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State of Knowledge in China.
but in some slight degree to remedy, this state of things. Though many of the valuable facts brought home by those who figured in the war, or in the negotiations that accompanied and succeeded it, have been suppressed by the foreign office, a good deal has transpired in printed works, or been communicated in familiar conversation. We purpose to give a general sketch of the relative position of the Chinese and British empires, principally with the object of leading the mind of the reader to contemplate the nature and amount of the mutual influence they are to exercise. No attempt will be made to enter into detail. It will be impossible at present to do more than indicate the nature of the intercourse that is to exist henceforward.
Few persons have any accurate knowledge of what has taken place in China since the signing of the supplementary treaty, or what has been the result of our commercial operations there. No more striking proof of this can be given than the fact, that the misrepresentations of a French paper with respect to certain provisions of the treaty itself, found, a little while ago, almost implicit credence in England; at least a great many mercantile men, together with a considerable portion of the public were deceived; and it was not until Sir Henry Pottinger himself, at the dinner given him by the merchants of the City of London-and this by the bye was the only plain piece of information that ventured to present itself amidst the crowd of courtly compliments on that occasion— distinctly denied that any blunder had been made by us, or any advantage gained by the Chinese. It would be useless to multiply similar evidences of the popular ignorance, which is very extensively shared even by the press. Among the honourable exceptions we may particularise the Morning Chronicle,' which, in its view of the money market and summary of city news, as well as elsewhere, exhibits great familiarity with all questions relative to the China trade.
In discussing the present posture of affairs, we cannot altogether avoid saying something of the war, just as it is difficult to contemplate a calm without recurring to the storm that preceded. We are invited to do so by two works which have recently made their appearance. One of these is by Captain Arthur Cunynghame, and merits the name of a pleasant and agreeable book, quite such a book as one would like to read about a country of which we had never before heard, and might never wish to hear again, incomplete of course with reference to the general subject, but quite satisfactory as far as it goes. Interspersed throughout are capital anecdotes, comic stories, and amusing personal adventures; but there is also a good deal of political information communicated carelessly, as if the writer was not anxious to show that he had
thought much of the subject. Occasionally there are passages of a higher strain, in which Captain Cunynghame, irresistibly influenced by his subject, approaches the dignity of history. There is no effort observable, but the reader's mind suddenly feels itself carried along and kindled by the sparks of enthusiasm that pass into it like the electric fluid, through the medium of ink and paper. The description of the ascent of the Yang-tse-Kiang, impresses us with a very high idea of the author's powers. The topic certainly was worthy to employ the pen of a Thucydides. A whole fleet and army, brought from the opposite quarter of the globe, projected into the heart of one of the largest of empires, up a stream famous for violent currents, never before stemmed by any European craft, whose banks bristled with batteries and frowned with fortifications, was a glorious picture to portray. The succession of victories, made brighter by the clemency and humanity of the victors; the approach to a capital once so vast and populous, now so abject in itself, and yet encircled by so much of its former reputation that those who have eyes cannot see, and will persist, despite the evidence of their senses, in believing it still to count its millions of inhabitants; the turn of circumstances by which this mysterious city was permitted to remain unentered by a British army, though encamped without its walls; the negotiations that ensued, and the final conclusion of a treaty with an emperor, now humbled, but who until then had refused to acknowledge his equal upon earth-these are subjects of the deepest interest, and are related admirably by Captain Cunynghame. All, therefore, who would peruse the most vivid and animated account of the splendid closing scenes of the Chinese war must necessarily resort to his volumes.
Another work of great value is the narrative of the voyage of the Nemesis, sent out to solve the problem of the utility of iron steamers, as instruments of war, in the eastern seas. It was a fine idea so to group the events of the struggle round the vessel that took such an active part in it, as to render it in some sort the hero of the piece. An epic interest is thus imparted to the work which could have been derived from no other source. The simple announcement of the idea awakens curiosity; and the execution, while it cannot be said to exceed, certainly does not fall short of expectation. Though the writer, Mr. Bernard, lacks much of that power of imagination which would have enabled Fenimore Cooper to infuse life into the Nemesis, and force us to sympathise with her as if she were a moral personage, yet he has good historical abilities, relates with considerable vivacity, and intersperses judiciously, though with a sparing hand, many really philosophical remarks. The fault of both these writers is a certain timidity when they
Injurious Influence of Vulgar Errors.
435 have to deal with the future. The majesty of the Chinese empire overawes their minds, and they unwillingly perform a sort of intellectual koutou before it. In this, however, they are not singular. It has become the fashion to abdicate the use of reason on entering the China seas. Persons who can think justly on almost any other topic, become bewildered when they approach the Celestial Empire. Sensible men- men who are fit to be entrusted with the management of their household affairs—are not ashamed to chatter about eternal, or quasi-eternal, Chinese dynasties, the most modern of which began before the birth of history. Those whose orthodoxy prevents them from falling into this absurd strain, date the commencement of Chinese national existence from the first dispersion of mankind.' All seem to agree in representing the Celestials as an anomalous people, possessed of a sort of god-like immutability; and in ascribing to them the invention of almost every art, science, and convenience that ever has been invented. Criticism becomes powerless as soon as it touches the shores of China, as if stupefied by the vapours of opium; and implicit credence is placed in the histories, chronologies, and traditions of a people eminently distinguished for lying and deceit. With the fact staring them in the face, that the histories, chronologies, and traditions of the Chinese become more minute, more full of details, in proportion as they recede into antiquity, few ever venture to question their accuracy. Persons remarkable for incredulity in this quarter of the globe, travel to Eastern Asia to satisfy the appetite for belief inherent in every mind, and take for granted whatever is advanced in the imperfect and inartificial language of the Chinese. On its assertions, scholars and philologists build back a causeway into the past, which retires, leaving dynasties, kingdoms, empires, epochs, the deluge, the creation itself, on either hand, until it penetrates, supported on the airy foundations of fancy, so far back into the unfathomable abysses of time, that the weary and exhausted mind at length refuses to follow it any longer!
All this, however, would be harmless enough did not the influence of such a habit of thought extend to political discussions. When one bold set of statesmen, far in advance of their age, had determined to measure the strength of the British empire against the colossal power of Eastern Asia, the greater part of the world stood appalled. What temerity! what rashness! what unheard-of hardihood! War with four hundred millions of men!—with one third of the human race!* Why the mind of man never in the drunken
* On the subject of the population of China we have at present no space to enter. But we cannot refrain from copying an extract out of a clever little
ness of its pride conceived so impossible an enterprise! We are giants it is true, but can we do battle with the gods?-Such was the language of the enemies of the liberal administration. Even many of its friends trembled for the consequences of the imprudent undertaking, and he was considered rather an eccentric individual, who did not despair of the commonwealth. A vast party in this country, numbering many politicians of distinguished ability, hungry after place, led on by the eager desire of power, and the keen appetite for emolument, blinded by ignorance or anger, joined in one long savage howl against the war. It must not be supposed for a moment that the movement which took place was hypocritical. There was a general impression abroad that we had neither the power nor the right on our side. The mass of the people was deceived. A few self-devoted persons undertook, on that occasion, to bear the whole burden, the entire responsibility of the falsehoods it was found expedient to utter. By these men all the fabulous history and statistics of China were brought forward to witness against those wise statesmen who had so accurately calculated the might of the country whose destinies they wielded. The awful phantom of Chinese omnipotence and diuturnity, was conjured up in the House of Commons, to frighten the ministers from their posts; and the attempt all but succeeded. It was only by a majority of nine that the British Parliament declared that this country was competent to engage in war with the Celestial Empire, and that it was not better to trade than to fight with a people, who every day waxed more insolent and more profuse of outrage towards us. On the continent, the same awe, based on the same ignorance, existed, to give countenance to different passions. It was confidently predicted that the tide of conquest, which we had been so long pouring over Asia, would impotently break against the bulwarks of the Chinese empire, and be probably rolled back with tenfold fury upon us. And here we must do justice to an American, no less a person than John Quincy Adams, who, in spite of the popular feeling against us at the time, boldly stood forward in a public lecture-room, and refused to call in question the justice of our cause, or the efficacy of our arms. manuscript essay, written by Ashing, one of the lads in the Morrison School at Macao, as a theme, to exhibit his acquaintance with the English language:
"I have often read and heard descriptions of China, which represented it as being a wide country situate in the south-eastern part of Asia, and shut up for many ages, and that therefore it was not much known. It has been supposed that China is the most populous country, and contains a third part of the population of the world, but this is not true, for the people were numbered in the eighth year of the Emperor Hin-Lung, and the amount did not exceed fifty millions. It may be increased since that time, but it is impossible for the census to have multiplied to the number of two hundred and sixty millions, that is, a third part of the computed population of the world."
Our Dependence on Foreign Trade.
At that time this argued no mean self-confidence, no small amount of political knowledge, and it is therefore worth while to record the fact, though the composition we allude to, vigorous and masculine as it is, is deformed in almost every page by instances of atrocious bad taste.
In considering the present state of our relations with China, we must look beyond the cabinet of the diplomatist. We must comprise the interests of two whole empires within our view. Political arrangements, however subtle the negotiations by which they are brought about, or what skill soever is displayed in their construction, are important only from their influence on the happiness of nations. It would be matter of mere curiosity to know that we are now at liberty to trade with five Chinese ports instead of one, that we are permitted to appoint consuls, that British ships of war are to be stationed along the coast, that changes have taken place in the commercial tariffs of the empire, did we not expect to derive some important advantage therefrom. All who remember the riots in the manufacturing districts in 1842, produced purely and simply by want of a foreign market of sufficient extent, will acknowledge the intimate connexion of external policy and commercial treaties with the domestic concerns of the country. We are in this sense dependent upon foreigners. If they refuse to buy what we have to sell, we must perish, or, at least, sink amidst mighty convulsions to the level of a fourth-rate state. The industrial spirit of this country, when it accorded with the ambitious projects of its rulers, was suffered to develop itself with amazing rapidity. This it was that widened the basis of our empire. On this our fame, our power, our wealth, our general prosperity, our hopes of still increasing happiness depend. It is not an instrument that can be used to effect a particular purpose, and then thrown away. We must retain and continue to use it. There is no other alternative but this or destruction. The vast population it has created cannot be got rid of. It cannot emigrate, cannot turn to other employments, will not consent to go out of the world. We are under a necessity, therefore, of continuing to trade in the produce of our manufacturing industry. Unwise and iniquitous laws, it is true, are fast closing most of the ports of the world against us. Europe, in retaliation of the enormous impost we lay upon its staple produce, corn, is building up along its shores a wall of tariffs, more impenetrable than the Chinese wall; the example is reflected on the opposite side of the Atlantic. Our merchants know not which way to turn. Driven from one market after another, they are crowding the ports of Brazil with their ships, laden with goods for admission at the low duty, before the expiration of the treaty excludes us from that quarter also.