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Robert Van Bergen

Americans in China

Do you know what name the Chinese have for us? They see our flag, and so they call us Hwa-Ki (hwah-kee), or Flowery Flag people. Well, we need not be ashamed of that name!


American Legation

Directly after the War of Independence, the Americans began to look out for trade. On Washington's Birthday of the year 1784, the ship Empress, commanded by Captain Green, left New York for Canton. She returned on May 11th, 1785, having been one year, two months and nineteen days on her voyage.

At this time sailing vessels were traders, that is, they carried home products and sailed to a foreign market where they could secure the highest price for them. With this money they bought such merchandise as would fetch a good price at home. Ships sailing from New York first made for the Columbia River, where they bought furs. From there they visited the Sandwich Islands, which are known to the Chinese by the name of Tan-hiang Shan (tahn heeahng shahn) or "Sandalwood Islands," where they bought sandalwood, sharks' fins and tortoise shells. Then they sailed for China, where all these things brought a high price. After purchasing tea with the money thus obtained, they returned to the United States.

The trade with China increased steadily, and several Americans proceeded to Canton. The wars between France and England proved of great assistance to American commerce. British ships were open to capture by French privateers, whereas American ships could safely proceed across any sea. At first the government at Washington did not think of protecting American citizens and interests in China, and for many years the United States government had no dealings with China. This gave the Chinese the idea that they could do with Americans as they pleased.

In 1819 the American ship Emily  lay at anchor in a Chinese port, when one of the sailors, named Terranova, threw a jar at a Chinese woman, and she fell overboard. It was afterwards proved that her own haste and carelessness were the direct cause. The district judge of Pwan-yu (pwahn-yoo) came on board, bringing with him a number of merchants and Chinese to act as interpreters, and the sailor was tried before this court. The American merchants, who had come to watch the trial, saw that the so-called interpreters did not understand the accused man, and they asked that Dr. Morrison, a fine Chinese scholar, who was present, should act as interpreter. This request was refused. The American merchants felt that they must submit to the laws of the country, with the result that the sailor was taken from the ship, sent to Canton and there strangled.

Although without government protection, our merchants increased our trade rapidly, but it was not until after the close of the first war between England and China that the United States made itself officially known to the Chinese government. Shortly after this so-called Opium War, Hon. Caleb Cushing was sent to China to make a treaty. This was signed at Wang-hia (wahng-heeah), July 3, 1844. In this treaty it was distinctly stated that our citizens should have all accommodations for churches, hospitals, and cemeteries. It was owing to this that missionaries secured the right to preach the Gospel in China.

It may interest you to hear what a prominent Chinese, Seu-ki-yu (shoo-kee-yoo) has to say about George Washington. He devoted some time to a study of what he called "the barbarian countries," and in 1848 published a work in two volumes, entitled "A General Glance at the Countries by the Sea." After describing the United States, he goes on to speak of our first President.

"Washington was born in the ninth year of the Emperor Yung Ching. His father died when he was but ten years of age. He was educated by his mother. While yet young he showed himself very intelligent in regard to civil and military affairs. He had great personal strength and courage."

Seu gives a good description of the events of Washington's life, and then expresses his admiration for him:

"In an address to Congress, Washington said that it would be a criminal ambition to obtain a kingdom for one's self, to leave to one's children. Honesty should distinguish those who are to be raised to this position in the nation. Surely, Washington was an extraordinary man. His successes as a soldier were more rapid than those of Shing and Kwang, and in personal courage he was greater than Tsau-pi (tsow-pee) and Liu-pang (leeoo-pahng). With the two-edged sword (of justice) he restored order over an area of several thousand miles. He refused to receive any reward in money. He worked to found a government by election. Patriotism like this is to be praised under the whole heavens. Truly, it reminds us of our own three great ancient dynasties. In conducting the government he fostered virtue, he avoided war, and succeeded in making his country greater than all other nations. I have seen his picture. His face shows great power of mind. Who does not agree that he has the character of an extraordinary man?"

In 1856 the second war broke out between China and England and France. President Buchanan sent Hon. William B. Reed to China to watch events and, if possible, to act as peacemaker. Mr. Reed arrived at Hongkong in the United States steamer Minnesota, on November 7, 1857. He found that he could do nothing, so the following year he went north, and signed a new treaty with China on June 18.

The British and French had taken the Taku (tah-koo) forts, at the mouth of the Pei-ho River, and then moved rapidly toward Tientsin, followed by the Minister of the United States. Two commissioners from the Emperor came to that city, and a new treaty was made with England and France.

Early in the summer of 1859 the Minister of the United States, as well as those of England, France, and Russia, arrived again at the mouth of the Pei-ho, to exchange the treaties. Two Chinese commissioners made their appearance, and told the ministers that the mouth of the Pei-ho was closed, and that, although they would be received at Peking, they must go there by another route. The Ministers of the United States and of Russia did so, and exchanged the treaties at the capital.

In 1867, Anson Burlingame was the United States Minister at Peking. During his six years' residence in that capital he had made himself respected and liked by the Chinese mandarins, and Prince Kung (koong), the head of the Foreign Office, asked Mr. Burlingame to visit the United States and Europe as Ambassador of China to obtain new treaties. Burlingame accepted, and left Peking on the 25th of November, 1867. He was accompanied by two high mandarins, with J. McLeary Brown and M. Deschamps as secretaries. There was some danger on the road from Peking to Tientsin, as the party was attacked by mounted robbers. From Tientsin they proceeded to Shanghai, and took the steamer for San Francisco. It was May 1868, before the party arrived at Washington, D.C.

William H. Seward, then Secretary of State, agreed upon a new treaty with China. This treaty was signed at Washington on the 28th of July, 1868.

The members of the embassy visited Niagara Falls, Boston, the City of New York, and other places of interest, and were well entertained. From the United States they went to England, where at first they were received coldly, but afterwards Mr. Burlingame succeeded in making a treaty. France, Prussia, and other European powers did the same.

When the news was sent across the Pacific of the discovery of gold in California in 1849, large numbers of Chinese came to the Pacific Coast. At first they were well received, but as more and more of them kept coming, there arose opposition to Chinese labor. After California was admitted as a State in the Union (1850), this opposition increased so much that Congress made a law forbidding the entrance of Chinese laborers into the United States. Since, however, Congress has no power to make laws which come into conflict with a treaty, an embassy was sent to Peking, asking that the treaty be changed so that the United States might regulate Chinese immigration. To this the Chinese government readily agreed.