In bringing about this change of policy there was indeed another influence at work. Had not the Emperor of China heard some rumors of what was going on in the dominion of his cousin, the Great Mogul—how the French were dispossessing the Portuguese; and how the English later on succeeded in expelling the French? How could they doubt that a large community of native Christians would act as an auxiliary to any foreign invader? A suspicion of this kind had in fact sprung up under the preceding dynasty. In consequence of it not a single seaport except Macao was opened to foreign trade; and when foreigners went to Canton, they were lodged in a suburb and not allowed to penetrate within the walls of the provincial capital. Such misgivings as to the designs of foreigners we find strikingly expressed in a book of that period called “Strange Stories of an Idle Student.”
One story is as follows: When Red-Haired Barbarians first appeared on our coast they were not allowed to come ashore. They begged, however, to be permitted to spread a carpet on which to dry their goods, and this being granted, they took the carpet by its corners and stretched it so that it covered several acres. On this, they debarked in great force and, drawing their swords, took possession of the surrounding country.
THE OPIUM WAR.
The first great event that woke China from her dream of solitary grandeur was the war with England, which broke out in 1839 and was closed three years later by the Treaty of Nanking. It was not, however, all that was needed to effect that object. It made the giant rub her eyes and give a reluctant assent to terms imposed by superior force. But many a rude lesson was still required before she came to perceive her true position, as on the lower side of an inclined plane. To bring her to this discovery four more foreign wars were to follow before the end of the century, culminating in a siege in Peking and massacres throughout the northern provinces which may be looked on as the fifth act in a long and bloody tragedy.
In the last three wars Li Hung Chang was a prominent actor. In the first two he took no part. Yet was it the shock which they gave to the empire that drove him from a life of literary seclusion to do battle in a more public arena.
The Opium War of 1839 is not improperly so designated, but nothing is more erroneous than to infer that it was waged by England for the purpose of forcing the product of her Indian poppy fields on the markets of China. Opium was the occasion, not the cause. The cause, if we are to put it in a single word, was the overbearing arrogance of an Oriental despotism, which refused to recognize any equal in the family of nations.
In the Straits settlements and in the seaports of India, Chinese merchants had been brought under sway of the bewitching narcotic. It found its way to their southern seaports, and without being recognized as an article of commerce, the trade expanded with startling rapidity. The Emperor, Tao Kwang, one of the most humane of rulers, resolved to take measures for the suppression of the vice. He had come to the throne in 1820; and there is a story that he was moved to action by the untimely fate of his eldest son, who had fallen a victim to the seductive poison.