U.S.-China Trade Treaty Negotiations

After the Anglo-Chinese Nanking treaty of 1842, other Western trading nations hastened to obtain peacefully the advantages won by Britain in the Opium war. President Tyler of the U.S., with the approval of Congress, decided to dispatch a trade mission to China and secure these advantages by treaty. The House representative from Massachusetts, Caleb Cushing, headed the Mission which was conveyed by a small naval squadron to China, landing at Macao in Feb. 1844 after a voyage lasting 208 days. He had been directed to go to Peking, if possible, in order to present at the Imperial Court the president's letter to the emperor requesting trading concessions on an equitable basis along the lines of the (British) Nanking treaty concluded earlier.

True to form, and despite advance notice of several months, his Chinese hosts adopted the usual delaying tactics and undiplomatic stratagems: any possibility of a journey to Peking would have to await the emperor's will; a sea-journey northward to Tientsin would not be looked upon favorably; any discussion of trade matters could only be done by intermediaries, and so on. So Cushing and his companions meanwhile had to cool their heels at Macao until the emperor's wishes became known. After two-and-a- half months the decision came back; a visit to the capital (Peking) would be highly irregular and, instead, the envoy should await the arrival of the emperor's Commissioner Ch'i-ying (who had two years earlier negotiated the Nanking treaty with Britain).

Pleased by the conciliatory attitude of the Chinese negotiator, Cushing decided not to insist on the main sticking-point--the visit to Peking--and with that issue removed, Ch'i-ying duly arrived at Macao in June and the treaty was completed and signed on July 3, 1844 as the Treaty of Wanghsia. As in the British treaty, five ports were opened to the trade of Americans and the residence of consuls, most- favored-nation and extraterritoriality provisions were included and, in contrast to the Anglo-Chinese agreement, the trading of opium was specifically prohibited. The treaty was subject to revision in twelve years. It is interesting that throughout his long stay in China Cushing never set foot in Chinese territory proper: denied entrance to Canton and refused the overland trip to Peking, he remained at Macao, territory at the entrance to Canton harbor leased by China to Portugal.

Imperial Commissioner, Governor General of Liang-kuang [territory comprising the two southernmost coastal provinces of Kwantung and Kwangsi], Ch'i-ying, memorializes. On June 10, 1844, Your slave [the common form of address of Manchu officials to the emperor], accompanied by Financial Commissioner Huang En-t'ung and other officers, set out from Canton, arriving at Macao on June 20th. On the 21st and 22nd they met the barbarian envoy [Cushing]and the barbarian chiefs [his secretaries], Parker and Bridgman. They were polite and very respectful but did not mention going to Peking for an audience and the presentation of their credentials. For several days in succession Your slave has sent Huang Ent'ung, with various other officials, to explain everything clearly, to commend the envoy for having waited in Kwangtung peacefully, and also to tell him that even if he went to Peking he would certainly be ordered back, thus making the trip in vain. But the said envoy's reply was vague. Then he presented the precis of a commercial treaty. Although translated into Chinese, it was not clear and the phraseology was uncouth, but the purport was in general like the recently fixed regulations. Moreover, he said that they would not venture to follow the example of the English barbarians in appropriating islands. Your slave examined it carefully and there seemed to be nothing detrimental to the general commercial picture. Only on the issue of giving up his northern trip did he equivocate. But he urged that the trade regulations be quickly agreed upon, drawn up, sealed, and copies exchanged.

Inasmuch as the envoy had crossed the wide oceans, Your slave considered it reasonable to conclude negotiations, provided there were no unreasonable demands outside the trade regulations. But on examining the said envoy's first communication to the former acting governor general, Ch'eng Yu-t'sai, the purport seems to be to conclude the treat first and then go to Peking. Now he insisted on a speedy signing of the treaty, but it was feared that after the treaty was concluded he would actually proceed to Peking. If he were not carefully blocked we should fall into his trap.

Consequently, the various trade articles [i.e., written clauses of the treaty] which he presented were acceded to or rejected discriminately, each one being discussed carefully. Huang En-t'ung was ordered to confer with him personally in the hope of observing his attitude. The said envoy was also notified in writing that, if the treaty could be concluded without delay, there would be no necessity of going to Peking and (was asked) when he cared to hand over his credentials. Seeing his scheme foiled, the said envoy reiterated his request to go to Peking. When the discussion had dragged on for several days, Your slave, accompanied by Huang Ent'ung, called on the said envoy in person and told him that the regulations of the Heavenly Court [i.e.,the emperor] had never provided for [going to Peking] and could not be amended; that since he respected and admired His Imperial Majesty, he must humbly obey His Edicts and not make obstinate demands. (Your slave) repeatedly broke him down with reasoning and pointed out the pros and cons, arguing for half a day. The said envoy apparently has some vestige of understanding, but he made the excuse that he came under orders from his president and had credentials which must be presented for Imperial scrutiny. He argued interminably. (We) told him that if he ever had any requests which he could not present to the Emperor himself, (we) could memorialize them[i.e., present them formally] for him. He said that he sincerely desired to see China, hoping to travel by inland waterways, and that he had no ulterior motives. His attitude was alternately respectful and haughty; his position was extremely changeable. (We) cross- examined him thoroughly, leaving him "no place to put his beak" [i.e. no leg to stand on]. Then he said he would prepare a reply in writing to clarify the original conversation, rather than reach a hasty conclusion orally.

Your slave humbly observes that the said envoy, Cushing, in submitting these regulations, hoped to trade according to the English barbarians' new regulations; on hearing that the English barbarians had a supplementary treaty, he wanted to emulate and outdo them. This is only reasonable. . . . . . . . .

On June 25, the said envoy [Cushing] finally told Huang En- t'ung et al. that, after considering for several days what the Imperial Commissioner said, it had become entirely clear that he could probably anchor at Macao for a while and not go north. Since this was an oral statement it cannot be relied upon. As soon as the said barbarian envoy's written reply is received and his position confirmed, it will be memorialized posthaste. ...............................

Ch'i-ying further memorializes.
After arriving at Canton, he [i.e., Ch'i-ying] inquired fully of Huang En-tung regarding the American barbarians' difficulty of understanding. It is much greater than the English barbarians', because the English barbarians had Morrison' [a Chinese speaking Englishman]and others. Although they were artful and cunning they were somewhat conversant with Chinese written and spoken language, and when there was business one could discuss it with them. The American barbarians have only Parker and Bridgman, who do not know many Chinese characters. They are only versed in Cantonese local dialect, with the result that it is hard to understand each other's point of view and a great deal of energy is consumed. ..................

But he best way to deal with barbarians is to block their presumption first and then proceed to destroy their schemes. Since the said barbarian envoy regarded the treaty as vital, its prompt conclusion was agreed to. It was only necessary to make adjustments to ensure the maintenance of fixed regulations of the Imperial Court and to accord with international convention, justly and without discrimination, thus achieving perpetual amity between China and the outside world, without any compromise to lead us into his trap.

Accordingly, along with Huang En-t'ung and the other officers, (Your slave) has argued with him for several days. ....... anything at great variance with the Supplementary Treaty or contrary to fixed law was flatly rejected. The said barbarian envoy, although not without repetitious argument, was overcome with reason and in most cases agreed. But there are still four or five articles not decided......... .

The said barbarian envoy has also attempted to insert an article in the treaty now under negotiation providing that a ministerial board in Peking should receive communications from his country, following the precedent set by Russia and other countries. If we probe for his motive, it may well be found in his desire to go to Peking to present his credentials. Therefore Your slave flatly refused this, but the said barbarian envoy keeps making the request incessantly. . . . . . .

But unless there is positive assurance (that he will not go north), even after the treaty is concluded it will not be sealed, thus blocking his covetousness and exemplifying our power to harness him.

[Ref.: Earl Swisher, China's Management of the American Barbarians, pp. 153-8. Copyright Hippocrene Books. Quoted with Permission of the publisher.]