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America, Through the Spectacles of an Oriental Diplomat By Tingfang Wu Characters: 16452

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


America has performed great service for the Orient and especially for China. If, however, the people of the latter country were asked to express their candid opinion on the matter, the verdict would not be altogether pleasant, but would be given with mixed feelings of gratitude and regret. Since the formal opening of China to foreign trade and commerce, people of all nationalities have come here, some to trade, some for pleasure, some to preach Christianity, and others for other purposes. Considering that the Chinese have a civilization of their own, and that their modes of thoughts, ideas, and habits are, in many respects, different from those of the western people, it is not surprising that frictions and disputes have occasionally occurred and that even foreign wars have been waged between China and the Occident, but it is gratifying to observe that no force has ever been resorted to against China by the United States of America. Now and then troublesome questions have arisen, but they have always been settled amicably. Indeed the just and friendly attitude taken by the American officials in China had so won the esteem and confidence of the Chinese Government that in 1867, on the termination of Mr. Anson Burlingame's term as American Minister to Peking, he was appointed by the Manchu Government as Chief of a special mission to America and Europe. In that capacity he performed valuable services for China, although his work was unfortunately cut short by his untimely death. The liberal and generous treatment accorded to the Chinese students in America is another source of satisfaction. They have been admitted freely to all educational institutions, and welcomed into American families. In whatever school or college they enter they are taught in the same way as the American boys and girls, and enjoy equal opportunities of learning all that the American students learn.[1] That America has no desire for territorial acquisition in China is well known. During the Boxer movement the American Government took the lead in initiating the policy of maintaining the open door, and preserving the integrity of China, a policy to which the other great powers readily consented. It was well known at the time, and it is no breach of confidence to mention the fact here, that Mr. John Hay, American Secretary of State, with the permission of President McKinley, was quite willing that America's indemnity demanded from China as her share of the compensation for losses sustained during the Boxer upheaval, should be reduced by one-half, provided the other powers would consent to similar reductions. Unfortunately, Mr. Hay's proposal could not be carried out for want of unanimity. However, to show the good faith, and the humane and just policy of America, she has since voluntarily refunded to China a considerable portion of her indemnity, being the surplus due to her after payment of the actual expenses incurred. This is the second occasion on which she has done this, although in the previous case the refund was smaller. These are some of the instances for which the people of China have good reasons to be grateful to America and her people.

There is, however, another side to the picture; the Chinese students in America, who may be roughly calculated by the thousands, and whose number is annually increasing, have been taught democratic principles of government. These could not but be detrimental to the welfare of the late Manchu Government. They have read the history of how the American people gained their independence, and naturally they have been imbued with the idea of inaugurating a similar policy in China. Chinese merchants, traders, and others who have been residing in America, seeing the free and independent manner in which the American people carry on their government, learned, of course, a similar lesson. These people have been an important factor in the recent overthrow of the Manchu dynasty. Added to this, the fact that America has afforded a safe refuge for political offenders was another cause of dissatisfaction to the Manchus. Thus it will be seen that the Manchu Government, from their point of view, have had many reasons for entertaining unfavorable sentiments toward America.

This view I need hardly say is not shared by the large majority of Chinese. Persons who have committed political offenses in their own country find protection not only in America but in all countries in Europe, Japan, and other civilized lands. It is an irony of fate that since the establishment of the Chinese Republic, Manchu and other officials under the old regime, now find secure asylums in Hongkong, Japan, and Tsingtao, while hundreds of ex-Manchu officials have fled to the foreign settlements of Shanghai, Tientsin, and other treaty ports, so reluctantly granted by the late Manchu Government. Thus the edge of their complaint against America's policy in harboring political refugees has been turned against themselves, and the liberality against which they protested has become their protection.

The more substantial cause for dissatisfaction with the United States is, I grieve to say, her Chinese exclusion policy. As long as her discriminating laws against the Chinese remain in force a blot must remain on her otherwise good name, and her relations with China, though cordial, cannot be perfect. It is beyond the scope of this chapter to deal with this subject exhaustively, but in order to enable my readers to understand the exact situation it is necessary to supply a short historical summary. In 1868, on account of the pressing need of good laborers for the construction of railways and other public works in America, the Governments of China and the United States, concluded a treaty which provided that "Chinese subjects visiting or residing in the United States shall enjoy the same privileges, immunities, and exemptions in respect to travel or residence as may be enjoyed by the citizens or subjects of the most favored nation." It was a treaty negotiated by that great American statesman, Secretary Seward, and announced by the President of the United States to Congress as a "liberal and auspicious treaty". It was welcomed by the United States as a great advance in their international relations. It had also the double significance of having been negotiated by a Chinese special embassy, of which a distinguished American diplomat, Mr. Anson Burlingame, who was familiar with the wishes and interests of the American people, was the head.

But within a few years the labor unions on the Pacific coast began to object to the competition of Chinese laborers. Soon afterward the Chinese Government, to its intense surprise, was informed that the President of the United States had delegated a commission to come to Peking to solicit an abrogation of the treaty clause to which reference has been made. The Chinese Government was naturally unwilling to abrogate a treaty which had been urged on her by the United States with so much zeal, and which had so lately been entered upon on both sides with such high hopes. Long and tedious negotiations ensued, and finally a short treaty was concluded, the first and second Articles of which are as follows:

Article I

"Whenever in the opinion of the Government of the United States, the coming of Chinese laborers to the United States, or their residence therein, affects or threatens to affect the interests of that country, or to endanger the good order of the said country or of any locality within the territory thereof, the Government of China agrees that the Government of the United States may regulate, limit, or suspend such coming or residence, but may not absolutely prohibit it. The limitation or suspension shall be reasonable and shall apply only to Chinese who may go to the United States as laborers, other classes not being included in the limitations. Legislation taken in regard to Chinese laborers will be of such a character only as is necessary to enforce the regulation, limitation, or suspension of immigration, and immigrants shall not be subject to personal maltreatment or abuse."

Article II

"Chinese subjects, whether proceeding to the United States as teachers, st

udents, merchants, or from curiosity, together with their body and household servants, and Chinese laborers who are now in the United States shall be allowed to go and come of their own free will and accord, and shall be accorded all the rights, privileges, immunities, and exceptions which are accorded to the citizens and subjects of the most favored nations."

It would seem reasonable to expect that in yielding so fully to the wishes of the United States in this second negotiation the Chinese Government would not be called upon to make any further concessions in the interests or at the demand of the labor unions on the Pacific coast, but in this China was disappointed. Within a period of less than ten years an urgent application was made by the American Secretary of State for a new treaty amended so as to enable the Congress of the United States to still further restrict the privileges of Chinese laborers who had come to the United States. And when the Chinese Government hesitated to consent to the withdrawal of rights which the United States granted to the subjects of other Governments, Congress passed the Scott Act of 1888 prohibiting any Chinese person from entering the United States except Chinese officials, teachers, students, merchants or travellers for pleasure or curiosity and forbidding also Chinese laborers in the United States, after having left, from returning thereto. This, in the words of Hon. J. W. Foster, ex-Secretary of State and a distinguished international lawyer, "was a deliberate violation of the Treaty of 1880 and was so declared by the Supreme Court of the United States." In order to save the Executive of the United States from embarrassment, the Chinese Government, contrary to its own sense of justice, and of international comity, for a third time yielded to the wishes of the United States, and concluded the amended treaty of 1894 which gave Congress additional power of legislation respecting Chinese laborers. By Article I of this treaty it was agreed that for a term of ten years the coming of Chinese laborers to the United States should be absolutely prohibited. Article III distinctly provided that "the provisions of this convention shall not affect the right at present enjoyed of Chinese subjects, being officials, teachers, students, merchants, or travellers for curiosity or pleasure, but not laborers, of coming to the United States and residing therein." Thus it is clear that the prohibition affects only laborers, and not the other classes of Chinese. For a few years after the signing of this convention this was the view adopted and acted upon by the immigration officials, but afterward they changed their attitude, and the foregoing Article has since been interpreted to mean that only the above-mentioned five classes can be admitted into the United States, and that all the other classes of Chinese, however respectable and honorable, must be refused admission. Will my readers believe that a Chinese banker, physician, lawyer, broker, commercial agent, scholar or professor could all be barred out of the United States of America under the provisions of this convention? In the face of the plain language of the text it seems too absurd and unreasonable to be contemplated, and yet it is a fact.

This convention was proclaimed in December, 1894. According to its provisions, it was to remain in force only for a period of ten years, but that if six months before the end of that period neither Power should give notice of denunciation it should be extended for a similar period. Such notice was, however, given by China to the United States and accordingly the convention expired in December, 1904, and is now no longer in force. No serious attempt has since been made by the United States Government to negotiate a new treaty regarding Chinese laborers, so the customs and immigration officials continue to prohibit Chinese laborers from coming to America by virtue of the law passed by Congress. It will be seen that by the treaty of 1868, known as the "Burlingame Treaty", the United States Government formally agreed that Chinese subjects, visiting or residing in the United States, should enjoy the same privileges and immunities as were enjoyed by the citizens or subjects of the most favored nation; that being so, and as the convention of 1894 has expired, according to the legal opinion of Mr. John W. Foster, and other eminent lawyers, the continuation of the exclusion of Chinese laborers and the restrictions placed upon Chinese merchants and others seeking admission to the United States are not only without international authority but in violation of treaty stipulations.

The enforcement of the exclusion laws against Chinese in the Hawaiian and Philippine Islands is still more inexcusable. The complaint in America against the immigration of Chinese laborers was that such immigration was detrimental to white labor, but in those Islands there has been no such complaint; on the contrary the enforcement of the law against the Chinese in Hawaii has been, and is, contrary to the unanimous wish of the local Government and the people. Free intercourse and immigration between those Islands and China have been maintained for centuries. What is most objectionable and unfair is that the Chinese should be singled out for discrimination, while all other Asiatics such as Japanese, Siamese, and Malays are allowed to enter America and her colonies without restraint. It is my belief that the gross injustice that has been inflicted upon the Chinese people by the harsh working of the exclusion law is not known to the large majority of the American people, for I am sure they would not allow the continuation of such hardships to be suffered by those who are their sincere friends. China does not wish special treatment, she only asks that her people shall be treated in the same way as the citizens or subjects of other countries. Will the great American nation still refuse to consent to this?

To solve the problem of immigration in a manner that would be satisfactory to all parties is not an easy task, as so many conflicting interests are involved. But it is not impossible. If persons interested in this question be really desirous of seeing it settled and are willing to listen to reasonable proposals, I believe that a way may be found for its solution. There is good reason for my optimistic opinion. Even the Labor Unions, unless I am mistaken, would welcome an amicable settlement of this complicated question. In 1902, while at Washington, I was agreeably surprised to receive a deputation of the leaders of the Central Labor Union of Binghamton, New York, inviting me to pay a visit there and to deliver an address. As I did not wish to disappoint them I accepted their invitation. During my short stay there, I was very cordially and warmly received, and most kindly treated not only by the local authorities and inhabitants, but by the members of the Labor Union and the working men also. I found that the Union leaders and the working men were most reasonable, their platform being, as far as I could learn, to have no cheap labor competition but not necessarily discrimination against any race. If the United States Government would appoint a commission composed of members representing the Labor Unions, manufacturers and merchants, to treat with a similar commission nominated by the Chinese Government, the whole question in all its bearings could be discussed, and I feel certain that after free and candid exchange of views, the joint Commissioners would be able to arrive at a scheme which would put at rest once for all the conflicting claims, and settle the matter satisfactorily to both China and the United States.

When this disagreeable difference has been removed, the friendly relations between the two Republics, cordial even while one was yet an Empire, will leave nothing to be desired and cannot but help to largely affect the trade between the two countries and to contribute to the peace of the Far East.

[1] I need hardly say that our students are also well treated in England, France, Germany, Japan, and other countries in Europe, but I am dealing in this chapter with America.

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