Remarks on the climate with reference to the health of our troops — Conclusion.
THE narrative of my travels in China ends with the last chapter, and in ordinary circumstances that chapter would have been the last in this work; but since I left Hongkong a disturbance has broken out at Canton of a most serious kind, which day by day assumes a more important aspect, the end of which is most difficult for those even who are best acquainted with China and the Chinese to foresee.
It is not my intention in this place to attempt a history of the original cause of the dispute in so far as the unfortunate lorcha "Arrow" is concerned, or to express my opinions on a subject upon which the highest legal authorities in England cannot agree. It is sufficient for me to refer the reader to the despatches of the English and Chinese authorities in China, and to the speeches which have been delivered in Parliament for information upon this subject. But whether we may be right or wrong in a legal point of view I doubt much whether it be good policy to allow such vessels as this "Arrow" to fly the English flag. Every one who has travelled much on the coast of China knows well what the majority of these "lorchas" are. And here, perhaps, I had better endeavour to give some information on this point to those who have not had an opportunity of seeing and judging for themselves.
Lorchas are not English vessels, as some people appear to imagine, and are rarely owned or sailed by Englishmen. They are Portuguese vessels, and were originally built at Macao, although of late years a few have been built at Ningpo and some of the other ports on the east coast. They fly the Portuguese flag, have Portuguese papers, and are numbered and registered by the government of Macao. They are manned, almost without exception, by Chinese — natives of Macao, Canton, and adjacent ports in the south of China. Nominally they are commanded by Macao-Portuguese, but the Chinamen always seemed to me to have the chief control of the vessels. The few owned by Englishmen, which fly the English flag and have English papers, are sailed just in the same way, the only difference being that the latter may boast of an English "captain."
A few of these lorchas are common traders on the coast, particularly in the south, about Macao, Canton, Hongkong, and Amoy, but by far the greater number have been engaged of late years in convoying Chinese junks from port to port and protecting them from pirates. When I was last in China a fleet of them was chartered by the mandarins and sent up the Yang-tse-kiang to attack the rebels at that place and Nankin, but in this instance they did not seem very successful. They have often been accused of committing acts of piracy on the coast, and stringent measures have been taken by the Macao government at various times to keep them in order. Generally they are very heavily armed, and have a most formidable-looking appearance.
These vessels, whether in convoying or in simple trading, do not confine themselves to the five ports at which foreigners are permitted by treaty to trade, and are well known both to the Chinese government and to foreigners as inveterate smugglers. Oftentimes the peaceful inhabitants in the little towns on the coast have complained bitterly to me of the lawless and tyrannical acts of their crews.
Such, then, is the class of vessels to which the "Arrow" belongs. Is it right that they should be allowed to sail under the English flag without our government having means to control the lawless acts of their crews? These vessels, as I have already shown, visit and trade at hundreds of places on the coast where bona fide English ships are not allowed. Are these crews to be allowed to commit all sorts of offences against their own government and people and then point to the flag of England — that flag which as Englishmen we proudly look up to as the emblem of liberty and justice — as their protection and as their warrant? This may be in accordance with treaty rights — it may be the law of the case — but it scarcely accords with what reason suggests or common sense. It therefore appears to me to be bad policy on the part of the local government of Hongkong to grant permission to fly the English flag to lorchas or native boats manned by Chinese over whose actions, when away from that port, it has no control.
But as we watch the dispute in question the scene suddenly changes, another act commences, and the lorcha falls into the back-ground. It is no longer satisfaction for the insult offered by the government of China, or rather Commissioner Yeh, to the English flag only which is demanded. It is now discovered that this is a good opportunity for insisting upon our treaty-right of entering the city of Canton. There can be no doubt that we are fully entitled to this privilege, and have been so since the Treaty of Nankin was signed, at the close of the last China war, but it is extremely doubtful that his Excellency Yeh had the power to grant a right, without a reference to the Court of Pekin, which had been allowed to stand so long in abeyance.
It has often been remarked that in everything the Chinese are exactly the reverse of European nations, and here is a fresh proof that the remark is, to a certain extent, a just one. As a nation they cannot fight, but they are first-rate diplomatists; on the other hand, we can win our battles and then allow ourselves to be outwitted by the diplomacy of a nation whom we despise in the field.
In 1842, after taking most of the important maritime cities of China, from Hongkong as far north as Nankin, we made peace with the government upon condition that five ports, namely, Canton, Amoy, Foo-chow, Ningpo, and Shanghae, should be opened to foreigners of every nation for the purposes of trade. Scarcely was this treaty signed before the right of entrance to the city of Canton was disputed by the Chinese, and then we committed our first and greatest mistake in not enforcing it. Some years afterwards the demand was made again by Sir John Davis, who in order to enforce it destroyed many of the forts in the river with the fleet then at his disposal in the Chinese waters. But the Chinese Commissioner of that day did by clever diplomacy what he found impossible by force of arms. He induced Her Majesty's Plenipotentiary to put the evil day off for two years on account of the prejudices of the people; at the end of that period our countrymen would be received with open arms by the loving Cantonese! The Imperial Commissioner knew well enough that at the end of two years the difficulty would just be the same as it was then, but ere that time another officer would have to deal with it, and he himself would get the credit of duping the English out of the city of Canton.
I must confess that the arrangement we made at that time took me completely by surprise. Having a pretty good knowledge of the Chinese character I knew perfectly well that at the end of two years we would be as far from the city of Canton as ever we had been, and the events which have taken place since that time have proved the correctness of the opinion which I then formed.
Not only have we allowed ourselves to be outwitted by Chinese commissioners but we have suffered much in the eyes of the people of China by first making these demands and then allowing them to be evaded. It may be all very well to say that we did so from compassion for a weak power, or semi-civilized nation; the Chinese, full to the brim of self-conceit, put it down to fear. With a nation like the Chinese our demands should be well considered before they are made, but once we have made them they ought to be enforced.
Were the city of Canton open to-morrow few persons would ever visit it except for the purpose of calling upon the officers of government. The finest streets and shops are all outside the walls, and the city itself, from all accounts, possesses but few attractions. But although this is the case the vexed question has assumed an importance not its own, and it is really absolutely necessary now that we force a compliance with our demands if we mean that the lives and property of our countrymen should be safe and commerce go on.
Had we enforced our treaty-rights at first all this would have been avoided, much blood would have been spared, and the Canton Chinese would have treated us with more civility and respect. When the port of Foo-chow-foo, the capital city of Fokien, was opened to foreign trade, an effort was made by the authorities thee to prevent us from having a footing in the city. Our consul, the late Mr. Lay, alone and unaided, forced his way through the gates and took up a temporary residence in a joss-house within the walls. The mandarins, finding one man determined to secure our treaty-rights, gave up the point, and never afterwards objected to our having the consulate in the city. Had a little of such spirit and determination been shown at Canton, and supported by a sufficient force, this vexatious question might have been settled long ago.
In making treaties with a nation like the Chinese we ought not to look upon them as we do upon the more civilized nations of the west. They cannot appreciate our motives of clemency or consideration. During the last war we spared Canton when it lay entirely at our mercy, and the Cantonese to a man gave it as their opinion that we were afraid to attack it. Again, according to them, it was fear which prevented us from insisting upon our treaty-rights as regards free admission within their city walls.
It would appear, therefore, that we have ourselves to blame for much of the barbarous treatment we have received at the hands of the Canton Chinese.
But putting on one side the case of the unfortunate lorcha "Arrow," about which our "doctors differ," there seems to be little doubt that our relations with the Cantonese were upon a most unsatisfactory footing, and that sooner or later the "good understanding" existing between us would have been disturbed. It was only a question of time, and it has been decided somewhat prematurely, perhaps, by this supposed insult to the English flag and infraction of treaty-rights. Our relations with the people and government of Canton can never be considered on a satisfactory footing until we have a full and complete understanding with each other. They must be taught to look upon us as a nation as highly civilised and as powerful as themselves. Until this is accomplished we may have a disturbance at any time; our commerce may be stopped, and what is of far more importance, the lives of our countrymen living in this remote region may be placed in imminent danger.
Whether we were right or wrong, therefore, at the commencement of this unfortunate dispute, it is now absolutely necessary for us to carry it through until our relations are placed upon a firm and satisfactory basis. It may seem fair and plausible for persons ignorant of the Chinese character to talk of justice and humanity — fine sounding words no doubt — but totally inapplicable to the present state of things. Suppose we were now to go down on our knees to Commissioner Yeh, acknowledge our fault, crave forgiveness for the past, and promise to behave better for the future, what would be the result? Is it to be supposed for one moment that this worthy functionary would view such conduct in a proper light, or that the thousands of Chinese under his rule would give us credit for the feelings by which we were actuated? Most assuredly not. The "barbarians," or the "foreign devils," would be again accused of fear, or, what is worse, of cringing to the Cantonese in order that our trade might be allowed to be carried on. By such a proceeding we should place ourselves upon the top of a mine which might be sprung at any time. There would be no security for life or property in Canton, and eventually a war would be forced upon us more disastrous than what may happen at the present time.
In order, therefore, to be humane in the strictest sense of the term, to prevent future war and bloodshed, to give the Cantonese a true estimate of our character, to render the lives and property of our countrymen secure, and to prevent those vexatious interruptions to our commerce, we must carry out what we have begun with a firm and determined hand. With a nation like the Chinese, particularly about Canton, this is true humanity and mercy.
But the question "What do we want from the Chinese?" naturally presents itself, and what points in a new treaty ought to be insisted upon in order to guard against and if possible prevent, future disturbances between us and them. We must have free entrance into the city of Canton, however unimportant this may be; and not for our officials only, as they themselves have suggested, but for our merchants, missionaries, or any one who chooses to go, just as we have at the other five ports which are now open to our trade. Our officials must be received by Chinese officers of equal rank on all occasions when any important business is to be transacted.
If possible, and I do not see anything to prevent it, all those prohibitory regulations as regards our trading at certain ports only, and going only a certain distance into the country, ought to be swept away. These regulations appear to have been framed upon the supposition of our being a barbarous race, foreign devils, and wild animals, which it is necessary to cage up to secure the safety of the civilized Chinese. The sooner such regulations are abrogated the better it will be both for the Chinese and ourselves.
And, lastly, means ought to be taken to have direct communication with the court of Peking, either by means of an ambassador or occasional resident. The Chinese cannot remain much longer isolated from the rest of the world, nor does it seem desirable that they should be so. With the Russians stretching eastward on the banks of the river Amoor, the Americans in California, ourselves in India, and fleets of steamers traversing the sea which washes the shores of this vast empire, isolation for any length of time seems out of the question.
To bring the Chinese within the pale of nations, to extend our commerce, and to open up the country to missionary labour and scientific research, are objects worthy of the earnest consideration of statesmen, not only in England but also in France, America, and in other civilized European countries who are interested in the welfare of mankind.
Supposing that the present time is suitable for the consideration of this important subject, the question as to how it ought to be commenced and carried out naturally presents itself. That the Government of China will offer many objections to the plan may easily be predicted; but the same force which it will be necessary to employ to place our relations on a temporary footing will be sufficient to gain these most desirable results, providing we do not allow ourselves to be outdone once more in diplomacy.
If we are ever to have a permanent peace with the Cantonese, if our trade is to be carried on peaceably, and if the lives and property of our countrymen there are to be secured, the pride of the Chinese officials must be humbled, and the rabble mob in that city must be taught that they cannot insult us with impunity. In the last war this guilty city escaped, while we punished the unoffending inhabitants of the cities to the north, such as Amoy, Ningpo, and Shanghae. We can scarcely commit such an error a second time. If we must punish it seems but just that the chief part of that punishment should fall upon the guilty.
It appears to me to be useless, and only a waste of time to attempt negotiations with a man like Commissioner Yeh. Even if he had the will to agree to our terms he has not the power. We must communicate directly with the Court of Peking; and to have influence there we must be backed with an imposing force to compel a compliance with our demands.
The best and easiest way to accomplish the object in view would be to reoccupy the island of Chusan. This island might be taken without much loss, and while the city of Ting-hae and the adjoining suburbs would afford shelter to our troops, our fleet might rendezvous in its beautiful and commodious harbours. This island is more healthy than Hongkong or any other of the northern ports, and this fact is one of very great importance to the welfare of our troops. It has always been found in our wars with China that the climate has been much more fatal to our soldiers than the guns of the Chinese.
With a force in Chusan we could easily communicate with the Government of Peking. In the south-west monsoon, from May to the end of September, vessels of large draught can run up to the gulf of Pee-che-lee and anchor at no very great distance from the capital. Later in the year, when the north winds are blowing, this could not be done owing to the shallowness of the gulf.
During the last Chinese war the most vulnerable point attacked was the city of Chin-kiang-foo, a few miles below Nanking. Here the most important inland trade of the empire is carried on by means of the grand canal. But this city has been occupied for some years by the insurgents, and any attack upon it would only serve the ends of the Imperial government. Nor would it serve any good end to meddle with the ports of Amoy, Foo-chow, Ningpo, and Shanghae, providing the inhabitants at these places do not mix themselves up in our quarrel.
It would seem, therefore, that our operations should be directed principally to Canton in the south, and to the capital and towns adjacent in the north. And as these operations are likely to last for some time, I can point to no better place than Chusan as the head-quarters for our troops. They are likely to suffer less here from the effects of climate than anywhere else, and will have little difficulty in obtaining an abundant supply of fresh provisions.
It is not my intention in these pages to offer any suggestions to the commander of the Chinese forces as to his mode of action. — I know nothing of the art of war, — but as the whole coast of China from Canton to Shanghae, and much of the inland, is well known to me, any information I give is entitled to consideration.
I have already remarked that the climate of the country is much more to be dreaded than the armies of the Chinese, and I shall draw these remarks to a close by giving a description of what that climate is. In all parts of China where I have been, the hottest months in the year are July and August. In the north the heat is very oppressive from the middle of June to the end of August About Hongkong and Canton the oppressive heat commences a little earlier and lasts longer, although it is not quite so intense as it is further north. My registering thermometer during July and August at Hongkong frequently stood as high as 90°, and one day reached 94° in the shade. In Shanghae and Ningpo the same thermometer used to stand sometimes for days at 100°.
But the hottest months are not the most unhealthy, at least we have not so much sickness then as we have a little later in the season. In September, when the monsoon begins to change, and when the northerly winds come down, causing a sudden depression of temperature, natives as well as foreigners suffer much from fever and dysentery. The excessive summer heat seems to weaken the constitution, and thus renders it more easily affected by the sudden changes of temperature which occur at this period of the year. The rivers of China are particularly unhealthy at this season, a fact which ought to be kept in view by the commanders of our ships of war.
When the monsoon is fairly set in, in October, the climate of Shanghae and Ningpo is as healthy as that of any part of the world. Although the sun is hot during the day at this time, the air is cool and bracing and the nights are cold. In the end of October the thermometer sometimes sinks as low as the freezing point. December, January, and February are the coldest months of the year, the cold then being quite as severe as it is in England. Snow frequently falls, but the sun is too powerful to allow it to lie long upon the ground. Ice of a considerable thickness is formed annually upon all the lakes and canals.
About Canton the winters are much warmer than they are at the more northern ports; the thermometer rarely falls to the freezing-point, and ice and snow are of very rare occurrence. But the climate here, although perhaps not so bracing to a European constitution, seems perfectly healthy during the winter and spring months.
For eight or nine months out of the twelve, then, it would appear that the climate of China, both in the north and also in the south, is healthy to Europeans, and no doubt these are the proper months for the prosecution of military operations with English troops.
The monsoons in the China sea are not so decided as they are in India, but generally the prevailing winds from the end of April to the middle of September blow from the south-west. During the remainder of the year, northerly and easterly winds prevail. Thus what is called the south-west monsoon blows in summer, and the north-east in winter. Sailing vessels from Europe or India, bound for Hongkong or Chusan, or any of the northern ports, are almost certain to have a fair wind up the China sea from April to September, and vice versa, a fair wind down during the other season. During the months of May, June, July, and August, a fleet of sailing vessels could easily rendezvous at Chusan, or any other point on the Chinese coast, and if necessary come down to Hongkong or Canton in three or four days, in the end of September, when the monsoon changes. But if these same vessels wanted to get from Canton to Chusan at that period, they would find considerable difficulty in reaching their destination.
From the information I have thus given it would appear safe to arrive at the following conclusions. 1st. It is useless to attempt to negotiate with a man like Commissioner Yeh: we must have communication with the Court of Peking.
2nd. The island of Chusan is the most suitable point from which we can conduct our negotiations, both on account of its position, and as it is the most healthy part of China for our troops. 3rd. If the lives and property of foreign merchants and others are to be safe in Canton, the mandarins and mob must be taught to treat us with more respect. 4th. The other four ports ought to be respected providing they do not mix themselves up in our quarrel with the Cantonese. 5th. China ought to be opened, and all those foolish restrictions imposed by the last treaty on our trade should be swept away. 6. In conducting our operations the nature of the climate ought to be carefully considered with a view to preserve the lives of our soldiers and sailors.
In conclusion let us hope that the day is not far distant, when this large and important empire, with its three hundred millions of human beings, shall not remain isolated from the rest of the world. The sooner this change takes place the better will it be for the Chinese as well as for ourselves. Trade and commerce will increase to a degree of which the most sanguine can form but a very faint idea at the present time. The riches of the country will be largely developed, and articles useful as food, in the arts, or as luxuries, at present unknown, will be brought into the market. It cannot be true that a vast country like China, where the soil is rich and fertile, the climate favourable, and the teeming population industrious and ingenious, can produce only two or three articles of importance, such as silk and tea, for exportation. There must be many more, and these will be brought to light when the country is fairly and fully opened to the nations of the west.
But when this is accomplished a boon of far greater value will be conferred upon the Chinese than anything connected with the extension of their commerce. The Christian missionary will be able, without fear or restriction, to proclaim the "glad tidings of great joy" to millions of the human race who have never yet heard the joyful sound.
Objects such as these — the placing of our relations on a firm and satisfactory basis, the prevention of unequal wars where much blood is necessarily shed, the extension of trade and commerce, and the free and unrestricted dissemination of the Gospel of Christ — are worthy of the consideration of the highest statesmen and greatest philanthropists of our time.