Mr. Williams to Mr. Seward
Sir: I have the honor to enclose a copy, marked A, of a printed letter from the United States consul general at Shanghai upon the needs of the United States consulates in China, and respectfully commend the same to your careful attention. Its exhibition of these needs is so well supported by facts and explained by arguments drawn from his experience, that it cannot fail to be appreciated; and I content myself with a few remarks in support of the last paragraphs.
I would, however, go further than Mr. Seward has done in paragraph 25, and in order to attain the end of securing experienced consular officers, recommend the establishment of a special consular service for China, in which the junior members shall become competent and eligible to the higher posts after they have learned the Chinese language and had some training in the consulates. The need of competent interpreters has been so often brought before the department that I am afraid of wearying by repetition, but it is vital to the efficiency of our consular service and measurably to the honor of our nation; and in order to get these interpreters the country must educate them. During the thirty-two [Page 477] years of my residence in China, there has not been an American consular officer, except young Mr. Hyatt, of Amoy, who could read or speak Chinese, that was not or had not been connected with missions; and the ministers sent out since 1844 have likewise depended on the same class of people for their translators. While Holland, Portugal, and Spain, not to speak of greater nations, have maintained students in preparation for consular duties, our officers have been obliged to depend on missionaries as translators; and when they were not available, to hire half-instructed natives, whose documents and speech they could not criticise, or lastly to apply to English or French interpreters to aid them. If it be objected that, as there is no pressing need of interpreters in the Levant, there should be none in China, the difference is satisfactorily explained by the more general ability of Turkish officials to speak the French or Italian languages, and they have an acquaintance, too, with the usages of European nations.
The Chinese officials, however, have had no opportunity to learn foreign languages, and know very little of the laws and civilization of other countries, so that everything must be explained through their own language. This, of course, throws the burden of such duties very much upon the interpreter, who should, therefore, form one of the consul’s staff. But in order to secure the services of the interpreter after he has been educated, he should, I think, have the prospect of promotion and an adequate salary; otherwise no one can be expected to remain in such a service so far from home when other more remunerative positions are open to him after he has acquired the language. The English, French, Russian, and Dutch governments have what amounts to a special service for China and Japan; and some of the English consuls, who began as students, have lived in this country over twenty years, and now hold the highest posts. One of them is now British minister to Japan.
It is this permanence, which brings with it so many advantages to both parties, that I wish to secure to our own country by raising up similarly well-trained servants. It must be apparent to yourself that the constant changing of consuls in this country must result in disadvantages that do not ensue in other countries, where they exercise no executive and judicial authority. We weaken our national character with the Chinese rulers, who have little personal knowledge of consuls who only remain a year or two in office, and with whom they can never converse directly. This disadvantage reacts upon the consul, who feels his isolation, and consequently takes less interest in a people from whom he is thus shut out, and with whose officers he is usually in a state of chronic dissatisfaction. The changes not unfrequently injure the standing of the consular office in the estimation of Americans themselves, who often have more knowledge of the Chinese people and usages than a new comer, who, it may be, has come from Milwaukie or St. Louis to act as their judge and representative, without any previous preparation. The changes are more rapid when the consul is a clerk in a mercantile house, and the disrepute of the service and country is greater in the eyes of the Chinese, who have, as you are aware, strenuously objected to their employ. The remedy for these things seems to me to be a special service of educated men who are desirous of maintaining their country’s character.
The treaties with China, Japan, and Siam have really constituted as many governments over our citizens living in those countries; and these governments, as Mr. Seward well remarks, are exercised in the midst of a dozen different powers, each with its own code and corps of officers. In China our obligation to maintain this authority over our citizens is becoming more and more pressing and practical. A case in point occurred at Amoy a few months ago, which may be quoted to illustrate this, the particulars of which are given in enclosures B and C. When the number of Americans was few, and all were occupied with regular business, the consul had not much trouble; but latterly the opening of this country and its internal disturbances have attracted lawless men. More [Page 478] are likely to come when steamers begin to run to California, and there is risk of the present system breaking down for want of power, as the native officials afford little help in keeping the peace.
I see no reason why a service like the one here sketched should not work harmoniously when the official relations between its members have been defined by the department, and it would then have the regularity and strength of a government, which it is desirable it should really be, and its members be able to manage the difficult questions arising with the Chinese and other nationalities.
I see nothing in Mr. Seward’s letter to modify, except that I think he has estimated the annual cost at too small a sum for efficiency. He has well arranged the scheme of present salaries; but, of course, if pupils are sent out to learn the language before going into the consulates, their pay must be higher than he has stated the amount for interpreters in table 3. However, as my plan is intended to be a development of his, and proposes to appoint students who are afterwards to be consuls, the number of years which must elapse before they will be available renders it highly desirable to adopt his plan as the best thing which can now be done. Mr. Seward has had unequalled opportunities for learning the working and defects of the present system, and his figures and statements bring the whole subject before you in a practical shape.
With these remarks, I again commend his letter to your consideration, and beg, also, to refer to Mr. Burlingame’s despatch, (No. 16,) which touches upon the same general subject.
I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.