The USC U.S.-China Institute talks with author David M. Lampton on his new book, which examines China’s effort to create an intercountry railway system connecting China and its seven Southeast Asian neighbors.
Anson Burlingame, Speech in New York, June 23, 1868
Mr. President, and Citizens of New York, our ﬁrst duty is to thank you for this cordial greeting: to say to you that it is not only appreciated by us, but that it will be appreciated by the distant people whom we represent to thank you for this unanimous expression of good will on the part of the great City of New York; to thank you that, rising above all local and party considerations, you have given a broad and generous welcome to a movement made in the interests of all mankind.
We are but the humble heralds of the movement. It originated beyond the boundaries of our own thoughts, and has taken dimensions beyond the reach of our most ardent hopes. That East, which men have sought since the days of Alexander, now itself seeks the West. China, emerging from the mists of time, but yesterday suddenly entered your Western gates, and confronts you by its representatives here tonight.
What have you to say to her? She comes with no menace on her lips. She comes with the great doctrine of Confucius, uttered two thousand three hun- dred years ago, “Do not unto others what you would not have others do unto you.” Will you not respond with more positive doctrine of Christianity, “We will do unto others what we would have others do unto us?” She comes with your own international law; she tells you that she is willing to come into relations according to it, that she is willing to abide by its provisions, that she is willing to take its obligations for its privileges. She asks you to forget your ancient prejudices, to abandon your assumptions of superiority, and to submit your questions with her, as she proposes to submit her questions with you – to the arbitrament of reason. She wishes no war; she asks of you not to interfere in her internal affairs. She asks you not to send her lecturers who are incompetent men. She asks you that you will respect the neutrality of her waters, and the integrity of her territory.
She asks, in a word, to be left perfectly free to unfold herself precisely in that form of civilization of which she is most capable. She asks you to give to those treaties which were made under the pressure of war, a generous and Christian construction.
Because you have done this, because the Western nations have reversed their old doctrine of force, she responds, and, in proportion as you have expressed your good will, she has come forth to meet you; and I aver, that there is no spot on this earth where there has been greater progress made within the past few years than in the empire of China. She has expanded her trade, she has reformed her revenue system, she is changing her military and naval organizations, she has built or established a great school, where modern science and the foreign languages are to be taught.
She has done this under every adverse circumstance. She has done this after a great war, lasting through thirteen years, a war out of which she comes with no national debt. You must remember how dense is her population. You must remember how difficult it is to introduce radical changes in such a country as that. The introduction of your own steamers threw out of employment a hundred thousand junk-men. The introduction of several hundred foreigners into the civil service embittered, of course, the ancient native employees. The establishment of a school was formidably resisted by a party led by one of the greatest men of the empire.
Yet, in deﬁance of all these, in spite of all these, the present enlightened government of China has advanced steadily along the path of progress – sustained, it is true, by the enlightened representatives of the Western powers now at Peking, guided and directed largely by a modest and able man, Mr. Hart, the Inspector-General of Customs at the head of the foreign employees in the empire of China.
Yet, notwithstanding all these things, notwithstanding this manifest prog- ress, there are people who will tell you that China has made no progress, that her views are retrograde; and they tell you that it is the duty of the Western Treaty Powers to combine for the purpose of coercing China into reforms, which they may desire, and which she may not desire – who undertake to say that this people have no rights which you are bound to respect. In their coarse language they say, “Take her by the throat.” Using the tyrant’s plea, they say they know better what China wants than China herself does. Not only do they desire to introduce now the reforms born of their own inter- ests and their own caprices, but they tell you that the present dynasty must fall, and that the whole structure of Chinese civilization must be overthrown. I know that these views are abhorred by the Governments and the countries from which these people come; but they are far away from their countries, they are active, they are brave, they are unscrupulous, and if they happen to be offcials it is in their power to complicate aﬀairs, and to involve, ultimately, their distant countries in war.
Now, it is against the malign spirit of this tyrannical element that this mission was sent forth to the Christian world. It was sent forth that China might have her diﬃculties stated. That I happened to be at the head of it was, perhaps, more an accident than any design. It was, perhaps, because I had been longer there than my colleagues, and because I was about to leave; and, perhaps, more than all, because I was associated with the establishment of the co-operative policy which, by the aid of abler men than myself, was established not many years ago; and it is to sustain that policy – which has received the warm approval of all the great Treaty Powers, and which is cherished by China – that we are sent forth. It is in behalf of that generous policy, founded on principles of eternal justice, that I would rally the strongest thing on this earth, the enlightened public opinion of the world.
Missions and men may pass away, but the principles of eternal justice will stand. I desire that the autonomy of China may be preserved. I desire that her independence may be secured. I desire that she may have equality, that she may dispense equal privileges to all the nations. If the opposite school is to prevail, if you are to use coercion against that great people, then who are to exercise the coercion, whose force are you to use, whose views are you to establish? You see the very attempt to carry out any such tyrannical policy would involve not only China, but would involve you in bloody wars with each other.
There are men – men of that tyrannical school – who say that China is not ﬁt to sit at the Council Board of the nations, who call her people barbarians, and attack them on all occasions with a bitter and unrelenting spirit. These things I utterly deny.
I say on the contrary, that this is a great, a noble people. It has all the elements of a splendid nationality. It is the most numerous people on the face of the globe; it is the most homogeneous people in the world; it has a language spoken by more human beings than any other in the world, and it is written in the rock. It is a country where there is greater uniﬁcation of thought than any other country in the world. It is a country where the maxims of great sages, coming down memorized for centuries, have permeated the whole people, until their knowledge is rather an instinct than an acquirement; a people loyal while living, and whose last prayer, when dying, is to sleep in the sacred soil of their fathers. It is the land of scholars, it is the land of schools, it is the land of books, from the simple pamphlet up to encyclopedias of 5,000 volumes. It is a land, as you Mr. President, have said, where the privileges are equal; it is a land without caste. For they destroyed their feudal system twenty-one hundred years ago, – and they built up their structure of civilization on the great idea that the people are the source of power. That idea was uttered by Mencius, twenty-three hundred years ago, and it was old when he uttered it. The power goes forth from that people into practical government, through the competitive system, and they make scholarship the test of merit.
I say it is a great people; it is a polite people; it is a patient people; it is a sober people; it is an industrious people, and it is such a people as this that the bitter boor would exclude from the council hall of the nations; it is such a nation as this that the tyrannic element would put under its ban. They say of this people – nearly half of the human race – that they must become the weak wards of the West – wards of nations not so populous as many of their prov- inces – wards of people who were young when their youngest village in Manchuria was founded.
I do not mean to say that the Chinese are perfect. Far from it. They have their faults, like other people; they have their pride, like other people; they have their prejudices, like other people. These are profound, and must be overcome. They have their conceits, like other people, and these must be done away with; but they are not to be done away with by talking to them with cannon, by telling them that their people are weak, and that they are barbarians No, China has been cut oﬀ, by her position, from the rest of the world. She has been separated from it by limitless deserts, and by broad oceans. But now, when the views of men expand, we behold the very globe itself diminished in size. Now, when science has taken away, or dissipated the desert; when it has narrowed the ocean, we ﬁnd that China seeing another civilization approach- ing on every side, has her eyes wide open. (Applause.) She sees Russia on the north, Europe on the west, America on the east. She sees a cloud of sail on her coast, she sees the mighty steamers coming from everywhere – “bow on.” She feels the spark from the electric telegraph falling hot upon her everywhere; she rouses herself, not in anger, but for argument. She ﬁnds that by not being in a position to compete with other nations for so long a time she has lost ground. She ﬁnds that she must come into relations with this civilization that is pressing up around her, and feeling that, she does not wait but comes out to you and extends to you her hand.
She tells you she is ready to take upon her ancient civilization the graft of your civilization. She tells you she is ready to take back her own inventions, with all their developments. She tells you that she is willing to trade with you, to buy of you, to sell to you, to help you strike oﬀ the shackles from trade. She invites your merchants, she invites your missionaries. She tells the latter to plant the shining cross on every hill and in every valley.
For she is hospitable to fair argument. I say she tells you she is willing to strike oﬀ the shackles of trade. She oﬀers you almost free trade to-day. Holding the great staples of the earth – tea and silk – she charges you scarcely any tariﬀ on the exports you send out in exchange for them. (Applause.) She is willing to meet the inferior questions which are now arising as to transit- dues, and if you only have patience with her, and right reason on your side, she will settle these to your satisfaction.
But the country is open; you may travel and trade where you like. What complaint then, have you to make of her? Show her fair play. Give her that, and you will bless the toiling millions of the world. Their trade, carried on in foreign vessels, which has in my own day in China, risen from $82,000,000 to $300,000,000, is but a tithe of the enormous trade that will take place with China when she gets into full fellowship with the rest of the world.
Let her alone; let her have her independence; let her develop herself in her own time, and in her own way. She has no hostility to you. Let her do this, and she will initiate a movement which will be felt, in every workshop of the civi- lized world. She says now: “Send us your wheat, your lumber, your coal, your silver, your goods from everywhere – we will take as many of them as we can. We will give you back our tea, our silk, free labor, which we have sent so largely out into the world.” It has overﬂowed upon Siam, upon the British Provinces, upon Singapore, upon Manila, upon Peru, Cuba, Australia, and California. All she asks is, that you will be as kind to her Nationals as she is to your Nationals.
She is willing not only to exchange goods with you, but she is willing to exchange thoughts. She is willing to give you what she thinks is her intellectual civilization in exchange for your material civilization.
Let her alone, and the caravans on the roads of the North, toward Russia, will swarm in larger numbers than ever before. Let her alone, and that sil- ver which has been ﬂowing for hundreds of years into China, losing itself like the lost rivers of the West, but which yet exists, will come out into the aﬀairs of men. Let her alone, and those great lines of steamers, the “P. and O.” and Messagerie Imperiale, may multiply their tonnage. Let her alone, and your own great line, the pride of New York, the Paciﬁc Mail – and as many other lines as you may choose to establish – may increase their ton- nage tenfold; and they will still, as at present, have to leave their freight upon the wharves of Hong-Kong and Yokohama.
The imagination kindles at the future which may be, and which will be, if you will be fair and just to China. But, citizens of New York, I must close. I have spoken at considerable length already. I must thank you once again for this kind, this generous, this unanimous reception. So intertwined are the aﬀairs of men, that whatever New York thinks and feels unanimously, will be felt and thought in all the commercial capitals of the Christian world.