CHAPTER XXII. THE REIGN OF KWANGSU

The most important passage in the Chefoo Convention was unquestionably that commanding the different viceroys and governors to respect, and afford every protection to, all foreigners provided with the necessary passport from the Tsungli Yamen, and warning them that they would be held responsible in the event of any such travelers meeting with injury or maltreatment. The next most important passage was that arranging for the dispatch of an embassy to London bearing a letter of regret for the murder of the English official. The official selected for this duty was Kwo Sungtao, a mandarin of high rank and unexceptionable character. The letter was submitted to Sir Thomas Wade in order that its terms should be exactly in accordance with Chinese etiquette, and that no phrase should be used showing that the Chinese government attached less importance to the mission than the occasion demanded. The embassy proceeded to Europe, and, whatever may be thought of its immediate effect, it must be allowed that it established a precedent of friendly intercourse with this country, which promises to prove an additional guarantee of peace. Kwo Sungtao was accompanied by the present Sir Halliday Macartney, who had rendered such good service to China, his adopted country, during the Taeping war and afterward, and who, during the last sixteen years, has taught the Chinese government how to make itself listened to by the most powerful States of Europe.

A curious incident arising from the passion of gambling which is so prevalent in China, and bearing incidentally upon the national character, may be briefly referred to. The attention of the Pekin government was attracted to this subject by a novel form of gambling, which not merely attained enormous dimensions, but which threatened to bring the system of public examination into disrepute. This latter fact created a profound impression at Pekin, and roused the mandarins to take unusually prompt measures. Canton was the headquarters of the gambling confederacy which established the lotteries known as the Weising, but its ramifications extended throughout the whole of the province of Kwantung. The Weising, or examination sweepstakes, were based on the principle of drawing the names of the successful candidates at the official examinations. They appealed, therefore, to every poor villager, and every father of a family, as well as to the aspirants themselves. The subscribers to the Weising lists were numbered by hundreds of thousands. It became a matter of almost as much importance to draw a successful number or name in the lottery as to take the degree. The practice could not have been allowed to go on without introducing serious abuses into the system of public examination. The profits to the owners of the lottery were so enormous that they were able to pay not less than eight hundred thousand dollars as hush-money to the viceroy and the other high officials of Canton. In order to shield his own participation in the profits, the viceroy declared that he devoted this new source of revenue to the completion of the river defenses of Canton.

In 1874 the whole system was declared illegal, and severe penalties were passed against those aiding, or participating in any way in, the Weising Company. The local officers did not, however, enforce with any stringency these new laws, and the Weising fraternity enjoyed a further but brief period of increased activity under a different name. The fraud was soon detected, and in an edict of August 11, 1875, it was very rightly laid down that "the maintenance of the purity of government demands that it be not allowed under any pretext to be re-established," and for their apathy In the matter the Viceroy Yinghan and several of the highest officials in Canton were disgraced and stripped of their official rank.

In China natural calamities on a colossal scale have often aggravated political troubles. The year 1870 witnessed the commencement of a dearth in the two great provinces of Honan and Shansi which has probably never been surpassed as the cause of a vast amount of human suffering. Although the provinces named suffered the most from the prevalent drought, the suffering was general over the whole of Northern China, from Shantung and Pechihli to Honan and the course of the Yellow River. At first the government, if not apathetic, was disposed to say that the evil would be met by the grant of the usual allowance made by the provincial governors in the event of distress; but when one province after another was absorbed within the famine area, it became no longer possible to treat the matter as one of such limited importance, and the high ministers felt obliged to bestir themselves in face of so grave a danger. Li Hung Chang in particular was most energetic, not merely in collecting and forwarding supplies of rice and grain, but also in inviting contributions of money from all those parts of the empire which had not been affected by famine. Allowing for the general sluggishness of popular opinion in China, and for the absence of any large amount of currency, it must be allowed that these appeals met with a large and liberal response. The foreign residents also contributed their share, and even the charity of London found a vent in sending some thousands of pounds to the scene of the famine in Northern China. This evidence of foreign sympathy in the cause of a common humanity made more than a passing impression on the minds of the Chinese people.