Imatges de pàgina

he has exercised considerable influence over the Emperor, and has been a consistent opponent of Li Hungchang and all his works.

Au fond the two men are more nearly allied on foreign politics than might be supposed. On the question of principle they are at one, and it is only a matter of policy which divides them. Li Hungchang is an opportunist, and in order to gain his ends would make concessions from which Wêng would turn away his head in disgust. It is well known that with all Li's glib utterances on the question of reformas he is in accord with Wêng in his ultimate opinion of foreigners, and if it were possible again to close the Empire against the 'outer barbarians' Li would be the first to advocate the measure. He shares also in an eminent degree the settled conviction of his countrymen that as regards wisdom and culture they are the salt of the earth. As he remarked to a friend in speaking of the late disasters which have befallen the Empire, it would perhaps be a good thing if we were not so scholarly-minded as we are.' He recognises that in mechanical matters Europeans are superior to his countrymen, but there he considers the advantage ceases, and if in his opinion learning exists at all in Europe, it is of a kind that is beneath contempt.' But there are undoubtedly those who regard Li as an enlightened statesman in comparison with Wêng. He at least, such hold, recognises that in one direction his countrymen are the inferiors of the "outer barbarians, and he has always been ready to give a practical expression to his belief by making use of foreigners in the services under his control. This is true enough, but it represents the full extent of his liberalism. It is noticeable that in Europe he uttered not a single word about the necessity of administrative reforms in China, which lie at the root of every true reform and of even every real mechanical advance in the Empire. Judging from his words, his main desire, and a very natural one in the circumstances, seems to have been to be brought into closer relations with European financiers, and lest this should appear to be too bald an avowal he took care to express at the same time his approval of the introduction of railways into China. Weng and his friends, on the other hand, would have none of these things. China, they contend, has got on very well for many thousand years without foreign inventions, and they see no need for their introduction now. Their national conceit covers them as with a garment, and they have no compliments to exchange with foreigners or the friends of foreigners. To such a length does the bitter feeling go in Peking that no mandarin ventures to associate with the European representatives, except in the most formal and frigid manner; and natives in foreign employ are afraid to take any notice of their masters in the street, lest they should draw down upon themselves the wrath of the people. No foreigner has ever been entertained socially in the house of any member of the Tsungli Yamên, and, except on the rare occasions when the Emperor has granted audiences to the foreign representatives, no European bas ever been admitted within the walls of the Forbidden City. Unti) lately the reactionary tendency of the Yamên has been tempered by the presence of Grand Secretary Sun, a comparatively enlightened Minister, who has always been anxious to do what he could to promote the real interests of the Empire. In the questions which have arisen between his Government and the foreign representatives he has ever shown a reasonable and conciliatory spirit, and was consequently brought into frequent collision with the Wêng clique. But, as no real charge could be brought against him, he survived their animosity until the conclusion of the Shimonoseki treaty, when the conflict was brought to an issue. Sun, like a true patriot, associated himself with Li in the support of the treaty and advocated its ratification. Wêng and his friends, on the other hand, in their blind ignorance, were prepared rather to wreck their country than acknowledge their defeat at the hands of the despised Wojên, and fought tooth and nail against the proposal. As is well known, Sun and Li carried their point, and the treaty which saved their country from disasters even greater than those which had already befallen it duly received the Emperor's sanction. But, though defeated as to the main issue, Wêng carried on the war to the knife, and unfortunately with such success that, as the Peking Gazette lately announced, Sun has been obliged to retire into private life, a step which it was well known had become necessary to protect himself against the personal attacks of his antagonists.

Such are the men who are now guiding the destinies of the Empire, and these are they who, together with the Dowager Empress, the Imperial Princes, and countless palace officials, are able, by the weight of their authority and influence, to dispose of the characters and fortunes of the provincial magnates, who, accepting the position, are willing to purchase their favours by large and continual bribes. Readers of the Peking Gazette are familiar with the edicts in which mandarins who have filled fat posts in the provinces are frequently ordered to present themselves before the Throne. To the uninitiated it might appear as though this were intended to be a compliment, but the recipients of the Imperial rescripts know only too well the real meaning of their master's commands. By the nice adjustment of a sliding scale of 'squeezes' the amount which each individual visitor to the capital should be expected to disgorge is perfectly well ascertained, and in the practised hands of the Pekingese officials care is taken to abstract the amount to the last tael.

The repugnance which Li Hungchang has always shown to enter the gates of Peking has been mainly due to the prospect of such a process as that through which he has lately passed. By a tacit arrangement it was agreed that he should only be called upon to visit the capital once in four years, that interval being considered long enough to enable him to accumulate a sufficient surplus to gratify the desires of his hosts. No such limit, however, was imposed on the frequency of his contributions to the coffers of the Dowager Empress, and during his viceroyalty he poured countless sums into the exchequer of that masterful lady. In return, according to common rumour, he has unquestionably received good measure, pressed down and running over; for through good report and evil report she has invariably supported him by her influence, and though she has not been able to save him from disgrace, she has succeeded in breaking his falls and has prevented his being trodden underfoot by his enemies. But not only are the coming guests welcomed, but the parting guests are speeded on their way by similar kind attentions. It is almost as temporarily ruinous to a man's pocket to receive an appointment as it is to return to Peking after the occupancy of a fat post. So completely is this system looked upon as a matter of course that it is part of the ordinary business of the native bankers to advance the money required by penniless aspirants to office. Not long since a well-known official found that he was expected to pay nearly a million sterling for his appointment to a rich charge. Having no means of his own, he betook himself, after the usual custom, to the bankers, who formed a syndicate to supply the amount. In due time the money was paid and the official entered upon his duties. Unfortunately the bankers, possessed with a vaulting ambition to recoup themselves at the earliest possible date, pressed unreasonably for the return of their money. In vain the mandarin set all the usual machinery at work to gather in the spoils; and so increasingly exacting became his creditors that he was driven to make the fatal mistake of out-heroding Herod in his demands for illegal taxes. For a time the people possessed their souls in patience, but at length the point of endurance was passed, and a loud outcry against his avarice and cruelty went up to the Throne, with such circumstance and persistency that the Emperor was obliged to remove him from his post. The dismissal of this man was an unmixed good. The people were relieved from an intolerable tyranny; and the man himself was punished for his misdeeds. As to his bankers, it is unnecessary to waste compassion on them for the loss of their money, more especially as they have since doubtless repaid themselves by later and better conducted enterprises.


In every practice, however bad, it is possible to find some trace of good, and we cannot deny that even this iniquitous system has one small advantage. It unquestionably exercises, as a rule, a moderating influence upon the conduct of the mandarins. Men who have given such substantial hostages to fortune are less likely to commit themselves to any act which might interfere with their official careers than those who have no such restraining motive. Admitting that corruption is inevitable, it is well that this pecuniary obligation should serve as an additional inducement to them so to act as to retain their offices until at least the completion of the three years term. The test of good government which is accepted at Peking is neither stringent nor heart-searching. If no widespread complaints are made, if order is preserved, and if the voice of the turtle is heard in the land, the presiding official is accepted as one who is worthy of further employment. The main object of every mandarin is, therefore, to keep his subjects quiet, and, as the case above quoted shows, this desirable state of things is plainly inconsistent with excessive extortion. Mean though the motive is, the necessity of repaying the debt incurred in the purchase of office superinduces a moderate attitude on the part of the mandarins, and puts a check on any unusual display of avarice. So far the people are gainers.

But it is still more patent that the widespread corruption is an almost insuperable obstacle to the introduction of reforms into the administration of the Empire. In a system by which there are vast potentialities for accumulating wealth, and where no shame attaches to the employment of official pilfering, it is impossible to suppose that the body of men whose sordid interests it so effectually serves would be willing to enact a self-denying ordinance to the detriment of their own pockets. The absence of all public opinion in China makes it hopeless to expect that a movement in the direction of peaceful reform can ever emanate from the people. Any progressive action, therefore, must be initiated by the official classes, and these are the last people in the world who would ever attempt to overthrow a system from which they derive so great and direct advantages. The only means by which reforms can be introduced with any chance of success is by so arranging that they should redound to the pecuniary gain of the central Government. The one enlightened measure which is credited to the Empire within the last forty years has been the establishment of the customs service, which is now doing such excellent work under the guidance of Sir Robert Hart. Having begun in a small way, this service now collects a revenue of over 22,000,000 taels, every tael of which is accounted for to the Imperial Exchequer, Blind to principle, and completely ignorant of political morality, it would have been hopeless to have induced the Government to adopt the innovation if it had not been possible to convince them of the very practical advantage which would acrue to the Peking Treasury from its acceptance. Under the old arrangement the custom dues were levied by the provincial authorities, who kept the lion's share for themselves and forwarded the surplus to the capital. The extraction of such substantial illegal gains from the pockets of these hereditary peculators was long and bitterly resented, and the proposal that the Foreign Service should collect the duties payable on cargoes carried in native craft as well as in foreign ships was successfully resisted. If when the success of the system by which foreign duties are collected by foreigners has become so plain and palpable it has


been found impossible to extend the arrangement to the collection of native duties, it seems hopeless to expect that any widespread system of reform in the administration of the province can ever be introduced. This becomes the more plain when it is recollected that, while the principal men whose incomes were affected by the customhouse reform might be almost counted on the fingers of two hands, any general reorganisation would affect the incomes of

every mandarin serving outside the capital. The opposition to it would be, therefore, overwhelming, and any prospect of its institution must be relegated ad calendas Græcas.

The only possible directions in which progress can at the present time be made in China are those which can be brought about by the introduction of railways and the opening of mines, and we have lately been informed by Li Hungchang that his whole weight, whatever that may be, will be thrown in their favour. Such utterances as Li favoured us with are easily made, and when it is expected that they will serve the useful purpose of supplying a quid pro quo in the shape of favours to be granted to China, we can readily understand his desire to give them publicity. But to make railways—to take their case first—in China is no easy matter. The same obstacle which makes administrative reforms impossible makes the construction of railways in the ordinary way next to impossible. Money is wanted for their construction, and this, putting aside the idea of a foreign loan, can only be obtained from the wealthy non-official classes. But these sections of the community know as well as others that to hand over money to the officials for the construction of railways is as futile a proceeding, except in so far as the advantage to the mandarins is concerned, as throwing it into the sea.

Two edicts have of late been issued on the subject, and both aptly illustrate the state of affairs described above. The first, which appeared last year, approved in principle of the construction of railways generally, and especially of a trunk line from Hankow, on the Yangtsze Kiang, to Peking. The edict was evidently designed to allay the fears likely to be entertained by possible shareholders that the management of the line would drift into the hands of the mandarins. "We grant,' wrote the Emperor in condescending terms, the privilege of building the line to wealthy men and rich merchants of the various provinces, such as shall be able to show a capital of ten million taels and above, in shares or otherwise;' and he also points out the advantages which were likely to accrue to them from the increased traffic and the easy as well as speedy transmission of goods. At the same time they are assured that, as the line will · be a purely commercial affair, the Government officials shall not interfere either with the gains or losses of the said company.'

This benevolent pronouncement fell flat. The mercantile communities have bad some experience of mandarin-managed mercantile

« AnteriorContinua »