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BRITISH trade with China commenced about two centuries ago. During the first half of that period, it was conducted at Ningpo and Amoy as well as at Canton, but only in a desultory manner; and, after the middle of the eighteenth century, the restrictions of the Manchoo-Chinese government confined it altogether to Canton (and the Portuguese settlement of Macao), where it was placed exclusively under the control of a close corporation, called the Hong merchants. On the side of the English, it was in like manner placed as a monopoly in the hands of one body, the East India Company. Troubles arose from time to time between these two commercial bodies, originating not unfrequently in the exactions of the mandarins on the foreign trade, committed through the former ; and at the instance of the latter, the British Imperial Government sent two embassies to Peking, to advocate their interests ;—the one in 1792, under Lord Macartney, the other 1816, under Lord Amherst. But up to the period of the arrival, and after the departure of these Ambassadors, who were called tribute bearers by the Chinese authorities, the latter would hold no direct intercourse with
the barbarian merchants; and the two close trading companies continued to serve as international buffers.
When, however, one of these was removed, by the abolition of the East India Company's privileges in 1834, and British Imperial officers were appointed to support our interests, a collision between Governments, which were influenced by totally different views, became inevitable. After some lesser hostile acts on both sides, war was formally commenced in 1840, the immediate cause being the attempt of the Chinese Government to suppress, by coercion, at once opium smoking and the opium trade.
The misapplication of a word, viz. E, Barbarian, was a deeper cause, which would in time have led to hostilities, even if nothing more capable of abuse than cotton cloths and teas had been an article of commerce between the two countries. In the course of their history, the Chinese had never met with a people that was at all to be compared to themselves in point of civilization ; all but themselves were barbarians, and accordingly met with a policy (pp. 234, 279) founded on a long experience and a just appreciation of their more or less barbarous characteristics. The maritime strangers from the Occident who first appeared on the sea board of China had, as adventurous and turbulent seamen, many of the outward qualities of the continental peoples hitherto known. It never occurred to the Chinese that these men might be among the least cultivated members of a large orderly community; and they did not even inquire whether the resemblances in the specimens before them were anything but superficial. They called them barbarians, ascribed to them all the qualities of barbarians, and, very naturally, observed towards them that policy which experience had proved to be most advantageous in dealing with barbarians. As a part of this policy, the Chinese Imperial officers would not communicate directly with the “barbarian headmen,” nor speak of them except in the style of superiors speaking of inferiors. On the other hand, the British Imperial officers could not communicate otherwise than directly with the “semi-barbarous” mandarins, nor as less than their equals. The mental agencies were denied all opportunity of efficient action, and the physical came unavoidably into play.
After two years of active hostilities, a treaty of peace was signed on the 29th of August, 1842, by which the island of Hong-kong was ceded to Great Britain, and the ports of Amoy, Foochow, Ningpo and Shanghae were opened to foreign trade; making together with Canton what have since been known as the Five Ports.
In November 1841, about a year before the treaty was signed, I commenced the study of the Chinese language at the University of Munich. I had then been about three years in Germany, engaged in various studies. Happening to notice the announcement of a course of lectures on the language of the Chinese by Professor Neumann, the interest I had always taken in the people, induced me to employ an otherwise vacant hour in learning something of their tongue. But I presently began to devote my whole time to it, with the intention of seeking a place under our Government in China ;-—which country I reached, not in time to see anything of the war, already brought to a close by the abovenamed treaty, but in time to see the ratified copies
of the latter exchanged at Hong-kong, and then to take the post of Interpreter in the Canton Consulate from the day that trade was opened there under the new system. My Chinese experience commenced, therefore, with the inauguration of a new era in Anglo-Chinese intercourse.
By the Treaty, trade was thrown open to every one, English or Chinese, who choose to engage in it, on payment of fixed duties; and Englishmen, merchants or others, had the right to hire or build houses, and live with their families at any of the Five Ports without restriction. British subjects residing at these Ports were not amenable, as in other countries, to the laws of the land, but to those of England, modified in minor matters to suit the peculiar circumstances. It was to watch over the due observance of this Treaty, and to form Courts of first instance in matters criminal and civil, that Consulates were established at the Ports. They consisted each of five permanent members of the British Consular Service, viz. a Consul, a Vice-Consul, an Interpreter and two Assistants, besides a greater or less number of Chinese clerks, messengers, &c. The chief occupation of the Interpreter is to conduct the communications, written and oral, between the Consul and the Chinese authorities ;-communications relating to a vast variety of subjects, especially at the two principal ports of Canton and Shanghae, which were my stations in China for ten years and a half. Besides a steady flow of cases of theft, and bad debts, and breaches of contract and disputes about the payment of duties, we had river-piracies committed by the Chinese on the English, and homicides, justifiable and unjusti