China's Story - William Griffis

East and West in Conflict

When the commercial mission sent by Peter the Great reached Peking, in 1723, the mighty emperor Kang Hi lay on his deathbed. The Czar had planned to open commerce and thus turn the stream of China's wealth, in the time of its greatest glory, into Russia. Unfortunately, the feeling in Peking had changed. It was declared that all trade must be at the frontiers. Thus Peter's enterprise ended in failure. In 1805 the Russians again attempted to open trade with China, but at the Great Wall envoys from the emperor met them, announcing that unless Count Goloyken would perform the kow-tow he would not be received, whereupon the count turned back.

A dark day for the Catholic missionaries began when Kang Hi died, for a "new king arose which knew not Joseph." Fearing the political influence of these foreigners, who were abolishing the most cherished native customs, the next emperor, in 1723, drove the missionaries to Macao, and forbade them on pain of death to propagate their doctrines. Three hundred churches were destroyed, and a third of a million of converts were left without their pastors. A century or more afterwards the Chinese paid dearly for this act of spoliation.

The emperor Yung Cheng, who died in 1775, was wholly opposed to foreigners and to throwing down of old barriers which had kept them out. He feared their presence as much as California labor unions dread the influx of Asiatics into America. Yet Western nations seemed determined on intercourse with the sealed empire. In 1727 the Russians, succeeding in obtaining a permanent foothold in Peking, opened diplomatic relations, and set some of their young men to study the Chinese language. Envoys from Portugal came in the same year, putting their credentials directly into the hands of the emperor. It is from the Portuguese that we get such words as mandarin, joss (Deus or God), junk, etc., which average Europeans think are Chinese and uneducated Chinese imagine are European.

Chinese family


Outbreaks in the southwestern provinces took place, and another disturbance in Mongolia later. When the rebels were put down, Eastern Turkestan was annexed to the empire. During these troubles the Turgut tribe of Buddhist, Kalmuck Tartars fled westward into Russia and settled near the Volga River. Not liking the military conscription, which forced their young men to serve in the Russian army, they determined, after fifty years, to return to their original home. On January 5, 1761, six hundred thousand men, women, and children started on the long eastern journey. As with the Israelites from Egypt, there was pursuit. Cossacks slaughtered thousands of the fugitives. Marching over deserts and steppes, harassed by famine, thirst, hunger, and disease, besides their human enemies, they were reduced to less than half the number when they entered Chinese territory. The great cloud of dust portended their coming to the Kalmuck Khan, who was then out hunting. In sight of Lake Tengis, the fugitives rushed forward to assuage their torturing thirst, only to be attacked by the Bashkis, with nomads of Turkestan, who had been hanging on their skirts. Hundreds were drowned. The lake was reddened by the blood of the slain. Finally rescued by a Chinese army, they settled down in peace and safety. De Quincey, in his wonderful style, has told this amazing story.

In China the aboriginal tribes, called Miao-tse, who resisted Chinese culture very much as the North American Indians refused to accept our civilization, were from time to time compelled to move away from their old hunting-grounds and ancestral seats to the Far West, there to find new homes. One of these tribes that had settled on the mountainous borders of Sze-chien province entrenched themselves in their fastnesses and bade defiance to the local magistrates. They resisted all attempts at taxation or the enforcement of Chinese law. They killed the two envoys sent by the emperor Kien Lung and burnt his letter in defiance. To march into the region of the savages and reduce their stockades, meant for an army a campaign of heavy fighting and arduous toil in the forests without roads, besides constant danger from ambuscade. The imperial soldiers captured every stronghold by assault except the last great fortress, which was surrounded, and the braves, starved into submission, were banished and put to hard labor in Ili. Nevertheless, there are still a few aboriginal tribes left unconquered in the inaccessible regions of the empire. China has had for at least twenty-five centuries an "Indian" problem.

Burma was invaded in 1768, because the Burmese border ruffians had become troublesome. A treaty of peace was made between the two countries, the Burmans agreeing to pay to the court at Peking a tribute every three years. In 1790 the Gurkas of India, invited by a rival Grand Lama, who had quarreled with his brother over distribution of treasure, invaded Tibet, and the Dalai Lama asked assistance from Peking. A Chinese army, marching up into the great plateau and as far as the capital in Nepaul, subdued the Gurkas and put them under tribute.

So restless a commercial people as the English were not likely to allow their rivals to have all the trade with China, but under Queen Elizabeth their first attempts were not successful. Some English merchants in the time of Charles I, on coming to Macao, were hindered by the Portuguese. They sailed into the Canton River. When they were passing the famous batteries of the Bogue, or bend of the stream, the Chinese gunners opened fire. This time the Tartars themselves caught a new kind of Tartar. The plucky Englishmen first silenced the guns, and then landed a force, captured the forts, and hoisted their red flag. The Peking government granted the right to trade, but the local officers at Canton tried in every way to hinder business, because they foolishly imagined that any outflow of silver impoverished the country. Most Europeans at that time had the same economic notions.

In 1793 King George sent Lord Macartney with many presents to the emperor at Peking, but the mandarins could not yet conceive of the Middle Kingdom's awarding social or political equality to outer barbarians. Unknown to the British minister, and without intending it as a joke or deception, the Chinese presented a flag of welcome to Macartney, under which he sailed to Tien Tsin. It was inscribed, and so the people along the river read the legend, taking it as a matter of course, "Tribute-bearer from England." In Peking Macartney refused to kow-tow, or make the nine prostrations, unless a magistrate of equal rank would kneel, and bow nine times before a portrait of George III. Both sides declined to yield. Finally, not in the palace, but in a garden, informally, the British minister obtained audience of the emperor, but in reality he was received and treated as tribute-bearer from a vassal state. Trade was opened at Canton, but the British foreigners agreed to obey the local magistrates. In a word, there was no "extra-territoriality" as yet. The foreigners' place of business was called a "factory."

Such was the beginning of that commerce which brought tea to England in large quantities, so that a decoction of this herb became not only a national English, but a universal British beverage. Its name, pronounced in different ways according to the local dialects, at Amoy is tea. It was from this port that the ships of the East India Company received their cargoes and sailed for Annapolis, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, where the Americans refused to receive it and destroyed or sent it back, or let it mould until worthless. "In this little Chinese leaf was folded the germ which enlarged into American independence."

By this time, so many new countries having been annexed, and peace and prosperity having been so long the rule, there were three, possibly four hundred million souls in the Central Empire. Nevertheless secret societies, opposed to the dynasty, were still active. Comets or "tailed stars" have caused as much fear and popular commotion in China as in Europe. When Halley's comet of 1771 and 1910 appeared, the superstitious multitude saw in it a portent of disaster. The leaders of the White Lily Society, taking advantage of the popular excitement, began another rebellion. In Peking their emissaries twice attempted to assassinate the emperor. The rebellion was stamped out, only after enormous expense in blood and treasure.

British trade with China was conducted by the East India Company, which had a charter of monopoly. During the wars with Napoleon, Macao was captured and twice occupied to prevent its falling into French hands. This proceeding greatly angered the Peking government. Lord Amherst was sent out in 1816 to conciliate the Chinese and arrange matters, but again misunderstandings arose and only disaster and more mutual irritation were the results. The two emperors who succeeded the great Kien Lung, ruling from 1793 to 1821, and from 1821 to 1851, were noted for their dislike of foreigners. In our colonial days, American seafarers, including not a few picturesque pirates, had visited China, the respectable sailors being on ships of the West India Company. In 1784 the Stars and Stripes were hoisted by Americans at Canton, and commerce with the United States was begun. Nearly all the first large fortunes made by Americans were in direct trade with China, or in traffic between Oregon, Hawaii, and the Chinese ports. Many town, city, and country names in the United States are borrowed from China.

As the knowledge of Asian countries proceeded eastward from India and came to us through Great Britain, it has happened that words of Hindoo origin are still used by Americans. For many things that are Chinese and Japanese they are, however, often bad misfits. It puzzles an American in eastern Asia to find words, coined thousands of miles westward, thus used. Japan and China, for example, are not in our Far East, but in the quite Near West. We also imitate the British in a most unfortunate use of the word "coolie," which in India means a member of a low caste and has in it the idea of religious ban or hatred. There are no coolies in Japan and hardly any in China. No educated person ought to apply this word to a Japanese or free Chinese laborer. Even the fire-crackers, so long used on the Fourth of July, were at first called India crackers. More justifiable instances are the use of the word tiffin, meaning lunch; chit, meaning a letter, etc. Other words, not a few, taken out of the mouths of the native servants and helpers, are absurdly applied.

On the other hand, in recent times, educated Hindoos, Chinese, and Japanese have made effectual protest against the misuse of certain words having sacred associations to them, but ignorantly employed by us. Some of the uses to which Oriental household articles in our country are put make Asiatic travelers laugh, grieve, or blush. They are also angered beyond forgiveness, or they pity the Christians who can behave so brutally, or loot so villainously, when away from home. Some of these solecisms, now almost hopelessly fixed in popular speech and writings, are as ridiculous as those seen in "English as She is Spoke" by some Orientals. They remind one of the Hindoo who put a descriptive label in English on an idol supposed to be the chief demon in the infernal regions. Without offense, and seriously, he Englished it thus: "The King of the Netherlands." The odd mistakes and amusing situations into which "griffins," as newcomers in the Far East are called, have fallen would fill a huge jest-book.