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Rupture with China

Rupture with China - Our Commercial Relations with that Country - Opening of the Trade - The Opium Trade - Smuggling - Commissioner Lin - Destruction of Opium - Trade with England absolutely forbidden - Blockade of Canton - Seizure of Chusan - Sir James Graham's Resolutions on our Commercial Relations with China - Importance of our Trade with China - Vast Resources of the Chinese Empire - Chinese Jealousy of England - The Miseries of a Chinese War - Charges against the Government for their Conduct in relation to China - Answered by Mr. Macaulay - The Old System of Commercial Intercourse - Outrageous Proceedings of Commissioner Lin - Defence of the War by Sir G. Staunton - Mr. Gladstone's Denunciation of the Opium Trade - Chinese Atrocities - Poisoning the Wells - Speech of Sir Robert Peel - Neglect of the Government - Lord Palmerston's Defence of the Government - Hostilities at Canton - Blockade of the English Factories - Attack on the Black Joke Schooner - Submission of the British Commissioner - Naval Engagement between the Chinese and the English - Poisoned Tea - Rewards for the Heads of the English - Attempt to burn the British Shipping - Capture of the City of Tinghae.
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The exclusive right of the East India Company to trade with China ceased on the 22nd of April, 1834, and from this time dates the great dispute about the opium traffic. The first free trade ship sailed from England on the 25th of the same month. Lord Napier was sent out to China to superintend British commerce, and arrived at Macao on the 15th of July. He died soon after his arrival, and was succeeded by Mr., afterwards Sir John Davis. But the Chinese were not disposed to recognise the authority with which he was vested. The only chief whom they expected was a commercial head man, qualified to communicate with their officers by petition, and through the established medium of the Hong merchants. The new mode of conducting British commerce which had been announced to them was regarded as a trifling matter, affecting only the outside foreigners. As long as these should be humbly obedient to orders, and respectfully acknowledge the Emperor's kindness, they cared very little whom they might have for their chief, or what powers he should possess over his countrymen. Lord Napier announced his arrival by letter to the viceroy; but every effort which he made to obtain the recognition of his authority, and to establish a direct official connection with the Chinese rulers at Canton, completely failed. During 1835 and 1836 matters went on peaceably under the superintendence of the second and third Commissioners, Mr. Davis and Sir T. Robinson, the former of whom returned to England, and the latter was superseded by Captain Elliot, R.N., who in vain renewed the attempt to establish an official connection with the Chinese authorities. The opening of the trade in 1834 gave a powerful stimulus to all kinds of smuggling, and especially in opium, the importation of which into China was prohibited by the Imperial Government, in consequence of its deleterious qualities. During the following years, however, the supply of that drug was increased enormously, and the smuggling trade was carried on along the coasts of the northern provinces, in defiance of the laws of the country. The Imperial Government was naturally indignant at these encroachments, and became, moreover, seriously alarmed, perhaps not so much for its demoralising effects, as for the continued drain of specie which it occasioned. In March, 1839, Lin arrived at Canton, as Imperial High Commissioner, to enforce the laws in this matter. He immediately issued an edict requiring that every chest of opium on the river should be delivered up, in order to be destroyed; and that bonds should be given by traders that their ships should never again bring any opium, on pain of forfeiture of the article and death to the importer. Lin having taken strong measures to carry this edict into effect, Captain Elliot proceeded to Canton, and issued a circular letter to his countrymen, requiring them to surrender into his hands all the opium then actually on the coast of China, and holding himself responsible for all the consequences. On the 21st of May the whole of the opium, to the amount of 20,283 chests, was given up to the Chinese Government, and immediately destroyed. But even this great sacrifice did not propitiate Commissioner Lin. On the 26th of November he issued another interdict, ordering the cessation of all trade with British ships in a week; and in January, 1840, an Imperial edict appeared directing that all trade with England should cease for ever. In consequence of these proceedings, an armament was sent forth to teach the Chinese the principles of international law, which they had never recognised, perhaps never heard of, as they regarded all other nations in the light of barbarians, and therefore utterly unworthy of notice. The first part of the armament reached the Canton river in June, 1840, under the command of Captain Elliot. Having established a rigorous blockade in the river, the English, on the 5th of July, took possession of the large island of Chusan, in the Eastern Sea. Proceeding still further to the mouth of the Peiho, in the Yellow Sea, Captain Elliot had a conference with the Imperial minister, Keshin, which resulted in a truce. Keshin was appointed Imperial Commissioner to proceed to Canton, for the purpose of investigating the grounds of complaint, and bringing about an adjustment of differences.

It was under these circumstances that Sir James Graham, on the 7th of April, brought forward a series of resolutions on our relations with China. He remarked, in his speech introducing the subject, that he was guilty of no exaggeration when he stated that one- sixth of the whole united revenue of Great Britain and India depended upon our commercial relations with China. During the previous year the revenue paid into the exchequer of this country on account of tea amounted to no less a sum than 3,660,000. Besides that, there were other receipts arising from duties on imports into that country, making the British revenue from our intercourse with China no less than 4,200,000. India also derived a large portion of its revenue from China, which he estimated at no less than 2,000,000 annually. There had been an annual influx from that country into India of specie, averaging 1,300,000. " People," he said, "formed a very inadequate notion of the importance of China, because it was formed from our intercourse with Canton alone, which was very much as if a foreigner who was occasionally permitted to anchor at the Nore, at times to land at Wapping, being placed in close confinement during his continuance there, were under such circumstances to pronounce a deliberate opinion on the resources, genius, and character of the British Empire." Sir James then gave the following sketch of the Chinese empire: - " It was inhabited by 350,000,000 of human beings, all directed by the will of one man - all speaking one language - all governed by one code of laws - all professing one religion - all actuated by the same feelings of national pride and prejudice; tracing back their history by centuries, transmitted to them in regular succession, under a patriarchal government, without interruption, and boasting of their education, of their printing, of their civilisation, of their arts - all the conveniences and many of the luxuries of life existing there when Europe was still sunk in barbarism, and when the light of knowledge was obscure in this western hemisphere. But apart from their numbers - apart from what he had mentioned with respect to that unity, which was strength, he called the attention of the House to their immense wealth. They possessed an annual revenue of 60,000,000, regularly collected. They had no debt; they inhabited the largest and the fairest portion of Asia. More than one-third of that country they cultivated, under the finest climate, with unwearied industry. The soil is most fertile, watered by vast rivers, and intersected by a canal 1,200 miles in length, one of the standing wonders of the world. And in every portion of that immense empire there is one uniformity of system, one jealous suspicion of strangers, evinced both on the shores of the Yellow Sea and all along on the confines of Ava, Nepaul, and Bokhara."

The Chinese were intensely jealous of all foreigners, but more especially the English, and not without some reason, for if they looked across the Himalaya Mountains they saw Hindostan prostrate at the feet of England, and they were not so ignorant as not to be aware of the policy that had led to that result; for scarcely a century had elapsed since the British empire in India took its rise from a single factory surrounded by a wall, to which we first added a ditch, then formed a little garrison by arming our labourers, then began to treat with native powers, and having discovered their weakness, seized on Arcot, triumphed at Plassey, and so on, till a series of successes terminated in the battle of Assaye, when India became ours, and Central Asia trembled at our presence. With such a lesson before their eyes, it was natural that the Chinese should be jealous of British encroachments. Sir James Graham having given a history of the various occurrences that led to the misunderstanding and mutual irritation between our representatives at Canton and the Chinese authorities, proceeded to deprecate a war with China, and to point out its evils and its cost. He believed it would be no little war, nor one that could be terminated in a single campaign. It was one that would be attended with circumstances - no less formidable than the magnitude of the interests at stake. It would be carried on at the remotest part of the habitable globe, where the monsoons would interfere with the communications that must be had with this country - at an immense distance from all our naval stations. Sir James then proceeded: - "When they saw, on the part of Her Majesty's advisers, the most pertinacious adherence to the erroneous course repudiated both by experience and reason - when they saw that they attempted to force on a proud and powerful people a mode of proceeding to which the weakest would not tamely submit - when they saw that the advice of one of the greatest and most prudent of our statesmen, who himself had warned them, was disregarded and rejected - when they saw repeated warnings given by the servants of the same administration equally unattended to - when they saw the branch of trade which the confidential servants of the administration had declared to be piratical, not put down by the interference of Her Majesty's Government - when they saw nothing done, or attempted to be done, while Her Majesty's superintendent was left without power, without instructions, and without force to meet the emergency which must have been naturally expected to follow, he could not help asking the House whether they did believe that the people of this country would patiently submit to the burden which this Parliament must of necessity impose? and whether that people could repose confidence in an administration that by a mismanagement of five years had destroyed a trade which had flourished for centuries, and which, in addition to the loss which the country had already undergone, had almost plunged it into a war in which success would not be attended with glory, and in which defeat would be our ruin and our shame?" The right hon. baronet concluded with moving that " it appears to the House, on consideration of the papers relating to China presented to this House by command of Her Majesty, that the interruption in our commercial and friendly intercourse with that country, and the hostilities which have since taken place, are mainly to be attributed to the want of foresight and precaution on the part of Her Majesty's present advisers in respect to our relations with China, and especially to their neglect to furnish the superintendent at Canton with powers and instructions calculated to provide against the growing evils connected with the contraband traffic in opium, and adapted to the novel and difficult situation in which the superintendent was placed."

Mr. Macaulay defended the policy of the Government. The omissions on their part complained of, he said, were four in number: - First, that they omitted to correct a point in the order in council, which directed the superintendent to reside in Canton; secondly, that they had omitted to correct the order in council on the point which showed the superintendent a new channel of communication with the Chinese Government; thirdly, that they had omitted to act upon the suggestion of the memorandum of the Duke of Wellington, to keep a naval force in the neighbourhood of Canton; and fourthly, what was most important of all, that they did not give sufficient power to the superintendent to put down the illicit trade. With regard to the first, the answer was, that no dispute as to the residence of the superintendent had anything to do with the unfortunate rupture, as that dispute was perfectly accommodated for two years before the rupture, the point having been fully conceded in the most formal and honourable manner by the Chinese authorities. As to the second, the answer was, that the Chinese Government had fully conceded that point also. Negotiations had taken place between Captain Elliot and the Chinese authorities, and the dispute was, in fact, at an end. The third charge was, that the Government had not provided a vessel of war to be stationed on the Chinese coast. What was the recommendation of the Duke of Wellington in reference to this very subject? It was, that a vessel of war should be off Canton ready to act, until the trade of the British merchants should return to its proper channel. He was confident that nothing was contained in the Duke of Wellington's prior, despatches which could be taken to exhibit any desire on his part that there should be a naval force constantly upon the Canton station, to await any calamitous event ' which might take place. The fourth point was, that the English Government, having legal authority to do so, had omitted to send to the superintendent at Canton proper power, for the purpose of suppressing the illicit trade which, they knew was carried on there. The right hon. gentleman then argued at considerable length that there had been every reason to expect that the Chinese Government would legalise the traffic of opium; and that, therefore, it would have been premature and inexpedient to send out instructions to the superintendent, authorising him to seize and send home any British subjects who should have been found carrying on that trade. He insisted, also, on the impracticability of giving effect to any prohibition of the illicit traffic, except by the exertions of the Chinese themselves; and asserted his belief that the positive prohibition of the opium trade by Captain Elliot, unsupported by physical force, would have been inadequate to put the trade down. As to whether it were wise or not on the part of the Chinese Government to prohibit the importation of opium, there might be a doubt, and on that point the governor of China alone was competent to decide; but when they resorted to measures unjust and unlawful, confined our innocent countrymen, and insulted the Sovereign in the person of her representative, then he thought the time had arrived when it was fit that we should interfere. "With respect to the present motion, whatever its results might be, he could not believe that the House would agree to a vote of censure so gross, so palpable, or so unjust as that which was conveyed in its terms; and he trusted that even if there should be a change of men consequent upon the conclusion of the debate, there would, at all events, be no change of measures.

Sir William Follett, in replying to Mr. Macaulay, gave the following account of the mode in which supercargoes under the East India Company acted in the Chinese waters. The company took from their own ships and officers a bond that they would obey the orders of those supercargoes. No ship could trade to China at all without having a licence from the East India Company, which was forfeited in case of disobedience; in which case the ship was liable to be sold, and the crew might be arrested by the supercargoes, sent as a proviso to England, tried, convicted, fined, and imprisoned for that offence. The supercargoes, therefore, had complete and positive control over the ships and commerce.

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