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[Russia's Successes in The Far East][65]

Frederick Engels

The return match which Russia owed to France and England for her military defeats before Sevastopol, has just come off. The hard-contested, long-continued battles on the Heracleatic peninsu¬la, though they damped the national pride of Russia, and deprived her of a small slice of territory[66], still left her with a clear balance of profit at the close of the war. The condition of the "sick man"[67] has been rendered materially worse; the Christian population of European Turkey, both Greek and Slavonic, are more eager than ever to shake off the Turkish yoke, and look up to Russia, more than ever, as to their only protector. Russian agents, no doubt, have their hands in all the insurrections and conspiracies now at work in Bosnia, Servia, Montenegro and Candia, but the utter prostration and weakness of Turkey, as laid bare by the war itself and as augmented by the obligations imposed upon that country by the peace, can alone satisfactorily explain this general agitation among the Christian subjects of the Sultan[a]. Thus, for a momentary sacrifice of a narrow strip of land—for it must be obvious that she is sure to recover that at the very first opportunity—Russia has advanced a good deal toward the realization of her plans respecting Turkey. The increasing dilapidation of Turkey and the protectorate of her Christian subjects were the very objects sought after by Russia in beginning the war; and who can say that Russia does not now exercise such a protectorate more than ever?

Thus, Russia is the only gainer, even by this unsuccessful war. Still, she owed a return match, and she has chosen to play it on a ground where her success stands unrivaled—on that of diplomacy. While England and France undertook an expensive contest with China, Russia remained neutral, and only stepped in at the conclusion. The result is that England and France have been making war upon China for the sole benefit of Russia. The position of Russia, in this case, was indeed as favorable as it well could be. Here was another of those tottering Asiatic Empires, which are, one by one, falling a prey to the enterprise of the European race; so weak, so collapsed, that it had not even energy to pass through the crisis of popular revolution, but transformed even an acute insurrection into a chronic and apparently incurable complaint; an empire so rotten that nowhere scarcely was it capable either of controlling its own people or opposing resistance to foreign aggression. While the British squabbled with inferior Chinese officials at Canton, and discussed among themselves the important point whether Commissioner Yeh really did, or did not, act according to the will of the Emperor, the Russians took possession of the country north of the Amoor, and of the greater part of the coast of Mantchooria south of that point; there they fortified themselves, surveyed a line of railway, and laid out the plans of towns and harbors. When at last England resolved to carry the war to Pekin, and when France joined her in the hope of picking up something to her advantage, Russia, though at the very moment despoiling China of a country as large as France and Germany put together, and of a river as large as the Danube, managed to appear as the disinterested protector of the weak Chinese, and to act almost as mediator at the conclusion of the peace; and when we come to compare the different treaties, we must confess that the fact of the war having been carried on for the benefit, not of England or France, but of Russia, becomes evident to all.

The advantages secured to the belligerents, and in which Russia as well as the United States participates, are of a purely commercial character, and, as we have shown on former occasions[b], for the most part illusory. Under present circumstances, the Chinese trade, with the exception of opium and some East Indian cotton, must continue to consist principally in the export of Chinese goods, tea and silk; that export trade depending on foreign demand rather than the greater or less facilities afforded by the Chinese Government. The world managed to get tea and silk before the treaty of Nankin[68], and after that treaty the effect of opening the five ports was the transfer of a portion of the trade of Canton to Shanghai. The other ports have scarcely any trade at all, and indeed the only one which has at least some importance, Swatow, does not belong to the five open ports. As to the opening of trade high up the Yang-tse-kiang, that has been wisely postponed till the time when his Imperial Majesty shall have recovered his full sway over the disturbed country in that neighborhood—a period coincident with the Greek Calends. But there have arisen other doubts as to the value of this new Convention. There are some people who affirm that the transit duties spoken of in Article XXVIII of the Anglo-Chinese treaty are imaginary. These duties have been supposed to exist solely because the Chinese wanted very little English merchandise, and English goods accordingly, did not penetrate inland at all, while a certain kind of Russian cloth, suited to the wants of the Chinese, and brought by way of Kiakhta or Thibet, actually found its way to the coast. It was forgotten that such tolls, if in existence, would affect Russian as well as English goods. So much is sure, that Mr. Wingrove Cooke, who was sent into the interior on purpose, was unable to trace out these pretended "transit duties," and that when publicly interrogated on the subject, he confessed his "humiliating conviction that our ignorance of China is a darkness that may be felt."[c] On the other hand, Mr. J. W. Henley, the President of the British Board of Trade, answers in a letter that has been published, to the question, "Whether there is evidence that such internal duties exist?" very plainly: "I am unable to furnish you with the information you ask, as to the evidence of internal duties in China." Thus, beside the rather uncomfortable conviction that Lord Elgin, in stipulating for an indemnity, fixed no time for its payment, and carried the war from Canton to the capital merely to make a treaty which should send the British forces back from the capital to fight at Canton, the dark suspicion has broken in upon John Bull's mind, that he himself will have to pay out of his own pockets the indemnity stipulated for, since Article XXVIII will prove a strong inducement to the Chinese authorities to establish transit duties of 71/2 per cent on the British manufactures to be, on demand, converted into a 21/2 per cent import duty. To divert John Bull from looking too deeply into his own treaty, the London Times found it necessary to affect great wrath at the American Embassador[d], and fiercely denounced him as the spoiler of the mess, although, in fact, he had about as much to do with the failure of the second Anglo-Chinese war as the man in the moon.[e]

So the peace, so far as English commerce is concerned, results in a new import duty, and in a series of stipulations which are either without any practical value, or cannot be kept by the Chinese, and may, at any moment, become the pretexts of a new war. England has not obtained any accession of territory—she could not claim that, without allowing France to do the same, and an English war resulting in the establishment of French possessions on the Chinese coast would have been altogether unprofitable. As to Russia, the case is quite different. Beside sharing in all the ostensible advantages, whatever they be, secured to England and France, Russia has secured the whole of the country on the Amoor, which she had so quietly taken possession of. Not satisfied with this, she has obtained the establishment of a Russo-Chinese Commission to fix the boundaries. Now, we all know what such a Commission is in the hands of Russia. We have seen them at work on the Asiatic frontiers of Turkey, where they kept slicing away piece after piece from that country, for more than twenty years, until they were interrupted during the late war, and the work has now to be done over again. Then there is the article regulating the postal service between Kiakhta and Pekin. What was formerly an irregular and merely tolerated line of communication, will now be regularly organized, and established as a right. There is to be a monthly mail between the two places, and the journey, about 1,000 miles, is to be performed in 15 days; while once every three months a caravan is to go over the same route. Now, it is evident that the Chinese will either neglect this service, or be unable to carry it out; and, as the communication is now secured to Russia as a right, the consequence will be that it will gradually fall into her hands. We have seen how the Russians have carried their lines of posts through the Kirghiz steppe[f]; and we cannot doubt that in a very few years a similar line will be established across the desert of Gobi, and then adieu to all dreams of British supremacy in China; for then a Russian army may march on Pekin any day.

It is easy to imagine what will be the effect of the establishment of permanent Embassies at Pekin. Look to Constantinople or Teheran. Wherever Russian diplomacy meets English and French, it is uniformly successful. And that a Russian Embassador, with the chance of having, a few years hence, an army strong enough for any purpose at Kiakhta, a month's march from Pekin, and a line of road prepared for its march all the way—that such a Russian Embassador will be all powerful at Pekin, who can doubt?

The fact is that Russia is fast coming to be the first Asiatic Power, and putting England into the shade very rapidly on that continent. The conquest of Central Asia and the annexation of Mantchooria increase her dominions by an extent of country as large as all Europe exclusive of the Russian empire and bring her down from snowy Siberia to the temperate zone. In a short time, the valleys of the Central Asiatic rivers and of the Amoor will be peopled by Russian colonists. The strategic positions thus gained are as important for Asia as those in Poland are for Europe. The possession of Turan menaces India; that of Mantchooria menaces China. And China and India, with their 450,000,000 of inhabit-ants, are now the decisive countries of Asia.

Written about October 25, 1858
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5484, November 18, 1858 as a leading article;
reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1409, November 26, 1858
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune


[a] Abdul Mejid.—Ed.

[b] See this volume, pp. 46-50.—Ed.

[c] G. W. Cooke, China: being "The Times" Special Correspondence from China in the Years 1857- 58, London, 1858, p. 273.—Ed.

[d] William B. Reed.—Ed.

[e] The Times, No. 23129, October 20, 1858 (leading article).—Ed.

[f] See this volume, pp. 59-64.—Ed.

[66] The Heracleatic peninsula—part of the Crimean peninsula west of Inkerman up to Balaklava—was one of the major theatres of military operations during the siege of Sevastopol. When Marx says that Russia was deprived of "a small slice of territory", he refers to that part of Bessarabia which Russia had to cede under the Paris Treaty of 1856.

[67] This is what Nicholas I called Turkey in his talk with the British envoy G. Seymour in St. Petersburg on January 9, 1853. He suggested that Turkey should be divided between Russia and Britain, but Britain rejected the proposal for it did not want to see Russia become stronger and was interested in preserving the weak Ottoman Empire. Marx deals with this question in his article "The Documents on the Partition of Turkey" (see present edition, Vol. 13). See Correspondence Respecting the Rights and Privileges of the Latin and Greek Churches in Turkey. Presented to Both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty, Part I, "Eastern Papers. Seymour to Russell, January 11, 1853", London, 1854, pp. 875-78.

[68] 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 advantage¬ous 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↓.

[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.82-86), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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