Mr. Williams to Mr. Seward

No. 35.]

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of several despatches, Nos. 23 to 28 inclusive, from the department. The first one, referring to measures to be undertaken in co-operation with the British minister, by the naval forces of the United States and Great Britain, has been communicated to Sir R. Alcock. You will have seen from enclosure 3, in my despatch No. 32, that the Chinese government is beginning to move in the matter; but there is a great want of small vessels suitable for chasing the pirates over shallow waters into their retreats, without which they frequently escape.

I have now the honor to send you a correspondence relating to a case involving the improper use of the American flag on the Yangtsi-kiang, which presents several features illustrative of the practical working of the exterritoriality laws under which we live. The correspondence marked A to I contains all the important papers, and I respectfully commend them to your perusal in limine, explanatory of a few remarks showing the bearing of the case.

There are two disadvantages, it may be premised, connected with the discussion and settlement of such cases in this country; one is, the difficulty of [Page 520] obtaining accurate information; the other, the length of time consumed in corresponding with officials at the ports. It is now exactly ten months since the junk was detained at Hankau, and I am only just now able to prepare the papers to send to you. Meanwhile Mr. White, the principal witness and person interested in it, has gone, and the evidence on both sides is very imperfect, as there has been no trial or examination. The necessity of obtaining minute information in order to rebut the misstatements of Chinese officials, who are apparently never at loss for facts to uphold their proceedings, is particularly important; and if months are spent in obtaining the facts of the case, the moral effects of a decision are weakened. It is not unlike the labor of Sisyphus to teach the native authorities a high regard for treaty stipulations, and their ignorance and disregard of precedents as to their working are alike discouraging.

In this instance Mr. White seems to have had no idea that it was against the laws of his own country to furnish a flag to a Chinese boat under the plea of acting as an agent in chartering such boat from her native owners for other native traders to carry native produce on the Great river. Nor does Mr. Salter seem to have been aware of the impropriety of the thing, when the case came before him, and that he could give no legal protection to the agent, while the present incumbent, Mr. Bridges, pleads time and custom in defence of the practice. And no doubt, in the circumstances, a good deal can be urged on their side.

It was this impression of the lawfulness of this system of “selling flags,” as the Chinese term it, that I suppose led to the suppression of the fact in the first report to me (enclosures A, B) that the junk was not really American property, and that the fine was paid by the native owner, through Mr. White. Not knowing these facts, I strongly urged the immediate repayment of the money, in the belief that there had been a flagrant violation of the treaty, though Mr. White’s offer to pay a fine of 100 taels to release the boat might have excited a doubt. I can only explain this ill-judged and arbitary act of the intendant by supposing that the owners, having refused to pay the fee for his connivance, he determined to show that they were not beyond his reach; or that the fine was exacted to revenge a private pique of him or his friends. He issued a notice to the tradesmen of Hankau some time in December last, forbidding the use of foreign flags by native-owned boats, but I have not learned whether it has checked the business.

I think that the intendant was practically right in his argument to Mr. Salter; that, as Mr. White had been selling the American flag, he had no claim for damages for what was in itself illegal; but, apparently out of mere wilfulness he took the worst possible way of upholding it, misquoted the treaty and river regulations, and disregarded the official position of the consul, when a candid statement of the case or a reference to Peking would have strengthened his position. He seems to have been alarmed at his own conduct, however, as it was not until he had received instructions from his superiors, in December, that he issued his prohibition, mean while permitting the practice togo on.

This case shows how easily usages and malpractices, more or less opposed to the treaties, can grow to be of almost equal authority, until they are exposed and, checked, and how both natives and foreigners quote the connivance or dereliction of magistrates in extenuation of their acts. My despatch, No. 32, relating to steamers navigating the inner waters of China is ad rem, and a reference to Mr. Parker’s published despatches, pages 681, 774, 778, 787, &c., will furnish further particulars respecting a similar misuse of the American flag ten years ago.

A short note has been received in reply to my last, (enclosure I,) in which Prince Kung repeats the reasons stated in enclosure H for not refunding the 400 taels; but I think the discussion has shown the members of the foreign office the evil effects of a course of conduct such as the intendant has exhibited, even in pursuing a right end. It might, à priori, be supposed that many conflicting views would arise between native and foreign authorities in China as to the limits [Page 521] of their jurisdiction; and that the former would be jealous of their position, formerly so unquestioned in the eyes of their own subjects; but on the whole, fewer disagreements have arisen, and all questions are discussed in a better spirit than might have been expected.

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.


Mr. Bridges to Mr. Williams

Sir: I was left in charge of the consulate August 22, and it therefore devolves on me to lay before you the following enclosures, marked A to H, which will give you the particulars and circumstances of a heavy fine imposed by the customs upon Mr. H. E. White, an American merchant at this port, in consequence of one of the crew of his junk having attempted to smuggle on board a small quantity of straw rope, the export and coast trade duties on which would be less than half a tael.

I cannot find anything in the treaties or river regulations, sanctioned by the minister, which empowers the intendant of circuit, acting as superintendent of the foreign customs, to inflict such fine, or do more than confiscate the smuggled cargo; and should you have a similar view, I beg you will take measures for the recovery of the fine of 400 taels, which Mr. White paid under protest, in order that he might be able to despatch the junk for her destination.

I should have addressed you on the subject before, but have been waiting to obtain a promised translation from the customs interpreter of the tantai’s reply to Mr. Salter, but have been obliged to put up with an inferio: interpretation. Regarding the expressions in Mr. Salter’s letter, to which the tautai makes objection in such strong language, I beg to say, you will be the best judge as to the correctness of the translation, and also as to the apparent discourtesy of the latter’s remarks to the consul. If the translation of the latter despatch is not correct, it arises from the unfortunate want of proper American consular officers at this port.

The proceedings of the tautai in this matter are in accordance with his usual high-handed measures.

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

H. G. BRIDGES, Acting United States Vice-Consul.

S. Wells Williams, Esq., United States Charge d’Affaires


Affidavit of H. E. White, at Hankau.

Personally appeared before me, H. G. Brieges, acting United States vice-consul for the port of Hankau, Mr. H. E. White, and having taken oath, said that: On the 12th instant I cleared, from the office of customs and United States consulate at this port, the American chartered junk W. No. 258. On the 13th (said junk having been detained in port by the stress of weather, &c.,) the customs officers in charge of Hanyang branch of the Hankau customs discovered one of her crew attempting to smuggle on board of her 200 coils of straw rope, weighing about three piculs, and in value about 6,500 copper cash. The customs officers referred to above, having reported the matter at the Hankau custom-house, a customs officer from there was immediately ordered to go and remain on board of the said junk. Early on the morning of the 14th I called on the commissioner of customs and requested him to seize and confiscate the straw rope, and offered to deliver up the Chinese sailor who had attempted to smuggle the same on board of the said junk at any time when he thought proper to apply for him. On the 15th, by order of the commissioner of customs, the said junk was thoroughly searched, but no cargo in excess of the amount specified in her manifest was found on [Page 522] board of her. On the 19th the commissioner of customs informed me that his excellency the tautai, (or intendant,) acting as superintendent of trade at this port, considered that in lieu of confiscating the junk and her cargo, he was acting leniently in fining the junk 500 taels. I told him that I did not admit that the intendant was right in confiscating a vessel’s cargo as a penalty for a transgression of the customs regulations committed by one of her crew. He then wrote another despatch, a translation of which was to be forwarded to the intendant. His despatch was read to me, and was to the effect that, as the amount of rope which the Chinese sailor attempted to smuggle was small, and that as the imperial revenue would have been defrauded of only about taels 0.2.5, he was of the opinion that the infliction of a fine of 100 taels would be quite sufficient. On the 21st the commissioner of customs informed me that he had received from the intendant, as superintendant of trade, another despatch, wherein he was instructed to enforce a fine of 400 taels in the case of the junk W. No. 258, in lieu of confiscating the whole of her cargo, to which he considered himself entitled. This fine I paid under protest, and the said junk left this port on the 22d instant, after having suffered from a detention of eight days.


H. G. BRIDGES, United States Vice-Consul.


Mr. Williams to Prince Kung

Sir: The United States vice-consul at Hankau has sent the following report to this legation:

“Mr. White, an American citizen, appeared at this consulate some time in the month of August, and stated that Ching, the intendant of circuit, had seized and detained his native-built boat, and fined him 400 taels in the most violent and unjust manner; but as the vessel was on the point of sailing he had paid the money under protest, and came now to have the case justly tried.

“It appeared that this native craft had already obtained her clearance, and was soon to leave, when one of the Chinese sailors smuggled a lot of grass-rope, worth about four taels, on board. The master of the boat himself reported the affair to the custom-house, and told the officers that this sailor’s offence was a very trifling one, and he wished them to confiscate the goods. But on the contrary, to his surprise, the collector, without consulting the consul or regarding the circumstances, imposed a most exorbitant fine for the offence, which he, however, paid under the most solemn protest. I desired that the case should be judged in an equitable manner, but the intendant has refused to listen to my proposal, and I therefore report it for your action.”

From the above statement it is evident that the intendant, in quoting that portion of the fourteenth article of the American treaty, which refers to confiscating vessels detected in smuggling without any protection from their own authorities, has overlooked the point that it refers to vessels entering an unopened port in China, and has nothing to do with vessels in a legal port. In the latter case, goods alone can be confiscated, and a fine imposed by the consul after due inquiry, but the vessel cannot be involved in the punishment.

It is also stipulated in article eleven that in cases of litigation or complaint the United States consul must be notified, and he will examine into the circumstances and decide on the amount of fine or punishment. The intendant at Hankau cannot be allowed to quote a part of article fourteen in this partial manner to uphold his proceedings; and still more, he cannot be permitted to violate article eleven in so glaring a manner, and levy a fine of his own accord on an American citizen. He most plainly has broken two articles of the treaty; and I have therefore, in informing your highness of the case, to request that you will order this official to pay back the 400 taels to Mr. White, and afterwards refer the case to the United States consul for adjudication.

I have the honor to be, sir, your highness’s obedient servant,


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



Prince Kung to Mr. Williams

Prince Kung, chief secretary of state for foreign affairs, herewith replies respecting the case of Mr. White, of the Pau-ki hong, an American, who had reported to the United States consul that the intendant of circuit at Hankau had unjustly detained a native boat. Your [Page 523] excellency’s despatch was received in November last, stating that as this officer had fined Mr. White 400 taels in an arbitrary manner, and had perverted the meaning of article fourteen of the treaty to uphold his proceedings and unjust exactions, you requested that he be directed to pay back the fine, and then refer the case to the United States consul for adjudication. No delay was allowed in writing to the superintendent of commerce and the governor general of Hukwang to learn the facts of the case; and the following answer has been received from the former:

“All the details of this case had been secretly inquired into, and it was ascertained that the cargo in this vessel really belonged to native merchants, for whom a man named Kau-Wan-snun had bought a foreign flag. This person was cited to appear before the magistrate, and affirmed that he had opened a shipping and brokerage office in Hankau. In July last some merchants from Tungchau, belonging to the firm Tsiun-mei, had sent their partner, Yu Pu-ting, to him to charter a vessel; he had hired the boat called Mau-kiang-hung, and when it came, further recommended that he should go to Mr. White’s office and buy a foreign flag for the sum of forty-five taels to put on her. The cargo was then passed through the customs and the regular tariff duties paid on it, when unluckily one of the crew tried to smuggle some straw-rope on a Sunday; happily, it was seen and seized, and a fine of 400 taels inflicted, which sum, as the real owners were not in Hankau, was advanced by their agent, Yu Pu-ting. The deponent says he will never again dare to buy a foreign flag. The intendant obtained a written assurance while Kau-Wan-shun was in custody, to which the partners of the large firm, Hu-tung-hing, in Hankau, were sureties, that nothing more of the kind should take place.”

On reading the above report, it appears to me quite plain that the native merchant, Kau-Wan-shun, had opened an office at Hankau as a shipping agent; he chartered a boat for the firm Tsiun-mei to take their goods away, and presumed to apply to Mr. White for a foreign flag for a consideration, foolishly hoping thereby to evade the full payment of duties. But the intendant discovered the plan and arrested the parties, and Kau-Wan-shun confessed, on examination, that he had given a bribe to get a foreign flag for this vessel, whose cargo all belonged to native merchants, and whose crew were all Chinese. By the laws of his country his crime is very heinous, and the decision of the intendant to compound his punishment for a fine of 400 taels may be considered as rather lenient. Furthermore, this action was quite in accordance with the spirit and intent of article fourteen of the American treaty, concerning smuggling and evasion of duties, which allows Chinese officers to manage and adjudicate such cases. However, for the United States consul not only to overlook the act of Mr. White in secretly selling the American flag and pass it by without punishment, but even to try to screen the man Kau-Wan-shun, and turn around and charge the intendant with arbitrary and unjust exaction on himself levying this fine, is totally opposed to the spirit of the treaty, which does not permit an American official to collude with and screen his fellow-citizens, much less to shield one who had sold his national flag, and then attempt to defend the Chinese who had bought it. The superintendent of commerce has learned all the facts respecting this case, and has approved of the fine; it is one that wholly comes within the jurisdiction of Chinese officers, and is levied on their own subjects, and may, therefore, be regarded as finally closed. The investigation of Mr. White’s offence in selling the flag, and the punishment proper to be meted in order to promote justice and order, falls entirely within your excellency’s jurisdiction.

His Excellency S. Wells Williams, United States Chargé d’Affairs.

Mr. Williams to Mr. Bridges


Sir: I beg to acknowledge your despatch of October 23, 1865, and its enclosures, relating to the case of the chartered junk W. No. 258, which was fined 400 taels, in August, for smuggling some straw-rope on board after receiving her clearance. I wish that you had procured a translation to be made of the in tendant’s reply to Consul Salter’s despatch, for then you could have informed me with respect to the allegation made therein as to Mr. White’s selling the protection of the American flag, which constituted the real reason for the fine. A want of translators is, however, I am well aware, one of the disabilities which the United States consulates in China labor under, and you were probably not aware of this important feature in the case.

I brought this matter before the Chinese government in November, just as you reported it, and have since received the enclosed answer which, I suppose, contains all that the intendant of circuit has to say on his side. I have had a long discussion with the members of the Foreign Office, who do not defend his conduct in all respects. They see the incongruity of such [Page 524] a fine for so light an offence, and acknowledge that he virtually consented to the illegal use of the American flag by allowing the boat to depart under those colors, instead of compelling her to resume her real character. But as I had no counter evidence to bring forward against their assertion that Mr. White did sell the protection of the flag for forty-five taels, I could do no otherwise than allow it in argument; but I wish you to sift the matter thoroughly, for if he did, he has made himself amenable to your consular court for infringing the regulations concerning chartering native vessels; if he did not, and the flag was legitimately used, send me copies of the documents proving it.

This despatch is sent you through the Foreign Office, with one to the intendant, and I wish you to investigate the case with him. He can confiscate goods detected in the act of smuggling, but he cannot impose a fine on an American citizen except through the judicial action of the consul. If the intendant thought that the flag was illegally used he could have detained the vessel until the charge was examined, and withdrawn her charter if proved; nor would I complain at any fine or confiscation, for the matter would then pertain entirely to the Chinese authorities. The American flag may not be used to aid natives in evading their own laws.

I proposed to the officers here that the 400 taels should be deposited in court till the cause was decided, and you will try to have this done; and, on ascertaining all the facts, settle the matter according to treaty and law.

I am, respectfully, yours, obediently,


H. G. Bridges, Esq., United States Vice-Consul.

P. S.—Since the above was written, I have learned some particulars which go to show that Mr. White has been engaged in selling the protection of the American flag to Chinese vessels. If you had any knowledge that such was the case, he ought to have been long ago cited to answer for his conduct. It may be a matter of some difficulty to settle this case, seeing that the wrong has been done, and the parties, perhaps, gone away. You can inform the intendant that if he had at first told Consul Salters all the truth about this boat, there would have been less difficulty in punishing the guilty parties. Yet he cannot be allowed to act arbitrarily even in the pursuit of a right end, and doubtless would prefer to act in concert with the consul if he was assured that the offenders would not escape. I have confidence that you will do what is possible to bring this about.

S. W. W.


Mr. Bridges to Mr. Williams

Sir: I am in receipt of your communication of January 16, with reference to the fine of 400 taels imposed by the tautai upon Mr. White, and note your request that I should sift the matter thoroughly with a view to ascertain if he did sell the American flag for forty-five taels. Mr. White had closed his business and left this port a month before the receipt of your despatch I am, therefore, unable to make any further inquiries into the case.

In the postscript of your despatch, you write that you had “learned some particulars which go to show that Mr. White has been engaged in selling the protection of the American flag to Chinese vessels;” and further remark, “if you had any knowledge that such was the case, he ought to have been cited long ago to answer for his conduct.” In reply, I have to say that I was not aware that he sold the American flag, and that I never received any complaint from the authorities of Mr. White carrying on a business of this kind. He may or may not have been wholly or partly interested in the different junks he despatched from this port, but as long as he appeared as the charterer of the craft and shipper of the cargo it was incumbent on the consul to apply for her customs papers, and give a consular clearance; and I respectfully submit that the consul was in no way bound to make unusual inquiries.

I believe that there are, at the present moment, many sea-going vessels on the coast, trading under the flags of different nations, which belong wholly to Chinese. During the late war in America many American vessels sailed under English, French, and other colors, and I presume this was an exact case of “selling flags;” but I have never heard that any consular or other authority considered it his duty to assiduously endeavor to ascertain the true ownership in such cases.

On the Yaugtsi river the following circumstances have existed: During the past four years numbers of native-owned junks have been despatched from Hankau under American, English, and French papers, (the greater number under the latter nationality,) with the undoubted knowledge of the native authorities, who were only too glad while Nanking was in possession of the rebels to foster the native traffic by protection afforded in this way to native craft. The authorities had given tacit consent to this system, and never expressed any disapprobation [Page 525] of it until recently, and subsequently to the fine imposed on Mr. White; and in proof of this, I would refer to the fact noticed by yourself in your despatch, that the intendant allowed the junk W. No. 258 to clear under the American flag as soon as the fine was paid, though believing, as he asserts, that the boat and cargo were native property; and furthermore, he did not request me to make close examination into future applications for papers, with the view to prevent the clearance of junks that might not be bona fide American property. After payment of the fine, Mr. White cleared at the customs ten other junks without remark from the native authorities. Time and custom had made the practice so familiar that the tantai never made an objection to it, until one was required as an argument in reply to Consul Salter’s letter.

I cannot speak from any knowledge, but I think it is probable that Mr. White was not the bona fide owner or charterer of the numerous junks he despatched from this to his American agent in Chin-kiang; but he may have teen part owner, or, perhaps, only received a commission for the management of the business. Premising, for argument, that Mr. White was only the agent, the tantai’s conduct seems equally reprehensible, and the precedent equally dangerous. If he chose to allow Chinese subjects to protect their junks with an American flag the craft is subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, and he cannot arbitrarily fine the nominal owner, who is an American citizen. Shall the junk have the advantage of flying the American flag without being subject to the government of that country?

As Mr. White is not here I am unable to gain any information to the statements made by the Foreign Office. We are simply in possession of the fact that it was not any supposed Chinese owner of the junk or cargo who was ordered to pay money; but that Mr. White, who appeared before this consulate as the owner of the junk, was fined by the customs 400 taels for a petty case of smuggling by one of the crew, in evident disregard of treaty rights; and the Foreign Office write you that the superintendent of commerce has approved of the fine, and that it is one that comes wholly within the jurisdiction of the Chinese officers. It seems to me that if an exercise of arbitrary power like this is to be permitted, there is an excellent precedent for the customs to fine or extort money at their will from any American citizen, and that the judicial power of the consuls over their citizens has passed partially into the hands of the native authorities, and may eventually be lost altogether, and we may consider this part of our treaty rights almost a dead letter.

Considering the importance of the principle involved, I entertain strong hopes that you will get the fine refunded, otherwise the customs are likely to fine American boats and steamers at their pleasure. In proof of this I would remind you that about two years since the British steamer Express was fined fifty taels by the customs in consequence of her river pass having been forgotten.

Mr. White has left power in the hands of a friend at Hankau to receive the 400 taels when refunded.

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

H. G. BRIDGES, Acting United States Consul.

S. Wells Williams, Esq., United States Chargé d’Affaires.


Mr. Williams to Mr. Bridges

Sir: I have to acknowledge the receipt of your reply of March 21, respecting the claim of Mr. White, whose previous departure from Hankau had prevented the affair of the junk W. No. 258 from being investigated. This I regret the more as I am obliged now to take the account of the Chinese authorities as the true one, which shows that he had no interest in the vessel or her cargo, whose native owners really paid the fine. If I had had the same reason for believing it when I received your first communication of October 23, 1865, I should not have been led into the mistake of urging upon the Foreign Office the repayment of the 400 taels, under the idea that Mr. White had himself paid it, which I fairly inferred from his affidavit.

The whole transaction has grown out of the irregular business which he was engaged in—that of furnishing the American flag to cover Chinese property; and as you seem to be unaware what has been done in reference to this subject, I enclose a copy of a circular notice, issued by Mr. Parker in 1856 to United States cousuls in China, which will explain the view taken by the legation of this business. (See correspondence of Mr. Parker, page 774, for this notice.)

Your reference to the transfer of American ships to English or French flags during the late civil war is not to the point, nor the same thing as the transfer of the American flag to a foreign vessel, for the laws of England of France may differ from our own, and were (it is [Page 526] to be inferred) observed by those who took their flags; not, like the Chinese traders, to protect themselves against their own rulers, but to elude rebel cruisers. Moreover, Congress has just passed a law prohibiting all American vessels which had thus been transferred to foreign flags ever recovering their own flag, thus showing that the proceeding was not altogether approved.

You remark, when defending Mr. White’s proceedings, and inculpating the intendant, that “Time and custom had made the practice of sailing Chinese vessels under the American flag along the Great river so familiar, that the intendant never made any objection to it until one was required as an argument to reply to Dr. Salter’s letter. * * * If the intendant chooses to allow Chinese subjects to protect their junks with an American flag, the craft is subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, and he cannot arbitrarily fine the nominal owner, who is an American citizen. Shall the junk have the advantage of flying the American flag without being subject to the government of that country?”

This question shows very clearly the erroneous ideas entertained respecting this business, which is indefensible in every way. The intendant, it seems, had no right to allow Chinese traders to protect their junks with the American or any other foreign flag; and the United States statutes, especially the law of December 31, 1792, still in force, would have shown Dr. Salter that he was required to ascertain the character of a vessel before permitting her to carry the American flag. It matters not how many other nations permit it, the laws of the United States do not permit a consul to furnish this flag to foreign-owned and foreign-manned craft of any nation, nor knowingly to clear such a vessel at the custom-house.

I am not called upon to defend the arbitrary acts of the intendant; nor do I fear that, if such acts as the one now under discussion are permitted, the judicial power of the consuls over their countrymen will pass into the hands of the native authorities, as you suggest; for if the business itself is not lawful, either by Chinese or American law, no tacit or open permission can make it right. Though I am of the opinion that the American flag on the junk gave her no protection against either fine or confiscation from the local authorities, I now rather wish to show that when our citizens violate the laws of their own country they cannot expect protection or redress, whatever time or custom may have done to render the practice common. Neither can the American consular or other officers exert their influence to recover a fine for a native levied by his own officials for this offence.

Mr. White should have been fined for furnishing the American flag; for it did not make his act right because the intendant winked at it, but it placed the consul in a wrong position, and of course weakened his influence. If he had really owned the junk, he could carry the flag according to the terms of the sea-letter, and load her with any freight; but that is another question. The evils connected with the illegal use of our own flag in Chinese inland waters are greater, both to our citizens and the natives, than the advantages, aside from the question of legality; and now that the Yangtsi is becoming more peaceful, even the necessity that has led natives to seek the protection of a foreign flag against the exactions of their own rulers or the depredations of pirates will, I hope, still more diminish.

I wish you to furnish me with whatever data you can obtain respecting the extent of this business on the Yangtsi river; and to inform Mr. White that no further steps will be taken to get the fine refunded, which, I infer from the evidence, he never paid.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,


H. G. Bridges, Esq., Acting United States Vice-Consul.



Prince Kung to Mr. Williams

Prince Kung, chief secretary of state for foreign affairs, herewith makes a communication respecting the case of Mr. White, of the Pau-ki hong, who complained against the intendant at Hankau for unjustly detaining his native boat:

When your excellency came to the Foreign Office to discuss this case and maintain the principle that whenever a foreigner was involved in a matter, as in the present instance, the intendant was bound to confer with the consul, and could not of his own accord decide the case and levy a fine as he pleased, you remarked that if the fine was levied because Mr. White had smuggled some straw rope, and of this article only a very little, which ostensibly belonged to him, it was entirely unjust to levy a fine of 400 taels. Furthermore, as you had learned that this money was paid by White, and not by Chinese traders, it was desirable, for the sake of justice, that orders be sent again to Hankau to examine and decide it according to law.

Such directions were accordingly sent to Li, the superintendent of trade, and to Kuan-whan, governor general at Wu-chaug, to investigate this matter in detail, and report; and on the 12th instant I received the following reply from the former:

[Page 527]

“I have already examined into this case most thoroughly. The man who bought the foreign flag was a Chinese merchant, and he who paid the fine was a Chinese; it was a Chinese official, too, who judged this offence against our laws, one with which the foreign merchant had no concern. The straw rope smuggled on board was also the property of a native. In short, the whole affair affected our people alone; and the shopkeepers Kau-Wan-Shun, and others, willingly paid all the fines, and thus settled the case.”

From the above report it plainly appears that the incident of smuggling some straw rope, which belonged to a native trader, was not the reason for inflicting a fine; that was done because native merchants had violated a law of the land in buying a foreign flag, and these native merchants, Kau Wan-Shun, Yu Puting, and others, themselves paid the money. The transaction is one that the foreigner had no interest in; and as the intendant at Hankau has already settled it judicially I content myself with ordering him to leave the American merchant White, who sold the flag, and the United States consul, who allowed him to do it, to such action as your excellency may deem proper, and have no more discussion with them.

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


Mr. Williams to Prince Kung,

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge your highness’s despatch [of January 4] relating to the petition of Mr. White against the proceedings of the intendant at Hankau in detaining his native boat; and that [of April 20 ] stating that it was on account of the boat having bought a foreign flag. I made inquiry of the United States consul at Hankau respecting the circumstances, and have recently received the following report:

“It is totally unjust to charge a native merchant with violating the law when he puts goods on board a vessel flying a foreign flag; for, during the last three or four years, native boats, bearing the American, English, and French flags, have been conveying large quantities of goods out of the river. The rebels at Nanking and the pirates on the Yangtsi were afraid to meddle with such boats, and as the practice was not at all to defraud the revenue in any way, it was not forbidden. When the intendant detained White’s boat and fined it, he never said it was done because she carried a foreign flag; and he allowed White afterwards to clear ten more boats under the same flag. Many hundreds of native vessels have cleared hence carrying foreign flags during these years, and none of them were fined or prohibited. Why, then, should this single one be mulcted so large a sum as 400 taels? Some months after it was done, an order was issued prohibiting the sale of foreign flags to native boats, since which date none have been furnished by White to any native.”

It is apparent from the above statement that the reports made of this case do not altogether agree. When the boat had bought a foreign flag, as the intendant affirms, why did he not refuse her clearance; and if he fined her for smuggling, why did he not first communicate with the consul, and not himself violate the rules which were established August 12, 1864, respecting the mode of procedure in cases of confiscation?

Furthermore, to inflict a fine of 400 taels upon a boat for smuggling some straw rope, and then turn around and allege that it was c one for something else, is unjust. If the boat and cargo and owners were all Chinese, why not say so, and not implicate an American merchant in the matter?

The 14th article of the treaty, which your highness quotes, as allowing Chinese officials to confiscate vessels detected in smuggling and defrauding the revenue, refers only to vessels going into ports that are not open to trade, and cannot be applied to vessels that may be detected in smuggling at legal ports; nor can it be adduced in the present instance as upholding the proceedings of the intendant in fining the boat so much for so slight an act.

I have an earnest desire to settle this affair equitably, and the government of the United States wishes to respect the laws of China; but it is altogether wrong to allege that a law was violated in this case by selling a flag to the boat, and then to charge the United States consul with having falsified his statement of the circumstances. Such things will soon destroy all cordial feeling between our countries.

It is impossible to regard this case as settled, and unnecessary to discuss it again, because the officers at Hankau assert it; and I have therefore again to request your highness to require the intendant at Hankau to pay back the 400 taels to the consul and arrange the settlement of the case with him. This will accord with the requirements of honor and equity.

I have the honor to be, sir, your highness’s obedient servant,


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