Mr. Williams to Mr. Seward

No. 30.]

Sir: I have the honor to send you some particulars relating to the desecration of the American cemetery at Tangchau, which is interesting chiefly as showing one of the modes in which the natives of China vent their ill-will upon their enemies, and have done so in this instance against missionaries. Out of many depositions and official papers, which it is not necessary to send you in extenso, I have learned that when the missionaries first went to Tangchau they found it difficult to purchase land for a burial ground from the people. They therefore applied to the district magistrate of Punglai, who rules over a portion of Tangchau prefecture, and he kindly set apart a plot of ground that belonged to government, which he told them he could not sell, but would grant, in perpetuity, for this purpose, and file the record in his archives. He also was at the expense of setting up the boundary stones and a marble slab, on which was engraved the grant to the missionaries. This act of consideration and courtesy deserves notice, for I am not aware of another instance like it in China.

This was in the autumn of 1861, and during the next eighteen months several headstones were erected, some trees planted, and the plot partly turfed. No injury appears to have been done for two years, but in the spring of 1864 it was noticed that some of the trees had been removed, three headstones thrown down, others chipped, and the official inscription mutilated. These acts were reported to the magistrate, who readily promised the missionaries to investigate the affair and deal with the offenders.

“A few days after our visit,” says one of them, “an old man with a chain around his neck was led to my house by the mandarin’s runners, who presented his card with a verbal message to me stating that this was the constable, whom we might punish as we saw fit. I sent the man back with a written reply, expressing our surprise and dissatisfaction at this mode of procedure. On receiving it the magistrate expressed great surprise that the man had thus been sent to me; that it was the unauthorized doings of his underlings. It seems, however, that he sent his policemen into some of the neighboring villages to make inquiry on the matter; he also issued a proclamation warning the people not to interfere with the graves; but nothing more was done. The broken stones were replaced by us.”

During the next year, (1865,) further damages were occasionally perpetrated, until, by the end of it, all the trees had been ruined, and hardly a whole stone remained in the lot, the fragments lying scattered about. Particular pains had [Page 508] been taken to obliterate the Chinese inscriptions in the epitaphs, especially the name of Jesus, proving the deliberate purpose to annoy as well as destroy.

Dr. McCartee, the former consul at Tangchau, demanded that the authorities should see that these aggressions were stopped, but in vain. Mr. Sandford has done all that remonstrance can do, since he arrived, to urge the intendant to punish the offenders. I send a copy of the latter’s reply to the consul, (enclosure A,) as it exhibits his view of the responsibility of the proprietors of the graveyard. A second proclamation forbidding natives to go to the place was issued by the Punglai magistrate, January 11, 1866, under orders from the intendant; but through fear of the people he seems to have retained most of the copies in his office.

I also enclose copies of Mr. Sandford’s statement of his preceedings and my reply, (enclosures B, C,) which furnish all that is important. Although I do not think that the Chinese government, according to a fair interpretation of the treaty, is liable for damages done to the graves, unless it can be shown that their officials have screened the offenders, yet, lest this ill feeling proceed to other acts, which may render a residence at Tangchau very disagreeable, I have requested Admiral Bell to visit that city, if he can, as no United States national vessel has yet been there.

The missionaries concur in attributing these acts to a dislike to foreigners generally, and an unwillingness on the part of the citizens to see them settling permanently in their midst; and not to any personal pique against them as missionaries, for none others yet live there. One of them remarks, when explaining this point, that “I believe these acts of injury did not arise from ill-will to any individual foreigner in Tangehau, neither did it arise from hatred to the American residents, as a body, because they are missionaries or Americans; but simply because of a general hatred of us as foreigners. After residing among the Chinese nearly fourteen years, I am deliberately of the opinion that they bear no malice against missionaries because of their religion, but they bear intense malice against the white race, simply because they see that they differ essentially from themselves—that there is no common ground of union. They see in the white man will, energy, purpose, and they dread and hate him as a latent power, and an intruder in their country, foreboding no good, but much future trouble. Under the influence of these feelings, it gives many of them exquisite pleasure to injure a foreigner, or anything belonging to him, and I think they have destroyed these gravestones simply as a luxury. They entertain no such feelings, as far as I have been able to discover, towards any other race, and those who enjoy luxuries should pay for them in dollars and cents at a fair valuation, and thus they will be able to calculate beforehand to what extent they can afford to indulge.”

Such a feeling as is here described no doubt exists to some extent all over China; but it cannot be checked at all times, and is often stimulated by proud, literary families, while others of the same class will oppose and somewhat neutralize it. The officials belong to the literary class, but they desire to keep the peace with both natives and foreigners, and think that to trim and delay a matter is their safest course. Every Chinese official comes to regard his own safety as his chief object, and his rule of action is to do as little as possible.

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

S. WELLS WILLIAMS. Charge d’Affaires.

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

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The Intendent to Mr. Sandford

Pwan, intendant of circuit, commissioner of the gabelle, and acting as collector of customs in the east of Shantung, has the honor to reply to the despatch of the United States consul respecting the destruction of gravestones in the American cemetery near Tangchau:

On receiving your despatch I issued orders to the district magistrate of Punglai to make inquiry, and he has now sent the following report:

“I have to state that in October, 1861, Mr. Danforth and other American missionaries reported to me that Mrs. Danforth had just died, and as they had no place to bury her in, it was necessary for me to get a spot somewhere. I therefore selected a plot in the public domain, lying on the Little Gold-peak hill, and there they laid her body. A map was made of the locality, and, at their request, I issued a public notice confirming the lot to them. On the 10th of March, 1864, Mr. Hartwell and other missionaries represented to me that the gravestones placed in this cemetery had been broken by persons unknown. Finding that the statement was true, I sent policemen to make careful inquiries through all that neighborhood as to who had done it, and issued a proclamation warning people not to do any damage to the grounds. Now this lot where the American cemetery lies having been a portion of waste land belonging to the government, it had not been rented by anybody and had, therefore, paid no tax. When the missionanies complained last year that the gravestones had been defaced, search was made for the offenders, and a proclamation issued forbidding people to go there; but no explicit evidence as to who committed the desecration this year has been brought before me.

“I take the liberty to remark, however, that the gentry and people of China usually appoint custodians to watch their burial grounds, so that if evil persons and vagabonds injure them, some clew can be obtained of the offenders, or they can be seized on the spot and handed over to the magistrates for examination and punishment. But this American burial ground lies remote from dwellings, in a wild spot, and has been left unprotected by the missionaries, so that although the gravestones have been repeatedly defaced, and they have complained of the injury, it has been no easy matter to arrest the offenders. As this affair is one that concerns the people of both nations, I have not presumed to intrude my opinion as to the best mode of protecting the place.”

In regard to this business, I (the intendant) may observe that in China custodians are usually appointed to look after the burial grounds, whether lying near or remote from dwellings, lest they are injured by lawless people. If it is situated far away among the hills, like this one belonging to the American missionaries, it is still more desirable to have a watchman placed over it, and then if damage be done, he can instantly seize the offenders and carry them before the magistrate for punishment.

I accordingly inform you, sir, of these circumstances, and beg you to urge the missionaries at once to engage a trustworthy person to take charge of their cemetery, so that if the stones should again be injured, he can instantly hand over the guilty persons for punishment.

E. T. Sandford, Esq., United States Consul.


Mr. Sanford to Mr. Williams

Sir: I have the honor to inform you that on the 21st instant I received a visit from Rev. C. R. Mills, who told me that he had just received a letter from C. W. Mateer, stating that the Chinese had again desecrated the American cemetery at Tangchau, entirely ruining the stone which was placed at the head of Mrs. D.’s grave, (one of fine American marble,) and those placed on the graves of Mr. G.’s children, and requesting him (Mr. Mills) to lay the case before the consul. I informed him that Mr. Mateer’s deposition and his own would be necessary regarding the previous occasions when the cemetery was desecrated, but that I would see the intendant upon the subject.

According to arrangement, I visited that official on the 23d. He requested me to furnish him with an official statement. When I remarked that the perpetrators must be arrested and dealt with according to law, and that an indemnity of one hundred and fifty taels was demanded, he stated that the people of Tangchau were very bad, and he was so far from them he did not know how it would end. He added that the Americans ought to come to Yentai to reside, as the treaty specified open ports. I urged their right to reside at the city of Tangchau, and that I should insist upon it. I called his attention to Articles XI and XII of the treaty, and he admitted that it was his duty to arrest and punish the offenders.

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I have stated the various outrages committed on the tombstones to the intendant from the first. I fear, however, from his manner and his unwillingness to have foreigners reside at Tangchau, that he will act in a very dilatory manner. I shall exercise patience.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

E. T. SANDFORD, United States Consul.

S. Wells Williams, Esq., &c., &c., &c.


Mr. Williams to Mr. Sandford

Sir: I have to acknowledge your despatches Nos. 4, 5, and 6, with their enclosures, relating to the desecration of a cemetery at Tangchau, wherein were buried the bodies of several American missionares and their children, by breaking the stones and destroying the trees at various times during the last three years; together with your efforts to obtain compensation and protection.

I have carefully read these papers, for, so far as I know, it is the first instance in China of persistent injuries done to foreign graves, and I do not think that the district magistrate exerted himself when informed of the outrages as he should have done; still I do not think that the spirit or letter of the treaty will bear you out in demanding one hundred and fifty taels indemnity for the injury from the authorities, except as they can get it from the offenders. It would be right to call upon the authorities to defend a cemetery if it was threatened by a mob, and if there is any clew to the offenders, demand that they be punished.

The owners of a cemetery are, however, expected to take measures to protect it; and in all parts of China the natives do much to guard their dead. The foreign burial grounds at the ports are usually walled in and custodians appointed; but, so far as I can learn, the missionaries have taken no measures at Tangchau to enclose their ground, which lies exposed to depredations, being situated at a distance from dwellings. Mr. Crawford speaks of the dislike to all foreigners of the people of Tangchau, and they would seize such an opportunity to show their malice without risk of detection, mutilating gravestones being one of the ways in which one Chinese irritates another.

I cannot call upon the authorities to maintain a guard over this graveyard, and I see no other way for its protection than for the missionaries to take some measures to secure it by appointing a custodian, or otherwise, as they see best.

Your action in urging the local authorities to do what they can to arrest the aggressors and punish them is very proper, and I hope your efforts will lead them to act vigorously, and to understand that a graveyard is a place held sacred by foreigners as well as natives.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,


E. T. Sandford, Esq., &c., &c., &c.