HL Deb 09 March 1869 vol 194 cc933-46

In putting the Question to the noble Earl at the head of the Foreign Office respecting Missionaries in China, notice of which has been on the Paper a few clays, I wish to observe that the delay which has taken place is due to the rule recently adopted with regard to Questions. I think your Lordships are subjected to some inconvenience in consequence of there being no time set apart, as there is in the other House of Parliament, for the asking of Questions. By the present arrangement it is necessary to put on the Paper the Questions which would give rise to controversy. I do not object to that; but I think there should be a time at which Questions which are not; likely to lead to debate may be put.


explained that the recommendation of the Committee was that Questions likely to lead to debate should not be put without notice, and before a quarter past five, as had frequently occurred previously.


My Lords, I believe my Notice raises a very important question. In one of the Papers lately presented to Parliament relating to China, your Lordships will find it mentioned that there is a society called the China Inland Mission,—and I confess that when I found there was such a society, I was not surprised at what has followed. The society sent a missionary to the town of Yang-chow, not far from Nankin; an outrage occurred; the mob rose and great violence was committed. Then, in the usual course of things, a naval force was sent for and came; and after some little remonstrance the Chinese, as soon as they saw there was an effective force, gave way. I found it also stated, that when the consul camé with the naval force the people received it willingly, and it produced a very good effect, but it produced that effect not on account of any feeling for the missionary, but because a great many dollars were spent in the town by the crews. Now, what I wish to ask is,—what right have we to be sending inland missions to China—what right have we to be trying to convert the Chinese in the middle of their country? It is well known that we cannot stand such a mode of proceeding in our own towns. If a preacher goes to Birmingham and proclaims his notions about Roman Catholicism or Protestantism, we all know what happens. First of all a mob breaks the windows, then they break each other's heads, the police and military are thereupon called in, and after a great deal of noise the two parties retire with their heads broken and their Christianity very much impaired. If that happens among a population so intellectual and so sensible that we call upon them to decide upon all questions of State policy and religion, what can be expected from such people as the inhabitants of Yang-chow? Why, of course they cannot stand what they regard as such a provocation, and they rise up and are furious. They must have remembered, too, what happened in their country twenty years ago. They were then visited by an adventurer calling himself a "Follower of Jesus," who raised a great mob, entered their towns by force, and killed men, women, and children in the most cruel manner. When I was at the Admiralty I saw many officers, who gave me an account of the state of the districts in China which had been overrun by these so-called Followers of Jesus, and it is impossible to conceive anything more horrible. It is no wonder that when these people found that there was again among them a set of foreigners calling themselves by the same name, they should become excited; and I say it is most unjust and unfair that the English naval power should be employed to support them. I find no fault with the despatch of my noble Friend the present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, or with the despatch of Lord Stanley, except that they do not go far enough: but I believe that we ought to adopt some more effectual measure in order to put a stop to these outbreaks. The English Minister and the French Minister insist on our treaty rights, and I believe it is more the wish of the French than of the English Minister that certain rights should be given to missionaries. The Chinese Minister, on the other hand, remonstrated that such proceedings would be productive of great disturbance of the public peace and of much misery. In fact, the papers represented him as using a very good argument. Whether he really used it I cannot say, but he is reported to have said— Here are you, the representatives of the most powerful and wisest nations in the world. You have come here as friends in everything else, but you differ in your Christianity. Now, as you are so wise and such good friends, why could you not settle among yourselves which is the true form of Christianity before you distract our country with your rivalry? It appears to me that the disciple of Confucius has in that way put a question to which it would be very difficult for either the English Minister or the French Minister to give a satisfactory answer. I have a decided objection to this system of supporting missionaries in the interior of China. I object to it because it is unfair to the Chinese, and I object to it because it places the commanders of our naval force in a most unfavourable position. Their business is to look after pirates, but a missionary is insulted, and, pending satisfaction from Pekin, they are pressed to use their Armstrong guns and fire on the people, as the only way of saving the life or the property of the missionary. Now, a young officer thinks nothing of taking a Chinese town with a gun boat. He is delighted with the task; with fifty or sixty men he will take any Chinese town; next the dispute has to be referred to the Government at Pekin. But these proceedings are calculated to break up our friendly relations with China, and those relations surely ought not to be allowed to depend on the discretion of a missionary or on the patience of a mob. My noble Friends, now in Office, wish to reduce the navy in China. Now, if you reduce your navy you must reduce your missionaries, for every missionary almost requires a gunboat. The fact is, we are propagating Christianity with gunboats; for the authorities of inland towns know perfectly well that if they get into trouble with the missionary a gunboat will soon come up. In pursuing a course towards a weak country which we could not possibly take towards a more powerful one, it seems to me we are entirely wrong. The Chinese, it appears from these Papers, dislike the French missionaries as much as they do the English; they turn the French, missionaries out of the town, and they knock the English missionaries on the head; so that there is perfect religious equality. It is true we desire to advance Christianity in China: but my noble Friend (the Earl of Clarendon) is quite right in saying that Christianity can only go in the wake of civilization and progress. It is true you may easily get a certain class of Chinese to be converts to Christianity; there are plenty of Chinese who will be converts to anything in the shape of dollars; but really to make China a Christian country must be a work of time, and the way in which we are proceeding is not the way to do it. Why, what is the example we set? Suppose a Chinaman asks what effect this new religion has upon the people, and goes to Shanghai to see, what does he behold? Naval and civil officers who are acquainted with all the chief ports in Europe, America, and Asia inform me that, though seaport towns are not usually very moral places, there is no such sink of iniquity as Shanghai. And yet you expect that, having seen your example, and how you force Christianity on by gunboats and Armstrong guns, the Chinese will embrace Christianity! We ought, I contend, to recall these inland missionaries. My noble Friend, I am aware, is not responsible, for he gives very good advice; but that is one of those things which are readily given and hardly ever taken, and the missionaries do not take it. A missionary, indeed, must be an enthusiast; if he is not an enthusiast, he is probably a rogue. No man would go and live up one of those rivers and preach Christianity unless he were an enthusiast, and being an enthusiast he is the more dangerous. Now, I am anxious to know what chance we have of reducing these missions, or, at least, of not allowing them to go still further up the country. They have already got as far as Yang-chow, and I am afraid they will go further up the country unless they are stopped, and the further they go the more it will be prejudicial to the interests of Christianity. It may, perhaps, be said that they go at their own peril; but this is not the fact, for if a riot occurs and a missionary injured or killed a naval force is called on to inter- fere, unless Pekin is so close at hand as to allow time for an appeal to the Chinese Government. Nobody is so much responsible for this mischief as the London Missionary Society, and that society had much better send its missions to some other part of the world, and leave China unconverted, than pursue their present course. He wished to know whether the Government would not adopt some more efficient and stringent mode of dealing with these missionaries, either by sending them out of the country, or by telling them that they should go no further and imperil our friendly relations with China by their proceedings?


I feel much obliged to my noble Friend the noble Duke for having brought this question before your Lordships, for it is one of growing and pressing interest, and it is right that the public should know exactly what is the policy of the Government, and how far we propose to deal with the present most unsatisfactory state of things. A blue book upon China, not being very attractive, I dare say very few of your Lordships have read the Papers which have lately been laid on the table, and probably the general public know still less on the subject than your Lordships. The interpellation, therefore, of my noble Friend is likely to prove useful, by enabling me to draw the attention of your Lordships and of the public to some passages in the Papers which have been recently presented. I cannot quite agree with the alternative proposition put by my noble Friend, that a missionary must be either an enthusiast or a rogue. That, I think, is rather too strong. I cannot help admiring the spirit which animates missionaries, and the fearless zeal which animates them in the propagation of religious truth. At the same time, I admit that that zeal often leads them to incur most unnecessary dangers, and creates a state of ill feeling, riot, and bloodshed such as ministers of peace and good-will among men should be the last to create, or to be responsible for. In truth the missionaries require to be protected against themselves, and should be induced not to prosecute their labours in localities in the interior of the country, where no consul resides, and where an appeal to the authorities for protection against a fanatical mob is likely to be unavailing. The London Missionary Society suggested last year that in any new treaty to be negotiated with China there should be an article empowering missionaries to purchase lands and reside in the interior. That was referred to a gentleman, whoso knowledge and experience of China may be relied upon (Sir Rutherford Alcock), and who pointed out that, in the first place, such a clause is unnecessary, since the right exists under the French treaty, and, in the next place, that it would be very inconsistent with wisdom or prudence to insist upon it. My noble Friend has referred to one or two cases to show that it would be most unsafe to extend missionary establishments in that country. The fact is quite plain that, not only the authorities and influential persons, but the whole population of China are adverse to the spread of missionary establishments. It is not only most dangerous for the missionaries themselves, but it is much to be condemned with respect to the Government and people of the country. The course of things is exactly what my noble Friend has described. An outrage occurs, life is jeopardized, blood is shed, property is sacrificed, an appeal is made to the nearest consul, who straightway calls to his aid the nearest naval commander, and gunboats go up to exact reparation. The consequence is that we never know what tidings the next mail may bring us, and we are always on the brink of a war, not on account of the violation of any British rights, of any insult to the English Government or flag, or of any injury done to commerce, but on account of the protection of good but imprudent men, who cannot or will not perceive the natural consequences of their own acts. This is a situation of affairs which certainly ought to be altered, and I will call your Lordships' attention to one of the most recent Instructions with reference to the employment of gunboats, which was sent to Sir Rutherford Alcock on the 28th of January— You will have seen by my despatches of the 30th of December and of the 13th and 14th of January that Her Majesty's Government attach the greatest importance to this point; and I have accordingly to instruct you to explain to Her Majesty's Consuls that the special purposes for which Her Majesty's ships of war are stationed in the ports of China, and employed on the coasts, are to protect the floating commerce of British subjects against piratical attacks in Chinese waters, to support Her Majesty's Consuls in maintaining order and discipline among the crews of British vessels in the respective ports and in cases of great emergency; to protect the lives and properties of British subjects if placed in peril by wanton attacks directed against them either on the part of local authorities or by an uncontrolled popular movement. As regard this last point, Her Majesty's Consuls must constantly bear in mind that the interference of naval force, either on their representation or on the part of naval officers acting on their own estimation of facts before them, will alone receive the subsequent approval of Her Majesty's Government when it is clearly shown that without such interference the lives and properties of British subjects would, in all probability, have been sacrificed; and even in such a case Her Majesty's Government will expect to learn that the alternative of receiving them on board ship, and so extricating them from threatened danger, was not available. Beyond this the circumstances of the case must be of a very peculiar nature which would be held by Her Majesty's Government to justify a recourse to force. Her Majesty's Government cannot leave with Her Majesty's Consuls or Naval Officers to determine for themselves what redress or reparation for wrong done to British subjects is due, or by what means it should be enforced. They cannot allow them to determine whether coercion is to be applied by blockade, by reprisals, by landing armed parties, or by acts of even a more hostile character. All such proceedings bear more or less the character of acts of war, and Her Majesty's Government cannot delegate to Her Majesty's servants in foreign countries the power of involving their own country in war."—(No. 2, 1864; No. 24.) Those instructions will be rigidly adhered to by the Government, and the Admiralty have sent similar directions to all the naval officers in command, not only in China but in different parts of the world. With regard to reducing the number of missionaries, my noble Friend must be aware that the Government is not precisely responsible in that matter, and that if missionaries chose to go or stay there our power of evicting them from China is small. My noble Friend having passed severe strictures on the London Missionary Society, I would call his attention to a letter dated the 5th of February, which was received from that society, and which I must say is a very proper one on their part, and evinces a disposition to co-operate with us, or, at all events, not to embarrass affairs. The latter part of it reads thus— The directors of the London Missionary Society would be glad to ascertain from your Lordship the views which Her Majesty's Government now hold of the range within which, according to existing treaties, missionaries in general may freely move. Because, while the opportunities for their usefulness have grown great and numerous, the directors are anxious that the operations of the missionaries of the London Missionary Society shall be so conducted as in no way to embarrass Her Majesty's Government, or even inadvertently to complicate the relations between the two Empires. That is the only ground on which they would venture to trouble your Lordship in the matter. That letter evinces no disposition to embarrass the Government, but, on the contrary, evinces some of the spirit which my noble Friend is desirous to evoke. The society also asked what interpretation I should put on our treaty rights, and I had a reply sent in these terms— Lord Clarendon is not prepared to place any abstract construction on those treaty provisions. So much must always depend on the circumstances under which, and the grounds on which, treaty privileges are claimed, that specifically to define the practical extent of any such privileges would be more likely to mislead than serve as a sure guide for action. Lord Clarendon considers that in all cases of a doubtful nature, where a British missionary desires to receive counsel or directions, his safest course would be to apply to Her Majesty's Minister at Peking, and be guided by his advice. This course is more particularly to be recommended at the present time, inasmuch as it is clear that a strong feeling prevails among the authorities and people of China against the establishment of mission-stations in the interior of the country; and it would be highly imprudent in missionaries to persist in disregarding the opposition either of the Chinese authorities or people, and braving their animosity, however unjustifiable or misplaced. It is impossible for Her Majesty's Government to protect a missionary establishment in places where no consular authority is at hand to require the local authorities to exert themselves in its defence; and it is no less impossible to suppose that the feelings of Parliament would be enlisted in favour of measures of coercion to avenge a wrong done to missionaries, which, even if they did not end in war, would, for a time, at least, paralyze British trade, and might be open to much question in point of justice as between country and country. The London Missionary Society can, in Lord Clarendon's opinion, render no better service to their missionaries than by inculcating on them circumspection in regard to their own conduct, and the utmost consideration for the feelings and character of the people among whom they dwell. The missionaries will do well to follow in the wake of trade when the people have learnt to see in it material advantage to themselves, rather than seek to lead the way in opening up new locations. In the former case they will find people prepared to receive and listen to their instructions; but in the latter there is too much reason to believe that their proffered instruction will be rejected, and their persons exposed to indignity, and even danger. I have now stated the policy which Her Majesty's Government propose in future to observe, and I trust that the advice I ventured to give to the London Missionary Society, coupled with the disposition they have manifested to avoid embarrassment to the Government, will be sufficient to prevent further difficulty. If, however, it should turn out otherwise, the fault will not rest with the Government.


said, that to a certain extent he agreed with the noble Duke (the Duke of Somerset)—namely, to the extent that the proceedings to which he had referred were not at all calculated to promote the interests either of Christianity or of England in China; but he thought the noble Duke had proceeded on a hasty assumption in one part of his speech. He (the Bishop of St. David's) could not admit that there existed among the Chinese population so general an aversion from the Christian religion, and so general a spirit of resistance to all attempts to propagate it, as the noble Duke had described. Unless he (the Bishop of St. David's) was greatly mistaken, and unless a bulky volume which he read some time ago was a tissue of fictions, there existed in China a flourishing Roman Catholic mission with a large number of converts, who lived very peaceably, and who, though they were continually extending their religion, met with no resistance, and excited no popular tumult. If so, he would appeal to the noble Duke whether it was not natural that the professors of what they believed to be a purer kind of Christianity should feel a generous and noble spirit of emulation, and desire to gain similar conquests for the Protestant Faith? It appeared to him that there was a very clear and broad line of distinction to be drawn in this matter, and which, as he understood, had been observed by Her Majesty's Government. We ought not, he thought, to attempt to impose any positive restraint on missionary efforts either in China or in any other part of the world. There were persons who were convinced that it was their duty, in obedience to our Lord's plain precepts, to preach the Gospel to all nations, and they were ready to make every sacrifice to that object; and, instead of being subjected to any restraint they should be simply given to understand that they must proceed at their own risk. All that the Government should say was, "If you choose to make the attempt you must make it at your own risk; you must not expect that you will be able to call in the secular arm to enforce or supply any deficiency in your missionary efforts." The missionaries, and still more the society to which reference had been made, had, in his opinion, incurred a serious responsibility, and, if not guilty of something worse than a mistake, were at any rate guilty of a very mischievous mistake if they had so misapprehended the proper field of their exertions as to excite the hostile passions and violence of a Chinese mob. He did not believe this could be in any case necessary for their purpose, but, on the contrary, that it must tend to defeat the object they had in view. He believed that with prudence and common sense it would always be found possible to save the British Government from the necessity of interference in such cases without at all neglecting, but, on the contrary, promoting much better than they now did, the work of the propagation of the Gospel.


said, he rose to ask for an explanation of one or two expressions that had fallen from the noble Duke and the noble Earl, affecting, as it seemed to him, the position of all missionary societies and of all missionaries labouring in the less civilized parts of the world. The noble Duke (the Duke of Somerset) had given a piece of advice to missionaries which he thought no missionary would accept—namely, to leave some particular parts of the world unconverted, or flee from attempts to convert them, because, forsooth, these attempts might prejudice the interests of British trade. The youngest and least zealous of missionaries would probably reply that, important as were the interests of British trade, there was something in his eyes more sacred even than that sacred opium trade for which Great Britain once thought it worth while to wage war—namely, obedience to the command of his Master to go forth and seek to convey the Gospel to every living soul, at whatever risk to himself or others. It was hardly generous for one in the safe security of their Lordships' House to taunt a man who voluntarily took his own life in his hand in encountering barbarians with imperilling the interest of English trade, for, whatever else he imperilled he had first imperilled his own life. He would like to learn what course the noble Duke would take with rebellious missionaries who might refuse to take his advice. Would the noble Duke, who was anxious for stringent measures, propose to save a Chinese mob the trouble of executing or expatriating the missionary, or would he, as a member of a Christian Legislature, maintain that by becoming a missionary he lost the rights of British citizenship, which he would retain if he became a trader? English subjects, as he understood, possessed rights under treaty, and provided they did not transgress the limits imposed by the treaty they were equally entitled to protection, whether they sold cotton or Bibles. It was surely unworthy of a Christian nation to say that if its subjects engaged in any trade, however demoralizing, they should be protected from the least infraction of their rights, or from the least insult, by all the might of Great Britain; but that, if they became missionaries and happened to displease the susceptibilities of the Chinese, they should be left to their fate, or saved from the mob by a forcible expatriation. He admitted, on the other hand, that it was not desirable, for the sake of the missionaries themselves, that they should go out with an army at their back, for that would make them reckless, unspiritual, and untrue to the spirit of their Master. It was one thing, however, to say what a missionary ought to do for the sake of the cause of missions, and quite another thing to say what treatment he should receive at the hands of his own Government, which was surely bound to maintain the rights of its citizens, whether missionaries or traders. He protested against the doctrine apparently laid down by more than one speaker that, because a man was a missionary, he was, therefore, to be deprived of his rights as a British subject. The noble Duke had advocated stringent measures towards troublesome missionaries, but had such a course been always and successfully pursued; had missionaries been always prevented from becoming "troublesome," neither the noble Duke nor himself would have been Christians at the present day. The noble Earl, the Foreign Secretary, had advised the missionaries to "follow in the wake of trade." Perhaps the noble Earl would mention the kind of trade in whose wake they were to follow? There happened to be trades carried on by British subjects, and protected with a high hand by the Government, which would make a most unhappy preliminary to the preaching of the missionary. Were they to "follow in the wake" of the opium trade, or to wait until the beneficient influence of fire-water had prepared the minds of the barbarians whom they were teaching, or were they to wait until the British traders had inoculated them with all their vices before they commenced teaching them the Gospel? Instead of waiting for this the missionary felt that he had a duty imposed on him by a higher Master to go forth and preach the Gospel. He did not defend the indiscretions of any missionary or society, but he earnestly trusted that he had misunderstood what had been said, and that it was not the notion of the noble Duke that the strong hand of Government should be used to suppress missionary exertion, nor that of the noble Earl that the missionary was to go nowhere until preceded by the British trader.


I entirely agree with the right rev. Prelate that it would be most improper to lay down a rule that one principle should be acted upon with regard to the protection of missionaries and another principle with regard to the protection of traders. Both should certainly be treated alike. But the truth is that in neither case does the country stand with a clear conscience. The fact is that we have abused our superior force, and at one time forced on the Chinese the opium trade in a manner contrary to every principle Of justice: we have also protected the abominable coolie trade, and under the shelter of our power we have allowed our merchants constantly and deliberately to infringe the laws of China, and to carry on smuggling and other practices, as well as to force their trade on the Chinese in a most unjustifiable manner. The simple rule that ought to be applied, both to trade and to missions, is that we ought not to attempt to protect English subjects if they choose at their own risk to carry their operations into places where they are likely to provoke riot or hostility. There are certain ports in China where our consuls can exercise authority, though that authority only extends to British subjects; but it is one thing to protect traders at the treaty ports, and it is a totally different thing to say every adventurer or smuggler who may go into the interior and there get into a quarrel with the authorities or the mob may appeal to an English gunboat for protection. Such appeals are far too often made. I respect, admire, and revere those missionaries who go into barbarous and hostile countries and endeavour to diffuse the great principles of Christianity; but if by their own over zeal they incur danger in remote parts I would not protect them. Other people, we must remember, have feelings as well as ourselves. Suppose the Chinese, believing Christianity to be a great delusion and imposture, were to organize missions to convert us, were to establish missions at Wapping or at Birmingham, and other populous towns, and were publicly to preach against Christianity, would there not be a probability of disturbances? Well, should we think it fair and reasonable, if China were a more powerful nation than ourselves, that some collision having taken place, a Chinese force should come and threaten to destroy the town unless full compensation and reparation were made for insults alleged to have been inflicted on their missionaries, and further insisting upon our putting up an inscription saying that we had been properly punished? Yet that is just what we have been doing. What should we think of such a course of proceeding? The first principles of Christianity is to do unto others as we would they should do unto us; but have we acted on that principle in our dealings with the Chinese? I maintain that the system of supporting missions in China or elsewhere by force is entirely wrong, and I am glad, therefore, that the noble Duke (the Duke of Somerset) has brought the subject before us. Nobody can be more anxious for the success of the missionaries than I am; but I am certain that in relying on an appeal to force when their own imprudence has brought them into difficulties, they are doing more harm than good to the cause of Christianity. The instructions which the Government have sent out might, I think, have been a little stronger; but they lay down a wise rule, which more than twenty years ago, when I held Office, I had the honour of enunciating with regard to China—namely, that there should no appeal to force or recourse to arms without the express authority of the Queen. I remember that when an expedition went up the Canton river I consulted the Duke of Wellington, and he was most indignant, fully concurring with me as to the impropriety of our troops being used in that manner. I accordingly sent out imperative orders that nothing of the kind should happen again, and in order to ensure obedience, I so reduced the forces at the station as to render any such expedition impossible. The most satisfactory statement made by the noble Earl (the Earl of Clarendon) was his intention to reduce the number of gunboats, for such is the pressure of British influence that if a strong naval force, is at hand it is extremely likely to be used; while, on the other hand, if we have not enough gunboats to bully the Chinese, both merchants and missionaries will show greater prudence, discretion, and fairness than if they saw themselves supported by a powerful force. I will only add that this discussion has shown the advantage of the rule that Questions likely to lead to discussion should not be brought forward without being placed on the Paper. There can be no objection to a Question on a mere matter of fact being proposed without notice; but if a Question requires a single preliminary observations or explanation notice of it should be given.


said, he agreed almost entirely with the right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of Peterborough). He had only risen, therefore, to state that those who had occasioned this fuss were a small independent body of men, acting under no central authority, and in no way connected with the great missionary societies of England, such as the Church Missionary, London Missionary, Wesleyan, or Baptist Societies; those great societies, which conducted, their proceedings with the greatest zeal and judgment, should, therefore, be exonerated from the charge which had been justly brought against that small independent body.