§ MR. DUNLOP
said, he rose to move that an Address be presented to Her Majesty on the subject of the neutrality to be observed towards the two contending parties in China. He trusted hon. Gentlemen 380 opposite would regard his Motion with favour, as it tended to the object, so often urged during the late debate on the Budget of cheapening tea to the lower classes, though, perhaps, in a different way from what they recommended. The House had lately received much valuable information on the subject to which he wished to direct the attention of the House, from the mercantile expedition that had proceeded with Admiral Hope up the Yang-tse-Ki-ang, that mighty river which ran into the heart of China; and from the reports of these merchants they might judge of the extent to which commerce could be carried on. But that river was occupied on both banks, from Chin-Kiang to near Han-Kow, by the insurgents; so that if we were to carry on a trade at all there, we must either be on friendly terms with them, or we must maintain a strong naval force at various points. All the information we had on the subject of the insurgents was derived from Mr. Oliphant's account and blue books, which were for the most part derived from the same sources, and he did not think that they furnished all the information which ought to be laid before the House. His confidence in blue books had not at all been strengthened by the lax manner in which, on the debate on the Affghan papers, the two noble Lords on the Treasury bench justified the liberties taken with public documents before they were produced to the House. There were strong proofs in this China blue book that the practices then justified had not been given up. In a despatch to the Earl of Malmesbury, dated November 5, 1858, the Earl of Elgin said—Your Lordship, perhaps, remembers that op the eve of the day on which the Treaty of Tientsin was signed I received a communication from the Chinese Commissioners to the effect that they would lose their heads if they agreed to allow British subjects to travel freely through the country for the purposes of trade.It was clear from the expression, "your Lordship perhaps remembers," that the Earl of Elgin had informed the Earl of Malmesbury of the circumstance here referred to which indicated that these Commissioners had agreed to the stipulations in question that the treaty was concluded without the sanction of the Emperor, although on looking through the papers he could not find a word about such an important statement; and under these circumstances they could not rely with perfect confidence on the whole case being be- 381 fore them. But still there was enough to show that the professions of neutrality with respect to the rebels by our representatives in China were not maintained. The Taepings had waged war successfully with the Emperor of China for a long time, and were as much entitled to be recognized as belligerents as the Secession States of America. The Earl of Elgin, indeed, had ultimately given directions that while our vessels of war had occasion to approach the Taeping forts or cities they should give notice, but previously on two occasions in making an expedition up the Yang-tse-Kiang, he himself, gave no notice to them, and when shots were fired to warn our ships we bombarded their forts, and assisted indirectly their enemies, the Imperialists. There might have been an excuse for our proceedings at Shanghai, in the protection demanded by our commercial interests, but the Earl of Elgin had abandoned that ground by claiming credit with the Emperor for acting hostilely to the Taepings. In point of fact, at the present moment a British force at Shanghai was doing service for the Imperial Government and receiving pay for it. Mr. Bruce stated, in one of his letters last year, that the cost of the garrisons would be defrayed by the Chinese authorities, and he added, "I think it well to assert firmly the principle that they shall pay for the assistance which we give them." We had maintained the great importance of keeping up our prestige in China; but here were British authorities by a voluntary act placing it in the power of the Emperor of China to point to our Queen as one of his vassals, providing troops for the defence of China, and receiving pay from him as if she were a vassal sovereign. Nothing, in his opinion, could be more inconsistent with the whole course of our policy or with the idea of our observing neutrality. There had, also, been civil as well as military violations of neutrality. By a notification dated in August, 1860, and issued by the British Consul at Shanghai, British subjects were warned not to hold any intercourse with the insurgents, and were told that to do so would be a violation of international law. The same principle had certainly not been applied to the Secession States of America, and British subjects had not been warned against holding intercourse with South Carolina. He did not ask that traders should be allowed to supply munitions of war to the Taepings or Imperialists. All he said was that they 382 ought to be both treated alike. By the recent regulations, even which were much more favourable, in addition to the certificate of the Chinese Custom-house, a trader was obliged to procure a pass from the British Consul, which was granted only on the condition that the bearer should not visit any of the cities occupied by the insurgents. That, he held, was not neutrality, but a prohibition of all commerce on the part of British merchants with the insurgents. That state of things had been somewhat modified by later regulations, which at least implied that British vessels might visit insurgent ports, though conditions were still imposed calculated to restrict trade and to give rise to frequent differences and collisions. No British vessel was allowed to pass up the Yang-tse-Kiang without having first cleared the Customhouse of the Emperor being obliged to enter a port in his possession for that purpose, and if it did not so clear it was declared liable to, confiscation. Now, both Customs' duties and transit duties for internal traffic were included in the duties so paid, and if a British vessel sailed from this country or Hong Kong or Calcutta for Nankin it would first have to pay full duties to the Emperor, and then must pay over again to the Taepings on entering Nankin, or give occasion to a quarrel and collision with them by refusing; necessitating, of course, the keeping a British vessel of war at every port where our ships might enter for trade and where a collision was risked. He observed that the post of Chief Superintendent of the Chinese Customs had been offered to an officer in our service; but he did not know whether or not the offer had been accepted. He could not but regard it as very unfortunate that, under present circumstances, we should assume any charge over the Customs, or identify ourselves with the Imperial party. We ought to make an amicable arrangement with the insurgents, in order that we might not be obliged to keep a vessel of war in every port of the river where they had a post. The Taepings had shown throughout a most earnest desire to establish friendly relations with foreigners. He did not seek to justify any of the outrages of which they had been guilty, but he must say that nothing could be proved against them one-tenth so bad as the butcheries of Commissioner Yeh, or the atrocious treachery to which our unhappy officers were exposed at Pekin, when they fell into the hands of the Tartars. It 383 was only that day that he read in a Chinese newspaper that an Imperial regiment, when setting out—not on a war expedition, but merely to train some villagers in military exercises—sacrificed a human being at one of the gates of Shanghai, with every solemnity, in the presence of the district magistrate, and then smeared their colours with the blood of the victim. He trusted that the House would support his views, and treat both parties with impartiality. If he received from the noble Lord an assurance that a policy of nonintervention would be pursued in China he should be happy to withdraw his Motion. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by moving the Resolution of which he had given notice.
To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying, that She will be graciously pleased to instruct Her Representative in China, in the exercise of an impartial neutrality between the two contending parties in that Empire, to afford to British subjects equal facilities for commercial intercourse with both, and to seek to maintain a friendly understanding, for the purposes of trade, not only with the Imperial Government, but also with the do facto Rulers of Provinces which Her Majesty's subjects have occasion to trade in, or to pass through, for commercial objects, so as to avoid all unnecessary risk of interruption of traffic or hostile collision,'"—instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. BAXTER
said, he rose to second the Motion. The state of our relations with China rendered the question of the highest importance, and, therefore, he was sorry to see so small an attendance of hon. Members. For his own part he held no strong opinions with regard to British policy in China; on the contrary, it had always appeared to him that there had been a little exaggeration on both sides as to the justice or the injustice of the course we had pursued in that country. But he must confess that after a calm and careful consideration of the papers which had been presented to the House, he had come to the conclusion that we were not pursuing a course of strict neutrality with regard to the contest which was going on in China; that there was a tendency on the part of some of our officials in that country to underrate and depreciate the power of the insurgents; and that, if that tendency were not checked by the noble Lord, there was great danger that we should speedily be 384 engaged in another China war. The Taepings were commonly spoken of as mere robbers and freebooters, who roamed about the country committing murders and outrages, but who had no regular Government or settled position whatever. The real fact was that they occupied six of the richest and most productive provinces of China; and, as the noble Lord had recognized the belligerent rights of the Southern States of America, which had existed as a separate power only a few weeks, he did not see how he could refuse to recognize these of the Taepings, who had held a large portion of China for no less than eight years. Nor had the Taepings been guilty of any outrages so flagrant as these which had been committed by the Imperialists, who had murdered Captain Brabazon and Mr. De Norman, and had so shockingly illtreated Mr. Parkes and Mr. Loch. The leaders of the insurgents had translated nearly the whole, if not the whole, of the Christian Scriptures into the vernacular, and urged an open war against idolatry; and, as a proof of the superiority of their character and their favourable disposition towards foreigners, an American missionary had stated that the Canton men when they joined the insurgents, instead of continuing to insult and despise foreigners as they had been accustomed to do, became most respectful and accommodating towards strangers. He was afraid that Mr. Bruce, instead of showing neutrality, had taken a side in this matter, and certainly the Proclamation issued by our Chargé d'Affaires at Shanghai, forbidding British merchants to have any intercourse with the Taepings, the protection of Imperial junks by British ships of war, and the saving of Shanghai by the French and English troops savoured much more of partizanship than of neutrality. In the letters and papers received from China by the last mail there were frequent allusions to the well-known fact that we were doing all we could to bolster up the Tartar power. The Overland Trade Report, dated the 31st of March, 1861, commented upon the unseemly spectacle which had been presented by a British Minister in time of war adopting measures to the detriment of British trade to replenish the exchequer of the enemy. The communication which he had received from them stated that about 100 French troops and a war steamer were stationed at one point to prevent an attack of the rebels, but the country people, instead of manifesting alarm, remained quite 385 passive and went about as usual. Thus it was clear that the French and English had both departed from neutrality by preventing the progress of a rebellion as to the issue of which the people themselves were perfectly indifferent. In the admirable work published by Mr. Alcock no passages were more interesting than his description of the ascent and descent of the Yang-tze-Kiang. A brilliant account was given of the scene which occurred when the British ships in chorus returned the fire directed at them from the shore, in the course of which the author made the following remark:—It is seldom we experience emotions which unite in themselves the highest amount of æsthetic and animal excitement.That might be very fine writing, but he put it to the House whether the policy adopted was one of strict neutrality. What were we doing in China? We were bolstering up an effete Tartar Power. He should like to know the opinions entertained of it by Russia, who was gradually extending her boundary. Our troops who went to Pekin were convinced that the influence of the Government there was on the wane; and we were consequently in danger of having a war on our hands, not with the Tartar Power, but with the Chinese people living along the river, who detested the Government at Pekin and resented our silly alliance with it. Had we left the people to themselves the war would long since have been put an end to; and his lion. Friend, if he could succeed in eliciting from the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary an assurance that by an alliance with the Tartar Government we should not be drawn into any act of hostility to the great party by which that Government was opposed, would have done something to promote the interests both of this country and of China.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
Sir, I could have wished that my lion. Friend who made this Motion would have had the goodness to wait till some of the papers were laid on the table. My hon. Friend must have known very well that I had said when we received accounts from China they would be produced. We did receive papers some time ago stating that matters were in progress, but as they did not give distinct information I waited till more came, and I have since by command laid these papers upon the table. What I imagine is for the advantage of this House, of all persons engaged in trade, and for the in- 386 terest of the country generally, is that we should know the actual state of affairs in China. The hon. Gentleman who made this Motion, and the hon. Member who seconded it, may be right or wrong as to what happened three years ago when the Earl of Elgin went up the Yang-tze-Kiang, but that is not the question now before the House. At present the state of things is totally different, and what is really interesting to us is to know their exact position. This is the case as it at present stands. The Earl of Elgin, having given directions that the part of the treaty which says that the River Yaug-tze shall be opened for trade should be carried out, entered into a provisional arrangement with Prince Kung for that purpose; and Admiral Sir James Hope went up the liver to Nankin and made an agreement with the Chief of the Taepings. The sixth article of the agreement says—The Commander-in-Chief further expects that if your force has attacked any of the places at which British subjects may be settled or trading, British subjects will be unmolested both in person and property. On the other hand, the commanders of vessels stationed there will receive directions not to interfere in hostilities going on except for the purpose of protecting their countrymen, in case it should be necessary to do so.Is not that neutrality? The Commander-in-Chief states that the British arms will be used to protect British persons and property. Is that wrong? He says at the same time there is to be no interference with any conquests which the Taepings may make. That is what I call neutrality, and that is the present state of affairs. With regard to the communication which the hon. Gentleman has received, I may state that it is very often the custom for persons abroad, who do not know exactly what the authorities are doing, to write home letters containing their conjectures of what is going on, and almost always blaming the authorities for acts of which they have not a very competent knowledge. Surely the papers produced here under the authority of Sir James Hope and others ought to be the more correct narrative of events referred to by my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend says, whatever faults or crimes the Taepings may be guilty of, the Imperialists are very much worse. Now, I am very much more neutral than the hon. Member. I never much admired the civilization, and still less the humanity of the Chinese. No doubt excesses and outrages against humanity are committed both by the Imperialists and 387 the Taepings, and which is the worst I will not venture to say. Our business there certainly is to promote our own trade as much as possible, to endeavour to act a neutral part, and as far as our position admits to establish a friendly intercourse. The hon. Gentleman has spoken as if it was entirely the fault of British subjects and British agents that the civil war was not long ago put an end to. For my own part, I think a very large army would have been required for that purpose. These Taepings are a numerous body, and have got possession of several most important cities and provinces. In what way, then, is it possible for us to interfere so as either to put down the Tartar dynasty or to enable that dynasty to suppress this insurrection? I conceive that it is not our duty to do either one thing or the other. Sir James Hope observes—Although a large body of rebels are said to be and probably are overrunning the country in different directions it is very questionable whether they are strong enough to eject the Tartar Government and to effect a change of dynasty, while, on the other hand, no reasonable prospect exists of the Imperial Government being able to put down the rebellion.A civil war of indefinite duration seems, therefore, likely to continue, in the course of which the commercial towns of the empire will be destroyed and its most productive provinces laid waste. From all the accounts of the state of things, whatever may be said by the admirers of the Taepings or by the admirers of the Imperial dynasty, there are large bodies of men now carrying on a civil war. And many of the worst vagabonds and scoundrels in the country have joined one side or the other, not for the sake of the cause involved either way, but for the sake of plunder and what they can gain in the confusion. That is a great misfortune; but the course of the British authorities will be to preserve a neutral attitude, and endeavour to protect the persons and property of British subjects where they may be in danger. That is the course we have pursued in other countries, and I do not see why we should not pursue it in China. My hon. Friend seems to think that the Government might make some arrangement by which, when a ship comes to a Chinese port in the possession of the. Imperialists, the duty should be paid in such a manner as that her owners should not afterwards be required to pay by the rebel forces, but that would be a very strong interference. The instructions given by Her Majesty's 388 Government have been in all cases in approbation of the neutral course that has been taken. Attempts are being made to promote trade and intercourse, and the accounts we receive betoken an improvement in our relations with the interior of China and with the Taepings. I have read today a letter from Canton, which states that the Customs' duties are regularly paid, and that, if any difficulties arise, they are treated by the Chinese authorities with a disposition rather to remove obstructions than to cause them. Mr. Bruce has arrived at Pekin: he did not wish to be received with anything like ostentation, so he entered the city privately; but every civility has been shown him, and there is every prospect of the intercourse with the Chinese Government being conducted on friendly terms. While there is no probability of the Chinese Government putting down the-rebels, nor of the rebels overthrowing the Imperial Government, I think we should not take part either on one side or the other. It is a great misfortune that the country should be in such a state of civil war; but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the views of Her Majesty's Government will always be in favour of neutrality. I will not say but some of the local authorities may show some bias on one side or the other; but the Government at home, as well as the chief authorities in China, are desirous of observing a strict neutrality.
§ MR. BUCHANAN
said, the House is indebted to the hon. Member for Greenock for bringing forward for discussion the present state of British relations with China. The subject is highly important, whether, as regards the commercial interests involved, the large revenue derived from tea, or the financial considerations necessarily suggested by the prospect of continued naval and military expenditure in that distant quarter of the world. It had been objected to the Budget of the. Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he had taken credit for a portion of the Chinese indemnity. But no reason could be given why that payment was less likely to be made now than on a former occasion, when the money had been regularly remittted. If credit had been taken on one side of the national account for three-quarters of a million indemnity; on the other side there was an estimate of a million for expenses in China, besides increased naval and military estimates on the same account. But while there was no reason to fear that the indemnity would remain unpaid, it would 389 be sanguine to predict that the balance of payments would be in favour of this country two or three years hence. A large force must be kept up in China, and, instead of receiving money we were more likely to send large sums there. Before going further he must disavow all intention of blaming the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary or his predecessors in office for anything that may be amiss in China. The course of events, their causes and consequences, were generally beyond official control, and it would be unjust to impute blame to these at the head of affairs for a course of policy which had not originated with, and probably been but little affected by, the instructions emanating from the Foreign Office. Still less could any fault be found with the noble Earl, who, twice over, had encountered the difficulties and responsibilities of the embassy to China. No one less endowed with prudence, ability, and administrative skill would have given satisfaction to the public. And, if the noble Earl had not succeeded in every particular, it was to be attributed more to the difficulties of the mission than to any want of ability in the ambassador. The important question is are our Chinese difficulties at an end? We have already had three Chinese wars, are we to have another? It is to be feared no basis of permanent peace has been established, and that elements of strife and ultimate war exist beyond any former example. A treaty has been made with an empire which has no power to carry out the stipulations which it has contracted. The Central Government is in a state of prostration and paralysis. It has long been well known that the administration of the distant provinces of China is delegated to the great mandarins, who exercise a power almost independent, their only indispensable act of allegiance being to remit to Pekin an annual tribute. In other respects they do as they please, fleecing the helpless inhabitants by constant squeezes, to reimburse themselves for the price they have paid for their governorships. For, notwithstanding the competitive examinations, and the literary qualifications required for Chinese official life, it is well known that the chief offices in China are sold to the highest bidder. Such a system affords no security against mal-administration, and in practice is found to dispense with control of any kind. To such an extent is this independence of central control carried that, it is said, the well-known Yeh, the Governor of Canton 390 did not even communicate to head quarters the treaty which was extorted from him on the occupation of the city. This evil is further increased by the difficulty of keeping up intimate communications between the distant parts of so large an empire, embracing not only diverse races and dialects, but even conflicting interests. And now that Pekin, the hitherto unapproach able centre of the empire, has been explored it has proved, like many other things in China, "a great sham," alike powerless for defence or attack. No doubt, the Tartar cavalry fought well at the Taku Forts, and surprised the allied troops by their gallant charges. But these are said to have been irregular troops, brought up for the emergency, and not available for regular warfare. This seems likely, when we consider that the Taeping rebellion has lasted for ten years, with scarcely a serious check from the regular Tartar army, Had there been such troops as the Tartar cavalry which fought at Taku and Tien-tsin available to the Emperor, the Taepings would long ago have been scattered to the winds. That rebellion, if it can be so called, is an evidence of the weakness and helplessness of the Mantchow dynasty. Its history is one of the' many wonders we find in China. Originating in the mountains of the south west, and, no doubt, at first consisting of bands of ordinary plunderers, it has been curiously mixed up with various elements. The doctrines of the Triad Societies, whatever these may be, were early adopted by the leaders of the movement. A still more extraordinary infusion of Christian doctrine, of a very degraded type, it is true, but still unmisakeably or Christian origin subsequently appeared. And that nothing might be awanting in the cunning appeal made to popular sympathies, the Tien-Wong was declared to be the heir and representative of the ancient Ming dynasty, the last imperial race of Chinese blood. But all these cunning appeals would have been in vain against the disciplined army of a powerful empire, and we must, therefore, conclude that no such army existed. In the meantime the Taepings spread through out the provinces, increasing in numbers and importance, attracting followers, levying tribute, besieging cities and gaining battles, till at length they reached the banks of the great central river, and fixed their government in the ancient capital of Nankin. The Chief King, or Tien-Wong, has resided there for eight years, while ten 391 sub-kings are engaged in various military expeditions, instigated, it is to be feared, principally by the love of plunder, and guilty in their latest proceedings of revolting atrocities. But whatever may be the ultimate objects of the Taepings, and whatever may be their hold on Chinese public opinion, without doubt, they have braved the whole power of the empire, and been for years a standing menace and defiance to the Tartars. It seems accepted as an undoubted truth, by these most competent to judge, that the Celestial Empire is passing away, that its central heart is powerless, and scuds no action through its dislocated extremities. Nor are the Taepings the only rebels. Two other rebellions at present exist, independent of each other, and hitherto not connected with the Taepings—one of these of a very formidable character is in the north, in the province of Shansi; and another in the province of Quan-Tung, the original scat of the Tae-ping movement. Under these circumstances, the time has come to ask how would British interests be affected by the downfall of our Imperial allies? Would separate independent states not be better allies and better customers for us than the effete and corrupt central government which alone we now recognize? Would it not be in the interests of civilization and human progress that the great obstructive influence of China should be brought to an end'? Whatever solution of the difficulties presented to us we might prefer, it assuredly is our best course to preserve a strict neutrality between all parties. Let us adopt the principle in China which we Lave announced in Europe and America, as the keystone of our policy, the principle of non-intervention. Why attach ourselves by needless engagements to a powerless state? We see the ancient empire falling to pieces, and new and vigorous powers and races rivalling each other in progress and civilization, and shall we attach ourselves to the weakest, the most corrupt, and the least enlightened of them all? Even the Taepings have acknowledged and accepted the influences of western civilization, and, whatever else we can object to their extraordinary career, this at least is certain, that they are not beyond the reach of new ideas, nor have entrenched themselves in the indifference and contempt of other nations, which distinguished the Mantchows. Our policy, as avowed, is not liable to objection. On many 392 occasions we have proclaimed neutrality. In the papers laid before Parliament, there is abundant admission that the British representatives in China approve that principle. More recently it has received a practical illustration. The British naval commander has actually been in treaty with the Taepings, and has concluded with them a convention regulating the navigation and trade of the Yang-tze-Kiang. But, while in words, and perhaps intentions, we preserve neutrality, a little enquiry into our recent treaty obligations will show that we are in a false position, and in various ways have overstepped the line of neutrality in favour of the Imperial Government. The Treaty of Tien-tsin itself is a document from which by no forced interpretation it may be inferred that Britain recognized no power in China but the existing Government. And, if it is replied that we could only treat with a Government de facto, still, even admitting that to be true, it is not a sufficient answer; for various conditions of the treaty will be found to be framed in direct hostility, not only to these now opposed, but to these who shall hereafter be opposed, to the existing Government. In the first place, we have engaged to assist the Imperialists in the collection of their customs' revenue on foreign trade. Were the Taepings to ask British traders to settle at Nankin, and confer on some rival chief inspector of customs these high functions which Prince Kung has conferred on Mr. Lay, what would the "new board of commercial intercourse with all nations" recently established at Pekin, say to it? Would they not remonstrate against a British subject collecting revenue to be handed over to rebels? But that is what Mr. Lay and his subordinates of the Chinese Custom-house are now doing as against the Taepings. But, besides, we have guaranteed the continuance of this system, at least until the indemnity which has been stipulated for by the allied forces shall have been paid. That payment, by the Treaty of Tein-tsin is to form a charge on the foreign customs. We are thus engaged in a course which it would be a mere perversion of language to call neutrality, and, if money is the sinews of war, we are engaged on the side of the Tartars. We have been, moreover, parties to arrangements, by which we have consented utterly to exclude friends and foes from all access by land to the territory of the Taepings, for the "licence to proceed to the interior," which the British Consul grants, must be 393 countersigned by a Chinese official, who, of course, will take good care that there shall be no intercourse with rebels. The same applies to the "arms certificate," which is jointly furnished by a Foreign Consul and a Chinese officer, and thus involves a course of action to be regulated solely by Chinese interests. Any one who considers the bearings and working of these arrangements will admit that it is a mere pretence to speak of neutrality. To all intents and purposes we are engaged on the Imperial side. So matters stand now, but they cannot long remain as at present. Collisions of interest, and too probably of force, must arise. This system of assisting the Imperial revenue officers and clearing vessels at Imperial ports, which will again be called on to pay duties to the Taepings, at Nankin or elsewhere, the system of joint licences "for arms" or "travelling in the interior," must lead to disputes where it is too probable our pretensions to the diameter of neutrals will be forgotten. British or Chinese traders, who have paid duties on their goods at Shanghai or Chin-Kiang, when they trade with districts held by the rebels, will find they have to pay these duties again. They cannot expect that a pass granted by his rival will be acknowledged by the Tien-Wong. This alone will be a constant source of irritation and disputes. The Yang-tze is the great artery of trade from the most wealthy and populous provinces of China to the sea-board, but to Imperialist Junks, it leads through an enemy's country. Will these junks, or even foreign vessels, navigating the river, and provided with an "arms pass" granted by the Imperial Government, hesitate to use these arms when their interests require it? It seems inevitable that the great river will become the scene of piratical warfare, where the most desperate characters of all nations will be found engaged, and the interests of legitimate commerce will be disregarded. Under such circumstances is it likely we shall preserve our neutrality? Are we to stand by and see these trade advantages which we have purchased at the expence of so many millions rendered valueless, or are we prepared to throw our cannon into the scale of the Tartars, as we have already given them our moral support and the benefit of our fiscal skill? It will come at last to this, that we shall have to abandon our hollow pretence of neutrality and fight on the Tartar side. The only means of re- 394 taining neutrality is to retrace these steps by which we have identified ourselves with the old Government. And, among these entanglements, the very first to be abandoned should be the customs' inspectorate, as the most injurious to our interests, the most unjust, and in every sense the most impolitic. It is needless now to inquire into the origin of this system; like many other blunders it, no doubt, was a well-meant scheme to meet a temporary difficulty during the abeyance of the authority of the Chinese Custom-house at Shanghai. It was intended also to conciliate the Imperial Government, and, in so far, to purchase commercial privileges by a system which rendered the customs levied on foreign trade more largely and directly available to the Central Government. It has existed since 1856–7, and has been maintained under unprecedented circumstances. To such a length indeed has our courtesy to the Chinese Government gone, that, at the very time we were marching on Pekin, we were collecting revenues for the benefit of our enemies. The port of Shanghai was for some years the only commercial entrepôt where this extraordinary system prevailed, but so enamoured of it are the ruling Anglo-Chinese authorities, and, as, indeed, need be no matter of surprise, so delighted is the Government with a system which produces such large revenues to the Imperial Exchequer that, according to the latest information we have received, Prince Kung has notified his intention of extending its operation. All the ports open to foreigners are to be divided into four superintendences, each to be confided to a mandarin appointed by the "Board of Foreign Trade," instead of remaining, as at present, under the Hoppo, or local Tautai. Of these superintendencies the first embraces Tien-tain, Tangehow, and Keuchang; the second, Shanghai, Ningpoo, and ports in the Yang-tze; the third, Foochow, Amoy, and Formosa; and, fourth, Swantow, Hainan, and Canton. In all these districts foreign inspectors are to be employed, and Mr. Lay has been appointed by Prince Kung Inspector General of all the Superintend dencies, and is empowered "to exercise surveillance over all things pertaining to foreign trade." The system is thus developing itself, and will soon be in active operation over the whole seaboard of China. It is of the greatest importance to consider well what will be its results. One of the most important of these will be a general system of smuggling. No coast in the 395 world is better suited for contraband trade than that of China, being everywhere intersected with bays and creeks and the mouths of large navigable rivers. The population, unfortunately, have been trained to smuggling, the trade in opium having been till lately of that description. The consequence of stringent Custom house charges being levied at the duty ports, especially if these are aggravated by a continued exacting of their former irregular charges by the local mandarins, will be to drive much of the coasting trade from the present established emporia. Foreign vessels will discharge their cargoes in roadsteads into native junks, in the same way as opium was formerly delivered, and these junks will run their cargoes into creeks and harbours in various parts of the coast. Sufficient indications of this course are already shown in the Canton Custom House since the inspectorate was established. The Canton river has four mouths, and is conveniently situated for trade with the free port of Hong Kong. The consequence has been that foreign merchandize of various kinds, but particularly duty-paid opium, has almost ceased to pass through the regular Custom-house. This is what will happen everywhere, and this inspectorate, which originated in the laudable desire to put down smuggling, will prove a powerful instrument to perpetuate and increase that system. It has been insinuated, upon what grounds I know not, that the foreign merchants in China are addicted to the irregular gains of contraband trade. If this refers to the trade in opium the charge has no point, for that case is totally exceptional; and if it is to be judged by a moral standard it would be difficult to say where to award the greatest share of blame—to the Bengal Government, which prepared the drug for the Chinese market, to the merchants who Bold it on the coast, or to the mandarins who, for a bribe, connived at its introduction; all of whom are alike implicated. But, leaving out opium, there can be no ground for charging the Chinese mercantile community with the practice of smuggling. But is it quite certain that this good character will be maintained when so many strong inducements will exist to ovoid the foreign Custom-houses? The system, as originally introduced at Shanghai, was sanctioned by the three treaty Powers, Britain, France, and America each being represented at the Custom-house by their assessors. It does not appear 396 whether this system is to be extended to the ports now for the first time embraced by the arrangements of Prince Kung and the Inspector Generalship of Mr. Lay. But it may be assumed that commercial jealousy between the different Powers will make it necessary to continue the system as it was first introduced. The expense will thus be very great. There will be at least a dozen ports where three inspectors, with large salaries, will be established. It is easy to see that these expenses, as well as all others attending the establishment, will be levied on trade, and principally on British trade. Is it sound policy to join with France, which has little trade of any kind in China, and with America, which has a great deal less than ourselves, in a system which will expose British commerce, in all its minutest workings, to the inspection of rivals, who will report officially to their respective Governments every shape and form of our varied trade? It may be little-minded to indulge trade jealousies, but is it, therefore, wise to expose all our secrets with such confiding simplicity? Besides, jealousy may work in another way. What would a French inspector care for the over-valuation of British goods of which his own countrymen were not importers, and these who know how successfully we are rivalled in some of our staple cotton fabrics by the Americans will doubt the advantage to British interests of American valuations at the Custom-houses of China. But, leaving that out of the question, there cannot be a doubt that a class feeling will be produced in all these inspectors in favour of the revenue whose officers they are, and against the interests of the foreign merchants. Employés of all sorts are uniformly found advocating the system which they administer, and that this is the case in China we have already abundant proof. At Shanghai the merchants have had repeatedly occasion to appeal against the decision of the inspectors; and, as a matter of course, applied to the consul, the legally constituted judge in all controversies between foreign Custom houses and British subjects. But here we have another anomaly, for we have no end of them in this extraordinary system. The British Envoy (Mr. Bruce) set aside the authority of the Consul (Mr. Meadows), and declared the inspectors to be irresponsible in questions of valuation. The policy of this course is questionable enough; but as to its being contrary both to usage and to law, there can be no question at all. Such 397 are the inevitable difficulties which beset our course when we depart from admitted principles and interfere with the functions of foreign Governments. But no one doubts that all the expenses of this system will fall upon British trade. The Treaty of Tientsin has burdened the trade of this country with the indemnity for the expences of the war, which is to be paid from the foreign Customs, and which will make it imperative as regards our own interests to levy duties to the last dollar. But when the indemnity has been paid, we shall find that a system has been inaugurated to which we have ourselves been parties, and which in its consequences may not have been fully foreseen. The full amount of the Imperial Customs is to be remitted to Pekin; but how can the local mandarins exist without their share of the plunder? They have paid for their offices and must have compensation. No one who knows China doubts for a moment as to the course which will be adopted. In one way or another, and in such secret ways as cannot be discovered, additional duties will be charged for the benefit of the local officers. So long as these officers were administrators of the Customs' revenue their peculations affected the Imperial Exchequer; but now that they do not intromit with these collections which are remitted in full to Pekin, they must resort to other means of reimbursement. What these means are we learn from the circumstances which have recently transpired as to opium imported at Shanghai. So determined were the local mandarins that their fees should be paid, that they bribed the Coolies in the various foreign Hongs to ascertain where opium was delivered, and thus ensure the payment of their irregular demands; and in the prosecution of their object they exhibited not only consummate art, but have shown at once the extent of their power and their extortion. This was traced to the Tautai, or Governor of Shanghai. So will it be everywhere. Foreign trade will bear not only the duties fixed by treaty, but a second charge to satisfy the irregular fees of the mandarins. Over and above this, the expense of the foreign inspectorate will fall on foreign trade. But another objection to the system consists in its being most unpopular among the Chinese. They look on the foreign assessors as making these charges for their own benefit. They cannot understand a system which excludes the bargaining and beating down of duties to which they have been 398 accustomed, and in their irritation they have transferred to the foreign officials the whole weight of their resentment. It is known how the installation of the system was received at Swatow, and the forcible resistance that was made to it. It has been asserted that if the troops were removed from Canton, the Customs' house inspectorate could not last for a day. All this works most unfavourably for British interests. It must have been observed by these who have read the Chinese newspapers, that a loud complaint is made of the secresy with which all the arrangements and working of this system have been carried out. No one can remonstrate, much less advise: for everything is wrapped in secresy. It is impossible that the noble Lord can have any sympathy with concealments; but it is right he should know that this charge has been made against officials in China. It, no doubt, has been undesignedly; but, to a certain extent, the noble Lord followed the same course. The hon. Member for Aberdeen moved for a Return to show the numbers, the amount of salaries, and nature of the engagement of British subjects employed in Chinese Custom houses; and there was also a Motion for Copies of Consul Meadows' Correspondence with Sir John Bowring, or others, as to the foreign inspectors. The noble Lord could not lay before the House any of these papers. I have no doubt he would have done so had it been in his power; but it is unfortunate any information on this subject should be withheld. It is said this system is on its trial, that Lord Elgin is not committed in its favour, and that the Government at home are not committed to it. Let, then, the merchants and the British public, who are much interested, assist at this trial. The more light that can be thrown on the subject, and the more its difficulties and anomalies are discussed, so much the better for all concerned. The course to adopt, in case the present system should be abandoned, is to revert to the old practice: let all exports be sold duty-paid, and, on the other hand, imports be sold at the short price, or without duty. To facilitate such arrangement bonded warehouses at the duty ports would afford great facilities. But above all it is desirable that free ports should be established in the North of China. It is surprising that, with the example of the success of free ports, as shown by the prosperity and great commercial development of Singapore and Hong Kong, such 399 a system should not have suggested itself. One free port should be established somewhere in the neighbourhood of Shanghai. Perhaps the foreign location at Shanghai itself, if surrounded with walls, would afford an eligible site for a free port; and certainly another should be as far up the Yang-tze-Kiang as sea-going ships can navigate. No doubt the consent of the Chinese authorities would be required for such an arrangement; but there is no reason to think that such consent would be refused. Lord Elgin most properly said, on a late public occasion, that the interests of British commerce, as well as the character and usefulness of British subjects in these distant regions must depend on themselves—on their honour, integrity, and self-restraint. Doubtless, such sentiments will find acceptance everywhere, and under a proper system China will afford a field for their practical illustration.
§ MR. SEYMOUR FITZGERALD
said, he did not intend to follow the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down in the very extensive range of observations which he had taken, but would confine himself to the subject immediately before the House—the importance of preserving a strict neutrality between the contending parties in China. He thought it would have been better that the discussion should not have taken place until the House had had an opportunity of perusing the papers laid on the table that evening. His information was derived only from the Chinese journals and private correspondence, and might possibly be incorrect on some points. He held that the complaints of the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Buchanan) that the Government had not observed a strict neutrality between the Chinese Government and the rebels, was in several respects quite unfounded. The hon. Gentleman asserted that the conclusion of a treaty with the de facto Government of China was a breach of neutrality.
§ MR. BUCHANAN
explained that he said quite the reverse, and admitted that they could do nothing else than enter into such a treaty.
§ MR. SEYMOUR FITZGERALD
said, he had understood the hon. Gentleman to say that the very fact that we had entered into the Treaty of Tien-tsin was in itself a breach of neutrality. Having gone to war with the de facto Government of China, we had no other resource when we wished to make peace, than to form a treaty with the same authority. Again the hon. Gen- 400 tleman said that we were guilty of another breach of neutrality in collecting the Customs' dues for the Chinese Government. The fact was that we did nothing of the kind. It was perfectly true that English subjects were employed by the Chinese Government in collecting the duties; but the English Government had no more to do with the collection of the Customs of China than of France. There were, however, two points to which he wished to draw the attention of the noble Lord. He was given to understand that British vessels proceeding to any of the open ports in possession of the rebels were compelled, not by the Chinese Government, but by the regulations of the British authorities, to proceed first to one of the open ports in the hands of the Imperial Government, and there pay the dues. That regulation involved a manifest injustice. On the one hand, our merchants would be most unfairly treated, if they had to pay the dues first to the Imperial Government at the port to which by the regulations they were compelled to go, and afterwards to the rebel authorities at the port where they landed. On the other hand, if we acted justly by the British merchants, and protected them against a second payment of the dues at the rebel port, it was perfectly clear that such an arrangement was one that must quickly bring us into collision with the rebel authorities. Had the Chinese Government enforced such a regulation there would have been no reason to complain; but he found fault with it as proceeding from the British authorities. Again the position which we occupied at Shanghai was very peculiar, very objectionable, and in his opinion very dangerous. If he wag rightly informed, there were British troops at the present moment in Shanghai who, although receiving British pay, were in point of fact maintained at the expense of the Imperial Government for the protection of the port against a hostile attack from the rebels.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
was understood to say that the troops were stationed at Shanghai merely for the protection of British subjects and property.
§ MR. SEYMOUR FITZGERALD
observed that in that case it was very singular that the expense of the troops should be borne by the Imperial authorities. The fact, disguised as it might be, was that it was only a repetition in 1861 of what occurred not very long ago, when Shanghai was protected from the rebels by a British 401 force. A more important subject could not be brought under the notice of the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary than the absolute necessity of observing the strictest neutrality between the two parties in China. If we gave either party a right to complain of our conduct, there would be always a Chinese difficulty continued from year to year, and varied at intervals by an open war.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Sir, I think my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow has not sufficiently adverted to the statement made by my noble Friend in regard to the very satisfactory arrangement which has been come to between our Admiral and the Taepings for the observance of the strictest neutrality between the contending parties, because many of his remarks applied to a different state of things, and assumed that no such stipulations had been entered into. I think I may dismiss that part of the subject by repeating the assurance that we are now observing the strictest neutrality between the two parties, and have obtained from the Taepings securities that our commerce with these parts of the country which are occupied by them will be duly protected, and not subjected to any interruption. The proposition that we ought not to have entered into a treaty with the Emperor of China because there is a rebellion raging over a largo portion of his dominions is quite untenable. When a sovereign reigns over a country, and when his authority is especially in force in these parts where our interests lie, we have no choice but either to make a treaty with him, or to leave the lives, property, and commerce of our countrymen wholly unsecured by any diplomatic stipulations. Had Her Majesty's Government pursued the latter alternative, and left British interests without that protection, we should have done that which was totally unjustifiable and without excuse. The Treaty of Tien-tsin was the result of an endeavour on our part to obtain redress, by hostile measures, for injuries which had been done to us by the Government of China. That treaty was not observed, and it was again deemed necessary to resort to hostilities. The Earl of Elgin, at a great sacrifice both of comfort and health, returned to China and negotiated another treaty, which gave full force and effect to all the provisions for the protection and extension of our commerce which the first treaty contained. So far from that being a proper subject for criticism, these of our countrymen who are connected with the 402 Chinese trade ought to acknowledge the great evils which have been redressed, and the great advantage which must be conferred on British commerce by these two treaties. Therefore, it is totally unnecessary to enter into a justification of the Government for having entered into treaty engagements with the existing Imperial Government of China, or to maintain that in doing so they committed no breach of neutrality as between the two contending parties.
§ MR. BUCHANAN
said, he must have expressed himself very ill indeed if his re-remarks could be construed into a complaint against the Government for having made a treaty with the Imperial party. He owned that the Imperial Government was the de facto Government, and the proper authority with whom to treat.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
I am very glad to accept the admission of my hon. Friend. On the one hand, then, we have shown that our policy is to maintain a strict bonâ fide neutrality; and, on the other, these who are disposed to find fault with other things are ready to admit that we were perfectly right in entering into a treaty with the de facto Government of China. That disposes of a good many of the observations which have been made in the course of this discussion. Great fault, however, has been found with the arrangement by which British subjects are employed by the Chinese Government for the collection of their Customs. I think that these objections are not well founded. In the first place, it has been stated by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. FitzGerald) that these British subjects are not acting under the authority of the British Government, but are lent to the Chinese Government, and are responsible to that Government for their conduct. My hon. Friend complains that they are not placed under the authority of the Consuls, and that Mr. Bruce has declared that any complaint against them must be made to him. I do not see anything wrong in that. Mr. Bruce is the highest authority representing the British Government in China, and it is proper that when complaint is made against persons who are performing duties such as these which have devolved upon these who are engaged in collecting the Customs' duties, that reference should be made to him. The decision of a consul might be swayed by local considerations, and if adverse to local complaints would not carry with it the weight which will attach to a decision pronounced by Mr. Bruce. Generally speak- 403 ing it might he an unusual course that British subjects should be employed to collect the Customs due to the Chinese Government; but, as our indemnity is to be paid out of the produce of these Customs, we have a direct interest in seeing that they are fairly levied and completly paid. My hon. Friend said that this system has a tendency to encourage smuggling. Now it is a well-known saying that the best way of replying to an unanswerable argument is to affirm directly the (contrary. My hon. Friend has followed that course, because, unless we are extremely misinformed, it has a direct tendency to check that practice, and it is not impossible that many of the complaints which are made against it in China owe their origin to the fact that it is putting an end to the system of collusion between the merchants of different countries and the Chinese Custom-house authorities which has unfortunately for some time prevailed. My hon. Friend says that the Chinese authorities pay for their appointments, and are, therefore, compelled to extract money from the persons who come within the scope of their authority in order to repay themselves, and I understood him to suggest that one effect of the operation might be by depriving these persons of their illegitimate fees to lead them to resort to still more improper proceedings. There can be no doubt that this system will tend to establish a regular and legal system of Customs, and I cannot believe that the establishment of such a system will lead British merchants to smuggle goods into places where Custom-houses are not established. My belief, on the contrary, is, that this system will establish a fair and equitable arrangement, according to which all parties will pay just what they ought to pay, neither more nor less, which will, no doubt, be advantageous to the Chinese Government by introducing order into a department which has hitherto been full of abuses, but which will be productive of great advantage to us, as it will secure the gradual payment of these indemnities which were stipulated for by the Treaties of Tien-tsin and Pekin.
With regard to the point adverted to by the hen. Gentleman opposite (Mr. S. Fitz-Gerald), I am not aware that we have any information as to the fact that vessels are compelled to go to ports where duties are paid to the Imperial Government, although they may be destined to ports which are in the bands of the rebels, but undoubtedly it 404 is a matter deserving of inquiry and consideration. Then, as to Shanghai. Every one knows that that is our most important settlement in China, that a large extent of ground is there allotted to the foreign community, and that that place has largely superseded Canton as the great mart of British commerce. We have heard a great deal in praise of the Taepings, and I should be unwilling to say anything to their disparagement, but it is well known that towns which have unfortunately been occupied by them have, a fortnight afterwards, not presented the same appearance of wealth, of comfort, and of population, which they exhibited before the occupation. [An hon. MEMBER: Suchow.] I am speaking of Nankin and other places. I have been told that Nankin is a wilderness. I do not know whether that is an exaggeration, but, unhappily, the occupation of Shanghai by the rebels is not a thing which the community of that place would very much desire. The hon. Gentleman said that the troops there are now paid by the Chinese Government. I believe that my noble Friend does not altogether approve that arrangement., and it may probably be altered, but I believe that it is of great importance that there should be a British force at Shanghai to protect British property and British merchants in that town from the effects which must result from its occupation by the rebels. Nor is it desirable that the Chinese part of the town should be laid waste, which would be the natural consequence of its being taken by storm. To what extent our troops are protecting others besides British residents I am not informed, but I am sure that the House will feel that it is the duty of the British Government to take care that that most important and valuable British settlement should not encounter all the calamities which would result from its occupation by the rebels. My hon. Friend said that great advantage would arise from the establishment of several free towns at different places in the Chinese territory, up the Yang-tse-Kiang and in the north. If we were masters of China we might, no doubt, establish free towns in certain places, but the Chinese territory belongs either to the Emperor or to the rebels, certainly not to us, and, therefore, we have not power to make the arrangement which my hon. Friend thinks would be so advantageous. All we can do is to avail ourselves to the utmost of these privileges which treaties have given to us. These 405 treaties were made with the existing Government, and we have no right to assume that that Government has ceased to exist as long as it continues to rule a large and important portion of the empire, especially the seaport towns with which we carry on intercourse. All that we can, in my opinion, be expected to do is that which my noble Friend has shown that we are doing—giving neither party cause to complain, and, as far as hostilities are concerned, acting according to the principles of strict neutrality.
, after repeating the statement that British vessels bound for ports which were in the hands of the rebels were compelled to call at Imperial ports and pay the Imperial duties, an arrangement which was similar to requiring ships bound to Charleston to go to New York and pay the Federal duties, said that the Taepings were a set of ruffians and scoundrels with whom not a single man of education, character, or discretion had associated himself. If it were not that such a course would be altogether opposed to the policy of England we should be glad if the British Government should take part in the dispute and rid the world of such a nest of vagabonds, for it was melancholy to reflect that a civil war would drag on for years and inflict endless misery and distress, which might be effectually put an end to by a single regiment and a few Armstrong guns. The hideous grotesqueness and blasphemy associated with the Taeping movement would be evident from the fact mentioned by a friend of his who had visited the adviser—the individual whose duty it was to interpolate the Scriptural element into their proceedings, who found him attended by four beautiful girls arrayed in yellow, and luxuriating in every magnificence which could be afforded by the plunder of the richest cities of China.
§ COLONEL SYKES
said, the speech of the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had failed to satisfy him that the English Government had observed a policy of perfect neutrality. With regard to the Taepings, he would refer to an account written by the special correspondent of the Shanghai Herald, who had accompanied the British expedition, to show that in Nankin, which was in the hands of the Taepings, building was going on on all sides and trade was springing up, while at Chinkiang, which had been occupied by the Imperialists for four years since it was quited by the Taepings, there was only 406 one house standing, in which the duties of the port were collected. It ought to be the great object of the Government of this country to conciliate the Taepings, who at present numbered a hundred millions of people, and had five millions of armed men among them. He contended that if the Customs' duties at the treaty ports were collected by European (not native) officers in the pay of the Tartar Government, but only responsible for their conduct to Mr. Bruce, the British representative, we were infringing the principle of neutrality, and became, in fact, active agents in favour of the Tartar Government. The very cost of the defence of Shanghai against the Taepings exceeded the amount of the indemnity which we received from China; and, if that military occupation were continued, it would be impossible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer next year to reduce the amount of the tea duties.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.