China and the Manchus

Author: Herbert Allen Giles

Chapter VII Tao Kuang

Tao Kuang (glory of right principle), as he is called, from the style chosen for his reign, gave promise of being a useful and enlightened ruler; at the least a great improvement on his father. He did his best at first to purify the court, but his natural indolence stood in the way of any real reform, and with the best intentions in the world he managed to leave the empire in a still more critical condition than that in which he had found it. Five years after his accession, his troubles began in real earnest. There was a rising of the people in Kashgaria, due to criminal injustice practised over a long spell of time on the part of the Chinese authorities. The rebels found a leader in the person of Jehangir, who claimed descent from one of the old native chiefs, formerly recognized by the Manchu Emperors, but now abolished as such. Thousands flocked to his standard; and by the time an avenging army could arrive on the scene, he was already master of the country. During the campaign which followed, his men were defeated in battle after battle; and at length he himself was taken prisoner and forwarded to Peking, where he failed to defend his conduct, and was put to death.

The next serious difficulty which confronted the Emperor was a rising, in 1832, of the wild Miao tribes of Kuangsi and Hunan, led by a man who either received or adopted the title of the Golden Dragon. At the bottom of all the trouble we find, as usually to be expected henceforward, the secret activities of the far-reaching Triad Society, which seized the occasion to foment into open rebellion the dissatisfaction of the tribesmen with the glaring injustice they were suffering at the hands of the local authorities. After some initial massacres and reprisals, a general was sent to put an end to the outbreak; but so far from doing this, he seems to have come off second best in most of the battles which ensued, and was finally driven into Kuang-tung. For this he was superseded, and two Commissioners dispatched to take charge of further operations. It occurred to these officials that possibly persuasion might succeed where violence had failed; and accordingly a proclamation was widely circulated, promising pardon and redress of wrongs to all who would at once return to their allegiance, and pointing out at the same time the futility of further resistance. The effect of this move was magical; within a few days the rebellion was over.

We are now reaching a period at which European complications began to be added to the more legitimate worries of a Manchu Emperor. Trade with the Portuguese, the Spaniards, the Dutch, and the English, had been carried on since the early years of the sixteenth century, but in a very haphazard kind of way, and under many vexatious restrictions, bribery being the only effectual means of bringing commercial ventures to a successful issue. So far back as 1680, the East India Company had received its charter, and commercial relations with Chinese merchants could be entered into by British subjects only through this channel. Such machinery answered its purpose very well for a long period; but a monopoly of the kind became out of date as time went on, and in 1834 it ceased altogether. The Company was there for the sake of trade, and for nothing else; and one of its guiding principles was avoidance of any acts which might wound Chinese susceptibilities, and tend to defeat the object of its own existence. Consequently, the directors would not allow opium to be imported in their vessels; neither were they inclined to patronize missionary efforts. It is true that Morrison’s dictionary was printed at the expense of the Company, when the punishment for a native teaching a foreigner the Chinese language was death; but no pecuniary assistance was forthcoming when the same distinguished missionary attempted to translate the Bible for distribution in China.

The Manchus, who had themselves entered the country as robbers of the soil and spoliators of the people, were determined to do their best to keep out all future intruders; and it was for this reason that, suspicious of the aims of the barbarian, every possible obstacle was placed in the way of those who wished to learn to speak and read Chinese. This suspicion was very much increased in the case of missionaries, whose real object the Manchus failed to appreciate, and behind whose plea of religious propagandism they thought they detected a deep-laid scheme for territorial aggression, to culminate of course in their own overthrow; and already in 1805 an edict had been issued, strictly forbidding anyone to teach even Manchu to any foreigner.

From this date (1834), any British subject was free to engage in the trade, and the Home Government sent out Lord Napier to act as Chief Superintendent, and to enter into regular diplomatic relations with the Chinese authorities. Lord Napier, however, even though backed by a couple of frigates, was unable to gain admission to the city of Canton, and after a demonstration, the only result of which was to bring all business to a standstill, he was finally obliged in the general interest to retire. He went to Macao, a small peninsula to the extreme south-west of the Kuangtung province, famous as the residence of the poet Camoens, and there he died a month later. Macao was first occupied by the Portuguese trading with China in 1557; though there is a story that in 1517 certain Portuguese landed there under pretence of drying some tribute presents to the Emperor, which had been damaged in a storm, and proceeded to fortify their encampment, whereupon the local officials built a wall across the peninsula, shutting off further access to the mainland. It also appears that, in 1566, Macao was actually ceded to the Portuguese on condition of payment of an annual sum to China, which payment ceased after trouble between the two countries in 1849.

The next few years were employed by the successors of Lord Napier in endeavours, often wrongly directed, to establish working, if not harmonious, relations with the Chinese authorities; but no satisfactory point was reached, for the simple reason that recent events had completely confirmed the officials and the people in their old views as to the relative status of the barbarians and themselves.

It is worth noticing here that Russia, with her conterminous and everadvancing frontier, has always been regarded somewhat differently from the oversea barbarian. She has continually during the past three centuries been the dreaded foreign bogy of the Manchus; and a few years back, when Manchus and Chinese alike fancied that their country was going to be "chopped up like a melon" and divided among western nations, a warning geographical cartoon was widely circulated in China, showing Russia in the shape of a huge bear stretching down from the north and clawing the vast areas of Mongolia and Manchuria to herself.

Now, to aggravate the already difficult situation, the opium question came suddenly to the front in an acute form. For a long time the import of opium had been strictly forbidden by the Government, and for an equally long time smuggling the drug in increasing quantities had been carried on in a most determined manner until, finally, swift vessels with armed crews, sailing under foreign flags, succeeded in terrorizing the native revenue cruisers, and so delivering their cargoes as they pleased. It appears that the Emperor Tao Kuang, who had sounded the various high authorities on the subject, was genuinely desirous of putting an end to the import of opium, and so checking the practice of opium-smoking, which was already assuming dangerous proportions; and in this he was backed up by Captain Elliot (afterwards Sir Charles Elliot), now Superintendent of Trade, an official whose vacillating policy towards the Chinese authorities did much to precipitate the disasters about to follow. After a serious riot had been provoked, in which the foreign merchants of Canton narrowly escaped with their lives, and to quell which it was necessary to call out the soldiery, the Emperor decided to put a definite stop to the opium traffic; and for this purpose he appointed one of his most distinguished servants, at that time Viceroy of Hukuang, and afterwards generally known as Commissioner Lin, a name much reverenced by the Chinese as that of a true patriot, and never mentioned even by foreigners without respect. Early in 1839, Lin took up the post of Viceroy of Kuangtung, and immediately initiated an attack which, to say the least of it, deserved a better fate.

Within a few days a peremptory order was made for the delivery of all opium in the possession of foreign merchants at Canton. This demand was resisted, but for a short time only. All the foreign merchants, together with Captain Elliot, who had gone up to Canton specially to meet the crisis, found themselves prisoners in their own houses, deprived of servants and even of food. Then Captain Elliot undertook, on behalf of his Government, to indemnify British subjects for their losses; whereupon no fewer than twenty thousand two hundred and ninety-one chests of opium were surrendered to Commissioner Lin, and the incident was regarded by the Chinese as closed. On receipt of the Emperor’s instructions, the whole of this opium, for which the owners received orders on the Treasury at the rate of #120 per chest, was mixed with lime and salt water, and was entirely destroyed.

Lin’s subsequent demands were so arbitrary that at length the English mercantile community retired altogether from Canton, and after a futile attempt to settle at Macao, where their presence, owing to Chinese influence with the Portuguese occupiers, was made unwelcome, they finally found a refuge at Hongkong, then occupied only by a few fishermen’s huts. Further negotiations as to the renewal of trade having fallen through, Lin gave orders for all British ships to leave China within three days, which resulted in a fight between two men-ofwar and twenty-nine war-junks, in which the latter were either sunk or driven off with great loss. In June, 1840, a British fleet of seventeen men-of-war and twenty-seven troopships arrived at Hongkong; Canton was blockaded; a port on the island of Chusan was subsequently occupied; and Lord Palmerston’s letter to the Emperor was carried to Tientsin, and delivered there to the Viceroy of Chihli. Commissioner Lin was now cashiered for incompetency; but was afterwards instructed to act with the Viceroy of Chihli, who was sent down to supersede him. Further vexatious action, or rather inaction, on the part of these two at length drove Captain Elliot to an ultimatum; and as no attention was paid to this, the Bogue forts near the mouth of the Canton river were taken by the British fleet, after great slaughter of the Chinese. In January, 1841, a treaty of peace was arranged, under which the island of Hongkong was to be ceded to England, a sum of over a million pounds was to be paid for the opium destroyed, and satisfactory concessions were to be made in the matter of official intercourse between the two nations. The Emperor refused ratification, and ordered the extermination of the barbarians to be at once proceeded with. Again the Bogue forts were captured, and Canton would have been occupied but for another promised treaty, the terms of which were accepted by Sir Henry Pottinger, who now superseded Elliot. At this juncture the British fleet sailed northwards, capturing Amoy and Ningpo, and occupying the island of Chusan. The further capture of Chapu, where munitions of war in huge quantities were destroyed, was followed by similar successes at Shanghai and Chinkiang. At the lastmentioned, a desperate resistance was offered by the Manchu garrison, who fought heroically against certain defeat, and who, when all hope was gone, committed suicide in large numbers rather than fall into the hands of the enemy, from whom, in accordance with prevailing ideas and with what would have been their own practice, they expected no quarter. The Chinese troops, as distinguished from the Manchus, behaved differently; they took to their heels before a shot had been fired. This behaviour, which seems to be nothing more than arrant cowardice, is nevertheless open to a more favourable interpretation. The yoke of the Manchu dynasty was already beginning to press heavily, and these men felt that they had no particular cause to fight for, certainly not such a personal cause as then stared the Manchus in the face. The Manchu soldiers were fighting for their all: their very supremacy was at stake; while many of the Chinese troops were members of the Triad Society, the chief object of which was to get rid of the alien dynasty. It is thus, too, that we can readily explain the assistance afforded to the enemy by numerous Cantonese, and the presence of many as servants on board the vessels of our fleet; they did not help us or accompany us from any lack of patriotism, of which virtue Chinese annals have many striking examples to show, but because they were entirely out of sympathy with their rulers, and would have been glad to see them overthrown, coupled of course with the tempting pay and good treatment offered by the barbarian.

It now remained to take Nanking, and thither the fleet proceeded in August, 1842, with that purpose in view. This move the Chinese authorities promptly anticipated by offering to come to terms in a friendly way; and in a short time conditions of peace were arranged under an important instrument, known as the Treaty of Nanking. Its chief clauses provided for the opening to British trade of Canton, Amoy, Foochow, Ningpo, and Shanghai, at which all British subjects were to enjoy the rights of extraterritoriality, being subject to the jurisdiction of their own officials only; also, for the cession to England of the island of Hongkong, and for the payment of a lump sum of about five million pounds as compensation for loss of opium, expenses of the war, etc. All prisoners were to be released, and there was a special amnesty for such Chinese as had given their services to the British during the war. An equality of status between the officials of both nations was further conceded, and suitable rules were to be drawn up for the regulation of trade. The above treaty having been duly ratified by Tao Kuang and by Queen Victoria, it must then have seemed to British merchants that a new and prosperous era had really dawned. But they counted without the ever-present desire of the great bulk of the Chinese people to see the last of the Manchus; and the Triad Society, stimulated no doubt by the recent British successes, had already shown signs of unusual activity when, in 1850, the Emperor died, and was succeeded by his fourth son, who reigned under the title of Hsien Feng (or Hien Fong = universal plenty).


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Chicago: Herbert Allen Giles, "Chapter VII Tao Kuang," China and the Manchus, ed. F. N. Maude and trans. Giles, John Allen, 1808-1884 in China and the Manchus Original Sources, accessed March 27, 2023,

MLA: Giles, Herbert Allen. "Chapter VII Tao Kuang." China and the Manchus, edited by F. N. Maude, and translated by Giles, John Allen, 1808-1884, in China and the Manchus, Original Sources. 27 Mar. 2023.

Harvard: Giles, HA, 'Chapter VII Tao Kuang' in China and the Manchus, ed. and trans. . cited in 1909, China and the Manchus. Original Sources, retrieved 27 March 2023, from