China's Story - William Griffis

The Arrow and Flowery Flag

The attention both of the Peking government and of foreigners was now turned from the Long-Haired Rebels, for the Peking mandarins were being forced to keep treaty stipulations. As on another continent, the dogma had been taught in Asia,—"no faith to be kept with the heretics." Now the Chinese were to suffer for breaking solemn promises. At this time there appeared on the scene a new person, Harry Parkes, who not only was destined to play the great part of a strong and brave man, in forcing the Manchu government to tell the truth, keep faith, be honest, and learn to hate treachery as an abominable thing, but who also assisted by his indomitable firmness and penetration of shams to temper the Japanese to new ideals. Parkes taught two nations that the best way to "save face" was to practice "truth in the inward parts."

While matters were in a state of tension and the question whether the Chinese would keep their contracts was unsettled, "the Arrow affair" precipitated war. At Hong Kong, the British governor had, with certain provisos, allowed Chinese vessels to sail under the British flag. With a European hull and Chinese rigging, such a vessel, the Arrow, for example, was called a lorcha. While she was lying at Whampoa, in the autumn of 1856, a Chinese mandarin came on board, hauled down the British flag, and carried off twelve of the crew as prisoners to a Chinese man-of-war.

At once Parkes wrote to Commissioner Yeh demanding apology for the insult to the British flag and the return of the twelve men to the ship. Yeh began the tactics of evasion, denial, and controversy. He finally proposed to send back nine men, but ignored the demand for an apology. Parkes refused. Yeh delayed, and war preparations on the part of the British began.

An outsider, neither British nor Chinese, in order to get at the truth, need not trouble himself overmuch as to what were the exact provocations on either side. It is more important to study principles behind the events. The Arrow affair was not the cause, but only the occasion, of the war. On the one hand were Chinese, who looked with contempt upon all foreigners as of an inferior race, because they had not the Confucian culture. Such persons, therefore, were not to be treated with respect or on equal terms. To the Chinese, Western civilization, based as they believed it to be chiefly on shop-keeping and markets, on trade and machine-shops, and on war and lawless rapacity, even to the forcing of a poisonous drug upon China, was little better than that of barbarism, and in their dense ignorance they refused to be enlightened. Furthermore, in all their own dealings with aliens or natives, it was not reality which they sought. Their first and last idea was to "save face." The average mandarin would often rather lose his head than to "lose face." "They cannot progress in civilization until they become truthful," is the verdict of their great friend, Dr. S. Wells Williams, concerning the Chinese.

To some students, however, it was even then evident that China's doctrine of universal sovereignty must be blown to atoms before there was much hope of progress, or of freedom for such nations as Japan and Korea, to say nothing of the prospects of peaceful intercourse on equal terms with the nations of Europe and America. Harry Parkes was only too ready to deal the hoary doctrine a staggering blow.

Apart from his firmness and other traits of character, Parkes knew, more than most men of that time, how the Chinese thought and felt. He had come to China when but a boy of thirteen, and had been set to work by Mr. Gutzlaff, his uncle, to study the written language. This German gentleman would not let his nephew have his breakfast until he had learned a certain number of characters. In playing with Chinese boys, Parkes learned the spoken language perfectly and became master of Chinese etiquette. He was a loyal Englishman, on whose heart it was written, "Make England great." A high Japanese officer once said of Parkes, "He was the only one among the foreign ministers that I could not twist round my little finger." Firmness was his chief characteristic, and the want of it had already been aptly illustrated in the weaker personality of certain British envoys in China. The Chinese roused a lion when they played falsely with Parkes. He knew every one of their tricks, could foil them at every enterprise, rip open their hypocrisy, and beat them in every move at their own game. None more frankly or generously than he could welcome and meet every honest proposal or appreciate a just action.

It was common for brutal Europeans in walking through the crowded streets to beat people with their canes over the head, and at home to whip their Chinese servants. Drunken sailors violated all the rules of decency, while the licentiousness of many of the foreign residents was startling.

The Chinese had other reasons for hating foreigners. The Portuguese at Macao conducted a traffic which was only slightly less abominable than the African slave-trade. They kidnapped Chinese and sent them off, on the forced contract system, to work in California, Cuba, and Peru. Then also, although dealing in opium had been declared illegal, the drug was smuggled into China, and often by men in ships of the Arrow class, which had a certain protection under a foreign flag. All these things fed the fires of hate among the Chinese, to whom all aliens seemed frightful, ugly, brutish, ill-smelling, or undesirable people.

In the war which soon opened, the Bogue forts were once again captured. Canton was bombarded, and the Yamen, or official house of Commissioner Yeh, was destroyed by shells. The British had not force enough to hold the city, and its evacuation by them made the Chinese believe that their enemy had been beaten. Becoming more defiant, a price was set on British heads, the factories outside Canton were burned, and several Europeans put to death. The Chinese chief baker of the Hong Kong colony, at official instigation, put arsenic in the morning supply of bread to poison all the foreigners, but he failed because he had sprinkled too much in his flour.

There has never been a war between the United States and China, but during the Parkes-Yeh controversy American steamers were twice fired upon when passing the barrier forts near Canton, and an American sailor was killed. In those days the average Chinese knew little about foreign flags. Still it seemed necessary to teach ignorant mandarins that all foreigners were not opium-smugglers, and that peaceful neutrals had rights. Commodore Armstrong, in command of the United States men-of-war San Jacinto, Portsmouth, and Levant, ordered Captain (afterwards Rear Admiral) Foote to capture and destroy the forts. These were built of granite and mounted large cannon.

On the 16th of November, the heavy steam frigate San Jacinto moved up the river, but could not get near enough to use her guns, so the little American steamer Willamette towed the sailing sloop-of-war Portsmouth, which, under the Chinese fire of grape and round shot, got into position. At first the broadside guns of the Portsmouth sent a rain of eight-inch shells inside the fort, but soon the current caught the ship and swung her round stern-wise to the fort. The danger of a raking fire was great. Foote ran out a gun from the stern port and fought until dark.

Several days were consumed in diplomacy. Then on the 21st the U. S. S. Levant, a sailing ship, towed by the egg-shell launch Kum Fa, after an hour's cannonade silenced one fort. A storming party of four hundred American marines and sailors, in boats towed by the Kum Fa, moved up the river under a hot fire. One cannon shot struck the launch of the San Jacinto and killed three men. Disembarking, our men started over the muddy rice-fields in the face of grape, ball, jingal-shot, rockets, and big feathered bamboo arrows, six feet long and shot out of guns. Happily for the Americans the Chinese, though they stood to their guns nobly in the fight, fired too high. When our men entered the fort the garrison broke and ran.

About three hundred Chinese were struck by shot, shell, or bullets. Our loss was seven killed and twenty-two wounded. In the fort were found 176 guns, one a brass monster of eight-inch bore, twenty-two feet long and three feet in diameter at the breech.

Nevertheless this was not considered war, nor did any reason exist for the disturbance of good relations between the United States and China. Commissioner Yeh neither apologized nor showed any feeling over the episode. American honor was vindicated, and Yeh's own words closed the incident when he said:—

"There is no matter of strife between our respective nations. Henceforth, let the fashion of the flags which American ships employ be clearly defined, and inform me what it is beforehand. This will be the verification of the friendly relations which exist between the two countries."

In this spirit China has ever acted, and the Central Empire and the Country of the Flowery Flag have ever been at peace. In 1900 the American Admiral, Louis Kempff, refused to join with the allied nations in making war on China. When the soldiers of the United States and of China first met in hostile array, the war had been provoked by Europeans.

The British government ordered a fleet of transports with five thousand troops to China, but the Sepoy mutiny breaking out in India, Lord Elgin, the High Commissioner, diverted these reinforcements to India, where they did great service, and a new expedition was sent from England. Meanwhile the entire fleet of Chinese war-junks had been destroyed. The French—these being the days of Napoleon III—joined the British in hostilities, making a force of 20,000 men. Canton was again assaulted and taken, and Commissioner Yeh captured. He was sent as an exile to Calcutta, where after two years be ended his days.

Yeh was the man who, when asked why be never read anything about foreign men or countries, made answer that he had already digested the contents of all the books in the world worth reading. In a word, nothing except the Chinese classics were worth the attention of a man of education. Canton was ruled three years by a British commission, without the usual "squeezes" of the mandarins.

Lord Elgin, foiled in his polite attempts to open negotiations with the Peking government, sailed with the combined British and French fleets to the mouth of the Pei-ho River, capturing the Taku forts, and then moving on to Tien Tsin. There the two peace commissioners on behalf of the emperor met him. A treaty in fifty-six articles was signed, June 26, 1858, by which the Chinese agreed to receive a resident British minister at the court of Peking, to open five new ports to commerce, to allow British trading in the Yang-tse River, to permit foreigners to travel in the interior, and to tolerate the Christian religion, besides paying four million taels for the expenses of the war. When the tariff was revised, to the shame of Great Britain, since often confessed, the opium traffic was legalized. This proved in the end to be a more terrible curse to China even than war, for henceforth instead of cultivating the earth for food, the Chinese, especially in Yunnan, began to raise the poppy. Native opium now debauched and impoverished the people and helped to produce famines.

Shop in Canton


It was now to be seen whether the Chinese would hold faithfully to the treaty. Next year Sir Frederick Bruce, with the French, Russian, and American ministers, arrived at Shanghai, but the imperial mandarins sent word to them not to come to Peking. They determined to go. The Chinese proposed to the ministers to land further up the coast, at Pehtang, and to be escorted overland to Peking. In other words, they were invited to follow the time-honored road by which the tribute-bearers, coming from petty and subject countries, traveled. The envoys refused, demanding rights which any civilized nation would have yielded.

The war dogs were let loose again. On the night of June 23 the British, moving to attack the Taku forts, found the stream was blocked by barriers of great stakes held together with heavy iron chains. One of the booms was blown up during the night, and the next morning Admiral Hope, with his thirteen vessels, tried to force the passage. This time, however, the walls were stronger and mounted with heavier cannon. The Chinese gunners had the exact range, which was very short, and quickly sank two British gunboats. When the British landed a force to capture the forts from the rear, the men got stuck in the mud, while the Chinese artillery played upon them with grape and canister. After terrible loss, they had to give up and retreat.

An American commodore, Josiah Tatnall, was at this time in Chinese waters. He was the same officer who, during the Mexican War, with the two little gunboats Spitfire and Vixen, towing a line of "mosquito boats," steamed to within eighty yards of a mighty stone fortress at Vera Cruz. His object was to divert the fire of the castle from our naval battery, built by Captain Robert E. Lee and mounted with the ships' guns from Commodore Perry's squadron. Tatnall held his place for half an hour in a furious cannonade against walls that were many feet thick and armed with ordnance, one shell from which, if it had hit anything, could have blown both gun and mosquito boats out of the water. Covered with clouds of spray, Tatnall was called away by Commodore Perry, when he saw the castle gunners improving their range. Although Tatnall obeyed, he stormed with chagrin, not liking to retreat without bloody decks. To his men, all wet with the spray, he said, "War shortens life, but it broadens it."

Now, in China, Tatnall was about to convey our minister, Mr. Ward, in the chartered steamer Toeywan into the river. Of necessity he remained on his ship outside the bar, a spectator and neutral. But when he saw the sinking British ships, the silenced guns, the flag-vessel Plover drifting a helpless wreck, with nearly all her men killed or disabled, and the admiral wounded, only the one bow gun gallantly served by a weary squad, be-sides eighty-nine killed and three hundred and forty-five men of the fleet wounded, the American commodore could stand it no longer.

It was not in him to see men of the same blood and language as his own thus badly cut up by the Chinese. He ordered his cutter, and in the thick of the fight passed through the fleet and the hell of fire to visit and cheer the British admiral and to offer him the services of the American surgeon. A round shot from the Chinese fort struck and shattered the stern of his boat, killing the cox-swain. This only roused the fighting blood of the American sailors and their chief to the hottest. When he reached the stern of the Plover, the surprised British officer asked him, as he stepped aboard, why he had come.

Tatnall's reply has become classic. Sir Walter Scott, in one of his poems, quoted the old Scotch proverb, "Blood is warmer than water." Tatnall gave the answer, "Blood is thicker than water," and asked if he could aid the wounded. Meanwhile the American sailors rowed round to the bow of the Plover and clambered on board. Giving their British sailor mates a rest, they loaded and fired the bow gun for a round or two, until Tatnall, finding out what they were doing, ordered them off. He roared with his voice, but he shot approval out of his eyes, and his men understood.

Tatnall's excuse for a technical violation of international law, for which the Chinese as yet cared nothing, was expressed in a phrase and a sentiment destined to strengthen and deepen as the years flow on. With equal humanity, Tatnall offered the services of his surgeons to aid the wounded Chinese. His offer was declined. At that time, neither the Chinese government nor possibly the black-haired race was particularly interested in saving lives endangered in war. Indeed, the Chinese government then had no consuls or ministers abroad, and paid no attention to its people who left China to go into other countries. Every emigrant was reckoned as a foreigner or a dead man. Until the present century, a hospital corps in war was not thought of. Every man took his chances.

Mr. Ward, the American minister, went to Pehtang, the place appointed by the Chinese, and was escorted by soldiers to Peking, but he refused to make the kow-tow. Without seeing the emperor, he exchanged ratifications outside the capital at Pehtang.

To wipe out the disgrace of the repulse at the Taku forts, an army of thirteen thousand British, chiefly Indian troops, and seven thousand French, gathered to punish the Peking mandarins. The plan was to take Pehtang first and then attack the Taku forts from the rear,—a plan which upset Chinese calculations. In battle on land, the Sikh lancers from India, in a terrible charge, beat the Tartar cavalry. At the second attack on the Taku forts, the native gunners bravely stood to their work inside, while laborers, hired in Canton, helped the allies to place scaling ladders on the walls of the fort! The Chinese had race pride, but patriotism was not yet. After one fort had been taken, the other four forts soon hoisted the white flag. The way was open and the fleet advanced up the river.

Then began the march on Peking, during which both Mr. Parkes and Mr. Loch discovered an ambuscade of eighty thousand Chinese troops around the camp-ground proposed for the allies. Parkes and thirty-four men were taken prisoners and confined with the lowest criminals in Peking. Again a battle was fought. The Tartar horsemen behaved splendidly, but were compelled to retreat before the Sikh lancers. One more battle was fought, in which the Chinese were beaten, the French being conspicuously brave.

The Manchu Emperor fled, and his brother, Prince Kung, was left to arrange terms. He too disappeared. Then to show that punishment was to be meted out, not upon the Chinese people but upon the rulers, the imperial palace was given up to sack and loot. The British and French troops, after loading themselves with all that they could carry, ran riot in smashing and damaging everything that was portable. This brought Prince Kung to terms. He released all that were living of the thirty-four prisoners, eleven in number, who had survived the tortures suffered in prison. In vengeance for the men thus barbarously murdered, Lord Elgin ordered the Summer Palace to be burned to the ground. The stripes fell on the right back.