Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

perity, and they were not likely to act imprudently. The orders of the supreme government for its officers on the coast to stop the traffic were utterly powerless, through the cupidity and venality of those officers and their underlings; yet their almost complete failure to execute them does not impugn the sincerity of the court in issuing them. There is not the least evidence to show that the court of Peking was not sincere in its desire to suppress the trade from the first edict in 1800 till the war broke out in 1840. The excuse that the government smuggled because its revenue cruisers engaged in it, and the provincial authorities winked at it, is no more satisfactory, in a large view of the case, than is the successful bribery of custom-house officers in England or elsewhere a proof of the corruption of the treasury department. The temptation of an “increasing and lucrative” trade was as strong to the unenlightened pagan Chinese smuggler as it was to the Christian merchants and monopolists who placed the poisonous drug constantly within their reach. It would have been far more frank on the part of the British superintendent to have openly defended a traffic affording a revenue of more than two millions' sterling to his own government, and suggested that such an “increasing and lucrative” business should not be impeded, than to say that he could stop British ships engaging in it as soon as he received orders to that effect. The existence of the commission at the outer anchorages was fully known to the authorities at Canton, but no movement towards reopening the intercourse was made by either party. Lord Palmerston instructed the superintendent not to communicate with the government through the hong-merchants, nor to give his written communications the name of petitions. By a dispatch received in Dec., 1836, Sir George Robinson was di. rected to hand the papers of his office to Charles Elliot, R. N., as the office and salary of chief superintendent was abolished, and the whole commission placed on a more economical footing, its annual salaries being reduced to about £10,000. Captain Elliot set about reopening the communication with the Chinese officers in the same way that the supercargoes of the E. I. Company had conducted it, on the day that he assumed office. In his dispatch, he explained the reasons of his conduct, upon the grounds that he had no right to direct official communication with the governor, and that the remarkable movements of the Chinese, and the criti.

[ocr errors]

cal state of uncertainty in respect to the whole foreign trade, ren. dered it highly desirable to be at Canton. A new governor, Tăng Tingching, had superseded Lu, who willingly responded to the proposition of Captain Elliot, by sending a deputation of three officers to Macao with the hong-merchants, to make some inquiries before memorializing the emperor. In his report, the governor avoided all reference to Lord Napier, and requested his majesty's sanction to the present request as being in accordance with the orders that the English merchants should send home to have a supercargo come out to manage them. It was of course granted; and the British commission, having received a “red permit” from the collector of customs, returned to Canton, April 12th, 1837, after an absence of about thirty months. In his note to the governor upon receiving the imperial sanction, Captain Elliot says, “The undersigned respectfully assures his excellency, that it is at once his duty and his anxious desire, to conform in all things to the imperial pleasure; and he will therefore heedfully attend to the points adverted to in the papers now before him.” This language was much too strong, and his excellency afterwards called upon the superintendent to do as he had promised. The remarkable movements of the supreme government referred to by Captain Elliot, grew out of a memorial from Hü Nai-tsí, president of the Sacrificial Court, and formerly salt commissioner and judge at Canton, proposing the legalization of the opium trade. The memorialist states it to be his conviction that it is impossible to stop the traffic or use of the drug; if the foreign vessels be driven from the coast, they will go to some island near by, where the native craft will go off to them; and if the laws be made too severe upon those who smoke the drug, they will be disregarded. By legalizing it, he says the drain of the precious metals will be stopped, the regular trade rendered more profitable and manageable, and the consumption of the drug regulated. He proposes instant dismissal from office as the penalty for all functionaries convicted of smoking, while their present ineffectual attempts to suppress the trade, which resulted in general contempt for all law, would cease, and consequently the dignity of government be better maintained. The trade on the coast would be concentrated at Canton, and the fleet at Lintin broken up, thereby bringing all foreigners more completely under control. This unexpected movement at the capital caused no little stir at Canton, and the hong-merchants presently advertised the soreigners that soon there would no longer be any need for keeping receiving-ships at Lintin. Captain Elliot wrote in his dispatch, that he thought legalization had come too late to stop the trade on the coast, and that the “feeling of independence created among British subjects from the peculiar mode of conducting this branch of the trade,” would erelong lead to graver difficulties, and acts of violence requiring the armed interference of his government. The impression was general at Canton, that the trade would be legalized, and increased preparations were accordingly made in India to extend the cultivation. The governor and his colleagues recommended its legalization on the grounds that the “tens of millions of precious money, which now annually ooze out of the empire, will be saved,” the duties be increased, the evil practices of transporting contraband goods by deceit and violence suppressed, numberless quarrels and litigations arising therefrom, and the crimes of worthless vagrants, diminished. They also delude themselves with the idea that if the officers were dismissed as soon as convicted, the intelligent part of society would not indulge their depraved appetites, but let the “victims of their own self. sacrificing folly,” the poor opium smokers, be found only among the lower classes. In connexion with this report, the hong-merchants replied to various inquiries respecting the best mode of carrying on the opium trade, in case it should be legalized, and their mode of conducting trade generally; adding, that it was beyond their power to control the smuggling trade, or restrain the exportation of sycee, and showed that the balance of trade would naturally leave the country in bullion. Both these papers are fairly drawn up, and their perusal cannot fail to elevate the character of the Chinese for consideration, carefulness, and businesslike procedure. There were other statesmen, however, who regarded Hu Nai-tsi's memorial as a dangerous step in the downward path, and sounded the alarm. Among these, the foremost was Chu Tsun, a cabinet minister, who sent in a counter memorial couched in the strongest terms. He advised that the laws be more strictly maintained, and cited instances to show that when the provincial authorities earnestly set about it they could put the trade down; that the people would soon learn to despise all laws if those against opium-smoking were suspended; and that recreant officers should

LIN’s Effort to GET MR. DENT. 513

and this remark, therefore, tended to deceive them. This note to the governor was followed by a letter to Captain Blake of the Larne requesting his assistance in defending British property and life; and by a circular to all British ships, opium and others, to proceed to Hongkong, and prepare themselves to resist every act of aggression on the part of the Chinese. The next day he issued a second circular to British subjects, detailing the reasons which compelled him to withdraw all confidence in the “justice and moderation of the provincial government,” and demand passports for all his countrymen who wished to leave Canton, and counselling every one to make preparations to remove on board ship. This circular was written under some excitement, but no one doubted the propriety of his going to Canton at all hazards, though personal danger was not to be apprehended at this time. He arrived there about sunset, Sunday evening, dressed in naval uniform, and closely attended by cruisers watching his movements. The British flag was hoisted, and Captain Elliot conducted. Mr. Dent to the Consulate in the most conspicuous manner, where, having summoned a public meeting, he read his notice of the previous day. This proceeding was interpreted by the Chinese as an effort to induce foreigners to abscond, and was stated as the reason for withdrawing the servants. Captain Elliot, however, told the hong-merchants to inform the commissioner that he was willing to let Mr. Dent go into the city, if he could accompany him. His coming up the river had excited the apprehensions of the Chinese, that he meant to force his way out again, and orders were issued to close every pass around the factories; the act of escorting Mr. Dent had increased this apprehension, for it was virtually taking him out of the commissioner's hands; and as he said, “almost had the hare escaped, the wolf run off,” and further orders were therefore given to place a triple cordon of armed boats before the factories, to command every native servant to leave them, and station guards before the door of each hong, and on the roofs of the adjoining houses. By nine o'clock, not a native was left, and the foreigners, about 275 in number, were their only inmates. Patrols, sentinels and officers, hastening hither and thither, with the blowing of trumpets and beating of gongs, added confusion to the darkness and gloom of the night.

Had there been a little more excitement, or had the foreigners ble it. Kanghi long ago (1717) remarked, he observes, “There is cause for apprehension, lest in the centuries or milleniums to come, China may be endangered by collisions with the various nations of the west, who come hither from beyond the seas.” And now in less than two centuries, “we see the commencement of that danger which he apprehended.” The suggestion of Hu Nai-tsí to allow it to the people and interdict the officers, is called bad casuistry, “like shutting a woman's ears before you steal her earrings.” He shows that this distinction will be vain, for it will be impossible to say who is of the people and who are officers, for all the latter are taken from the body of the former. The permission will induce people to use it who now refrain from fear of the laws; for even the proposal has caused “thieves and villains on all hands to raise their heads and open their eyes, gazing about and pointing the finger, under the notion that when once these prohibitions are repealed, thenceforth and for ever they may regard themselves far from every restraint and cause of fear.” He asserts that nothing but strong laws rigidly carried into effect will restrain them from their evil ways, and concludes by recommending increased stringency in their execution as the only hope of reformation. This spirited paper was supported by another from a sub-censor, Hú Kiu, on the necessity of checking the exportation of silver and recommending that a determined officer be sent to punish severely the native traitors, which would add dignity to the laws; and then the barbarians would be awed and consequently reform, and be entirely defeated in their designs of conquering the country. He cites several instances of their outrageous violation of the laws, such as levelling graves in Macao for the purpose of making a road over them, landing goods there for entering them at Canton in order to evade the duties and port-charges, and even riding in sedans with four bearers, like Chinese officers. Force need only be put forth a little, he thought, and they would again be humbled to subjection; but if they still brought the pernicious drug, then inflict capital punishment upon them as well as upon natives. The sub-censor expresses the same opinion as Chu Tsun regarding the designs of foreigners in bringing opium, that they wished first to debilitate and impoverish the land as a preparatory measure, for they never smoked the drug in their own country, but brought it all to China. This impression was preva

« EdellinenJatka »