CHAPTER XVII. THE FIRST FOREIGN WAR
If it was thought that the Chinese would not realize all the significance of the change, those who held so slight an opinion of their clear- headedness were quickly undeceived. Lord Napier reached the Canton River in July, 1834, and he at once addressed a letter of courtesy to the viceroy announcing his arrival. The Chinese officers, after perusing it, refused to forward it to the viceroy, and returned it to Lord Napier. Such was the inauspicious commencement of the assumption of responsibility by the crown in China. The Chinese refused to have anything to do with Lord Napier, whom they described as "a barbarian eye," and they threatened the merchants with the immediate suspension of the trade. The viceroy issued an order forbidding the new superintendent to proceed to Canton, and commanding him to stay at Macao until he had applied in the prescribed form for permission to proceed up the river. But Lord Napier did not listen to these representations, nor did he condescend to delay his progress a moment at Macao. He proceeded up the river to Canton, but, although he succeeded in making his way to the English factory, it was only to find himself isolated, and that, in accordance with the viceroy's order, the Hoppo had interdicted all intercourse with the English. The Chinese declared that the national dignity was at stake, and so thoroughly did both officials and merchants harmonize that the English factory was at once deserted by all Chinese subjects, and even the servants left their employment. On his arrival at Canton, Lord Napier found himself confronted with the position that the Chinese authorities refused to have anything to do with him, and that his presence effectually debarred his countrymen from carrying on the trade, which it was his first duty to promote. At this conjuncture it happened that the Chinese had discovered what they thought to be a new grievance against the foreign traders in the steady efflux of silver as the natural consequence of the balance of trade being against China. In a report to the throne in 1833 it was stated that as much as 60,000,000 taels of silver, or $100,000,000, had been exported from China in the previous eleven years, and, as the Chinese of course made no allowance for the equivalent value imported into their country, this total seemed in their eyes an incredibly large sum to be lost from the national treasure. It will be easily understood that at this particular moment the foreign trade appeared to possess few advantages, and found few patrons among the Chinese people.
In meeting this opposition Lord Napier endeavored to combine courtesy and firmness. He wrote courteous and argumentative letters to the mandarins, combating their views, and insisting on his rights as a diplomatist to be received by the officials of the empire; and at the same time he issued a notice to the Chinese merchants which was full of threats and defiance. "The merchants of Great Britain," he said, "wish to trade with all China on principles of mutual benefit; they will never relax in their exertions till they gain a point of equal importance to both countries, and the viceroy will find it as easy to stop the current of the Canton River as to carry into effect the insane determinations of the Hong." This notice was naturally enough interpreted as a defiance by the viceroy, who placed the most severe restrictions he could on the trade, sent his troops into the foreign settlements to remove all Chinese servants, and ordered the Bogue forts to fire on any English ship that attempted to pass. The English merchants, alarmed at the situation, petitioned Lord Napier to allay the storm he had raised by retiring from Canton to Macao, and, harassed in mind and enfeebled in body, Lord Napier acquiesced in an arrangement that stultified all his former proceedings. The Chinese were naturally intoxicated by their triumph, which vindicated their principle that no English merchant or emissary should be allowed to come to Canton except by the viceroy's permit, granted only to the petition and on the guarantee of the Hong merchants. The viceroy had also carried his point of holding no intercourse with the English envoy, to whom he had written that "the great ministers of the Celestial Empire, unless with regard to affairs of going to court and carrying tribute, or in consequence of imperial commands, are not permitted to have interviews with outside barbarians." While the Chinese officials had been both consistent and successful, the new English superintendent of trade had been both inconsistent and discomfited. He had attempted to carry matters with a high hand and to coerce the mandarins, and he was compelled to show in the most public manner that he had failed by his retirement to Macao. He had even imperiled the continuance of the trade which he had come specially to promote, and all he could do to show his indignation was to make a futile protest against "this act of unprecedented tyranny and injustice." Very soon after Lord Napier's return to Macao he died, leaving to other hands the settlement of the difficult affair which neither his acts nor his language had simplified.