The Opening Of China, A Drama In Five Acts-God In History
( Originally Published 1910 )
Prologue Act i, the Opium War—(Note on the Tai-ping Rebellion) Act 2, the "Arrow" War Act 3, War with France Act 4, War with Japan—Act 5, the Boxer War
IF ONE were asked to name the most important three events that took place in Asia in the last century, he could have no hesitation in pointing to the extension of the Indian Empire and the renovation of Japan as two of them. But where would he look for the third? Possibly to some upheaval in Turkey, Persia, or Asiatic Russia. In my opinion, however, China is the only country whose history supplies the solution of the problem. The opening of that colossal empire to unrestricted intercourse with other countries was not a gradual evolution from within—it was the result of a series of collisions between the conservatism of the extreme Orient and the progressive spirit of the Western world.
Each of those collisions culminated in a war, giving rise to a cloud of ephemeral literature, in which a student might easily lose his way, and which it would require the lifetime of an antediluvian to exhaust. I think, therefore, that I shall do my readers a service if I set before them a concise outline of each of those wars, together with an account of its causes and consequences. Not only will this put them on their guard against misleading statements; it will also furnish them with a syllabus of the modern history of China in relation to her intercourse with other nations.
During the past seven decades the Chinese Empire has been no less than five times in conflict with foreign powers; and on each occasion her policy has under-gone a modification more or less extensive. Taking these five conflicts seriatim—without touching on those internal commotions whose rise and fall resembles the tides of the ocean—I shall ask my readers to think of the Flowery Land as a stage on which, within the memory of men now living, a tragedy in five acts has been performed. Its subject was the Opening of China; and its first act was the so-called Opium War (1839-42). Prior to 1839 the Central Empire, as the Chinese proudly call their country, with a population nearly equal to that of Europe and America combined, was hermetically sealed against foreign intercourse, except at one point, viz., the "Factories" at Canton.
This state of things is depicted with a few master-strokes in a popular work in Chinese entitled " Strange Stories of an Idle Student." The first of these tales describes a traveller meeting in the mountains an old man, in the costume of a former dynasty, whose family had there sought a refuge from the anarchy that preceded the fall of the imperial house. This old fellow had not even heard of the accession of the Manchu conquerors; and though he was eager for information, he disappeared without giving any clue to the Sleepy Hollow in which he was hiding. The author no doubt intended a quiet satire on the seclusion of China, that had nothing to ask of the out-side world but to be let alone.
Another of the sketches, which is no satire, but a cautionary hint—perhaps an unconscious prophecy—is entitled " The Magic Carpet of the Red-haired," a vulgar designation for Europeans, in contrast with the Chinese, who sty-le themselves the " Black-haired race." During the former dynasty, it says, a ship arrived from some unknown country, and those aboard desired to engage in commerce. Their request was refused; but when they asked permission to dry their goods on shore, requiring for that purpose no more ground than they could cover with a carpet, their petition was readily granted. The carpet was spread, and the goods were exposed to the sun; then, taking the carpet by its four corners, they stretched it so that it covered several acres. A large body of armed men then planted themselves on it, and striking out in every direction took possession of the country. This elastic carpet reminds one of Dido's bull's hide, which covered space enough for the foundation of Carthage.
ACT I. THE OPIUM WAR, 1839-1842
The Tartars, who began their conquest in 1644, were naturally suspicious of other foreigners who had secured a foothold in India, where the Great Mogul, a scion of their own race, still held nominal sway. The trading-posts, which the Chinese emperors had permitted foreigners to open as far north as Ningpo, were closed, and only one point of tangency was allowed to remain —the above-mentioned Factories at Canton, a spot, as we shall see, large enough to admit of the spreading of a " magic carpet." Foreign trade was at that time insignificant, in comparison with the enormous expansion which it has now attained. It was mainly in the hands of the British, as it still continues to be; and no small part of it consisted in opium from the poppy-fields of India. Though under the ban of prohibition, this drug was smuggled into every bay and inlet, with scarcely a pretence of concealment. With the introduction of the vicious opium habit the British had nothing to do; but they contrived to turn it to good account.
The Emperor Tao Kwang, moved, it is said, by the unhappy fate of one of his sons who had fallen a victim to the seductive poison, resolved at all hazards to put a stop to a traffic so ruinous to his people. Commissioner Lin, a native of Foochow, was transferred from the viceroyalty of Wuchang to that of Canton and clothed with plenary powers for the execution of this decree. To understand the manner in which he undertook to execute the will of his master it must be remembered that diplomatic intercourse had as yet no existence in China, because she considered herself as sustaining to foreign nations no other relation than that of a suzerain to a vassal. Her mandarins scorned to hold direct communication with any of the superintendents of foreign commerce—receiving petitions and sending mandates through the hong merchants, thirteen native firms which had purchased a monopoly of foreign trade.
In 1834 Lord Napier was appointed to the humble position of superintendent of British trade in China, He arrived at Macao on July 15 of that year, and announced his appointment by a letter to the prefect, which was handed for transmission to the commander of the city gate of Canton—a barrier which no foreigner was permitted to pass. The letter was returned through the brokers without any answer other than a line on the cover informing the" barbarian eye" (consul) that the document was " tossed back " because it was not superscribed with the character pin (or ping), which signifies a " humble petition."
This was the beginning of sorrows for China as well as for poor Napier, who, failing in his efforts to communicate with the mandarins on equal terms, retired to the Portuguese settlement of Macao and died of disappointment. The eminent American states-man, John Quincy Adams, speaking in later years of the war that ensued, declared that its cause was not opium but a pin, i. e., an insolent assumption of superiority on the part of China.
The irrepressible conflict provoked by these in-dignities was precipitated in 1839 by the action of the new viceroy, who undertook to effect a summary suppression of the traffic in opium. One morning shortly after his arrival, the foreigners at Canton, who were always locked up at night for their own safety, awoke to find themselves surrounded by a body of soldiers and threatened with indiscriminate slaughter unless they surrendered the obnoxious drug, stored on their opium hulks, at an anchorage outside the harbour.
While they were debating as to what action to take, Captain Charles Elliot, the new superintendent, came up from Macao and bravely insisted on sharing the duress of his countrymen. Calling the merchants together he requested them to surrender their opium to him, to be used in the service of the Queen as a ransom for the lives of her subjects, assuring them that Her Majesty's Government; would take care that they should be properly indemnified. Twenty thou-sand chests of opium were handed over to the viceroy (who destroyed the drug by mixing it with quicklime .in huge vats) ; and the prisoners were set at liberty.
The viceroy fondly imagined that the incident was closed, and flattered himself that he had gained an easier victory than he could have done by sending his junks against the armed ships of the smugglers. Little did he suspect that he had lighted a slow-match, that would blow up the walls of his own fortress and place the throne itself at the mercy of the "barbarian."
A strong force was despatched to China to exact an indemnity, for which the honour of the Crown had been pledged, and to punish the Chinese for the cut-throat fashion in which they had sought to suppress a prohibited trade. The proud city of Canton averted a bombardment by paying a ransom of $6,000,000; islands and seaports were occupied by British troops as far north as the River Yang-tse; and Nanking, the ancient capital, was only saved from falling into their hands by the acceptance of such conditions of peace as Sir Henry Pottinger saw fit to impose.
Those conditions were astonishingly moderate for a conqueror who, unembarrassed by the interests of other powers, might have taken the whole empire. They were, besides payment for the destroyed drug, the opening of five ports to British trade, and the cession to Great Britain of Hong Kong, a rocky islet which was then the abode of fishermen and pirates, but which to-day claims to outrank all the seaports of the world in the amount of its tonnage. Not a word, be it noted, about opening up the vast interior, not a syllable in favour of legalising the opium traffic, or tolerating Christianity.
So much for the charge that this war, which bears a malodorous name, was waged for the purpose of compelling China to submit to the continuance of an immoral traffic. That a smuggling trade would go on with impunity was no doubt foreseen and reckoned on by interested parties; but it is morally certain that if the Chinese had understood how to deal with it they might have rid themselves of the incubus without provoking the discharge of another shot.
Here ends the first act, in 1842; and in it I may claim a personal interest from the fact that my attention was first turned to China as a mission field by the boom of British cannon in the Opium War.
China was not opened ; but five gates were set ajar against her will. For that she has to thank the pride and ignorance of emperor and viceroy which betrayed them into the blunder of dealing with British merchants as a policeman deals with pickpockets. For the first time in her history she was made aware of the existence of nations with which she would have to communicate on a footing of equality.
The moderation and forbearance of Pottinger in refraining from demanding larger concessions, and in leaving the full consequences of this war to be unfolded by the progress of time, may fairly challenge comparison with the politic procedure of Commodore Perry in dealing with Japan in 1854. One may ask, too, would Japan have come to terms so readily if she had not seen her huge neighbour bowing to superior force?
An important consequence of the Opium War was the outbreak of rebellions in different parts of the Empire. The prestige of the Tartars was in the, dust. Hitherto deemed invincible, they had been beaten by a handful of foreigners. Was not this a sure sign that their divine commission had been withdrawn by the Court of Heaven? If so, might it not be possible to wrest the sceptre from their feeble grasp, and emancipate the Chinese race?
Private ambition was kindled at the prospect, and patriotism was invoked to induce the people to make common cause. Three parties entered the field : the Tai-pings of the South, the " Red-haired" on the seacoast, and the Nienfi in the north. Neither of the latter two deserves notice ; but the first-named made for themselves a place in history which one is not at liberty to ignore, even if their story were less romantic than it is. It will be convenient to intro-duce here the following note on the Tai-ping rebellion.
THE TAI-PING REBELLION
In 1847 a young man of good education and pleasing manners, named Hung Siu-tsuen, presented himself at the American Baptist mission in Canton, saying he had seen their sacred book and desired instruction. This he received from the Rev. Issachar Roberts; and he was duly enrolled as a catechumen. Without receiving the sealing ordinance, or taking his instructor into confidence, Siu-tsuen returned to his home at Hwahien and began to propagate his new creed. His talents and zeal won adherents, whom he organised into a society called Shang-ti-hwui, " the Church of the supreme God." Persecution transformed it into a political party, to which multitudes were attracted by a variety of motives.
Following the early Church, in the absence of any modern model, his converts expected and received spiritual gifts. Shall we describe such manifestations as hysteria, hypnotism, or hypocrisy? Their fanaticism was contagious, especially after their flight to the mountains of Kwangsi. There Siu-tsuen boldly raised the flag of rebellion and proclaimed that he had a divine call to restore the throne to the Chinese race, and to deliver the people from the curse of idolatry. In this twofold crusade he was ably seconded by one Yang, who possessed all the qualities of a successful hierophant. Shrewd and calculating, Yang was able at will to bring on cataleptic fits, during which his utterances passed for the words of the Holy Ghost.
The new empire which they were trying to establish, they called Tai-ping Tien-kwoh, "The Kingdom of Heaven and the reign of peace." Hung was emperor, to be saluted with Wansue! (Japanese, Banzai!) " r0,000 years! " Yang as prince-premier was saluted with " 9,000 years," nine-tenths of a banzai.. He was the medium of communication with the Court of Heaven; and all their greater movements were made by command of Shang-ti, the Supreme Ruler.
On one occasion Yang went into a trance and declared that Shang-ti was displeased by something done by his chief, and required the latter to receive a castigation on his naked shoulders. The chief submitted, whether from credulity or from policy it might not be easy to say; but thereby the faith of his followers seems to have been confirmed rather than shaken. Nor did Yang take advantage of his chief's disgrace to usurp his place or to treat him as a puppet.
Through Yang it was revealed that they were to leave their mountain fortress and strike for Nanking, which had been made the capital on the expulsion of the Mongols, and which was destined to enjoy the same dignity on the overthrow of the Manchus. That programme, one of unexampled daring, was promptly put into execution. Descending into the plains of Hunan, like a mountain torrent they swept every-thing before them and began their march towards the central stronghold fifteen hundred miles distant. Striking the " Great River " at Hankow, they pillaged the three rich cities Wuchang, Hanyang, and Hankow, and, seizing all the junks, committed themselves to its current without a doubt as to the issue of their voyage.
Nanking was carried by assault despite the alleged impregnability of its ramparts, and despite also a garrison of 25,000 Manchus. These last must have fought with the fury of despair; for they well knew what fate awaited them. Not one was spared to tell the tale—this was in 1853. There the Tai-pings held their ground for ten years; and it is safe to affirm that without the aid of foreign missionaries they never would have been dislodged.
The second part of their enterprise—the expulsion of the Manchus from Peking—ended in defeat. A strong detachment was sent north by way of the Grand Canal. At first they met with great success —no town or city was able to check their progress, which resembled Napoleon's invasion of Russia. At the beginning of winter they were met by a strong force under the Mongol prince Sengkolinsin; then came the more dreaded generals—January and February. Unable to make headway, they went into winter quarters, and committed the blunder of dividing themselves between two towns, where they were besieged and cut off in detail.
In the meantime the eyes of the world were turned toward Nanking. Ships of war were sent to reconnoitre and Consul T. T. Meadows, who accompanied the Hermes, made a report full of sympathy; but the failure of their expedition to the north deterred the nation from any formal recognition of the Tai-ping government.
Missionaries were attracted by their profession of Christianity. Among others, I made an unsuccessful attempt to reach them. Unable to induce my boat-men to run the blockade, I returned home and took up the pen in their defence. My letters were well received, but they did not prevent soldiers of fortune, like the American Frederick G. Ward and Colonel Gordon of the British army, throwing their swords into the scale.
Two Sabbatarians hearing that the rebels observed Saturday for their day of rest, posted off to confirm them in that ancient usage. Learning at an outpost that the seeming agreement with their own practice grew out of a mistake in reckoning, they did not continue their journey.
A missionary who actually penetrated to the rebel headquarters was the Rev. Issachar Roberts, the first instructor of the rebel chief. The latter had sent him a message inviting him to court. His stay was not long. He found that his quondam disciple had substituted a new mode of baptism, neither sprinkling nor immersion, but washing the pit of the stomach with a towel dipped in warm water! Who says the Chinese are not original? It is probable that Roberts's dispute lay deeper than a mere ceremony. Professing a New Testament creed, the rebel chief shaped his practice on Old Testament examples—killing men as ruthlessly as David, and, like Solomon, filling his harem with women. A remonstrance on either head was certain to bring danger; it was said indeed that Roberts's life was threatened.
Some queer titles were adopted by the Tai-pings.
As stated above, the premier was styled' "Father of 9,000 years"; other princes had to content them-selves with 7,000, 6,000, etc.—or seven-tenths and six-tenths of a "Live forever!" Christ was the " Heavenly Elder Brother"; and the chief called him-self "Younger Brother of Jesus Christ." These designations might excite a smile; but when he called Yang, his adviser, the " Holy Ghost," one felt like stopping one's ears, as did the Hebrews of old. The loose morals of the Tai-pings and their travesty of sacred things horrified the Christian world; and Gordon no doubt felt that he was doing God a service in breaking up a horde of blasphemers and blackguards.
Gordon's victory won an earldom for Li Hung Chang; but the Chinese conferred no posthumous honours on Gordon as they did on Ward, who has a temple and is reckoned among the gods of the empire.
The Tai-pings were commonly called Changmao, "long-haired" rebels, because they rejected the ton-sure and "pigtail" as marks of subjection. They printed at Nanking, by what they called "Imperial authority," an edition of the Holy Scriptures. At one time Lord Elgin, disgusted by the conduct of the Peking Government, proposed to make terms with the court at Nanking. The French minister refused to cooperate, partly because the rebels had not been careful to distinguish between the images in Roman Catholic chapels and those in pagan temples, but chiefly from an objection to the ascendency of Protestant influence, coupled with a fear of losing the power that comes from a protectorate of Roman Catholic missions. How different would have been the future of China had the allied powers backed up the Tai-pings against the Manchus!
ACT 2. THE "ARROW" WAR, 1857-186o
Of the second act in this grand drama on the world's wide stage, a vessel, named the Arrow, was, like opium in the former conflict, the occasion, not the cause. The cause was, as before, pride and ignorance on the part of the Chinese, though the British are not to be al-together exonerated. Their flag was compromised; and they sought to protect it. Fifteen years of profitable commerce had passed, during which China had been a double gainer, receiving light and experience in addition to less valuable commodities, when Viceroy Yeh seized the lorcha Arrow, on a charge of piracy. Though owned by Chinese, she was registered in Hong Kong, and sailed under the British flag. Had the viceroy handed her over to a British court for trial, justice would no doubt have been done to the delinquents, and the two nations would not have been embroiled; but, haughty as well as hasty, the viceroy declined to admit that the British Govern-ment had any right to interfere with his proceedings. Unfortunately (or fortunately) British interests at Canton were in the hands of Consul Parkes, afterward Sir Harry Parkes, the renowned plenipotentiary at Peking and Tokio.
Sir John Bowring was governor of Hong Kong, with the oversight of British interests in the Empire. A gifted poet, and an enthusiastic advocate of universal peace, he was a man who might be counted on, if in the power of man, to hold the dogs of war in leash. But he, too, had been consul at Canton and he knew by experience the quagmire in which the best intentions were liable to be swamped.
Parkes, whom I came to know as Her Britannic Majesty's minister in Peking, was the soul of honour, as upright as any man who walked the earth. But with all his rectitude, he, like the Viceroy Yeh, was irascible and unyielding. When the viceroy refused his demand for the rendition of the Arrow and her crew, he menaced him with the weight of the lion's paw. Alarmed, but not cowed, the viceroy sent the prisoners in fetters to the consulate, instead of replacing them on board their ship; nor did he vouchsafe a word of courtesy or apology. Parkes, too fiery to overlook such contemptuous informality, sent them back, much as a football is kicked from one to another; and the viceroy, incensed beyond measure, ordered their heads to be chopped off without a trial.
Here was a Gordian knot, which nothing but the sword could loose. War was provoked as before by the rashness of a viceroy. The peace-loving governor did not choose to swallow the affront to his country, nor did the occupant of the Dragon Throne deign to interfere; looking on the situation with the same sublime indifference with which the King of Persia regarded the warlike preparations of the younger Cyrus, when he supposed, as Xenophon tells us, that he was only going to fight out a feud with a neighbouring satrap. How could China be opened; how was a stable equilibrium possible so long as foreign powers were kept at a distance from the capital of the Empire?
In three months the haughty viceroy was a prisoner in India, never to return, and his provincial capital was held by a garrison of British troops. On this occasion the old blunder of admitting the city to ransom was not repeated, else Canton might have continued to be a hotbed of seditious plots and anti-foreign hostilities. Parkes knew the people, and he knew their rulers also. He was accordingly allowed to have his own way in dealing with them. The viceroy being out of the way, he proposed to Pehkwei, the Manchu governor, to take his place and carry on the provincial government as if the two nations were at peace. Strange to say, the governor did not decline the task. That he did not was due to the fact that he disapproved the policy of the viceroy, and that he put faith in the assurance that Great Britain harboured no design against the reigning house or its territorial domain.
To the surprise of the Chinese, who in their native histories find that an Asiatic conqueror always takes possession of as much territory as he is able to hold, it soon became evident that the Queen of England did not make war in the spirit of conquest. Her premier, Lord Palmerston, invited the cooperation of France, Russia, and the United States, in a movement which was expected to issue advantageously to all, especially to China. France, at that time under an ambitious successor of the great Napoleon, seized the opportunity to contribute a strong contingent, with the view of checkmating England and of obtaining for herself a free hand in Indo-China, possibly ' in China Proper also. For assuming a hostile attitude towards China, she found a pretext in the judicial murder of a missionary in Kwangsi, just as Germany found two of her missionaries similarly useful as an excuse for the occupation of Kiao-Chao in 1897. No wonder the Chinese have grown cautious how they molest a missionary; but they needed practical teaching before they learned the lesson.
Unable to take a morsel of China as long as his powerful ally abstained from territorial aggrandisement, Louis Napoleon subsequently employed his troops to enlarge the borders of a small state which the French claimed in Annam, laying the foundation of a dominion which goes far to console them for the loss of India. America and Russia, having no wrongs to redress, declined to send troops, but consented to give moral support to a movement for placing foreign relations with China on a satisfactory basis.
In the spring of 1858, the representatives of the four powers met at the mouth of the Peiho, cooperating in a loose sort of concert which permitted each one to carry on negotiations on his own account. As interpreter to the Hon. W. B. Reed, the American minister, I enjoyed the best of opportunities for observing what went on behind the scenes, besides being a spectator of more than one battle.
The neutrals, arriving in advance of the belligerents, opened negotiations with the Viceroy of Chihli, which might have added supplementary articles, but must have left the old treaties substantially unchanged. The other envoys coming on the stage insisted that the viceroy should wear the title and be clothed with the powers of a plenipotentiary. When that was refused, as being "incompatible with the absolute sovereignty of the Emperor," they stormed the forts and proceeded to Tientsin where they were met by men whose credentials were made out in due form, though it is doubtful if their powers exceeded those of the crestfallen viceroy. A pitiful artifice to maintain their affectation of superiority was the placing of the names of foreign countries one space lower than that of China in the despatch announcing their appointment. When this covert insult was pointed out they apologised for a clerical error, and had the despatches rectified.
The allies were able to dictate their own terms; and they got all they asked for, though, as will be seen, they did not ask enough. The rest of us got the same, though we had struck no blow and shed no blood. One article, known as "the most-favoured-nation clause" (already in the treaty of 1844), was all that we required to enable us to pick up the fruit when others shook the tree.
Four additional seaports were opened, but Tienstin, where the treaties were drawn up, was not one of them. I remember hearing Lord Elgin, whose will was absolute, say that he was not willing to have it thrown open to commerce, because in that case it would be used to overawe the capital—just as if overaweing were not the very thing needed to make a bigoted government enter on the path of progress. Never did a man in repute for statesmanship show himself more shortsighted. His blunder led to the renewal of the war, and its continuance for two more years.
The next year when the envoys came to the mouth of the river, on their way to Peking to exchange ratified copies of their treaties, they found the forts rebuilt, the river closed, and access to the capital by way of Tientsin bluntly refused. In taking this action, the Chinese were not chargeable with a breach of faith; but the allies, feeling insulted at having the door shut in their faces, decided to force it open. They had a strong squadron; but their gunboats were no match for the forts. Some were sunk; others were beached; and the day ended in disastrous defeat. Though taking no part in the conflict the Americans were not indifferent spectators. Hearing that the British admiral was wounded, their commodore, the brave old Tatnall, went through a shower of bullets to express his sympathy, getting his boat shattered and losing a man on the way. When requested to lend a helping hand, he exclaimed " Blood is thicker than water; " and, throwing neutrality to the winds, he proceeded to tow up a flotilla of British barges. His words have echoed around the world; and his act, though impolitic from the viewpoint of diplomacy, had the effect of knitting closer the ties of two kindred nations.
Seeing the repulse of the allies, the American minister, the Hon. J. E. Ward, resolved to accept an offer which they had declined, namely, to proceed to the capital by land under a Chinese escort. His country was pledged in the treaty, of which he was the bearer, to use her good offices on the occurrence of difficulties with other powers. Without cavilling at the pre-scribed route or mode of conveyance, he felt it his duty to present himself before the Throne as speedily as possible in the hope of averting a threatened calamity. For him, it was an opportunity to do something great and good; for China, it was the last chance to ward off a crushing blow. But so elated were the Chinese by their unexpected success that they were in no mood to accept the services of a mediator. The Emperor insisted that he should go on his knees like the tribute-bearer from a vassal state. " Tell them," said Mr. Ward, " that I go on my knees only to God and woman "—a speech brave and chivalrous, but undignified for a minister and unintelligible to the Chinese. With this he quitted the capital and left China to her fate. He was not the first envoy to meet a rude rebuff at the Chinese court. In 1816 Lord Amherst was not allowed to see the " Dragon's Face " because he refused to kneel. At that date England was not in a position to punish the insult; but it had something to do with the war of 1839. In 1859 it was pitiful to see a power whose existence was hanging in the scales alienate a friend by unseemly insolence.
The following year (1860) saw the combined forces of two empires at the gates of Peking. The summer palace was laid in ashes to punish the murder of a company of men and officers under a flag of truce; and it continues to be an unsightly ruin. The Emperor fled to Tartary to find a grave; and throne and capital were for the first time at the mercy of an Occidental army. On the accession of Hien-feng, in 1850, an old counsellor advised him to make it his duty to " restore the restrictions all along the coast." His attempt to do this was one source of his misfortunes. Supplementary articles were signed within the walls, by which China relinquished her absurd pretensions, abandoned her long seclusion, and, at the instance of France, threw open the whole empire to the labours of Christian missions. They had been admitted by rescript to the Five Ports, but no further.
Thus ends the second act of the drama; and a spectator must be sadly deficient in spiritual insight if he does not perceive the hand of God overruling the strife of nations and the blunders of statesmen.
ACT 3. WAR WITH FRANCE
The curtain rises on the third act of the drama in 1885. Peking was open to residence, and I had charge of a college for the training of diplomatic agents.
I was at Pearl Grotto, my summer refuge near Peking, when I was called to town by a messenger from the Board of Foreign Affairs. The ministers informed me that the French had destroyed their fleet and seized their arsenal at Foochow. " This," they said, " is war. We desire to know how the non-combatants of the enemy are to be treated according to the rules of international law." I wrote out a brief statement culled from text-books, which I had myself translated for the use of the Chinese Government; but before I had finished writing a clerk came to say that the Grand Council wished to have it as soon as possible, as they were going to draw up a decree on the subject. The next day an imperial decree proclaimed a state of war and assured French people in China that if they refrained from taking part in any hostile act they might remain in their places, and count on full protection. Nobly did the government of the day redeem its pledge.
Not a missionary was molested in the interior; and two French professors belonging to my own faculty were permitted to go on with the instruction of their classes.
There was not much fighting. The French seized Formosa; and both parties were preparing for a trial of strength, when a seemingly unimportant occurrence led them to come to an understanding. A small steamer belonging to the customs service, employed in supplying the wants of lighthouses, having been taken by the French, Sir Robert Hart applied to the French premier, Jules Ferry, for its release. This was readily granted; and an intimation was at the same time given that the French would welcome overtures for a settlement of the quarrel. Terms were easily agreed upon and the two parties resumed the status quo ante bellum.
So far as the stipulations were concerned neither party had gained or lost anything, yet as a matter of fact France had scored a substantial victory. She was henceforward left in quiet possession of Tongking, a principality which China had regarded as a vassal and endeavoured to protect.
ACT 4. WAR WITH JAPAN
China had not thoroughly learned the lesson suggested by this experience; for ten years later a fourth act in the drama grew out of her unwise attempt to protect another vassal.
In 1894 the Japanese, provoked by China's interference with their enterprises in Korea, boldly drew the sword and won for themselves a place among the great powers. I was in Japan when the war broke out, and, being asked by a company of foreigners what I thought of Japan's chances, answered, " The swordfish can kill the whale."
Not merely did the islanders expel the Chinese from the Korean peninsula, but they took possession of those very districts in Manchuria from which they have but yesterday ousted the Russians. Peking itself was in danger when Li Hung Chang was sent to the Mikado to sue for peace. Luckily for China a Japanese assassin lodged a bullet in the head of her ambassador; and the Mikado, ashamed of . that cowardly act, granted peace on easy conditions. China's greatest statesman carried that bullet in his dura mater to the end of his days, proud to have made him-self an offering for his country, and rejoicing that one little ball had silenced the batteries of two empires.
By the terms of the treaty, Japan was to be left in possession of Port Arthur and Liao-tung. But this arrangement was in fatal opposition to the policy of a great power which had already cast covetous eyes on the rich provinces of Manchuria. Securing the support of France and Germany, Russia compelled the Japanese to withdraw; and in the course of three years she herself occupied those very positions, kind-ling in the bosom of Japan the fires of revenge, and sowing the seeds of another war.
The effect of China's defeat at the hands of her despised neighbour, was, if possible, more profound than that of her humiliation by the English and French in 186o. She saw how the adoption of Western methods had clothed a small Oriental people with irresistible might; and her wisest statesmen set them-selves to work a similar transformation in their antiquated empire. The young Emperor showed himself an apt pupil, issuing a series of reformatory edicts, which alarmed the conservatives and provoked a reaction that constitutes the last act in this tremendous drama.
ACT 5. THE BOXER WAR
The fifth act opens with the coup d'état of the Empress Dowager, and terminates with the capture of Peking by the combined forces of the civilised world.
Instead of attempting, even in outline, a narrative of events, it will be more useful to direct attention to the springs of action. It should be borne in mind that the late Emperor was the adopted son of the Dowager Empress. After the death of her own son, Tung-chi, who occupied the throne for eleven years under a joint regency of two empresses, his mother cast about for some one to adopt in his stead. With motives not difficult to divine she chose among her nephews an infant of three summers, and gave him the title Kwangsu, " Illustrious Successor." When he was old enough to be entrusted with the reins of government, she made a feint of laying down her power, in deference to custom. Yet she exacted of the imperial youth that he visit her at her country palace and throw himself at her feet once in five days—proof enough that she kept her hand on the helm, though she mated her nephew to pose as steersman. She her-self was noted for progressive ideas; and it was not strange that the young man, under the influence of Kang Yuwei, backed by enlightened viceroys, should go beyond his adoptive mother. Within three years from the close of the war he had proclaimed a succession of new measures which amounted to a reversal of the old policy; nor is it likely that she disapproved of any of them, until the six ministers of the Board of Rites, the guardians of a sort of Levitical law, be-sought her to save the empire from the horrors of a revolution.
For her to command was to be obeyed. The viceroys were her appointees; and she knew they would stand by her to a man. The Emperor, though nominally independent, was not emancipated from the obligations of filial duty, which were the more binding as having been created by her voluntary choice. There was no likelihood that he would offer serious resistance; and it was certain that he would not be supported if he did. Coming from behind the veil, she snatched the sceptre from his inexperienced hand, as a mother takes a deadly weapon from a half-grown boy. Submitting to the inevitable he made a formal surrender of his autocratic powers and, confessing his errors, implored her " to teach him how to govern." This was in September, 1898.
Stripped of every vestige of authority, the unhappy prince was confined, a prisoner of state, in a secluded palace where it was thought he would soon receive the present of a silken scarf as a hint to make way for a worthier successor. That his life was spared was no doubt due to a certain respect for the public sentiment of the world, to which China is not altogether insensible. He having no direct heir, the son of Prince Tuan was adopted by the Dowager as heir-apparent, evidently in expectation of a vacancy soon to be filled. Prince Tuan, hitherto unknown in the politics of the state, became, from that moment, the leader of a reactionary party. Believing that his son would soon be called to the throne by the demise of the Emperor, he put on all the airs of a Tai-shang Hwang, or "Father of an Emperor."
Here again the patria potestas comes in as a factor; and in the brief career of the father of the heir-apparent, it shows itself in its most exaggerated form. Under the influence of the reactionary clique, of which he was acknowledged chief, the Empress Dowager in her new regency was induced to repeal almost every-thing the Emperor had done in the way of reform. In her edict she said cynically: " It does not follow that we are to stop eating, because we have been choked!" Dislike to foreign methods engendered an ill-concealed hatred of foreigners; and just at this epoch occurred a series of aggressions by foreign powers, which had the effect of fanning that hatred into a flame.
In the fall of 1897 Germany demanded the cession of Kiao-Chao, calling it a lease for 99 years. The next spring Russia under the form of a lease for 25 years obtained Port Arthur for the terminus of her long railway. England and France followed suit: one taking a lease of Wei-hai-wei; the other, of Kwangchou-wan. Though in every case the word "lease" was employed, the Chinese knew the transfer meant permanent alienation.
A hue and cry was raised against what they described as the " slicing of the melon," and in Shantung, where the first act of spoliation had taken place, the Boxers, a turbulent society of long standing, were encouraged to wage open war against native Christians, foreigners and foreign products, including railways, telegraphs, and all sorts of merchandise.
Not until those predatory bands had entered the metropolitan province, with the avowed object of pushing their way to Peking* did the legations take steps to strengthen their guards. A small reinforcement of 207 men luckily reached Peking a few days before the railway was wrecked.
With a view to protect the foreign settlement at Tientsin, then threatened by Boxers, the combined naval forces stormed the forts at the mouth of the river, and advanced to that rich emporium. The Court denounced this as an act of war, and ordered all foreigners to leave the capital within twenty-four hours. That meant slaughter at the hands of the Boxers. The foreign ministers protested, and endeavoured by prolonged negotiation to avoid compliance with the cruel order.
On June 20, the German minister, Baron von Ketteler, was on his way to the Foreign Office to obtain an extension of time, when he was shot dead in the street by a man in the uniform of a soldier. His secretary, though wounded, gave the alarm; and all the legations, with all their respective countrymen, took refuge in the British Legation, with the exception of Bishop Favier and his people who, with the aid of forty marines, bravely defended themselves in the new cathedral.
In the evening we were fired on by the Government troops, and from that time we were closely besieged and exposed to murderous attacks day and night for eight weeks, when a combined force under the flags of eight nations carried the walls by storm, just in time to prevent such a massacre as the world has never seen. Massacres on a larger scale have not been a rare spectacle; but never before in the history of the world had any government been seen attempting to destroy an entire diplomatic body, every member of whom is made sacred by the law of nations.
On August 14 Gen. Gaseles and his contingent entered the British Legation. The Court, conscious of guilt, fled to the northwest, leaving the city once more at the mercy of the hated foreigner; and so the curtain falls on the closing scene.
What feats of heroism were performed in the course of those eventful weeks; how delicate women rose to the height of the occasion in patient endurance and helpful charity; how international jealousies were merged in the one feeling of devotion to the common good—all this and more I should like to relate for the honour of human nature.
How an unseen power appeared to hold our enemies in check and to sustain the courage of the besieged, I would also like to place on record, to the glory of the Most High; but space fails for dealing with anything but general principles.-
On the day following our rescue, at a thanksgiving meeting, which was largely attended, Dr. Arthur Smith pointed out ten instances—most of us agreed that he might have made the number ten times ten —in which the providence of God had intervened on our behalf.
It was a rule of an ancient critic that a god should not be brought on the stage unless the occasion were such as to require the presence of a more than human power. Nec deus intersit nisi dignus vindice nodus. How many such occasions we have had to notice in the course of this narrative! What a theodicæa we have in the result of all this tribulation! We see at last, a government convinced of the folly of a policy which brought on such a succession of disastrous wars. We see missionaries and native Christians fairly well protected throughout the whole extent of the Empire. We see, moreover, a national movement in the direction of educational reform, which, along with the Gospel of Christ, promises to impart new life to that ancient people.
The following incident may serve to show the state of uncertainty in which we lived during the interregnum preceding the return of the Court.
While waiting for an opportunity to get my "train (the university) on the track," I spent the summer of 1901 at Pearl Grotto, my usual retreat, on the top of a hill over a thousand feet high, overlooking the capital. "The Boxers are coming!" cried my writer and servants one evening about twilight. "Haste—hide in the rocks—they will soon be on us!" " I shall hot hide," I replied; and seizing my rifle I rested it on a wall which commanded the approach. They soon became visible at the distance of a hundred yards, waving flambeaux, and yelling like a troop or devils. Happily I reserved my fire for closer range; for leaving the path at that point they betook themselves to the top of another hill where they waved their torches and shouted like madmen. We were safe for the night; and in the morning I reported the occurrence to Mr. O'Conor, the British chargé d'affaires, who was at a large temple at the foot of the hills. " They were not Boxers," he remarked, "but a party we sent out to look for a lost student."
It is the fashion to speak slightingly of the Boxer troubles, and to blink the fact that the movement which led to the second capture of Peking and the flight of the Court was a serious war. The southern viceroys had undertaken to maintain order in the south. Operations were therefore localised somewhat, as they were in the Russo-Japanese War. It is even said that the combined forces were under the impression that they were coming to the rescue of a helpless government which was doing all in its power to protect foreigners. Whether this was the effect of diplomatic dust thrown in their eyes or not, it was a fiction.
How bitterly the Empress Dowager was bent on exterminating the foreigner, may be inferred from her decree ordering the massacre of foreigners and their adherents—a savage edict which the southern satraps refused to obey. A similar inference may be drawn from the summary execution of four ministers of state for remonstrating against throwing in the fortunes of the empire with the Boxer party. China should be made to do penance on her knees for those shocking displays of barbarism. At Taiyuan-fu, forty-five missionaries were murdered by the governor, and sixteen at Paoting-fu. Such atrocities are only possible among a half-civilised people.