Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > Browse all available works of Thomas De Quincey > Text of English In China

An essay by Thomas De Quincey

The English In China

Title:     The English In China
Author: Thomas De Quincey [More Titles by De Quincey]

This Paper, originally written for me in 1857, and published in _Titan_ for July of that year, has not appeared in any collective edition of the author's works, British or American. It was his closing contribution to a series of three articles concerning Chinese affairs; prepared when our troubles with that Empire seemed to render war imminent. The first two were given in _Titan_ for February and April, 1857, and then issued with additions in the form of a pamphlet which is now very scarce. It consisted of 152 pages thus arranged:--(1) Preliminary Note, i-iv; (2) Preface, pp. 3-68; (3) China (the two _Titan_ papers), pp. 69-149; (4) Postscript, pp. 149-152.

In the posthumous supplementary volume (XVI.) of the collected works the _third section_ was reprinted, but all the other matter was discarded--with a rather imperfect appreciation of the labour which the author had bestowed upon it, and his own estimate of the value of what he had condensed in this Series--as frequently expressed to me during its progress.

In the twelfth volume of the 'Riverside' Edition of De Quincey's works, published by Houghton, Mifflin & Co., Boston, U.S.A., the whole of the 152 pp. of the expanded _China_ reprint are given, but not the final section here reproduced from _Titan_.

The Chinese questions stirred DE QUINCEY profoundly, and roused all the 'John Bullism' of his nature. Two passages from the 'Preliminary Note' will show his object in throwing so much energy into this subject:--



'Its purpose[1] is to diffuse amongst those of the middle classes, whose daily occupations leave them small leisure for direct personal inquiries, some sufficient materials for appreciating the _justice_ of our British pretensions and attitude in our coming war with China. It is a question frequently raised amongst public journalists, whether we British are entitled to that exalted distinction which sometimes we claim for ourselves, and which sometimes is claimed on our behalf, by neutral observers on the national practice of morality. There is no call in this place for so large a discussion; but, most undoubtedly, in one feature of so grand a distinction, in one reasonable presumption for inferring a profounder national conscientiousness, as diffused among the British people, stands upon record, in the pages of history, this memorable fact, that always at the opening (and at intervals throughout the progress) of any war, there has been much and angry discussion amongst us British as to the equity of its origin, and the moral reasonableness of its objects. Whereas, on the Continent, no man ever heard of a question being raised, or a faction being embattled, upon any demur (great or small) as to the moral grounds of a war. To be able to face the trials of a war--_that_ was its justification; and to win victories--_that_ was its ratification for the conscience.'

[Footnote 1: That is--the publication of the pamphlet.--H. []



'The dispute at Shanghai, in 1848, equally as regards the origin of that dispute, and as regards the Chinese mode of conducting it, will give the reader a key to the Chinese character and the Chinese policy. To begin by making the most arrogant resistance to the simplest demands of justice, to end by cringing in the lowliest fashion before the guns of a little war-brig, there we have, in a representative abstract, the Chinese system of law and gospel. The equities of the present war are briefly summed up in this one question: What is it that our brutal enemy wants from us? Is it some concession in a point of international law, or of commercial rights, or of local privilege, or of traditional usage, that the Chinese would exact? Nothing of the kind. It is simply a license, guaranteed by ourselves, to call us in all proclamations by scurrilous names; and secondly, with our own consent, to inflict upon us, in the face of universal China, one signal humiliation.... Us--the freemen of the earth by emphatic precedency--us, the leaders of civilisation, would this putrescent[2] tribe of hole-and-corner assassins take upon themselves, not to force into entering by an ignoble gate [the reference here is to a previous passage concerning the low door by which Spanish fanaticism ordained that the _Cagots_ (lepers) of the Pyrenees should enter the churches in a stooping attitude], but to exclude from it altogether, and for ever. Briefly, then, for this licensed scurrility, in the first place; and, in the second, for this foul indignity of a spiteful exclusion from a right four times secured by treaty, it is that the Chinese are facing the unhappy issues of war.'

[Footnote 2: _Putrescent._ See the recorded opinions of Lord Amherst's suite upon the personal cleanliness of the Chinese.]

* * * * *

The position and outcome of matters in those critical years may be recalled by a few lines from the annual summaries of _The Times_ on the New Years' days of 1858 and 1859. These indicate that DE QUINCEY was here a pretty fair exponent of the growing wrath of the English people.

[_January 1, 1858._]

'The presence of the China force on the Indian Seas was especially fortunate. The demand for reinforcements at Calcutta (caused by the Indian Mutiny) was obviously more urgent than the necessity for punishing the insolence at Canton. At a more convenient season the necessary operations in China will be resumed, and in the meantime the blockading squadron has kept the offending population from despising the resentment of England. The interval which has elapsed has served to remove all reasonable doubt of the necessity of enforcing redress. Public opinion has not during the last twelvemonth become more tolerant of barbarian outrages. There is no reason to believe that the punishment of the provincial authorities will involve the cessation of intercourse with the remainder of the Chinese Empire.'

* * * * *

[_January 1, 1859._]

'The working of our treaties with China and Japan will be watched with curiosity both in and out of doors, and we can only hope that nothing will be done to blunt the edge of that masterly decision by which these two giants of Eastern tale have been felled to the earth, and reduced to the level and bearing of common humanity.'

* * * * *

The titles which follow are those which were given by DE QUINCEY himself to the three Sections.--H.



Said before the opening of July, that same warning remark may happen to have a prophetic rank, and practically, a prophetic value, which two months later would tell for mere history, and history paid for by a painful experience.

The war which is now approaching wears in some respects the strangest features that have yet been heard of in old romance, or in prosaic history, for we are at war with the southernmost province of China--namely, Quantung, and pre-eminently with its chief city of Canton, but not with the other four commercial ports of China, nor; in fact, at present with China in general; and, again, we are at war with Yeh, the poisoning Governor of Canton, but (which is strangest of all) not with Yeh's master--the Tartar Emperor--locked up in a far-distant Peking.

Another strange feature in this war is--the footing upon which our alliances stand. For allies, it seems, we are to have; nominal, as regards the costs of war, but real and virtual as regards its profits. The French, the Americans,[3] and I believe the Belgians, have pushed forward (absolutely in post-haste advance of ourselves) their several diplomatic representatives, who are instructed duly to lodge their claims for equal shares of the benefits reaped by our British fighting, but with no power to contribute a single file towards the bloodshed of this war, nor a single guinea towards its money costs. Napoleon I., in a craze of childish spite towards this country, pleased himself with denying the modern heraldic bearings of Great Britain, and resuscitating the obsolete shield of our Plantagenets; he insisted that our true armorial ensigns were the leopards. But really the Third Napoleon is putting life and significance into his uncle's hint, and using us, as in Hindostan they use the cheeta or hunting-leopard, for rousing and running down his oriental game. It is true, that in certain desperate circumstances, when no opening remains for pacific negotiation, these French and American agents are empowered to send home for military succours. A worshipful prospect, when we throw back our eyes upon our own share in these warlike preparations, with all the advantages of an unparalleled marine. Six months have slipped away since Lord Clarendon, our Foreign Secretary, received, in Downing Street, Sir J. Bowring's and Admiral Seymour's reports of Yeh's atrocities. Six calendar months, not less, but more, by some days, have run past us since then; and though some considerable part of our large reinforcements must have reached their ground in April, and even the commander-in-chief (Sir John Ashburnham) by the middle of May, yet, I believe, that many of the gun-boats, on which mainly will rest the pursuit of Yeh's junks, if any remain unabsconded northwards, have actually not yet left our own shores. The war should naturally have run its course in one campaign. Assuredly it will, if confined within the limits of Yeh's command, even supposing that command to comprehend the two Quangs. Practically, then, it is a fantastic impossibility that any reversionary service to our British expedition, which is held out in prophetic vision as consecrating our French and American friends from all taint of mercenary selfishness, ever can be realised. I am not going to pursue this subject. But a brief application of it to a question at this moment (June 16) urgently appealing to public favour is natural and fair. Canvassers are now everywhere moving on behalf of a ship canal across the Isthmus of Suez. This canal proposes to call upon the subscribers for L9,000,000 sterling; the general belief is, that first and last it will call for L12,000,000 to L15,000,000. But at that price, or at any price, it is cheap; and ultimate failure is impossible. Why do I mention it? Everywhere there is a rumour that 'a narrow jealousy' in London is the bar which obstructs this canal speculation. There is, indeed, and already before the canal proposal there _was_, a plan in motion for a _railway_ across the isthmus, which seems far enough from meeting the vast and growing necessities of the case. But be _that_ as it may, with what right does any man in Europe, or America, impute narrowness of spirit, local jealousy, or selfishness, to England, when he calls to mind what sacrifices she is at this moment making for those very oriental interests which give to the ship canal its sole value--the men, the ships, the money spent, or to _be_ spent, upon the Canton war, and then in fairness connects that expense (or the similar expense made by her in 1840-42) with the operative use to which, in those years, she applied all the diplomatic concessions extorted by her arms. The first word--a memorable word--which she uttered on proposing her terms in 1842, was, What I demand for myself, _that_ let all Christendom enjoy. And since that era (_i. e._, for upwards of fourteen years) all Christendom, that did not fail in the requisite energy for improving the opportunities then first laid open, _has_ enjoyed the very same advantages in Chinese ports as Great Britain; secondly, without having contributed anything whatever to the winning or the securing of these advantages; thirdly, on the pure volunteer intercession made by Britain on their behalf. The world has seen enough of violence and cruelties, the most bloody in the service of commercial jealousies, and nowhere more than in these oriental regions: witness the abominable acts of the Dutch at Amboyna, in Japan, and in Java, &c.; witness the bigoted oppressions, where and when soever they had power, of the colonising Portuguese and Spaniards. Tyranny and merciless severities for the ruin of commercial rivals have been no rarities for the last three and a half centuries in any region of the East. But first of all, from Great Britain in 1842 was heard the free, spontaneous proclamation--this was a rarity--unlimited access, with advantages the very same as her own, to a commerce which it was always imagined that she laboured to hedge round with repulsions, making it sacred to her own privileged use. A royal gift was this; but a gift which has not been received by Christendom in a corresponding spirit of liberal appreciation. One proof of _that_ may be read in the invidious statement, supported by no facts or names, which I have just cited. Were this even true, a London merchant is not therefore a Londoner, or even a Briton. Germans, Swiss, Frenchmen, &c.;, are settled there as merchants, in crowds. No nation, however, is compromised by any act of her citizens acting as separate and uncountenanced individuals. So that, even if better established as a fact, this idle story would still be a calumny; and as a calumny it would merit little notice. Nevertheless, I have felt it prudent to give it a prominent station, as fitted peculiarly, by the dark shadows of its malice, pointed at our whole nation collectively, to call into more vivid relief the unexampled lustre of that royal munificence in England, which, by one article of a treaty, dictated at the point of her bayonets, threw open in an hour, to all nations, that Chinese commerce, never previously unsealed through countless generations of man.

[Footnote 3: '_America_:'--For America in particular there is an American defence offered in a Washington paper (the _Weekly Union_, for May 28, 2022), which, for cool ignoring of facts, exceeds anything that I remember. It begins thus:--'Since our treaty with China in 1844' (and _that_, be it remembered, was possible only in consequence of our war and its close in 1842), 'the most amicable relations have existed between the United States and China--China is our friend, and we are hers.' Indeed! as a brief commentary upon that statement, I recommend to the reader's attention our Blue-books on China of last winter. The American commander certainly wound up his quarrel with Yeh in a mysterious way, that drew some sneers from the various nationalities then moving in that neighbourhood, but no less certainly he had, during the October of 1856, a smart exchange of cannon-shots with Yeh, which lasted for some days (three, at least, according to my remembrance), and ended in the capture of numerous Chinese forts. The American apologist says in effect, that the United States will not fight, because they have no quarrel. But that is not the sole question. Does the United States mean to take none of the benefits that may be won by our arms? He speaks of the French as more belligerently inclined than the United States. Would that this were really so. No good will come of schisms between the nations of Christendom. There is a posthumous work of Commissioner Lin, in twelve quartos, printed at Peking, urgently pressing the necessity for China of building upon such schisms the one sole policy that can save her from ruin.]

Next, then, having endeavoured to place these preliminary points in their true light, I will anticipate the course by which the campaign would naturally be likely to travel, supposing no alien and mischievous disturbance at work for deranging it. Simply to want fighting allies would be no very menacing evil. We managed to do without them in our pretty extensive plan of warfare fifteen years ago; and there is no reason why we should find our difficulties now more intractable than then. I should imagine that the American Congress and the French Executive would look on uneasily, and with a sense of shame, at the prospect of sharing largely in commercial benefits which they had not earned, whilst the burdens of the day were falling exclusively upon the troops of our nation; but _that_ is a consideration for their own feelings, and may happen to corrode their hearts and their sense of honour most profoundly at some future time, when it may have ceased to be remediable. If that were all, for us there would be no arrears of mortified sensibilities to apprehend. But what is ominous even in relation to ourselves from these professedly inert associates, these sleeping partners in our Chinese dealings, is, that their presence with no active functions argues a faith lurking somewhere in the possibility of _talking_ the Chinese into reason. Such a chimera, still surviving the multiform experience we have had, augurs ruin to the total enterprise. It is not absolutely impossible that even Yeh, or any imbecile governor armed with the same obstinacy and brutal arrogance, might, under the terrors of an armament such as he will have to face, simulate a submission that was far from his thoughts. We ourselves found in the year 1846, when in fidelity to our engagements we gave back the important island of Chusan, which we had retained for four years, in fact until all the instalments of the ransom money had been paid, that a more negligent ear was turned to our complaints and remonstrances. The vile mob of Canton, long kept and indulged as so many trained bull-dogs, for the purpose of venting that insolence to Europeans which the mandarins could no longer utter personally without coming into collision with the treaty, became gradually unmanageable even by their masters. In 1847 Lord Palmerston, then Foreign Secretary, was reduced to the necessity of fulminating this passage against the executive government of the murdering city--'You' (Lord Palmerston was addressing Sir John Davis, at that time H. M. Plenipotentiary in China) 'will inform the Chinese authorities, in plain and distinct terms, that the British Government will not tolerate that a Chinese mob shall with impunity maltreat British subjects in China, whenever they get them into their power; and that if the Chinese authorities will not punish and prevent such outrages, the British Government will be obliged to take the matter into their own hands; and it will not be _their_ fault if, in such case, the innocent are involved in the punishment sought to be inflicted on the guilty.'

This commanding tone was worthy of Lord Palmerston, and in harmony with his public acts in all cases where he has understood the ground which he occupied. Unhappily he did _not_ understand the case of Canton. The British were admitted by each successive treaty, their right of entry was solemnly acknowledged by the emperor. Satisfied with this, Lord Palmerston said, 'Enough: the principle is secured; the mere details, locally intelligible no doubt, I do not pretend to understand. But all this will come in time. In time you will be admitted into Canton. And for the present rest satisfied with having your right admitted, if not as yet your persons.' Ay, but unfortunately nothing short of plenary admission to British flesh and blood ever will satisfy the organised ruffians of Canton, that they have not achieved a triumph over the British; which triumph, as a point still open to doubt amongst mischief-makers, they seek to strengthen by savage renewal as often as they find a British subject unprotected by armed guardians within their streets. In those streets murder walks undisguised. And the only measure for grappling with it is summarily to introduce the British resident, to prostrate all resistance, and to punish it by the gallows[4] where it proceeds to acts of murder. It is sad consideration for those, either in England or China, who were nearly or indirectly connected with Canton (amongst whom must be counted the British Government), that beyond a doubt the murders of our countrymen, which occurred in that city, would have been intercepted by such a mastery over the local ruffians as could not be effected so long as the Treaty of Nanking was not carried into effect with respect to free entrance and residence of British subjects. As things stood, all that Sir J. Davis could do, in obedience to the directions from the Home Government, was to order a combined naval and military attack upon all the Chinese forts which belt the approaches to Canton. These were all captured; and the immense number of eight hundred and twenty-seven heavy guns were in a few hours made unserviceable, either by knocking off their trunnions, or by spiking them, or in both ways. The Imperial Commissioner, Keying, previously known so favourably to the English by his good sense and discretion, had on this occasion thought it his best policy to ignore Lord Palmerston's letter: a copy had been communicated to him; but he took not the least notice of it. If this were intended for insolence, it was signally punished within a few hours. It happened that on our English list of grievances there remained a shocking outrage offered to Colonel Chesney, a distinguished officer of the engineers,[5] and which to a certainty would have terminated in his murder, but for the coming up at the critical moment of a Chinese in high authority. The villains concerned in this outrage were known, were arrested, and (according to an agreement with our plenipotentiary) were to be punished in our presence. But in contempt of all his engagements, and out of pure sycophantic concession to the Canton mob, Keying notified that we the injured party were to be excluded. _In that case no punishment at all would have been inflicted._ Luckily, our troops and our shipping had not yet dispersed. Sir J. Davis, therefore, wrote to Keying, openly taxing him with his breach of honour. 'I _was_ going' [these were Sir John's words] 'to Hong-Kong to-morrow; but since you behave with evasion and bad faith, in not punishing the offenders in the presence of deputed officers, I shall keep the troops at Canton, and proceed to-morrow in the steamer to Foshan, where, if I meet with insult, I will burn the town.' Foshan is a town in the neighbourhood of Canton, and happened to be the scene of Colonel Chesney's ill usage. Now, upon this vigorous step, what followed? Hear Sir John:--'Towards midnight a satisfactory reply was received, and at five o'clock next morning three offenders were brought to the guard-house--a mandarin of high rank being present on the part of the Chinese, and deputed officers on the part of the British. The men were bambooed in succession by the Chinese officers of justice;' and at the close of the scene, the mandarin (upon a requisition from our side) explained to the mob who crowded about the barriers _why_ the men were punished, and warned them that similar chastisement for similar offences awaited themselves. In one point only the example made was unsatisfactory: the men punished were not identified as the same who had assaulted Colonel Chesney. They might be criminals awaiting punishment for some other offence. With so shuffling a government as the Chinese, always moving through darkness, and on the principles of a crooked policy, no perfect satisfaction must ever be looked for. But still, what a bright contrast between this energy of men acquainted with the Chinese character, and the foolish imbecility of our own government in Downing Street, who are always attempting the plan of soothing and propitiating by concession those ignoble Orientals, in whose eyes all concession, great or small, through the whole scale of graduation, is interpreted as a distinct confession of weakness. Thus did all our governments: thus, above all others, did the East India Company for generations deal with the Chinese; and the first act of ours that ever won respect from China was Anson's broadsides, and the second was our refusal of the _ko-tou_. Thus did our Indian Government, in the early stages of their intercourse, deal with the Burmese. Thus did our government deal with the Japanese--an exaggerated copy of the Chinese. What they wanted with Japan was simply to do her a very kind and courteous service--namely, to return safe and sound to their native land seven Japanese who had been driven by hurricanes in continued succession into the Pacific, and had ultimately been saved from death by British sailors. Our wise government at home were well aware of the atrocious inhospitality practised systematically by these cruel islanders; and what course did they take to propitiate them? Good sense would have prescribed the course of arming the British vessel in so conspicuous a fashion as to inspire the wholesome respect of fear. Instead of which, our government actually drew the teeth of the particular vessel selected, by carefully withdrawing each individual gun. The Japanese cautiously sailed round her, ascertained her powerless condition, and instantly proceeded to force her away by every mode of insult; nor were the unfortunate Japanese _ever_ restored to their country. Now, contrast with this endless tissue of imbecilities, practised through many generations by our blind and obstinate government (for such it really is in its modes of dealing with Asiatics), the instantaneous success of 'sharp practice' and resolute appeals to _fear_ on the part of Sir John Davis. By midnight of the same day on which the British remonstrance had been lodged an answer is received; and this answer, in a perfect rapture of panic, concedes everything demanded; and by sunrise the next morning the whole affair has been finished. Two centuries, on our old East Indian system of negotiating with China, would not have arrived at the same point. Later in the very same year occurred another and more atrocious explosion of Canton ruffianism; and the instantaneous retribution which followed to the leading criminals, showed at once how great an advance had been made in winning respect for ourselves, and in extorting our rights, by this energetic mode of action. On Sunday, the 5th of December, six British subjects had gone out into the country on a pleasure excursion, some of whom unhappily carried pocket-pistols. They were attacked by a mob of the usual Canton character; one Chinese was killed and one wounded by pistol-shots; but of the six British, encompassed by a countless crowd, not one escaped: all six were murdered, and then thrown into the river. Immediately, and before the British had time to take any steps, the Chinese authorities were all in motion. The resolute conduct of Sir John Davis had put an end to the Chinese policy of shuffling, by making it no longer hopeful. It lost much more than it gained. And accordingly it was agreed, after a few days' debate, that the emperor's pleasure should not be taken, except upon the more doubtful cases. Four, about whose guilt no doubts existed, were immediately beheaded; and the others, after communicating with Peking, were punished in varying degrees--one or two capitally.

[Footnote 4: '_By the gallows:_'--Or much rather by decapitation. Accordingly, we read of a Ming (_i. e._, native Chinese) emperor, who (upon finding himself in a dreadfully small minority) retired into his garden with his daughter, and there hanged both himself and the lady. On no account would he have decapitated either; since in that case the corpses, being headless, would in Chinese estimation have been imperfect.]

[Footnote 5: '_Colonel Chesney:_'--The same, I believe, whose name was at one time so honourably known in connection with the Euphrates and its steam navigation.]



Such is the condition of that guilty town, nearest of all Chinese towns to Hong-Kong, and indissolubly connected with ourselves. From this town it is that the insults to our flag, and the attempts at poisoning, wholesale and retail, have collectively emanated; and all under the original impulse of Yeh. Surely, in speculating on the conduct of the war, either as probable or as reasonable, the old oracular sentence of Cato the Elder and of the Roman senate (_Delenda est Carthago_) begins to murmur in our ears--not in this stern form, but in some modification, better suited to a merciful religion and to our western civilization. It is a great neglect on the part of somebody, that we have no account of the baker's trial at Hong-Kong. He was acquitted, it seems; but upon what ground? Some journals told us that he represented Yeh as coercing him into this vile attempt, through his natural affection for his family, alleged to be in Yeh's power at Canton. Such a fact, if true, would furnish some doubtful palliation of the baker's crime, and might have weight allowed in the sentence; but surely it would place a most dangerous power in the hands of Chinese grandees, if, through the leverage of families within their grasp, and by official connivance on our part, they could reach and govern a set of agents in Hong-Kong. No sympathy with our horror of secret murders by poison, under the shelter of household opportunities, must be counted on from the emperor, for he has himself largely encouraged, rewarded, and decorated these claims on his public bounty. The more necessary that such nests of crime as Canton, and such suggestors of crime as Yeh, should be thoroughly disarmed. This could be done, as regards the city, by three changes:--First, by utterly destroying the walls and gates; secondly, by admitting the British to the freest access, and placing their residence in a special quarter, upon the securest footing; thirdly, and as one chief means in that direction, by establishing a police on an English plan, and to some extent English in its composition. As to the cost, it is evident enough that the colonial head-quarters at Hong-Kong must in future keep up a _permanent_ military establishment; and since any danger threatening this colony must be kindled and fed chiefly in Canton, why not make this large city, sole focus as it is of all mischief to us, and not a hundred miles distant from the little island, the main barrack of the armed force?

Upon this world's tariff of international connections, what is China in relation to Great Britain? Free is she, or not--free to dissolve her connection with us? Secondly, what is Great Britain, when commercially appraised, in relation to China? Is she of great value or slight value to China? First, then, concerning China, viewed in its connection with ourselves, this vast (but perhaps not proportionably populous) country offers by accident the same unique advantage for meeting a social _hiatus_ in our British system that is offered by certain southern regions in the American United States for meeting another _hiatus_ within the same British system. Without tea, without cotton, Great Britain, no longer great, would collapse into a very anomalous sort of second-rate power. Without cotton, the main bulwark of our export commerce would depart. And without tea, our daily life would, generally speaking, be as effectually-ruined as bees without a Flora. In both of these cases it happens that the benefit which we receive is _unique_; that is, not merely ranking foremost upon a scale of similar benefits reaped from other lands--a largest contribution where others might still be large--but standing alone, and in a solitude that we have always reason to regard as alarming. So that, if Georgia, &c.;, withdrew from Liverpool and Manchester her myriads of cotton bales, palsied would be our commercial supremacy; and, if childish China should refuse her tea (for as to her silk, that is of secondary importance), we must all go supperless to bed: seriously speaking, the social life of England would receive a deadly wound. It is certainly a phenomenon without a parallel in the history of social man--that a great nation, numbering twenty-five millions, after making an allowance on account of those amongst the very poorest of the Irish who do not use tea, should within one hundred years have found themselves able so absolutely to revolutionise their diet, as to substitute for the gross stimulation of ale and wine the most refined, elegant, and intellectual mode of stimulation that human research has succeeded in discovering.[6] But the material basis of this stimulation unhappily we draw from the soil of one sole nation--and that nation (are we ever allowed to forget?) capricious and silly beyond all that human experience could else have suggested as possible. In these circumstances, it was not to be supposed that we should neglect any opening that offered for making ourselves independent of a nation which at all times we had so much reason to distrust as the Chinese. Might not the tea-plant be made to prosper in some district of our Indian Empire? Forty years ago we began to put forth organised botanical efforts for settling that question. Forty years ago, and even earlier, according to my remembrance, Dr Roxburgh--in those days the paramount authority upon oriental botany--threw some energy into this experiment for creating our own nurseries of the tea-plant. But not until our Burmese victories, some thirty years since, and our consequent treaties had put the province of Assam into our power, was, I believe, any serious progress made in this important effort. Mr Fortune has since applied the benefits of his scientific knowledge, and the results of his own great personal exertions in the tea districts of China, to the service of this most important speculation; with what success, I am not able to report. Meantime, it is natural to fear that the very possibility of doubts hanging over the results in an experiment so vitally national, carries with it desponding auguries as to the ultimate issue. Were the prospects in any degree cheerful, it would be felt as a patriotic duty to report at short intervals all solid symptoms of progress made in this enterprise; for it is an enterprise aiming at a triumph far more than scientific--a triumph over a secret purpose of the Chinese, full of anti-social malice and insolence against Great Britain. Of late years, as often as we have accomplished a victory over any insult to our national honour offered or meditated by the Chinese, they have recurred to some old historical tradition (perhaps fabulous, perhaps not), of an emperor, Tartar or Chinese, who, rather than submit to terms of equitable reciprocity in commercial dealings with a foreign nation, or to terms implying an original equality of the two peoples, caused the whole establishments and machinery connected with the particular traffic to be destroyed, and all its living agents to be banished or beheaded. It is certain that, in the contemplation of special contingencies likely to occur between themselves and the British, the high mandarins dallied at intervals with this ancient precedent, and forbore to act upon it, partly under the salutary military panic which has for years been gathering gloomily over their heads, but more imperatively, perhaps, from absolute inability to dispense with the weekly proceeds from the customs, so eminently dependent upon the British shipping. Money, mere weight of dollars, the lovely lunar radiance of silver, this was the spell that moonstruck their mercenary hearts, and kept them for ever see-sawing--

'Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike.'

Now, upon this--a state of things suspected at times, or perhaps known, but not so established as that it could have been afterwards pleaded in evidence--a very grave question arose, but a question easily settled: had the Chinese a right, under the law of nations, to act upon their malicious caprice? No man, under any way of viewing the case, hesitated in replying, '_No_.' China, it was argued, had possessed from the first a clear, undoubted right to dismiss us with our business unaccomplished, _re infecta_, if that business were the establishment of a reciprocal traffic. In the initial stage of the relations between the two powers, the field was open to any possible movement in either party; but, according to the course which might be severally pursued on either side, it was possible that one or both should so act as, in the second stage of their dealings, wilfully to forfeit this original liberty of action. Suppose, for instance, that China peremptorily declined all commercial intercourse with Britain, undeniably, it was said, she had the right to do so. But, if she once renounced this right, no matter whether _ex_plicitly in words, or silently and _im_plicitly in acts (as if, for example, she looked on tranquilly whilst Great Britain erected elaborate buildings for the safe housing of goods)--in any such case, China wilfully divested herself of all that original right to withdraw from commercial intercourse. She might say _Go_, or she might say, _Come_; but she could not first say, _Come_; and then, revoking this invitation, capriciously say, _Go_.

[Footnote 6: Down to George I. there _could_ have been no breakfast in England for a gentleman or lady--there is none even yet in most parts of the Continent--without wine of some class or other.]

To this doctrine, thus limited, no man could reasonably demur. But to some people it has seemed that the limitations themselves are the only unsound part of the argument. It is denied that this original right of refusing a commercial intercourse has any true foundation in the relations of things or persons. Vainly, if any such natural right existed, would that broad basis have been laid providentially for insuring intercourse among nations, which, in fact, we find everywhere dispersed. Such a narrow and selfish distribution of natural gifts, all to one man, or all to one place, has in a first stage of human inter-relations been established, only that men might be hurried forward into a second stage where this false sequestration might be unlocked and dispersed. Concentrated masses, impropriations gathered into a few hands, useless alike to the possessor and to the world, why is it that, by primary arrangements of nature, they have been frozen into vast, inert insulation? Only that the agencies of commerce may thus the more loudly be invoked for thawing and setting them free to the world's use. Whereas, by a diffusive scattering, all motives to large social intercourse would have been neutralised.

It seems clear that the practical liberation and distribution throughout the world of all good gifts meant for the whole household of man, has been confided to the secret sense of a _right_ existing in man for claiming such a distribution as part of his natural inheritance. Many articles of almost inestimable value to man, in relation to his physical well-being (at any rate bearing such a value when substitutional remedies were as yet unknown) such as mercury, Jesuit's bark, through a long period the sole remedy for intermitting fevers, opium, mineral waters, &c.;, were at one time _locally_ concentred. In such cases, it might often happen, that the medicinal relief to an hospital, to an encampment, to a nation, might depend entirely upon the right to _force_ a commercial intercourse.

Now, on the other hand, having thus noticed the question, what commercial value has China irrevocably for England, next in the reverse question--namely, what commercial value does England bear to China?--I would wish to place this in a new light, by bringing it for the first time into relation to the doctrine of rent. Multitudes in past days, when political economy was a more favoured study, have spoken and written upon the modern doctrine of rent, without apparently perceiving how immediately it bears upon China, and how summarily it shatters an objection constantly made to the value of our annual dealing with that country. First, let me sketch, in the very briefest way, an outline of this modern doctrine. Two men, without communication, and almost simultaneously, in the year 1815, discovered the law of rent. Suddenly it struck them that all manufactured products of human industry must necessarily obey one law; whilst the products of land obey another and opposite law. Let us for a moment consider arable land as a natural machine for manufacturing bread. Now, in all manufactures depending upon machinery of human invention, the natural progress is from the worse machines to the better. No man lays aside a glove-making machine for a worse, but only for one that possesses the old powers at a less cost, or possesses greater powers, let us suppose, at an equal cost. But, in the natural progress of the bread-making machines, nature herself compels him to pursue the opposite course: he travels from the best machines to the worse. The best land is brought into cultivation first. As population expands, it becomes necessary to take up a second quality of land; then a third quality; and so on for ever. Left to the action of this one law, bread would be constantly growing dearer through a long succession of centuries. Its tendency lies in this direction even now; but this tendency is constantly met, thwarted, and retarded, by a counter-tendency in the general practice of agriculture, which is always slowly improving its own powers--that is, obtaining the same result at a cost slowly decreasing. It follows as a consequence, when closely pursued, that, whilst the products of pure human skill and human machines are constantly, by tendency, growing cheaper, on the other hand, by a counter-tendency, the products of natural machines (as the land, mines, rivers, &c.;) are constantly on the ascent. Another consequence is, that the worst of these natural machines gives the price for the whole; whereas, in a conflict between human machines, all the products of the worse would be beaten out of the field by those of the better. It is in dependency upon this law that all those innumerable proposals for cultivating waste-lands, as in the Scottish Highlands, in the Irish bogs, &c.;, are radically vicious; and, instead of creating plenty, would by their very success impoverish us. For suppose these lands, which inevitably must have been the lowest in the scale (or else why so long neglected?) to be brought into tillage--what follows? Inevitably this: that their products enter the market as the very lowest on the graduated tariff--_i. e._, as lower than any already cultured. And these it is--namely, the very lowest by the supposition--that must give the price for the whole; so that _every_ number on the scale will rise at once to the level fixed by these lowest soils, so ruinously (though benevolently) taken up into active and efficient life. If you add 20,000 quarters of wheat to the amount already in the market, you _seem_ to have done a service; but, if these 20,000 have been gained at an extra cost of half-a-crown on each quarter, and if these it is that, being from the poorest machines, rule the price, then you have added half-a-crown to every quarter previously in the market.

Meantime, returning to China, it is important to draw attention upon this point. A new demand for any product of land may happen to be not very large, and thus may seem not much to affect the markets, or the interests of those who produce it. But, since the rent doctrine has been developed, it has become clear that a new demand may affect the producers in two separate modes: first, in the ordinary known mode; secondly, by happening to call into activity a lower quality of soil. A very moderate demand, nay, a very small one, added to that previously existing, if it happens not to fall within the powers of those numbers already in culture (as, suppose, 1, 2, 3, 4), must necessarily call out No. 5; and so on.

Now, our case, as regards Chinese land in the tea districts, is far beyond this. Not only has it been large enough to benefit the landholder enormously, by calling out lower qualities of land, which process again has stimulated the counteracting agencies in the more careful and scientific culture of the plant; but also it has been in a positive sense enormous. It might have been large relatively to the power of calling out lower qualities of soil, and yet in itself have been small; but _our_ demand, running up at present to 100,000,000 pounds weight annually, is in all senses enormous. The poorer class of Chinese tea-drinkers use the leaves three times over--_i. e._, as the basis of three separate tea-makings. Consequently, even upon that single deduction, 60,000,000 of Chinese tea-drinkers count only as 20,000,000 of ours. But I conclude, by repeating that the greatest of the impressions made by ourselves in the China tea districts, has been derived from this--that, whilst the native demand has probably been stationary, ours, moving by continual starts forward, must have stimulated the tea interest by continual descents upon inferior soils.

There is no doubt that the Emperor and all his arrogant courtiers have decupled their incomes from the British stimulation applied to inferior soils, that but for us never would have been called into culture. Not a man amongst them is aware of the advantages which he owes to England. But he soon _would_ be aware of them, if for five years this exotic demand were withdrawn, and the tea-districts resigned to native patronage. Upon reviewing what I have said, not the ignorant and unteachable Chinese only, but some even amongst our own well-informed and reflecting people, will see that they have prodigiously underrated the commercial value of England to China; since, when an Englishman calls for a hundred tons of tea, he does not (as is usually supposed) benefit the Chinese merchant only by giving him the ordinary profit on a ton, repeated for a hundred times, but also infallibly either calls into profitable activity lands lying altogether fallow, or else, under the action of the rent laws, gives a new and secondary value to land already under culture.

Other and greater topics connected with this coming Chinese campaign clamorously call for notice: especially these three:--

First, the pretended literature and meagre civilisation of China--what they are, and with what real effects such masquerading phantoms operate upon the generation with which accidents of commerce have brought us connected.

Secondly, what is the true mode of facing that warfare of kidnapping, garotting, and poisoning, avowed as legitimate subjects of patronage in the practice and in the edicts of the Tartar Government? Two things may be said with painful certainty upon this subject: first, the British Government has signally neglected its duties in this field through a period of about ninety years, and apparently is not aware of any responsibility attaching in such a case to those who wield the functions of supreme power. Hyder Ali, the tiger, and his more ferocious son Tippoo, practised, in the face of all India, the atrocities of Virgil's Mezentius upon their British captives. These men filled the stage of martial history, through nearly forty years of the eighteenth century, with the tortures of the most gallant soldiers on earth, and were never questioned or threatened upon the subject. In this nineteenth century, again, we have seen a Spanish queen and her uncle sharing between them the infamy of putting to death (unjudged and unaccused) British soldiers on the idlest of pretences. Was it then in the power of the British Government to have made a vigorous and effectual intercession? It was; and in various ways they have the same power over the Chinese sovereign (still more over his agents) at present. The other thing which occurs to say is this: that, if we do _not_ interfere, some morning we shall probably all be convulsed with unavailing wrath at a repetition of Mr Stead's tragic end, on a larger scale, and exemplified in persons of more distinguished position.

Finally, it would have remained to notice the vast approaching revolution for the total East that will be quickened by this war, and will be ratified by the broad access to the Orient, soon to be laid open on one plan or other. Then will Christendom first begin to _act_ commensurately on the East: Asia will begin to rise from her ancient prostration, and, without exaggeration, the beginnings of a new earth and new heavens will dawn.

[The end]
Thomas De Quincey's essay: The English In China