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POLITICAL AND COMMERCIAL RELATIONS OF GREAT BRITAIN WITH CHINA.
In the last number of 'The Oriental Herald' we laid before our readers certain observations, founded on practical knowledge and experience, on the climate and population of China, and on the civil condition of the people of that country; and, agreeably to a promise made at the conclusion of these observations, we now proceed to give an account of the military and naval power of the Chinese; suggesting, in conclusion, such remedies, by negociation or otherwise, as appear expedient for placing our commercial relations with that country on a more extended and secure basis.
The military character of the Chinese is such as can only be expected from their narrow and despotic character, in a civil point of view. The slightest consideration of their history, from the earliest periods, will show them to be a people having little or no skill in military tactics. The whole of their internal policy is directly opposed to the right formation of a military establishment. We have inflated accounts of their great numbers; but they are little better than a nominal army, or rather, a sort of police establishment, the instruments of their civil policy. The Tartars overcame them with comparative ease; and, conciliating the established authorities, the defence of the empire was entirely trusted to their barbarous conquerors, on the simple proviso that the Chinese mandarins should be introduced to and united with them, in exercising and confirming an arbitrary authority over the mass of the people. We have shown, on the fairest data, that the population of China does not exceed one hundred millions; and our knowledge of the actual number of their effective troops goes to establish that it is far less than is commonly believed. At the same time, it is but fair to lay before our readers the various estimates that have been given of their military force. These are as follow:
The discrepancy of these estimates, and the consideration, for a moment, of such an enormous military fabric as is stated by Lord Macartney, will be sufficient, we think, to prove the utter absurdity of, by far, the greatest number of these statements. We know that Lord Macartney was imposed upon. His Lordship took the numbers as they were reported to him, without any investigation on his own part as to the correctness of his information. The national Oriental Herald, Vol. 18.
vanity of the Chinese, their pride, and their fears, all induced them to create and encourage the delusion under which Lord Macartney laboured, as to their power and their numbers. No dependence whatever is, therefore, to be placed on that estimate of their military force. The statements of the missionaries we have likewise good grounds for discrediting. They have laid down a methodical system of misrepresentation on all matters relating to China. They magnified the slight advances towards refinement among the Chinese as amounting to mature civilisation, at a time when we well knew that they were only one degree removed from semi-barbarism. The despotic character of the Chinese Government was, with the missionaries, a standard of perfection; and the filial piety of the people was extolled as a high moral attainment, brought about by their own instrumentality. Nothing appeared to the missionaries to be wanting but the conversion of the people, to render China a perfect Utopia. Some vices, it is true, they allowed to exist; it would have defeated their own purpose not to have represented a certain degree of turpitude, inasmuch as their own peculiar labours would be thereby rendered essential. And, pursuing the same tone of exaggeration, the missionaries have stated the population and military force of the Chinese at double the actual amount. De Guignes, of all the practical observers, has given us the fairest estimate on this subject; yet he avoided giving full scope to his knowledge, fearful that in differing too much from previous writers he might be discredited. The following is a more specific account than is usually to be met with, and approximating as near as may be to the truth, showing the number of troops stationed in each city:
First class, 179 towns, 1500 troops each.... 268,500
This may be safely taken as the full muster-roll of the Chinese military, the greater portion of which is to be considered simply as police. In the gross, this character is thus briefly and accurately described by the Abbé Grosier: 'The best soldiers of the empire are procured from the northern provinces; those supplied by the rest are seldom called forth; they remain quietly with their families, and enjoy their pay; (mostly in kind ;) they have seldom to remember that they are soldiers, except when they are ordered to quell an insurrection, accompany a mandarin, or appear at a review.'
This short passage will clearly indicate that, in discipline and tactics, the Chinese cannot be looked upon but in a very contemptible view, as a military people. The missionaries themselves, unwilling though they have ever been to say any thing derogatory to the character of the Chinese, seem to be struck with the dis
orderly and tumultuous conduct of the soldiery. In fact, the Chinese in this department have continued, from age to age, in a morbid condition, in strict accordance with their apathetic habits and narrow government. If we except the introduction of artillery by the Jesuits, no advances whatever, even to this day, appear to have been made by them, of which they are capable of taking advantage; and, in truth, the Chinese, in a military point of view, sink in comparison with the least powerful nations of the East. For the establishment of these premises, it is only requisite to state the few following facts: That a mere robber ascended the throne of China; nor could he be displaced until the Tartars were called in, who established themselves in the capital, and began a new dynasty that the admission of the Portuguese to the possession of Macao, was the reward bestowed upon them for repressing a fleet of pirates, which the Chinese were altogether unable to subdue, although a few merchant vessels easily effected the object: and that, again, when an attack was made on Pekin, by a neighbouring tribe, the Chinese suddenly invited the missionaries (whom they had previously driven away) to return to them, that they might profit by their knowledge of artillery. To this last circumstance is to be ascribed the readmission of the missionaries into China, confirming the pusillanimous character of the people, who, when their fears were wrought upon, bended to an imaginary necessity, although opposed to their most obstinate prejudices.
In closing these observations on the military character of the Chinese, we cannot forbear to notice an article which appeared in "The Chinese Chronicle,' received on the 19th of May last, containing extracts from the Pekin Gazettes, describing the present military operations in China, which, were we inclined to be jocose, we would say, are on a scale that puts to shame all the modern military operations in Europe. They are truly laughable, but valuable in so far as they completely establish what we had previously written on the subject. It appears, then, that, after a defeat, in which the Mohammedan rebels now disturbing the peace of the Celestial Empire, lost between 40,000 and 50,000 men, they collected on a sudden the ashes of the former army, upwards of 100,000 strong! and took up a strong mountain position. Chang-Ling, the Chinese General, attacked them. The rebels stood firm. Musketry and cannon are said to have been tried in vain. They then feigned a retreat; but the Chinese continued their attack with the wind in their favour. The rebels, extremely annoyed at having the wind against them, dashed with their horse through the Chinese ranks, till Chang-Ling had recourse to a manoeuvre which the rebels, particularly their horse, neither expected nor relished. Chang-Ling brought up a corps of tigers, (veteran troops disguised as tigers,) and the enemy's horse instantly, and very sensibly, turned tail and fled. But, however galled and alarmed the horse were by this wild-beast manœuvre,
the rebel infantry hit upon an expedient which might have intimidated the tigers in their turn. They dressed a division of reserve in crimson garments, which lions and tigers are very much annoyed at; but these were magnanimously met, as may be easily supposed, by Chang-Ling's division of reserve, and routed. Thus the victory is said to have been on the side of the Chinese; and the enemy lost between 20 and 30,000 men. This is the tiger version of the battle. When the crimson garment despatch appears, if it ever do appear, we have no doubt it will prove equally instructive and amusing.
We have said enough on this particular head to show, that such is the low condition of the Chinese in a military point of view, so utterly powerless and contemptible are they as a warlike people, that they would be altogether unfit to withstand the invasion of an expedition from the northern or western nations, on a much smaller scale than these expeditions are usually composed on. It is the decided opinion of every intelligent person,-persons intimately acquainted with the character and power of the Chinese,―that an European or India-British army might march, in any given direction, through China, and encounter very little or no serious opposition. The Chinese are, in short, a weak pusillanimous race. Altogether undisciplined as they are, (in which all the writers on their country agree,) they are wholly unable to withstand or to offer opposition to any regularly-trained body of men that may choose to overrun the open face of their maritime provinces, abounding as they do in those provisions, and affording those facilities for transportation, of which any body of trained men know so much better how to avail themselves than the Chinese can pretend to do.
In adding a page or two on the naval character of the Chinese, we have to state that the peculiar locality of their coasts, so favourable to commerce, renders their country easily accessible to any foreign naval attack. Considering the nature of their internal commerce, it is truly amazing to find that their coasts are wholly unprotected by a navy of their own. Their unprotected state in this respect involves many important considerations. They are thus exposed to an interruption of all supplies between the northern and southern provinces of the empire; the line of connection between the latter and Pekin, being formed by the grand canal, commencing between the two great rivers that intersect the kingdom, and by which is conveyed the tribute in grain of the fertile provinces of the south, upon which the very existence of Pekin depends, not alone for its daily consumption, but for the payment of the troops and officers of Government. The proximity of this important line of communication to the sea, where it crosses the Yang-tee-Kaing, lays it open to instant interruption; yet still it is an unprotected place. More open still to any attack, is their extensive fishing trade, along the coasts of the maritime provinces, in which a vast
number of people is constantly engaged. The traffic in salt is likewise liable to similar interruption. But above all, the important article of opium, which, although prohibited, finds its way through every province in the empire, is left exposed to the mercy of the pirate. The traffic in opium is chiefly carried on by coasting boats and small craft from Canton. This article of secret transit is sought after with a greater keenness by every class in China, than ever was the smuggled spirit in this country. Exclusive of its consumption among the lower orders, it is transmitted from Canton to the Court, as a species of tribute to the higher mandarins to conciliate their patronage and favour. So addicted are the Chinese to the indulgence of this enervating drug that they secretly expend about eight millions of dollars, (two millions sterling,) in procuring it. Yet still the navy of the Chinese, for the protection of these and other branches of their commerce, has always presented so humble an aspect, as scarcely to deserve a name. Indeed, were we to say that they have no navy at all, we should not be far from the truth. Their war-junks, as they call them, are so miserably deficient in equipments, that they deserve no consideration whatever. They are wholly inadequate to the protection of their own seas from a straggling pirate; and more than once European assistance has been called to the aid of their Government, and effected, with a few merchant ships, what the whole power of the Chinese navy could not accomplish. Still their self-importance is such, that they have been seen to assemble round British ships of war with as much menace as if they were really capable of doing any mischief. No advocate of their's, however, can pretend to say that they are not wholly distracted on the appearance of any hostile force. Whenever such an occasion presented itself, they beheld it with dismay, and begged and prayed that it should be kept away.
Under these circumstances, it is a notorious fact, that the operation of a few of our gun-boats or brigs of war,-for these alone are infinitely superior to any thing they possess or can equip,—would work a quicker and more powerful revolution, in their estimation, of British character than would centuries spent in mere passive negociation. But, laying now aside the consideration of the insults the Chinese at one time offered to British power, in the confident hope that such can never be offered again with impunity, we may proceed to examine how our national character may be vindicated and supported with that proud people in a manner more consistent with bumanity.
Having, in these pages, and in our former paper on this subject, given the result of our knowledge on the civil, military, and naval condition of the Chinese, with an account of the population and climate of their country, and having shown that we have on various occasions submitted to indignities from an arrogant and pusillanimous nation, greater than those which, in many other instances that could be