Karl Marx in New York Daily Tribune
Articles On China, 1853-1860

Some Official Correspondence

Written: June 2, 1857;
Transcribed by: Harold Newson;
HTML Mark-up: Andy Blunden;

June 2, 1857

AMONG THE papers relating to China which Lord Palmerston has laid before Parliament, we find some extracts from the correspondence between our Dr. Parker and Mr. Commissioner Yeh, in which we must say that our Doctor seems to come off second best. Thus, the Doctor wrote to complain of the bread-poisoning at Hong Kong to which Yeh replied as follows:

"I received your Excellency's communication of the 16th ult. on the 2nd inst., and observe what it contains: That the American Consul, who had arrived at Macao from Hong Kong, informed you personally that two or three days before, certain Chinese people in Hong Kong had mixed poison in the bread which they furnished the public, without distinction of country, of which all had eaten, and had been made seriously ill, and that it was not yet known whether they would survive.

"On reading this, I was very greatly surprised. The Chinese and Americans have usually been on good terms, and the trade between China and other countries has heretofore been conducted amicably; but the English have now, for several months, in a most unprovoked manner, brought their troops and engaged in hostilities, and repeatedly setting fire to the shops and dwellings of people, and destroying a very great number of buildings, and have ruined some entire families. Doubtless there are many Chinese whose hatred against the English has been much increased by this; but to poison people in this underhand manner is an act worthy of detestation: still, as it all occurred in Hong Kong it is impossible for me to examine into all the facts. The act is owing to the unnumbered evils which have been inflicted upon the Chinese by the English; and the natives of the surrounding districts have taken this way of revenging their private wrongs.

"The Americans having never injured the Chinese, there is, of course, nothing to mar the good feeling existing between them. Tour Excellency might with propriety, issue admonitory exhortations for the Americans quietly to attend to their own business, and there can be no question but the Chinese will always treat them in a proper manner. What could induce them to think of secretly poisoning them? — a point worthy of your consideration. For this I reply — at the same time wishing you stable peace."

Nothing could be better put than the suggestion we have placed in italics, that Dr. Parker and his countrymen would do much better to mind their own business than to be mixing themselves up in the quarrel which the English had picked.

Instead, however, of falling in with this piece of good advice, Dr. Parker must needs write a letter to Yeh, in which he undertakes to justify himself and the American authorities for siding with the English Of this letter the following is an extract:

"Were the undersigned called upon to pass judgment upon the question who is right and who is wrong in the present controversy, he might wish to inquire if it had not been right, when the occasion for serious complaint arose, for the high officers of the two Governments to have met face to face, and according to reason and justice have settled the matter, and thus have prevented the vast destruction of property and effusion of blood which have been in consequence of your Excellency's failing to do so. He might, also, perchance, inquire into the truth of the statements regarding what had transpired in former years in relation to the subject of the entree of the City of Canton, which differs widely from what the undersigned, who has long resided in China, apprehends to be the facts of the case.

"The undersigned may be allowed, in the spirit of true friendship, to express to your Excellency his belief that the fountain of all difficulties between China and foreign nations is the unwillingness of China to acknowledge England, France, America and other great nations,of the West as her equals and true friends, and treat them accordingly. So far as respects this grave matter the American Government is sensible that the English are in the right, and does choose to cooperate with them."

Yeh's answer is not given, but it can hardly be supposed that he failed to make the retort to which the Doctor had exposed himself. The Doctor knows perfectly well, nobody better, that the true cause of the present and former difficulties between the Chinese and the English was and is, not as he pretends "the unwillingness of China to acknowledge England, France, America and other great nations of the West as her equals," but the unwillingness of the Chinese authorities to allow their subjects to be poisoned with opium for the pecuniary benefit of the British East India Company and a few unprincipled British, American and French traders. How is it possible for the Chinese to regard these "great nations of the West" "as their true friends, and to treat them accordingly," when they find that the principal business of these great nations in China has been and is to sell and spread the use of opium, a poisonous drug introduced by these foreigners within a century past-before which time it was utterly unknown to the Chinese — and the use of which increases with a frightful rapidity, fatal at once to the morals, the pecuniary welfare and the health of the Flowery Empire? When these "great nations" shall have first proved themselves "true friends" by joining with the Chinese authorities to put an end to this wicked traffic, it will be quite time to complain that the Chinese are unwilling to recognize them in that character.

Other Chinese officials seem not inferior to Ych in the matter of diplomatic correspondence. On the 9th of December [1856] Sir John Bowring sent to the Viceroy of Fukien, etc., a statement of his complaints against Yeh, requesting that the Court of Peking be advised of the same. In his reply the Viceroy says:

"The document forwarded to me being in English, its contents are unknown to me, and I have no means of deciphering them.

"In conclusion, it is my duty to add that our two nations having been on friendly terms for many years, I am still in hopes that by due observance on either side of the Treaty of Peace that was to last for ever, it will be their good fortune to strengthen the amicable relations heretofore existing between them."

The Viceroy of another province, to whom a similar letter was sent, replied as follows:

"I rejoice in your Excellency's professions of peace; but it would only do harm to the interests of peace, to which you profess yourself so friendly, were I to tell the Emperor that, because of Yeh's act, you have precipitately broken the peace that the Treaty said was to last for ever. Another reason against my addressing the throne is, that Yeh, and he alone, is competent to deal with commercial questions; and this can be nothing else, being a question with foreigners."

The following Imperial edict of the 27th December [1856] does not evince any present disposition on the part of the Emperor to give way to the demands of the English:

"We have this day instructed Ych, that if the English barbarians turn from their present course of their own motion, anger (or hate) need not be carried to extremity; but if they dare to persist in their extravagance and obstinacy, peace is not to be negotiated by a conciliatory movement on our part, as this would open the way to demands for other concessions of importance. Yeh-mingchin has been very long in charge of the Kwang provinces, and is so thoroughly cognizant with barbarian affairs that he will be able in all probability to devise a proper course of proceeding.

"It occurs to us that the seaboard of Kiangsu, Chekiang and Fukien, is ground with which the steamers of these barbarians are, by long experience, well acquainted, and as precaution should be taken to defend (that coast) also against the barbarians, who, when they find themselves unable to work their will in the Canton province, may attempt to disturb other ports along it, we command Eleang, Chaou, and Ilo, to give instruction privily to the local authorities, in the event of barbarian ships approaching (their jurisdiction), to take such steps as will render them secure, without sound or sign (that may attract attention). If they come to explain the circumstances of the rupture at Canton, they must be so silenced by reasonable arguments that no loop-hole be left them; and seeing this, they maybe minded to fall back from their undertaking as hopeless. But (the authorities referred to) are riot in any way to take the alarm, as this would disturb and perplex the public mind."