« AnteriorContinuar »
expired Peter the Great also was no more. The subject had to be approached by their successors under changed conditions and somewhat altered circumstances. The Chinese had, however, gained one and a principal point. They had finally refused to entertain the Russian proposals for trade with Pekin itself. Whatever commercial intercourse might ensue was to be restricted to the frontiers.
In June 1728 Count Vladislavitch negotiated the Treaty of Kiachta, which was intended to give fresh force to the expressions of friendship in the Treaty of Nipchu; and perhaps the most important concession contained in it was that relating to the establishment of a Russian mission at Pekin. Permission was granted to the Russians to build a church, to follow the worship of their religion undisturbed, and to maintain a mission of ten persons-six being students of the Chinese language-at Pekin; and the Chinese Government undertook to defray the greater portion of the expenses of maintaining it. The only precaution taken by the Chinese was to stipulate for the members of this mission being changed every ten years; but practically this regulation has been always more or less of a dead letter. The Emperor Yung Ching, while less able as a ruler than either his predecessor or successor, appears to have been free from prejudice, and from the characteristic hatred of the Manchus to everything foreign. Five years after the signature of this treaty, in the year 1733, the first Chinese embassy that ever left Pekin set out for Russia; and this affords the most conclusive proof that the Chinese were anxious to obtain trustworthy and definite information of a country and a people with whom they were likely to be brought into close contact. The embassy reached St. Petersburg, where it met with an honourable reception, and doubtless brought back to China many strange stories of a country ruled by women, and where the brawls in the palace would remind the Chinese literati of the dark periods in their own history. In the year 1733-34 the state of society at St. Petersburg did not argue any great solidity for the young empire, which in little more. than a century had flung its arms across the vast region from Poland to the Pacific; and it does not appear that the Chinese were much impressed by what they saw during their residence in Russia.
So long as Yung Ching lived the relations of the two countries remained fairly satisfactory; but on his death, in 1736, and the accession of his son, the great Keen Lung, the policy of the Pekin Government reverted to the lines upon which it had been based under the Emperor Kanghi. The caravan trade, which it had been one of the chief efforts of the Treaty of Kiachta to promote, languished, until at last, in 1762, the Empress Catherine thought fit to abolish it altogether, and to decree that henceforth trade with China was free to all her subjects. A few years before this Keen Lung's armies had invaded and conquered Eastern Turkestan, when the Russians gave shelter to an Eleuth prince, Amursana, who had rebelled against the Emperor's authority. This had led to a discussion, which assumed a recriminatory tone, and the Chinese themselves put it that they
adopted towards Russia the tone of an elder brother.' The local Russian authorities succeeded in satisfying the Chinese commanders with regard to Amursana, who died of disease shortly after his flight from Kuldja, and this difficulty was amicably settled. Matters generally reached such a pass about this time, when the Chinese were carrying everything before them in Central Asia, up to the walls of Tashkent and the gates of Samarcand, that the Empress Catherine suggested that a Chinese representative should take up his residence permanently at her court. This proposition was treated with silent contempt, and when that haughty princess sent an envoy to Pekin he was summarily dismissed! The effect of this indifference was enhanced by the migration of the Tourgut tribe from the banks of the Volga to those of the Soungari, a voluntary return to an allegiance that had lost all its significance unexampled in history.
During the long reign of the Emperor Keen Lung the attitude of the Chinese towards Russia continued to be one of defiance and proclaimed dislike. The trade proceeded on the frontiers; but the Russian traders, although coming as suppliants, reaped little benefit from the traffic. If there is matter for marvel, it is that they persisted in coming at all. In 1805 the Russians hoped to derive some advantage from the change in rulers that had taken place; and a magnificent embassy, under Count Goloiken, was sent to China. It had, however, to reduce its numbers before being permitted to cross the frontier, and was detained at the Great Wall under various pretexts. On Count Goloiken refusing to perform the 'prostration ceremony 'he was abruptly informed that he had better return, as his journey had already been too long.' With this event the long period of China's unqualified hostility towards Russia may be said to have reached a termination. The decay in the power and vigour of the state, which steadily declined after the death of Keen Lung, rendered the Government less able to resist the pressure brought to bear upon them by foreign Powers, among whom Russia had little difficulty in securing her share of the privileges that were obtainable.
In 1820 another Russian embassy, under M. Timkowski, arrived in Pekin, but this is chiefly remarkable because it afforded that gentleman the opportunity of writing a very interesting book on China. The commercial relations of the two countries were steadily developing, not only by the great trade avenue through Kiachta, but also at other points along the frontier, notably at the towns of Chuguchak and Ili, in Jungaria. Thirty years after the return of M. Timkowski the Kiachta caravan trade had attained such proportions that there was little risk of either stagnation or retrogression, and so the main object with the St. Petersburg Government became the development of commerce with the Western possessions of China. A treaty was concluded with this object at Ili in 1851, and special concessions were made by the Chinese to the Russian merchants of Vernoe and Semipalatinsk. There is no question that the Mahometan insurrections in 1862-63 were a great blow to the commerce of the
Russians, for a really steady and prosperous trade was springing up between Russian territory and the cities of Kuldja, Chuguchak, Hamil, Barkul, and Urumtsi. The rising of the Tungani put a stop to all communication between Russian territory and this region for many years; and it was only during the later years of Yakoob Beg's rule that the trade showed any signs of reviving.
In 1860 a most important event occurred in the relations of the two countries by the Russian occupation of the large province bordering the sea, and lying east of Manchuria-maritime Manchuria, in short, for want of a better name. At the time of the Crimean War, it will be remembered that the English fleet carried on desultory operations against the Russians on the Amour; and the Russian naval authorities, encouraged by what they regarded as their favourable result, and for other reasons, recommended, and ultimately carried out, the incorporation with the empire of the country between the Soungatche river and the sea. By this step the chief Pacific harbour was moved south from Nicolaievsk to Vladivostock. Availing themselves of the successes of the Anglo-French army, the Russians timed their movements so that the Pekin Government was powerless to prevent the annexation of this province, protected on the land side by extensive marshes and dense forests, and at the mercy of the Power commanding the sea. General Ignatieff, at that time Russian Minister at Pekin, succeeded in mollifying the indignation of the Chinese, who were then much too anxiously occupied with affairs in their very midst to raise serious objections to the transfer of districts which had been in the undisturbed possession of a few robber clans. This wound has since rankled, and the growing size and strength of Vladivostock, as well as the activity of the Pacific squadron, have served to further inflame it. Here also a trade sprang up, and many Chinese came to settle at Vladivostock. The old grievance does but slumber, and the greater importance, in the settlement of questions in this quarter, of Corea-only divided from Russia by the small river Tumen-lends increased weight to it in the eyes of Chinese statesmen.
We have now glanced at all the points where the Russians and the Chinese come into contact; and from Kuldja to Vladivostock it is clear that there is more than one principle at stake, and more than one conflict imminent under present circumstances. In spite of the opposition of the Chinese Government and the indifference of the people on the one side, and the immense distance and other natural difficulties interfering with and retarding the progress of the Russians on the other, a very considerable amount of trade is carried on along the frontiers. It is not placing the value of the merchandise exported from China on the land side at too high a figure to say that it probably amounts to five millions sterling per annum; and whenever Russia has improved the means of transit within her frontier, either by the construction of railways or by connecting the Siberian lakes and rivers by canals, an enormous impulse must be given to commerce in this region. It is, therefore, evident that neither Peter the Great
nor the long line of Russian rulers and statesmen of ability since his time, toiled in vain so far as trade with China is concerned. That trade, on the condition of peace being preserved, admitted of considerable expansion; but even a great war will probably fail either to destroy the results attained during the last two centuries, or to dissipate the interests slowly created during that long period.
The political questions are much more difficult to deal with, and the more carefully they are considered the more hopeless does a durable settlement, to the satisfaction of both empires, appear. For there can be no doubt that China's suspicions of the integrity of Russia's policy are very keen, and now not easily to be allayed. Her statesmen see danger to the empire at every point where the nations come into contact from Vladivostock to Kuldja, and they utterly distrust-probably with good reason-Russia's intentions with regard to Corea, Japan, and Ourga. They scent danger in the air on all sides, and, rightly or wrongly, believe that to avert that peril their action must be prompt. To a people who, like the Chinese, judge the present almost exclusively by reference to the past, there is something intolerable in its oppressiveness in the existence of a great military Power along the whole of their northern frontier, and occupying the same relative position to them that the most famous conquerors of China-the Mongols and Manchus themselves-did at former epochs. There has also been added the sense of injury for the forcible occupation of maritime Manchuria. To all these grievances and wrongs the refusal to restore the province of Kuldja has given fresh substance and increased importance. The attempt to deprive the partial surrender of this province of any value, by securing more valuable equivalents-under the Treaty of Livadia has further opened the eyes of the Chinese and brought matters to a head. When the Chinese Government angrily refused to ratify that treaty, and disgraced its negotiator Chung How, a rupture, sooner or later, between Russia and China became inevitable.
It is probable that, before the close of last year, the dominant party at Pekin, under the Imperial princes Chun and Li, had resolved upon war with Russia. The opinion appears to be prevalent among the official classes that Russia's strength has deteriorated on account of the war with Turkey and of popular discontent; but if these fanciful views are current among the provincial officials, it is not to be supposed that the responsible ministers are so easily deluded by them. The authorities are, on the contrary, showing remarkable energy and good sense. They have made large purchases of munitions of war in Germany and the States, at the same time that their own native arsenal at Kiang Nan has been constructing weapons more rapidly than ever before. The forts on the Peiho bristle with Krupp's most formidable artillery, and a fleet of gunboats carrying 25ton guns, has been collected to defend the passage of the river. An army of at least 100,000 well-armed and drilled men is at hand to guard the approaches to the capital; and, lastly, Colonel Gordon has
reached the scene of his former exploits. In Central Asia and on the Amour not less energy and foresight have been shown. Tso Tsung Tang has been largely reinforced in artillery and cavalry; and his army now probably numbers 100,000 combatants. In Manchuria, at
Haylar in particular, active military preparations have been in progress for many months; and, should the Russians abandon the design with which they are credited of making their chief attack from the coast, it is probable that Colonel Gordon's services will be utilised in this direction. All these circumstances show that the Chinese Government is fully alive to the importance of the crisis, and that it is working out a methodical and determined policy.
The future must depend so largely on the fortune of war, that it would be weakness to speculate on what it may prove to be until better informed as to the exact course of recent events in Central Asia. But at the least it must prove fruitful in change. It may greatly alter our views of the military strength of Russia in Central Asia, and of the warlike characteristics of the Chinese. To whichever side the balance of success may go, there will needs be a modification in the relations both of England and of India to the victor and the vanquished. For the present it is enough to recognise plain facts. China has shown that rather than forego the least of her rights she is willing to appeal to the sword, and Russia is busy with preparations for an immediate commencement of hostilities. The harbours of the Baltic are being denuded of ironclads in order to reinforce the fleet in the Pacific, and troops are being assembled for frontier defence as rapidly as the vast distances admit of. In face of these patent facts it is hardly possible to hope that war can be averted. The suggestion of some of the journals of St. Petersburg to waive the Treaty of Livadia, and restore the whole of the province of Kuldja to China for a fair pecuniary compensation, involves a concession which the Russian Government is by no means likely to adopt. It would increase the arrogance of the Chinese, at the same time that it would be sure to create fresh dangers throughout Turkestan. When the war comes-and I am fully convinced that it cannot be much longer put off-Russia will be compelled to fight in defence, not merely of Kuldja, but of her very position in Asia. Although to Englishmen, remembering our easy march to Pekin, the contest may appear unequal, there are reasons, such as I have stated, for believing that the combatants are fairly matched. At all events the Chinese-who are nothing if not human beings with a large development of practical common sense-are confident of the result, and they too have not forgotten the unpleasant experience of twenty years ago. They have faith in the justice of their cause, in their numbers, and in their greater wealth; and there are those among them who declare that a successful war with Russia is the only way to place their empire on a firm foundation, and enable it to withstand the corrosive influence of daily contact with the Barbarians of the West.'
DEMETRIUS CHARLES BOULger.