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