Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

Bombay; and as these vessels sailed during many years both unarmed and without a convoy, it is clear that the Company preserved in its dealings with the Celestials its natural character of a purely commercial venture. In this particular the old motive, which in Madras had turned our merchants into soldiers, jealousy and dread of France at last compelled the arming of these vessels, which then formed in turn the nucleus of the old Indian marine.

The advantages drawn from the trade being so great, and the available force for coercing the Chinese so insignificant, it followed as a matter of course that the English had to put up with many exactions, and to purchase the right to trade by complying with the whims of the local authorities, often couched in a dictatorial and arrogant spirit. The Emperor, whether it was Keen Lung or any of his successors, did not, in plain truth, want them to come at all. They made their way in as a thief in the dark by the back door of the Empire; and it was only the corruptness of the mandarins that supplied them with the opportunity of evading the strict injunctions of the central executive. The traffic was as profitable to these officials as to the Europeans, and they had, consequently, equal reasons for its maintenance. They grew rich upon it, and to be appointed hoppo, or farmer of the customs, was considered the way to certain fortune. Latterly it was reserved as a privilege for a member of the Imperial family. The office had always to be purchased at a high price, and the holder could only retire on his gains by making the Government a present, voluntary or enforced, of the better half of his fortune. Despite the heavy taxes and dues, and the objectionable contributions to the Consoo Fund, the English came every year in increasing numbers, and with their ships carrying larger cargoes. The Chinese remained masters of the situation, and the mere threat of suspending the trade sufficed to bring the stoutest captains and the most independent merchants to their knees.

The Chinese might have been able to have continued • relations on this footing for a very much longer period than they did but for two circumstances, of which one only was within their control. They were not content with imposing

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

taxes and custom dues; they caimed authority over the persons of foreigners, and the right to try those who transgressed their laws as interpreted by themselves. The principle, for the application of which the Chinese showed themselves singularly unanimous, is one that has often been discussed in connection with the trial of Christians by an Eastern race and code both in Europe and in Asia. But whatever may be advanced theoretically against it, the sentiment of Europeans is strongly against the admission of any such right; and after many warm debates and some hostile encounters the grand privilege of ex-territoriality has been conceded by China, imitating in this the example of Turkey and the other Mahomedan States of the West. But in the days of which we are speaking no such right had been conceded. The Chinese authority was supposed to be supreme in the Bocca Tigris; and if foreigners chose to come there, it was contended that it should be on the condition of subordination to the laws of China. Unfortunately, as the result must make us think, events showed that this was to be no empty boast, and that the Chinese really required its exact fulfilment.

As early as 1784, when the Emperor Keen Lung was at the height of his fame, an accident occurred on the crowded river. A shot from one of the trading vessels, whilst firing a salute, happened to strike and kill a Chinese sailor. The affair was really accidental, but the Chinese mandarins at once demanded the surrender of the culprit. A lengthy and heated discussion ensued; but the Chinese were persistent, and would entertain no compromise short of the actual surrender of the man. The old threat of suspending the trade was renewed, and it proved only too successful. The sailor was given up, and was forthwith strangled. Some promise seems to have been required that he would not be killed; but, of course, there was no reason to suppose, under the circumstances, that it would be kept. The Chinese were thus allowed to assert in a very effective way their sovereign rights; and, of course, such a strong proceeding as this could not fail to produce a considerable effect.

THE POOR GUNNER.

17

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

But in one sense the Chinese had over-reached themselves. The punishment of this poor gunner was so monstrously unjust, and so quite disproportionate with his unwitting offence, that it at once put an end to all idea of making a similar surrender in the future, so far, at least, as British subjects were concerned. The maintenance of a profitable trade can be purchased at too dear a price, if the return has to consist in part of national dishonour. Several cases of a like character occurred, but none of the offenders were surrendered. Sailors would show that they were free from the forbearing spirit of their officers and Government, and, on provocation, resort to a display of national vigour.

In the result these outbreaks had sometimes a termination fatal for the Chinese of Canton and Whampoa. And when these brawlers were punished, it was by English law and in just proportion to the nature of their offence.

The second circumstance which threatened to complicate the question, and which did actually disturb the arrangements existing between the Hong merchants and their European visitors, was the more frequent appearance of English menof-war in Chinese waters as the necessary consequence of the contest with France. These came not merely in the character of guards for Indian commerce, but also on a roving mission to clear the seas of the tri-colour. Wherever a French vessel appeared in those days it was not long before an English frigate followed, and the Chinese found it impossible to distinguish between these perfectly independent representatives of the same people and kingdom. The captains of these vessels thought more of enhancing the dignity of their sovereign than of the worldly interests of their fellow-countrymen; and the necessary consequence was an unceasing conflict between them and the Chinese mandarins, who were only kept in any sort of good humour by the profitable business of supplying them with provisions at extortionate charges.

The question was still further complicated by the condition of things in the Canton river and on the coast of the Kwantung province. The Chinese have never been distinguished for naval prowess as a nation, but at this period they

VOL. II.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

C

had no navy at all worthy of the name. But the natural disposition of the people of the South prompted them to a life of adventure on the sea, and it found relief in the formation of piratical bands, with their head-quarters among the numerous islands at the mouth of the Pearl River. These bands had to a certain extent combined, and formed at the beginning of the century a powerful confederacy, which was absolutely independent of control. They mustered a force of several hundred junks, and levied black-mail with impunity on all Chinese boats and trading-vessels. The sphere of their operations was only confined by their sense of power; and when themselves in sufficient force, and their prey appeared sufficiently weak and tempting, they never hesitated to attack European merchantmen, although their discretion led them to choose those of the weaker powers, such as Spain and Portugal.

The authority of the Ladrones, as these pirates were called, from the Portuguese word, extended along the whole of the coast, from Tonquin to Foochow, the important and prosperous seaport in the province of Fuhkien. There was good reason to believe that they were in active communication, if not in direct alliance, with the leaders of the secret societies, and their chief, Apotsye, seems to have considered himself more of a patriot than a pirate. These claims were not strengthened by the more intimate knowledge we obtained of their mode of life and arrangements through the experience of two Englishmen who fell into their hands. From their narratives it is clear that these corsairs were composed of the scum of the inhabitants of Canton, reinforced by many of the fishing and boating population of the coast. Their sole object was plunder, and one of their principal sources of wealth consisted in the ransoming of such prisoners as they thought worth their while to spare from the death which was the usual fate of those who refused to join their ranks. From the experience of Mr. Turner and other Europeans, they treated their prisoners harshly, but at the same time they themselves passed a miserable and half-starved existence. Nothing but the inefficiency and apathy of the Imperial officials enabled these pirates to

[blocks in formation]
[blocks in formation]

ates were the who ortant penting There Commer the ser: onsidered ims mer edge

througe ir hans virs wat

achieve the success they did ; and whether they were made participators in the booty, or were really afraid of these depredators, the fact was clear that they attempted nothing against them, and that the authority of the Emperor was completely ignored and set on one side.

The only rebuffs with which these pirates met were inflicted by the boats of English men-of-war. Their anxiety to make prizes sometimes led them to mistake these warvessels for peaceful traders, when they were unpleasantly undeceived; but although these reverses caused them some loss of life, they were too few to check their depredations in the China seas. Their successes over every other opponent were so decisive that they were inspired with the greatest confidence, and declared that one of their junks was a match for four of the vessels occasionally fitted out against them by the mandarins. That this belief was not without foundation may be judged from the fact that when, by a great effort, a large fleet was despatched against them, under a mandarin of reputation from Pekin, they still gained a signal victory. Nor did a joint expedition of Chinese warjunks and six Portuguese vessels, sent in the same year (1809), fare any better. The Ladrones were left masters of the sea, and the stronger from being attacked by the vessels captured during these engagements.

Although poor in their resources, and without differing in their mode of life from the lower classes of Chinese, the Ladrones showed the possession of a capacity for organization in the strict regulations which alone rendered their confederacy possible or likely to endure. How much of this was due to the instinct of self-preservation, or to the capacity of their chief, will never be known. The latter has been described as "a man of dignified presence and manner, of sound discretion, temperate habits, and bold and successful in all his enterprises.” One proof of his remarkable energy was furnished when, on engaging an English ship and discovering the size of the shot fired from it, he expressed surprise, but at the same time declared that it would not be long before he would use the same. What the Chinese authorities could not obtain by force they resolved to secure

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

of the of the

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinua »