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Title: Tireaties, politics and the limits of local diplomacy in Ftazhon in the early 1850s
Authors: Ng, C.-K. 
Issue Date: 2003
Source: Ng, C.-K. (2003). Tireaties, politics and the limits of local diplomacy in Ftazhon in the early 1850s. Power and Identity in The Chinese World Order: Festschrift in Honour of Professor Wang Gungwu : 239-267. ScholarBank@NUS Repository.
Abstract: The interaction between China and foreign powers in the post-Opium War era is often seen in the context of either Western imperialism or Chinese xenophobia . While Chinese nationalistic historiography stresses the inevitability of clashes in the wake of Western imperialism, Westernlanguage accounts often depict the Sino-Western conflict as a consequence of differing conceptions of international relations. The latter interpretation assumes that the Chinese did not understand modern concepts of diplomacy. The Chinese officials in charge of foreign affairs (yiwu) are generally portrayed as divided into two ideological camps: A group of hardliners w h o advocated extermination of the barbarians (jiaoyi), and an appeasement party that favoured peaceful control (fuyu). Western scholars often put the appeasement party in a better light, expressing admiration for their compliance, while treating the hardliners as being ignorant of international affairs.2 Patriotic Chinese writers reverse these judgments, criticizing the former group for capitulating to foreigners and praising the latter for defending national interests. Christian missionaries played a significant role in this process of contact and confrontation between East and West. There has been a tendency to believe that the anti-Christian tradition upheld by the Chinese officials and literati was responsible for the difficulties experienced by Western missionaries in China, but this interpretation fails to take into account the complexity of the situation. An incident in 1850 that pitted the English Church Mission in Fuzhou (Foochow-fu), the provincial capital of Fujian, against local officials illustrates this point. In that year, the Fuzhou authorities attempted to evict two English missionanes, William Welton and Robert David Jackson, w h o had rented quarters within the city walls. W e l t o n and Jackson registered themselves at the Bntish Consulate in Fuzhou on 1 June 1850. The tension caused by their arrival resembles in several aspects the 'city question' of Guangzhou, in which the Chinese authorities refused to allow Western personnel into the city. O n the other hand, the two cases differed in that the British consulate and its personnel had already been allowed entry into Fuzhou. Throughout the confrontation, the question of keeping the consular officers outside the city did not arise Before Welton and Jackson departed from H o n g Kong, an American missionary named Rev. McClay, w h o came down from Fuzhou, told them of the efforts of the Chinese officers to keep missionaries confined to a section of Nantai about three miles outside the south gate of the city. McClay impressed upon them that the missionaries were all living together and suggested Welton and Jackson 'must do the same".3 However, instructions given to the two men by the Bishop of Victoria, George Smith, emphasized the importance of securing a residence within the city, 'even though a very inferior lodging'. If this proved impractical, they should locate themselves in some suburb 'at a distance from the present missionary residence'.4 The Bishop also prepared a letter to Consular Interpreter W . R Gingell, then acting vice consul-m-charge, requesting his assistance in the matter. Gingell asked a local officer, Prefectural Assistant Guo Xuedian, to procure a suitable residence for the two clergymen either within or outside the city. Guo was a commissioner (weiyuan) appointed by the provincial authorities to assist in foreign trade affairs.5 After fifteen days, Guo sent a message to say that three houses were available along the Min River. T w o of these proved to be in a dilapidated condition. The third was commodious, but it was subject to inundation.6 A few days earlier Gingell had located some rooms in a Buddhist Shenguang Temple on Wushi (Black Rock) Hill, where the consulate was also situated. With some alterations and repairs they would be a reasonable place to stay, and the abbot of the temple was willing to rent out the space. Gingell procured the rooms in his own name, and the Bishop of Victona, in a later comment on GmgelTs act, said he believed that his previous appeal to the foreign secretary, Lord Palmerston, to permit consular agents to act for missionaries in their dealings with the Chinese had a great effect on this occasion. A contract was drawn up and forwarded on 20 June 18507 to Magistrate Xinglian of Houguan district for approval. After some minor alterations in the wording, the magistrate affixed his official seal on the document, apparently believing that Gingell was the lessee. A rent for the first three months at the rate of $23 per month was paid in advance. T w o days later, Xinglian sent a message to Gingell saying that the literati were opposed to the leasing of the place and were about to petition the high provincial authorities on the subject. Worried about the repercussions should this take place, the magistrate asked Gingell to give up their rooms. Gingell requested a written communication from the magistrate before he would make a reply. The next day he received a similar message, and the abbot also came to ask for cancellation of the lease. Various communications passed between Gingell and the Chinese authorities, w h o argued that the lease was contrary to the treaty.8 This started a diplomatic row that lasted for more than six months.9 T h e Shenguang Temple affair has been discussed in a n u m b e r of writings.10 This chapter seeks to fill in the gaps in the existing literature, and more importantly, to provide a critical re-examination of the stereotypes that highlight the xenophobia of the Chinese and their ignorance of modern concepts of diplomacy. It will first scrutinize the Sino-British confrontation over the rental issue that involved the observance of the treaties. Then the milieu of Fuzhou in which the missionaries lived and worked will be explored through their experiences. Lastly, the paper will provide some new perspectives on the problem of Sino-Western contacts as seen in the case of the Shenguang Temple episode. © 2003 by Hong Kong University Press, HKU. All rights reserved.
Source Title: Power and Identity in The Chinese World Order: Festschrift in Honour of Professor Wang Gungwu
ISBN: 9789622095908
Appears in Collections:Staff Publications

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