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

The British and Chinese Treaty

Written: October 15, 1858;
Transcribed by: Harold Newson;
HTML Mark-up: Andy Blunden;

October 15, 1858

THE OFFICIAL summary of the Anglo-Chinese treaty, which the British Ministry has at last laid before the public, adds, on the whole, but little to the information that had already been conveyed through different other channels. The first and the last articles comprise, in fact, the points in the treaty of exclusively English interest. By the first article, "the Supplementary Treaty and general regulations of trade," stipulated after the conclusion of the treaty of Nanking, are "abrogated." That supplementary treaty provided that the English Consuls residing at Hong Kong, and the five Chinese ports opened to British commerce, were to cooperate with the Chinese authorities in case any English vessels should arrive within the range of their consular jurisdiction with opium on board. A formal prohibition was thus laid upon English merchants to import the contraband drug, and the English Government, to some degree, constituted itself one of the Custom-House officers of the Celestial Empire. That the second opium war should end in removing the fetters by which the first opium war still affected to check the opium traffic, appears a result quite logical, and a consummation devoutly called for by that part of the British mercantile public which chanted most lusty applause to Palmerston's Canton fireworks. We are, however, much mistaken if this official abandonment oil the part of England of her hypocritical opposition to the opium trade is not to lead to consequences quite the reverse of those expected. By engaging the British Government to cooperate in the suppression of the opium traffic, the Chinese Government had recognized its inability to do so on its own account.

The Supplementary Treaty of Nanking was a supreme and rather desperate effort at getting rid of the opium trade by foreign aid. This effort having failed, and being now proclaimed a failure, the opium traffic, being now, so far as Eng. land is concerned, legalized, little doubt can remain that the Chinese Government will try a method alike recommended by political and financial considerations — viz: legalize the cultiva. tion of the poppy in China, and lay duties on the foreign opium imported. Whatever may be the intentions of the present Chinese Government, the very circumstances in which it finds itself placed by the treaty of Tientsin, show all that way.

That change once effected, the opium monopoly of India, and with it the Indian Exchequer, must receive a deadly blow, while the British opium traffic will shrink to the dimensions of an ordinary trade, and very soon prove a losing one. Till now, it has been a game played by John Bull with loaded dice. To have baffled its own object seems, therefore, the most obvious result of the opium war No. II.

Having declared "a just war" on Russia, generous England desisted, at the conclusion of peace, from demanding any indemnity for her war expenses. Having, on the other hand, all along professed to be at peace with China itself, she, accordingly, cannot but make it pay for expenses incurred, in the opinion of her own present Ministers, by piracy on her own part. However, the first tidings of the fifteen or twenty millions of pounds sterling to be paid by the Celestials proved a quieter to the most scrupulous British conscience, and very pleasant calculations as to the beneficial effects of the Sycee silver upon the balance of trade, and the metal reserve of the Bank of England, were entered into by the Economist and the writers of money articles generally. But alas! the first impressions which the Palmerstonian press had given itself so much trouble to produce and work upon, were too tender to bear the shock of real information.

A "separate article provides that a sum of two millions of taels" shall be paid "on account of the losses sustained by British subjects through the misconduct of the Chinese authorities at Canton; and a further sum of two millions of taels on account of " the expenses of the war. Now, these sums together amount to 1,334,000 only, while in 1842, the Emperor of China had to pay 4,200,000, of which 1,200,000 was indemnity for the contraband opium confiscated, and 3,000,000 for the expenses of the war. To come down from 4,200,000, with Hong Kong into the bargain, to a simple 1,334,000, seems no thriving trade after all; but the worst remains still to be said. Since, says the Chinese Emperor, yours was no war with China, but a "provincial war" with Canton only, try yourselves how to squeeze out of the province of Kwangtung the damages which your amiable war steamers have compelled me to adjudge to you. Meanwhile, your illustrious Gen. Straubenzee may keep Canton as a material guaranty, and continue to make the British arms the laughing-stock even of Chinese braves. The doleful feelings of sanguine John Bull at these clauses, which the small booty of 1,334,000 is encumbered with, have already vented themselves in audible groans.

"Instead," says one London paper, "of being able to withdraw our 53 ships-of-war, and see them return triumphant with millions of Sycee silver, we may look forward to the pleasing necessity of sending an army of 5,000 men to recapture and hold Canton, and to assist the fleet in carrying on that provincial war which the Consul's deputy has declared. But will this provincial war have no consequences beyond driving our Canton trade to other Chinese ports? ... Will not the continuation of it [the provincial war] give Russia a large portion of the tea trade? May not the Continent, and England herself, become dependent on Russia and the United States for their tea?"

John Bull's anxiety as to the effects of the "provincial war" upon the tea trade is not quite gratuitous. From Macgregor's Commercial Tariffi it may be seen that in the last year of the former Chinese war, Russia received 120,000 chests of tea at Kiachta.

The year after the conclusion of peace with China the Russian demand fell off 75 per cent, amounting to 30,000 only. At all events, the costs still to be incurred by the British in distraining Kwangtung are sure so to swell the wrong side of the balance that this second China war will hardly be self-paying, the greatest fault which, as Mr. Emerson justly remarks, anything can be guilty of in British estimation.

Another great success of the English invasion is contained in Art- 51, according to which the term "barbarian" "shall not be applied" to the British Government or to British subjects "in any Chinese official document issued by the Chinese authorities." The Chinese authorities styling themselves Celestials, how humble to their understanding must not appear John Bull, who, instead of insisting on being called divine or Olympian, contents himself with weeding the character representing the word barbarian out of the official documents.

The commercial articles of the Treaty give England no advantage not to be enjoyed by her rivals, and, for the present, dissolve into shadowy promises, for the greater part not worth the parchment they are written on. Art. 10 stipulates:

"British merchant ships shall have authority to trade upon the Great River (Yang-tse), but in the present disturbed state of the Upper and Lower Valley, no port is to be opened for trade with the exception of Chin-kiang, which is to be opened in a year from the signature of the Treaty. When peace is restored, British vessels are to be "admitted to trade at such ports as far as Hankow, not exceeding three in number, as the British Minister, after consultation with the Chinese Secretary of State, may determine."

By this article, the British are in fact excluded from the great commercial artery of the whole empire, from "the only line," as The Morning Starjustly remarks, "by which they can push their manufactures into the interior." If they will be good boys, and help the Imperial Government in dislodging the rebels from the regions now occupied by them, then they may eventually navigate the great river, but only to particular harbours. As to the new seaports opened, from "all" the ports as at first advertised, they have dwindled down to five ports, added to the five ports of the Treaty of Nanking, and, as a London paper remarks, "they are generally remote or insular." Besides, at this time of the day, the delusive notion of the growth of trade being proportionate to the number of ports opened, should have been exploded. Consider the harbours on the coasts of Great Britain, or France, or the United States; how few of them have developed themselves into real emporiums of commerce? Before the first Chinese war, the English traded exclusively to Canton. The concession of five new ports, instead of creating five new emporiums of commerce, has gradually transferred trade from Canton to Shanghai, as may be seen from the following figures, extracted from the Parliamentary Blue Book on the trade of various places for 1856-57. At the same time, it should be recollected that the Canton imports include the imports to Amoy and Pochow, which are transhiped at Canton.

British import trade to British export trade to Canton. Shanghai. Canton. Shanghai.

1844 $15,500,000 $2,500,000 $17,900,000 $2,300,000 1845 10,700,000 5,100,000 27,700,000 6,000,000 1846 9,900,000 3,800,000 15,300,000 6,400,000 1847 9,600,000 4,300,000 15,700,000 6,700,000 1848 6,500,000 2,500,000 8,600,000 5,000,000 1849 7,900,000 4,400,000 11,400,000 6,600,000 1850 6,800,000 3,900,000 9,900,000 8,000,000 1851 10,000,000 5,400,000 13,200,000 11,600,000 1852 M00,000 4,600,000 6,500,000 11,400,000 1853 4,000,000 3,900,000 6,500,000 13,300,000 1854 3,300,000 1,100,100 6,000,000 11,700,000 1855 3,600,000 3,400,000 2,900,000 19,900,000 1856 9,100,000 6,200,000 8,200,000 23,800,000

The "commercial clauses" of the treaty "are unsatisfactory," is a conclusion arrived at by the Daily Telegraph, Palmerston's most abject sycophant; but it chuckles at "the brightest point in the programme," viz: "that a British Minister may establish himself at Peking, while a Mandarin will install himself in London, and possibly invite the Queen to a ball at Albert Gate." However John Bull may indulge this fun, there can be no doubt that whatever political influence may be exercised at Peking will fall to the part of Russia, which, by dint of the last treaty, holds a new territory, being as large as France, and, in great part, on its frontier, 8oo miles only distant from Peking. It is by no means a comfortable reflection for John Bull that he himself, by his first opium war, procured Russia a treaty yielding her the navigation of the Amur and free trade on the land frontier, while by his second opium war he has helped her to the invaluable tract lying between the Gulf of Tartary and Lake Baikal, a region so much coveted by Russia that from Czar Alexey Michaelovitch down to Nicholas, she has always attempted to get it. So deeply did the London Times feel that sting that, in its publication of the St. Petersburg news, which greatly exaggerated the advantages won by Great Britain, good care was taken to suppress that part of the telegram which mentioned Russia's acquisition by treaty of the valley of the Amur.