China's Story - William Griffis

Japan, Korea, and Dual Sovereignty

The government in Peking was gradually yielding to reason. In 1857, under the persuasion of the American minister, Mr. Anson Burlingame, it sent its first embassy to foreign countries under his leadership, appointing two Chinese envoys to act with him. In the United States and Europe, Mr. Burlingame did much to enlighten the dense ignorance of Western people in regard to the most unknown of the great nations. Rather because of this ignorance than of the things which he ought not to have said, he was misunderstood. The Chinese people were not yet ready to open their country in such a way that foreigners would be the chief financial gainers. On July 4, 1868, he concluded the famous Burlingame treaty, which gave reciprocal privileges to Chinese and Americans. Going to Europe the embassy concluded similar treaties with China, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, and Prussia. Unfortunately Mr. Burlingame died at St. Petersburg while negotiating with Russia.

The feeling of Chinese against foreigners had not very much changed. One reason for this was quite plain. Except missionaries, few outsiders had done much for improvement or conciliation. Anti-foreign riots took place, even while the embassy was in Europe. The unfortunate expedition of the French to Korea was a colossal blunder, and acted like a blast of wind upon smouldering embers in China. The old regent of Korea had, in March, 1866, put nine French missionaries to death and persecuted the native Christians. The French minister at Peking, who had been an officer in the corps of African Zouaves, and had carried into diplomacy the language, manners, and methods of the camp, ordered an expedition of vengeance. Meanwhile, in August, some Americans and British, in the schooner General Sherman, from China, while on a disreputable expedition into Korea, and supposed to be Frenchmen, were killed at Ping Yang. In October Admiral Roze with the French squadron went up the Han River, attacked the city of Kangwa and looted it. He sent into the interior a party of one hundred and forty men, which was attacked and had to retreat. On a second expedition the French force was badly cut up and Admiral Roze came back, having failed to accomplish anything. To his chagrin, the government at Paris disapproved of the expedition.

The authorities of Washington or London were now expected to act at once and dispatch a strong force to Korea, but nothing was done. The French had the Germans on their hands, and the report spread like a gale through China that the hated French had been driven away by the Koreans. These Europeans, as the Chinese believed, were like the highwayman who puts a pistol to the traveler's head. They had extorted the value of land justly confiscated long ago, and had defied their rulers and decent government in protecting the converts of their missionaries.

The ruffians, of whom there are many millions in China, immediately now saw their opportunity. In Tien Tsin, especially, the minds of the people had been doubly inflamed by the publication of an anti-Christian book, entitled "Death Blow to Corrupt Doctrine," intended to exterminate Christianity, which denounced the religion of Jesus in the most violent language conceivable. French Roman Catholic ladies and gentlemen in Tien Tsin, despite their benevolent and noble work, were very unpopular because of this clause requiring the payment of indemnity. But what acted as sparks on gunpowder were the stories, persistently circulated, that the Sisters of Charity habitually kidnapped children to make medicine out of their hearts and eyes. When photographs were first seen in China, the people believed that part of one's soul went out of him into the picture, so that if a man sat often before the camera there would be nothing left of him, not even a shadow. Arguing also from the image on the eye-ball, which one looking into the eyes of another sees, and which is only a reflection, though itself a natural photograph, the ignorant people imagined that the chemicals used in photography, which foreigners made use of, were made from the eyes of Chinese infants. Hence, the natives argued, the great desire of the Christian missionaries to buy or get from the dung-piles or rubbish-heaps on which they had been thrown, or out of the floating jars in the river, the bodies of infants, mostly female. Those in charge of the orphanage wisely invited a committee of five Chinese gentlemen to come and satisfy themselves as to the facts.

Unfortunately, this was the time of Napoleon III. The French consul, being present, was angry at what he considered an outrageous intrusion, and drove the Chinese gentlemen into the street. Meanwhile a great mob had gathered to hear the committee's report. Excited when they saw their countrymen insulted by being put out, they attacked the consulate. On applying to the superintendent of trade for military assistance, the consul was informed that all military orders must come from the viceroy of the province. He then advised the Frenchmen to remain at the Yamen, or office.

The consul refused, and going out into the street, was attacked and beaten to death. The ferocious mob then massacred the Sisters of Charity and set on fire the orphanage and cathedral. Twenty foreigners, with most of their native assistants, were put to death.

Negotiations followed. The supposed ringleaders were decapitated. Compensation in money was made. The Chinese local officer voyaged to France to make apologies, and the government at Peking tried without success to get the obnoxious clause of the treaty annulled. The missionaries of the Roman Church still separate themselves and their converts from the jurisdiction of the local mandarins, so that the Chinese really have no sovereignty over their subjects when attached to this form of Christianity.

The young emperor was considered old enough to be married in 1872, and on October 16 the wedding took place with great ceremony. The foreign ministers were given audience June 29, 1873, in the hall for the receiving of tributary nations, or Pavilion of Purple Light. This was so pleasing to foreigners that many of them leaped to the conclusion that China would immediately become a field for commercial invasion. These hopes were not fulfilled. China was not ready yet to have her economic and social system thrown into confusion by railways, telegraphs, and the machinery which foreigners were only too glad to sell. Such hasty action would mean the throwing out of employment hundreds of thousands of laborers, and long-continued distress. The Boxer uprising of 1900 was thus caused.

In addition to floods, famines, and other interior troubles, China was now to receive the first serious assault upon her hoary doctrine of universal sovereignty, not from the West, but from a nation whom she had long looked upon as vassal. A train of events began, which was to end the last of the dual sovereignties of Asia, in Korea, Loo Choo, Tibet, Burma, Annam, and Ili. Korea and the Loo Choo Islands, being too weak to defend themselves, had lived under the motto, "Courtesy to China and Politeness to Japan." The Japanese had for eight hundred years claimed the Islands of the Sleeping Dragon (Riu Kiu) or the Long Rope (Okinawa) as they called them, as part of their empire. The Chinese wrote the name with characters meaning pendant tassels, signifying the fringe on the great robe of the Central Empire.

China had never pretended to govern the east side of Formosa, the high mountain region inhabited by head-hunters. These copper-colored savages made the possession of human heads, chiefly Chinese, the basis of property, the unit of value, and the social necessity of a would-be bride-groom, before he could get a wife or found a family. It was even said that these men in the bamboo jungle were cannibals.

Formosa is the original home of the morning-glory and the blue bamboo, and is the island of camphor forests. On its eastern coast many American and European vessels have been wrecked and their crews beheaded. Expeditions of chastisement had been attempted, but it being impossible for white men to fight the aborigines in the hot and steaming jungles, these were all failures. In one such expedition, under the American Admiral Bell, with the warships Hartford and Wyoming, on June 19, 1867, Lieutenant A. S. McKenzie was killed, Mr. Sigsbee, later Captain of the U. S. battleship Maine, in Havana harbor, being present.

After 1868, the Mikado having been restored to ancient power, the Tokyo government sent two companies of soldiers to the capital of Riu Kiu, lowered the kinglet of the islands to the grade of marquis, and brought him to Tokyo to live. The group of islands became an integral part of Japan, under the name of the Okinawa prefecture. When in 1874 fifty-four Loo Chooans were wrecked on Formosa and murdered, satisfaction was demanded from Peking. The answer was given that eastern Formosa was not under Chinese jurisdiction. The Japanese sent a detachment, with modern uniforms and weapons, under General Saigo, to punish the head-hunters and build roads and houses. The Chinese ordered them off, but the Tokyo government refused, unless both indemnity and a guarantee that the islands should be ruled efficiently, after the manner of civilization, were given. During the negotiations, Okubo, the Japanese minister, appeared in Peking. He refused to treat on any basis but that of international law, a copy of which he presented to the Tsung-li Yamen. He would not recognize, or have anything to do with, the Chinese notion of universal sovereignty. On the basis of the laws of nations, the two governments entered into a peaceful arrangement, the Chinese agreeing to pay five hundred thousand taels to the Japanese. Concerning the Riu Kiu Islands, China and Japan appointed joint high commissioners to negotiate, but at the last the Peking mandarins took the whole matter out of their hands and put it under control of the Board of Trade,—an insult which Japan remembered in 1904.

Tung Chi, the young emperor, died childless on January 12, 1875. Then the potency of a Chinese woman behind the throne was again, as so often before, illustrated. Nominally, women in China are wholly subordinate in public. Within the home and behind the curtain of the government, they are often all-powerful. Their "rights" are undefined, but their sovereignty is sure. By the mother of the dead emperor, the infant son of Prince Chun and nephew of the empress was brought crying, out of his cradle, into the palace and enthroned as Kwang Si, while she herself, the dowager empress, became the real ruler of China, swaying its destinies until 1908. Prince Kung retired and Li Hung Chang became prominent as adviser to the government.

When in 1874 Mr. A. R. Margary, of the British consular service, was murdered in Yunnan, Sir Thomas Wade endeavored to have a high mandarin punished, but the mystery was never cleared up. Instead of war, a convention made at Chi Fu opened two new ports of trade, and four places on the Yang-tse, where foreign goods could be landed, were named. An indemnity and other matters calculated to produce mutual good-will were agreed upon.

By the treaty of Livadia, in 1879, Kuldja, and that signed at St. Petersburg in 1881, Ili was restored to China after an indemnity of nine million rubles had been paid to Russia.

Another blow at China's nearly defunct doctrine of universal sovereignty was given by Japan through Korea. Neither the French nor the American expedition had accomplished anything permanent, but in 1876, when the marines of a Japanese surveying ship, mistaken for Frenchmen, were fired upon from a Korean fort, they immediately captured it. The Tokyo government sent a peace expedition to Korea, which was exactly like Commodore Perry's, in method and manner. The government at Seoul agreed by treaty to open three ports and allow Japanese to live in the country. Thus Japan gave to Korea her first recognition as an independent country.

As the Central Empire still considered the Peninsular Kingdom a vassal, the court of Peking looked with suspicion upon this action, and in order to neutralize its influence virtually opened this hermit kingdom to the world, by making a commercial treaty with Korea and helping the American envoy to do the same, just as if the Koreans were an independent people. China, however, was still blinded by old traditions and thought that she should retain control. In trying to "save face," she paved the way for serious misunderstandings in the future.

When a Korean mob, with stones and fire-arms, attacked their legation, the Japanese fought their way to the coast. The old regent, in Seoul, who had fomented the disturbance, made the young king, his own son, a prisoner, and connived at an attempt to assassinate the queen Min.

Li Hung Chang at once dispatched a naval squadron and a body of soldiers to Seoul. The uprising was put down, the king restored, and the regent kidnapped and brought to Tien Tsin. A Chinese officer, Yuan Shi Kai, like a British resident in India, was installed at the Korean court, and a military force was kept in camp near Seoul.

In the negotiations which followed, a new port was opened, Japan received an indemnity, and kept a permanent guard of soldiers at the legation. These men, mostly deer-hunters of northern Japan, were dead shots with the rifle. It boded ill for the peace of the country, that besides a swaggering Chinese resident, with a large force of soldiers at his beck and call, there should be two companies of Japanese riflemen only too ready to make use of their rivals as targets. Between the two countries, as said before, no love is ever lost.

The oddity of dual sovereignty, that is, of one state owing allegiance to two suzerains,—a servant serving two masters,—was again illustrated in the Far East by Korea. China, while professing to the world that Korea was an independent state, virtually annexed "the Little Outpost Country," by including her within the Imperial Chinese Customs. In November, 1883, the Korean envoys, escaping Chinese espionage, were brought across the ocean in the American man-of-war, Trenton. They visited Washington, met President Arthur, and ratified the American treaty as if agents of a sovereign state. In Europe, also, they had their eyes still further opened concerning the advantages of Western civilization, as compared with that of China.

I had the honor of meeting in New York and conversing, through the medium of the Japanese language, with this embassy, headed by Ming Yong Ik, the cousin of the queen. These picturesque wearers of white gowns and big hats differed among themselves, some being eager progressives and others intense conservatives. Soon after these Koreans reached Seoul, the so-called Liberals seized the royal palace and beheaded the king's ministers. By a trick, they secured the aid of the Japanese legation guard. They expected to reform the government at once and, in a few days or weeks, change the ancient dress, habits, and manners of their countrymen, and make Korea a modern state.

The Chinese troops moved upon the palace to rescue the king. The little band of fewer than two hundred Japanese were compelled to retreat, which they did in good order. Their superb marksmanship told terribly on the overwhelming numbers of the Korean mob and Chinese troops. Their march continued to the seaport Chemulpo. The Japanese legation was looted and burned.

The governments of Tokyo and Peking landed fresh military reinforcements, but the danger of another collision was averted by the convention of Tien Tsin, made by the Marquis Ito and Li Hung Chang. It was agreed that neither China nor Japan should attempt permanent occupation of the peninsula. In case of disturbance, neither should send troops without first giving notice to the other. The soldiery of both countries was then withdrawn.