China Only Yesterday, 1850-1950: A Century of Change

By Emily Hahn | Go to book overview
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Chapter Eight

Elgin had no way of knowing that the continued unrest in Canton was instigated from Peking, but he could not help noticing that the Emperor's Grand Council didn't seem much troubled by the situation. They paid no attention to his demand that Huang, the Viceroy of the Kwangs, be removed from his post. It suited them that the disorders should go on. Any counterirritant should serve to keep the barbarians busy, and put off indefinitely the day when the supplementary trade treaty would be ready for signing. Even the delayed return of the British Plenipotentiary from his Yangtze journey, though it made the Emperor nervous--what was the fellow doing in there anyway all that time, if he wasn't chumming up with Hung Hsiu-ch'uan?--was welcome to the Imperial Commissioners because it gave them a genuine reason and excuse for postponement. But it was touchy work nevertheless for these men while they waited, for they had to juggle Western impatience against similar impatience in Peking, and soothe barbarian tempers about many things. First Canton, then the treaties; first the treaties, then Canton: and while everyone waited for Elgin to come back, the Emperor commanded Seng-ko-lin-chin, the Mongol prince who had beaten back the Taiping General Lin and scattered his forces, to repair and strengthen the fortifications at the mouth of the Peiho. Taku must not be taken so easily again.

The Imperial Commissioners had reason to think they were not doing too badly on their mission, during the long wait. Ever since the original treaties had been sent to the West for ratification, they noticed that the barbarians who waited with them for Elgin to return seemed placated, somehow; not so quick to lose their tempers. The Commissioners dared to grow hopeful. In a memorial dated January 9, 1859 [Swisher, p. 546], they developed a new idea for

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