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Ch'ing Changing Images of the Overseas Chinese (1644–1912)

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Modern Asian Studies
DOI:
10.1017/S0026749X00007071
Date:
April, 1981
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Ch'ing Changing Images of the Overseas
Chinese (1644–1912)
Yen Ching-Hwang
Modern Asian Studies / Volume 15 / Issue 02 / April 1981, pp 261 - 285
DOI: 10.1017/S0026749X00007071, Published online: 28 November 2008

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How to cite this article:
Yen Ching-Hwang (1981). Ch'ing Changing Images of the Overseas Chinese
(1644–1912). Modern Asian Studies, 15, pp 261-285 doi:10.1017/
S0026749X00007071
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Modern Asian Studies, 15, 2 (1981), pp. 261-285. Printed in Great Britain.

Ch'ing Changing Images of the
Overseas Chinese (1644-1912)
YEN CHING-HWANG
University of Adelaide

A. Roots of the Bad Images of the Overseas Chinese
T H E Manchus inherited from the Ming Dynasty the images of the
overseas Chinese as well as the policy towards them. The tarnished
images of the overseas Chinese as 'deserters', 'criminals' and 'potential
traitors' of the Ming were taken over by the early Ch'ing rulers.1 These
images were soon transformed into new images of'political criminals',
'conspirators' and 'rebels', for in the first four decades after the Manchu
conquest of North China in 1644, the overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia
were directly involved in the resistance movement on the southeast coast
of China. The leader of the movement, Cheng Ch'eng-kung (known in
the West as Koxinga), seems to have enlisted the support of the overseas
Chinese, particularly from Vietnam, Cambodia and Siam, for his resistance. 2 It is claimed that Koxinga's naval power was partly drawn from
Nanyang (Southeast Asia) shipping, and financed from the profits of the
Nanyang trade. 3 Of course those overseas Chinese who supported
Koxinga made no apo; logy for their involvement. They saw the Manchus as alien usurpers and as the oppressors of the Han Chinese, and
the support for Koxinga's resistance movement was seen as an act of
patriotism to save Han Chinese from the oppressive Manchu rule. The
government countered the overseas Chinese involvement by introducing stringent laws against private overseas trade. In 1656 (13th year of
the Emperor Shun-chih), a decree was proclaimed that'. . . .any traders
who go overseas privately and trade or supply the rebels with provisions
will be beheaded, and their goods confiscated. Properties of the violators
1
For reference to the tarnished images of the overseas Chinese during the Ming
period, see Ming Shih, Ming Shih-lu; Ma Huan, Ying-ya Sheng-lan; and Fei Shin, Hsing-ch'a
sheng-lan.
2
See Ch'en Ch'in-ho, 'Ching-t'su Cheng Cheng-kungch'an-pu chih i-chih Nan-ch'i'
(The Emigration of the Remnants of Cheng Ch'eng-kung's Forces to South Vietnam),
in Hsin-ya Hsueh-pao (Hong Kong), vol. 5, pt 1, pp. 433-57; vol. 8, pt 2, pp. 413-59.
3
See Wang Gungwu, A Short History of the Nanyang Chinese (Singapore, 1959), p. 13.

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will be given to the informants as reward. Local officials who fail to
investigate and apprehend the violators will be sacked and punished
with heavy penalties, the Pao-chia4 officials who fail to expose the crime
will face capital punishment'. 5 This law was reaffirmed in 1661 (18th
year of the Emperor Shun-chih).6 The use of the death penalty and
collective punishment had effectively put a stop to private overseas trade
with the result that the commercial activities of the overseas Chinese in
Southeast Asia were greatly affected.
Even after the suppression of Koxinga's regime in 1683 and the lifting
of the ban on overseas trade, the Ch'ing government's fear of the
overseas Chinese as 'political criminals', 'conspirators' and 'rebels' still
existed. In 1712, for instance, Emperor K'ang-hsi decreed that
'. . . those who stayed overseas permanently are liable to capital punishment, and will be extradited from foreign countries by the provincial
governors for prompt beheading.'7 The fear was based on the assumption that the overseas Chinese would continue to support the 'rebels'
who fled overseas after Koxinga's regime fell. Although the remnants of
the rebels posed little or no direct military threat to the Ch'ing government, they could still hatch anti-Manchu conspiracies among the overseas Chinese, and could infiltrate China's coastal population through
their secret activities. To what extent this fear was well grounded is
difficult to judge. However, the Ch'ing government seems to have taken
it very seriously and worked to avert the possibility. Of course not all
overseas Chinese were supporters or sympathizers of the rebels; many
were apolitical and were only interested in trade. Some of them were
probably prevented from returning to China by the warfare between
Ch'ing and Koxinga armies, or by the sea prohibition law introduced by
the Shun-chih Emperor. To separate the genuine traders from rebels, a
decree was proclaimed to the effect that'. . . Fukienese who have settled
overseas are permitted to catch boats to return to their home province,
and the owners of the boats must act as guarantors. After returning to
China, they are to be handed over by the local officials to their relatives
for custody. If the returned persons are found to be untruthful and of
bad character, they are to be sent off to malaria-infested areas for hard
labour; those who do not respond to this amnesty and sneak back into
4
Pao-chia was a system of rural control adopted by the governments of the Ming and
Ch'ing Dynasties. For details, see Kung-chuan Hsiao, Rural China: Imperial Control in the
Nineteenth Century (Seattle, i960), pp. 25-83.
5
See Ch'in-ting Ta-ch'ing hui-tien shih-li, original vol. 776, p. 10; reprint (Taipei, 1963),
6
vol. 19, p. 14951.
Ibid.
7
See Huang-ctiao t'ung-tien, vol. 80, 'hsing-chih', quoted in Hua-ch'iao-chih pients'uan wei-yuan-hui (ed.), Hua-ch'iao-chih tsung-chih (Taipei, 1956), p. 95.

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CH'lNG CHANGING IMAGES OF OVERSEAS CHINESE

263

the empire later will be sentenced to death once they are apprehended.' 8
As a result of this amnesty, about two thousand overseas Chinese were
reported to have returned to their home provinces of Fukien and
Chekiang within three years after the amnesty was declared. 9 In the
opinion of the government, those who had responded to the amnesty
were innocent people, and those who had decided to stay behind were
likely to be undesirable elements.
The government's fear of political conspiracy seems to have relaxed
after the amnesty, but its prejudice against the overseas Chinese
remained. This signifies a retreat from the prevailing image of overseas
Chinese as 'political criminals', 'conspirators' and 'rebels' to the old
image of'deserters', an image that had no political connotations. But the
government's uneasiness was demonstrated in Yung Cheng Emperor's
decrees. The first decree of 1727 states that 'I believe that the majority of
those who go overseas are undesirable elements. If they are allowed to go
as they wish without any time restriction, they will become more
undesirable, and will encourage more people to follow suit. A time limit
must be imposed thereafter, and those who do not return within the
period allowable, will never be allowed to return. . . .' 10 The second
decree of 1728 reiterates that '. . . those who go overseas and fail to
return are those who willingly remain in foreign lands. Those who
emigrate without permission will not be allowed to return. . . . ! l 1 The
Ch'ing government was obviously obsessed with those of its subjects who
were prepared to stay overseas for material gain. As it became more and
more sinicized, it increasingly assumed a Confucian moralistic and
paternalistic outlook. It feared that these materialistically-oriented
'deserters' would set bad examples for others to follow.
It seems clear that the Ch'ing government took a hard-line attitude
towards these 'deserters'. Although they were not to be extradited from
overseas for punishment, they were to be treated as 'deserters' and
punished in another way. As they had not fulfilled their obligations
towards their country, clans and families, they had already forfeited
their rights to protection from the Chinese government; even if they
risked massacre by foreigners, the government would have no mercy for
them, and would not intervene on their behalf. This was most clearly
reflected in the attitude of the Emperor Ch'ien-lung towards the Dutch
massacre of the Chinese in Java in 1740. In his reply to the memorial of
8

See Ta-ch'ing lu-li hui-t'ung hsin-ls'uan, vo\. 19, pp. 1732-3.
See Ch'in-ting ta-ch'ing hui-tien shih-li, original vol. 776; reprint (Taipei, 1963), p.
1495310
u
See Huang-ch'ao t'ung-tien, vol. 80, hsing-chih.
Ibid.
9

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YEN CHING-HWANG

the Governor of Fukien, Ch'ih-ning, who reported the tragedy to him,
he asserted that '. . . these people are deserters of the celestial empire,
they deserted their ancestral tombs and sought benefits overseas, and the
court is not interested in them. . . ,' 1 2
Underlying the Ch'ing government's obsessional and non-protective
attitude were deep-rooted Confucian prejudices against foreign trade
and emigration. As the product of an agrarian economy, Confucianism
emphasized agriculture and discredited commerce. It considered commerce an unproductive activity, and merchants exploitative and parasitic. This was why the merchants were given low status in the hierarchy
of Confucian societies.13 A central part of the economic thought of
Confucianism is the economic welfare of the masses. But this economic
welfare, as pointed out by Professor Benjamin Schwarts, is conceived not
in terms of economic growth, but in terms of satisfaction of basic human
needs. 14 Thus, the Confucian ideal was a comfortable subsistence
economy.15 This conservative economic thinking led the Confucianists
to reject trade as a main branch of economic activity and to regard it as a
corrupter of people's moral standards. The lack of economic knowledge
in the training of both emperors and officials aggravated and perpetuated this anti-trade prejudice.16 This anti-trade mentality led the
Ch'ing rulers and bureaucrats to despise foreign trade, 17 and to restrict
12

See Hua-chiao chih tsung-chih, p. 96; also Huang Fu-luan, Hua-chi'ao Yu Chung-kuo
ke-ming (Hong Kong, 1955), p. 33.
13
See Ping-ti H o , The Ladder of Success in Imperial China: Aspects of Social Mobility
1368-igu (New York, 1964). See also T'ung-tsu Ch'u, 'Chinese Class Structure and Its
Ideology', i n j . K. Fairbank (ed.), Chinese Thought and Institutions (Chicago, 1967), pp.
235-5O14
See Benjamin Schwartz, In Search of Wealth and Power: Yen Fu and the West (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1964), p. 11.
15
See Analects, Book 16, Ch. 1, no. 10.
16
For the training of Ch'ing princes to become emperors, see Harold L. Kahn,
Monarchy in the Emperor's Eyes: Image and Reality in the Ch'ien-lung Reign (Cambridge, Mass.,
1971). See also the same author, 'The Education of a Prince: The Emperor Learns His
Roles', in A. Feuerwerker, R. Murphey & M. C. Wright (eds), Approaches to Modern
Chinese History (Berkeley, 1967), pp. 15-64. For the training of officials, in particular the
examination system, see Chung-li Chang, The Chinese Gentry: Studies on Their Role in
Nineteenth-Century Chinese Society (Seattle, 1955), pp. 174-82; W. Franke, The Reform and
Abolition of the Traditional Chinese Examination System (Cambridge, Mass., 1968).
17
Ch'ing emperors' detestation of foreign trade was best demonstrated by Emperor
Ch'ien-lung's letter to King George III of England who sent Earl Macartney to China in
1793 in the hope of improving commercial relations between the two countries. Emperor
Ch'ien-lung bluntly replied to King George that'. . . we possess all things, I set no value
on objects strange or ingenious, and have no use for your country's manufactures ..."
See an English translation of this letter in H. F. MacNair (ed.), Modern Chinese History:
Selected Readings (The Commerical Press, Shanghai, reprint, Taipei, 1962), vol. 1, pp.

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Chinese trading overseas. The assumption behind this thinking was that
those who pursued foreign trade must be greedy for material gain.
The greed for material gain, however, was not the worst of the
Confucian taboos. It was the failure to carry out one's filial duties
towards parents and ancestors that most disgusted the confucianists.
This led to the prejudice against emigration. Filial piety, one of the basic
tenets of Confucianism, was well observed in traditional China. Right
from the beginning of childhood, children were indoctrinated to regard
filial piety as the most important virtue in life.x 8 Stories of filial acts from
The Twenty-Four Examples of Filial Piety (erh-shih ssu hsiao) were repeat-

edly told in family gatherings and leisure-hour conversation;19 filial
duties and examples of filial sons were contained in the family instructions (chia-shun) 20 and were retold to children by their parents. To
ensure that these virtues were observed, most clans in traditional China
devoted an important section of their rules (known as clan rules) to filial
piety, and emphasized its significance in human relationships.21 Those
who had set good examples of filial piety were honoured by the clan.
Their names and deeds were entered into a 'Book of the Virtuous in the
Clan' which was kept at the ancestral hall of the clan temple, and later
included in the clan's genealogy when it was revised.22 By contrast,
those who disregarded filial piety were punished. Unfilial sons faced
either corporal punishment or expulsion from the clan, 23 and the
punishment was usually backed up by the local officials in Ch'ing
China. 24 At the higher level of traditional Chinese society, the virtue of
filial piety was also upheld. The royal family of the Ch'ing Dynasty
declared that 'Filial Piety' should be the chief virtue of the dynasty, and
18

Even during the Republic period and in a remote town of Yunnan province in the
Southwest of China, children were taught that filial piety was the most important and
worthy virtue. See Francis L. K. Hsu, Under the Ancestors' Shadow: Chinese Culture and
Personality (Stanford, 1971), pp. 208-9.
19
See Olga Lang, Chinese Family and Society (New Haven, 1946), p. 25.
20
See, for instance, Yen Chih-t'ui, Yen-shih chia-hsun (Family Instructions for the Yen
Clan (translated with Introduction by T e n g Ssu-yu) (Leiden, 1968), p. xxix (introduction) and ch. 4.
21
See Hui-chen W a n g Liu, The Traditional Chinese Clan Rules (New York, 1959), p p .
49-50.
See the clan rule of Hsu Clan in Chiang-Ning, Kiangsu province, in Hsien Chin
Hu, The Common Descent Group in China and its Functions (New York, 1948), J o h n s o n

reprint, London, 1968, p. 133, Appendix 28.
23
In the clan rules of T'an Clan in Nan-Feng, Kingsi, unfilial sons were to be
punished with 40 strokes with the big bamboo board; in the rules if I Clan in Hupei,
those who left the coffins of parents unburied and the graves of ancestors unattended
were to be expelled from the clan. See Appendixes 30 and 31, ibid.
2
* See S. van der Sprenkel, Legal Institutions in Manchu China (New York, 1966), p. 86.

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YEN CHING-HWANG

that they would 'use it to rule the empire (i hsiao chih t'ien-hsia)'. 25 The
official titles of all empresses began with the word, 'hsiao' (filial piety), in
an attempt to show the dynasty's utmost dedication to this Confucian
virtue. 26 At the same time, the Ch'ing government meted out severe
punishment to those extremely unfilial sons who bashed their parents by
banishing them to malaria-infested areas, and the death penalty was
usually served on them. 27 Since society placed so much emphasis on
filial piety, it became the most important virtue guiding the behaviour of
the Chinese people during the Ch'ing period.
The essence of filial piety was devotion to parents' well-being by
providing them with daily material needs and giving them psychological satisfaction.28 The tradition did not demand that a filial son provide
luxuries for his parents, but it did demand that he give them the best he
could afford. In order to give psychological satisfaction to his parents, he
must always try to comfort them and to meet their wishes: to please them
whenever and wherever possible; to give birth to male children which
would please them greatly; and to bring them honour by gaining
imperial degrees and official positions.29 Filial responsibility was
extended beyond the lifetime of the parents. Tradition demanded that
the son mourn the death of his parents, and the time of mourning varied
from a few months to three years. A man of high office was not excepted.
He was usually given leave by the imperial government to fulfil his
mourning responsibility.30 The tradition also required the son to pay
25
See Chu Shou-p'eng, Kuang-hsu-ch'ao t'ung-hua lu (36$Sffl;i!<SIS) (Peking, 1958), vol.
2, p . 1309, the 3rd moon of the 8th year of the Kuang-shu reign.
26
T h e first M a n c h u emperor who conquered China was Emperor Shun-chih, his
empress was given the title o f ' H s i a o - k ' a n g chang huang-hou' (Wi'SflTi), Emperor
K'ang-hsi's consort was given the title of 'Hsiao-kung j e n huang-hou' {frUsi'-Wii),
Y u n g - c h e n g Emperor's consort was given t h e title of 'Hsiao-shcng hsien huang-hou'
(•f'SA'.aTf), the title of the Empress of Ch'ien-lung was 'Hsiao-i hsun huang-hou'
(•fi&VtffSi), the Empress of Chia-ch'ing was 'Hsiao-shujui huang-hou' (-?:*&'#.fifi), the
Empress of T a o - k u a n g was 'Hsiao-ch'uan ch'eng huang-hou' (^•feSdfilTi), and the
Empress of Hsien-feng was 'Hsiao-chen hsien huang-hou' (#rtH£&ff) etc. See W a n g
Hsien-ch'ien (ed.), Shih-erh ch'ao t'ung-hua lu (reprint, Taipei, 1973), vol. 3, p. 1; Vol. 5, p .
1; Vol. 7, p. 1; Vol. 12, p. 1; Vol. 14, p. 1; Vol. 16, p. 1; Vol. 18, p. 1.
27
For example, a n unfilial son named S u n M o u who had bashed his father, Sun
Shang-wen, and had almost bitten off his father's finger, was served with death penalty.
T h i s incident occurred in the forty-second y e a r o f C h ' i e n Lung Emperor. See Ch'ing-ch'ao
wen-hsien t'ung-k'ao, vol. 202, Hsing No. 8.
28
See Hui-chen W a n g Liu, The Traditional Chinese Clan Rules, p . 51.
29
See 'Family Instructions of the Fu-ning Ch'en Clan', quoted in ibid., p . 52.
30
For instance, Li Hung-chang was given three months' leave by the Ch'ing Court in
1882 to m o u r n his mother. It was during the early stage of the Sino-French war over the
protection of V i e t n a m , and was at a crucial time when Li's knowledge and expertise on
foreign affairs were most needed. Nevertheless, the Court had to follow the tradition and

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CH'lNG CHANGING IMAGES OF OVERSEAS CHINESE

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regular visits to his parents' graves and to offer sacrifices to the spirits on
customary occasions.31 The idea of emigration ran counter to these
practices of filial piety. Emigration meant the absence of sons who had
thus difficulty in fulfilling their filial responsibilities: they were unable to
take care of their parents' daily needs; they had difficulty looking after ill
parents' sickness, and could even miss their parents' funerals. As neglect
of, or delay in, the burial of a dead parent was a great offence in the clan
rules, 32 the prospective emigrants had to think hard about all these
social implications before they set sail overseas. Even those emigrants
who returned in time to attend their parents' funeral were still regarded
as less filial than those who looked after their parents at the sickbed.
Moreover, there was anxiety on the part of the parents that emigration
would sometimes lead to permanent settlement overseas, and this fear of
sons not returning to the home village led many parents in the nineteenth-century Kwangtung and Fukien to retain their daughters-in-law
as 'hostages'. 33
B. The Image of the Overseas Chinese as 'Traitors' during the
Period of the Opium War
The image of overseas Chinese as 'deserters' did not soften over time,
and in fact hardened. This image was further tarnished by the first major
conflict between China and the West in the mid-nineteenth century.
China at the beginning of the nineteenth century when the 'Traitors'
image was being formed, began to show signs of weakness: its power and
influence declined; it failed to curb opium smuggling and to stop the
drain of silver bullion as a result of intensive opium smuggling activities.
The term 'Han-chien' (Stiff) literally means 'the traitor of the Han
race'. When the term first appeared in the period before the Opium war,
it was applied mainly to those Cantonese who co-operated with British
release Li from all his official positions temporarily for mourning. See T o u Chung-i, Li
Hung-chang nien (jih) p'u ( T h e Chronological Records of Li Hung-chang) (Kowloon,
1968), p. 139.
31
T h e Ch ing Ming festival (known to the West as Feast of the Dead) which falls on
5th April of the solar year, is the d a y that Chinese visit parental a n d ancestral graveyards, clear weeds from the graveyards, and offer tea, wine and food to the spirits. This
observation is still common in overseas Chinese communities in Singapore and Malaysia
as well as Taiwan. See C. S. Wong, A Cycle of Chinese Festivities (Singapore, 1967), p p .
109-19. Sacrifices were also carried out at family altars and clan temples d u r i n g festivals.
See C. K. Yang, Religion in Chinese Society (Berkeley, 1967), p p . 3 9 - 4 3 .
32
See Hui-chen W a n g Liu, Traditional Chinese Clan Rules, p. 53.
33
See G. W. Skinner, Chinese Society in Thailand: An Analytical History (Ithaca, N . Y .
•957). P- 161.

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YEN CHING-HWANG

merchants in opium smuggling activities. The assumption was that
these people betrayed their national interests to the foreigners, and as
they were of Han Chinese descent, they were therefore termed 'Hanchien'. However, those so-called 'Han-chien' were never properly tried
and found guilty of selling national secrets to the foreigners. They
suffered only because of a strong official belief that those who liaise with
foreigners must have done something evil to the empire, and were
punishable by law. 34 In fact, there was no way to find out what actual
relationships existed between these suspected 'Han-chien' and the foreigners. The official logic was that all suspected 'Han-chien' could speak
a 'barbarian' language, and the ability to speak a 'barbarian' tongue
required constant contacts with foreigners. At the same time, to learn a
'barbarian' language one must have the confidence of the foreigners. If
these people had the confidence of, and had frequent contact with, the
foreigners, they must be prepared to provide the foreigners with information which could be detrimental to the empire. Since Chinese officials
had a vague concept of the overseas Chinese, this 'traitors' image had
quickly spilled over to them. The suspicion of the overseas Chinese was
not entirely unfounded, for it was they who had constant contacts with
foreigners and who could speak a 'barbarian' language, and were likely
to co-operate with foreigners.
The activities of these 'traitors' were much feared and hated by
Chinese officials before and during the Opium war. In 1815, the Governor-General of Kwangtun and Kwangsi, Chiang Yu-t'ien, accused the
'Han-chien' of being the prime agents in the distribution of opium in
China. 35 This view was shared later by Commissioner Lin Tse-hsu who
was appointed by the emperor to suppress the opium trade. Lin stated
quite categorically that it was 'the connivance of the local treacherous
subjects with foreigners that the smuggling of opium had become increasingly widespread, and its bad effect had deepened. . . . 3 6 Lin also
34
For instance, in 1814, a Cantonese merchant named Li Huai-yen ($818) of the
N a n - h a i district, was punished for his private liaisoning with foreigners. Li worked in a
British c o m p a n y , and acted as a broker for the company to purchase tea from interior
C h i n a . See 'Memorial of the Governor-General of K w a n g t u n g and Kwangsi, Chiang
Yu-t'ien (j${&££) and the Governor of Kwangtung, T u n g Chiao-tseng (<ft!4ifi), to the
C o u r t dated 16th d a y of 19th year of Chia-ch'ing reign "Deposition of Li Huai-yen",' in
K u - k u n g po-wu-yen (ed.), Ch'ing-tai wai-chiao shih-liao (Palace Museum (ed.), Sources
on Diplomatic History of China during the Chia Ch'ing reign) (Peking, 1932), vol. 4,

Q-22.

pp.
35

See ' M e m o r i a l of Chiang Yu-t'ien and T u n g Chiao-tseng to the court dated 21st
day of 2nd m o o n of 20th year of Emperor Chia Ch'ing [March, 1815], relating to new
rules a n d regulations for suppressing opium smoking', ibid., p. 29.
36
See Lin Tse-Hsu, 'Official instruction to apprehend " H a n - c h i e n " dated 1 ith day

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held the view that successful apprehension of the 'Han-chien would
solve the problem of opium smuggling. He thus considered apprehension of these traitors as the first task of his commission, and instructed
Kwangtung officials not to conceal the culprits. 37 A list of the ringleaders was attached to his instruction, the majority of whom were
residents of Canton and the neighbouring districts. But significantly two
of the leaders, T'an Sheng (jJUJY, alias T'an Ti-fa ^ ^ | f ^ ) and Ma
Lao-liu {Mi^^\) were residents of the Portuguese colony, Macao. 38
Both T'an and Ma could well be considered as overseas Chinese who
used a foreign colony as their base for smuggling activities. Their
involvement was probably in part responsible for the spilling over of the
'traitors' image to the overseas Chinese in general.
The 'traitors' were believed to be active in helping invaders in the
course of the Opium War. They were accused of being partly responsible
for China's defeat. They were alleged to have served the British invaders
as guides and interpreters, to have done intelligence work for the enemy,
and even to having helped the enemy in military campaigns. A group of
'traitors' who served in Captain Elliot's early military campaign as
guides was led by Huang chou (jlC;fr]-) and Cheng Ah-erh (§PPSJ"ZH).
Huang and Cheng were natives of Hsiang Shan, the district next to the
Portuguese colony, Macao. Both had been in business in Bombay and
became friends of the British, and were thus hired by Elliot at Canton in
1841 to serve on an English warship. 39 In the later campaign when Sir
Henry Portinger took over the command, another group of Chinese was
engaged as guides. Eight or ten of them served in each warship, and were
under the control of two leading 'traitors' Su Wang (jH[EE), and Liu
Hsiang (§|IJ$El)> both were natives of P'an Yu, a neighbouring district of
Canton. 40
The 'traitors' were charged with serving as a channel of intelligence to
the enemy. The specific charge was that they helped the enemy to obtain
and to read Chinese official documents which presumably helped the
British invaders conduct the war more efficiently. In July 1842, Ch'iying, the Manchu plenipotentiary, complained to the court that the
British had 'every day read Ching-pao (Peking Gazette)', and asked for a
of 1st moon of 19th year of Tao-kuang reign [24 February, 1839]', in Lin Tse-hsu, Lin
Tse-hsu chi: kung-tu (Collected Works of Lin Tse-Hsu: Official Correspondence) (Peking,
1963). P- 4737
38
Ibid.
Ibid., pp. 48-9.
39
See 'Memorial of Military Commander of Taiwan Town, T a Hung-ah, and the
Judicial Commissioner of Taiwan Circuits, Yao Ying, to the Court', in Ts'ou-pan i-wu
shih-mo, Tao-kuang reign, vol. 59, pp. I3a-I4b.
40
Ibid., pp. 14b-15a.

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YEN CHING-HWANG

thorough investigation and apprehension of the persons responsible.41
The emperor in reply denounced the collaborators as 'traitors', and
instructed provincial governors to apprehend and execute them on the
spot. 42
The 'traitors' were also charged with having directly helped the
enemy in battle. At the end of 1841 when the Manchu generals planned
to launch a counter attack on Hong Kong, occupied by the British in
January of the same year, they learned that the enemy had gathered
some few thousand 'traitors' to help defend the island. 43 In the battle of
Cha-p'u (May, 1842) on the coast of Hangchow Bay, 'traitors' guided
the British to attack from the rear with the result that many Chinese
soldiers were killed and wounded. 44 In July 1842 after the British
occupied Chinkiang city (Chen Chiang) at the lower reaches of the
Yangtze River, 'black devils' (Indian) and 'traitors' were sent as spies to
find shortcuts into the interior of Kiangsu province, but the Ch'ing army
guarding Hsin Feng town, an essential pass to the interior, forced many
of them into the river.45 In the same month, when the British fleet
withdrew from the Chinkiang city and sailed northwards upstream,
'black devils' and Chinese 'traitors' together with 'white devils' again
patrolled the city, and about two thousand of them were left inside the
city to cover the rear of the enemy as they withdrew. 46
All these charges seem to be well founded. The 'traitors' did help the
British in various stages of the war. But their role in China's defeat was
exaggerated by the Ch'ing government. China would still have been
defeated had there been no 'traitors" It is clear that the Ch'ing government wanted to blame the 'traitors' as at least partly responsible for its
defeat. The 'traitors' were used as scapegoats for military defeats by the
local generals who had no better reasons than this in trying to get away
from severe imperial punishments. To the court, acknowledging defeat
without any excuse would not only mean humiliation beyond redemption, but would also be interpreted by some as loss of its mandate of
41

See 'Memorial of Ch'i-ying to the Court', in Ts'ou-pan i-wu shih-mo, T a o - k u a n g
reign, vol. 54, p . 37b.
42
Ibid.
43
It was claimed that the leaders of these traitors were Lu A-ching (Ififfijft), T e n g
Ah-fu (SJSii), H o Ah-su (Mffift) and Shih Yu-sheng ({, \iffi). See 'Memorial of the
Rebel-pacifying General, I Shan and others to the Court', in Ts'ou-pan i-wu shih-mo,
T a o - k u a n g reign, vol. 37, pp. 3 3 - 4 .
44
See 'Memorial of Yang-wei General, I Ching, and others to the Court', in Ts'ou-pan
i-wu shih-mo, T a o - k u a n g reign, vol. 57, p p . 38a-46a, particularly p. 41a.
45
See ' M e m o r i a l of Provincial Commander-in-Chief of Szechwan, Ch'i Shen, to the
Court', in Ts'ou-pan i-wu shih-mo, T a o - k u a n g reign, vol. 57, pp. 28b-20,a.
46
Ibid.

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heaven which could pave the way for internal rebellion. In this context,
the 'traitors' were used by the court as a convenient excuse for its
military impotence, and for the inadequacy of the Confucian systems.
The accusation that the 'traitors' daily helped the enemy to read the
Peking Gazette can therefore be interpreted as an attempt by the Ch'ing
government to find a scapegoat rather than admit the inadequacy of its
security system. The Peking Gazette was not as 'confidential' as claimed
by a high-ranking official;47 it was published by various publishers in
Peking under different names for private circulation, and largely consisted of edicts and memorials released by the throne through the Grand
Secretariat. 48 Because of its private nature, there was no way that the
Ch'ing government could prevent the enemy from acquiring copies of it.
Further, as the war was a contest between the two civilizations and two
systems, the British had mobilized all available resources, including
foreign missionaries who could read Chinese. Even without the help of
Chinese 'traitors' as alleged by the Ch'ing government, the British were
still able to read the Peking Gazette every day and know what actually
went on in China. 49
The 'traitors' not only became increasingly feared and hated by the
Ch'ing authorities, their origins also became more and more difficult to
detect. They could have been the lowly Chinese of Kwangtung or other
coastal provinces, undesirable residents of the Portuguese colony of
Macao, or the bad elements from places outside China such as Malacca,
Penang, Batavia and Singapore. Wherever they came from and whoever they were, they shared some common features such as their contacts
with foreigners and their ability to speak a foreign language. As pointed
out b y j . K. Fairbank, the connection of the Chinese 'traitors' with the
British invaders made the court suspicious of all who had any inter47

In response to the emperor's edict of apprehending 'traitors' who were responsible
in helping the enemy to acquire and read the Peking Gazette, the Governor of Chekiang,
Liu Yin-k'o, pledged his determination to carry out the instruction. He remarked that
the Peking Gazette was 'confidential', and should not be read by the enemy. See
'Memorial of Liu Yin-k'o to the Court', in Tao-kuang Hsien-feng liang-ch'ao ts'ou-pan i-wu
shih-mo pu-i (The Supplements to the Ts'ou-pan I-wu shih-mo during the Reigns of
Tao-kuang and Hsien-feng) (Taipei, 1966), pp. 17-18.
48
See K'o Kung-chen, Chung-kuo pao-yeh shih (A History of Chinese Newspapers)
(Hong Kong, 1964), pp. 33-4; R. S. Britton, The Chinese Periodical Press i8oo-igi2
(Taipei, 1966, reprint), pp. 7-8.
49
By the time of the Opium war, some foreign missionaries had already been able to
read Chinese documents competently. Moreover, an English periodical named the
Chinese Repository was published in Canton by an American missionary, E. C. Bridgman.
The periodical contained not only missionary news, but also information about laws,
customs and current events in the Ch'ing empire. See K. S. Latourette, A History of
Christian Missions in China (Taipei, 1966, reprint), pp. 211-20.

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YEN CHING-HWANG

course with foreigners, including Chinese officials who were to negotiate
with the 'barbarians'. 50 In a similar way, the connection of the 'traitors'
with the British made the Ch'ing government suspicious of the loyalty of
any overseas Chinese.
The end of the Opium war did not end the 'traitors' image, which
continued to exist in the post-war period. Although the image underwent some changes, it still retained its basic identity, i.e. that of a
potential traitor if not an outright one. The opening of the treaty ports
stimulated the growth of China trade. As opportunities arose, some
overseas Chinese from the Straits Settlements (Singapore, Malacca and
Penang) were attracted to the treaty ports. Since most of them spoke the
Southern Fukien dialect, 5 ' they concentrated at the port of Amoy where
they mixed easily with the local population. For their protection, they
registered with the local British Consulate and constituted a major
portion of the registered British residents in the port. In 1846, 27 out of
53 registered British residents were Chinese from British Malaya. In the
following year, among 35 British residents, 16 of them were British
Chinese. At the end of 1848, the overseas Chinese outnumbered other
British subjects in Amoy: there were 13 British, 4 British Indians and 26
Chinese from the Straits Settlements. 52 The steady increase in the
number of overseas Chinese in the Treaty ports meant growing contact
between them and the local Chinese, but this contact was far from a
cordial one. It was probably the first time that the Chinese officials had
had to deal directly with the problem of the overseas Chinese. From the
official point of view, these Chinese were still the subjects of the Celestial
empire regardless of where they were born. Although they might not be
the people who escaped from China and were wanted by the imperial
autorities, they were still answerable for the 'crime' that their ancestors
had committed. Even if these 'old accounts' could be forgotten, their
behaviour in China could not be forgiven. They spoke a 'barbarian'
tongue, acted like 'barbarians', showed little or no respect for Chinese
culture and systems, and were proud to be 'British Chinese'. They were
seen by the local officials as pawns of foreign imperialists at a time when
China suffered unprecedented humiliation. Some of them acted as
interpreters and translators for foreigners,53 and probably helped the
50
See J. K. Fairbank, Trade and Diplomacy on the China Coast: The Opening of the Treaty
Ports 1842-1845 (Cambridge, Mass., 1964), p. 89.
5
' Even now, the Southern Fukien dialect is still widely spoken in Singapore, Malacca
and Penang.
52
See F O 17/88.
53
When Captain Gribble was appointed the British Consul at Amoy, he had two
Cantonese linguists, Ah Foo and Ah Ping, on his staff as interpreters, both of whom were

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foreigners to collect information on local affairs; some of them were even
involved in smuggling and the illicit coolie trade, 54 both of which were
punishable by death under the imperial law. 55 More dangerous than
breaking the imperial law was their likely connection with secret
societies which were traditionally anti-Manchu. 56 Some of them could
have had close connections with secret societies in Southeast Asia, or
could have served as agents or links with local secret societies. Were these
anti-dynastic elements both at home and abroad to join hands, they
would be capable of hatching a rebellion which would threaten the
security of the empire. This suspicion was not entirely unfounded. In
1849, a British Chinese from Singapore named Ch'en Ch'ing-hsi
(l5tBEIS* o r romanized according to Southern Fukien dialect as Tan
King Hee) was proved to be a leader of the Triad in Amoy which was
known locally as San Ho Hui (^ELi^ik, Three Combination Society).
Ch'en appeared to be deeply involved in gangsterism—smuggling,
extortion and armed violence, and on one occasion he had led a gang of
twenty people storming a local rice ship, and had beaten up the shopkeepers. Ch'en was arrested and tried, and after the intervention of the
British Consul in Amoy, was deported back to the Straits Settlements. 57
After Ch'en Ch'ing-hsi was deported his brother Ch'en Ch'ing hsing (or
romanized as Tan King Sing ^ U H : ) who worked in the local British
consulate as an interpreter, was also identified as a leader of another
secret society, Hsiao Tao Hui ('JN7J ilf, Small Dagger Society). Ch'inghsing was advised by the British Consul to leave Amoy. 58
The exposure of the secret society connections of the Ch'en brothers
tended to reinforce official suspicion and distrust of the overseas Chinese.
But the most detestable aspect of the overseas Chinese in the treaty ports
in the eyes of the officials, was their use of foreign power to defy imperial
law. As the British government offered legal protection to those Chinese
who were British subjects in the Straits Settlements and Hong Kong,
from Hong Kong. To meet the needs of the local situation, the Consul had to recruit two
overseas Chinese on his staff. One of them was a native of Amoy who had learned some
English in Singapore. See Fairbank, Trade and Diplomacy on the China Coast, p. 164.
54
In August 1846, two British Chinese from Penang were detained at the Amoy
Custom on suspicion of smuggling. See FO 228/60, T. H. Layton to J. F. Davis dated 2
September 1848.
55
See Chinese Repository (Canton, 1851, reprint, Tokyo), vol. 20, p. 49.
56
See G. Schlegel, Thian Ti Hwui: The Hung League or Heaven-Earth League (Batavia,
1866), pp. 2 - 3 ; J . S. M . W a r d and W. G. Stirling, The Hung Society, or The Society of Heaven
and Earth (London, 1925), vol. 1, pp. 2 - 3 ; Liu Lien-k'o, Pang-hui san-pai nien ko-ming shih
(Three H u n d r e d Years' Revolutionary History of the Chinese Secret Societies) (Macao,
1941), pp. 23-4, 40.
57
See F O 228/11 iB, T . H . Layton to S. G. Bonham dated 15 J a n u a r y 1850.
58
See F O 228/125, G. G. Sullivan to S. G. Bonham dated 4 j a n u a r y 1851.

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many overseas Chinese from these two regions used it to cover their
illegal activities. This aroused tremendous misgivings in Chinese official
circles in the ports. When foreign protection was used by an overseas
Chinese to defy imperial laws, it was seen not just as an attempt to avoid
punishment, but it was also viewed as a challenge to the Chinese legal
system or even to the political authority of the Empire itself. As the
extraterritoriality was newly imposed on China, Chinese officials experienced great difficulty in enforcing Chinese laws. Many of them felt
extremely frustrated because they were compelled by circumstances to
bend Chinese laws and to yield to foreigners if the law and foreign
extraterritoriality were in direct conflict. Sometimes they had even to
swallow their pride to overrule some of their own decisions because of
direct foreign intervention. In the late 1840s, there were several cases of
convicted 'criminals' of British Chinese stock being released after the
intervention of the British consuls.59 Because the Chinese officials were
torn between Chinese laws and foreign extraterritoriality, their frustration could sometimes develop into the desperate act of killing these
Chinese 'traitors'. Of course it was possible that this sort of action could
precipitate a diplomatic crisis between Britain and China. The killing of
Ch'en Ch'ing-chen (|5j|j|5]j|, or romanized in Southern Fukien dialect
as Tan King Chin) is a case in point. Ch'en was born in Singapore of a
Malay mother, and read and wrote English. In 1849, he registered with
the British consulate in Amoy as a British subject. At one stage, he
worked under M. C. Morrison, the officer in charge of interpreters at the
consulate. Later Ch'en was recommended by Morrison to work as a
secretary with the Amoy branch ofjardine, Matheson and Company. 60
One contemporary observer believed that at sometime in his life he had
worked for a foreign agency involved in coolie trade. 61 In 1851, Ch'en
Ch'ing-chen was detained by the local authorities on charges of being
connected with a secret society dealing in opium. Both offences were
punishable by death under Chinese law. On the request of the representative ofjardine and Matheson and Co., the British Consul, G. G.
Sullivan, intervened and demanded a fair trial for Ch'en. Sullivan also
59

In 1846, the case of two Chinese from Penang involved in smuggling in Amoy; in
1847, t h e case of J o h n Seng Sweey, a Chinese from the Straits Settlements, who was
involved in burglary; a n d in 1849, the cases of Ch'en Ch'ing-hsi and Ch'en Ch'inghsing, the brothers w h o were involved in secret society activities. All of them were
released after the intervention of the British Consul in Amoy. See F O 228/60, T . H .
Layton t o j . F. Davis dated 2 September 1848; F O 228/70, T . H . Layton t o j . F. Davis
d a t e d 6 F e b r u a r y 1847; F O 228/11 iB, T . H . Layton to S. G. B o n h a m dated 15 J a n u a r y
1850; F O 228/125, G. G. Sullivan to S. G. Bonham dated 4 j a n u a r y 1851.
60
See F O 17/175, S. G. Bonham to Seu dated 11 J a n u a r y 1851.
61
See Chinese Repository, vol. 20 (1851), p. 49.

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requested the Chinese authorities to charge Ch'en formally in writing. 6
The officer in charge of Ch'en's case was Chang Hsi-yu (JHtfi^^p), the
Tao-t'ai of Hsing, Ch'uan, Yung circuit ( M^.^M.'a
) 6 3 who was
stationed in Amoy. Chang at first agreed to Sullivan's request, but later
changed his mind and ordered Ch'en to be beaten to death with bamboo
canes. Ch'en's corpse was put in a sedan and sent to the British consulate. 64 The precise reason for the killing of Ch'en Ch'ing-chen is uncertain. It was probably due to Chang's toughness in dealing with 'bad
people' (rebels, gangsters and other types of criminals) and foreigners;65
or to his fear of an anti-dynastic uprising flaring up in Amoy in support
of the Taiping rebels in Kwangsi; 66 or perhaps to his frustration and
anger arising from violations of Chinese laws by the British Consul who
claimed extraterritoriality for the overseas Chinese. The combination of
his toughness, fear and frustration probably prompted him to take such
drastic action.
The killing of Ch'en Ch'ing-chen sparked off a diplomatic crisis
between Britain and China. The British Consul, G. G. Sullivan, made a
strong protest, and accused Chang of violating the treaty rights of British
subjects. But Tao-t'ai Chang asserted that Ch'en Ch'ing-chen was in
fact a Chinese subject, and should be dealt with in accordance with
imperial laws.67 The dispute had spilled over to the broader issue of the
concept and definition of nationality which was to be a hotly disputed
subject between the two countries for many years to come. At the same
time, the dispute went to a higher level of the diplomatic hierarchy—
between the Chinese Imperial Commissioner Hsu Kuang-chin
(f^HHa) and the British Plenipotentiary S. G. Bonham. With the
62

Ibid.
Tao-t'ai was the officer in charge of a circuit (tao); a circuit controlled some
prefectures. In this case, Amoy was under the jurisdiction of the Hsing-Ch'uan-Yung
64
Tao-t'ai.
The Chinese Repository, vol. 20 (1851), p. 49.
65
Chang was alleged to have had a conversation with a foreign missionary in Amoy
after he took up his appointment as the Tao-t'ai of Hsing-Ch'uan-Yung Circuit. He
claimed that he had a reputation for being tough with 'bad people' and also knew how to
deal with foreigners. See F O 228/125, G. G. Sullivan to S. G. Bonham dated 4 J a n u a r y
1851.
66
Before being transferred to Amoy as the Tao-t'ai of Hsing-Ch'uan-Yung Circuit in
late 1850, Chang Hsi-yu was the top officer of the Nanning prefecture of Kwangsi
province. He must have been well aware of the Taiping rebels who already occupied the
Yung An city of the Northern part of Kwangsi.
67
A good discussion on the dispute over Ch'en Ch'ing-chen case is Huang Chia-mo's
article entitled 'Ying-jen yu Hsia-men hsiao-tao hui shih-chien' (The British and the
Small Dagger Uprising in Amoy), in Chung-yang Yen-chiu-yen chin-tai shih yen-chiu so
chi-k'an (Bulletin of the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica) (Taipei, 1978),
PP- 3O9-5363

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transfer of Chang Hsi-yu from his position, 68 the case ended without any
concrete result. 69 But it laid the foundation for future disputes over the
protection of the British Chinese in the treaty ports.
Unhappy encounters between Chinese officials and some British
Chinese in the treaty ports reinforced the bad image the overseas
Chinese acquired during the Opium war, and revived the old prejudices
against them. The image of 'potential traitors' had been generally
applied to all overseas Chinese during the post Opium war period.
C. The Image of'Coolies' (Ch'iao-kung)
The change of image from 'traitors' and 'potential traitors' to 'coolies'
was an important step in the evolution of China's attitude towards its
overseas subjects. The hostility towards the overseas Chinese was gradually replaced by sympathy. More importantly, the change represented a de facto recognition of a basic right of the overseas Chinese: to
stay away from China for a short or a long period. This change also
underlines two new developments in China's relations with its overseas
subjects. Firstly, since i860 after China was forced by Britain to allow its
subjects to work in the British colonies, knowledge about the overseas
Chinese increased substantially, particularly among the officials in the
treaty ports. Prior to 1860, the port officials tended to sweep the problem
of illegal emigration under the carpet. But since the emigrants had
secured some legal status after i860, they had to take a more realistic
approach to the problem. They therefore came to know more about the
Chinese who went overseas. They came to realize that not all who left
China were willing 'deserters'. Many of these emigrants were in fact
forced by poverty and circumstances, and some were even decoyed and
sold to foreign lands by the undesirable coolie brokers. 70 As part of their
official duty to protect innocent subjects, they gradually developed their
68
Although Chang was removed from his position as the Tao-t'ai of Hsing-Ch'uanYung Circuit, he had in fact got a promotion. He was promoted to become the Judicial
Commissioner of Kansu province (An-ch'a shih). His removal was of course a tactical
move on the part of the Ch'ing government. See FO 228/125, Chang Hi-yu to G. G.
Sullivan (translation) dated February 1851.
69
Huang Chia-mo, 'Ying-jen yu Hsia-men hsiao-tao hui shi-chien', pp. 325-8.
70
See, for instance, the prohibition notice issued by the defence officer of Ch'uanchow
and Amoy (by the surname of Ma) dated 20 day of 12 moon of 7th year of T'ung-chih
[1st February, 1869], and the public notice issued by the Coastal Defence Officer of the
Hsing-Ch'uan-Yung Circuit of the Fukien province dated 28 day of 12 moon of the 7th
year to T'ung-chih [9 February 1869], in Chu Shih-chia (ed.), Mei-kuopo-hai hua-kung
shih-liao (Historical Materials of Oppression of Chinese Coolies by the Americans)
(Peking, 1958), pp. 35, 39-40.

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concern and sympathy for the kidnapped coolies who were popularly
known as 'chu-chai' (f$fp, pigs). This sympathy was later extended to
those coolies who had already been sold to the foreign lands.
Secondly, the Ch'ing government's knowledge about the conditions
of the overseas Chinese was greatly increased by reports from its early
diplomats. The earliest Ch'ing diplomatic mission was sent to Europe in
1866 and was led by a 63 year-old Manchu official named Pin Ch'un.
The mission was to investigate foreign conditions for the proposed
sending of Chinese diplomatic representatives.71 On his way to Europe,
Pin Ch'un visited some Southeast Asian ports, and recorded his observations on the local Chinese. He mentioned that there were about
50-60,000 Chinese trading in Vietnam, the majority of whom were
natives of Kwangtung and Fukien. Many were involved in transporting
rice, the main product of the French colony. A Cantonese named Chang
P'ei-lin went on board to meet him. In writing about the Chinese in
Singapore, Pin Ch'un noted that the Chinese there outnumbered those
in Vietnam, numbering an estimated 70-80,000. Again Pin Ch'un was
greeted on board by a wealthy Chinese merchant named Ch'en Hunghsuan ( |>jf['3|!ti!j ) who even held a Ch'ing brevet title of Tu Ssu (First
Captain). According to Ch'en, earning a living in Singapore was easier
than back home in China, which was why Singapore had attracted
many Chinese. 72 The brevity and superficiality of Pin Ch'un's report
about the Chinese in Vietnam and Singapore was probably the result in
part of his short stopover in these two places, and partly a reflection of his
indifference to the overseas Chinese in general. Nevertheless, this was
the first eye-witness report by a Ch'ing diplomat, and it might have
generated some interest in the overseas Chinese issue among Chinese
officials. The second Chinese diplomatic mission was sent in 1868 under
Anson Burlingame, a retired American minister at Peking who was
made China's first roving envoy to the Western world. The mission was
originally intended to collect more information about foreign countries
and to find means of checking the improper actions of some foreign
ministers stationed in the Chinese capital. 73 The mission toured most
capitals of the Western countries which had treaty relations with China,
71

For a detailed discussion on Pin Ch'un's mission, see K. Biggerstaff, 'The First
Chinese Mission of Investigation sent to Europe', in Pacific Historical Review, vol. 6, no. 4,
pp. 307-20.
72
See Pin C h ' u n , Ch'an-sha pi-chi, in Wang Yu-li (ed.), Chung-hua wen-shih ts'ung-shu
(Taipei), vol. 98, pp. 330-4.
73
See 'Memorial of Prince K u n g to the Court', in Ts'ou-pan i-wu shih-mo, T'ung-chih
reign, vol. 5 1 , p . 27a.

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YEN CHING-HWANG

and accomplished more than it had set out to do. 7 4 Accompanying
Burlingame were two co-envoys, Chih Kang, a Manchu, and Sun
Chia-ku, a Chinese. Unlike the first Manchu envoy Pin Ch'un, Chih
Kang appears to have taken greater interest in the overseas Chinese. His
detailed record about the Chinese in San Francisco indicates his enthusiasm. He noted that there were tens of thousands of Chinese there, all of
them from Kwangtung province. Most of the Chinese were traders who
rented their shops from Europeans. The majority of the Chinese there
were under the control of the Six Associations. But the most important
information that Chih Kang received was about discrimination against
Chinese miners. He was told that there were as many as 60-70,000
Chinese in gold mines. They were constantly bullied by Europeans, and
had to pay $2 head tax to the local government while miners of other
nationalities were exempted. Moreover, any Chinese lawsuit against
Europeans without European witnesses was not accepted at the
courts. 75 Chih Kang appeared to be very concerned, and pledged to
take up the matter with the American authorities when opportunity
arose. 76 Although Chih-Kang's promise was not fulfilled, his concern
marked the beginning of diplomats' sympathy for the overseas Chinese.
It was this sympathy that helped to dispel old prejudices against the
overseas Chinese and to create real understanding of their problems.
As these two trends developed, the old images of the overseas Chinese
as 'deserters', 'traitors' and 'potential traitors' that had existed in the
minds of many high-ranking officials began to crumble, particularly
among the enlightened modernizers. Men like Li Hung-chang and Ting
Jih-ch'ang who were very interested in foreign affairs came to have a
better grip on the overseas Chinese problem. It was probably due to the
effort of these men that the investigation of the conditions of the Chinese
coolies in Cuba was initiated in November 1873.77
The publication of the investigation into the conditions of the Chinese
74
For details about the Burlingame Mission, see K. Biggerstaff, ' T h e Official Chinese
Attitude toward the Burlingame Mission', in American Historical Review, vol. 4 1 , no. 4, pp.

682-702.
75
See Chih K a n g , Tsu shift t'ai-hsi chi (Records of My Mission to the Western world),
original, vol. 1, p p . 2 0 - 1 , in Ch'ing-mo min-ts'u shih-liao ts'ung-shu (Series of Historical
76
Materials on Late C h ' i n g and Early Republican Periods), no. 38.
Ibid.
77
There is circumstantial evidence to support this claim. Although the Cuba Commission was set up by the Tsungli Yamen, it seems that Li was one of the moving spirits
behind the scene, for he was very keen to obtain the result of the investigation. According
to Yung Wing, who was also partly involved in the investigation, the report on Cuban
coolies was sent to Li along with the report of an unofficial investigation conducted in
Peru by Yung and two Americans at the request of Li. See Yung Wing, My Life in China
and America (New York, 1904), p. 194.

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coolies in Cuba was of great significance in the history of the overseas
Chinese. It dramatically changed the Chinese official image of the
overseas Chinese. Because the report was reprinted by the Tsungli
Yamen together with its copious supporting evidence, it achieved wide
circulation among Chinese officials.78 It shocked the entire official body
and confirmed the belief of the Yamen and some high-ranking officials
like Li Hung-chang that many of the overseas Chinese were ill-treated.
The new image that emerged from the report was that many of the
overseas Chinese were in fact unwilling emigrants, who were deceived or
kidnapped by evil coolie brokers and sold overseas; they were treated
like animals while they were at work; they were whipped, tortured and
sometimes killed by cruel foreigners; no justice was given to them in
foreign lands, due to the connivance of foreign officials and the coolies'
masters; few had any chance to escape or return to China in lawful ways,
but had to toil till the end of their lives.
Although the picture of the coolies as poor and pitiful placed the
image of the overseas Chinese in an unfavourable light, it induced
sympathy rather than hostility. The sense of outrage of the Ch'ing
officials seems to have been directed towards foreign oppressors rather
than the unfortunate victims.79 Under the early images of'deserters',
'traitors' and 'would-be traitors', the Ch'ing officials had been consistently hostile towards the overseas Chinese. But the new 'coolie image'
provoked their thoughts, and challenged some of their basic assumptions. Were most of the overseas Chinese willing 'deserters' of Confucian
culture? Would they constitute a source of potential threat to China?
Would they betray their own country when the opportunities arose? Did
they deserve any protection from the imperial government? These were
the questions that would emerge in the minds of many Ch'ing officials
after reading the Cuba Report. Although the report did not provide
answers to the question of political loyalty of the overseas Chinese, the
early Ch'ing diplomats' diaries gave some clues. Ch'ih Kang's record of
a warm welcome accorded to the mission by the Chinese in San Francisco and their respect for the imperial government, 80 could be taken as
78

S e e R . L. Irick, 'Ch'ing Policy T o w a r d the Coolie T r a d e , 1847-1878' (unpublished
Ph.D. thesis, H a r v a r d University, 1971), vol. 2, pp. 353-4.
79
Reporting about the C u b a Commission report, the North China Herald feared that
the report would cause many Ch'ing officials to think that all foreigners were guilty of
those criminal acts. See North China Herald, 7 December 1876.
80
Chih K a n g mentioned that the mission was given a banquet by the K a n g Chou
Association which was apparently the leading organization of the local Chinese community. T h e parallel sentences that h u n g over the hall of the building were much in
praise of the emperor and his action of sending envoys overseas. See Chih K a n g , Ts'u shih

t'ai-hsi chi, vol. 1, p. 21.

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YEN CHING-HWANG

an indication of allegiance. If the overseas Chinese were not guilty of
deserting the Confucian culture and values, and were still loyal to their
home country, they deserved not just sympathy but also protection from
the imperial government. This was the conclusion that some enlightened officials reached. This dramatic change in the attitude of the
enlightened officials towards the overseas Chinese is best illustrated in Li
Hung-chang's handling of the treaty with Peru in the period between
1873 a r ) d 1875. To augment the declining supply of coolie labour to
Peru, the Peruvian government sent Aurelio Garcia, a young naval
captain, as the minister plenipotentiary to China to negotiate a treaty.
Garcia's initial approach to the Tsungli Yamen was rejected on the
ground that the Peruvian government had allowed the maltreatment of
Chinese coolies. With the help of foreign representatives in China,
Garcia was allowed to negotiate with Li Hung-chang, the Commissioner of Trade of Northern ports and concurrently the GovernorGeneral of Chihli, at Tientsin. 81 From October 1873 to June 1874,
negotiations were carried out between the two men. Li re-affirmed the
Yamen's stand that no treaty would be signed with Peru before 100,000
coolies were repatriated. But Li's position became increasingly untenable as the foreign ministers in Peking intervened. To avoid a direct
clash with the foreign powers and to avoid breaking relations with the
Peruvian government, on which the ultimate repatriation of the coolies
depended, Li softened his attitude and signed an agreement with Garcia
on 26 June 1874 on the understanding that a Chinese investigation
mission would be welcomed by the Peruvian government. 82 It must be
noted here that Li Hung-chang at this time lacked proven evidence to
support his claim that Chinese coolies were maltreated, and he had to
take at face value of Garcia's denial that Peruvian Chinese were illtreated. 83 But the disclosure of the Cuba Commission Report at the end
of 1874 appeared to harden Li's attitude. His tougher stand was reinforced by the report of Yung Wing who was commissioned to go to Peru
in August 1874.84 Yung's report came out very strongly to prove the
81

See Irick, 'Ch'ing Policy Toward the Coolie Trade, 1847-1878', vol. 2, pp. 373-7.
Ibid., pp. 404-12.
83
In the early negotiation between Li and Garcia, Li made repeated references to the
representations which the Chinese in Peru had made to their home government in 1869
and 1871. Li used these petitions as evidence of alleged cruelty against Chinese coolies.
But Garcia denied the charge. He said that the representations of 1869 and 1871
consisted of generalizations and false evidence, and were not worthy of serious attention.
See W. Stewart, Chinese Bondage in Peru: A History of the Chinese Coolie in Peru 1840-1874
(Durham, 1951), p. 182.
84
Li's choice of Yung Wing as the commissioner to go to Peru was based on the
following considerations: Yung was a Cantonese, since the majority of the Chinese
82

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28 I

alleged maltreatment of the Chinese coolies in Peru. 85 Outraged by the
proven facts, Li Hung-chang moved to obtain some redress for the
victims. In the meetings with the Peruvian plenipotentiary, Juan Federico Elmore, over the ratification of the Sino-Peruvian Treaty which took
place in Tientsin in early June 1875, n e insisted that there would be no
ratification unless China was satisfied with the conditions of its subjects
in Peru. 86 He cited the evidence of persecution collected by Yung Wing,
and quoted specific details of each abuse to counter Peruvian claims that
adequate protection was given to the coolies.87 To strengthen his position, Li recommended his protege, Ting Jih-ch'ang, as China's plenipotentiary for the continuing negotiations with the Peruvian envoy. 88
Although Li and Ting were forced to come to a compromise because of
the Margary Affair,89 Li had throughout the negotiations demonstrated
his determination to fight for the cause of the coolies, and repeated his
demand for justice for the victims. 90 At the end ofjuly he suggested that
the Tsungli Yamen take a firm stand if the Peruvian envoy continued to
be intransigent. His tough measures included delaying of the exchange
coolies in Peru were from K w a n g t u n g province, Yung must have special sympathy and
concern for his own people; Yung spoke the dialect of the majority of the coolies there;
Yung was versed in English and Western law, and would be in a better position than
other Chinese officials to negotiate with the Peruvian government. See Li Hung-chang,
' O n the issue of sending commissioner to investigate the conditions of the Chinese coolies
in Peru dated 22nd day of 5th moon of 13th year of T'ung-chih [5 J u l y 1874]', in Li
Hung-chang, Li Wen-chung kung ch'uan-chi (Collected Works of Li Hung-chang) (Taipei,
1962), vol. 5, pp. 4 7 - 8 .
85
I have been unable to read the original copy of Yung's report, b u t Li Hung-chang's
correspondence with the Tsungli Yamen contains an abstract of it. Q u o t i n g the report,
Li said that Chinese coolies who were sold to open u p jungles, to work in sugar
plantations and in islands of guano deposits, were treated worse than African slaves.
Many of them were beaten to death or forced to commit suicide. Li concluded by saying
that the maltreatment received by the Chinese coolies in Peru was quite similar to that in
Cuba. See Li Hung-chang, ' O n the exchange of ratification of the treaty with Peru dated
8th day of 6th moon of 1st year of Kuang-hsu [10 J u l y 1875]', in Li Hung-chang, Li
Wen-chung kung ch'uan-chi, vol. 5, pp. 73-4, (original) I-shu han-kao, vol. 3, pp. 2 0 - 1 .
86
See 'Memorial of Li H u n g - c h a n g to the court relating to the ratification of the
treaty with Peru dated 11 t h d a y of 6th m o o n o f i s t year of Kuang-hsu [ i 3 j u l y 1875]', in
Li Hung-chang, Li Wen-chung kung ch'uan-chi, vol. 2, p. 121, (original) tsou-kao, vol. 25,
p. 24.
87
See Irick, ' C h ' i n g Policy toward the Coolie T r a d e , 1847-1878', vol. Q, p. 415.
88
See 'Memorial of Li H u n g - c h a n g to the court recommending T i n g J i h - c h ' a n g as
China's plenipotentiary for negotiating ratification of the treaty with Peru dated 1 ith
day of 6th moon of 1st year of Kuang-hsu [13 July, 1875]', 1A1V/., vol. 2> P- I2 3> (original)
tsou-tao vol. 25, p. 27; see also Ch'ing-chi wai-chiao shih-liao, vol. 1, p. 32.
89
Trick, 'Ching Policy toward the Coolie T r a d e , 1847-1878', vol. 2, pp. 4 2 0 - 1 .
90
See Li Hung-chang, 'Correspondence with Tsungli Y a m e n relating to debate with
the Peruvian envoy dated 24th day of 6th moon of 1 st year of Kuang-hsu [26 J u l y 1875]',
in Li Hung-chang, Li Wen-chung kung ch'uan-chi, vol. 5, pp. 76—7, (original) I-shu han-lao,
vol. 3, pp. 25-6.

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YEN CHING-HWANG

of ratification, disclosing the evidence of maltreatment of the coolies,
revealing the intransigence of the Peruvian plenipotentiary in the negotiations, and reinforcing prohibition of the emigration of Chinese coolies
to Peru. 91 Although the tough measures were not needed because the
negotiations progressed remarkably in early August, Li had shown his
consistent concern and sympathy for the unfortunate victims. His firm
attitude on this issue was partly due to his increasing exposure to the
facts, and partly to his humanitarianism. As he pointed out to the
Tsungli Yamen in his correspondence, 'Before the full knowledge of the
ill-treatment of the coolies is obtained, the Chinese government could
still take a more lenient attitude. But after the disclosure of the Ch'en
Lan-pin's and Yung Wing's reports, those with flesh and blood will
grind their teeth. If the Chinese government does not attempt to
remedy the abuses before the exchange of the ratification is completed,
thousands of Chinese coolies in Peru will have no chance of returning to
China alive, and thousands who go later will die . . .'. 92

D. The Images of 'Chinese Subjects', 'Chinese Merchants' and
'Chinese Merchant-gentry'
The last four and a half decades of the Ch'ing dynasty saw the emergence of the images of 'Chinese subjects' (Hua-min or Hua-jen),
'Chinese Merchants' (Hua-shang) and 'Chinese Merchant-gentry'
(Hua-ch'iaoshen-shang). From 1876 onwards, Ch'ing semi-official and
official records increasingly used the terms 'Hua-min' (Ijljxi), 'Hua-jen'
(lj§A)> 'Chung-kuo jen-min' ( c f i ! Ai£) ar>d 'Chung-kuo shang-min'
(•^HiiSjK) t o refer to the overseas Chinese in general, and the terms
'Hua-shang' and 'Hua-ch'iaoshen-shang' ( ^ ( ^ | $ | l f ) to pinpoint specific groups of overseas Chinese merchants. These terms appear to have
been started by high-ranking officials of the coastal provinces and
diplomats who had direct contacts with the overseas Chinese. In 1876,
the Governor-General of Kwangtung and Kwangsi, Liu K'un-i, began
to use 'Hua-min' and 'Hua-jen' interchangeably to refer to the overseas
Chinese in general, and used 'Hua-shang' to pinpoint the specific group
of Chinese merchants in San Francisco.93 In 1877, in his recommenda91
See Li H u n g - c h a n g and T i n g Jih-ch'ang, 'Correspondence with Tsungli Yamen
relating to debate with Peruvian envoy on the ratification of the treaty dated 25th day of
6th moon of 1st year of Kuang-hsu [27 J u l y 1875]' in Li Hung-chang, Li Wen-chungkung
ch'uan-chi, vol. 5, p . 75, (original) I-shu han-kao, vol. 3, p. 24.
92
Ibid.
93
See 'Dispatch from Liu-K'un-i to the Tsungli Yamen dated 11 th d a y of 7th moon of

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tion for the establishment of the first Chinese consulate in Singapore,
Kuo Sung-t'ao, the first Chinese ambassador to Britain, used 'Chung'kuo jen-min' and 'Chung-kuo shang-min' to refer generally to the
overseas Chinese, and used 'Shen-shang' (|$|§]) to refer specifically to
the Chinese merchants in Southeast Asia. 94 From 1884 t o •888, Chang
Chih-tung, Liu K'un-i's successor in Canton, also used 'Hua-min' and
Hua-jen' interchangeably for general reference, 'Hua-shang' for merchants and 'Hua-kung' for coolies.95 These terms were gradually
accepted by the Tsungli Yamen and the court, and found their places in
official records such as Ch'ing-chi wai-chiao shih-liao (Historical Materials
concerning Foreign Relations in the Late Ch'ing Period, 1875-1911),
Kuang-hsu-ch'iao t'ung-hua lu (Records of the Kuang-hsu Reign), Ta-Ch'ing teh-tsung ching-huang-ti shih-lu (Veritable Records of the Emperor
Kuang-hsu) and Ta-Ch'ing kuang-hsu hsin fa-ling (New Statutes of the
Great Ch'ing Empire during Kuang-hsu Reign). 96 In addition to these
terms, the term 'Hua-ch'iao' (ljlfjl§), which became the standard name
for the Chinese abroad during and after the Republican period, also
found its occasional use in diplomats' writings. 97 The use of these
various terms is a clear indication of the growing complexity of the
overseas Chinese communities and of a better understanding of that
complexity on the part of the Ch'ing officials.
The development of the overseas Chinese image from 'coolies' to
'Chinese subjects' and 'Chinese Merchant-gentry' underlines an impor2nd year of Kuang-hsu [29 August 1876]', in Liu K'un-i, Liu K'un-i i-chi (Works of Liu
K'un-i, posthumously collected) (Peking, 1959), vol. 5, pp. 2376-7, 'Correspondence'
(original) vol. 15.
94
See Kuo Sung-t'ao, 'Memorial to the Court for the Establishment of the Singapore
Consulate dated 27th day of 8th moon of 3rd year of Kuang-hsu [3 October 1877]', in
Ch'ing-chi wai-chiao shih-liao, vol. 11, p p . 13-15.
95
See C h a n g Chih-tung, Chang Wen-hsiang kung ch'uan-chi ( T h e Complete Works of
C h a n g Chih-tung) (reprint, Taipei, 1963), vol. 15, pp. 14-15, vol. 24, pp. 26-7, vol. 119,
pp. 15-16; Ch'ing-chi wai-chiao shih-liao, vol. 66, p p . 9 - 1 1 , vol. 74, pp. 2 1 - 7 .
96
Apart from these official records, these terms can also be found in other official
records such as Cheng-chih kuan-pao (Government Gazette of the Ch'ing Dynasty),
Shang-wu kuan-pao (Government Gazette of the Ministry of Commerce), Hsueh-pu kuanpao (Government Gazette of the Ministry of Education) and Ch'ing-ch'ao shu wen-hsien
t'ung-k'ao ( T h e Encyclopedia of the Ch'ing Dynasty).
97
Professor W a n g Gungwu suggests that the term 'Hua-ch'iao' was first used by
H u a n g Tsun-hsien in 1880s. H u a n g was the first diplomat to be exposed to the Chinese
abroad off and on for nearly 17 years. H e was first posted to the Legation in T o k y o as
counsellor (1877-82), then as consul-general at San Francisco (1882-85), and finally as
counsellor to the Legation in London under Hsueh Fu-ch'eng (1889-91) a n d consulgeneral at Singapore (1891-94). See W a n g Gungwu, 'A Note on the Origins of
H u a - c h ' i a o ' (seminar paper of the F a r Eastern History Department, Australian
National University), p. 7.

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YEN CHING-HWANG

tant shift in the Ch'ing government's attitude. For the image of Chinese
subjects is a neutral one. Unlike the coolie image which invokes sympathy and pity, the new image invested the Chinese with independent
status and personality. It indicated China's acceptance of the overseas
Chinese as legal subjects who were no longer subjected to persecution.
The picture that emerged from this 'Hua-min' or 'Hua-jen' was neither
of 'deserters' nor of 'traitors', but of people who mostly remained
culturally Chinese and politically loyal, and were prepared to support
China on all counts if they were given protection both overseas and
when they returned to their ancestral homeland. 98 The image of
'Chinese Merchant-gentry' was a further step towards cordiality in
attitudes to the overseas Chinese. It represented a part of a general shift
of Ch'ing government's attitude towards the merchant class as a whole.
Because the overseas Chinese communities lacked the scholar-gentry
class which occupied so prominent a position in China, the Ch'ing
official tended to devolve the gentry role onto the merchants, which was
why the term 'Chinese Merchant-gentry' came to be applied to the
overseas Chinese merchants.
The changes in the Ch'ing government's attitude underlines the
development of the overseas Chinese communities and their growing
relationship with China. Rapid economic development and the increase
of free emigrants towards the end of the nineteenth century enabled
overseas Chinese communities to become richer and better organized,
and to develop close cultural ties with China. At the same time, the
Ch'ing government took a greater interest in overseas Chinese. The
protection of Chinese coolies and overseas Chinese in general, the
extension of consular representation in the overseas Chinese communities, and the abolition of the traditionally prohibitive policy against
emigration in 1893, all left their mark on the development of closer
relations with the overseas Chinese. For their part, the overseas Chinese
responded fervently to the overtures of the imperial government, and
demonstrated their loyal and patriotic feelings by observing emperors'
birthdays and welcoming Chinese emissaries. They contributed generously to the imperial treasury by purchasing official titles and supporting various relief funds."
The image of the 'overseas Chinese merchant-gentry' had, in fact,
grown out of proportion by the beginning of the present century. Not
98

Ibid.
See Yen Ching-hwang, 'Ch'ing's Sale of Honours and the Chinese Leadership in
Singapore and M a l a y a 1877—1912', in Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, vol. 1, no. 2
(September 1970), p p . 20-32.
99

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only had it become increasingly respectable in the eyes of the Chinese
officials and diplomats, it had also created some kind of myth that the
merchant-gentry were likely to become the saviours of China, at least
economically.100 This myth certainly had little foundation, but it
nonetheless embodied the most favourable of all the images of the
overseas Chinese throughout the history of the Ch'ing dynasty.
100
See Yen Ching-hwang, 'The Overseas Chinese and China's Economic Modernization, 1815-1912' (an unpublished paper presented at the First National Conference of
Asian Studies Association of Australia held at the University of Melbourne, Melbourne,
14-16 May 1976).

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