At the beginning of the second quarter of the nineteenth century the central area of the Far East, comprising China, Korea and Japan, with approximately half the population of Asia and a quarter of the population of the world, was still almost inaccessible to the travel and commerce of Western nations and virtually impervious to Western cultural influences. In particular, the vast empire of China, under the Ch’ing dynasty set up in Peking by the Manchus in 1644, remained untouched by the internal disintegrations and external encroachments which had overtaken the more westerly of the major Asian powers since the end of the seventeenth century. The Mogul empire had disappeared and over most of India had been replaced by the direct or indirect rule of the British East India Company; the Ottoman empire had lost territory to Russia and had been weakened by the secession of Egypt and the national revolt of the Greeks; Persia also had lost territory to Russia and had been curtailed in the east by the new realm of Afghanistan. But China had not merely suffered no loss of territory since 1700, but had extended her borders by the incorporation of the central Asian empire of the Kalmuk Mongols including Tibet. This massive political organism, reaching from the Pacific to the Pamirs, was loosely, but effectively, controlled by a central government in Peking; it inherited a tradition of imperial unity closely associated with the teaching of the Confucian scholar class and going back to an age contemporary with the Roman empire of Augustus. In 1830 the traditional structure of the empire seemed as strong as it had ever been, and the ruling class, in which Manchu barbarism had been assimilated to Chinese civilisation, was wrapped in a complacent ethnocentric self-sufficiency, with no idea of the disasters and transformations that were soon to befall it.
The Chinese were not aware of the existence of any neighbours who could either threaten their independence or challenge their way of life. The nomadic peoples of the northern steppes who in former times had been such a menace to the Middle Kingdom were now under the sway of a Chinese government which had derived its strength in the first place from those same peoples. Farther north, the empire included much of what is now eastern Siberia as far as the Sea of Okhotsk, holding a frontier fixed by the Treaty of Nerchinsk in 1689 with the Russians, who were still too few in numbers and too deficient in overland communications with their homeland to be a considerable power east of the Yenisei. To the west, high mountain ranges provided the Manchu-Chinese empire with strong natural frontiers, and beyond Tibet the Himalayas set a barrier which, after the defeat by the Chinese of the Gurkha invasion of Tibet in 1792, was not again to be pierced until the British expedition to Lhasa in 1904. To the east and south China held a vague suzerainty over a group of relatively small states which paid ceremonial tribute to the Chinese imperial monarchy—Korea, Luchu, Annam, Siam and Burma. Farther to the east, self-contained in their own islands, were the Japanese, who paid no tribute to China, but under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunal dynasty (in control of Japan since 1600) no longer sent forth the corsair fleets which had been the scourge of the coasts of China during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. From the seas to the south the merchants of Western nations carried on a trade with China which from 1757 was confined by law to the single port of Canton; these peoples, collectively known to the Chinese as Hsi-yang jen or ‘men of the Western Ocean’ and classified under the general heading of i or ‘barbarians’, had acquired territorial power in parts of South-east Asia—the Spanish in the Philippines, the Dutch in Indonesia, the British in Arakan, Tenasserim and at Singapore—but none of these areas was immediately adjacent to China, and no Western power yet possessed a point d'appui on the coast of China, except for the Portuguese, who had received the grant of Macao in 1557 in return for services in the suppression of piracy. Yet it was from one of these maritime nations trading to the Far East from remote Europe that the Chinese empire was soon to receive a blow not only profoundly humiliating for its prestige, but destined to have consequences decisive for the whole course of its subsequent history.
The Chinese imperial government did not have any conception of international relations corresponding to the Western idea of permanent diplomatic intercourse within a system of equal sovereign states. In Confucian philosophy China was the unique source of true civilisation for mankind and the emperor of China was the sole legitimate representative of Heaven in mundane affairs; he was ideally a world ruler and the relations of other monarchs to him could only be those of vassal to suzerain. This vassalage was expressed by the payment of tribute together with various ceremonies which acknowledged the supremacy of the Chinese emperor. The tribute was not burdensome in amount and was valued by the Chinese court not for its economic importance but for the enhancement of prestige which it brought to the reigning dynasty; the tributary was usually well rewarded with privileges of trade with China, and, as the system involved no direct control by the Chinese government over the internal affairs of the tributary, it gained voluntary acceptance from a number of peoples who did not regard such acts of formal submission to a power so much larger and stronger than themselves as derogatory to their dignity. It sometimes happened, however, that political necessity drove the Chinese government to have dealings with foreign rulers who declined to conform to the Chinese idea of their proper status, and in these cases Chinese officialdom had to make exceptions from the rule. Thus in the Treaty of Nerchinsk, which defined the frontier between the Chinese and Russian empires, there was no acknowledgement of the inferiority of the tsar to the Chinese emperor. But such concessions, enforced by the necessity of terminating hostilities and agreeing on a land frontier, were to be kept to a minimum, and there did not seem to be any reason for having diplomatic relations on a non-tributary basis with distant nations which merely traded with China by sea and had no common boundary by land with the Middle Kingdom. The Peking court permitted merchants from Europe and North America to trade at Canton under regulations laid down unilaterally by the local Chinese authorities, but saw no reason for entering into diplomatic relations with the governments of these foreign merchants’ home countries. The foreigners in Canton, therefore, had no support or protection for their interests from diplomatic or consular representatives of their own nations, and their only means of appeal to the Chinese authorities for redress of grievances was by way of humble petition presented through the Co-hong, an association of Chinese merchants officially licensed for carrying on foreign trade.
Among the Western nations the British had by far the largest share in the total volume of the trade at Canton. Their business was conducted either by the East India Company or by ‘country’ merchants from India operating under its licence, so that the company’s representatives in Canton could act on behalf of the whole British commercial interest involved in the trade. The company, however, was unable to obtain any improvement in the unsatisfactory conditions of trade at Canton or permission to trade at any places other than Canton. The British government in 1793 sent a mission headed by Lord Macartney to Peking to negotiate an agreement directly with the Chinese government; the embassy was courteously received, but the boats and carts in which the envoys were conveyed to the capital bore flags inscribed ‘Bearers of tribute from England’, and none of the requests made for the revision of existing practice at Canton or the opening of new ports were granted by the Chinese. A second embassy headed by Lord Amherst in 1816 was similarly without effect, and the trade at Canton continued on the same terms as before. Despite the irksome conditions, it was too profitable for the foreign merchants to abandon, and the Chinese saw no reason to alter the system as long as the foreigners, however reluctantly, submitted to it. During the ’thirties, nevertheless, two new developments combined to produce a crisis between the British at Canton and the local Chinese authorities. The first of these was the increase in the traffic in opium as an element in the Canton trade. During the eighteenth century the East India Company’s problem had been to find goods which could be sold in China to pay for the tea and other Chinese products purchased there; for a long time the balance of trade was against the Europeans and the deficit had to be made up with specie. But towards the end of the century the adverse balance was being reduced by exports of opium from India. The drug had previously been carried by the Portuguese from Goa; the British first entered the trade in 1773, but at that time the total sales were still small. In 1729 the emperor Yung Cheng had issued an edict against the smoking of opium, which had become a fashionable addiction in China, but it could be legally imported as a medicinal drug until 1800, when it was absolutely prohibited by an edict of the emperor Chia Ch’ing. Henceforth it was no longer carried by the East India Company’s own ships, but country ships brought it from Bengal and sold it over the side to boats in the Canton river, the buyers paying bribes to the local officials to turn a blind eye to the traffic. The sales continually increased during the first three decades of the nineteenth century, and spasmodic attempts of the Chinese authorities to enforce the law only led to the opium being transferred to storeships stationed outside the estuary of the river; from these storeships the opium was smuggled ashore at various points on the coast. French, Dutch and American, as well as British, traders dealt in opium, but except for small quantities from Persia and Turkey, it was all supplied from India on British account, and the Chinese held Britain responsible. As the volume of the illicit trade grew, the central government in Peking became increasingly concerned, not only because of the effects of the opium-smoking habit—which had become widespread in the official class—but also because of the outflow of silver from China due to the reversal of the balance of foreign trade and the prevalence of a corruption which lined the pockets of Canton officials but brought nothing to the customs revenue. Finally in 1838 the emperor Tao Kwang appointed an imperial high commissioner, Lin Tse-hsu, with special powers to go to Canton and enforce the legal prohibition.
This action was bound to produce a crisis in the relations between the Chinese authorities and the foreign merchants at Canton, but it would probably not have led to any armed conflict if the British trading interest had then still been represented by the East India Company. But since 1834 the situation had been radically altered by a second factor which contributed no less than the growth of the opium trade to the increase of tension. In 1834 the British East India Company’s monopoly was terminated by Act of Parliament and the China trade was thrown open to free competition on the British side; at the same time Lord Napier was appointed Superintendent of Trade to go to Canton and perform there the functions previously vested in the supercargoes of the Company. But, whereas the senior British merchant in Canton was recognised by the Chinese as a ‘taipan’ competent to represent an association of private individuals, the new superintendent came as a representative of his government claiming to deal directly with Chinese officials. He was instructed by Lord Palmerston to notify his arrival by letter to the Canton viceroy. But the Chinese refused to receive the letter, declaring that he must observe the regulation whereby foreigners could only communicate with the provincial administration by petition through the Hong merchants’ association. The viceroy instructed the Hong merchants to inform Napier that, though he might be forgiven for being ‘unaware of the necessity of conforming to the laws of the Celestial Empire’, he must leave Canton immediately. As he did not do so, orders were issued stopping all trade and forbidding Chinese to sell provisions to the British merchants. Napier’s reply to this was to order up two British frigates, which forced their way up the river under fire and landed marines for the protection of the British factory. But the factory was surrounded by a strong force of Chinese troops, supplies were short, and finally Napier yielded and left for Macao, where he died of fever a fortnight later. His successor as superintendent adopted a policy of ‘absolute silence and quiescence’ pending fresh instructions from London.
The British government was in no hurry to take further decisions in the matter in view of the flat refusal of the Chinese bureaucracy to enter into any kind of official relations. Napier had reported that it was an ‘idle waste of time’ to negotiate with the Chinese without adequate ‘means of compulsion’, but such means—over and above two or three warships— were not yet available in the China Seas. Meanwhile the trade at Canton had been resumed, and continued, in spite of the deadlock over the status of the superintendent, until the arrival of Commissioner Lin in Canton in March 1839 to enforce the opium prohibition law. Lin’s method was to surround the foreign factories with troops and announce that nobody would be allowed to leave until all the opium in the storeships had been brought up the river and handed over. Under this pressure more than 20,000 chests of opium were surrendered and destroyed, and Lin then gave permission for normal trade to be reopened. But Captain Elliot, who was now superintendent, ordered all the British merchants to leave Canton and go to Macao, until guarantees against a repetition of such collective duress should be given them. As the British would not return to Canton, Lin ordered the Portuguese governor to expel them from Macao, and they moved in their ships to the anchorage of Hong Kong on the other side of the estuary. The situation was further complicated by an incident which involved the whole question of jurisdiction over foreigners on Chinese soil. Some sailors ashore at Kowloon had been involved in a brawl in which a Chinese was killed; at a trial held on board a British ship under the authority of the superintendent it was found impossible to determine who had struck the fatal blow. The Chinese authorities, dissatisfied with this result, demanded that all the sailors involved in the fight should be handed over to them for investigation, but this was refused in accordance with what had become the British practice—not to hand over men accused of homicide, because of the Chinese use of judicial torture to extract confessions of guilt.
On 25 October 1839 Commissioner Lin issued an order that the British ships must within three days either come up to Canton or depart from the coast of China; this was coupled with a renewed demand for surrender of the sailor guilty of the Kowloon murder. Elliot ignored these demands, and on 3 November a clash took place between two British frigates and a fleet of twenty-nine Chinese war junks. Four of the latter were sunk and the rest put to flight—an action which for the first time clearly demonstrated the extreme disparity in fighting power between European warships and the antiquated naval armaments of China. The first Anglo-Chinese war had begun.
The British government now decided to send an expeditionary force from India and to carry on hostilities with the aim not merely of restoring the former state of affairs at Canton but of revising the basis of British commerce with China. Operations were undertaken, not only in the Canton area, but northwards along the coast as far as Chusan Island, which was occupied; warships were sent on to the mouth of the Peiho requesting the appointment of a Chinese plenipotentiary for negotiations. The imperial government, alarmed at the apparently irresistible power of the ‘rebellious barbarians’ on the sea and the effects of naval blockade in both the Canton and Yangtse estuaries, sent Kishen, the viceroy of Chihli, to negotiate with British envoys at Canton. The British demanded direct official intercourse on equal terms with the provincial administration for the settlement of disputes arising out of the trade at Canton, the payment of an indemnity, and the cession of the island of Hong Kong. Kishen accepted these terms, but the cession of Chinese territory caused an outcry in all quarters in China; Kishen was sent in chains to Peking and condemned to death (though he was reprieved and later pardoned), while the war was renewed, but with consequences disastrous to the Chinese. Colonel Sir Henry Pottinger, who had served in India, was now sent out from England as plenipotentiary, and naval and military reinforcements were dispatched to strengthen his hand. Amoy and Ningpo were taken; the invaders also forced their way up the Yangtse and captured Chinkiang at the intersection of the river with the Grand Canal. When Nanking was invested, China again came to terms, and the Treaty of Nanking, the first to be concluded by China with a western maritime nation, was concluded on 29 August 1842. The fighting had shown that the Chinese imperial army, in spite of the prestige it still retained from its victory over the Gurkhas in 1792, was hardly any better able to cope with Western armed forces on land than were the Chinese war junks at sea. The army at this time consisted of two distinct categories of troops—the forces of the Eight Banners, who were Manchus (with Mongol and Manchurian Chinese contingents) and garrisoned the capital and principal strategic points of the empire, and the Green Standard soldiers, who were Chinese and were already in the eighteenth century reckoned to be more efficient than the Manchus. It was difficult to combine these separate military formations against a foreign foe, and by 1840 both of them were too degenerate in leadership and too antiquated in equipment to be able to stand in the field against the troops of a Western power. Divided and decentralised in organisation, led by officers who were selected by tests in archery and weight-lifting, demoralised by a corruption so far-reaching that in some units only a small fraction of the soldiers on the payroll actually existed, armed only with obsolete matchlocks, spears and bows, and suffering from the contempt of a people accustomed to give all its respect to the civilian scholar-official, the Chinese army was quite unprepared to sustain the task of national defence in the era of stress and strain which the empire had now to face. China’s actual strength, indeed, provided no adequate support for the provocative international pretensions of the Confucian literati, who sought to keep the Middle Kingdom closed to outer barbarians and at the same time to carry on a considerable foreign trade unregulated by any form of equal diplomatic intercourse with other nations. The Chinese view was that the trade at Canton was merely permitted by favour of the emperor, that the foreigners who came there had no rights as against the imperial officials and that they were free to stay away if they did not like the conditions laid down. Such an interpretation of sovereign rights was theoretically consonant with Western international law, which could not justify refusal by foreign residents to submit to the jurisdiction of an independent state within whose borders they were living or to invoke the protection of their own national armed forces whenever they felt aggrieved. On the other hand, in Western international law the recognition of the territorial jurisdiction of a sovereign state was closely linked with the system of official international relations through diplomatic envoys and consuls on a basis of equality between states for the negotiated settlement of disputes, and the refusal of the Chinese government to enter into such relations was itself the greatest grievance of the Western merchants and the governments supporting them. In the absence of any direct contacts with Chinese officialdom the tendency was for disputes to lead to armed clashes, especially as the British, who were the principal Western trading nation in the China Sea, were also by this time the masters of India, and did not find it easy to make the transition from imperial grandeur in Calcutta to downtrodden humility in Canton. With such basically different conceptions of international intercourse and with so much pride on both sides an outbreak of war was bound to occur sooner or later in the situation which existed at Canton after 1834, and it was inevitable that the British, if victorious, would use their power to open wider the door which had hitherto been kept almost shut against the foreigner on China’s shores. The Chinese could not continue their policy of exclusion unless they were strong enough to enforce it, and they were not.
The Treaty of Nanking provided for the cession of the island of Hong Kong to Britain in full sovereignty and for the opening to foreign trade of four more ports in addition to Canton, namely Amoy, Foochow, Ningpo and Shanghai. At all the ports licensed for trade, consuls were to be appointed with the right of direct communication on a basis of equality with Chinese officials of the same rank. Extra-territorial jurisdiction was not explicitly conceded by the treaty, but it was introduced by a supplementary agreement, which provided for the application of English law to British subjects charged with crimes in China, the law to be administered by consular courts. The British claim for extra-territorial jurisdiction was due to their unwillingness to submit their nationals to the procedure of Chinese courts and implied an assertion of the inferiority of the Chinese judicial system, but at the outset this was by no means the most contested part of the peace settlement, for it had from the point of view of the Chinese authorities the compensating advantage that the British government assumed responsibility for sailors going ashore from their ships and thus assisted the inadequate Chinese police of the treaty ports in the maintenance of order. It was only at a later date, when the adverse economic and political consequences of the system for China had become manifest, and familiarity with Western conceptions of sovereign rights had made the Chinese aware of the inferior international status which it involved, that extra-territoriality came to be regarded as the most galling feature of the ‘unequal treaties’, and its removal the supreme objective of nationalist agitation. It is one of the ironies of history that agreements denying China equality with the nations of the West were imposed on China while the West was still striving to gain from the court of Peking recognition of equal rank for its rulers with the Son of Heaven.
In concluding the Treaty of Nanking the British disclaimed any intention of seeking for themselves in China rights and privileges which would not be available to other nations, and the United States and France hastened to follow where Britain had led the way in negotiating similar treaties for their nationals. The Americans, not having taken part in the war with China, could not claim the appointment of imperial commissioners specially to make a treaty with them, but Kiying, who had been one of the two Chinese plenipotentiaries at Nanking, had now been sent to Canton with power to handle foreign affairs, and agreed to enter into negotiations with Caleb Cushing, who was sent to China as American plenipotentiary and arrived at Macao early in 1844. Kiying at first tried to make the American envoy accept a status of inferiority to China by the form of official correspondence which he adopted, but Cushing insisted on the same formal equality which had already been conceded to Britain, and finally got his way. The first Sino-American treaty was signed at Wanghia on 3 July 1844, and three months later a French envoy, Theodose de Lagrene, obtained a treaty for France. The French introduced a new issue by pressing for repeal of the prohibition of Catholic Christianity enacted in China in 1724, and succeeded in obtaining an edict of toleration for the Catholic faith, which was later extended to Protestantism after the representatives of the latter had claimed equality of treatment. The agreement of the imperial government to tolerate the Christian religion was brought about by Kiying and he was never forgiven for it by the Confucian conservatives, who pursued him with bitter hatred for his alleged subservience to foreigners; he was degraded on the accession of the emperor Hsien Feng in 1850 and after a brief and unsuccessful reappearance in diplomacy during the Tientsin negotiations of 1858 was condemned to death.
The most important immediate consequence of the treaties of 1842-4 was the phenomenal growth of Shanghai as a commercial port. Hitherto Canton had been the sole outlet for foreign trade of the produce of the Yangtse valley which more naturally moved down this great navigable river to a mart at or near its mouth; thus, as soon as Shanghai was opened to foreign trade, it began an economic development which soon made it a more important trading centre than Canton. In 1844, forty-four foreign ships entered the port; in 1855 the number was 437. Parallel with the expansion of trade went the increase in the number and prosperity of the foreign merchants in Shanghai. In 1845 the British consul made an agreement with the local Chinese authorities for a piece of ground outside the old walled city to be set aside for British residence, the land being acquired by individual contracts with the Chinese owners. Subsequently a British-American dispute arose because the American consul raised his flag within this area; the conflict was resolved by an agreement to share the ground, and this was the origin of the famous International Settlement of Shanghai. At the outset there was no question of a relinquishment of Chinese administrative authority over the area, but its new residents were persons enjoying extra-territorial rights and determined to create the public utilities and services of a European city. A ‘Committee of Roads and Jetties’ was set up, which soon developed into a kind of municipal administration. In 1854, when Shanghai was involved in a Chinese civil war and the authority of the Chinese government was at a low ebb, the foreign residents obtained rights of police and taxation in their settlement, which could further be defended from any incursions from without by a volunteer corps reinforced in case of need by marines from warships in the river. The International Settlement thus became in effect an independent city-republic with its own laws and administration; its prosperity drew into it a large Chinese population who far outnumbered the foreign residents, but did not share in the municipal franchise.
The treaties of 1842-4 thus made great inroads into China’s seclusion, but on two essential points they left the traditional Chinese position intact. China had not yielded on the question of opening regular diplomatic relations with foreign powers; there were now indeed official dealings with foreign government representatives, but these were to be conducted by a commissioner in Canton, who for most of the time concurrently held the office of viceroy there, and there was still no direct contact with the imperial government. Further, there was still no right of travel for foreigners outside the five treaty ports and small surrounding areas—reckoned to extend to a radius of thirty miles—where they were permitted to make excursions for recreation. The capital and the whole interior of the country remained barred to the foreign visitor. For the Chinese seclusionist it was of the greatest importance to maintain these restrictions and keep the barbarian intruders penned up in the settlements assigned to them; as a result of defeat in war, it had not been possible to preserve the old system of controlling foreigners, but not an inch more than was strictly required by the treaties should now be conceded. The Western nations, on the other hand, were far from content with what they had gained; they were resolved to press demands both for diplomatic representation in Peking and for freedom of travel throughout China. The opportunity for negotiations to this end was afforded by a clause in the American and French treaties of 1844 which stated that they might be revised at the end of twelve years; by virtue of the most-favoured-nation principle Britain was held also to have the right to propose revision of her treaty. The time for claiming revision would fall in 1856. Meanwhile, the application of the existing treaties brought about endless friction, which greatly increased after the recall of Kiying from Canton in 1848. Kiying during his period of office there pursued a policy of conciliation, which he defended on the ground that it was useless to expect the Western barbarians to conform to the usages of civilisation; as he explained in a memorial to the emperor: ‘If we restrained them by the ceremonial forms used for dependent tribes, they would certainly not consent to retire and remain in the status of Annam and Luchu, since they do not accept our calendar or receive imperial investiture. ’
The most acute conflict of these years was over the so-called ‘right of entry’ into the walled city of Canton. After 1842 the foreigners were no longer cooped up in the narrow area of the factories, as they had been before the war; they were now permitted to ramble about in the countryside, but the Chinese still refused to allow them to pass through the gates of the walled city. The foreign consuls claimed that the treaties gave foreigners the right to do so, but the Chinese denied it, and by the Chinese texts of the treaties they appear to have been in the right. The issue was peculiar to Canton; at Shanghai and the other new treaty ports, where foreigners had been unknown before 1842, entry within the walls was accepted as part of the new order of things—which was locally popular as having ended the former commercial monopoly of Canton—but at Canton, where the population remembered the lowly status of the foreign merchants in the old days, the idea of their having freedom to walk about the city as they pleased was quite intolerable. The Cantonese felt they could retain their self-esteem as long as foreigners could be stopped at the gates; the foreigners, on the other hand, felt that they lost face in the eyes of the Chinese if they did not insist on their alleged right. Under strong pressure from the consuls Kiying at last, in January 1846, agreed to allow entry, but this produced such violent rioting in the city that he was driven to reverse his decision. His successors maintained the refusal, with support from Peking, the unalterable aversion of the people of Canton to the presence of foreigners within their walls being given as the reason for the prohibition. The consuls protested, but for the time being no steps were taken to enforce the claim.
The activities of western missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant, in the interior of China provided a further source of conflict over the interpretation of the treaties. The Chinese government maintained that no foreigners were entitled by the treaties to travel or reside in any part of the empire outside the five ports and their immediate neighbourhood. The Christian missionaries, on the other hand, claimed that the toleration edict of 1844 implied a right of propagating the various forms of the Christian faith throughout the country, and in any case they were not disposed to be diverted from their calling by any opposition from the heathen rulers of China. They were protected by the principle of extraterritoriality against the operations of Chinese law, and all that Chinese officials could do in accordance with the treaties was to arrest a missionary, when found in the interior, and send him under escort to the nearest treaty port, where, having committed no offence under the laws of his own country, he was released and promptly dived once more into the forbidden territory. The missionaries were not, however, immune from mob violence, which the officials were generally not too anxious to check; and where the reputation of western guns might avail to safeguard the lives of the missionaries, their Chinese converts and those who facilitated their residence could be subjected to persecution. The attitude of the Confucian scholar class towards Christianity varied; some were impressed by the austerely dedicated lives of the pioneer missionaries and were interested in, without being converted to, their teaching. But the great majority of the literati regarded the new religion not merely as a foreign faith which was being propagated in China under the protection of aggressive foreign powers, but also as a doctrine which could not, like Buddhism and Taoism, be fitted into the traditional pattern of Chinese culture, but was subversive and destructive of the ancestral way of life. These forebodings received apparent confirmation from the course of the Taiping rebellion when a movement calling itself Christian not only rose in arms against the reigning dynasty but also showed the most ruthless intolerance towards other forms of religious belief wherever it established its power. For Confucianism as a state religion the distinction between heresy and treason had never been very sharp, and strong anti-Christian feeling was aroused in areas endangered or ravaged by the Taipings. Sporadic persecution culminated in the martyrdom of the French Catholic priest Chapdelaine, who was tortured and beheaded by the magistrate of Hsilin in Kwangsi in February 1856, his converts also being executed or imprisoned. Redress for this action was demanded by the French consul from the Canton viceroy, and the latter’s refusal to grant it provided the casus belli for the French participation with Britain in the war of 1856.
If the activity of foreign missionaries under the protection of extraterritorial rights seemed to the Chinese an encroachment on the internal jurisdiction of the empire, a no less serious curtailment of it arose from the practice of foreign registration of Chinese-owned shipping which grew up after 1842. Foreign registration brought Chinese ships under the protection of foreign navies, and the prevalence of piracy along the coasts of south China, particularly after the imperial authority had been weakened by the Taiping rebellion, made this a great advantage for Chinese merchants. But if it thus gave security to commerce, Chinese as well as foreign, during a period of administrative breakdown in China, it also meant that Chinese police were precluded from boarding ships which flew a foreign flag, even in quest of Chinese criminals or to prevent smuggling. Attempts by the Chinese authorities to interfere with foreign-registered Chinese ships led to sharp clashes with the foreign consuls. In 1854 a vessel flying the American flag was held up in the harbour of Shanghai and her crew removed on suspicion of smuggling ammunition to rebel forces; an American frigate intervened and enforced a salute to the American flag by a Chinese warship by way of redress. Two years later, a British-registered ship, the Arrow, was boarded in the harbour of Canton by Chinese soldiers, who removed several of her crew on a charge of piracy. The British consul then made various demands on the Canton viceroy, Yeh Ming-ch’en, and when full satisfaction for the incident was not received, began naval operations against the river forts and the city of Canton itself.
China was thus for a second time at war with Britain, but no longer as the united, though loosely administered, empire that had confronted the Western ‘barbarians’ in 1839. The great upheaval of the Taiping rebellion had been tearing the country apart for the last five years. This insurrection, beginning after the Ch’ing dynasty had just completed over two hundred years of rule over China, drew much of its inspiration from the anti-Manchu sentiment which had persisted underground in south China from the time of the conquest; it was also an effect of the increasing pressure of population on the land which has occurred with every prolonged period of internal peace and order in China and has periodically produced great outbursts of revolt and changes of dynasty. An important contributory factor, however, was the discredit which had fallen on the house of Ch’ing because of its humiliating defeats at the hands of the Western barbarians; the Treaty of Nanking was felt as a disgrace for which the imperial dynasty must bear the responsibility and in accordance with historical precedents it was expected that the t'ien ming or Mandate of Heaven, the divine authority to rule over China, would soon be bestowed elsewhere. In another way, too, the Western impact was now affecting the course of events within China. Movements of revolt against the established social and political order in China had traditionally been associated with heretical religious teachings of Buddhist or Taoist origin; now Christianity was added to the already existing elements of subversive thought. Hung Hsiu-ch’uan, a native of Kwangtung, of peasant stock, bom in 1813, was one of the many Chinese of those times who after receiving a regular classical education was unsuccessful in the competitive public examinations which were the gateway to an official career; during an illness following his second failure in 1837 he had visions which he later interpreted in the light of certain Protestant Christian tracts he had picked up in Canton, and eventually he became convinced that he had received a divine commission to regenerate China. Having failed to enter the civil service, he had become a village schoolmaster; in 1844 he began to preach his new doctrine of salvation, admitting converts by a ceremony of baptism. The members of the sect, who called themselves the Shangti Hui (Shangti being the Chinese name adopted by the Protestant missionaries for God), denounced not only the Buddhist and Taoist cults, but also the honours paid to the tablet of Confucius. Hung thus ranged himself against all the existing religions of China, and as he soon lost his ordinary pupils, he was compelled to wander about to make a living as an itinerant seller of writing materials. In this way, however, he spread his teaching to other districts, and in 1847 he revisited Canton, studying there for two months under an American missionary called Roberts. After this his preaching against idolatry became more violent, and his followers began to destroy images in public temples to the great annoyance of the unconverted, whose complaints led to judicial action against some of them. Up to now the movement had been a purely religious one without political aims, but the collisions with the secular authorities in which the Shangti Hui was involved by its acts of violence inevitably raised the question whether officials who opposed the revealed will of God were not themselves part of the evil from which China was to be cleansed. At last, in the autumn of 1850, matters were brought to a head by an attempt of the provincial police to arrest Hung: he was forcibly rescued by his followers, and from that moment found himself at the head of an armed force committed to open rebellion against the existing government. Soon afterwards he assumed the title of Tien Wang or Heavenly King and proclaimed the founding of a new dynasty under the name of T’ai P’ing or Great Peace, whence his followers became known to foreigners as Taipings. To the Ch’ing government they were known as Ch’ang Mao Tsei or Long-haired Bandits because they rejected the wearing of the queue which had been the sign of submission to the Manchus in China.
A series of military expeditions dispatched by the government against the Taipings failed to crush them; their fanaticism under the skilful military leadership of one of Hung’s converts made them a formidable fighting force, while the troops of the imperial government were at an even lower ebb of efficiency than at the time of the Opium War. The Taiping army was besieged in Yunganchow in Kwangsi, but broke out and made its way through Hunan to the Yangtse, then descended the river in boats, capturing one city after another and finally taking Nanking in March 1853. Nanking was declared the capital of the new dynasty and for a moment it seemed that Hung had China at his feet. Had he advanced immediately in full strength on Peking he might easily have made an end of the Manchu dynasty, for the imperial armies were demoralised by the Taiping successes, and the Ch’ing court, under the weak and incompetent emperor Hsien Feng, who had succeeded to the throne in 1851, seemed incapable of acting with energy or decision in its own defence. But Hung settled down in Nanking to enjoy the fruits of victory and sent only a section of his army northward to attack Peking. It reached a point within twenty miles of Tientsin, but was there defeated by a force which included a strong contingent of Mongol cavalry, the Taiping army being composed almost entirely of infantry. The tide of fortune began to turn, and after some further fighting the Taipings withdrew south of the Yellow River. The weaknesses of the new regime now became apparent. The regime retained, except for Nanking itself, the mobile guerrilla character with which it had emerged from the highlands of Kwangsi; it failed to establish a regular civil administration in the conquered provinces and raised revenue by plundering expeditions hardly to be distinguished from banditry. The peasants, who had been attracted by a radical programme of redistribution of land in accordance with the vaguely egalitarian economic principles of Taiping teaching, were alienated by the ruthless foraging. The army, though relatively well disciplined, was divided by quarrels among the generals which developed after the failure of the expedition against Peking, and in 1856 the Tung Wang or Eastern Prince, one of the five chiefs created as the immediate subordinates of the T’ien Wang himself, began to dispute the authority of his master by claiming also to be receiving direct divine revelations; he was put to death together with his family and adherents, and the Taiping power was greatly weakened by the slaughter.
Much more serious, however, for the fate of the Taiping cause was the hostility aroused by the religious fanaticism of the movement. Everywhere the Taipings destroyed temples and pagodas; irreparable damage was done to the architectural heritage of China, and Christianity was presented to the Chinese as a violent and persecuting faith. The popular anti-Manchu secret societies of south China, which were the natural allies of the Taipings against the Manchu dynasty but had Buddhist or Taoist associations, were alienated by the Taiping intolerance, or their offers of co-operation were rejected by Hung as long as they remained heathen. But it was among the Confucian scholars that the most intense and politically effective antagonism to the Taiping revolution developed. A successful rebel leader who paid due honour to Confucius and showed respect for the Confucian tradition would have had no difficulty in winning over this class and providing himself with civil servants of the type which had governed China under every dynasty for two thousand years. Even the uncouth Manchus in the seventeenth century, despite the romantic loyalties of some Confucians for the lost cause of the Ming, had been able to find enough scholar-officials to provide a civil administration of the traditional kind for their military dominion. How much more should a new native Chinese dynasty have been able to do so after having broken the spell of Manchu military might and being in a position to offer to Chinese not only the offices which they held under the Ch’ing, but also those reserved for a culturally assimilated, but still alien, people! But the anti-Confucianism of the Taipings made it virtually impossible for them to obtain the services of the literati, and this was the main cause of their failure to establish a civil administration in the provinces they overran. Nor was the Confucian opposition confined to non-cooperation with the new regime; it came to assume the form of an armed counterrevolution—a movement owing little or nothing to the direction of the Peking court to which it nominally gave its allegiance, but springing directly from the provincial gentry and shen shih or ‘girdled scholars’—holders of literary degrees without public office who wielded great influence in the localities where they lived. The two most important leaders of this reaction against the Taipings were Tseng Kuo-fan in Hunan and Li Hung-chang in Anhui. Both of them raised provincial militia armies to fight against the Taipings and these forces proved far more efficient and better disciplined than the old Manchu Banner and Green Standard troops who had been repeatedly routed by the rebels. As a result of their campaigns the Taipings were cleared out of the greater part of the territory which they had overrun and confined by the beginning of 1860 to a narrow tract along the lower Yangtse in Anhui and Kiangsu. Nanking was encircled and the revolt was all but at an end, when the Taipings succeeded in breaking out to the east in the direction of Shanghai and thereby added to their story a supplementary chapter in which other nations as well as Chinese were involved (see pp. 705-6).
At the time of their capture of Nanking in 1853 the attitude of the Western treaty-port residents towards the Taipings was generally one of hopeful expectation. Since the revolt had developed in the interior and not in the vicinity of the ports, little was known of it, but the fact that its leaders professed Christianity aroused sympathy for them and it was hoped that they would be more ready than the existing regime to open the country and enter into commercial and diplomatic relations with foreigners. Further, they appeared to be winning the civil war and it seemed expedient, without taking sides in the struggle, to make friendly contact with the probable future rulers of the empire. The governor of Hong Kong, Sir George Bonham, therefore ascended the Yangtse to Nanking in a small naval vessel and sought an audience of the T’ien Wang. This did not take place, however, because Bonham was told that ‘God the Heavenly Father has sent our sovereign down on earth as the only true sovereign of all nations in the world’ and that he must acknowledge himself a subject of the T’ien Wang; as an official representative of Her Britannic Majesty, Queen Victoria, he was unable to do this and so had to sail away again without making personal contact with the Taiping leader. It was indeed simply a repetition of the situation which had confronted Lord Napier in 1834. The claim to universal supremacy as asserted by the Ch’ing dynasty had been abated in consequence of defeat in war by the Treaty of Nanking, but was now being revived by the founder of a new dynasty who had had no experience of European gunfire; the T’ien Wang had come to restore the rights of China which the degenerate Manchus had been unable to maintain and his conviction of a divine commission from the Christian God had merely reinforced the idea of the proper status of a Chinese emperor which he had been brought up to accept.
Until 1860 the Taipings did not advance farther east than Chinkiang; thus they did not come into any direct contact with the rising foreign mercantile community of Shanghai. Had they advanced to Shanghai immediately after their capture of Nanking they would probably have captured the Chinese city without serious opposition and thereafter controlled the main part of China’s foreign trade. As it was, the foreign community tended to be drawn indirectly into China’s internal struggle; in spite of declarations of strict neutrality by the consuls, Shanghai became the centre of a traffic in arms and western adventurers took service in the armies of both sides. Rumours of international intrigue were in the air; the American commissioner, Humphrey Marshall, reported to his government that the British were about to give support to the Taipings in return for the opening of the Yangtse to their trade and that the Manchu court was seeking help from Russia. Then in September 1853 the Small Sword Society, one of the numerous secret societies of south China, broke out in revolt and seized Shanghai. The Small Swords were independent of the Taipings, who condemned their heathen practices; theirs was one of a number of insurrections which were touched off by the Taiping upheaval without being under Taiping control. Desultory fighting went on in and around Shanghai for a year and a half and foreigners were involved in clashes with both Chinese parties. In April 1854 plundering in the foreign settlement by imperial troops led to the battle of Muddy Flat, when British and American volunteers reinforced by naval landing parties drove them from the settlement area. In December French forces combined with imperial troops to recapture the Chinese city from the Short Swords, having become involved in the fighting through measures to protect a Catholic mission. Meanwhile, the Western consuls and merchants had taken steps to preserve some kind of administrative order in the port, where trade continued in spite of the political chaos which prevailed. The imperial customs-house having been destroyed and the customs officials dispersed, there was nobody to collect the customs payments due to the Chinese government on the foreign trade. An agreement was therefore made with the highest local Chinese official (who was a refugee in the foreign settlement) that the dues should be collected by foreign inspectors nominated by the consuls and working in the service of the Chinese government. This was the origin of the foreign-administered Inspectorate of Maritime Customs, which was later extended to all treaty ports and became the main source of revenue available to the Chinese government as security for foreign loans.
From the spring of 1855 to the spring of 1860 conditions in the Shanghai area were comparatively peaceful, but in 1856, as already related (p. 696), Anglo-Chinese hostilities broke out at Canton over the Chinese boarding of a British-registered ship. For a time the warfare was indecisive in character, for it was impossible to capture Canton with the forces locally available, and reinforcements were long in arriving; the Indian government was busy with the war in Persia and afterwards with the Indian Mutiny, and some troops sent out from Britain for the campaign in China were also diverted to India to take part in the suppression of the Mutiny. But by the autumn of 1857 Britain had been joined by France—on account of the Chapdelaine case—in belligerency against China, or at least against the Canton viceroy Yeh Ming-Chen, and between them the two allies were able to muster enough strength for an assault on the city. The attackers broke in after a heavy naval bombardment and captured Yeh, who had gone into hiding; he was deported to Calcutta, where he died a year later.
Lord Elgin and Baron Gros, who had been appointed plenipotentiaries by Britain and France respectively for the revision of the treaties with China, now decided to sail north with their fleets to Shanghai and invite the imperial government to send representatives to a conference there; if there was no satisfactory outcome of this procedure, it was planned to go on to the Peiho and advance towards the capital. American and Russian envoys now joined the British and French, though without actual belligerency. Reed, the American plenipotentiary, was himself in favour of American participation in the war and told the Secretary of State that ‘the powers of Western civilisation must insist on what they know to be their rights and give up the dream of dealing with China as a power to which any ordinary rules apply’. The American government, however, did not give him leave to commit American armed forces; he was instructed merely to take advantage on the most-favoured-nation principle of any concessions forcibly extorted from China by the British and French, leaving them to do whatever fighting was needed. The Russian position was different. Russia was not one of the nations trading by sea with China; on the contrary, she was expressly excluded from the maritime trade on the ground that she already conducted an overland trade through Kiakhta on the Mongolian border. Count Putyatin, who joined the envoys of the maritime powers in Hong Kong towards the end of 1857, was instructed to obtain for Russia the right of commerce by sea, as well as by land, with China; much more important for Russian interests, however, were the territorial demands being made at the same time on China (through the military governor of northern Manchuria) by Count Muraviev, the Russian governor-general of eastern Siberia (cf. ch. XIV, pp. 384-5). The Russo-Chinese frontier north of the Amur had remained nominally as fixed by the treaty of 1689, but during the 1850’s Muraviev had taken advantage of the weakening of the Chinese empire by the Taiping rebellion to plant Russian settlements along the Amur. With all its available forces engaged in coping with an insurrection which threatened the overthrow of the dynasty, the Peking government was in no position to resist these encroachments in a remote and thinly inhabited northern territory, and nothing was done to stop them. But now Russia was demanding formal cession of all Chinese territory north of the Amur and east of the Ussuri and stronger pressure was required to compel Peking to yield. The war being waged against China by Britain and France served well the purpose of reducing further the Chinese capacity or will to resist in the north, and Putyatin’s mission was to increase the joint Western pressure on Peking, while at the same time avoiding belligerency, so that Russia was left free to befriend China against Britain and France if circumstances made it expedient—as they were to do two years later.
The scheme for negotiations at Shanghai came to nothing, as the envoys of the four Western powers were told to return to Canton and deal there with a new commissioner for foreign affairs who had been appointed to replace the deported Yeh. The envoys refused, however, to go back to Canton; instead, they set sail for the Peiho and sent notes ashore demanding a conference with imperial plenipotentiaries to be held either at Tientsin or Peking; the replies being deemed unsatisfactory, the Taku forts were attacked and captured by the British and French admirals and the envoys moved up the river to Tientsin. The Peking government now consented to appoint plenipotentiaries and after brief negotiations treaties were signed with each of the four Western powers. Meanwhile, ten days after the capture of the Taku forts, Muraviev concluded separately the Treaty of Aigun whereby all Chinese territory north of the Amur was ceded to Russia and the territory east of Ussuri was to be subject to a Russo-Chinese condominium.
The Tientsin treaties provided not only for the opening of eleven more treaty ports—three of them up the Yangtse River, whose navigation was now permitted to Western shipping—but also conceded the two points on which the imperial court had most stubbornly resisted Western pressure—the right of travel in the interior and the right of diplomatic representation in Peking. Toleration for the profession and propagation of the Christian religion was also written into the treaties. The main objectives of Western policy were thus attained. But, as the treaties had been extorted by force from an unwilling government, and as there was an active and powerful extremist element which reproached the government for having yielded, it was only to be anticipated that there would be further trouble before the treaties could be put into effect, and so indeed there was. The imperial court took the opportunity of post-treaty negotiations on customs tariffs to appeal to Britain to refrain from exercising the right conferred by the Tientsin treaty to maintain a permanent diplomatic mission in Peking. The British government agreed that its representative in China should reside elsewhere than in Peking, provided that he would be admitted to the capital on special occasions. But one such occasion was required in the immediate future—the meeting for exchange of ratifications of the recently concluded treaties. The British, French and American envoys sailed to Taku for this purpose and arrived there on 20 June 1859, only to find the river barred to their entry. Admiral Hope, commanding the British naval escort, then attacked the Taku forts, but this time the garrisons, which had been re-equipped since the capitulation of the previous year, put up an effective resistance, and the attack was beaten off. Following this set-back, the British and French envoys returned to Shanghai; Ward, the American representative, however, being officially a neutral in the Anglo-French war against China, detached himself from his colleagues, and landing at Peitang, farther up the coast, was allowed to come to Peking, where the Russian envoy, Ignatiev, had already exchanged ratifications. Ward arranged for an audience with the emperor for the purpose of delivering a letter from the president of the United States, but cancelled it on learning that the kotow or ceremonial prostration would be required of him.
The British and French governments meanwhile decided to resume belligerent action against China and went north again with increased forces in the summer of 1860. The Taku forts were taken and Tientsin occupied after some hard fighting. Faced with the imminent prospect of a march on Peking, the Chinese government entered into negotiations, but the parley was wrecked by the pressure of a court faction which was in favour of continued resistance and brought about a treacherous attack on the British and French negotiating representatives and their escorts travelling under a flag of truce. Of the two truce parties, eighteen persons were made prisoners and twenty-one killed; the captives included Harry Parkes, who had been British consul in Canton, and Lord Elgin’s private secretary. An attempt to use the prisoners as hostages was unsuccessful; the Anglo-French army resumed its advance, demanding their unconditional release. The emperor and his entourage fled to Jehol, leaving his younger brother, Prince Kung, to negotiate with the invaders. The prisoners were set free, but as a punishment for the killing of the other members of the truce parties Lord Elgin ordered the destruction of the imperial summer palace of Yuenmingyuen, which had already been looted by the British and French vanguards. A few days later the ratifications of the British and French treaties of 1858 were exchanged in Peking, and a supplementary convention was concluded, imposing fresh indemnities on China, opening Tientsin to foreign trade and reasserting the right of diplomatic residence in the capital.
During the critical days after the flight of the emperor, when Chinese officials were in a state of panic, the Russian envoy Ignatiev acted as a neutral go-between for negotiations, and as a reward for his services— which he did not fail to exaggerate—in assuaging the wrath of the Western belligerents induced the Chinese to cede to Russia outright the territory east of the Ussuri which had been placed under a Russo-Chinese condominium by the Treaty of Aigun. Thus, without firing a shot, Russia not only gained by the operation of the most-favoured-nation principle all the commercial and diplomatic rights forcibly extorted from China by Britain and France, but also acquired a large slice of Chinese territory whereby the frontier of the Russian empire in Asia was extended southward along the Pacific coast to the border of Korea. At that time, indeed, the trans-Ussuri territory was reckoned of little value, being only very thinly inhabited by primitive hunting tribes, but within a year of the cession the Russians founded at its southern extremity a new town to which they gave the name of Vladivostok (cf. p. 385).
It was Prince Kung who negotiated the agreements of 1860 and terminated a war which had turned to utter disaster for China; the imperial court, having departed from the capital on an ‘autumn inspection tour’ remained in Jehol watching developments from a safe distance. A whole year elapsed before the emperor returned to Peking and then it was no longer the same emperor. Hsien Feng, a feeble ruler whose policy had been continually swayed by court intrigues, fell ill in Jehol and died there in August 1861. He was succeeded by his only son, aged five, whose mother was an imperial concubine named Yehonala, the empress consort having failed to produce a male heir. During the lifetime of Hsien Feng Yehonala had already acquired great influence, but while the emperor lay dying a conspiracy of her enemies in the palace was organised to exclude her from the regency for her son’s minority. The emperor on his deathbed was induced to sign an edict appointing a board of eight regents nominated by the anti-Yehonala clique. She, however, had taken possession of the dynastic seal required for the validity of the edict, and her supporters repudiated the authority of the regents. The conflict was decided by a coup d'etat; the regents were arrested on the return of the court to Peking and either executed or degraded. Their powers were henceforth vested jointly in the former empress-consort and Yehonala. The latter assumed as an honorific title the name by which she is better known to history; as the Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi she was to be the dominant figure in Chinese politics for the next forty-seven years. Her co-regent was willing that she should in effect conduct affairs of state on her sole authority and the various organs of government looked to her for decisions which she did not fail to give. Deficient as she was in knowledge of the world outside the palace walls, she was nevertheless superlatively skilful in the arts of political manipulation, and succeeded for nearly half a century in preserving a badly shaken regime which a less able hand would soon have brought to final ruin.
The first and most notable achievement of the new reign was the definitive suppression of the Taiping rebellion and reunification of the empire under the Ching dynasty. The rebellion had remained in being during the whole period of external warfare from 1856 to 1860, but it was never again a threat to the seat of the central government as it had been in 1854. The operations of Tseng Kuo-fan’s forces had indeed almost achieved the suppression of the revolt by the beginning of 1860; food supplies to Nanking were cut off and the recapture of the city seemed to be within sight. But the Taipings broke out eastward and succeeded in overrunning the greater part of the Soochow-Shanghai area, which had hitherto remained immune from the ravages of the civil war. This vigorous, but strictly localised, revival of Taiping insurgency interrupted trade in the hinterland of Shanghai and seriously affected the interests of the foreign as well as the Chinese merchants of the rapidly expanding commercial port. The neutrality which the Western powers had hitherto maintained in relation to the struggle going on in the interior of China now gave way to intervention on behalf of the Peking government against the Taipings. In recent years, with the growth of a romantic cult of the Taipings as the pioneers of nationalism and social revolution in China, it has become common to represent this intervention as the outcome of motives far transcending the local interests of Shanghai trade; it is attributed to the jealousy of Christian missionaries for a form of their religion independent of their guidance and to fears of Western governments that a victorious Taiping dynasty established in Peking would make China too strong to be coerced by Western power. But the Taipings in 1861 were not a force advancing to victory; they had conspicuously failed to overturn the Manchu dynasty and had lost nearly all the territory they had controlled six years previously. Only in the Shanghai area were they now formidable, and there they appeared to foreign observers no longer as a power disputing with the Ching emperor for possession of the celestial empire, but as a mere predatory nuisance despoiling a rich and fertile province. The desire of the Shanghai merchants was to see peace and order restored in China, so that trade might revive; had there been any prospect of the Taipings becoming the effective government of China, the foreign business community would have been the first to advocate recognition of the new regime, but as there was no such prospect they were in favour of co-operation with the imperial authorities to put an end to the disastrous insurrection as quickly as possible. Thus British and French forces helped to defend Shanghai against Taiping attacks even while their fellow-countrymen were carrying on hostilities against the Chinese central government on the Peiho, and later on, after peace had been restored in north China, the aid given to the local Chinese officials in Kiangsu for repelling the Taiping incursion had the blessing of the Peking court, which, however little it liked the Western barbarians, considered it only right and proper that they should fight on behalf of the Son of Heaven instead of warring against him. Some of the fighting was indeed done by British and French regular forces, but operations were left more and more to a foreign-officered Chinese army, financed by Shanghai merchants and commanded originally by the American Frederick Ward, whose status was that of a mercenary general in Chinese service. Ward achieved some striking initial successes, but he was killed in action in September 1862. After a period of disorganisation his army was placed under the command of Major Charles Gordon, who was authorised by the British government to take service under the Chinese government. Gordon won a series of victories over the Taipings, operating in combination with the Chinese militia armies under Tseng Kuo-fan and Li Hung-chang. By the spring of 1864 the end of the insurrection was in sight, but Gordon did not remain to take part in the final act; he was recalled to British army service and his troops—the so-called ‘Ever-victorious Army’—disbanded. Nanking was besieged by Tseng without foreign aid and fell in July, the Tien Wang having committed suicide.
The collapse of the Taiping rebellion restored the authority of the Ching dynasty throughout China from Peking to Canton, and China could once more face the world as a unified state. There were still, however, areas of revolt in the western parts of the empire, though these had nothing to do with the Taipings and did not threaten to take over the central government. The disruption of the imperial authority during the Taiping rebellion had given an opportunity for local independence to followers of the other monotheist faith which challenged the norms of Chinese traditional civilisation: the Chinese Muslims known as Panthays in Yunnan and as Tungans in Kansu and Shensi rose in revolt and set up regional governments of their own. The revolt of the Panthays began in 1855, that of the Tungans in 1862. The Tungan rising had repercussions in Chinese Turkestan, where the bulk of the population was also Muslim, though Turkish and not Chinese in language; an adventurer from Ferghana named Yakub Beg made himself master of Kashgar and the Tarim basin, while Russia took advantage of the confusion in 1871 to occupy Kulja. For a while it seemed that the western borderlands of the Manchu-Chinese empire might be broken away by a group of Muslim states. Reconquest was difficult because of the remoteness and inaccessibility of the centres of insurrection, but after the suppression of the Taipings the task of crushing the Muslim rebels was undertaken and carried out gradually, but persistently, in a series of military campaigns. The Panthays held out until 1873, the Turkestan rebels until 1878, but the revolts were in the end everywhere crushed, often with great cruelty, and the authority of Peking was again extended westward to the Pamirs and south-westward to the borders of Burma. The recovery was completed when, after a diplomatic crisis with a threat of war, Russia restored Kulja to China in 1881.
The restored empire, however, was no longer the China of 1839 or even of 1859. The seclusion of Chinese society had been fatally breached; China had been compelled to enter into diplomatic relations on a basis of equality with Western states and to grant Western merchants and missionaries free access to all her territory. The question was no longer whether China’s rulers would be able to prevent the influx of the West, but how they would adapt themselves to the new conditions. They could seek to make themselves stronger by acquiring the Western technology and administrative organisation by which they had been defeated, or they could do their best to ignore the unpleasant contemporary reality and obstruct in every way possible the forces which they no longer dared openly to oppose. In the main they took the latter course, though there were certain adaptations which they had to make and which were to have far-reaching consequences. The treaties of 1858 required that China should set up a regular Foreign Ministry to deal with foreign diplomatic missions instead of leaving foreign relations to provincial viceroys or special commissioners, and this meant also that some officials of high rank must have a knowledge of foreign languages instead of relying on menial interpreters; a College of Foreign Languages was therefore created in Peking in 1862. It was further decided that something must be done to modernise the military and naval forces, and for this purpose in the following year a school was instituted in Shanghai, attached to the Kiangnan arsenal, where Western sciences and mathematics were taught by foreign instructors. But it was not until the ’seventies that students were sent abroad for training, and the intellectual contamination involved in thus exposing young minds to alien thought was the cause of much misgiving to the more conservative mandarins, and the same fears were undoubtedly at the back of the government’s reluctance to send its own diplomatic missions abroad even after foreign legations had been established in Peking. A Chinese legation was not set up in any Western capital until 1877; in the meantime, China relied largely on friendly foreigners to negotiate for her in foreign countries, the most famous of them being the ex-minister of the United States in Peking, Anson Burlingame, who told an American audience in 1868 that the day was at hand when ‘this great people [would] extend its arms towards the shining banners of Western civilisation’. In China, however, at this date the most powerful elements in society were still taking thought to devise means of holding Western civilisation in check. Unfortunately, since the Christian missionaries who were the principal propagators of this civilisation in China —the much more subversive cultural effects of Western secular education had not yet become apparent—were under the protection of the treaties, the only way of removing them or interfering with their work was by mob violence, and this became a constant feature of Chinese-Western relations during the last four decades of the nineteenth century, culminating in the great Boxer outbreak of 1900. The ‘girdled scholars’ were generally behind the attacks on missionaries and their converts; an inflammatory propaganda against Christianity was carried on by means of posters, and at some point the incitement had its effect in arson, assault or murder. A particularly violent riot took place in Tientsin in 1870, when two Catholic priests, ten Sisters of St Vincent de Paul, nine other Europeans and a number of Chinese Christian converts were killed. The officials were placed in an equivocal position by these outbursts; they were responsible for the protection of foreigners against lawless violence, but they usually themselves shared in the hatred of the foreign religion and were afraid of occurring popular odium by zeal on its behalf. Hence they were often suspected of actually conniving at anti-foreign outrages and almost every incident was followed by demands from the Western legations for the punishment of local officials for neglect of their duty. The disturbances thus involved China in continual trouble in her foreign relations without achieving the ulterior purpose of the agitation, for the missionaries were not driven out, but arrived in increasing numbers, and their schools became the most important means of diffusion of Western education in China.
The defeats and humiliations of China as the traditional supreme power of the Far East inevitably had their sequels in the lesser Asian countries to the south and east. In 1855 Sir John Bowring, the British Superintendent of Trade in China, was sent to negotiate a treaty with Siam, and with the lesson of the British compulsion of China to reinforce his arguments, he obtained terms—including the right of extra-territorial jurisdiction—on the model of the treaties which China had concluded with the Western powers. Three years later France extended her policy towards China to cover Annam, where the Catholic religion, introduced by French missionaries during the eighteenth century, had been subjected to persecution during the first half of the nineteenth. Just as France, in accordance with the Second Empire policy of combining patronage of the Catholic church with an active promotion of French economic and strategic interests overseas, had joined in the second British war against China in order to exact retribution for the execution of the French missionary Chapdelaine, so also in Annam the naval force which had taken part in the Peiho operations of 1858 was used in combination with a Spanish expedition from Manila to enforce the toleration of Christianity. This enterprise was successful, but the reward of victory was not only religious; France also annexed the three eastern provinces of Cochin China, including the city of Saigon, and thus laid the foundations for her empire of Indo-China. In 1863 she established a protectorate over Cambodia, suzerainty over which was in dispute between Annam and Siam; in 1867 the rest of Cochin China was also annexed. By 1870 the French were thus firmly established in the delta of the Mekong, though they had as yet no control over Annam proper or Tongking.
A similar French attempt in 1866 to subdue Korea after the execution of nine French priests there was less successful. A naval expedition under Admiral Roze was sent against Korea, but as no landing forces were available and the Koreans could not be brought to negotiation by blockade or naval bombardment alone, nothing was accomplished. Korea, indeed, was the Far Eastern country which, by taking advantage of its relatively out-of-the-way position, succeeded in holding out longest against Western demands for diplomatic and commercial relations and toleration of missionaries, and thereby fully earned the title of the ‘Hermit Kingdom’. After the repulse of the French expedition Korea rebuffed German, Russian and American attempts to open diplomatic relations and did not conclude a treaty with any foreign power until 1876. Then it was not with a Western nation, but with Japan, and the fact that it was Japan which then took the lead in opening Korea after having been herself until recently an exponent of seclusionism in its most extreme form was significant of an entirely new factor in Far Eastern affairs—the initiative of an Asian country which was not passively resisting or accepting the pressures of the West, but actively and freely adapting itself to them.
Up to 1853 Japan had maintained the system of the Sakoku or ‘closed country’ as it had been established in the seventeenth century after the early period of commercial contacts with Western nations and the propagation of Christianity in Japan. Under the seclusion policy no foreigners were allowed to come to Japan except for Chinese and Dutch merchants, who were allowed a small and carefully regulated trade confined to the single port of Nagasaki, and no Japanese was permitted to go abroad; the construction of ocean-going ships was forbidden and the teaching or practice of Christianity strictly forbidden. There were in Japan a few individuals who acquired a knowledge of the Dutch language and from Dutch books formed some conception of the world outside Japan, but they were not in a position to influence national policy, and the attitude of Japan’s effective government, that of the Tokugawa family who held the office of shogun or generalissimo under the nominal sovereignty of the emperor, remained unchanged through the first half of the nineteenth century. In 1825 instructions were given to coastguards to fire on any foreign ships approaching the shores of Japan; these were later modified to allow provisions and water to be given to shipwrecked sailors, but such involuntary visitors must be compelled to depart as soon as possible.
The pressure from the West for opening Japan was in the early days much less than that for developing trade with China. The British had no existing commercial stake in Japan such as they already had at Canton before 1839 and the Dutch were not strong enough to contemplate using force in Japan; moreover there was no Japanese export comparable in importance to Chinese tea, and for the European maritime nations—and also for the Americans before the middle of the century—Japan was the most remote of the Far Eastern lands. But with the settlement of the American Pacific coast and the establishment of a shipping route between San Francisco and Shanghai, Japan was brought into a new relation geographically to Western oceanic enterprise and the United States came to have an interest in opening Japan, particularly in order to get a coaling station on the long trans-Pacific sea-route to Shanghai. Thus it happened that Japan was compelled to abandon her seclusion policy, not by Britain or France, but by America. The fact that this was accomplished by the threat of force, but without actual warfare, was mainly due to Japanese knowledge of the fate that had already befallen China from Western ships and guns.
Commodore Perry with four American warships arrived off Uraga—not far from Yedo, the modem Tokyo, at that time the seat of the shogunate government—in July 1853. He bore a letter from the President of the United States and declared that unless it were received and answered, he would not be accountable for the consequences. The letter having been received, he sailed away, announcing that he would return for the answer the following year. The shogun, thoroughly alarmed at this menacing visit, summoned a council of feudal lords who debated the question whether to resist or submit to the American demands. There was a strong party in favour of defying the enemy, but the decisive argument was that Japan had no fleet and that the coastal defences were inadequate to withstand bombardment by Western naval guns; it was decided that, for the time being at least, discretion was the better part of valour, and that Perry should be given a conciliatory answer. The result was the Treaty of Kanagawa, signed on 31 March 1854, which was the first step in the opening of Japan. This treaty did not, it is true, provide for diplomatic relations or extra-territoriality and the only ports opened to trade were Shimoda and Hakodate. But it was the thin end of the wedge, and, as in China, there was soon pressure to drive the wedge in deeper. Britain and Russia at once followed the United States in extracting treaties from Japan; both of them obtained the opening of Nagasaki to their ships, and Russia successfully claimed extra-territorial jurisdiction for her nationals. By 1858 the shogunal government had become convinced that the seclusion policy must be radically revised, and the news of what was happening to China only confirmed them in their view of the necessity for Japan to accept without resistance the new order of things that was being violently imposed on China. But the Yedo administration now found itself in a dilemma. A strong opposition to any further concessions was developing in the country and it found leadership in the imperial court in Kyoto. The basis of the rule of the house of Tokugawa, which had held the office of shogun since 1603, was threatened by the unpopularity incurred by a policy of apparently supine submission to foreign demands. On the other hand, defiance of the Western powers might lead to the same kind of violent compulsion which had overwhelmed China.
In the Japanese political system of the Tokugawa period the imperial dynasty had never been divested of its formal sovereignty; constitutionally governing power had merely been delegated to the shoguns as perpetual prime ministers. In practice the imperial court was excluded from any share in the administration of the country, and the emperors lived in a seclusion verging on imprisonment with the performance of certain religious rites as their only state function; to the outer world the shogun in Yedo appeared to be the only ruler of Japan and was often referred to at this time as ‘the emperor’. But the shoguns could only maintain the subordination of the ancient imperial dynasty as long as effective force was on their side and the existing state of affairs was regarded by Japanese national sentiment as normal and proper. In 1858 neither of these conditions was any longer fulfilled. Since the eighteenth century a romantic literary movement springing from the study of early Japanese literature and the Shinto religion, in contrast to the Chinese and Confucian studies patronised by the shogunate, had spread far and wide the idea that authority in Japan rightly belonged to the imperial dynasty and that the power of the shogun could be revoked at any time by the de jure sovereign. This moral undermining of the Tokugawa regime might not by itself have been fatal, but it coincided with a revival of old antagonisms against the Tokugawa among a group of feudal families and their retainers—notably those of the fiefs of Satsuma in south-western Kyushu and Choshu fronting the Straits of Shimonoseki, the western entrance to the Japanese Inland Sea. With its prestige disastrously lowered by its surrenders to foreign demands, the shogunate was now no longer able effectively to control either the imperial court or the disaffected elements of the feudal nobility.
In an endeavour to cover itself against criticism the Yedo government sought the emperor’s sanction for a new treaty negotiated with Townsend Harris, the American consul in Shimoda who had established quasi-diplomatic relations with the shogun. But the imperial consent was refused and the treaty was signed without it. The Harris treaty of 1858 went far beyond the previous agreements of foreign powers with Japan; it provided for diplomatic representation in Yedo, the opening of additional ports, rights of permanent residence and freedom of travel. But the shogun was now faced with a widespread assertion that this, and corresponding treaties subsequently negotiated with Britain, France and Russia, were not binding on patriotic Japanese because they lacked the emperor’s sanction. The anti-foreign agitation led to a series of murderous attacks, not only on foreigners in the ports, but also on the Western diplomatic missions when they were established in Yedo; meanwhile, the emperor, supported by Satsuma, Choshu and other disaffected fiefs, began to issue orders to the shogun, culminating in January 1863 in a command that he proceed to ‘drive out the barbarians’ forthwith. The shogun, who was better informed about the strength of the barbarians than the cloistered courtiers of Kyoto, could do nothing to carry out this directive, and was denounced by the anti-Tokugawa faction as a traitor and a coward. He was summoned to Kyoto and finally induced to inform the foreign envoys that Japan would revert to the policy of seclusion. The Western diplomats refused even to discuss such an idea, and the Yedo government reported to Kyoto that it was impossible to enforce the imperial order. The lord of Choshu, however, took it on himself to enforce it in the Straits of Shimonoseki, using coastal batteries and small warships to prevent the passage of foreign ships. He thus involved himself in a private war against the Western world, as a result of which his batteries were bombarded and destroyed by a joint British-French-Dutch-American naval expedition. The lord of Satsuma in the meantime had had his fief capital, Kagoshima, bombarded by a British squadron in reprisal for the murder of an Englishman by his retainers. The inability of either Choshu or Satsuma to offer effective opposition to Western gunfire now convinced the feudal supporters of the Kyoto court that expulsion of the barbarians was not a practical proposition; the Western powers for their part, having come to realise that their treaties were invalidated by the lack of imperial ratification, determined to obtain this ratification, and moved their naval squadrons to Osaka Bay. There was no way out for the emperor, and the ratifications were given.
Logically, with the imperial consent to the treaties, the enemies of the Tokugawa were deprived of the cause by exploiting which they had embarrassed and discredited the shogun. But the very fact that the Western powers had now formally recognised the emperor as the legitimate ruler of Japan completed the downfall of the shogunate. In November 1867 the last Tokugawa shogun, Yoshinobu, resigned his governing power to the fifteen-year-old emperor Mutsuhito, better known to history by his reign title of Meiji. The surrender came too late to avert a civil war between a group of fiefs led by Satsuma and Choshu and those remaining loyal to the Tokugawa, but the struggle was of brief duration, and after its conclusion the imperial court was moved from Kyoto to Yedo, now renamed Tokyo, where it took over the existing apparatus of the shogunal administration.
The men who now came to the fore, advising and acting in the name of the young emperor, were for the most part retainers of Satsuma and Choshu who were prepared for radical innovations for the sake of national strength and independence. Having been persuaded by events that it was impossible to oppose Western power without learning the secrets of its success, they had become advocates of unrestricted intercourse with the West, and in the ‘charter oath’ which they induced the emperor to take in the presence of an assembly of feudatories in April 1868 was inserted a clause that ‘knowledge shall be sought all over the world’. In their purpose of acquiring the knowledge which would make their country strong, these men were able by the peculiar circumstances of their rise to power to combine to a remarkable degree a revolutionary spirit and a traditionalist loyalty. They had overturned an ancien regime by invoking a yet more ancient tradition which, because it had been so long in eclipse, was relatively free from implication in the vested interests of a privileged ruling class. Their coup d'etat had been at once a revolution and a restoration. Whereas in China Taiping Christianity had attacked and antagonised the main traditional forces of society, the Meiji Restoration and the reforms that followed it were carried out in the name of the original gods of Japan and of the oldest national institutions. Moreover, the Meiji reformers, drawn from a military caste, were fully persuaded of the need for change by the argument of military defeat, in contrast to the dominant scholar-officials of China for whom the potency of barbarian gunfire was no proof of the inadequacy of Confucian culture. The success of Japan’s adaptation to the Western challenge in the years after 1868 was due to the concentration of will with which her rulers applied themselves to the building of national power. They had their reward. Within forty years, while China remained weak, passive and inert, Japan, emerging victorious from the ordeal of war against Russia, was accepted by the West as a great power.