Liberal Barbarism: The Primary Source Archive

9. PRECIS OF THE CHINESE OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS FOUND IN YUEN-MING-YUEN

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Some of the documents collected by Mr. Morrison, of the Consular Service, were most interesting, and gave a fair insight into the secret purposes of Chinese poUcy, and the method in which their official business is carried on. From some of these it appeared, that Kweihang’s negotiations with us in September were only intended for gaining time, and never meant to arrange matters finally. In case we proved obstinate in our intentions of advancing beyond Tien-tsin, it had been all along arranged to try the chances of war again. In order to do so to the best advantage, negotiations were to be spun out, so that military operations might be, if possible, prolonged into the cold weather, upon the inclemency of which they placed as much reUance for their protection as the Czar Nicholas was reported to have done for the defence of Sebastopol. Some of the captured papers were very clever, and showed an extraordinary amount of diplomatic abihty. Having no regard whatever for truth, bound by no fine feeUngs of himianity, but ready at any moment to sacrifice their innocent agents to the expediency of the moment, their poUtical system is eminently calculated s 2 244 THE WAR WITH CHINA. for all the complex situations of diplomacy. The coldblooded rules for government enunciated in ” The Prince,” appear to be well understood in China. TTia Celestial Majesty can never do wrong; not because his actions are always guided by a council responsible to the people, but that in the event of any failure on the part of a pubhc servant deputed for any special duty, even though such may have arisen from a strict adherence to his orders, aU responsibiUty is cast upon the unsuccessful agent, who is pubhcly degraded, to impress the people with an idea that the whole conduct of the affair had been initiated by him. Gratitude for faithful services is never permitted to interfere with the exigencies of the moment. Expediency to its most extended hmit is the one great law regulating the official dealings of his Majesty, both with his own people and foreigners. So in one of these papers we find the draft of an Imperial decree directing Kweiliang to be degraded as soon as the mock negotiations, in which he was engaged at Tien-tsin, came to an end. It was no doubt expected that the pubhcation of that order would lead us to beheve that he alone was to blame for the non-arrangement of affairs, and incHne us to lend a more wiUing ear — as we subsequently did — to the proposals made by his successor. Success covers all errors in most governments; but in China we find one of the highest and most faithful pubhc servants deprived of rank and station for carrying out accurately the instructions he had received, in order to give to mock negotiations the semblance of reahty. A long paper, written with the vermihon pencil of royalty, upon the subject of our demands, gives a fair outline CHINESE MDaSTERIAL PAPEES. 245 of the various degrees of importance attached by Chinese poUticians to each of the specific concessions we had asked for. Of all others, they considered the march of troops into Pekin as the most highly objectionable, and the residence of an ambassador there as next in importance, both equally to be avoided. The paper went on to say, — “If conciliation is once negotiated, why do they want to bring soldiers to Pekin with their ambassadors? Their doing so would seem that they had some hidden purpose, which, when their troops were within Pekin, it would be as impossible to concede as it would then be to fight.” — ” Were we to assent, would there be any more word of that most important of aU places, the capital?” On the subject of war expenses, his Majesty said, ” Setting aside the impossibility of paying the two miUions of taels by the time named, it is utterly out of the question to pay at all.” — ” From of old, it has been held a disgrace to make treaties under your city waUs, and if one is again to tender gifts, whilst one’s face is ashamed, will Cluna be thought still to have a man ? ” This head was to be disposed of by applying to us for monied indemnification for the expenses which the war had entailed upon the Imperial Government. As to the admission of Mr. Parkes within Pekin, his Majesty considered that if once conceded, that gentleman, ” idly yelping and frantically barking, is certain to bring forward other conditions,” and might not be subsequently got rid of easily. The memorial of Sang-ko-Un-sin, dated the 26th August, two days after the fall of the Takoo forts, addressed to the Emperor, was one, which, from many S3 246 THE WAE WITH CHINA. Other papers found and translated by Mr. Wade, seems to have created great sensation amongst all the Imperial ministers, and to have been condemned most strongly by every official whom we know to have written to his Majesty regarding it. The subject of the memorial was advising Hien-fimg to start on a hunting tour; the reasons he urges for the necessity of such a move seem so inconclusive and so thoroughly untenable before the great weight of argument brought to bear against them, that the advice appears interested, and carries with it a certain amount of what might be intended treachery. So unanimous are all the civil ministers in their condemnation of such a proceeding, that it would almost seem that they suspected some ulterior motives on Sang-ko-lin-sin’s part. From all previously found documents emanating from his pen, and from his general reputation, there cannot be any doubt regarding h^p mental abihty and ordinarily sound views upon mihtary matters and pubUc business in general He made a great mistake certainly in not fortifying Pehtang as strongly as he had fortified Takoo, but this to a certain extent may have arisen from want of men and means; but in the paper which he drew up regarding the general defences of the coast-Une, and the chances of their being successfully attacked by the barbarians — to which I have previously referred — his views were most able, and the opinions therein set forth of the certainty of our complete overthrow and failure, were based most fairly upon mihtary grounds, and would have been given under similar circumstances by any man who was ignorant of our superiority in guns and discipline. SANG-KO-WN-Sm’S MIUTABT OPINIONS. 247 Kiiowing the great strength of his position, he was naturally confident of victory. He had a very large force of cavahy — an arm which he fancied it to be impossible we should be furnished with; he had numbers of guns in position, to which, in the general Chinese ignorance regarding field artillery, he thought we should be able to reply only with small arms. With such data before him, surely it is not surprising that he should be confident of success I Indeed, so powerful and ample must his resources have appeared to him, that it was no wonder he i^egarded our being able to effect a landing at Peh-tang as rather a matter of indifference, so sure and certain must our final annihilation have seemed to be. The man who could argue as clearly and with such soundness of logic, was not Hkely to be blind to the insurmountable objections to the proposal which, upon the fall of the forts, he urged so presaingly upon his Imperial master : for the Emperor to leave his capital at such a critical monient, and fly away across the frontier of China Proper, was as objectionable and faulty in a poHtical point of view, as, regarded in a military hght, it was untenable. It afforded the Chinese Commander-in-Chief no advantage whatever as to position, whilst, morally, it must have had a most prejudicial effect upon the minds of his Tartar soldiers. The arguments which he urges in favour of such a step were, that its adoption would facihtate measures being taken for attacking and destroying the barbarians; that it would place him at Hberty to choose his own time and place of attack, to advance or retire as events occurred; that, should any s 4 248 THE WAR WITH CHINA. fighting take place near Tung-chow, the minds of the people in Pekin would be greatly agitated, and that, in the event of a reverse, the numerous merchants there would take to flight. Amidst such a commotion, should the courage of the soldiers fail, the Emperor’s person would not be safe; and his Majesty’s presence in the capital at such a moment might not only impede the execution of the necessary defensive arrangements, but even fill with alarm the Celestial mind itself. Of his ultimate success he was still confident; he had made all the necessary dispositions of his troops along the road from Tien-tsin to Tung-chow; and he hoped, by sweeping from off the earth the vile brood, to redeem his previous shortcomings. The forts, he said, he had lost fi’om the imforeseen explosion of the powder magazines in them, not fi:dm any want of energy in their defence. In conclusion, he prays that his Majesty may order the princes of the Six Leagues to repair with their most efficient troops at once to Pekin. So peculiar did he evidently consider the advice he was tendering, that hg said ” he did not venture to forward his memorial by the regular express,” but sent it sealed by the hands of a special messenger, to be dehvered in person to his Majesty. Surely there is much in this letter which will strike even the most superficial reader as suspicious. The lameness of the arguments urged in favour of the hunting tour being only equalled by the cleverness with which he avails himself of the known weakness and cowardice of his master, to hint in such a marked manner at the personal danger to which his Majesty i SANG-KO-LTN-Sm’S ADVICE. 249 will be exposed, should he turn a deaf ear to the advice of ” his slave.” Unless such was the case, why not send it through the usual channel of communication? Why the secresy of sending it sealed by a confidential messenger, to be deUvered into the Emperor’s own hands ? No man appreciated more the importance attached by every one in China to the possession of Pekin, than Sang-ko-lin-sin himself He must have been aware that, if once we took it, all China would consider the war over, and hail us as victors; that, even at the last moment of our assaulting the place (so vast was its circumference, and so numerically weak were we), we could never block up all the exits from it, and thus prevent the Emperor’s escape; that nothing would serve to estabUsh pubhc confidence, or to strengthen the hearts of its defenders, more than the presence of the father of his people on the spot. His wished-for freedom of action was all a myth, as was proved by his subsequent conduct, when twice he gave us battle upon the road to Pekin. He was too able a general not to be aware that if he had fought us twenty times, instead of twice, it must each time have been on that line, or else at the capital itself Even granting that his knowledge of war pointed out to him the advantages which, in a military point of view, he might gain by forsaking the city and taking up a menacing position upon our line of communications, as Koutousof did at Moscow, still he must have felt that, poUtically, such a poUcy would be fatal to the cause. China and Eussia are totally difierent countries; nor was the ancient capital of the latter country, Uke 250 THE WAE WITH CHINA. Pekin, the seat of general government. The loss of Madrid or Paris has never been considered to involve the conquest of the country. The possession of European capitals by invaders has never been looked upon by the population of those countries as the outward emblem and unanswerable proof of complete conquest, whilst to every Chinaman the capture of Pekin by any foreigner would be the most convincing of aU other proofs that the Mantchoo dynasty had ceased to reign. Under such circumstances the grand struggle must always have taken place in or about Pekin; his wishedfor ” freedom of action ” was simply a military phrase meaning nothing. His insight into human nature was great, and he seemed to possess a clear idea of the working of Hien-fimg’s dastardly mind, when he appealed to his sense of personal risk. This latter consideration seems to have had far greater weight with him than aU the serious objections to his departure which were raised by every minister to whom at this distressing juncture he appealed for advice. Every argument which would have had weight with any ruler but the basest of cowards, was brought forward by the various ministers of state, who, also appreciating the power which fear had upon their sovereign’s mind, followed in the summing up of their memorials Sangko-lin-sin’s example, and urged in their turn the dangers to which his Majesty would be exposed personally by flying from his capital and seeking refuge in Jeho. No doubt they exaggerated those dangers in order to strike the greater terror into their pusillanimous ruler. They dilated upon the vast numbers of robbers, infesting not only the neighbourhood of Jeho but the PROPOSED FLIGHT TO JBHO. 251 road to it, where the police could not be expected to be perfect, when such turmoil was rife everywhere else. They urged that, owing to the faUing off in the yielding of the mines, the people had become so impoverished about Jeho, that they frequently banded together in very large numbers, and not only robbed traders and officials, but created great disturbances in the neighbouring districts; that beyond the Hoope-kow pass in the Great Wall, there were ” numbers of Eussian barbarians, some of whom have been for a long time pretending fo dehver communications at Pekin for the furtherance of some treacherous designs; ” that if the strong fortifications of Pekin were not considered sufficient security, surely much less could any be found in the open and unprotected hunting-grounds beyond the wall; if the barbarians have been able to reach Tien-tsin, what is to prevent them from penetrating to the Loan river at Jeho ? Having thus tried to impress upon the mind of ” the sacred Son of Heaven ” the dangers to be encountered at Jeho, they go on to point out the great inconvenience and discomfort to which the ” Governor and Tranquilliser of the Universe ” would be subject during his journey in the ” still hot weather of autumn.” As no such journey had been undertaken for forty years, all the Imperial palaces along the hne of route, having been so long unused, had fallen into disrepair, and were consequently uninhabitable. An escort of at least 10,000 persons would be required for the journey, for whom it would be impossible to provide supphes on the road, and consequently numbers of them would desert, and, falling in with the 252 THE WAE WITH CHINA. numerous banditti who prowl about those regions wherever they please, would lead to serious disturbances. Jeho was the constant resort “of the Mongol tribes, to whom it had always been customary upon the visit of former Emperors to bestow presents, amounting to tens of millions of taels, which the present financial difficulties would not admit of, and without doing which it might be difficult to soothe the discontent of those tributaries. In this manner they appealed to his Majesty’s sense of personal risk and inconvenience, whilst they put forward, in a startlingly straightforward manner, the pohtical objections to his journey, urging their arguments upon him with a force and plainness of speech which few European ministers could presume to use with their sovereigns, and in a manner the very opposite to all our preconceived notions of Chinese court etiquette or the style of address usual from the Mandarins to their despotic Emperor. The papers whicli fell into our hands were memorials from various ministers of state, all signed by several others who agreed in the substance of them. One was countersigned by as many as seventy-six ministers; that of the earUest date was from Kia-ching, and signed by twenty-five others, dated the 9th September. It was evidently written in answer to a communication from the Emperor, in which he had demanded an opinion upon Sang-ko-lin-sin’s advice, enclosing a copy at the same time of the memorial from that general. Eumours of the intended flight of his Majesty had been in circulation for some time previous at Pekin; and so when his Majesty declared that he intended TSUIEN-KING’S MEMOEIAL. 253 proceeding to Tung-chow and taking command of the army in person, the ministers appear to have seen through the artifice, and perceived that such was only an excuse for his departure, and that once on the move he would follow his general’s advice and make quickly for Jeho. In another paper from the minister Tsuien-king, dated four days later, the most sarcastic censure is poured forth upon a proposed plan which had emanated from the Celestial mind, which was that, assembling a large force, he should take up a position to the north of Pekin. ” They admired the awe-inspiring demeanour and the well-devised strategy thus displayed. But the common people are extremely slow of comprehension; they easily suspect and with difficulty are led to appreciate; they will say that as the barbarians are to the southeastward of the capital, Timg-chow should be the position from which to support Sang-ko-lin-sin; that a position to the north of Pekin would be without the general line of operations; that what was undertaken under the semblance of strategy would in reality be flight. If his Majesty was in such a critical time careless of the preservation of his empire and only regardful of his personal safety, where could such be more securely assured to him than within the tliick and lofty walls of Pekin ? ” One and all of these memorials denote with startKng plainness what shoiild be the Emperor’s line of conduct at such a critical conjuncture, and urge that at such times of pubhc danger, ” the man of heroic conduct is prepared to die at his post.” — “Your Majesty is well aware of the maxini, that the prince is bound to sacrifice him 254 THE WAK WITH CHmA. self for his country; but far be it from your ministers at such a time as this to desire to wound your Majesty’s feehngs by adverting to such thoughts.” — “In what hght does your Majesty regard your people, and the altars of your Gods ? WUl you cast away the ioheritance of your ancestors Hke a damaged shoe ? What would history say of your Majesty for a thousand future generations.” No sovereign hitherto has ever gone on a hunting tour in times of danger. Such a journey would then greatly endanger the whole state, and compromise the reigning dynasty; his departure would occasion the most serious disorders within the capital and lead to a revolution. All people, they said, throughout the empire then looked to the throne, as to the centre from which aU plans for safety must emanate; the minds of people, they added, will become disturbed, shaking the courage of the troops and inspiring the rebels with renewed energy; the capital ” is the honourable seat of majesty, and at such a moment especially the sovereign ought to remain within it; ” to l<3ave it would embolden the barbarians to make fresh enterprises, and should peace be negotiated, the great distance of Jeho from Pekin would cause considerable delay in communicating with his Majesty there. Although the barbarians’ vessels had reached Tien-tsin, yet that was a long distance from Pekin; their force was only 10,000, whilst the army under Sang-ko-lin-sin numbered 30,000, and men, women, and children were ready to fight for their tutelary gods. ” The danger was most threatening,” and ” a puff of breath is now sufficient to decide the balance in which hangs the loss or preservation of the succession of your ances ABGUMBNTS AGAINST THE TOUR TO JEHO. 255 tors and the repose of the deities,^’ The advice which they with one accord gi^e is that an Imperial decree should at once announce his Majesty’s determination of awaiting events at his capital, which it was requested might at once be placed in the highest state of defence. ” When Te-tsung of the Tang dynasty (a.d. 790) made a pubHc confession of error ” the mutineers returned at once to obedience, and if his present Majesty would but follow a similar plan, and publicly acknowledge his mistake in having intended to leave the capital, it would reassure the troubled minds of his subjects. As it had been talked of paying the barbarians 20,000,000 of taels, how much better it would be to devote the portion which had been demanded down in ready money to gaining over those treacherous Chinese mercenaries who constituted such a considerable portion of the barbarians’ army. To purchase peace by paying the invaders for retiring, would only occasion fresh demands for more money; no peace should under any circumstances be granted until the ” vile horde ” had been defeated in battle. His late Imperial Majesty, in his last will, spoke with shame of having concluded a peace with the English barbarians. For the better fulfilment of these plans his Majesty is over and over again besought to return to Pekin, and thus appease the popular anxiety, “maintain the dignity of the throne and pacify the spirits of your ancestors.” Since the establishment of the present dynasty, 200 years ago, providence had guarded the humane government. Should his Majesty now disregard the council of his ministers, it must surely hereafter produce in him ” bitter but unavailing regret.” [p. 255] All these memorials and the advice which they endeavom^ed to inculcate are closely interlarded with historical allusions to past times, some to events of many centmies back It will be seen from these papers, the pith of which I have dotted down above, that one and aU of the ministers viewed Sang-ko-lin-sin’s recommendation as the most pernicious step which could be taken, and express their opinions thereon so strongly as actually to border upon impertinence. Surely, when such was apparently the universal Ught in which all Chinese poUticians regarded the Jeho tour, Sang-ko hn-sin must have had some underhand and hidden object before him in recommending it. For a long time he had been steadily rising in power and influence, and his position was so influential after his grand defeat of the rebels, when they advanced upon Tien-tsin, that it aroused the jealousy of all the court, and caused his offer of leading down an army to Nankin, and retaking that important city, to be rejected, not from any doubts as to his ability to fulfil what he planned, but simply from a dread that such a victory would place the entire power of the empire in his hands and consequently open to him a rapid path to the throne. Usurpations of such a nature are not unfamihar to the Chinese people, and so great have been the reverses experienced since 1840 by the present dynasty, that it has long since ceased to carry with it any great respect, and consequently any strong attachment on the part of the Chinese people. Sang-ko-lin-sin’s name has been, since his victory over us in 1859, a proverb for might in war throughout the length and breadth of the country, and upon him all eyes were turned for salvation [p. 256] when the barbarians, having forced their way up to Tien-tsin, threatened the capital, and as was universally beUeved, the very Uberties of the empire. For him the throne was an easy goal. If once he could succeed in inducing the reigning king to forfeit for ever any little remaining respect which the people still entertained for the crown by being the first to fly before the invaders of his country, and if he could also defeat in open field the small body of barbarians, then, upon their march northward, the assumption of Imperial robes would be but the easiest part of his plan to accomplish. This to me is certainly the best solution of what otherwise appears the most incomprehensible advice which a sincere and loyal subject could under the circumstances have given to his sovereign. [p. 257]