China and the Silk Road

Canton painting



Silks, spices, tea and porcelain. These and other exotic products of China have been eagerly sought by Europeans since Roman times. But the land route through the Euroasian deserts along the "Silk Route" allowed only a trickle of Oriental products to reach the Western World. In the 16th century the sea route to the Orient was discovered. In the centuries that followed, the seafaring nations of Europe vied for control of the China Trade. In the early 18th century, the collection of Oriental products became an obsession among the European aristocracy. Separate rooms and castles were built to display the collections of the most devoted, such as Alexander the Strong of Saxony.
It was to be the end of the 17th century, or even the beginning of the 18th, before all the West European maritime powers were represented by companies on the new trade routes to the Far East. Smaller powers with access to the sea, such as Denmark, Sweden, the Austrian Netherlands and Prussia got the chance to make a name for themselves, next to the old powers of Spain and Portugal, and even to the newly established powers of England, the Dutch Republic (V.O.C.) and France, which meanwhile had expanded to become world empires.

The voyage of Vasco da Gama (1497), and the capture of Malacca, by Albuquerque, opened the Far East to the Portuguese, who arrived in Canton in 1514; Perestrello came in 1516; Fernando Perez de Andrade followed in 1517, with Thomas Pires, but the misconduct of Simon de Andrade caused the expulsion of the Portuguese from Canton (1521), and the destruction of the fleet of Cautinho (1522); the Portuguese establishment of Liampo (1545) and Chang-chou (1549) were completely destroyed, and the inhabitants massacred. Finally, the Portuguese settled on the island of Hiang-shan at Macao, either in 1553 or 1557.
The capture, in 1592, of the Portuguese Carrack, Madre de Dios, gave the English the secret of the East-Indian Trade. In 1596, three ships, the Bear, the Bear's Whelp, and the Benjamin, under the command of Benjamin Wood, were fitted out at the expense of Robert Dudley, and Queen Elizabeth wrote a letter (16th July) to the Emperor of China.
The first English vessel that visited China reached there by accident. It was the Unicorn, which, going from Bantam to Japan, was cast adrift by a storm on the east coast of Macao, at the end of June, 1620. In 1634, Captain Weddell explored the Canton River. The first English company organized for the purpose of trading with India, commonly called the "Old Company" was incorporated by Queen Elizabeth, 31st Dec., 1600, under the title "The Govenour and Company of Merchants of London trading into the East Indies." The "English Company (or General Society) trading into the East Indies" also called the "New Company" was incorporated by William III, 5th Sept., 1698, and the two were amalgamated in 1708-9 by Queen Anne, under the title of "The United Company of Merchants of England trading to the East Indies", commonly known as the "Honourable East India Company".

The Russians crossed the Ural mountains in the middle of the sixteenth century under Ivan IV, and subjugated Siberia; from the Lena River they passed, in 1642, into the basin of Amur. Stephanof, one of their chiefs, met the Chinese for the first time in 1654, when exploring the Sungari River. After withstanding two sieges of their principal fort, Albasin, the Russians signed a treaty with the Chinese at Nerchinsk (27th Aug., 1689), which destroyed their influence in the region of Amur, and from which they did not recover until the middle of the nineteenth century. In 1727 Count Sava Vladislavitch signed a treaty regulating the inland trade between the two countries.

In 1660, the French organized a "Compagnie de Chine" which in 1664, was amalgamated with the "Compagnie des Indes" which gave up its China privileges in 1697-98 to "Compagnie Jourdan, la Coulange et Cie", which made Canton a trading centre. New companies were organized for the commerce of China in October, 1705, and November, 1712. Finally, in 1719, all the companies were merged into the "Compagnie des Indes", whose privilege was suspended in 1769, and which was finally dissolved, 3 April, 1790. A French consulate was established at Canton 3rd Feb., 1776.
The Danes had two companies organized in 1612 and 1670. Austria was represented by the Ostend Company, incorporated 17th Dec., 1722, and the Triest Company. Prussia had the Emden Company.
In 1627 a Swedish company was organized; in 1655 Nils Matson Ki?ping visited China. On 14th June, 1731, a charter was granted by King Frederick of Sweden to a company organized at Gothenburg. The first American commercial expedition to China was undertaken by the Empress of China, a vessel commanded by John Green, which sailed from New York for Canton, 22nd Feb., 1784.

Trading was carried on at Canton through privileged merchants called Hong merchants, whose council, called Co-hong, was incorporated in 1720. Their number carried, but never exceeded thirteen. The foreign merchants traded in thirteen hongs, or factories, extending about 300 feet from the banks of the Pearl River, and about 1,000 broad. The Hong merchants, hard-pressed by the Hoppo, or custom mandarin, ran into debt with the foreign merchants. A visit of Commodore Anson (1742), a special mission of Captain Panton, even a transfer to another part of the empire, did not remedy the numerous grievances of the Europeans, who were not allowed to reside permanently at Canton, but were compelled to retire to Macao when business was done.
The English sent an embassy, headed by Lord Macartney, in the Lion and the Hindostan. Macartney reached Peking 21st Aug., 1793, but did not obtain permission for the English to trade at Chusan, Ning-po, and T'ien-tsin, or to have a warehouse at Peking for their goods. Macartney's voyage cost £80,000 (about $380,000), but was without result. Still less successful was the embassy of Lord Amherst (1816). Lord Napier, who was sent on special mission in 1833-4, died worn out by his negotiations. Grievances continued to increase year after year, until the destruction (June, 1839) of 20,283 chests of opium by Commander Lin brought matters to a climax.

On 9th June, 1840, a blockade of the Canton River was proclaimed by Admiral Sir John Gordon Bremer. Ting-hai (Chusan) was captured, 7th July, 1841. Sir Henry Pottinger was now appointed plenipotentiary, and Sir William Parker commander-in-chief. Amoy was captured 27 August, Ning-po 13 Oct., 1841, Shanghai, 16th June, 1842, and the British squadron entered the Ta-kiang (Yang-tze). Finally, a treaty of thirteen articles was signed at Nan-king by Pottinger and Ki-yang, 29th August, 1842, on board the Cornwallis. Canton, Amoy, Fu-chou, Ning-po, and Shanghai were to be opened to trade, and consuls appointed to reside at each of these cities.

The island of Hong-Kong was ceded to Great Britain, and indemnities were paid: $6,000,000 for the opium seized, $12,000,000 for the expenses of war, and $3,000,000 for the debts of the Hong merchants, whose guild was abolished. The United States and France followed the example of Great Britain. A treaty was signed with the United States at Wang-hia, near Macao, 3 July, 1844, by Caleb Cushing, and one with France by Theodose de Lagrene at Wham-poa, 24th Oct., 1844. An agreement with Belgium was signed at Canton, 25th July, 1845, and a treaty with Norway and Sweden, 20th March, 1847. The Chusan Archipelago was surrendered to the Chinese in 1847 by Sir John F. Davis, Governor of Hong-Kong. Hong-Kong had been declared a free port, 6th Feb., 1842 to the great damage of Macao.

The advantages, however, obtained through the treaty of Nan-king were soon found insufficient. The murder of the French priest Chapdelaine in Kwang-si (26th Feb., 1856) and the seizure at Canton of the lorcha Arrow (8th Oct., 1856) by the Chinese furnished the pretext for a joint action of England and France against China. The bombardment of Canton (27-29th Oct, 1856), the great rebellion in India (May, 1857), the appointment of Lord Elgin and Baron Gros as envoys to China by the two belligerents, the capture of Canton (29th Dec., 1857) and of the Taku forts (20th May, 1858), are the chief events that preceded the signing of the English (26th June) and French (27th June, 1858) treaties of T'ien-tsin. These treaties permitted the appointment of French and English ambassadors to Peking, and allowed the Chinese a like privilege of appointing ambassadors at the Court of St. James and the court of Paris, provided for the opening of the ports of New-chwang, Tang-chou (Che-fu), Tai-wan (Formosa), Chao-chou (Swatow), and Kiung-chou (Hai-nan), granted an indemnity of 2,000,000 taels for damages to the British and a like sum to both powers for war expenses, besides an indemnity to French subjects for the loss sustained through plunder, when Canton was taken, and guaranteed the punishment of the murderer of Father Chapdelaine.

On the 25th of June, 1859, the plenipotentiaries, Bruce and Bourboulon, who were on their way to Peking to have these treaties ratified, were fired upon by the Taku forts. A second war ensued. Elgin and Gros were appointed special envoys to China; Sir Hope Grant and Admiral Hope, General de Mountauban and Admiral Charner were placed in command of the British and French land and naval forces. The forts of Taku were recaptured (21st Aug., 1860). The allies marched passed T'ien-tsin, and after withstanding a treacherous attack by the Chinese at Tung-chou (18 Sept., 1860), they forced a passage across the Pa-li-k'iao bridge (21st Sept.), and captured the Summer Palace (Yuan-ming-yuan), 6th Oct., which was plundered. Wan-shou-shan, another part of the imperial summer resort, was burnt by order of Lord Elgin (18th Oct.) on account of the barbarous treatment inflicted upon the European prisoners taken in the dastardly attack at Tung-chou. The emperor fled to Shehol, and his brother, Prince Kung, who had remained at Peking, signed the Conventions of 24th and 25th Oct., 1860, with the allies. The indemnity was raised to 8,000,000 taels, and Kow-loon, opposite Hong-Kong, was ceded to England as a dependency of this island. A like indemnity was to be paid to France, and T'ien-tsin was to be opened to trade. Meanwhile a treaty had been made at T'ien-tsin with the United States (18th June, 1858), signed by William B. Reed, and one with Russia (13th June, 1858) signed by Admiral Putiatin, and another treaty was made with Russia at Peking (9-14th Nov., 1860), and signed by General Ignatiev. A still earlier treaty had been made with Russia at Aigun (18th May, 1858) and signed by Muraviev. The final result of these various treaties was a rectification of the frontier between Russia and China, the Amur and Usuri rivers forming the new boundary lines.

The wretched Hien Fung, who had replaced Tao-kwang in 1851, died 22nd Aug., 1861, and was succeeded by his son T'ung-chi (b. 17th Nov., 1834), under the regency of the two dowager empresses, Tze-ngan and Tze-hi, and Prince Kung. With the help of foreigners, the American, Ward, the English general, Gordon, and the "Ever Victorious Army", the French admiral Protet, Lebrethon, and others, the T'ai-p'ing rebels, who had captured Nan-king (19th March, 1853) and made a raid on T'ien-tsin, were expelled from Su-chou (4th Dec., 1863) and Nan-king (19th July, 1864), and their power completely destroyed. Treaties were signed with Prussia and the German States (T'ien-tsin, 2nd Sept., 1861), Portugal (T'ien-tsin, 13th Aug., 1862), though not ratified, Denmark (T'ien-tsin, 13th July, 1863), Spain (T'ien-tsin, 10th Oct, 1864), Holland (T'ien-tsin, 6th Oct., 1863), Belgium (Peking, 2nd Oct., 1865), Italy (26th Oct., 1866), and Austria (Peking, 2nd Oct., 1869). A new convention, negotiated by the British minister, Sir Rutherford Alcock, (Peking, 23th Oct., 1869), was not ratified by the British Government. In 1868, a special embassy headed by Anson Burlingame, formerly American Minister to Peking, was sent to the Western countries. They went first to the United States. and additional articles to the Treaty of 1858 were signed at Washington (28th July, 1868); thence they proceeded through Europe. Burlingame died at St. Petersburg. A few months afterward news was received of the awful massacre of French and Russian subjects by the Chinese at T'ien-tsin, 21 June, 1870. A mission under Chung-hou was sent to Versailles to apologize for this. T'ung-chi married, Oct., 1872, and being of age, received in audience the foreign envoys; Japan, France, Great Britain, Russia, the United States and Holland were represented by their ministers, and Germany by an interpreter (29th June, 1873). Relations were strained between Japan and China, owing to an attack made by the aborigines of southern Formosa on the wrecked crew of a Luch'uan junk, and for a time war seemed inevitable. Through British intervention, however, satisfaction was obtained by Japan, and an agreement between the two Asiatic nations was signed at Peking, 31st Oct., 1874. T'ung-chi died 12 Jan, 1875.

The situation in China at this time presented many difficulties. There were grave questions to be settled with England, Russia, and France. On 21 Feb., 1875, the English interpreter, A. R. Margary, was murdered at Manwyne (Yun-nan), and an attack was made on the British exploring party from Burma headed by Colonel Horace A. Browne, which Margary had preceded. Protracted and knotty negotiations conducted by the British minister, Thomas F. Wade, led to the conclusion of the convention signed at Che-fu, 13th Sept., 1876. According to this: regulations were to be framed for the frontier trade of Yun-nan; British officials were to be stationed at Ta-li, or some other suitable place in Yun-nan, for a period of five years; the viceroy of India was given permission to send a mission to this province; the indemnity was fixed at 200,000 taels; China was to establish missions and consulates abroad; the ports of I'ch'ang, Wu-hu, Wen-chou, and Pak-hoi were to be opened to trade; British officers might be sent to Ch'ung-k'ing which was to be opened to trade when steamers succeeded in ascending the river. A special mission, including Hon. G.T. Grosvenor, A. Davenport, and E.C. Baber, was sent to Yun-nan to witness the trial and the punishment of the murderers of Margary. On 28th August 1875, Kwo Sung-tao was appointed envoy extraordinary to the Court of St. James.

The Russians, who had signed a treaty with China, 25th July, 1851, at Kuldja, took possession of this region (4th July, 1871), during the rebellion of Yakub. When the Mohammedan rising was crushed by Tso Tsung-tang (1877-78), China claimed the territory occupied temporarily by Russia. A special Chinese mission with Ch'ung-hou as chief was sent to Russia and concluded a treaty at Livadia (Oct., 1879). The contested territory was ceded, together with the Muzart Pass, to Russia, and great inland commercial facilities were also granted to Muscovite merchants. Ch'ung-hou was denounced by the censor, Chang Chi-tung, and sentenced to death; his treaty came to nought. It was a casus belli, but the intervention of England and France prevented the war. Tseng Kai-tze, the Chinese minister in Paris, was sent to St. Petersburg, where he signed a treaty restoring to China the greater part of the Ili and the Muzart Pass (12-24th Feb., 1881).

The third difficulty arose through the occupation of Tong-king by France. China interfered, as the suzerain power of Annam. A treaty was signed at T'ien-tsin by Commodore Fournier (11th May, 1884), but was soon followed by the Bac-l affair (23th June, 1884), and hostilities were resumed. Admiral Courbet bombarded the Fu-chou arsenal (23th Aug., 1884); Ki-lung in northern Formosa was captured (1st Oct., 1884); the Pescadores were taken (29th March, 1885); finally the Billot-Campbell peace protocol, signed in Paris (4th April, 1885), was followed by a treaty signed at T'ien-tsin (9th June, 1885) by Patentre, minister, a commercial convention (T'ien-tsin, 25th April, 1886) by Cogoirdan, minister, and an additional convention (26th June, 1887), under Constans, minister. France retained possession of Tong-king.

Emperor Kwang Siu came of age 7th Feb., 1887, and took control of the government, 4th March, 1889. On 26th Feb., 1889, he married Ye-ho-na-la-shi, daughter of Kwei-siang. The imperial audience took place 5th March, 1891. For a long time, matters had gone from bad to worse between China and Japan, Korea being the coveted prey of both nations. The murder of the Korean Kim-ok Kyum, a friend of the Japanese, by his countryman, Hung Tjung-wu, at Shang-hai (28th March, 1894), and the attack made on the steamship, Kow-shin by the Japanese at the mouth of the Ya-lu River (25th July, 1894) were the starting points of a war. The principal events during the course of this war were: the battle of Sei-kwan (29th July 1894); a declaration of war (1st Aug.); a convention between Korea and Japan (26th Aug.); the battles of Ping-yang (16th Sept.), and the Ya-lu (17th Sept.); the capture of Port Arthur (21st Nov.) and Wei-hai-wei (30th Jan., 1895) by the Japanese; the occupation of New-chwang by the Japanese (6th March); the landing of the Japanese at Formosa. The negotiations between Li Hung-chang, who had been wounded by a fanatic Japanese, and Ito and Mutsu, resulted in the signing of the treaty of Shimonoseki (17th April, 1895). The principal articles of this treaty were the cession of Liao-tung, Formosa, and the Pescadores to the Japanese, an indemnity of 200,000,000 Kuping taels to be paid by China, the opening to Japanese trade of Sha-shi or Kin-chow (Hu-pe), Chung-k'ing, Su-chou, and Hang-chou, etc. On the interference of France, Russia, and Germany, Liao-tung was retroceded to China by the convention of 8th Nov., 1905. Korea fell entirely into the hands of the Japanese. Ostensibly to obtain satisfaction for the murder of two missionaries, the Germans seized Kiao-chou Bay (Shan-tung) (14th Nov., 1897), which was granted to them on a long lease (6th March, 1898). Following the example of Germany, Russia obtained a similar lease of Ta-lien-wa and the adjacent waters (27th March 1898); England, Wei-hai-wei (2nd April, 1898); France, Kwang-chou-wan (27th May, 1898). On 9th June the territory of Kow-loon ceded to Great Britain was extended to include Deep Bay and Mir's Bay; moreover, various declarations stipulated the non-alienation byChina of the Yang-tze valley (11th Feb., 1898) and Fu-kien (April, 1898). Prince Kung died, 29th May 1898.

From 10th June, 1898, until 20th Sept., 1898, when a coup d'etat of Empress Tze-hi deprived Emperor Kwang Siu of all his power, he made a strong attempt to reform the administration of his empire with the assistance of K'ang Yu-wei and others. There followed a terrible reaction, which culminated in the Boxer rebellion. This began in Shang-tung and extended to Chi-li, secretly fostered by the empress dowager and her camarilla, Prince Twan, and General Tung Fu-siang. Everywhere missionaries were murdered. The German minister, Von Ketteler, was murdered (20th June); the legations at Peking was besieged by troops and the infuriated mob. A relief column, under the command of the English admiral, Sir Edward Seymore, failed to reach the capital. Finally, a strong international army entered Peking (14th August, 1900), relieving the legations and the Catholic cathedral (Pe-tang), while the emperor, the empress dowager, and the court fled top Si-ngan-fu (Shen-si). Peking was looted and left in ruins.

The negotiations were long and involved, and on their completion, a protocol was signed at Peking, 7th Sept., 1901, by the representatives of the ten foreign powers. The principal clauses included: a mission of expiation to Berlin and an expiatory monument to Baron von Ketteler on the spot where he was murdered; the rehabilitation of officials executed for being favorable to foreigners; the suspension of official examinations for five years in all cities where foreigners had been massacred or mistreated; missions of reparation to Japan for the assassination of Sugiyama of the Japanese legation; expiatory monuments in cemeteries where foreign tombs had been desecrated; prohibition of the importation of arms; a total indemnity of 450,000,000 Haikwan taels (about $360,000,000); special quarters for the legations at Peking; the destruction of the forts at Taku; the reorganization of the foreign offices. An imperial edict of 24th July, 1901, transformed the Tsung-li Yamen into a Ministry of Foreign affairs (Wai-wu Pu), which takes precedence over the other ministries of State. Treaties were signed at Shang-hai byChina with Great Britain (5th Sept., 1902), with Japan (commercial, 8th Oct., 1903), and with the United States for the extension of commercial relations (8th Oct., 1903).

The great victories gained by Japan over Russia and the signing of the treaty of Portsmouth (23th Aug., 5th Sept., 1905), the various agreements signed by the European nations with the victorious power, the tremendous effects produced on all Asiatic peoples by the triumph of one of them, the latent discontent in China, the delusive and superficial attempts at reform in the Middle Kingdom, leave to the future prospects which are anything but encouraging to the Western counties.