Mr. Williams to Mr. Seward

No. 27.]

Sir: I have the honor to transmit to you a despatch from Prince Kung, (enclosure A,) covering a copy of a set of regulations, (enclosure B,) which have been agreed upon between him and the representatives of Great Britain and France to prescribe the mode of hiring Chinese laborers to go abroad. The English and French versions are both enclosed. In my reply (enclosure C) I have mentioned the law of February 19, 1862, which I am almost sure is the only ordinance on this subject in the statute book of any nation, as the reason for not notifying them to our countrymen. I may also add that before they appeared, Baron Rehfues, the Prussian minister to China, had refused to allow Prussian vessels to carry coolies pending a reference to Berlin.

The history of the coolie traffic since 1849, when the Peruvians came to Canton to get laborers to dig guano on the Chinchas islands, is a sad result of the foreign intercourse which has been forced upon China and its people. In carrying it on, the most flagitious acts have been committed by the natives upon each other, under the stimulus of rewards offered by foreigners to bring them coolies, while the character of all foreigners has been covered with infamy [Page 496] among the inhabitants of Canton province, especially in the rural districts. The cruel treatment suffered by many of these deceived people in the barracoons to force them to sign contracts and embark, is too well authenticated to be doubted; and especially has this evidence deepened the opprobrium which has fastened upon Macao as the place where the worst deeds were done. In 1859 the terror of kidnappers was so great among the natives in that city and neighborhood that they durst not venture abroad by night; and I printed a small tract for circulation in that region, warning the people of the wiles practiced to entrap them “like pigs in a basket.” Out of the cargoes which have left Macao during the last fifteen years, consisting mostly of men between the ages of eighteen and thirty years, only a few scores have returned.

The records of this legation contain so many statements going to prove these remarks, that I need not enlarge. Since 1861 less has been written to the department, partly because our flag has not been used, and partly because the trade itself dwindled to a few ships carrying the coolies to Peru, Trinidad, and Cuba during the civil war in the United States. It has revived within the last fifteen months, especially to Cuba. In the year 1859 emigration offices were established by the provincial authorities in Kwang-tung province, to protect the lives and rights of their people emigrating as laborers; but a large majority of the coolies have gone from Macao, where the delay, expense, and surveillance which attended their engagement in the emigration offices were greatly diminished or avoided, so that the laudable efforts of Chinese rulers were, in a great measure, neutralized. All those taken to English colonies (chiefly to Trinidad) have, I believe, been engaged in the emigration offices; but the enterprise of thus supplying labor there is said not to pay, though the emigrants and their families are reported to be satisfied with their lot.

The failure to effect the exchange of the ratifications of the treaty with Portugal in 1864, has apparently led the Macao authorities to put the settlement in a state of defence; but the Chinese have no wish to provoke hostilities. However, being unable to exercise any supervision over the emigration thence, they disallow it altogether in these regulations, and I hope their people will soon learn that it is illegal, and that ere long the supply will be altogether cut off. No coolies have been shipped from Hong Kong for several years; indeed, it is well understood in all that region that emigrants go from Hong Kong and coolies from Macao.

I am somewhat skeptical how far these regulations will prevent the evils now complained of, until a year or so of trial has proven whether the energy of those who make gain by the traffic will not overcome the remedial measures now to go into immediate operation. Even the most disinterested officials cannot at once remove the ignorance which is imposed upon by specious tales, or the poverty which is tempted by the bounty offered; and, after all, these two facts, poverty and ignorance, underlie the whole business, and are worked upon by crafty agents to fill their own pockets. Yet I think it altogether probable that the largest proportion of the coolies go willingly, though stupidly ignorant where they are going and what they are to do.

My expectation is, however, that though other flags can be obtained to carry on the trade from Macao, the Portuguese authorities will not persistently set themselves against these reasonable rules to protect every emigrant leaving his native land as a hired laborer.

I am indebted to the British minister for a copy of his despatch accompanying the regulations, (enclosure D,) which he furnished me at my request. Its perusal will repay you, especially the remarks on the appointment of consuls from China to countries with which she has treaties. Such a functionary would do much to reconcile the laborer to his new condition by sending letters and funds home, interpreting for and counselling him in cases of accusation for crime, aiding him to return to his friends, &c. It seems to me to be quite plain [Page 497] that the Chinese government has a reciprocal right to appoint consuls upon this point, as it is not unlikely to come up after the return of Pin-tajin. Almost all the treaties stipulate for the reception of ministers from the Emperor of China, but none of them specially mention consuls; yet the lesser privilege is doubtless involved in the greater.

I regard these regulations as an index of progress. They show some solicitude for the welfare of subjects who have gone abroad, and form the first recognition from the Emperor that his people emigrating to other lands are not expatriated or forgotten. If carried out honestly, the obloquy heretofore attendant upon the trade, and the bad reputation of the foreign name, will both soon cease.

If Congress sees proper to repeat the law of 1862, laborers could be taken to California, where railroads and other public works will demand thousands on hands to complete them; though if high wages and good treatment were offered, as many free emigrants might go as were needed.

I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,

S. WELLS WILLIAMS, Chargé d’Affaires.

Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.

P. S.—Information has just reached this place of the destruction of an Italian vessel, the Napoleon Canevaro, bound for Havana from Macao. It is reported by a part of the crew, who were picked up not far from Hong Kong, that symptoms of insubordination appearing among the coolies, the captain drove them below and battened down the hatches. Flames soon appeared, which the crew vainly endeavored to extinguish, and they soon left in their boats, without even opening the hatches.

In January the British ship Price of the Ganges, bound to Guiana, with between three hundred and four hundred emigrants, was captured by them. They threw the captain and purser overboard, and compelled the mate to land them on Hainan island, after which he brought the vessel back to port.

In February the French ship Hong Kong, bound for Havana with over three hundred coolies, was captured by about a score of them, who had armed themselves at Whampoa. These, aided by the rest, possessed themselves of what little treasure was on board, and nearly all escaped to the land, where they were in turn plundered by the fishermen.

These things show the necessity of the regulations which have now been adopted to prevent, if possible, wrongs and violence by both those who go as laborers, and those who hire them.

S. W. W.



Prince Kung to Mr. Williams

Prince Kung, chief secretary of state for foreign affairs, herewith makes a communication:

By one of the articles in the conventions made with the plenipotentiaries of Great Britain and France at Peking in 1860, it was agreed that Chinese subjects could be hired as laborers, to go out of the country on service. In order to carry out this provision, the Foreign Office has now been in consultation with their excellencies. Sir Rutherford Alcock, the British minister, and M. de Bellonet, the French chargé d’affaires, upon the details, and have now agreed upon a set of regulations, arranged under twenty-two heads, to which both parties have signed their names and affixed their soals, in order to certify them and assure their observance.

Orders have been sent by these ministers to all the British and French merchants to conform to these regulations; and I have also forwarded instructions to the superintendents of [Page 498] commerce at Tientsin and Shanghai, and to all the governor-generals and governors of the maritime provinces, to see that every one of their subordinate officials likewise follows them in every particular.

The treaty with the United States contains no special stipulation relating to the hiring of laborers to go abroad on service. But in order that all foreign merchants may avail themselves of this privilege, and also that the rights of those natives who are hired may be protected, it is necessary that a uniform system of conducting the business be followed. A copy of the regulations is enclosed for your excellency’s information; and I will be obliged if you will enjoin on all American merchants who intend to engage laborers, scrupulously to follow them. They have been drawn up in consequence of the many villanous natives who prowl about to decoy and beguile their unwary countrymen to consent to go abroad, and then turn around and sell them, thus bringing no end of suffering on our people; so that there is special need for establishing some rules to protect the rights of native laborers. I am confident that you will give them your cordial support, for every humane person or honorable man must earnestly desire to see them carried into effect.

It appears that many crafty Chinese live in Macao, who entrap and decoy people, or even kidnap them, to carry them abroad to service, so that the dwellers along the sea-coasts have been greatly afflicted by their malpractices. No Chinese officers having yet been appointed to live in that city, there is no properly qualified person there to oversee and regulate this matter; and, therefore, it is for the present not permitted to hire laborers and ship them from Macao.

I request particularly that when these regulations are made known to American merchants, you will specially point out that they are neither to engage laborers at that place, nor permit their ships to take them on board at that port. If this be carried out, I confidently expect that this business can be satisfactorily arranged; and it is a principal reason for making this communication.

His Excellency S. Wells Williams, Chargé d’Affaires of United States to China.


Convention to regulate the engagement of China emigrants by British and French subjects.

The government of his Majesty the Emperor of China, having requested that, in accordance with the terms of conventions signed at Peking the 24th and 25th of October, 1860, a set of regulations should be framed to secure to Chinese emigrants those safeguards which are required for their moral and physical well-being, the following, after due discussion and deliberation of the Ya-mên of foreign affairs, have been adopted by the undersigned, and will henceforth be in force:


Article I.

Any person desiring to open an emigrant agency in any port in China must make an application in writing to that effect to his consul, enclosing at the same time a copy of the rules which he proposes to observe in his establishment, a copy of the contract which he offers to emigrants, together with the necessary proofs that he has complied with all the conditions imposed by the laws of his country regulating emigration.

Article II.

The consul, after having assured himself of the solvency and respectability of the applicant, and having examined and approved the copies of the rules and contracts, shall communicate them to the Chinese authorities, and shall request them to issue the license necessary for opening an emigration agency.

The license, together with the rules and contracts as approved by the Chinese authorities, will be registered at the consulate.

Article III.

No license to open an emigration agency shall be withdrawn except upon sufficient grounds, and then only with the sanction of the consul. In such a case the emigration agent shall have no claim to compensation for the closing of his establishment and the suspension of his operations.

[Page 499]

Article IV.

No modification of the rules and contracts, when once approved by the consul and by the Chinese authorities, shall be made without their express consent. And in order that no emigrant may be ignorant of them, the said rules and contracts shall in all cases be posted up on the door of the emigration agency and in the quarters of the emigrants

The emigration agents shall be allowed to circulate and make generally known in the towns and villages of the province copies of these, rules and contracts, which must in all cases bear the seals of the Chinese authorities and of the consulate.

Article V.

Every emigration agent shall be held responsible, under the laws of his country, for the due execution of the clauses of the contract signed by him until its expiration.

Article VI.

Every Chinese applied to by the emigration agent to find him emigrants shall be provided with a special license from the Chinese authorities, and he alone will be responsible for any act done by him in the above capacity, that may be, whether intentionally or unintentionally, in contravention of the laws of the empire.

Article VII.

Every Chinese wishing to emigrate under an engagement shall cause his name to be entered in a register kept for that purpose, in the presence of the emigration agent and of an inspector deputed by the Chinese government. He will then be at liberty to return to his home, or to remain in the emigration depot, to await the departure of the ship which is to carry him to his destination.

Article VIII.

The contracts shall specify:

1st. The place of destination and the length of the engagement.

2d. The right of the emigrant to be conveyed back to his own country, and the sum that shall be paid at the expiration of his contract to cover the expense of his voyage home and that of his family, should they accompany him.

3d. The number of working days in the year and the length of each day’s work.

4th. The wages, rations, clothing and other advantages promised to the emigrant.

5th. Gratuitous medical attendance.

6th. The sum which the emigrant agrees to set aside out of his monthly wages for the benefit of persons to be named by him, should he desire to appropriate any sum to such a purpose.

7th. Copy of the 8th, 9th, 10th, 14th and 22d articles of these regulations.

Any clause which shall purport to render invalid any of the provisions of this regulation is null and void.

Article IX.

The term of each emigrant’s engagement shall not exceed five years; at the expiration of which the sum stipulated in the contract shall be paid for him, to cover the expense of his return to his country. In the event of his obtaining permission to remain without an engagement in the colony, this sum will be placed in his own hands.

It shall always be at the option of the emigrant to enter into a second engagement of five years, for which he shall be paid a premium equivalent to one-half the cost of his return to China. In such a case, the sum destined to cover the expense of his return home shall not be paid until the expiration of his second engagement.

Every emigrant who may become invalided and incapable of working, shall be allowed, without waiting for the expiration of his contract, to claim before the legal courts of the colony or territory where he may be, payment on his behalf of the sum destined to cover the expense of his return to China.

Article X.

The emigrant shall in no case be forced to work more than six days out of seven, nor more than nine hours and a half in the day.

The emigrant shall be free to arrange with his employer the conditions of work by the piece or job, and of all extra labor undertaken during days and hours set apart for rest.

The obligation, on holidays, to attend to cattle, or to do such service as the necessities of daily life may demand, shall not be considered as labor.

[Page 500]

Article XI.

No engagement to emigrate, entered into by any Chinese subject under twenty years of age, will be valid, unless he produce a certificate from the proper Chinese authorities, stating that he has been authorized to contract such engagement by his parents, or in default of his parents, by the magistrate of the port at which he is to embark.

Article XII.

After four days, but not less, from the date of the entry of the emigrant’s name on the register of the agency, the officer deputed by the Chinese government being present, the contract shall be read to the emigrant, and he shall be asked whether he agrees to it, and having answered in the affirmative, he shall then and there append his signature thereto.

Article XIII.

The contract once signed, the emigrant is at the disposal of the agent, and must not absent himself from the depot without the permission of the agent.

Before embarking, every emigrant shall be called before the officer deputed by the Chinese authorities, to ratify his contract, which shall be registered at the consulate.

Twenty-four hours before the sailing of the ship the emigrants shall be mustered on board before the consul and the inspector of customs, or their deputies, and the list shall be finally closed for signature and registration by the consul and the inspector.

Any individual refusing to proceed after this muster shall be bound to pay the expenses of his maintenance in the emigration depot, at the rate of one hundred cash (one-tenth of a tael) per diem. In default of payment he shall be handed over to the Chinese magistrate to be punished according to the laws.

Article XIV.

Any sum handed over to the emigrant before his departure shall only be regarded in the light of a premium upon his engagement. All advances upon his future wages are formally forbidden, except in the case of their being appropriated to the use of his family; and the consul will take especial pains to provide against their being employed in any other way. Such advances shall not exceed six months’ wages, and shall be covered by a stoppage of one dollar per month, until the entire debt shall have been paid.

It is absolutely forbidden, whether on the voyage or during the emigrant’s stay in the colony or territory in which he may be employed, to make any advances to him in money or kind, payable after the expiration of his engagement. Any agreement of this nature shall be null and void, and shall give the creditor no power to oppose the return of the emigrant to his country at the time fixed by the contract.

Article XV.

The emigrant, during his stay in the depot, shall be bound to conform to the regulations adopted for its internal economy by the consul and the Chinese authorities.

Article XVI.

Any emigrant who may be riotous, or guilty of any misconduct shall be immediately locked up, until the arrival of the officers deputed by the Chinese authorities, to whom he will be handed over to be punished in conformity with the laws of the empire; the officers of the agency being in no case authorized to take the law into their own hands, and inflict any punishment.

Article XVII.

The deputies of the consul and of the Chinese authorities shall at all times be empowered to demand admittance to the agency, and to summon the emigrants before them for the purposes of interrogation.

They will be present at the signing of the contracts and at the embarcation of the coolies.

They will see to the maintenance of order, to the healthiness and cleanliness of the rooms destined to receive the emigrants, to the separation of families and women, and to the arrangements on board the transport ships.

They may at any time demand that experts or medical officers shall be called in, in order to verify any defects which they may have remarked; they may suspend the embarcation of emigrants in ships, the arrangements on board of which may seem to them defective, and they may reject coolies afflicted with contagious diseases.

Article XVIII.

The emigration agent shall be bound to pay into the Customs Bank the sum of three dollars for every male adult entered on the list of coolies embarked, to meet the expenses inspection.

[Page 501]

Article XIX.

Any emigrant claimed by the Chinese government as an offender against the law shall be handed over to the authorities without opposition, through the consul; and in such case the whole sum expended for the maintenance of the emigrant in the agency, or on board ship, shall be repaid immediately to the emigration agent, at the rate of one hundred cash (one-tenth of a tael) per diem.

The sum of the premium advances, clothes, &c., entered in the agency register against such emigrant, shall in like manner be repaid by the Chinese government.

Article XX.

The emigration agent shall not be at liberty to embark emigrants on board any ship which shall not have satisfied the consul that in respect of its internal economy, stores and sanitary arrangements, all the conditions required by the laws of the country to which the said ship may belong are fulfilled.

Should the Chinese authorities, upon the report of the officers deputed by them, conceive it their duty to protest against the embarcation of a body of emigrants in a ship approved by the consul, it shall be in the power of the customs to suspend the granting of the ship’s port clearance until further information shall have been obtained, and until the final decision of the legation of the country to which the suspected ship belongs shall have been pronounced.

Article XXI.

On arrival of the ship at her destination, the duplicate of the list of emigrants shall be presented by the captain to be vised by his consul and by the local authorities.

In the margin, and opposite to the name of each emigrant, note shall be made of deaths, births, and diseases during the voyage, and of the destination assigned to each emigrant in the colony or territory in which he is to be employed.

This document shall be sent by the emigration agent to the consul at the port at which the emigrants embarked, and by him delivered to the Chinese authorities.

Article XXII.

In the distribution of the emigrants as laborers the husband shall not be separated from his wife, nor shall parents be separated from their children, being under fifteen years of age.

No laborer shall be bound to change his employer without his consent, except in the event of the factory or plantation upon which he is employed changing hands.

His imperial highness the Prince of Kung has further declared, in the name of the government of his Majesty, the Emperor of China:

1st. That the Chinese government throws no obstacle in the way of free emigration; that is to say, to the departure of Chinese subjects, embarking of their own free will and at their own expense, for foreign countries; but that all attempts to bring Chinese under an engagement to emigrate, otherwise than as the present regulations provide, are formally forbidden, and will be prosecuted with the extreme rigor of the law.

2d. That a law of the empire punishes by death those who by fraud or by force may kidnap Chinese subjects for the purpose of sending them abroad against their will.

3d. That whereas the operations of emigration agents, with a view to the supply of coolie labor abroad, are authorized at all the open ports, when conducted in conformity with these regulations, and under the joint supervision of the consuls and the Chinese authorities, it follows that where this joint supervision cannot be exercised, such operations are formally forbidden.

These declarations are here placed on record, in order that they may have the same force and validity as the regulations contained in the twenty-two articles foregoing.


Seal and signature of Prince KUNG.



Mr. Williams to Prince Kung

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge your despatch of the 15th instant, relating to the engagement of laborers to go abroad on service, and enclosing a set of regulations concerning this business in twenty-two articles, and disallowing their engagement in the city of Macao, or shipment from that port, in order more effectually to carry out the plan.

[Page 502]

I have carefully examined these regulations, which seem to be well adapted to prevent the evils which have attended the hiring of coolies. Before I can enjoin their observance upon American merchants, however, I must first submit them to the careful examination of the government at Washington, and await the action of Congress upon them; for in consequence of the flagrant evils connected with the hiring of coolies in the southern provinces, where, during more than ten years past, they had been decoyed away or kidnapped, in many instances, the Congress of the United States passed a law in February, 1862, forbidding American ships to carry coolies away from China; consequently, during the past four years no American ship has carried them. At that time the Emperor’s government had not issued any regulations, and this law was enacted out of a regard to the grievous miseries which the Chinese suffered.

I may also here allude to the action of Mr. Ward, late United States minister to China, who, on being informed by Lao, the governor general, that an American ship at Whampoa had over 330 Coolies on board, some of whom were detained against their will, ordered them all to be examined at the office of the Nanhai magistrate in Canton, when it was ascertained that every one of them was unwilling to go, and so all were released to go home.

But the dreadful evils connected with the coolie trade are not yet stopped, and I am gratified to see that your imperial highness is now taking measures for the protection and well-being of the people. They constitute the strength of the kingdom; and when it is strong in its people it is then in peace.

I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,


His Imperial Highness Prince Kung, &c., &c., &c.


Sir R. Alcock to Lord Clarendon

My Lord: The Prince of Kung last September prepared a set of regulations for the protection of Chinese emigrating as hired laborers in accordance with the articles referring to this subject in the English and French conventions of October, 1860. Mr. Wade, in anticipation of my arrival, had replied in general terms, while M. De Bellonet, the French chargé d’affaires, occupied the intervening time in framing a carefully digested project, which he had communicated to this legation and discussed, article by article, with Mr. Wade and Mr. Hart.

The regulations thus prepared appeared to me well adapted to correct abuses at the ports, after some modifications suggested by my former experience at Canton. They were accordingly embodied in the enclosed convention, which was signed on the 5th instant by Prince Kung, the French chargé d’affaires, and myself. When the new regulations come into force all liability to grave abuses at the ports may be considered at an end. But the far greater evil of kidnapping and shipping coolies from Macao, to which the Prince refers in the enclosed letter addressed to the several legations, will still continue, and can only be met by other and larger measures, in which all the treaty powers must take part. In the mean time, as I learn from a return of shipments from Macoa in the year 1865, prepared for M. De Bellonet, it appears that some 15,000 Chinese laborers are likely to be shipped annually to Spanish, Peruvian, and Chilian ports, where they are sold into virtual slavery. That these unfortunate coolies are kidnapped or otherwise entrapped under the jurisdiction of the Portuguese government at Macao, is so generally asserted and believed by Chinese and foreigners alike, having personal observation to guide them, as scarcely to admit of question. Officially denied by the Portuguese authorities implicated, the conviction yet remains, and such charges are continually reiterated in the Hong-Kong newspapers as go to prove it. It is impossible not to join in the conclusion, that if these horrors of a slave trade, worse than that of the poor African negro, exist in the colony of a Christian state, “all nations ought to unite to put an end to it.” To effect this nothing more seems required than the cordial co-operation of the powers having treaties with China—first, as regards the source of the evil; and secondly, the destination of the victims. The only acknowledged slave trade in the world which now exists, it appears, is directed exclusively to the shores of Cuba and Porto Rico, and Spain has recently declared a desire “to fulfil its solemn compacts and to stamp the trade with the seal of its absolute reprobation.” But Peru and Chili largely import these coolies, who, without protection or safeguard, are only slaves under another name. Portugal having no colonies to be benefited by the labor of immigrants, is only engaged in this nefarious traffic for the profit chiefly of a few individuals at Macao, many of whom are not even her own subjects. It may be hoped, therefore, that the government of Lisbon will not, for such inadequate ends, refuse to co-operate with other powers to dry up the source and thus remove the reproach now attaching by common report to the Portuguese authorities in the colony.

It cannot be wondered at, under these circumstances, that the prince of Kung, in his official despatch, should distinctly specify Macao as the seat of the evil, and invite the treaty powers [Page 503] to interdict the shipment of coolies thence by vessels under their respective flags. He makes a further request that if Chinese subjects are taken to countries with which China has no treaty relations—as the French and English, under the convention of 1860, have the right of transport without limitation—that efficient protection will be extended to them by the power under whose flag they are shipped. How far this would be an effective safeguard, or whether any real protection by consular and diplomatic agents could be extended in the Spanish colonies, or in Peru and Chili, is very doubtful. But if France and England were willing to renounce the privilege secured to them by the convention, of transporting coolies to any countries with which China had not entered into treaty relations, it would, in that case, cease to be a right for any other power, and the Chinese government could have the option of protecting its subjects by appointing consular agents of their own at the ports of disembarcation. I assume that, by international usage, the reciprocal right of appointing consuls vests in China as a matter of course, and by virtue of the treaties already made. If this be correct, there is reason to believe that, at no distant period, the Chinese government might be induced to take into serious consideration the expediency of exercising this privilege. Having already a very large staff of foreigners attached to the customs, who speak and write Chinese, they have the means always at hand of appointing trustworthy consular agents, able alike to communicate with the Chinese emigrants and the authorities of the country where they might be located obviously an essential condition.

This would in itself contribute a step of no small importance as tending to promote the rapid development of more cordial relations between China and the several treaty powers, to the manifest advantage of all. The Chinese government might thus gain interesting reports of foreign countries from their own accredited agents, and new sources of information.

This first innovation would attract attention, and sooner or later would probably lead to another, in the appointment of dipolomatic agents to represent them in the western capitals. Were it not a question of humanity, therefore, appealing strongly to the sense of justice and the sympathies of every civilized power, the means here contemplated recommend themselves as initiating a policy full of promise for the future. Viewed in either light, I trust your lordship may concur with me as to the desiability of co-operation among the treaty powers, and put an end to a state of things, at all events, reflecting the gravest reproach on western nations, through whose agency it is alone established and perpetuated.

In this hope I joined M. de Bellonet in s going the convention. * * * *

I have, &c.,


Right Hon. the Earl of Clarendon, Foreign Office.