The Marquis Of Salisbury. 183O-.
The war with China had to be put off for the time partly because of the outbreak of the great Indian Mutiny, and when we were ready to begin it again we had France to assist us. France had grievances of her own against China, and the Emperor Louis Napoleon was not sorry to have a chance of co-operating with us again in a foreign war. The allies compelled the Chinese Government to adopt the Treaty of Tien-tsin, which contained among other clauses a stipulation for the exchange of the Ratifications at Pekin, the capital of the great unwieldy empire. The English and French envoys found their way up the Peiho River stopped by the Chinese forts, and they ordered their combined fleet to force a passage. The Chinese artillerymen opened fire, and showed some skill and precision, doing heavy damage to the English and French. The English and the French Admirals were both seriously wounded. There is a thrilling little story to be told here. An American frigate was in the river; her captain threw overboard his strict principles of international law, declared that blood was thicker than water, and that he could not stand by and see Englishmen slaughtered by Chinese. He came to the rescue and saved many Englishmen and Frenchmen from the fire of the forts. The forcing of the river was given up for the moment; but of course the attempt was renewed and with complete success. The allies captured the forts, occupied Tien-tsin, marched to Pekin, forced their way and displayed the English and French flags side by side on the walls of the city. Some acts of treachery were undoubtedly committed by some of the Chinese during the negotiations, and twenty-six Englishmen and twelve subjects of France were captured.
Thirteen of the Englishmen died from the hard usage they received; the English and French plenipotentiaries compelled the release of the others, and Lord Elgin, the English plenipotentiary, to mark his sense of the treachery, ordered the great Imperial summer palace to be levelled to the ground. It was really a vast park of palaces covering an area of many miles. A monument was raised on the spot with an inscription in Chinese proclaiming that the act was done as a public punishment for treachery and cruelty. The French commissioner declined to take part in the act of Lord Elgin; but it should be said that the French troops had already looted the palace to their hearts' content. Many in England strongly condemned the destruction of the summer palace; but Lord Elgin did not see that there was any other course left for him to take. He could not allow the treachery to remain wholly unpunished; and he felt sure that if he had demanded satisfaction and the surrender of the malefactors, the Chinese Government would have readily handed over to him any number of obscure Chinamen who probably had never heard of the murder of Englishmen and Frenchmen, and would have gone to their death without knowing why they were consigned to such a fate. Lord Elgin thought that on the whole his only course was to set up a lasting landmark at Pekin, which, without any more bloodshed, would be a perpetual warning to the Chinese that even in war the game must be played according to established rules. Lord Elgin probably did the best he could under all the circumstances; one can only feel pity for an eminent man placed in so terrible a dilemma.
The Allied Powers, of course, had no difficulty in obtaining any terms they thought fit to exact. China had to agree that Pekin should be open to the representatives of England and of France; she had to hand over a large sum of money as compensation to the families of the murdered prisoners, to pay a war indemnity, and to make an apology for all that she had done or failed to do. Thus, therefore, Pekin was thrown open to our envoys, and the capital of China could preserve her vestal seclusion no longer. The Convention was signed by Lord Elgin in Pekin on October 24, 1860. The Allies quitted Pekin on November 5th, and peace was proclaimed. The West had gained its point so far, and had compelled China to open her gates to the enterprising trader from beyond the ocean. In truth, such was the whole object of all the various struggles. The enterprising trader could not think of allowing so huge an Empire as China to shut herself out from the invasion of foreign commercial enterprise. This was the whole story; this is the whole story. Western civilisation thought China too big a country to be lost to Western commercial enterprise, too good a market not to be opened at any cost of life or of principle. The disputes which are going on with China at the present moment, and in which England, France, Germany, Russia and America are engaged, have only the same question to settle. It is certain that the Chinese are very foolish in wanting to keep their vast country all to themselves, and no doubt there is room enough in it for others as well as for them. There are moralists still who believe that trade is better fostered in the end by peaceful means than by shot and shell; but the love of conquest and the love of trade still glows fiercely in the heart of Western civilisation; and the Chinese are essentially a shrewd people, and will probably find out before long the hopelessness of endeavouring to resist the invasion of modern traffic. Thus far, at least, the wars with China do not seem to add much honour to the triumphs of Western civilisation.