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The New Chinese War[377]

Karl Marx


London, Sept. 13, 1859

At the time when England was generally congratulated upon the extortion from the Celestials of the treaty of Tien-tsin[378], I tried to show that, Russia being in point of fact the only power benefited by the piratical Anglo-Chinese war, the commercial advantages accruing from the treaty to England were rather nugatory, while, in a political point of view, so far from establishing peace, that treaty, on the contrary, rendered resumption of war unavoidable[a]. The march of events has fully confirmed these views. The treaty of Tien-tsin has become a thing of the past, and the semblance of peace has vanished before the stern realities of war.[379]

Let me first state the facts as reported by the last Overland Mail.

The Hon. Mr. Bruce, accompanied by M. de Bourboulon, the French Plenipotentiary, set out with a British expedition destined to ascend the Peiho, and to accompany the two embassadors on their message to Pekin. The expedition, under the orders of Admiral Hope, consisted of seven steamships, ten gun-boats, two troop and storeships, and several hundred marines and royal engineers. The Chinese, on their part, had objected to the mission taking that particular route. Admiral Hope, consequently, found the entrance of the Peiho barred by booms and stakes, and having stayed for nine days, from the 17th till the 25th June, at the mouth of that river, attempted its forcible passage, the Plenipotentiaries having joined the squadron on the 20th of June. On his arrival off the Peiho River, Admiral Hope had made sure of the Taku forts, razed during the last war, having been rebuilt—a fact which, be it said en passant, he ought to have known before, since it had been officially announced in the Pekin Gazette.[b]

On the 25th of June, while the British attempted to force the Peiho passage, the Taku batteries, supported by a Mongol force of apparently 20,000 men, were unmasked, and opened a destructive fire on the British vessels. An engagement on land and water took place, resulting in the utter discomfiture of the aggressors. The expedition had to withdraw, after the loss of three English vessels of war, the Cormorant, the Lee, and Plover, and with a loss of 464 killed and wounded on the part of the British, while of the 60 Frenchmen present 14 were killed or wounded. Five English officers were killed and 23 wounded, the Admiral himself escaping not unhurt. After this defeat, Mr. Bruce and M. de Bourboulon returned to Shanghai, while the British squadron was to station off Chin-hae, Ningpo.[c]

On the receipt in England of these unpleasant tidings, the Palmerstonian press at once bestrode the British lion, and unanimously roared for wholesale revenge. The London Times, of course, affected some dignity in its appeals to the bloody instincts of its countrymen; but the lower class of Palmerstonian organs were quite grotesque in acting the part of Orlando Furioso. Listen, for instance, to the London Daily Telegraph:

"Great Britain must attack the seaboard of China throughout its whole extent, invade the capital, expel the Emperor from his palace, and possess herself of a material guaranty against future aggression.... We must cat-o'-nine-tail any dragon-decorated official who presumes to treat our national symbols with contumely.... Every one of them (the Chinese Generals) must be hanged as a pirate and a homicide to the yard-arms of a British man-of-war. It would be a refreshing and salutary spectacle—that of a dozen bebuttoned villains, with the countenances of ogres, and the apparel of buffoons, swinging in the sight of the population. Terror must be struck, by one means or the other; and we have already had more than enough of leniency.... The Chinese must now be taught to value the English, who are their superiors,. and ought to be their masters.... The least that can be attempted is to capture Pekin; while, if a bold policy were adopted, the confiscation in perpetuity of Canton would follow. We might retain Canton as we held Calcutta, make it the center of our ultra Eastern trade, compensate ourselves for the influence of Russia on the Tartar frontiers of the Empire, and lay the basis of a new dominion."

Now, from these ravings of Palmerston's penmen, let me return to the facts and, as far as it is possible with the present meager information, try to unravel the true bearings of the untoward event.

The first question to be answered is, whether, on the supposition that the treaty of Tien-tsin stipulates for the immediate access to Pekin of the British Embassador, the Chinese Government have committed an infraction of that treaty, wrung from them by a piratical war, in withstanding the forcible passage by a British squadron of the Peiho River? As will be seen from the news conveyed by the Overland Mail, the Chinese authorities had objected, not to the British mission to Pekin, but to the British armament ascending the Peiho. They had proposed that Mr. Bruce should travel by land, divested of an armament which, with a fresh recollection of the Canton bombardment[380], the Celestials could but consider the instrument of invasion. Does the right of the French Embassador to reside at London, involve the right of forcing the river Thames at the head of an armed French expedition? It must certainly be allowed that this interpretation put by the British on the admission to Pekin of their Embassador, sounds at least as strange as the discovery made by them during the last Chinese war, that in bombarding the town of an Empire, you are not waging war upon that Empire itself, but only exchanging local hostilities with one of its dependencies. In answer to the reclamations of the Celestials, the British had "taken", according to their own statement, "every precaution to force, if necessary, admission to Pekin," by ascending the Peiho with a rather formidable squadron. Even if bound to admit their pacific Embassador, the Chinese were certainly warranted in resisting their armed expedition. In thus acting they did not infringe a treaty, but baffled an encroachment.

In the second instance, it may be questioned whether, although the abstract right of legation had been accorded to the British by the treaty of Tien-tsin, the actual enjoyment of that right had, for the present, at least, not been waived by Lord Elgin? A reference to "the correspondence relating to the Earl of Elgin's special mission to China, printed by command of her Majesty," will convince every impartial inquirer that, first, the admission to Pekin of the English Embassador was to take place not now, but at a more remote period; secondly, that his right of residence at Pekin was qualified by various clauses; and, finally, that the peremptory article III in the English text of the treaty, relating to the Embassador's admission, was, on the request of the Chinese envoys, altered in the Chinese text of the treaty. This discrepancy between the two versions of the treaty is admitted by Lord Elgin himself, who, however, was, as he says,

"compelled by his instructions to require the Chinese to accept, as the authoritative version of an international agreement, a text of which they did not understand a syllable."

Can the Chinese be impeached for acting on the Chinese text of the treaty, instead of the English one, which, according to Lord Elgin's admission, somewhat diverges from "the correct sense of the stipulation"?

In conclusion, I will state that Mr. T. Chisholm Anstey, the late British Attorney-General at Hong Kong, formally declares in a letter addressed by him to the editor of the London Morning Star:

"The treaty itself, be it what it may, has been long since abrogated by the violent acts of the British Government and its subordinates, to the extent at least of depriving the Crown of Great Britain of every advantage or privilege conferred by the treaty."

Being on the one hand harassed by the Indian difficulties, and on the other hand arming for the eventuality of a European war, England is likely to incur great dangers from this new Chinese catastrophe, probably of Palmerston's own cooking. The next result must be the break up of the present Administration, whose head was the author of the last Chinese war, while its principal members had passed a vote of censure on their present chief for undertaking that war. At all events, Mr. Milner Gibson and the Manchester school[381] must either withdraw from the present Liberal coalition, or, a thing not very probable, in unison with Lord John Russell, Mr. Gladstone and his Peelite[382] colleagues, compel their chief to submit to their own policy.


London, Sept. 16, 1859

A Cabinet Council is announced for to-morrow in order to decide upon the course to be taken in regard to the Chinese catastrophe. The lucubrations of the French Moniteur and the London Times[d] leave no doubt as to the resolutions arrived at by Palmerston and Bonaparte. They want another Chinese war. I am informed from an authentic source that at the impending Cabinet Council Mr. Milner Gibson, in the first instance, will contest the validity of the plea for war; in the second instance, will protest against any declaration of war not previously sanctioned by both Houses of Parliament; and if his opinion be overwhelmed by a majority of votes, will secede from the Cabinet, thus again giving the signal for a new onslaught on Palmerston's administration and .the break up of the Liberal coalition that led to the ousting of the Derby Cabinet. Palmerston is said to feel somewhat nervous as to the intended proceedings of Mr. Milner Gibson, the only one of his colleagues whom he is afraid of, and whom he has characterized more than once as a man peculiarly able "in picking holes." It is possible that simultaneously with this letter you may receive from Liverpool the news of the results of the Ministerial Council. Meanwhile, the real bearing of the case in question may be best judged, not from what has been printed, but from what has been willfully suppressed by the Palmerston organs in their first publications of the news conveyed by the last overland mail.

First, then, they suppressed the statement that the Russian treaty had already been ratified, and that the Emperor of China[e] had given instructions to his mandarins to receive and escort the American Embassy to the capital for the exchange of the ratified copies of the American treaty[383], These acts were suppressed with a view to stifle the suspicion that would naturally arise, that the English and French Envoys, instead of the Court of Pekin, are responsible for meeting obstacles in the transaction of their business, which were not encountered either by their Russian or American colleagues. The other, still more important, fact that was at first suppressed by The Times, and the other Palmerston organs, but is now -avowed on their part, is that the Chinese authorities had given notice of their willingness to conduct the English and French Envoys to Pekin; that they were actually in waiting to receive them at one of the mouths of the river, and offered them an escort if they only consented to leave their vessels and troops. Now, as the treaty of Tien-tsin contains no clause granting to the English and French the right of sending a squadron of men-of-war up the Peiho, it becomes evident that the treaty was violated, not by the Chinese, but by the English, and that on the part of the latter there existed the foregone conclusion to pick a quarrel just before the period appointed for the exchange of the ratifications. Nobody will fancy that the Hon. Mr. Bruce acted on his own responsibility in thus baffling the ostensible end aimed at by the last Chinese war, but that, on the contrary, he only executed secret instructions received from London. Now, it is true that Mr. Bruce was dispatched not by Palmerston, but by Derby; but, then, I have only to remind you that during the first administration of Sir Robert Peel, when Lord Aberdeen kept the seals of the Foreign Office, Sir Henry Bulwer, the English Embassador at Madrid, picked a quarrel with the Spanish Court, resulting in his expulsion from Spain[384], and that, during the debates in the House of Lords on this "untoward event," it was proved that Bulwer, instead of obeying the official instructions of Aberdeen, had acted up to the secret instructions of .Palmerston, who then sat on the Opposition benches.

A maneuver has also been carried out during these last days in the Palmerstonian press, which leaves no doubt, at least to those acquainted with the secret history of English diplomacy during the last thirty years, as to the real author of the Peiho catastrophe and the impending third Anglo-Chinese war. The Times intimates that the guns planted on the forts of Taku which caused such havoc among the British squadron were of Russian origin, and were directed by Russian officers. Another Palmerstonian organ is still more plain spoken. I quote:

"We now perceive how closely the policy of Russia is interwoven with that of Pekin; we detect great movements on the Amoor; we discern large Cossack armies maneuvering far beyond Lake Baikal, in the frozen dreamland on the twilight borders of the Old World; we trace the course of innumerable caravans; we espy a special Russian envoy (Gen. Mouravieff, the Governor of Eastern Siberia) making his way, with secret designs, from the remoteness of Eastern Siberia to the secluded Chinese metropolis; and well may public opinion in this country burn at the thought that foreign influences have had a share in procuring our disgrace and the slaughter of our soldiers and sailors."

Now, this is one of Lord Palmerston's old tricks. When Russia wanted to conclude a treaty of commerce with China, he drove the latter by the opium war into the arms of her northern neighbor[385]. When Russia requested the cession of the Amoor, he brought it about by the second Chinese war[386], and now that Russia wants to consolidate her influence at Pekin, he extemporises the third Chinese war. In all his transactions with the weak Asiatic States, with China, Persia, Central Asia, Turkey, it has always been his invariable and constant rule to ostensibly oppose Russia's designs by picking a quarrel, not with Russia, but with the Asiatic State, to estrange the latter from England by piratical hostilities, and by this roundabout way drive it to the concessions it had been unwilling to yield to Russia. You may be sure that on this occasion the whole past Asiatic policy of Palmerston will be again sifted, and I draw, therefore, your attention to the Afghan papers, ordered by the House of Commons to be printed on the 8th June, 1859[f]. They throw more light on Palmerston's sinister policy, and the diplomatic history of the last thirty years, than any documents ever before printed. The case is, in a few words, this: In 1838 Palmerston commenced a war against Dost Mohammed, the ruler of Cabul, a war that led to the destruction of an English army[387], and was commenced on the plea of Dost Mohammed having entered into a secret alliance against England with Persia and Russia. In proof of this assertion, Palmerston laid, in 1839, before Parliament, a Blue Book, chiefly consisting of the correspondence of Sir A. Burnes, the British envoy at Cabul, with the Government at Calcutta[g]. Burnes had been assassinated during an insurrection at Cabul against the English invaders, but, distrustful of the British Foreign Minister, had sent copies of some of his official letters to his brother, Dr. Burnes, at London. On the appearance, in 1839, of the "Afghan papers," prepared by Palmerston, Dr. Burnes accused him of having "garbled and forged the dispatches of the late Sir A. Burnes,"[h] and, in corroboration of his statement, had some of the genuine dispatches printed. But it was only last Summer that the murder came out. Under the Derby Ministry, on the motion of Mr. Hadfield, the House of Commons ordered all the Afghan papers to be published in full, and this order has been executed in such a form as to constitute a demonstration, to the meanest capacity, of the truth of the charge of garbling and forgery, in the interest of Russia. On the title-page of the Blue Book appears the following:

"NOTE.—The correspondence, only partially given in former returns, is here given entire, the omitted passages being marked by brackets, [ ]."

The name of the official, which appears as a guaranty for the fidelity of the return, is "J. W. Kaye, Secretary in Political and Secret Departments," Mr. Kaye being the "upright historian of the War in Afghanistan."

Now, to illustrate the real relations of Palmerston with Russia, against which he pretended to have set up the Afghan war, one instance may suffice for the present. The Russian agent, Vitkavich, who came to Cabul in 1837, was the bearer of a letter from the Czar to Dost Mohammed. Sir Alexander Burnes obtained a copy of the letter, and sent it to Lord Auckland, the Governor-General of India. In his own dispatches, and various documents inclosed by him, this circumstance is referred to over and over again. But the copy of the Czar's letter was expunged altogether from the papers presented by Palmerston in 1839, and in every dispatch in which it is referred to, such alterations were made as were necessary to suppress the circumstance of the connection of the "Emperor of Russia" with the mission to Cabul. This forgery was committed in order to suppress the evidence of the Autocrat's connection with Vitkavich, whom, on his return to St. Petersburg, it suited Nicholas to formally disavow. For instance, at page 82 of the Blue Book will be found the translation of a letter to Dost Mohammed, which reads now as follows, the brackets showing the words originally suppressed by Palmerston:

"The Embassador on the part of [the] Russia [or Emperor] came [from Moscow] to Teheran, and has been appointed to wait on the Sirdar at Candahar, and thence to proceed to the presence of the Ameer.[...] He is the bearer of [confidential messages from the Emperor and of the] letters from the Russian Embassador at Teheran. The Russian Embassador recommends this man to be a most trusty individual, and to possess full authority to make any negotiations, [on the part of the Emperor and himself], etc., etc."

These, and similar forgeries committed by Palmerston in order to protect the honor of the Czar, are not the only curiosity exhibited by the "Afghan papers". The invasion of Afghanistan. was justified by Palmerston on the ground that Sir Alexander Burnes had advised it as a proper means for baffling Russian intrigues in Central Asia. Now Sir A. Burnes did quite the contrary, and consequently all his appeals in behalf of Dost Mohammed were altogether suppressed in Palmerston's edition of the "Blue Book"; the correspondence being by dint of garbling and forgery, turned quite to the reverse of its original meaning. Such is the man now about to enter on a third Chinese war, on the ostensible plea of thwarting Russia's designs in that quarter.


London, Sept. 20, 1859

That there is to be another civilization war against the Celestials seems a matter now pretty generally settled with the English press. Still, since the meeting of the Cabinet Council on Saturday last, a remarkable change has come over those very papers that were foremost in the howl for blood. At first the London Times, in an apparent trance of patriotic fury, thundered[i] at the double treachery committed—by cowardly Mongols who lured on the bonhomme[j] of the British Admiral by studiously falsifying appearances and screening their artillery—by the Court of Pekin, which, with deeper Machiavellism, had set those Mongol ogres to their damnable practical jokes. Curiously to say, although tossed on a sea of passion, The Times had, in its reprints, contrived to carefully expunge from the original reports all points favorable to the doomed Chinaman. To confound things may be the work of passion, but to garble them seems rather the operation of a cool head. However that be, on Sept. 16, just one day before the meeting of the Ministers, The Times veered round[k], and, without much ado, cut one head off its Janus-headed impeachment.

"We fear," it said, "that we cannot accuse the Mongols who resisted our attack on the forts of the Peiho of treachery;"

but then, to make up for that awkward concession, it clung the more desperately to "the deliberate and perfidious violation of a solemn treaty by the Court of Pekin." Three days later, after the Cabinet Council had been held, The Times, on further consideration, even

"found no room for doubt that if Mr. Bruce and M. de Bourboulon had solicited the Mandarins to conduct them to Pekin, they would have been permitted to effect the ratification of the treaty."[l]

What, then, remains there of the treachery of the Court of Pekin? Not a shadow even, but in its place there remain two doubts on the mind of The Times.

"It is," says it, "perhaps doubtful whether, as a military measure, it was wise to try with such a squadron, our way to Pekin. It is still more doubtful whether, as a diplomatic measure, it was desirable to use force at all."

Such is the lame conclusion of all the indignation-bluster indulged in by the "leading organ", but, with a logic of its own, it drops the reasons for war without dropping the war itself. Another semi-Governmental paper, The Economist, which had distinguished itself by its fervent apology for the Canton bombardment, seems to take a more economical and less rhetorical view of things now that Mr. J. Wilson has got his appointment of Chancellor of the Exchequer for India. The Economist brings two articles on the subject, the one political, the other economical[m]; the first one winding up with the following sentences:

"Now, all these things considered, it is obvious that the article of the treaty which gave our Embassador a right of visiting or residing at Pekin, was one literally forced upon the Chinese Government; and if it were thought absolutely essential to our interests that it should be observed, we think there was much room for the display of consideration and patience in exacting its fulfillment. No doubt it may be said that with such a Government as the Chinese, delay and patience are interpreted as signs of fatal weakness, and therefore the most unsound policy we could pursue. But how far are we entitled, on this plea, to vary the principles on which we should assuredly act toward any civilized nation in our treatment of these Oriental Governments? When we have wrung out an unwelcome concession from their fears, it may be perhaps the most consistent policy to wring out, also from their fears, the immediate execution of the bargain in the way most convenient to ourselves. But if we fail in so doing—if, in the mean time, the Chinese overcome their fears, and insist, with a suitable display of force, on our consulting them as to the mode to be taken for giving our treaty effect—can we justly accuse them of treachery? Are they not rather practising upon us our own methods of persuasion? The Chinese Government may—and it is very likely that it is so—have intended to entrap us into this murderous snare, and never have purposed to execute the treaty at all. If this should prove to be so, we must and ought to exact reparation. But it may also prove that the intention to defend the mouth of Peiho against the recurrence of such a violent entry as was made good by Lord Elgin in the previous year, was not accompanied by any desire to break faith on the general articles of the treaty. As the hostile initiative came entirely from our side, and it was, of course, at any moment competent to our commanders to retire from the murderous fire, opened only for the defense of the forts, we cannot certainly prove any intention of breaking faith on the part of China. And, till proof of a deliberate intention to break the treaty reaches us—we think we have some reason to suspend our judgment, and ponder whether we may not have been applying to our treatment of barbarians, a code of principles not very widely different from that which they have practised toward ourselves."

In a second article, on the same subject, The Economist dwells on the importance, direct and indirect, of the English trade to China. In the year 1858, the British exports to China had risen to £2,876,000, while the value of the British imports from China had averaged upward of £9,000,000 for each of the last three years, so that the aggregate direct trade of England with China may be put down at about £12,000,000. But beside these direct transactions there are three other important trades with which, less or more, England is intimately connected in the circle of exchanges, the trade between India and China, the trade between China and Australia, and the trade between China and the United States.

"Australia," says The Economist, "takes from China large quantities of tea annually, and has nothing to give in exchange which finds a market in China. America also takes large quantities of tea and some silk of a value far exceeding that of their direct exports to China."

Both these balances in favor of China have to be made good by England, who is paid for this equalization of exchanges by the gold of Australia and the cotton of the United States. England, therefore, independent of the balance due by herself to China, has also to pay to that country large sums in respect to gold imported from Australia and cotton from America. Now this balance due to China by England, Australia, and the United States is, to a great extent, transferred from China to India, as a set-off against the amount due by China to India, on account of opium and cotton. Be it remarked, en passant, that the imports from China to India have never yet reached the amount of £1,000,000 sterling, while the exports to China from India realize the sum of nearly £10,000,000. The inference The Economist draws from these economical observations is, that any serious interruption of the British trade with China would "be a calamity of greater magnitude than the mere figures of exports and imports might at first sight suggest," and that the embarrassment consequent upon such a disturbance would not be felt in the direct British tea and silk trade only, but must also "affect" the British transactions with Australia and the United States. The Economist is, of course, aware of the fact that during the last Chinese war, the trade was not so much interfered with by the war as had been apprehended; and that, at the port of Shanghai, it was even not affected at all. But then, The Economist calls attention upon "two novel features in the present dispute" which might essentially modify the effects of a new Chinese war upon trade—these two novel features being the "Imperial," not "local" character of the present conflict, and the "signal success" which, for the first time, the Chinese have effected against European forces.

How very different sounds this language from the war-cry The Economist so lustily shouted at the time of the Lorcha affair.[388]

The Ministerial Council, as I anticipated in my last letter, witnessed Mr. Milner Gibson's protest against the war, and his menace of seceding from the Cabinet, should Palmerston act up to the foregone conclusions betrayed in the columns of the French Moniteur. For the moment Palmerston prevented any rupture of the Cabinet, and the Liberal Coalition, by the statement that the force indispensable for the protection of British trade should be gathered in the Chinese waters, while before the arrival of more explicit reports on the part of the British Envoy, no resolution should be taken as to the war question. Thus the burning question was put off. Palmerston's real intention, however, transpires through the columns of his mob-organ, The Daily Telegraph, which in one of its recent numbers says:

"Should any event lead to a vote unfavorable to the Government, in the course of next year, an appeal will certainly be made to the constituencies.... The House of Commons will test the result of their activity by a verdict on the Chinese question, seeing that to the professional malignants, headed by Mr. Disraeli, must be added the Cosmopolitans, who declare that the Mongols were thoroughly in the right."

The fix in which the Tories are hemmed up, by having allowed themselves to become inveigled into the responsible editorship of events planned by Palmerston and enacted by two of his agents, Lord Elgin and Mr. Bruce (Lord Elgin's brother), I shall, perhaps, find another occasion of remarking upon.


London, Sept. 30, 1859

In a former letter I asserted that the Peiho conflict had not sprung from accident, but, on the contrary, been beforehand prepared by Lord Elgin, acting upon Palmerston's secret instructions, and fastening upon Lord Malmesbury, the Tory Foreign Minister, the project of the noble Viscount, then seated at the head of the Opposition benches. Now, first, the idea of the "accidents" in China arising from "instructions" drawn up by the present British Premier is so far from being new, that, during the debates on the Lorcha war, it was suggested to the House of Commons, by so well informed a personage as Mr. Disraeli, and, curious to, say, confirmed by no less an authority than Lord Palmerston himself. On February 3, 1857, Mr. Disraeli warned the House of Commons in the following terms:

"I cannot resist the conviction that what has taken place in China has not been in consequence of the alleged pretext, but is, in fact, in consequence of instructions received from home, some considerable time ago. If that be the case, I think the time has arrived when this House would not be doing its duty unless it earnestly considered whether it has any means of controlling a system, which if pursued, will be one, in my mind, fatal to the interests of this country."[n]

And Lord Palmerston most coolly replied:

"The right hon. gentleman says the course of events appeared to be the result of some system predetermined by the Government at home. Undoubtedly it was."[o]

In the present instance, a cursory glance at the Blue Book, entitled: "Correspondence relative to the Earl of Elgin's special missions to China and Japan, 1857-59" will show, how the event, that occurred at the Peiho, on the 25th June, was already preceded by Lord Elgin on the 2d of March. Page 484 of the said correspondence, we find the following two dispatches:


"Furious, March 2, 1859

"Sir: With reference to my dispatch to your Excellency of the 17th ult. I would beg leave to state that I entertain some hope that the decision come to by her Majesty's Government on the subject of the permanent residence of a British Embassador at Pekin, which I communicated to your Excellency in a conversation yesterday, may induce the Chinese Government to receive, in a becoming manner, the representative of her Majesty, when he proceeds to Pekin for the exchange of ratifications of the treaty of Tien-tsin. At the same time, it is no doubt possible that his hope may not be realized, and, at any rate, I apprehend that Her Majesty's Government will desire that our Embassador, when he proceeds to Tien-tsin, be accompanied by an imposing force. Under these circumstances, I would venture to submit, for your Excellency's consideration, whether it would not be expedient to concentrate at Shanghai, at the earliest convenient period, a sufficient fleet of gunboats for this service, as Mr. Bruce's arrival in China cannot long be delayed. I have, etc.

Elgin and Kincardine"


"Foreign Office, May 2, 1859

"My Lord: I have received your Excellency's dispatch of the 7th of March, 1859, and I have to inform you that her Majesty's Government approve of the note, of which a copy is therein inclosed, and in which your Excellency announced to the Imperial Commissioner that her Majesty's Government would not insist upon the residence of her Majesty's Minister being permanently fixed at Pekin.

"Her Majesty's Government also approve of your having suggested to Rear-Admiral Seymour that a fleet of gunboats should be collected at Shanghai in order to accompany Mr. Bruce up the Peiho.

"I am,            Malmesbury"

Lord Elgin, then, knows beforehand that the British Government "will desire" that his brother, Mr. Bruce, be accompanied by "an imposing force" of "gunboats" up the Peiho, and he orders Admiral Seymour to make ready "for this service." The Earl of Malmesbury, in his dispatch dated May 2, approves of the suggestion intimated by Lord Elgin to the Admiral. The whole correspondence exhibits Lord Elgin as the master, and Lord Malmesbury as the man. While the former constantly takes the initiative and acts upon the instructions originally received. from Palmerston, without even waiting for new instructions from Downing street, Lord Malmesbury contents himself with indulging "the desires" which his imperious subaltern anticipates him to feel. He nods assent, when. Elgin states that the treaty being not yet ratified, they had not the right to ascend any Chinese river; he nods assent, when Elgin thinks they ought to show much forbearance toward the Chinese in regard to the execution of the article of the treaty relating to the embassy to Pekin; and, nothing daunted, he nods assent when in direct contradiction to his own former statements, Elgin claims the right to enforce the passage of the Peiho by an "imposing fleet of gunboats." He nods assent in the same way that Dogberry nodded assent to the suggestions of the sexton.[p]

The sorry figure cut by the Earl of Malmesbury, and the humility of his attitude, are easily understood if one calls to mind the cry raised on the advent of the Tory Cabinet, by the London Times[q] and other influential papers, as to the great peril threatening the brilliant success which Lord Elgin, under the instructions of Palmerston, was about to secure in China, but which the Tory Administration, if for pique only, and in order to justify their vote of censure on Palmerston's Canton bombardment, were likely to baffle. Malmesbury allowed himself to be intimidated by that cry. He had, moreover, before his eyes and in his heart the fate of Lord Ellenborough, who had dared openly to counteract the Indian policy of the noble Viscount, and in reward for his patriotic courage, was sacrificed by his own colleagues of the Derby Cabinet[389]. Consequently, Malmesbury resigned the whole initiative into the hands of Elgin, and thus enabled the latter to execute Palmerston's plan on the responsibility of his official antagonists, the Tories. It is this same circumstance which for the present has put the Tories in a very dismal alternative as to the course to be taken in regard to the Peiho affair. Either they must, sound the war-trumpet with Palmerston, and thus keep him in office, or they must turn their backs on Malmesbury, upon whom they heaped such sickening flatteries during the last Italian war.

The alternative is the more trying since the impending third China war is anything but popular with the British mercantile classes. In 1857 they bestrode the British lion, because they expected great commercial profits from a forcible opening of the Chinese market. At this moment, they feel, on the contrary, rather angry at seeing the fruits of the treaty obtained, all at once snapped away from their hold. They know that affairs look menacing enough in Europe and India, without the further complication of a Chinese war on a grand scale. They have not forgotten that in 1857, the imports of tea fell by upward of 24 millions of pounds, that being the article almost exclusively exported from Canton, which was then the exclusive theater of war, and they apprehend that this interruption of trade by war may now be extended to Shanghai and the other trading ports of the Celestial Empire. After a first Chinese war undertaken by the English in the interest of opium smuggling, and a second war carried on for the defense of the lorcha of a pirate, nothing was wanted for a climax but a war extemporized for the purpose of pestering China with the nuisance of permanent Embassies at its Capital.

Written on September 13, 16, 20 and 30, 1859
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, Nos. 5750, 5754, 5761 and 5768, September 27, October 1, 10 and 18, 1859;
reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, Nos. 1496 and 1498, September 27 and October 4, 1859,
and the New-York Weekly Tribune, No. 942, October 1, 1859
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune


[a] See this volume, pp. 46-50 and 82-86.—Ed.

[b] On this fact see D. Macgowan, "To the Editor of The Times", The Times, No. 23410, September 13, 1859.—Ed.

[c] These data are taken from Correspondence Relative to the Earl of Elgin's Special Missions to China and Japan.—Ed.

[d] "Chine. Aux embouchures du Pei-Ho, 1er juillet 1859", Le Moniteur universel, No. 258, September 15, 1859; "The Disaster in China", The Times, No. 23411, September 14, 1859; the leading article in The Times, No. 23413, September 16, 1859.—Ed.

[e] Hien-Fung.—Ed.

[f] Papers. East India (Cabul and Afghanistan). Ordered by the House of Commons, to be Printed 8 June 1859 [London, 1859].—Ed.

[g] Correspondence Relating to Persia and Afghanistan, London [1839].—Ed.

[h] James Burnes' statements about the forgery of the dispatches of Sir Alexander Burnes, The Free Press, No. 5, February 3, 1858.—Ed.

[i] The Times, No. 23409, September 12, 1859 (leading article).—Ed.

[j] Simpleton.—Ed.

[k] The Times, No. 23413, September 16, 1859 (leading article).—Ed.

[l] Here and below see The Times, No. 23415, September 19, 1859 (leading article).—Ed.

[m] The reference is to the articles "The Disaster in China" and "The Trade of China. Its Importance, Direct and Indirect", The Economist, No. 838, September 17, 1859.—Ed.

[n] Benjamin Disraeli's speech in the House of Commons on February 3, 1857, The Times, No. 22595, February 4, 1857.—Ed.

[o] Lord Palmerston's speech in the House of Commons on February 3, 1857, The Times, NO. 22595, February 4, 1857.—Ed.

[p] Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, Act IV, Scene 2.—Ed.

[q] No. 22930, March 2, 1858 (leading article).—Ed.

[377] The article was published in full in the New-York Daily Tribune. The New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune published only the first two parts, and the New-York Weekly Tribune—only the first part.

[378] The Shanghai British-Chinese commercial agreement of November 8, 1858, concluded to enlarge on Clause 26 of the Tientsin Treaty of 1858. The agreement legalised the import of opium to China under the guise of foreign medicine. See Note 383↓

[379] As a result of the incident on the Peiho River in the summer of 1860, described in the text below, hostilities were resumed in the second Opium war which had been suspended by the Tientsin negotiations. The war ended in the signing, in October 1860, of the unequal Peking treaties. See Note 383↓.

[380] The reference is to the bombardment of Canton by the British in October 1856. See Note 42↓.

[381] The Manchester school—a trend in economic thought reflecting the interests of the industrial bourgeoisie. It advocated Free Trade and non-interference by the state in economic affairs. In the 1840s and 1850s the Free Traders constituted the Left wing of the Liberal Party in England.

[382] Peelites—moderate Tories, adherents of Robert Peel, who favoured concessions to the trading and industrial bourgeoisie in the sphere of economics and the continued political supremacy of the big landowners and financial magnates. In 1846 Peel secured the repeal of the Corn Laws in the interests of the industrial bourgeoisie; this aroused great discontent among the Protectionist Tories and led to a split in the Tory Party and the formation of an independent group by the Peelites. After Peel's death in 1850 the Peelites had no definite programme. At the end of the 1850s and the beginning of the 1860s they joined the Liberal Party which was then being formed.

[383] This refers to the unequal treaties signed in Tientsin in June 1858 by Britain and France with China during the second Opium war (1856-60). The treaties made new ports available to foreign commerce: on the River Yangtze, in Manchuria and on the islands of Taiwan and Hainan, also the port of Tientsin. Foreign diplomatic representatives were authorised in Peking; foreigners were allowed to travel freely in the country for commercial or other purposes. Britain and France received economic privileges through the introduction of new commercial rules legalising the opium trade, and were paid indemnities. The Peking treaties of 1860 which ended the second Opium war increased the indemnities to be paid out by China. The British received the right to recruit Chinese for work in colonies and other places. Britain obtained the southern part of the Tsulung (Koulung) peninsula. The Peking treaties confirmed the remaining, unchanged, articles of the Tientsin treaties, which were ratified simultaneously with the signing of the Peking treaties. Though the USA did not officially take part in the war, it rendered aid, above all diplomatic, to Britain and France. This gave the USA the possibility to sign with China the Tientsin Treaty of June 1858 which guaranteed it a number of commercial privileges, the most-favoured-nation treatment and freedom of activity for US missionaries.

[384] The English ambassador to Madrid, Sir Henry Bulwer, grossly interfered in the internal affairs of Spain. As a result he was expelled from the country on May 19, 1848 and diplomatic relations between the two countries were broken off.

[385] The reference is to the Kulju Treaty concluded between Russia and China in July 1851. Under it Russian merchants were allowed to trade in Kulju and Chuguchak. This treaty opened up regular and stable trade between Russia and China on their common Central Asian borders.

[386] During the second Opium war, before the conclusion of the Tientsin Treaty with Britain and France, the Chinese Government signed the Aigun Treaty with Russia in May 1858. See Note 44↓.

[387] The first Anglo-Afghan war (1838-42) started with the invasion of Afghanistan by British occupation troops in Sind. The invasion was carried out under the pretext of rendering assistance to the pretender, Emir Dost Mohammed's brother Shuja. However, a popular uprising in November 1841 against the British invaders and their puppet Shuja compelled the British, who sustained a severe defeat, to withdraw.

[388] The reference is to the arrest by the Chinese authorities in October 1856 of the lorcha Arrow sailing under the British flag with contraband opium. See Note 42↓.

[389] This refers to the conflict between Lord Ellenborough, President of the Board of Control, and Lord Canning, Governor-General of India. In his dispatch of April 19, 1858 Ellenborough, who advocated a more flexible policy towards the Indian top feudal strata, sharply criticised Canning's proclamation of March 3, 1858 confiscating the lands of the Oudh feudal lords who had joined a national liberation uprising. However, Ellenborough's dispatch was not approved of by the British ruling classes and in May 1858 he had to resign his post as President of the Board of Control. Ellenborough was sacrificed to maintain the Derby Cabinet in power.

[42] This refers to the incident which sparked off the second Opium war: the seizure by the Chinese authorities of the British lorcha Arrow with contraband opium in Canton in 1856. The British Ministry responded by sending to China a corps of 5,000 men under the command of Lord Elgin. Canton was brutally bombarded and on December 29, 1857 captured by the British.

[44] The reference is to the Aigun and Tientsin treaties concluded between China and Russia.

The establishment of the first ties between Russia and China dates back to the thirteenth century and that of official contacts to the early seventeenth century, when the Russians began the economic development of the Amur (Amoor) Region. In the 1680s an Albazin Voivodeship was set up embracing the Amur Valley, from the confluence of the Shilka and the Argun.

The Manchu dynasty which established itself in Peking in the mid-seventeenth century and subjugated the Chinese people sought to take possession of the Amur Region developed by the Russians. The policy of expansion pursued by the Ching Government resulted in a military conflict with Russia in the 1680s. The necessity to settle the armed clashes of Russian Cossacks and peasants in the Amur Region with Manchu armed detachments which attacked them and tried to drive away the local population led to the dispatch, in 1686, of a mission under F. A. Golovin to Nerchinsk to negotiate with the Ching Government. The Ching troops, who had actually occupied the Albazin Voivodeship and were near Nerchinsk during the talks, totalled 15,000 men, while Golovin's guard numbered 2,000. Under the Nerchinsk Treaty signed on August 29, 1689, Russia was forced to give up the large territory of the Albazin Voivodeship. No border-line in the proper sense of the word was established for lack of precise geographical reference points and because the Russian, Latin and Manchu copies of the treaty were not identical.

Under the Aigun Treaty of May 28 (16), 1858, the left bank of the Amur, from the confluence of the Shilka and the Argun to the sea, was recognised as Russian territory, while the question of the Ussuri Area, from the confluence of the Ussuri and the Amur to the sea, was left open until the final fixing of the frontier between Russia and China. Navigation on the Amur, Sungari and Ussuri was prohibited to all states except Russia and Ching China. The treaty thus returned to Russia the left bank of the Amur developed by the Russians in the seventeenth century and taken from it under the Nerchinsk Treaty of 1689. Besides, it thwarted the British diplomats' attempt to aggravate Russo-Chinese relations and closed the Amur to West-European shipping.

The Tientsin Treaty of June 1 (13), 1858 confirmed the articles of the Aigun Treaty. Russia's frontier on its eastern part was finally defined by the supplementary Peking Treaty, signed on November 2 (14), 1860, under which the land on the eastern banks of the Ussuri and Sungach was recognised as Russian territory and the land on the western banks as that of Ching China.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 16 (pp.508-524), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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