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KEEN LUNG'S RELATIONS WITH THE WEST.
AMONG the important incidents of Keen Lung's long reign must undoubtedly be held the steady increase and development in the intercourse between China and the countries of Europe. Up to his accession the question had been confined to the fortunes of the missionary body, and of the small Portuguese colony at Macao; but as his reign proceeded the subject assumed a wider importance, and embraced all the principal trading nations of our continent. From the frequent discussions between the Canton mandarins and their tenants the Portuguese authorities at Macao, down to the reception of the British embassy under Lord Macartney in the last few years of his reign, the topic of his relations with foreign nations was ever present in some form or other to the mind of Keen Lung
So far as the Portuguese were concerned, and considering the antiquity of their connection with the Chinese Government, their affairs claim precedence, it was no very difficult task for the Emperor to decide what course was to be pursued, and how the matter was to be arranged. His superiority in this case was too incontestable to be challenged, and he had only to give such orders as his inclination suggested, or as the Canton mandarins deemed advisable. In 1750 an embassy was sent to Pekin to endeavour to obtain some mitigation of the harsh terms upon which trade alone was allowed, and great sums of money were expended in fitting it out, and in purchasing suitable presents for the Emperor and his chief ministers. But although these gifts were graciously accepted,
the practical result was none, and the Portuguese could not have been worse situated if they had never sent any ambassador to the capital and if they had kept their milreis in their pockets.
The Portuguese authorities at Canton were, therefore, obliged to get on as best they could with their unpleasant neighbours, the Canton mandarins, who seized every opportunity of hindering them in their commerce, and of compelling them to pay large bribes for their not resorting to the extreme measure of expelling them from Macao. To the losses caused by Chinese arrogance and unfriendliness were added those produced by the depredations of the piratical societies, which had their head-quarters in the purlieus of Canton and in the creeks of the Bocca Tigris. The Portuguese succeeded in producing a more favourable impression on the Chinese by taking an active part in the measures adopted for the purpose of suppressing these marauding bodies, and to this cause may be attributed the more friendly understanding that was at last effected between these neighbours. The Portuguese had to show great tact in the arrangement of their affairs with the Canton authorities, and, although they were the first Europeans to obtain a foothold in the country, and long enjoyed a monopoly of its foreign trade, they have never succeeded in emancipating themselves from the position of being the tenants of China for a small port, of which both the prosperity and the importance have now departed.
Neither with the Dutch nor with the Spaniards were Keen Lung's relations of a nature calling for much notice. The latter had never held any direct communication with the central Government, but had always been confined to their intercourse with the Viceroy of Fuhkien, to whose charge were generally entrusted the affairs of the islands and territories beyond the sea. The former did indeed send an embassy to Pekin in the year 1795, but its reception was not of an encouraging nature, and its despatch proved productive of more disgrace than of honour and profit.
With Russia the Emperor's relations remained, on the whole, friendly, although the contact between the two great Empires on the Siberian frontier had seemed on several occasions to be likely to result in unpleasantness, if not in hostilities. The difficulties that were threatened by such matters as the surrender of Amursana's body, and the flight of the Tourgut tribe, were fortunately settled without an appeal to arms; and when those causes of disquiet were removed, none others of sufficient importance remained to disturb the serene aspect of the political situation. The Empress Catherine, following in the steps of Peter in this matter, as in much else, sought to establish more intimate relations with Pekin, and even went so far as to suggest to the Emperor Keen Lung the advisability of his deputing a resident agent to her court. When the Chinese Government showed such marked aversion to the reception of foreign envoys at the capital, it is scarcely necessary to say that this proposition was received with absolute disdain. Probably it was in consequence of this unusual message that the Russian envoy was refused an audience, and dismissed without a hearing
In a spirit of retaliation the Russians refused to surrender some renegade Chinese who had fled into Siberia, and their refusal brought down upon them a characteristic letter of rebuke from Keen Lung. The Russians remained proof against the implied condemnation, and the caravan trade with Kiachta, despite every obstacle and difficulty, assumed increased dimensions. The very remoteness of the place of contact from the capitals of either Power served to blunt the edge of these slights and indignities, and to avert a hostile collision which repeatedly seemed next to inevitable. The relations between Pekin and St. Petersburg continued to preserve the amicable character they had assumed after the Treaty of Nerchinsk in the previous century.
There remain, therefore, to be described and considered only the intercourse between China on the one hand, and France and England on the other, the two great countries of the West. So far as the former of these European States was concerned, the intercourse with China always continued to be one more of sentiment, and of the propagation of Roman Catholicism, than of a profitable and advancing trade. There is no doubt that a scheme for the promotion of commerce
with India and China found great favour with Henry the Fourth ; but, notwithstanding the desire of the sovereign to increase the trade of the country, the scheme proved abortive, and resulted in nothing. Nor was an attempt, made more than a century later, in the year 1728, to establish commercial relations between the French possessions on the Mississippi and China more fortunate, although the very boldness of the idea should avail to preserve the name of its author, M. Duvaleur, from oblivion. The right was given to the French merchants, on payment of a small sum, to land their goods at Whampoa, the river port of Canton; but notwithstanding this concession and the general favour shown to all enterprises promising to develop the industries and commerce of France by Louis the Fourteenth and his minister Colbert, the commercial intercourse between France and China always remained limited in its extent and of an unimportant character.
But if the growth of commercial relations proved slow, and if the result attained was only partial, more satisfactory progress could be reported in establishing between the two countries a sympathetic feeling in the sphere of intellect. The first two Chinese subjects who visited Europe came to France in the year 1763, and their return to China was the first means of opening the eyes of the Pekin Government to the fact that the kingdoms whence the Christians came were as civilized and powerful as their own.
The letters written home to Paris from the Chinese capital, and the attention first given to Chinese literature by Frenchmen, also served to strengthen this connection and to establish a link of sympathy that had not been present in the case of any other country. The translation of the Emperor Keen Lung's verses by
* The principal of these were his “Eulogy of Moukden” and his poem on “Tea.” Voltaire's poetical letters will be found in his collected works. A passage referring more to Keen Lung's position as an Emperor than as a writer may be quoted :
“Occupé sans relâche à tous les soins divers
D'un gouvernement qu'on admire
Est le meilleur lettré qui soit dans son empire."
Père Amiot attracted the notice of Voltaire, and drew from his pen an epistolary poem asking certain questions of the Imperial author as to the difficulties and requirements of versification in Chinese. Keen Lung was undoubtedly flattered by the implied compliment to his poetical talent in the attention of the great French writer, and could not have remained callous to the delicate attentions of the courtier of Sans Souci.
The most important incident, however, in Keen Lung's relations with European Powers, was undoubtedly the arrival and reception of the British embassy under Lord Macartney. Up to that period the English intercourse with the Chinese had been of only a fitful and unimportant kind. It had had an inauspicious commencement more than a century and a half before in the bombardment of Canton by Captain Weddell ; and after that event ships had come singly and at long intervals, sent either by the East India Company from Calcutta or by private venture from England. The growth of British commerce in China was hampered by numerous vexations, as well as by the hostility of the official classes ; but so far as its acts and protestations went, it could not be said that the Government of either Kanghi or Keen Lung was inimical to the foreign trade, although we have already seen that its private views and opinions were less favourable than its language. Long before the opportunity offered itself, it had become one of the main objects with the English merchants to secure some means of approaching the central authorities, as they were likely to act more fairly by them than the Canton mandarins, who were in receipt of constant bribes from the Portuguese to exclude all other Europeans except themselves from the benefits of the trade.
The campaign in Nepaul had procured the Chinese the information that the English, who were known as suppliants for trade at Canton and Amoy, had established a supreme authority in Northern India; and while the news had no doubt enhanced the importance of our power in the eyes of the Imperial Government, it had also contributed to increase the apprehension with which the European States were regarded, and which furnished the true clue to the policy that