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This state of things is not of recent occurrence. The description in its general features applies to almost any period within the last eight years. The crisis, which produced the agitation against the corn-laws and the disturbances to which we have alluded, was mainly warded off by the news of the commercial treaty with China. Hope, which had almost been extinguished in the breasts of our manufacturers and capitalists, was again revived. The energies of Englishmen are not easily broken down. Once more heavy volumes of smoke blackened the atmosphere of our midland counties; once more the quick sharp stroke of the steam-engine resounded amidst the hills of Lancashire; warehouses, crammed with hitherto unsaleable commodities, were emptied; there was a commotion among the operatives, among their masters, among the merchants, and among their clerks; waggons and vans and carts crowded the road to Liverpool; ships that had lain lazily in dock for years deserted except by a solitary guardian, began to teem with life; enormous cargoes were taken in; the canvass was spread, and a whole fleet of merchantmen sailed across the ocean towards that El Dorado, whence it was expected we were to derive the restoration of our former prosperity. Anxious were the hours, the days, the weeks, the months that elapsed, while these ships were at the mercy of the winds and waves. Many desponded, others, amidst their fears,-beheld bright visions of future prosperity. We know not what streams of wealth were to flow from the wounded flanks of the Celestial Empire. So great was the delusion in some minds, that they seemed to acquiesce in the decision of our discomfited foes, that we were merely outside barbarians,' and that the dawn of real prosperity was to break upon us from behind the curtains that had been withdrawn from this mysterious empire of the East. All who watched the
course of public affairs during those anxious times will agree that this is no exaggerated picture. It is well remembered, that even to venture a hint of the possibility that those fond expectations might prove groundless, was considered the mark of an ill-disposed and cynical disposition, desirous of inflicting unnecessary pain. The public, however doubtful, however agitated, however prone to despond, was not tolerant of evil prophets. It was dwelt upon and repeated, that nothing but prodigious and unheard-of advantage was to be derived from a new commerce with 'one third of the human race! The principles of political economy forbad any other supposition. The thing was beyond a doubt,and yet many doubted, there was many an anxious heart, many an eager and watchful eye when the least particle of news arrived, -many a prayer was delivered up in secret for the prosperous issue of that great speculation, in which a nation's welfare was
Present Condition of Trade.
supposed, in a great measure, to be at stake. And much did really depend, much still depends, on the event. No slight interests were involved. A second complete stagnation of business, the result of over-production, stimulated by too great hope, and yet not commensurate with the vociferous demand for labour, would certainly, at the present moment, convulse society to its very base, and endanger our internal peace, if not our national safety. Well, time wore on. Advices came one after another of the safe arrival, with no more than the usual casualties, of the various cargoes in China. It was soon discovered that the wide market that had been expected was not to be found immediately. But the political arrangements were not quite completed; the consuls had not yet been stationed at the various ports; the Chinese had not, as yet, acquired confidence in us, or in their own government; it was not yet quite certain that the treaty was rightly understood by both parties; the wounds inflicted by the war were not yet quite healed; the hong merchants were disposed to throw obstacles in our way; the linguists appeared in the character of extortioners:all these, and many more, were the reasons brought forward to explain why, as the vast fleet of merchantmen came successively to anchor, there was found to be no demand for what they brought. Next it was discovered, that warehouses were not to be had for love or money. This was attributed, sometimes to the evil disposition of the authorities, sometimes to the cabals of the hong merchants. But these difficulties were gradually overcome, and a few small channels of trade were opened to draw off the immense accumulation of merchandise that every day increased.
It will be unnecessary to go into the details of the various commercial transactions at Chusan, Hongkong, and the ports on the coast, where purchases to any amount were made. We have here only to deal with the general facts of the case. Certain it is,
that whatever bargains were concluded, the supply of goods from Europe far exceeded the demand. Every fresh sail that appeared in the offing was looked upon as intruder; and matters came at last to such a point, that scarcely any traffic at all could be carried on in most articles, except at ruinous prices. The present state of trade seems to be, that the Chinese market is supplied with a vast quantity of British goods that will not sell, not because the people cannot buy, but because, in the first place, we will not take what they have to offer; and, secondly, because foreigners, enjoying the advantage of manufacturing in a country where food is cheap, begin already, taking advantage of the clause introduced by Sir Henry Pottinger into the supplementary treaty, to compete successfully with us. Formerly, the Americans used to pay for their tea-charges with bills upon London, which were, in course of business, handed to the English; now they send, instead, their
own manufactures. It is well known that they have negotiated a treaty on the same terms with ourselves, and obtained besides a slight concession on lead. Saxon and Belgian ladies' cloth, moreover, now goes out packed as English, and is eagerly bought, in consequence of its cheapness, by the Chinese. Our woollen trade, long on the decline, has been almost extinguished by the influx of Russian goods from the north. In short, instead of our being, as we ought to have been, the chief gainers by the opening of China, there seems every probability that we shall be compelled to stand by, and see others gather where we have sown.
Our agents in China, when they perceived the turn events were taking, did not despair, but began to consider what could be the reason of the sad disappointment which they would have to communicate to their employers at home. At first, as is usually the case, they attributed it to insufficient, though co-operative causes. Finding that the French and Swiss chintzes were preferred to ours, and that for many kinds of goods, as Paisley and Manchester ginghams, figured jaconets, satteens, &c. there was scarcely any demand, they wrote that an ill-judged assortment of goods had been made, that coals had been sent to Newcastle, that we had committed a mistake similar to that of the Glasgow manufacturers, when they forwarded muslins adorned with the images of birds, beasts, fishes, and even men, to the Mohamedans of Central Asia for turbans. But a suspicion was soon pretty generally entertained that this was not the sole or principal reason of the unpromising aspect of affairs, and by degrees the light of truth began to break in upon most minds. In order to impart this to our readers also, we must here touch, very slightly indeed, upon the state of society in the Celestial Empire; for British intercourse is destined to affect, not a few ports and towns only, but in a greater or less degree the whole population. We have seen the intimate connexion of the Chinese trade with the prosperity of our humbler classes, and the consequent importance of its influence on our foreign policy. The same principles must be applied to China. Every one of its institutions, every member of its body politic, is connected by some thread or other with the interests immediately affected by its commerce. The mention of that repulsive subject, which we shall dwell on as briefly as possible-the opium tradewill make this evident to all. One of the staple articles of our trade, if we were to discuss it in its various relations, moral and physical, would more than occupy our whole space. It is agreed on all hands, that this drug exerts a pernicious influence upon the Chinese, and that the authorities, as well as moralists of the empire, are right in interfering to prevent as much as possible its consumption. Some, who long ago arrived at this conclusion,
Agitation against Opium.
wished to employ it as a weapon to vilify the Indian government. An outcry was raised as if that government was specially interested in corrupting the Chinese people. The questions were never asked-Can the profitable cultivation of opium be put a stop to in India?' and, 'Is the abolition of the monopoly more likely to increase or to diminish its sale?' Those who did not object to our deriving a revenue from ardent spirits in this country, thought it highly criminal to make a profit of opium in Asia. Few, besides, paused to reflect that the drug could be grown in other soils, and nowhere to such an extent as within the limits of China itself; and that, in fact, every interruption in the supply from us caused new fields of poppies to bloom under the very eyes of the mandarins themselves.
The extreme avidity of the Chinese for the demoralising indulgence in opium may be illustrated by the fact, that for no other foreign commodity will they consent to part with their sycee silver, unless we except the commodity of peace which was lately paid heavily for in specie by their government. All the money in the country exhibits a tendency to flow forth in exchange for opium. The tide has long been setting with a strong ebb from the remotest depths of the Mongolian provinces, from the wild and barbarous regions that lean against the central plateau of Asia, towards the coast, where the greater part of it, unless some change takes place in manners or policy, will by degrees collect to be passed into the hands of foreigners. The ancient laws of the empire, forbidding the opening of certain extensive mines in the tea districts, must then be abandoned, or a monstrous nominal value be put upon silver, which would speedily bring back bullion into the country at the expense of its industry. This circumstance—the disappearance of the money we mean, for the Chinese were incapable of foreseeing all the consequences of what they deprecated merely from a blind attachment to the symbol of wealth-had long engaged the attention of the financial department of the government. Memorials from divers learned mandarins were presented, setting forth in flowery language the evils of the constant drain that existed on the resources of the country. Counter-memorials, magnifying the blessings of intercourse with foreigners, and wisely recommending the legalisation of the opium trade, in order to bring it within the control of government, also found their way to the imperial footstool. These emanated from a party sincerely desirous of promoting the welfare of the people, and headed by the empress, who exercised a powerful influence over her husband. Her counsels for a time prevailed, and a strong disposition began to be manifested in favour of liberal measures. But the old bigoted spirit of the Chinese took the alarm, and al2 G
VOL. XXXIV. NO. LXVIII.
lying itself with the contemptible jealousies of the court, the fears of the financiers, and the natural affections of the emperor, whose son died about this time from the effects of the noxious pipe in his very palace, succeeded in creating a wide-spread, though for the most part hypocritical, agitation against opium. Edict after edict was promulgated. Death was threatened. Blood soon began to flow. Executions were multiplied. A reign of terror darkened the face of the land. Every external symptom accordingly of national excitement manifested itself. The order had gone forth that all the world should be moral. Whoever wished to curry favour undertook to be the adjutant of government. Mandarins, with buttons of all colours, turned informers against the meanest offenders. The temperance movement in Ireland seemed repeated on a grand scale. Millions affected to abjure the habit. But the whole change was on the surface. Men gave up their pipes to government and bought new ones. The drug was smuggled in with greater secrecy, in increased quantities, and at a higher price. If it happened that perchance there was one sincere honest reformer in any trading town who would not wink at the introduction of opium, transactions took place by night, in dark coves and solitary creeks, where the precious chests were exchanged, beneath the shadow of rocks or out on the lonely sea-beach far from the habitations of man, for that silver which so much stress was laid on retaining. A single little vessel has been known to return to India, from one of these romantic excursions, with seventy thousand pounds' weight of true, genuine, unadulterated sycee. So the export of bullion continued, and the people smoked in their sleeves, and laughed in them too, in spite of the incessant exertions and incessant proclamations of the government. Such is the inevitable issue of any attempt to force a change in manners in opposition to taste and habit. It remains to show the connexion of this movement with the European trade.
This may be done in a few words. Finding that whilst any commerce was carried on, the contraband traffic in opium would continue, the emperor sought to frighten away all foreigners from his shores. That this was not done with Japanese inexorability, arose from the fact that a vast population in the tea-districts was interested in the continuance of the legitimate trade. Still the war was produced which resulted in the well-known treaties from which such vast benefits are expected to flow. That such will not be the case we do not assert. Almost every requisite condition for prosperous commerce is now found in China. Though the emperor and most of his court may be sullen in their acquiescence, the people, especially those who are not of Tartar descent, gladly hail the prospect of increased intercourse with us. Among the