Dramatic Moments in American Diplomacy/Chapter Eleven

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Dramatic Moments in American Diplomacy by Ralph W. Page
Chapter Eleven: Coaching China

The Everlasting Problem of the "Inferior Race." Conflict of "Manifest Destiny" and the "Square Deal." A Crisis in the Orient. The "Powers" Rig an Action Against the Celestial Kingdom, Backing the Advance of the Caucasian Drummer. Anson Burlingame, Back Bay Politician, Takes the Case of China. The Fate of a Continent in His Hands—An Ambassador to All the World. His Treaty with Seward. A Convention with Lord Clarendon. The Triumphant Diplomatic Conquest of Two Emperors and the Iron Chancellor.


From Berlin to Bagdad, from Cairo to Cape Town, from Samarkand to Bombay, the whole planet has witnessed the assimilation, benevolent and otherwise, of every inferior, that is to say weaker people, under the sun, excepting only the monumental Chinese.

Searching back among the intricate and

vious national jealousies and heroic figures of a century of diplomacy in the Orient for the cause of this phenomenon, we come upon a strange spectacle ; two Americans, one in com- mand of the Chinese Army, and the other, am- bassador from China to the entire world. One holding the long-haired rebels at bay in the mysterious recesses of the kingdom; the other keeping the Christian kings from "taking China by the throat." The understanding of the indignation mentioned above involves the record of the second of these old adventurers, the ambassador. But I cannot forbear to give a little contemporaneous picture of his com- panion piece, the barest recital of the incidents of whose career are sufficient to give him fore- most rank among the soldiers of fortune that have heralded the coming of the diplomat in every frontier known to the Anglo-Saxon.

This was General Frederick T. Ward, or- ganizer of the first Chinese troops trained and disciplined under modern methods — known to

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history as the "Ever- victorious Army," after- ward in command of "Chinese" Gordon. The old account says: "He is instructing the Chi- nese in the use of European weapons, and has about two thousand of them trained, whom he has led in a most desperate manner, success- fully, in several recent battles. * * * He was born in Salem, Massachusetts, went to sea when a boy, became mate of a ship, and then was a Texas ranger, California gold miner, in- structor in the Mexican service, was with Walker — for which he was outlawed by his government — at the Crimea, and then joined the Chinese, among whom he has gradually risen to influence and j)ower. He is now their best officer. * * * "

But what saved China was not an officer. Hannibal himself would have thrown up the job of defending this world of Chinese ac- customed to go to war with an armour-bearer before and a parasol valet behind. The most potent single factor in a long and complex

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drama, was their first and greatest diplomat — Anson Burlingame, late orator of Faneuil Hall, Boston, State of Massachusetts.

A narrative of this unique envoy, sent from the Past to negotiate with the Future, is not out of place in the chronicle of American dip- lomatic exploits, for he was also minister from the United States to China, and the founder of the American policy of "Hands Off" and a square deal. He was one of the few men in history trusted to the extent of representing both sides of an international discussion at one and the same time — a particularly trying posi- tion, considering that neither side had the slightest idea what the other was talking about, and from their cradles were fundamentally in- capable of finding out.

This Back Bay politician possessed precisely no diplomatic training whatever. His original appointment was in large measure due to the answer he gave to Preston Brooks, after the South Carolinian had beaten the Senator from Massachusetts with a cane in full view of the

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nation. This answer delighted the world. It suggested rifles at short range on Deer Island by Niagara Falls. His equipment was of a kind that a lifetime spent in the libraries of the world and all the courts in creation would never supply. It consisted mainly of three things, given him by his fathers: a sense of chivalry, that is, the sympathy and simple courage which champions the weak; hard practical common sense that neither the mysticism of the East nor the pompous and regal ceremony and ar- rogance of the West could befuddle or betray ; a personal charm of character and manners of whose failure in courtesy there is no record.

He received his appointment as Minister to China in 1861, and set out across the world in much the same frame of mind as one might now start for Saturn. He was not trammeled with "arbitrary instructions" for the very good rea- son that Secretary Seward, man of imagination though he was, could not imagine what to in- struct him. At that time the prevailing diplo- matic procedure in the East was conducted by

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gunboats and the war then just started at Fort Sumter rendered it inadvisable for Seward to spare any such at the moment.

So this Yankee landed in the ancient king- dom of the inscrutable Manchus from aboard a packet, as innocent of the feuds and imponder- abilities of Chinese politics as he was of the con- flicting and sordid ambitions of the Caucasian drummers already arrived to exploit them.

He found what Gilbert calls a pretty howdy- do — a government as old and immovable as the desert, with not even the faintest germ of a desire for "progress." Locomotives, me- chanical toys, telegrams, thrashing machines, bath-tubs, and all modern improvements were to them eyesores and abominations. The worst of it was that as a plain matter of fact this government suited them exactly. It filled every want and withstood revolution and dis- order in a manner to create the wildest envy in every cabinet in Christendom.

To becloud the picture one of these revolu- tions was then at high tide. This was being

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conducted by the Taipings, whose professions of Christianity did not prevent a consistent practice of massacre, loot, and pillage. In an- other quarter the country was being sacked in the name of Mohammed, while the professed bandits in a third tried in vain to keep up their reputation.

A punitive expedition had shortly before es- tablished the European embassies in Pekin, intrenching another menace to the celestial kingdom ten times more formidable than all the Moslems and bandits in existence. These were the peaceful heralds of coming light — ^the merchants and traders of England and France. They camped in the "Treaty Ports" and were the self-appointed interpreters of China to a curious world, and the advisors to their most Christian majesties.

Any man at all versed in the affairs of the East will bear testimony that the great mass of these traders, speculators and financial adven- turers — both those with simply selfish motives and reputable and honourable business men —

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have no more real knowledge or appreciation of the Chinese than has the total stranger. They know their trade and resources, but not one Chinese intimately, and the history, philosophy, deep convictions, and proud dig- nity of the Chinese, are matters of indiffer- ence to them. At that time those were con- sidered hardly more than an insult, interfer- ing as they did with the divine right of busi- ness, and the advance of profits. This ele- ment made the loudest claims upon diplomacy and created the world problem, not yet solved, which Anson Burlingame was called upon to meet.

This European advance guard was undoubt- edly composed of men of a strong strain and daring dispositions, risking much in a new field to gain much. There was nothing wicked about them. They held a philosophy still prevalent in commercial circles — a philosophy which has goaded every foreign office for a hundred years, and only reached its logical con- clusion in the efficiency and f rightfulness on the

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fields of Flanders. The civilized world has the problem presented by it still to face. Roughly the point of view was this :

A superior nation has the right, if not the duty, of compelling an inferior nation to adopt such ideas of government, justice, and customs as it may decree, and to open its territories to the use, and its resources to the benefit of the superior nation. Particularly the latter. The creed is that "manifest destiny" makes such physical and political domination inevi- table in the interests of civilization, and "prog- ress." Without exception, the demand is that this shall be accomplished in short order by force of arms, so that a heaven-sent "culture" may uplift the benighted area. In other words, the trader from a "civilized" state may proceed to a "heathen" state and sell his goods or conduct his enterprise in any way he sees fit, and has the right to demand military and diplomatic support for his decision.

Perhaps such action is inevitable, like the tides, and beyond the control of men's minds.

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however enlightened. My purpose is to show that when confronted with this problem Anson Burlingame undertook to decide it; and, as far as the United States and China were con- cerned, he succeeded in the manner I shall now relate.

From the day of his arrival he took the unique and bizarre attitude that the Chinese were real people, to be treated with courtesy and consideration. In spite of the fact that he was the representative of a foreign nation with "interests" to conserve or acquire he held the idea that the country belonged absolutely and entirely to the Chinese, and that it was their business as well as their privilege to conduct it. It took him about a week to discover the trav- esty in the Taiping's Christianity, and he en- couraged the training and dispatch of Ward's forces to put them down. Upon reaching Pekin he sought out the other ministers, and became shortly the leading spirit in a diplomat quartette called by Frederick Wells Williams the "Four B's"— Count Balluzech, the Rus-

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sian; M. Berthemy, the French Minister; Sir Frederick Bruce, and Anson Burlingame. Thrown together constantly in informal and intimate association, together they formulated that which was the forerunner of the famous "Open Door" policy of John Hay. As stated in his dispatch to Washington it was as follows :

"The policy upon which we agreed is briefly this : that while we claim our treaty right to buy and sell and live in the treaty ports, subject in respect to rights of property and persons to the jurisdiction of our own governments, we will not ask for, nor take concessions of, terri- tory in the treaty ports or in any way interfere with the jurisdiction of the Chinese Govern- ment over its own people, or ever menace the territorial integrity of the Chinese Empire. That we will not take part in the internal strug- gles in China beyond what is necessary to main- tain our treaty rights. * * *

"By the favoured-nation clause in the treat- ies, no nation can gain, by any sharp act of diplomacy, any privilege not secured to all.

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The circumstances conspire to make this a for- tunate moment in which to inaugurate the co- operative policy. * * * Our only hope is in forbearance and perfect union among our- selves ; if these are maintained, and our govern- ments sustain us in the policy we have adopted, I cannot but be hopeful of the future, and feel that a great step has been taken in the right direction in China."

He pursued this understanding with his col- leagues with such good faith that the Chinese came to regard him as a real friend. The in- fluence of this representative who had not one bluejacket or doughboy behind him became a prime influence in the country. Shortly after his arrival the French consul at Ning-po began the nagging and the grabbing again. He wanted another concession. Concessions giv- ing European jurisdiction was the panacea uni- versally recommended by the traders and, of course, universally resisted by the Mandarins. Burlingame urged the Chinese to put up a stiff front and had a heart-to-heart talk with

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the French consul upon which the effort was abandoned.

He successfully mediated in a dispute be- tween the Pekin Government and a British concern that arrived in China with a squadron of warships which it proposed the Chinese should take, English crews and all. The re- sult, again a triumph of fair play, was that the Lay-Osborne Flotilla sailed back to England.

A more important consequence to the United States was the subsequent action obtained from the grateful Chinese forbidding the Con- federate raider Alabama even to approach the ports of the Empire. This was more of a concession than any of our famous am- bassadors could get from any country in Eu- rope. Not the least of his services to China was his influence in leading the Prince to solicit the services of the eminent American engineer, Raphael Pumpelly, to make the first examina- tion of their mineral resources.

It was all very well for the ministers in Pekin to agree upon this mild procedure, but

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the tide of commerce and the demands of busi- ness were driving from the other direction. Firm in the belief that a "strong and vigorous policy," continual "pressure," and a coercion based upon the unanswerable arguments of naval batteries were the only methods to handle a "foreign, corrupt, semi-barbarous and usurp- ing government," they were rapidly driving that government to its wits' end. The expira- tion of some of their trade conventions threat- ened the distracted ministers with unknown disasters. For even if they were willing to ac- cept uplift and progress, the people were not. They would resist with all the fury begotten of an inherent reverence for and devotion to their ancient traditions, customs, and "supersti- tions." If the Dowager Empress decided to resist, she knew very well she would be over- whelmed. If she did not, her throne would not be worth a yen. The people would not stand by her.

The prospect was that demands would be made for the exemption of foreign goods from

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inland and local taxes, the introduction of rail- roads and telegraph hnes, the privileges of opening mines, and the establishment of inter- national courts for collecting from debtor Chi- nese. This was a fearful prospect to the re- gents. What might come by time was one thing, but these demands at the mouth of a cannon amounted to ruination.

Here we get some conception both of the Chinese character and of Burlingame. Only one way out occurred to them. It was almost as revolutionary and undignified as the tele- graph. That was to send an embassy to these heathen countries in Europe to see w^hat it was all about, if any one could find out, and to per- suade them to be reasonable, if perchance such a miracle was possible.

They had made a kind of tentative experi- mental effort of this sort once before. They had not established embassies to be sure, but still had taken a very radical and doubtful step. They had actually sent Mr. Pin Chun on a scouting expedition to see what those

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countries were like. What Mr. Pin Chun re- ported is not obtainable, but it hardly covered the exigencies of the occasion as an English account of his visit may explain. It says :

    • He was received like the Queen of Sheba bj

King Solomon and shown — at least in Great Britain — everything that was admirable from the West- em point of view. He was as far, however, from appreciating the triumphs of science as was Cetewajo the Zulu, whose admiration of England focussed itself on the elephant Jumbo at the Zoolog- ical Gardens."

It is not my purpose to affect to patronize these people. A greater mistake could not be made. Keener, more capable, statesman than some of those consulted on this occasion could not be found from the time of Solomon to that of Jumbo. Li Hung Chang's report on the subject is on record, and, if they had seen it, would probably have caused the utmost aston- ishment to the self-satisfied critics of the "semi- barbarians."

The consequence of the decision reached by Prince Kung and his advisors was radical and

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it was conclusive evidence of a penetrating judgment both of character and of events. They appointed Anson Burhngame ambassa- dor to all the Treaty Powers without excep- tion and returned him to Seward with even more extensive powers than those with which he came. The confidence placed in this Yankee's good will, ability, and understanding apparently had no limit. '*Go forth," they said; "we place the fate of China in your hands."

Burlingame received this proposition in amazement, of course, but he accepted it at its face value. He wrote Seward :

"I may be permitted to add that when the oldest nation in the world, containing one-third of the human race, seeks, for the first time, to come into relations with the West and requests the youngest nation, through its representa- tive, to act as the medium of such change, the mission is not one to be slighted or rejected."

Having concluded that Burlingame under- stood their situation and could be trusted to

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present their case, the Chinese wasted no words on ceremony. There is an appealing dignity and brevity about their announcement of the mission.

"The envoy Anson Burlingame manages af- fairs in a friendly and peaceful manner, and is fully acquainted with the general relations between this and other countries ; let him, there- fore, now be sent to all the Treaty Powers as the high minister, empowered to attend to every question arising between China and those countries. This from the Emperor."

Resigning as minister from the United States and assuming the extraordinary role as Chinese ambassador to all creation, the Yankee set out to Tientsin in a cart. He was accom- panied on the expedition by a suite of thirty persons. Two of those were secretaries — J. McLeavy Brown, Chinese secretary of the British Legation, and M. Deschamps, a Frenchman in high esteem in Pekin. Two others were members of the Chinese 400, sent as official "learners" for to see and to admire.

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It soon became evident that the Empress had played a strong hand. Not only had she turned against the West one of its own most powerful orators, and one whose ringing de- mands for fair play in the King's English could not be avoided, but she had staged a blazing ad- vertisement of her kingdom and its proposi- tion. As a publicity campaign it eclipsed everything known to date, and made Barnum look like an amateur.

To give the proper dramatic and Homeric touch to the picture the party was set upon by highwaymen on the way to the coast. The ubiquitous British gunboat having saved the situation, all hands and an exhibit of curiosities embarked for California and the great adven- ture.

At sight of the Golden Gate and the familiar shores of home it is said that Burlingame's heart failed him. He reflected upon the shift- ing sands and the masquerade fury of Ameri- can politics, known of old, and began to dread the possible indignation and brick-bats of a con-

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stituency lashed from the stump to hector the "American Chinaman" and the "Pigtail here- tic."

True enough, a howling mob jammed the docks, but not in anger. With pure delight they crowded to herald the big show. An ova- tion equal to the triumphant return of a victo- rious Csesar accompanied him across the con- tinent. His Oriental embassy was received in great state by President Johnson, and Burlin- game opened the big guns of the campaign.

He drew a picture of a peaceful, ancient and honourable kingdom, of a civilization already grown old while the Vandals were still scouring Europe; to which were due the courtesy and consideration observed by all gentle people to the venerable, and in a thousand different keys reiterated the one great principle he had de- termined to establish — that the world should cease to bully and coerce the Ancient King- dom.

The immediate political effect he was work- ing for was not new treaties. It was a moder-

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ate and reasonable interpretation of the old ones. The existing treaties had been gained by force and threats. It was obvious that they would be executed by the same methods, over the dead bodies of a milhon Chinese. True to his trust he was representing China but his statesmanlilve conception went much further than that. Even from the selfish point of view of "National Interest," the one maxim of di- plomacy of the era, the practice of encroaching upon China held a deadly peril. It insured ultimate friction and war between the bood- lers. The **Harpie Nations" would shortly and surely come to blows over the booty — end- ing in none could guess what wide conflagra- tion.

Of course this argument and policy produced a storm of protest, ridicule, and fight from those depending upon guns to expand their business, and also from the "Imperialists" of all nations. Dreams of great "spheres of in- fluence" in the East filled the minds of con- tinental statesmen.

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The battle raged about Burlingame's pres- entation of the case at a banquet given him in New York, presided over by the Governor.

"You have given a broad and generous wel- come," he said, "to a movement made in the interests of all mankind. * * * That East, which men have sought since the days of Alexander, now seeks the West. China, emerging from the mists of time, but yesterday suddenly entered your Western gates, and con- fronts you by its representatives here to-night.

  •  * * She comes with the great doctrine

of Confucius, uttered two thousand three hun- dred years ago : *Do not unto others what you would not have others do unto you.' Will you not respond, with the more positive doctrine of Christianity : 'We will do unto others what we would have others do unto us' ? * * *

"She asks you to forget your ancient preju- dices, to abandon your assumption of superior- ity, and to submit your questions to her, as she proposes to submit hers to you — to the arbitra- ment of reason. She wishes no war : she asks

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you not to interfere in her internal af- fairs. * * *

"She asks you that you will respect the neutrality of her waters and the integrity of her territory. She asks in a word, to be left perfectly free to unfold herself precisely in that form of civilization of which she is most capa- ble.

"She asks you to give to those treaties which were made under the pressure of war a gener- ous and Christian construction. Because you have done this, because the Western nations have reversed their old doctrine of force, she responds, and, in proportion as you have ex- pressed your good will, she has come forth to meet you; and I aver that there is no spot on earth where there has been greater progress made in the past few years than in the Empire of China. * * *

"Yet notwithstanding this manifest prog- ress, there are people who will tell you * * * that it is the duty of the Western Treaty Powers to combine for the purpose of coercing

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China into reforms which they may desire but >vhich she may not desire — ^who undertake to say that this people have no rights which you are bound to respect. In their coarse language they say: *Take her by the throat.' Using the tyrant's plea, they say they know better what China wants than China does her- self. * * *

"Now it is against the malign spirit of this tyi'annical element that this Mission was sent forth to the Christian world. * * *

"Missions and men may pass away, but the principles of eternal justice will stand. I de- sire that the autonomy of China may be pre- served. I desire that her independence may be secured. I desire that she may have equality, that she may dispense equal privileges to all nations. If the opposite school is to prevail, if you are to use coercion against that great people, then who are to exercise the coercion, whose forces are you to use, whose views are you to establish? You see the very attempt to carry out any such tyrannical policy would in-

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volve not only China, but would involve you in bloody wars with each other. * * * "

I have given this speech at such length be- cause the argument is not done yet. It would take a bold man to make its counterpart in Tokio to-morrow, and changing the name China to divers other places it would meet with a howl in most countries of the world to-day, or would if every one were not busy with the grand and final tyranny of all.

The result in the United States was imme- diate and lasting success. A new treaty was signed on the spot. It recognized China's right to "unmolested dominion over her own territories" including the "concessions" except as already modified by treaties. It gave the Emperor unlimited right to make such changes or improvements or decrees as he chose regard- ing the internal affairs of his kingdom without any foreign dictation.

In those respects the principles of American policy have not changed from that day to this and as a result have placed us in the honour-

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able position of being the only nation which has never despoiled the poor old hermit, and perhaps of being her sole disinterested cham- pion in a world of wolves. For the rest the treaty went too far. It permitted unlimited immigration which later fell foul of our west- ern coast and the Labour Unions.

Facing the screams of the Shanghai press this strange embassy proceeded in state to Lon- don. An Oriental more or less, or one or two brigades of ambassadors were no novelty in England and the populace seemed to proceed on their accustomed way in spite of the em- bassy. But the results obtained from the Gov- ernment were as far-reaching in their way as the American Treaty. The Queen gave an audience at Windsor, the stately castle later to give name and title to the ruling House of England. And Lord Clarendon, a liberal peer who had recently been given the portfolio of Foreign Affairs, took Burlingame into counsel. The consequence was a total reversal

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of the Palmerston policy, the "Firm Hand," and the acceptance of the ambassador's princi- ples of "Hands Off." Or, as the Imperialists put it, "the relapse of Great Britain into an effeminate, invertebrate, inconsequent policy, swayed by every wind from without and within, and opposed to the judgment of her own experienced representative."

This policy was put in motion by a letter written by the minister to Burlingame, a copy of which was sent to the English officers in China with orders to act accordingly. The pith of the communication was this :

"Her Majesty's Government, I informed you in reply, fully admitted that the Chinese Government was entitled to count upon the forbearance of foreign nations; and I assured you that, as far as this country was concerned, there was neither desire nor intention to ap- ply unfriendly pressure to China to induce her government to advance more rapidly in her in- tercourse with foreign nations than was con-

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sistent with safety and due and reasonable re- gard for the feelings of her subjects."

One other thing about this note is worth equal notice. No matter how benign and charitable an English secretary may become, none has ever been known to desert an English- man. Let us hope none ever will. In another passage he made this plain:

"But her Majesty's Government is, more- over, entitled to expect from China as an indis- pensable condition of her good will, the fullest amount of protection to British subjects re- sorting to her dominions."

A howl whose echoes still sound in the China Sea went up when this order arrived. All the old traditions were thrown overboard. Everybody would be bankrupt. Business was ruined for ever. The world was delivered to the heathen, and was no longer habitable.

But the seal of authority had been put upon the mission. Napoleon III hastened to give it a royal reception. Bismarck, planning a raid in other quarters, was as soft as silk.

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and the Czar was as polite as a bridegroom. What the ultimate consequence would have been if Burlingame, that forceful apostle of justice, had lived to conduct affairs is prob- lematical. Whether he could have steered the Chinese boat through the subsequent storm due to the reactionaries within the kingdom and the radicals without, is a question. He died in St. Petersburg. But his philosophy and the questions he raised are not dead.

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