Li Hung Chang : The Far East – Beacon Lights of History, Volume XIV : The New Era by John Lord

Beacon Lights of History, Volume XIV : The New Era by John Lord

John Lord – Beacon Lights of History, Volume XIV : The New Era

Richard Wagner : Modern Music
John Ruskin : Modern Art
Herbert Spencer : The Evolutionary Philosophy
Charles Darwin : His Place in Modern Science
John Ericsson : Navies of War and Commerce
Li Hung Chang : The Far East
David Livingstone : African Development
Sir Austen Henry Layard : Modern Archaeology
Michael Faraday : Electricity and Magnetism
Rudolf Virchow : Medicine and Surgery

John Lord – Beacon Lights of History, Volume XIV : The New Era
John Lord

Topics Covered
Introductory; Earl Li’s foreign fame; his rising star.
Intercourse with China by land.
The Great Wall; China first known to the western world through its conquest by the Mongols.
The houses of Han, Tang, and Sang.
The diplomat Su Wu on an embassy to Turkey.
Intercourse by sea.
Expulsion of the Mongols; the magnetic needle.
Art of printing; birth of alchemy.
Manchu conquest; Macao and Canton opened to foreign trade.
The Opium War.
Li Hung Chang appears on the scene.
His contests for academical honors and preferment.
The Taiping rebellion.
Li a soldier; General Ward and “Chinese Gordon”.
The Arrow War; the treaties.
Lord Elgin’s mistake leads to renewal of the war.
Fall of the Peiho forts and flight of the Court.
The war with France.
Mr. Seward and Anson Burlingame.
War ended through the agency of Sir Robert Hart.
War with Japan.
Perry at Tokio (Yeddo); overturn of the Shogans.
Formosa ceded to Japan.
China follows Japan and throws off trammels of antiquated usage.
War with the world.
The Boxer rising; menace to the Peking legations.
Prince Ching and Viceroy Li arrange terms of peace.
Li’s death; patriot, and patron of educational reform.

Li Hung Chang : The Far East

By W.A.P. Martin, D.D., LL.D


Five years ago Earl Li was at the head of the “Tsungli Yamen,” or Foreign Office in Peking. The present writer, having known him long and intimately, called one morning to request a letter of recommendation to aid in raising money for an International Institute projected by the Rev. Dr. Reid. “He’s got one letter; why does he want another?” asked Li, in a tone of mingled surprise and irritation. “True,” said I, “but that is from the Tsungli Yamen. Nobody in America knows anything about the Yamen. What he wants is a personal letter from you; because the only Chinese name besides Confucius that is known outside of China is Li Hung Chang.”

“Ill give it! Ill give it!” he exclaimed, smiling from ear to ear at the thought of his world-wide reputation.

This was taking him on his weak side; but it was fact, not flattery.

Over forty years ago Li’s rising star first came to view in connection with operations against the rebels in the vicinity of Shanghai, and from that day to this, every war, domestic or foreign, has served to raise it higher and make it shine the brighter. It reached its zenith in 1901, when after settling terms of peace with several foreign powers he passed off the stage at the ripe age of fourscore. What better type to set forth his age and nation than the man who, through a long career of unexampled activity, won for himself a triple crown of literary, military, and civil honors? In physique he was a noble specimen of his race, over six feet in height, and in his earlier years uncommonly handsome. The first half of his existence was passed in comparative obscurity at Hofei in Anhui, a region remote from contact with foreign nations.

It was there his character was formed, on native models; there he carried off the higher prizes of the literary arena; and there he became fitted for the rôle of China’s typical statesman.

His career in outline may be stated in a few words. His native province being overrun by rebels, he passed from the school-room to the camp, and got his earliest lessons in the military art under the leadership of the eminent viceroy Tseng Ko Fan. The neighboring province of Kiangsu falling into the hands of rebel hordes a few years later, he won renown by recapturing its principal cities, by the aid of such men as the American Ward and the English Gordon. His success as a general made him governor of Kiangsu, and his success as governor raised him to the rank of viceroy, holding for many years a post at one or other of the foci of foreign trade north or south.

Beyond the borders of China he was twice sent on special embassies, and once he made the tour of the globe; but his most brilliant achievement was in twice making peace on honorable terms, when his country was lying prostrate before a victorious enemy.

It remains to expand this incomparable catalogue; but to make intelligible that remarkable series of events in which he bore such a conspicuous part, we must first invite our readers to accompany us in a historical retrospect in which we shall point out the opening and growth of foreign intercourse.


Of the nature of that intercourse in its earlier period, there exists a monument that speaks volumes. That is no other than the Great Wall; which, hugest of the works of man, stretches along the northern frontier of China proper for one thousand five hundred miles from the sea to the desert of Gobi. Erected 255 B.C. it shows that even at that early date the enemies most dreaded by the Chinese were on the north. Yet how signally it failed to effect its purpose! For since that epoch the provinces of Northern China have passed no fewer than seven centuries under Tartar sway. Two Tartar dynasties have succeeded in subjugating the whole empire, and they have transmitted beyond the seas a reputation which quite eclipses the fame of China’s ancient sovereigns.

In fact, that which first made China known to the western world was its conquest by the Mongols in the thirteenth century. Barbarous nomads, with longing eyes forever directed to the sunny plains of the south, they also conquered India, bringing under their sceptre the two richest regions of the globe. Of Genghis and Kubla, it may be asserted that they realized a more extended dominion than Alexander, Caesar, or Napoleon ever dreamed of. But

“Extended empire, like expanded gold,
Exchanges solid strength for feeble splendor.”

Their tenure of China was of short duration,–less than a century. In India, however, their successors, the great Moguls, continued to maintain a semblance of sovereignty even down to our own times, when they were wiped from the blackboard for having taken part in the Sepoy mutiny.

Liberal beyond precedent, Kubla Khan encouraged the establishment of a Christian bishopric, in which John de Monte Corvino was the first representative of the Holy See. He also welcomed those adventurous Italians, the Polos, and sought to make use of them to open communication with Europe. Yet we cannot forbear to express a doubt, whether, aside from the Christian religion, Europe in that age had much in the way of civilization to impart to China.

Three of the native dynasties, which preceded the Mongol conquest, made themselves famous by advancing the interests of civilization. The house of Han (B.C. 202-A.D. 221) restored the sacred books, which the builder of the Great Wall had destroyed in order to obliterate all traces of feudalism and make the people submit to a centralized government. Even down to the present day, the Chinese are proud to describe themselves as “sons of Han.” The house of Tang, A.D. 618-908, is noted above all for the literary style of its prose-writers and the genius of its poets. In South China the people are fond of calling themselves “sons of Tang.” The house of Sung, A.D. 970-1127, shows a galaxy of philosophers and scholars, whose expositions and speculations are accepted as the standard of orthodoxy. More acute reasoners it would be difficult to find in any country; and in the line of erudition they have never been surpassed.

It is reported that in 643 the Emperor Theodosius sent an envoy to China with presents of rubies and emeralds. Nestorian missionaries also presented themselves at court. The Emperor received them with respect, heard them recite the articles of their creed, and ordered a temple to be erected for them at his capital. This was in the palmy period of the Tangs, when the frontiers of the Empire had been pushed to the borders of the Caspian Sea.

If China in part or in whole was sometimes conquered by Tartars, it is only fair to state that the greatest of the native sovereigns more than once reduced the extramural Tartars to subjection. Between the two races there existed an almost unceasing conflict, which had the effect of civilizing the one and of preventing the other from lapsing into lethargy.

About B.C. 100, Su Wu, one of China’s famous diplomatists, was sent on an embassy to the Grand Khan of Tartary. An ode, which he addressed to his wife on the eve of his perilous expedition, speaks alike for the domestic affections of the Chinese and for their ancient literary culture.

Li Hung Chang Photograph

Li Hung Chang Photograph

“Twin trees whose boughs together twine,
Two birds that guard one nest,
We’ll soon be far asunder torn
As sunrise from the west.
“Hearts knit in childhood’s innocence,
Long bound in Hymen’s ties,
One goes to distant battlefields,
One sits at home and sighs.
“Like carrier dove, though seas divide,
I’ll seek my lonely mate;
But if afar I find a grave,
You’ll mourn my hapless fate.
“To us the future’s all unknown;
In memory seek relief.
Come, touch the chords you know so well,
And let them soothe our grief.”


In 1388 the Mongols were expelled. The Christian bishopric was swept away, and left no trace; but a book of the younger Polo, describing the wealth of China, gave rise to marvellous results. Together with the magnetic needle, which originated in China, it led to centuries of effort to open a way by sea to that far-off fairyland. It was from Marco Polo that Columbus derived his inspiration to seek a short road to the far East by steering to the West,–finding a new world athwart his pathway. It was the same needle, if not the same book, that impelled Vasco da Gama to push his way across the Indian Ocean, after the Cape of Good Hope had been doubled by Bartholomew Diaz. A century later the same book led Henry Hudson to search for some inlet or strait that might open a way to China, when, instead of it, he discovered the port of New York.

The mariner’s compass, which wrought this revolution on the map of the world, is only one of many discoveries made by the ancient Chinese, which, unfruitful in their native land, have, after a change of climate, transformed the face of the globe.

The polarity of the loadstone was observed in China over a thousand years before the Christian era. One of their emperors, it is said, provided certain foreign ambassadors with “south-pointing chariots,” so that they might not go astray on their way home. To this day the magnetic needle in China continues to be called by a name which means that it points to the south. It heads a long list of contraries in the notions of the Chinese as compared with our own, such, for example, as beginning to read at the back of a book; placing the seat of honor on the left hand; keeping to the left in passing on the street, with many others, so numerous as to suggest that the same law that placed their feet opposite to ours must have turned their heads the other way. To the Chinese the “south-pointing needle” continued to be a mere plaything to be seen every day in the sedan chair of a mandarin, or in wheeled vehicles. If employed on the water, it was only used in coasting voyages.

So with gunpowder, of which the Arabs were transmitters, not inventors. In other lands it revolutionized the art of war, clothing their people with irresistible might, while in its native home it remained undeveloped and served chiefly for fireworks. Have we not seen, even in this our day, the rank and file of the Chinese army equipped with bows and arrows? The few who were provided with firearms, for want of gunlocks, had to set them off by a slow-match of burning tow; and cannon, meant to guard the mouth of the Peiho, were trained on the channel and fixed on immovable frames.

The art of printing was known in China five centuries before it made its way to Europe. The Confucian classics having been engraved on stone to secure them from being again burned up, as they had been by the builder of the great wall, the rubbings taken from those stones were printing. It required nothing but the substitution of wood for stone and of relievo for intaglio to give that art the form it now has. The smallest scrap of printed paper in the lining of a tea chest, or wrapped about a roll of silk, would suffice to suggest the whole art to a mind like that of Gutenberg. In China it never emerged from the state of wood engraving. The “Peking Gazette,” the oldest newspaper in the world, is printed on divisible types, but they are of wood, not metal, more than one attempt to introduce metallic types having proved unsuccessful, for the want of that happy alloy known as type-metal. It is from us that they have learned the art of casting type, especially that splendid achievement, the making of stereotype plates, and, later, electrotype plates, by the aid of electricity and acid solutions. Chemistry, from which this beautiful art takes its rise, carries us back to China, for it was there that alchemy had its birth, as I have elsewhere shown.[4]

Man’s first desire is long life; his second, to be rich. The Taoist philosophy commenced with the former before the Christian era, but it was not long in finding its way to the latter. A powerful impulse was thus given to research in the three departments of science,–chemistry, botany, and geography. As in the case of gunpowder, the Arabs transmitted these discoveries to the West, and along with them the Chinese doctrine as to the twofold objects of alchemic studies,–the elixir of life and the philosopher’s stone.

From this double root sprang the chemistry of the West, which in no mean sense has fulfilled its promise by prolonging life and enriching mankind. In all these the West has performed the part of a nursing mother, but she has brought the nursling back full grown, and prepared to repay its obligation to its true parent by effective service.

Portuguese merchants made their way to Canton early in the sixteenth century, but it was not till the latter part of the century that Catholic missionaries entered on their grand crusade. In 1601 the Jesuit pioneer Matteo Ricci and his associates, impelled by religion and armed with science, presented themselves at the court of Peking. The Chinese had been able to reckon the length of the year with remarkable accuracy two thousand years before the time of Christ, but their science had made no headway. The missionaries found their calendar in a state of confusion, vanquished the native astronomers in fair competition, and were formally installed as keepers of the Imperial Observatory; and these missionaries supervised the casting of the bronze instruments which have since been taken to Berlin.

This honor they retained even after the fall of the native dynasty that patronized them. When the Manchus effected their conquest in 1644, not only were the Jesuit missionaries left in charge of the observatory, but the heir apparent was placed under their instruction. Coming to the throne in 1662, under the now illustrious title of Kanghi, the young prince showed himself a generous patron as he had previously been a respectful pupil. He was apparently not averse to the idea of his people’s adopting Christianity as their national religion, and allowed the missionaries a free hand to plant churches throughout the vast interior. Rarely if ever has so fine an opportunity offered for making an easy conquest of a pagan empire. It was lost through the jealousy of contending societies, and especially through the blunder of an infallible Pope. The Dominicans denounced the Jesuits for tolerating the practice of pagan rites, such as the worship of ancestors, and for employing for God the name of a pagan deity. The name which they then objected to was Shang-ti, Supreme Ruler, a venerable designation for the Supreme Power found in the earliest of the Chinese canonical books, and at this day accepted by a large proportion of Protestant missionaries.

The question as to its fitness was referred to the Emperor, who decided in favor of the Jesuits. It was then brought before the Papal See, condemned as idolatrous, and Tien Chu, the Lord of Heaven, adopted in its stead. That Shang-ti, however pure in origin, had come to be applied to a whole class of deities was perfectly true, but the name proposed in its stead was not free from a taint of idolatry,–Tien Chu, Lord of Heaven, being one of eight divinities, and worshipped along with Ti Chu, Lord of Earth, Hai Chu, Lord of the Sea, etc.

The manner in which his opinions had been set aside by the Pope had no doubt a repelling influence on the mind of the Emperor, so that if he had ever felt inclined to embrace Christianity, he drew back in his later years. Not only so, but he left behind him a series of Maxims in which he censures the foreign creed and warns his people against it. These Maxims were ordered to be read in public by mandarins, and they continue to be recited and expounded as a sort of religious ritual. Is it surprising that this lost opportunity was followed by a century and a half of open persecution? That most of the churches survived, not only attests the zeal with which the Faith had been propagated, it throws a pleasing light on the force of the Chinese character. At the dawn of our new epoch, there were still some half a million converts,–with here and there a foreign Father hiding in their midst.

In bringing about this change of policy there was indeed another influence at work. Had not the Emperor of China heard some rumors of what was going on in the dominion of his cousin, the Great Mogul–how the French were dispossessing the Portuguese; and how the English later on succeeded in expelling the French? How could they doubt that a large community of native Christians would act as an auxiliary to any foreign invader? A suspicion of this kind had in fact sprung up under the preceding dynasty. In consequence of it not a single seaport except Macao was opened to foreign trade; and when foreigners went to Canton, they were lodged in a suburb and not allowed to penetrate within the walls of the provincial capital. Such misgivings as to the designs of foreigners we find strikingly expressed in a book of that period called “Strange Stories of an Idle Student.”

One story is as follows: When Red-Haired Barbarians first appeared on our coast they were not allowed to come ashore. They begged, however, to be permitted to spread a carpet on which to dry their goods, and this being granted, they took the carpet by its corners and stretched it so that it covered several acres. On this, they debarked in great force and, drawing their swords, took possession of the surrounding country.


The first great event that woke China from her dream of solitary grandeur was the war with England, which broke out in 1839 and was closed three years later by the Treaty of Nanking. It was not, however, all that was needed to effect that object. It made the giant rub her eyes and give a reluctant assent to terms imposed by superior force. But many a rude lesson was still required before she came to perceive her true position, as on the lower side of an inclined plane. To bring her to this discovery four more foreign wars were to follow before the end of the century, culminating in a siege in Peking and massacres throughout the northern provinces which may be looked on as the fifth act in a long and bloody tragedy.

In the last three wars Li Hung Chang was a prominent actor. In the first two he took no part. Yet was it the shock which they gave to the empire that drove him from a life of literary seclusion to do battle in a more public arena.

The Opium War of 1839 is not improperly so designated, but nothing is more erroneous than to infer that it was waged by England for the purpose of forcing the product of her Indian poppy fields on the markets of China. Opium was the occasion, not the cause. The cause, if we are to put it in a single word, was the overbearing arrogance of an Oriental despotism, which refused to recognize any equal in the family of nations.

In the Straits settlements and in the seaports of India, Chinese merchants had been brought under sway of the bewitching narcotic. It found its way to their southern seaports, and without being recognized as an article of commerce, the trade expanded with startling rapidity. The Emperor, Tao Kwang, one of the most humane of rulers, resolved to take measures for the suppression of the vice. He had come to the throne in 1820; and there is a story that he was moved to action by the untimely fate of his eldest son, who had fallen a victim to the seductive poison.

Commissioner Lin, whom he selected to carry out his prohibitory policy, was a fit instrument for such a master, equally virtuous in his aims and equally tyrannical in his mode of proceeding. Arriving at Canton, his first object was to get possession of the forbidden drug, which was stored on ships outside the harbor. This he thought to accomplish by surrounding the whole foreign community by soldiers and threatening them with death if the opium was not promptly surrendered. While its owners or their agents hesitated, Captain Elliot, the British Superintendent of Trade, came up from Macao, and demanded to share the duress of his nationals. He then called on them to deliver up the drug to him to be used in the service of the Queen for the ransom of the lives of her subjects, assuring them that they would be reimbursed from the public treasury. No fewer than twenty-one thousand chests, valued at nine million dollars, were brought in from the opium ships and formally handed over to Commissioner Lin. The foreign community was set free, and the drug destroyed by being mixed with quicklime.

War was made to punish this outrage on the rights of the foreign community, and to exact indemnity for the seizure of their property. Canton was not captured, but held to ransom, and the haughty Viceroy sent into exile. Other cities were taken and held; and, in 1842, a treaty of peace was signed at Nanking by which five ports were opened to foreign trade. The embargo on opium was not withdrawn; but the defeat of the Chinese resulted in a virtual immunity from seizure together with a growth of the traffic, such as to justify the ill-odored name which that war still bears in history.

Treaties with other powers followed in quick succession. On demand of the French Minister, the Emperor recalled his prohibitory decrees against Christianity and issued an Edict of Toleration. If the opening of the ports gave a stimulus to trade, the decree of toleration opened a door for missionary enterprise. As yet, however, neither merchant nor missionary was allowed to penetrate into the interior; while the capital and the whole of the northern seacoast remained inaccessible. This was obviously a state of things that could not be permanent; yet fifteen years were to pass before another war came to settle the terms of intercourse on a broader basis.

When the war broke out, Li Hung Chang was seventeen years of age, living at Hofei in Anhui. As there were then no newspapers in China it may be doubted whether he heard of it until a British squadron sailed up to Nanking and extorted a treaty at the cannon’s mouth. Li was rudely startled by the appearance of a new force, to which there was no allusion in any of his ancient books. Along with the sailing-ships there were two or three small steamers. It struck the Chinese with astonishment to see them make head against wind and tide. Shin Chuan, “ships of the gods,” is the name they gave those mysterious vessels. Little could Li foresee the part he was destined to take in creating a steam navy for China.

Descended from a long line of scholars, he was supposed to be born to the pursuit of letters. He did, in fact, devote himself to study with unflagging zeal, because he had as yet no temptation to turn aside. Was there not, moreover, an open door before his face inviting him to win for himself the honors of a mandarinate? In his native town he placed his foot on the first step of the ladder by gaining the degree of A.B., or, in Chinese, “Budding Genius.” At the provincial capital he next carried off the laurel of the second degree, which is worth more than our A.M., not merely because it is not conferred in course, but because it falls to the lot of only one in a hundred among some thousands of competitors. These provincial tournaments occur but once in three years; and the successful candidates proceed to Peking to compete for the third degree, or D.C.L.,–Tsin-shi, or, “Fit for Office.” Here the chances amount to three per cent.

Li’s fortunes were again propitious, and in company with two or three hundred new-made doctors, he was summoned to the palace to contend in presence of the emperor for the honor of a seat in the Imperial Academy,–the Hanlin, or “Forest of Pencils.” Here also he met with success, but he was not among the first three whose names are marked by the vermilion pen of majesty, each of whom sheds lustre on his native province. The highest of the three is called Chuang Yuen, “Head of the List” or “Prince of Letters.” In the ‘fifties it fell to a native of Ningpo, where I then lived. His good luck was announced to his wife by the magistrate in person, who conducted her to the six gates, at each of which she scattered a handful of rice, as an omen of good fortune. In the ‘sixties, when I had removed to Peking, this honor was for the first time conferred on a Manchu, a son of the General Saishanga. His daughter was deemed a fit consort for the heir to the throne, wearing for a short time the tiara of empress, and committing suicide on the death of her lord.

In the two previous contests, handwriting goes for nothing, but in this it is not without weight, as the avowed object is to select scribes for the service of the throne. On those occasions extent of erudition and originality of thought are the qualities most esteemed; but this time the order of merit is decided by superficial elegance of style, and by facility in the composition of verse.

However defective the standard of learning, this long course of competition, extending over ten or fifteen years, has the effect of bringing before the throne a body of men each of whom is the survivor of a hundred contests. No country can boast a better system for the selection of talent, and the government guards it with jealous care. I have known more than one examiner put to death for tampering with this ballot-box of the Empire. For ages it has provided the state with able officers; nor is its least merit that of converting a dangerous demagogue into a quiet student.

While waiting for an appointment, Li heard with dismay that Nanking had been taken by a body of rebels, and that his native province was in danger of being overrun by them. A new career opened before him,–one that led more directly to the highest offices within the gift of the sovereign. Asking a commission in the army, he was assigned to a position on the staff of Tsengkofan, father of the Marquis Tseng, who was afterwards Minister to England.

This rebellion, among the strangest of strange things, now claims our attention.


In April, 1853, the news reached us that Nanking had fallen into the hands of a body of rebels who, by a curious irony, called themselves Taipings, “Soldiers of Peace.”

They were Chinese, not Manchus, and their leaders were all from the extreme south. Starting near Canton, they had proclaimed as their object the expulsion of the Tartars. Overrunning Kwangsi and Hunan, they had got possession of Hankow and the two adjacent cities,–a centre of wealth which may be compared to the three cities that form our Greater New York. Everywhere they put to flight the government forces; but they did not choose to stop anywhere short of the ancient capital of the Mings. Seizing some thousands of junks, they filled them with the plunder of that rich mart, and sweeping down the river, carried by assault every city on its banks until they reached Nanking. Its resistance was quickly overcome; and putting to death the entire garrison of twenty-five thousand Manchus, they announced their intention to make it the capital of their empire, as Hung Wu had done when he drove out the Mongols and restored freedom to the Chinese race.

In a few months they despatched an expedition to expel the Manchus from Peking. But that proved a more difficult task than they expected. Before the detachment had arrived at Tientsin, it was met on the Grand Canal by a strong force under Sengkolinsin, the Mongol prince. Obliged to winter on the way, it was divided and cut off in detail; this defeat making it evident to all the world that the Manchu domination might still hope for a considerable lease of life. The blood and rapine which everywhere marked their pathway alienated the sympathy of foreigners from the Soldiers of Peace. Nor did the new power at Nanking manifest the least anxiety to obtain foreign aid, feeling assured of ultimate triumph. Yet, indifferent as they were to the co-operation of foreigners, the Taipings proclaimed themselves Christians, and appeared to aim their blows no less at lifeless idols than at living enemies. Shangti, the Supreme Ruler, the God of the ancient sages, was the object of their worship. They found his name in the Christian Bibles, and they published the Bible as the source of their new faith. Their faith amounted to a frenzy, giving them courage in battle, but not imparting the self-control essential to Christian morality. Filling their coffers with spoil, they stocked their harems with the wives and daughters of their enemies. If their lives had been more decent, they might have had a better chance to secure the favor of those powerful nations which had now become the arbiters of destiny in China.

The leader of the movement was a Cantonese by the name of Hung Siu Chuen. A copy of the Bible having fallen into his hands, he applied to a Baptist missionary for instruction. How much he learned may be inferred from the fact that he gave his followers a new form of baptism, requiring them to wash the bosom as a sign for cleansing the heart. He had ecstatic visions, and preached a crusade against idolatry and the Manchus. The ease with which the Manchus had been beaten by the British in 1842 had revealed their weakness, and the new faith supplied the rebels with a fresh source of power. They mixed the teachings of the Gospel with new revelations as freely as Mohammed did in propagating the religion of the Koran. The chief called himself the younger brother of Jesus Christ. His prime minister assumed the title of the Holy Ghost; and his counsels were given out as decrees from Heaven. All this had an air of blasphemy that shocked the sensibilities of foreigners, and compelled them to stand aloof or to support the Manchus.

The native authorities were permitted to engage foreign ships and seamen to operate against the rebels, who sustained a siege in Nanking almost as long as the siege of Troy. From Shanghai, Suchau, and other cities the Taipings were driven out by the aid of foreigners, chiefly led by Ward and Gordon, the former an American, the latter a Briton. General Ward was never under the command of Li Hung Chang; but to him more than to any other foreigner belongs the honor of turning the tide of the Taiping Rebellion. A soldier of fortune, he offered to throw his sword into the government scale if it were paid for with many times its weight in gold. Gathering a nondescript force of various nationalities, he recaptured the city of Sungkiang, and followed this up by such a series of successes that his little troop came to be known as the “Ever-victorious Army.” Falling before the walls of Tseki, he was interred with pomp at the scene of his first victory, where a temple was erected to his memory, and he is now reckoned among the “Joss” of the Chinese Empire. His force was taken into Li’s pay.

General Gordon (the same who fell at Khartoum) acted under the direction of Li Hung Chang; and his chief exploit was the recovery of Suchau. Unable to resist his artillery, the rebel chiefs offered to capitulate. They were assured by him that their lives would be spared. To this Li Hung Chang consented, and the stronghold was at once surrendered. Regardless of his plighted faith, Li caused the five leaders to be beheaded, an act of treachery which filled Gordon with such fury that he went from camp to camp, looking for Li, determined to put a bullet in his head. Li, however, avoided a meeting until Gordon’s wrath had time to subside, and that treacherous act laid the foundation of his future fortunes. He was made governor of the province, and for forty years he rose in power and influence.

Not only was this terrible rebellion which laid waste the fairest provinces a sequel to the first war with England, it was prolonged and aggravated by a second war which broke out in 1857. In 1863, the last stronghold of the rebels was recaptured, and the rebellion finally suppressed, after twelve years of dismal carnage. In bringing about this result, no names are more conspicuous than those of Li Hung Chang and General Gordon, whose sobriquet of “Chinese Gordon” ever afterwards characterized him. Li’s good fortune served him well in this war. Having won the favor of the Court, he was in command of the forces of eastern Kiangsu, and all the brilliant successes of Ward and Gordon were credited to him. He was not only made governor of the province, but also created an Earl in perpetuity.


Never did a smaller spark ignite a greater conflagration. In 1856 a native junk named the “Arrow,” sailing under a British flag, was seized for piracy, her flag hauled down and her crew thrown into prison at Canton. On demand of Sir John Bowring, Governor of Hong Kong, they were handed over to Consul Parkes (later Sir Harry); but he refused to receive them because they were not accompanied by a suitable apology. The haughty Viceroy Yeh put them all to death, provoking reprisals on the part of the British, resulting in the occupation of Canton and the capture of Peking after three campaigns to the north.

In this war England had France for ally; as the two powers had been associated in that hugest of blunders, the Crimean War. Nor was the alliance a less blunder on this occasion. Napoleon’s excuse for participation was the murder of a missionary in Kwangsi; but his real motive was a desire to checkmate Great Britain, and prevent the conquest of new territory. In the Opium War she had stopped at Nanking, leaving the pride of China unhumbled, and the state of relations so unstable that another war was required to place them on a better footing. England, with unselfish generosity, invited the co-operation of Russia and the United States. Either power might have found as good a pretext for hostile action as that of France; but they chose to maintain an attitude of neutrality, offering only such moral support as might enable them to gather up the apples after the others had shaken the tree. In 1857 Canton was taken and held by the allies. The next spring the envoys of the four powers, each with a considerable naval force, proceeded to the mouth of the Peiho, the gateway to a capital as secluded and exclusive as that of the Grand Lama. The forts made a show of resistance, but they were put to silence in less than half an hour; and negotiations which had been opened by the neutrals were resumed at Tientsin.

Dr. S. Wells Williams was Chinese secretary to the United States minister, Mr. William B. Reed; and I acted as interpreter for the spoken language. An article in favor of Christian missions occasioned some delay; and Mr. Reed, who was vain and shallow, said to us, “Now, gentlemen, hurry up with your missionary article for I intend to sign my treaty on the 18th of June [Waterloo day] with or without that clause.” Fancy a mind that could think of a treaty obtained by British guns as entitling him to be associated with Wellington! Yet Mr. Reed had the effrontery to say that he “expected us to make the missionary societies duly sensible of their obligations” to him. That twenty-ninth article was the gem of the treaty; and it had the honor of being copied into that of Lord Elgin, which was signed eight days later.

High-minded, philanthropic, and upright, Lord Elgin made a mistake which led to a renewal of the war. He refused to place Tientsin on the list of open ports, because, as he said, “Foreign powers would make use of it to overawe the Chinese capital,”–just as if overawing was not a matter of prime necessity. He hastened away to India to aid in suppressing the Sepoy mutiny, eventually becoming viceroy after another campaign in China. His brother, Sir F. Bruce, succeeded him as minister in China; and twelve months later (July, 1859) the ministers of the four powers were again at the mouth of the Peiho on their way to Peking for the exchange of ratified copies of the several treaties. The United States minister was John E. Ward, a noble-hearted son of Georgia, and the chief of our little squadron was the gallant old Commodore Tatnall.

We were not a little surprised to see the demolished forts completely rebuilt, and frowning defiance. We were told by officers who came down to the shore that no vessel would be allowed to pass; but that the way to Peking was open to us via Peitang, a small port to the north.

To this Mr. Ward made no objection, but the British, who had so recently held the keys of the capital, were indignant to be met by such a rebuff. They steamed ahead between the forts, leaving the Chinese to take the consequences. All at once the long line of batteries opened fire. One or two gunboats were sunk; two or three were stranded. A storming party was repulsed, and Admiral Hope, who was dangerously wounded, begged our American commodore to give him a lift by towing up a flotilla of barges filled with a reserve force. “Blood is thicker than water,” exclaimed Tatnall, in tones that have echoed round the globe, and Ward making no objection, he threw neutrality to the winds, and proceeded to tow up the barges. Our little steamer was commanded by Lieutenant Barker, now Admiral Barker of the New York Navy Yard.

Even this failed to retrieve the day, the tide having fallen too low for a successful landing. For the British admiral nothing remained but to withdraw his shattered forces, and prepare for another campaign. For the United States minister a dazzling prospect now presented itself,–that of intervening to prevent the renewal of war. From Peitang we proceeded by land two days. Then we continued our voyage for five days by boat on the Upper Peiho.

At Peking, calling on the genial old Kweiliang, who had signed the treaty in 1858, Mr. Ward was astonished at his change of tone. “You wish to see the Emperor. That goes as a matter of course; but his Majesty knows you helped the British, and he requires that you go on your knees before the throne in token of repentance.” “Tell him,” said Mr. Ward to me, “that I go on my knees only to God and woman.” “Is not the Emperor the same as God?” replied the old courtier, taking no notice of a tribute to woman that was unintelligible to an Oriental mind. “You need not really touch the ground with your knees,” he continued; “but merely make a show of kneeling. There will be eunuchs at hand to lift you up, saying ‘Don’t kneel! Don’t kneel!'” The eunuchs, as Mr. Ward well knew, would be more likely to push us to our knees than to lift us up; and he wisely decided to decline the honor of an audience on such terms.

Displeased by his obstinacy, the Emperor ordered him to quit the capital without delay, and exchange ratifications at the sea-coast. A report was long current in Peking that foreigners have no joints in their knees; hence their reluctance to kneel. Thus vanished for Mr. Ward the alluring prospect of winning for himself and his country the beatitude of the peacemaker.

The summer of 1860 saw the Peiho forts taken, and an allied force of thirty thousand men advancing on Peking. The court fled to Tartary, and the summer palace was laid in ashes to punish the violation of a flag of truce, the bearers of which were bound hand and foot, and left to perish within its walls. For three days the smoke of its burning, carried by a northwest wind, hung like a pall over the devoted city, whose inhabitants were so terrified that they opened the gates half an hour before the time set for bombardment. No soldiers were admitted, but the demands of the Allies were all acceded to, and supplementary treaties signed within the walls by Lord Elgin and Baron Gros. Peking was opened to foreign residence. The French succeeded in opening the whole country to the labors of missionaries. Legations were established at the capital, and a new era of peace and prosperity dawned on the distracted empire.


If the opening of Peking required a prolonged struggle, it was followed by a quarter-century of pacific intercourse. China had at her helm a number of wise statesmen,–such as Prince Kung and Wensiang. The Inspectorate of Customs begun under Mr. Lay took shape under the skilful management of Sir Robert Hart, and from that day to this it has proved to be a fruitful nursery of reforms, political and social.

Not only were students sent abroad for education at the instance and under the leadership of Yung Wing, but a school for interpreters was opened in the capital, which, through the influence of Sir Robert Hart, was expanded into the well-known Imperial College. On his nomination the present writer was called to the head of it, and Wensiang proposed to convert it into a great national university by making it obligatory on the members of the Hanlin Academy, the Emperor’s “Forest of Pencils,” to come there for a course of instruction in science and international law. Against this daring innovation, Wojin, a Manchu tutor of the Emperor, protested, declaring that it would be humiliating to China to have her choicest scholars sit at the feet of foreign professors. The scheme fell through, but before many years the Emperor himself had taken up the study of the English language, and two of our students were selected to be his instructors. One of them is at this present time (1902) Chinese minister at the Court of St. James. Several of our students have had diplomatic missions, and one, after serving as minister abroad, is now a leading member of the Board of Foreign Affairs in Peking. A press opened in connection with the college printed numerous text-books on international law, political economy, physics, and mathematics, translated by the president, professors, and students.

America was fortunate in the choice of the first minister whom she sent to reside at Peking. This was Anson Burlingame, who, after doing much to encourage the Chinese in the direction of progress, was by them made the head of the first embassy which they sent to foreign nations. His success in other countries was largely due to the sympathy with which he had been received in the United States by Secretary Seward, and to the advice and recommendations with which he was provided by that great statesman. So deep an interest did Mr. Seward take in China that he went in person to study its condition before the close of his career. In his visit to Peking he was accompanied by his nephew, George F. Seward, who was United States Consul at Shanghai. The latter has since that date worthily represented our country as minister at Peking; but it may be doubted whether in that high position he ever performed an international service equal in importance to one performed during his consulship, for which he has recently received the cross of the Legion of Honor. In laying out their new concession at Shanghai, the French had excited the hostility of the people by digging up and levelling down many of those graves that occupied so much space outside of the city walls, and where the Chinese who worshipped their ancestors were to be seen every day burning paper and heaping up the earth. A furious mob fell on the French police, chased them from the field, and menaced the French settlement with knife and firebrand. The consuls were appealed to for aid, but no one responded except Mr. Seward, who headed a strong force from one of our men-of-war, dispersed the mob, and secured the safety of the foreign settlement. But for his timely intervention who knows that the French consulate would not have been reduced to ashes? If the consulate had been burned down, a war would have been inevitable, with a chain of consequences that baffles the imagination.

In 1871 a horrid atrocity was perpetrated by Chinese at Tientsin which certainly would have led to war with France if Napoleon III. had not at that very time been engaged in mortal combat with Germany. The populace were made to believe that the sisters at the French hospital had been seen extracting the eyeballs from their patients to use in the manufacture of magical drugs. They were set upon by a maddened multitude, a score or more of them slaughtered, and the buildings where they had cared for the sick and suffering turned to a heap of ruins. Count Rocheschouart, instead of reserving the case to be settled at a later day, thought best to accept from the Chinese government an apology, with an ample sum in the way of pecuniary compensation. That grewsome superstition has led to bloodshed in more than one part of China.

In the summer of 1885 I was called one day from the Western Hills to the Tsungli-Yamen, or Foreign Office, on business of great urgency. On arriving, I was informed that the Chinese gunboats in the river Min had been sunk by the French the day before; that they had also destroyed the Arsenal at the mouth of the river. “This,” said the Secretary, “means war, and we desire to know how non-combatants belonging to the enemy and resident in our country are to be treated according to the rules of International Law.” While I was copying out the principles and precedents bearing on the subject, the same Secretary begged me to hasten my report, “because,” said he, “the Grand Council is waiting for it to embody in an Imperial Decree.” True enough, the next day a decree from the throne announced the outbreak of war; but it added that non-combatants belonging to the enemy would not be molested. Two of our professors were Frenchmen, and they were both permitted to continue in charge of their classes without molestation.

Hostilities were brought to a happy conclusion by the agency of Sir Robert Hart. One of his customs cruisers employed in the light-house service having been seized by the French, Mr. Campbell was sent to Paris to see the French President and petition for its release. Learning that President Grévy would welcome the restoration of peace, and ascertaining what conditions would be acceptable, Sir Robert laid them before the Chinese government, putting an end to a conflict which, if suffered to go on, might have ruined the interests of more than one country. In this war and in those peace negotiations the conduct of the Chinese was worthy of a civilized nation. Yet the result of their experience was to make them more ready to appeal to arms in cases of difficulty.

Li’s connection with this war was very real, though not conspicuous. Changpeilun, director of the arsenal at Foochow, was his son-in-law. Not only was Li disposed to aid him in taking revenge, he was himself building a great arsenal in the north; and it was, no doubt, owing to efficient succor from this quarter that Formosa was able to hold out against the forces of the French.


Both in its inception and in its tragic ending the notable conflict with Japan connects itself with the name of Li Hung Chang. The Island Empire on the East had long been known to the Chinese, though until our times no regular intercourse subsisted between the two countries. It is recorded that a fleet freighted with youth and maidens was despatched thither by the builder of the Great Wall to seek in those islands of the blest for the herb of immortality; but none of them returned. It was to be a colony, and the flowery robe by which its object is veiled is not sufficient to hide the real aim of that ambitious potentate. Yet, through that expedition and subsequent emigrations, a pacific conquest was effected which does honor to both nations, planting in those islands the learning of China, and blending with their native traditions the essential teachings of her ancient sages.

For centuries prior to our age of treaties, non-intercourse had been enforced on both sides,–the Japanese confining their Chinese neighbors, as they did the Dutch, to a little islet in the port of Nagasaki; and China seeing nothing of Japan except an occasional descent of Japanese pirates on her exposed sea-coast.

To America belongs the honor of opening that opulent archipelago to the commerce of the world. Our shipwrecked sailors having been harshly treated by those islanders, a squadron was sent under Commodore Perry to Yeddo (now Tokio) in 1855, to punish them if necessary and to provide against future outrages. With rare moderation he merely handed in a statement of his terms and sailed away to Loochoo to give them time for reflection. Returning six months later, instead of the glove of combat he was received with the hand of friendship, and a treaty was signed which provided for the opening of three ports and the residence of an American chargé d’affaires. In the autumn of 1859 it was my privilege to visit Yeddo in company with Mr. Ward and Commodore Tatnall. We were entertained by Townsend Harris and shown the sights of the city of the Shoguns when it was still clothed in its mediaeval costume. The long swaddling-garb of the natives had a semi-savage aspect, and the abject servility with which their todzies (interpreters) prostrated themselves before their officers excited a feeling of contempt.

Like the mayors of the palace in mediaeval France, the Shoguns or generals had relegated the Mikado to a single city of the interior; while for six hundred years they had usurped the power of the Empire, practically presenting the spectacle of two Emperors, one “spiritual” (or nominal), one “temporal” (or real). Little did we imagine that within five years the Shoguns would be swept away, and the Mikado restored to more than his ancient power. The conflagration was kindled by a spark from our engines. The feudal nobles, of whom there were four hundred and fifty, each a prince within his own narrow limits, were indignant that the Shogun had opened his ports to those aggressive foreigners of the West. Raising a cry of “Kill the foreigners!” they overturned the Shoguns and restored the Mikado. Their fury, however, subsided when they found that the foreigner was too strong to be expelled. A few more years saw them patriotically surrendering their feudal powers in order to make the central government strong enough to face the world. About the same time our Western costume was adopted, and along with it the parliamentary system of Great Britain and the school system of America. Some foreigners were shallow enough to laugh at them when they saw those little soldiers in Western uniform; and the Chinese despised them more than ever for abandoning the dress of their forefathers.

To protect themselves at once against China and Russia, the Japanese felt that the independence of Corea was to them indispensable. The King had been a feudal subject to China since the days of King Solomon; and when at the instance of Japan he assumed the title of Emperor, the Chinese resolved to punish him for such insolence. This was in 1894. The Japanese took up arms in his defence; and though they had some hard fighting, they soon made it evident that nothing but a treaty of peace could keep them out of Peking.

Li Hung Chang, who had long been Viceroy at Tientsin and who had built a northern arsenal and remodelled the Chinese army, had to confess himself beaten. For him it was a bitter pill to be sent as a suppliant to the Court of the Mikado. That China was beaten was not his fault. Yet he was held responsible by his own government and departed on that humiliating mission as if with a rope about his neck. Fortunately for him, during his mission in Japan an assassin lodged a bullet in his head, and the desire of Japan to undo the effect of that shameful act made negotiation an easy task, converting his defeat into a sort of triumph. Happily, too, he enjoyed the counsel and assistance of J.W. Foster, formerly United States Secretary of State. Formosa, one of the brightest jewels in the Chinese crown, had to be handed over to Japan, and lower Manchuria would have gone with it, had not Russia, supported by Austria and Germany, compelled the Japanese to withdraw their claims.

The next turn of the kaleidoscope shows us China seeking to follow the example of Japan in throwing off the trammels of antiquated usage. In 1898, when the tide of reform was in full swing, the Marquis Ito of Japan paid a visit to Peking, and as president of the University, I had the honor of being asked to meet him along with Li Hung Chang at a dinner given by Huyufen, mayor of the city, and the grand secretary, Sunkianai. It was a lesson intended for them when he told us how, on his returning from England in the old feudal days, his prince asked him if anything needed to be reformed in Japan. “Everything,” he replied. The lesson was lost on the three Chinese statesmen, progressive though they were, for China was then on the eve of a violent reaction which threatened ruin instead of progress.


The last summer of the century saw the forts at the mouth of the Peiho captured for the third time since the beginning of 1858. It was the opening scene in the last act of a long drama, and more imposing than any that had gone before, not in the number of assailants nor in the obstinacy of resistance, but in the fact that instead of one or two nations as hitherto, all the powers of the modern world were now combined to batter down the barriers of Chinese conservatism. Getting possession of Tientsin, not without hard fighting, they advanced on Peking under eight national flags, against the “eight banners” of the Manchu tribes.

What was the mainspring of this tragic movement? What unforeseen occurrence had effected a union of powers whose usual attitude is mutual jealousy or secret hostility? In a word, it was humanity. Spurning petty questions of policy, they combined their forces to extinguish a conflagration kindled by pride and superstition, which menaced the lives of all foreigners in North China.

In 1898, when the Emperor had entered on a career of progress, the Empress Dowager was appealed to by a number of her old servants to save the Empire from a young Phaeton, who was driving so fast as to be in danger of setting the world on fire. Coming out of her luxurious retreat, ten miles from the city, where she had never ceased to keep an eye on the course of affairs, she again took possession of the throne and compelled her adopted son to ask her to “teach him how to govern.” This was the coup d’état. In her earlier years she had not been opposed to progress, but now that she had returned to power at the instance of a conservative party, she entered upon a course of reaction which made a collision with foreign powers all but inevitable. She had been justly provoked by their repeated aggressions. Germany had seized a port in Shantung in consequence of the murder of two missionaries. Russia at once clapped her bear’s paw on Port Arthur. Great Britain set the lion’s foot on Weihaiwei; and France demanded Kwang Chan Bay, all “to maintain the balance of power.” Exasperated beyond endurance, the Empress gave notice that any further demands of the sort would be met by force of arms.

The governor of Shantung appointed by her was a Manchu by the name of Yuhien, who more than any other man is to be held responsible for the outbreak of hostilities. He it was who called the Boxers from their hiding-places and supplied them with arms, convinced apparently of the reality of their claim to be invulnerable. For a hundred years they had existed as a secret society under a ban of prohibition. Now, however, they had made amends by killing German missionaries, and he hoped by their aid to expel the Germans from Shantung. On complaint of the German Minister he was recalled; but, decorated by the hands of the Empress Dowager, he was transferred to Shansi, where later on he slaughtered all the missionaries in that province.

In Shantung he was succeeded by Yuen Shikai, a statesmanlike official, who soon compelled the Boxers to seek another arena for their operations. Instead of creeping back to their original hiding-place they crossed the boundary and directed their march toward Peking,–on the way not merely laying waste the villages of native Christians, but tearing up the railway and killing foreigners indiscriminately. They had made a convert of Prince Tuan, father of the heir apparent. He it was who encouraged their advance, believing that he might make use of them to help his son to the throne. Their numbers were swelled by multitudes who fancied that they would suffer irreparable personal loss through the introduction of railways and modern labor-saving machinery; and China can charge the losses of the last war to those misguided crowds.

Fortunately several companies of marines, amounting to four hundred and fifty men, arrived in Peking the day before the destruction of the track. The legations were threatened, churches were burnt down, native Christians put to death, and fires set to numerous shops simply because they contained foreign goods. Then it was that the foreign admirals captured the forts, in order to bring relief to our foreign community. That step the Chinese Foreign Office pronounced an act of war, and ordered the legations and all other foreigners to quit the capital. The ministers remonstrated, knowing that on the way we could not escape being butchered by Boxers. On the 20th of June, the German Minister was killed on his way to the Foreign Office. The legations and other foreigners at once took refuge in the British legation, previously agreed on as the best place to make a defence. Professor James was killed while crossing a bridge near the legation. That night we were fired on from all sides, and for eight weeks we were exposed to a daily fusillade from an enemy that counted more on reducing us by starvation than on carrying our defences by storm.

About midnight on August 13, we heard firing at the gates of the city, and knew that our deliverers were near. The next day, scaling the walls or battering down the gates, they forced their way into the city and effected our rescue. The day following, the Roman Catholic Cathedral was relieved,–the defence of which forms the brightest page in the history of the siege, and in the afternoon we held a solemn service of thanksgiving. The palaces were found vacant, the Empress Dowager having fled with her entire court. She was the same Empress who had fled from the British and French forty years before.

She was not pursued, because Prince Ching came forward to meet the foreign ministers, and he and Li Hung Chang were appointed to arrange terms of peace. Li was Viceroy at Canton. Had he been in his old viceroyalty at Tientsin, this Boxer war could not have occurred. That its fury was limited to the northern belt of provinces was owing to the wisdom of Chang[5] and Liu, the great satraps of Central China who engaged to keep their provinces in order, if not attacked by foreigners.

I called on the old statesman in the summer of 1901, after the last of the treaties was signed. He seemed to feel that his work was finished, but he still had energy enough to write a preface for my translation of Hall’s “International Law,” and before the end of another month his long life of restless activity had come to a close at the age of seventy-nine. By posthumous decree, he was made a Marquis.

In the autumn the court returned to Peking, the way having been opened by Li’s negotiations. Thanks to the lessons of adversity, the Dowager has been led to favor the cause of progress. Not only has she re-enacted the educational reforms proposed by the Emperor, but she has gone a step farther, and ordered that instead of mere literary finish, a knowledge of arts and sciences shall be required in examinations for the Civil Service.

The following words I wrote in an obituary notice, a few days after Li’s death:–

“For over twenty years Earl Li has been a conspicuous patron of educational reform. The University and other schools at Tientsin were founded by him; and he had a large share in founding the Imperial University in Peking. During the last twenty years I have had the honor of being on intimate terms with him. Five years ago he wrote a preface for a book of mine on Christian Psychology,–showing a freedom from prejudice very rare among Chinese officials.

“Another preface which he wrote for me is noteworthy from the fact that it is one of the last papers that came from his prolific pencil. Having finished a translation of ‘Hall’s International Law’ (begun before the siege), I showed it to Li Hung Chang not two weeks ago. The old man took a deep interest in it, and returned it with a preface in which he says ‘I am now near eighty; Dr. Martin is over seventy. We are old and soon to pass away; but we both hope that coming generations will be guided by the principles of this book.’

“With all his faults–those of his time and country–Li Hung Chang was a true patriot. For him it was a fitting task to place the keystone in the arch that commemorates China’s peace with the world.”

[4] “The Lore of Cathay.” New York: Fleming R. Revell Co., p. 41.
[5] Chang is regarded as the ablest of China’s viceroys. He published, prior to the coup d’état, a notable book, in which he argues that China’s only hope is in the adoption of the sciences and arts of the West.

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John Lord – Beacon Lights of History, Volume XIV : The New Era