Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

There was, however, so little interest in the subject, that this premium was never awarded, though the proposal was extensively advertised both in China and England. The memorial of Hü Kiu mentioned the names of several foreigners, English, Parsees, and Americans, residing at Canton, who were extensively engaged in the opium trade; and in three edicts issued by the governor in the autumn of 1836, the immediate departure of nine persons therein mentioned was required. So habitually, however, did foreigners disregard the commands and prohibitions of the local government, that none of them hastened their departure in consequence, though a report was of course made to the capital that orders had been issued for their expulsion. It was this posture of affairs which Captain Elliot referred to, and the desirableness of his coming to Canton was evident. The governor and his colleagues soon learned that the feeling at court was rather against legalizing, though they were directed to report concerning the amount of duty proper to be levied on it; and to show their zeal, arrested several brokers and dealers, some of whom were tortured and imprisoned. Aming, one of the linguists, was severely tortured and publicly exposed in the cangue for exporting sycee ; others escaped similar and worse treatment by absconding. The chief superintendent expressed his opinion, that “the legalization of the trade in opium would afford his majesty's government great satisfaction,” but suggested that the gradual diversion of British capital into other channels would be attended with advantageous consequences. To one situated as Captain Elliot was, between his own government which promoted the importation of opium, and the Chinese government which was now making extraordinary efforts to regulate it; and deeply sensible personally of the injury resulting from its use to the people, and to the reputation of his own and all foreign nations generally, from the constant infraction of the laws; the proposed step of admitting it by duty offered a timely relief. No one was more desirous of putting a stop to this destructive traffic than Captain Elliot, but knowing the impossibility of checking it by laws, he naturally wished to see the many political and commercial evils growing out of smuggling done away. It was, indeed, much to be desired, that the Chinese would take this course; and it is very remarkable that, the great reason why the emperor and his

BRITISH COMMISSION RETURNS TO CANTON. 501

advisers did not do so, was because it would be detrimental to the people. During the years 1837 and 1838, there was a constant struggle along the coast between the officers of government, the native smugglers, and the foreign dealers ; sometimes the former competed with, and sometimes connived at, and then arrested the latter, while the foreigners seldom came in collision with either, but did all they could to promote the sale. In February, Capt. Elliot wrote to rear-admiral Capel, in India, requesting him to dispatch a ship of war to China, in order to visit the outer anchorages where the opium trade was carried on, “as one of the movements best calculated, either to carry the provincial government back to the system of connivance which has hitherto prevailed, or to hasten onwards the legalization measure from the court.” The sloop-of-war Raleigh soon after arrived in compliance with this request, and was dispatched to Fuhchau to procure the release of the lascars forming part of the crew of the opium brig Fairy, who had been detained there for many months, which she successfully accomplished. The main object, however, of the superintendent's request, could better be brought about by the action of the home government; and in the autumn of 1837, her majesty's secretary transmitted orders for the admiral himself to go to China and communicate with the British authorities there. Captain Elliot, being now at Canton, as the recognized head of the British trade, received an order through the hong-merchants from the provincial authorities, in September, to drive away the receiving-ships from Lintin, and send the emperor's commands to his king, that henceforth they be prohibited coming. He replied to the effect that he could not transmit any orders to his own sovereign which did not come to him direct from the government; and quoted the recent instance of the governor-general of Fuhkien communicating directly with the captain of a British ship of war. The governor was therefore forced to employ a different channel, and sent his orders to the prefect and colonel of the department to be by them enjoined on Captain Elliot. He replied by promising to send it to his country, and adds, in true diplomatic style, “He has already signified to your excellency with truth and plainness, that his commission extends only to the regular trade with this empire; and further, that the existence of any other than this trade has never yet been submitted to the knowledge of his own gracious sovereign.” The rapid extension of smuggling about Canton in small boats, and the numerous collisions which tended to keep all parties in a constant ferment and struggle, hazarding the whole trade, induced Captain Elliot to transmit, with the “orders” he had received, a minute account of the condition of the opium trade, and a memorandum respecting the mode and desirableness of opening communication with the court. Lord Palmerston, in reply, intimates that “her majesty's government do not see their way in such a measure with sufficient clearness to justify them in adopting it at the present moment.” He adds, that no protection can be afforded to “enable British subjects to violate the laws of the country to which they trade. Any loss, therefore, which such persons may suffer in consequence of the more effectual execution of the Chinese laws on this subject, must be borne by the parties who have brought that loss on themselves by their own acts.”—A most paradoxical but convenient position for this “honorable” officer of the English government to assume! The opium is brought down to Calcutta and sold by this government through the E. I. Company for the China market, but when it leaves that port its carriers are smugglers, and must bear their own losses and punishments (for the penalty now was death), without hope of protection. The moment, however, the personal freedom, or the regular trade, of these same persons was jeoparded by the efforts of the Chinese authorities to reach the contraband trade through it or them, then the strong arm of England's irresistible power was to teach them to let both alone. In a struggle of this sort, between arrogant weakness, inoperative laws, contempt of other powers, and great ignorance of national rights, on one side, and appetite, skill, knowledge, and force combined, on the other, the likelihood of some serious outbreak was not very doubtful or far distant. Near the close of 1837, the British flag was again hauled down at Canton, and the superintendent returned to Macao because he refused to superscribe the word pin upon his communications, according to his instructions, and the governor declined to receive them without it. In July, 1838, Sir Frederick Maitland arrived in H. B. M. S. Wellesley, 74, and was almost immediately brought into correspondence with the Chinese admiral Kwan, in consequence of the forts firing upon an English schooner passing the Bogue, and stopping her to inquire whether he or any of his crew

ACTION OF THE COURT AGAINST OPIUM. 503

or women were in her. The Wellesley and her two consorts were anchored near the forts, and the Chinese admiral made a full apology for the mistake, which had occurred without his orders; his conduct in the whole affair was very creditable both to his judgment and temper. As soon as Sir Frederick arrived, Captain Elliot endeavored to reopen the correspondence with the governor by sending an open letter to the city gates, which was received and taken to him, but returned in the evening, because it had not the required superscription. He therefore rejoined the ships of war. Two or three friendly communications subsequently passed between the two admirals, and in October, the Wellesley left the Chinese waters. Having now fully taken the sense of the empire, the efforts of the supreme government to suppress the contraband trade were much greater in the year 1838 than ever before, and indicated a determination to do its utmost to carry that will into effect. In April, a native named Kwoh Siping, was publicly strangled at Macao by express command of the emperor, as a warning to others not to engage in exporting sycee, or introducing opium. The execution of the sentence was conducted by the district magistrate and sub-prefect with the utmost propriety and order in the presence of a large crowd of natives and foreigners. A visit was paid one of the European smuggling schooners near the factories, some weeks previous to this tragical scene, and three chests of opium seized by the Chinese, and the hong-merchant, who owned the house of L. Just, the agent of the opium, was held responsible for not having duly warned his tenant, and for not seeing that his instructions took effect; it was understood he paid nearly ten thousand dollars to hush up the matter. The number of the soreign small craft under English and American flags plying up and down the river at this date was over fifty, most of them engaged in smuggling; sometimes the government seemed determined to exert its power, and boats were consequently destroyed, smugglers seized and tortured, and the sales checked; then, it went on again as briskly as ever. These boats were easily caught, for the government could exercise entire control over its own subjects; but when the foreign schooners, heavily armed and manned, sailed up and down the river delivering the drug, the revenue cruisers were afraid to attack them. In August, they were required to exhibit their passports at the Bogue. The hong-mertuated them in order to understand their proceedings. If the position of England in the eyes of the Chinese had been fully known in London, the unequal contest Lord Napier undertook would have been avoided, or would have been waged against the court and imperial government. It was not amiss, however, that the opportunity of receiving or rejecting the offer of an amicable intercourse should be given the Chinese; but through the inapplicable instructions which his lordship received, and which he felt bound to obey as much as governor Lu did his orders, this offer was not made to the weaker and ignorant party in such a way as not to unnecessarily alarm its fears, while it fully explained the real position and intentions of England, and through her all Christendom, in seeking intercourse with China. The governor and his colleagues felt that their character, office, and existence, all depended upon the expulsion of the English superintendent and his ships; and they consequently resorted to every expedient to harass, restrain, and oppose them, stopping their provisions, taking away their servants, and suspending the trade of their countrymen, in order to compel them to depart. Conscious of their weakness, they did not dare to come to personal encounter, and seize his lordship to carry him out of the port; they were disinclined or afraid to spill blood and risk life, and therefore resorted to contemptible annoyances and vicarious punishments. His lordship, on the other hand, could see nothing so unprecedented in the mere reception of a letter; and though the two parties were at issue, the reasons and grounds of the mutual misunderstanding do not seem to have been fully known at the time to either. The Chinese certainly were ignorant of the wishes of the English; and few foreigners supposed that that government regarded this peaceful mission as a scheme of conquest, or as the effort of an independent officer to intrude into the emperor's dominions against his wish. The residents, generally, on the spot saw the principal point of difficulty, and in a petition to the king in council, dated Dec. 4, 1834, signed by a large part of British subjects in China, recom. mend a commissioner to be sent to one of the northern ports with a small fleet to arrange the matter of future intercourse. In this petition, they “trace the disabilities and restrictions under which British commerce now labors, to a long acquiescence in the arrogant assumption of supremacy over the monarchs and

« EdellinenJatka »