CHAPTER XIV. THE COMMENCEMENT OF EUROPEAN INTERCOURSE

Keen Lung was the first Manchu prince to receive formal embassies from the sovereigns of Europe. Among these the Portuguese were the first in point of time, although they never attained the advantage derivable from that priority; and indeed the important period of their connection with China may be said to have terminated before the Manchus had established their authority. Still, as the tenants of Macao, the oldest European settlement in China for more than three centuries and a half, their connection with the Chinese government must always possess some features of interest and originality. The Portuguese paid their rent to and carried on all their business with the mandarins at Canton, who lost no opportunity of squeezing large sums out of the foreigners, as they were absolutely in their power. The Portuguese could only pay with good or bad grace the bribes and extra duty demanded as the price of their being allowed to trade at all. The power of China seemed so overwhelming that they never attempted to make any stand against its arbitrary decrees, and the only mode they could think of for getting an alleviation of the hardships inflicted by the Canton authorities was to send costly embassies to the Chinese capital. These, however, failed to produce any tangible result. Their gifts were accepted, and their representatives were accorded a more or less gratifying reception; but there was no mitigation of the severity shown by the local mandarins, and, for all practical purposes, the money expended on these missions was as good as thrown away. The Portuguese succeeded in obtaining an improvement in their lot only by combining their naval forces with those of the Chinese in punishing and checking the raids of the pirates, who infested the estuary of the Canton River known as the Bogue. But they never succeeded in emancipating themselves from that position of inferiority in which the Chinese have always striven to keep all foreigners; and if the battle of European enterprise against Chinese exclusiveness had been carried on and fought by the Portuguese it would have resulted in the discomfiture of Western progress and enlightenment.

The Dutch sent an embassy to Pekin in 1795, but it was treated with such contumely that it does not reflect much credit on those who sent it. The Spaniards never held any relations with the central government, all their business being conducted with the Viceroy of Fuhkien; and the successive massacres of Manila completely excluded them from any good understanding with the Pekin government. With Russia, China's relations have always been different from those with the other powers, and this is explained partly by the fact of neighborship, and partly by Russia seeking only her own ends, and not advantages for the benefit of every other foreign nation.

With France, the relations of China, owing to a great extent to the efforts and influence of the missionaries, had always been marked with considerable sympathy and even cordiality. The French monarchs had from time to time turned their attention to promoting trade with China and the Far East. Henry the Fourth sanctioned a scheme with this object, but it came to nothing; and Colbert only succeeded in obtaining the right for his countrymen to land their goods at Whampoa, the river port of Canton. But French commerce never flourished in China, and a bold but somewhat Quixotic attempt to establish a trade between that country and the French settlements on the Mississippi failed to achieve anything practical. But what the French were unable to attain in the domain of commerce they succeeded in accomplishing in the region of literature. They were the first to devote themselves to the study of the Chinese literature and language, and what we know of the history of China down to the last century is exclusively due to their laborious research and painstaking translations of Chinese histories and annals. They made China known to the polite as well as the political world of Europe. Keen Lung himself appreciated and was flattered by these efforts. His poetry, notably his odes on "Tea," and the "Eulogy of Moukden" as the cradle of his race, was translated by Pere Amiot, and attracted the attention of Voltaire, who addressed to the emperor an epistolary poem on the requirements and difficulties of Chinese versification. The French thus rendered a material service in making China better known to Europe and Europe better known in China, which, although it may be hard to gauge precisely, entitles them still to rank among those who have opened up China to Europeans. The history of China, down to the eighteenth century at least, could not have been written but for the labors of the French, of Mailla, Du Halde, Amiot, and many others.