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The British and Chinese Treaty[40]

Karl Marx

London, Sept. 28, 1858

The official summary of the Anglo-Chinese treaty[a], which the British Ministry has at last laid before the public, adds, on the whole, but little to the information that had already been conveyed through different other channels. The first and the last articles comprise, in fact, the points in the treaty of exclusively English interest. By the first article, "the supplementary treaty and general regulations of trade", stipulated after the conclusion of the treaty of Nankin[41] are "abrogated". That supplementary treaty provided that the. English Consuls residing at Hong Kong, and the five Chinese ports opened to British commerce, were to cooperate with the Chinese authorities in case any English vessels should arrive within the range of their consular jurisdiction with opium on board. A formal prohibition was thus laid upon English merchants to import the contraband drug, and the English Government, to some degree, constituted itself one of the Custom-House officers of the Celestial Empire. That the second opium war should end in removing the fetters by which the first opium war still affected to check the opium traffic, appears a result quite logical, and a consummation devoutly called for by that part of the British mercantile public which chanted most lusty applause to Palmerston's Canton fireworks[42] We are, however, much mistaken, if this official abandonment on the part of England of her hypocritic opposition to the opium trade is not to lead to consequences quite the reverse of those expected. By engaging the British Government to cooperate in the suppression of the opium traffic, the Chinese Government had recognized its inability to do so on its own account. The supplementary treaty of Nankin was a supreme and rather desperate effort at getting rid of the opium trade by foreign aid. This effort having failed, and being now proclaimed a failure, the opium traffic being now, so far as England is concerned, legalized, little doubt can remain that the Chinese Government will try a method alike recommended by political and financial considerations—viz.: legalize the cultivation of the poppy in China, and lay duties on the foreign opium imported. Whatever may be the intentions of the present Chinese Government, the very circumstances in which it finds itself placed by the treaty of Tien-tsin, show all that way.

That change once effected, the opium monopoly of India, and with it the Indian Exchequer, must receive a deadly blow, while the British opium traffic will shrink to the dimensions of an ordinary trade, and very soon prove a losing one. Till now, it has been a game played by John Bull with loaded dice. To have baffled its own object, seems, therefore, the most obvious result of the opium war No. II.

Having declared "a just war" on Russia, generous England desisted, at the conclusion of peace, from demanding any indemnity for her war expenses. Having, on the other hand, all along professed to be at peace with China itself, she, accordingly, cannot but make it pay for expenses incurred, in the opinion of her own present Ministers, by piracy on her own part. However, the first tidings of the fifteen or twenty millions of pounds sterling to be paid by the Celestials proved a quieter to the most scrupulous British conscience, and very pleasant calculations as to the beneficial effects of the Sycee silver[43] upon the balance of trade, and the metal reserve of the Bank of England, were entered into by The Economist and the writers of money articles generally. But alas! the first impressions which the Palmerstonian press had given itself so much trouble to produce and work upon, were too tender to bear the shock of real information.

A "separate article provides that a sum of two millions of taels"[b] shall be paid "on account of the losses sustained by British subjects through the misconduct of the Chinese authorities at Canton; and a further sum of two millions of taels on account of the expenses of the war."

Now, these sums together amount to £1,334,000 only, while, in 1842, the Emperor of China had to pay £4,200,000, of which £1,200,000 was indemnity for the contraband opium confiscated, and £3,000,000 for the expenses of the war. To come down from £4,200,000, with Hong Kong into the bargain, to simple £1,334,000, seems no thriving trade after all; but the worst remains still to be said. Since, says the Chinese Emperor, yours was no war with China, but a "provincial war" with Canton only, try yourselves how to squeeze out of the province of Kwang-tung the damages which your amiable war steamers have compelled me to adjudge to you. Meanwhile, your illustrious Gen. Straubenzee may keep Canton as a material guaranty, and continue to make the British arms the laughing-stock even of Chinese braves. The doleful feelings of sanguine John Bull at these clauses, which the small booty of £1,334,000 is encumbered with, have already vented themselves in audible groans.

"Instead," says one London paper, "of being able to withdraw our 53 ships-of-war, and see them return triumphant with millions of Sycee silver, we may look forward to the pleasing necessity of sending an army of 5,000 men to recapture and hold Canton, and to assist the fleet in carrying on that provincial war which the Consul's deputy has declared. But will this provincial war have no consequences beyond driving our Canton trade to other Chinese ports?... Will not the continuation of it [the provincial war] give Russia a large portion of the tea trade? May not the Continent, and England herself, become dependent on Russia and the United States for their tea?"[c]

John Bull's anxiety as to the effects of the "provincial war" upon the tea trade is not quite gratuitous. From McGregor's Commercial Tariffs[d] it may be seen that in the last year of the former Chinese war, Russia received 120,000 chests of tea at Kiakhta. The year after the conclusion of peace with China the Russian demand fell off 75 per cent, amounting to 30,000 only. At all events, the costs still to be incurred by the British in distraining Kwang-tung are sure so to swell the wrong side of the balance that this second China war will hardly be self-paying, the greatest fault which, as Mr. Emerson justly remarks, anything can be guilty of in British estimation.

Another great success of the English invasion is contained in Art. 51, according to which

"the term barbarian is not to be applied to the British Government nor to British subjects in any Chinese official document issued by the Chinese authorities."

The Chinese authorities styling themselves Celestial, how humble to their understanding must not appear John Bull, who, instead of insisting on being called divine or Olympian, contents himself with weeding the character representing the word barbarian out of the official documents.

The commercial articles of the treaty give England no advantage not to be enjoyed by her rivals, and, for the present, dissolve into shadowy promises, for the greater part not worth the parchment they are written on. Art. 10 stipulates:

"British merchant ships are to be allowed to trade up the great river (Yang-tse), but in the present disturbed state of the Upper and Lower Valley, no port is to be opened for trade with the exception of Chin-kiang, which is to be opened in a year from the signature of the treaty. When peace is restored, British vessels are to be admitted to trade at such ports, as far as Hankow, not exceeding three in number, as the British Minister, after consulting with the Chinese Secretary of State, shall determine."

By this article, the British are in fact excluded from the great commercial artery of the whole empire, from "the only line", as The Morning Star justly remarks, "by which they can push their manufactures into the interior." If they will be good boys, and help the Imperial Government in dislodging the rebels from the regions now occupied by them, then they may eventually navigate the great river, but only to particular harbors. As to the new seaports opened, from "all" the ports, as at first advertised, they have dwindled down to five ports, added to the five ports of the treaty of Nankin, and, as a London paper remarks, "they are generally remote or insular." Besides, at this time of the day, the delusive notion of the growth of trade being proportionate to the number of ports opened, should have been exploded. Consider the harbors on the coasts of Great Britain, or France, or the United States, how few of them have developed themselves into real emporiums of commerce? Before the first Chinese war, the English traded exclusively to Canton. The concession of five new ports, instead of creating five new emporiums of commerce, has gradually transferred trade from Canton to Shanghai, as may be seen from the following figures, extracted from the Parliamentary Blue-Book on the trade of various places for 1856-57. At the same time, it should be recollected that the Canton imports include the imports to Amoy and Fu-chow, which are transhipped at Canton. [See Table below.]

[e]British import trade toBritish export trade from

"The commercial clauses of the treaty are unsatisfactory", is a conclusion arrived at by The Daily Telegraph, Palmerston's most abject sycophant; but it chuckles at "the brightest point in the programme," viz.: "that the British Minister may establish himself at Pekin, while a Mandarin will install himself in London, and possibly invite the Queen to a ball at Albert Gate." However John Bull may indulge this fun, there can be no doubt that whatever political influence may be exercised at Pekin will fall to the part of Russia, which, by dint of the last treaty, holds a new territory, being as large as France, and, in great part, on its frontier, 800 miles only distant from Pekin. It is by no means a comfortable reflection for John Bull that he himself, by his first opium-war, procured Russia a treaty yielding her the navigation of the Amoor and free trade on the land frontier, while by his second opium-war he has helped her to the invaluable tract lying between the Gulf of Tartary and Lake Baikal, a region so much coveted by Russia that from Czar Alexei Michaelowitch down to Nicholas, she has always attempted to get it[44]. So deeply did the London Times[f] feel that sting that, in its publication of the St. Petersburg news, which greatly exaggerated the advantages won by Great Britain, good care was taken to suppress that part of the telegram which mentioned Russia's acquisition by treaty of the valley of the Amoor.

Written on September 28, 1858
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5455, October 15, 1858;
reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1398, October 19, 1858
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune


[a] The Times, No. 23109, September 27, 1858.—Ed.

[b] Tael—a Chinese monetary unit; three taels are equal to one pound sterling.—Ed.

[c] "Treaties with China", The Free Press, No. 21, September 22, 1858.—Ed.

[d] J. Mac-Gregor, Commercial Tariffs and Regulations, Resources, and Trade of the Several States of Europe and America, London, 1841-50. Quoted from The Free Press, No. 21, September 22, 1858.—Ed.

[e] "What Commercial Treaties May Really Effect", The Economist, No. 785, September 11, 1858.—Ed.

[f] "The Russian Despatch from China", The Times, No. 23085, August 30, 1858.—Ed.

[40] In connection with this article Marx wrote to Engels on December 17, 1858 that for months the Tribune had been publishing his articles about China as leaders.

He went on to say: "But when the official text of the Anglo-Chinese treaty was finally released, I wrote an article in which I said among other things that the Chinese 'would now legalise the import of opium, likewise impose an import duty on opium and, lastly, probably also permit the cultivation of opium actually inside China', and thus the 'second Opium war' would sooner or later deal a deadly blow to the English opium trade, and notably to the Indian Exchequer.... Mr. Dana printed this article as being from an 'occasional correspondent' in London, and himself wrote a bombastic leader refuting his 'occasional correspondent'" (see present edition, Vol. 40).

This leader, published in the same issue in which Marx's article was printed, reads in part: "We do not, however, consider as very probable, at least not at an early day, the consequence which our correspondent anticipates of the opening of the ports of China to the legal importation of opium and still less the legalizing of its cultivation in China."

In the above-mentioned letter Marx goes on to say that he wrote another article to the Tribune "qua 'occasional correspondent'", "somewhat mocking, though of course restrained, about my 'castigator'".

This article was not published by the New-York Daily Tribune.

[41] The Treaty of Nanking, concluded between Britain and China in 1842,was the first of a series of unequal treaties imposed by the Western powers on China, which reduced it to the status of a semi-colony. The Nanking Treaty made China open five of its ports to British commerce—Canton, Shanghai, Amoy, Ningpo and Fu-chou, cede the Island of Hongkong to Britain "in perpetuity" and pay a large indemnity. It introduced import and export tariffs advantageous to Britain. The latter did not succeed in legalising the import of opium, though the Nanking Treaty did not oblige the British Government to prohibit British subjects to trade in opium.

The supplementary protocol of 1843 concerning the general rules for trading in the five open ports contained articles (2, 7, 13) envisaging cooperation between the British and Chinese authorities in inspecting the goods brought to the ports and in organising their work.

Similar treaties with China were also signed by the USA and France. On the Tientsin Anglo-Chinese Treaty see Note 6↓.

[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.

[43] Sycee silver— ingots of silver of definite weight used in China at that time as coins called taels (Wangs). In international trade 750 taels were equal to 1,000 dollars.

[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. See also Note 6↓.

[6] 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.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 16 (pp.46-50), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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