"Capital of the Tycoon" (by Rutherford Alcock, 1864).
Persons who are in the habit of speculating upon moral subjects are often taunted with the uselessness of their pursuits. They are told that moral theories are mere exercises of ingenuity; that for practical purposes every ordinary person is able to solve them for himself, and that there is no real difficulty in discovering what our duty is in given circumstances, whatever may be the difficulty of doing it when it is discovered. Those who speak thus derive a great advantage in common cases from the fact that there is a sufficient degree of consent on most of the moral problems which commonly arise, to enable them to appeal with considerable plausibility to the common sense and conscience of mankind. If, for instance, you ask why it is wrong to torture a man for theft, but right to imprison him? why it is right to hang a murderer, and wrong to burn him alive? why people ought to keep their word and respect the property of their neighbours? you are generally met with an appeal to the instincts of humanity. So, if you ask why a man who burns and destroys the private property of an enemy on shore is considered blameable, whilst precisely the same conduct on sea is considered praiseworthy? why we may sell warlike stores to belligerents, but may not fit out ships for their use? or the like, the answer is that such is the law of nations. If you go further, and ask what the law of nations is, and why it ought to be obeyed? you learn that the law of nations is contained in the writings of certain well-known authors; and that as a fact all the nations of Europe do act as if it were a real law, and did bind their conduct; and this is often called the common sense or common feeling or instinct of mankind. In short, on inquiry into any department of human conduct, the assertion that there are rules by which that conduct ought to be governed; that these rules are notorious, and may be ultimately referred to their correspondence with some internal standard, is constantly put forward by a large proportion of those who discuss such matters; and it is an all but invariable practice to accompany this by a more or less indignant protest against those who try to go further back, and venture to criticize the ultimate standard itself, or to resolve it into something more intelligible.
In this, as in all other such controversies, there is no test so good as the practical application of rival theories to actual facts. Men may talk for ever about intuitive morals, and the laws of nature and nations on the one hand, and the principles of utility on the other, without coming to any result at all, or at least without coming to any result of which it is possible to say more than that it is or is not consistent with the premises from which the persons who maintain it originally set out. When rival principles are applied to specific facts, we are able —not perhaps to say which is true and which false, for in order to do that we must be provided with a common test of truth, but to say which squares most nearly with the maxims and principles of conduct on which we generally act.
Few cases could afford a better opportunity for the application of this process than the case of Japan. Within the last three years we have brought that country to the verge of revolution and civil war. We have forced it, for our convenience, to renounce a course of policy deliberately chosen and pursued for nearly two centuries; and we have set on fire, accidentally or otherwise, a town with upwards of 100,000 inhabitants, in the process of punishing the Government for the murder of one of our subjects. These are all acts which have a tremendous moral significance, and the application to them of our common rules of morality, cannot fail to throw some degree of light upon the true nature and value of those rules. In order to make the attempt to do so, it will be necessary, in the first place, to enter upon some account of the facts, which, fortunately for the present purpose, lie within a manageable compass.
The country which by a strange caprice we call Japan—a name which appears to be one entirely of our own invention—is not altogether unlike our own country. It is of somewhat similar dimensions; and, as far as our vague information goes, the population cannot be very different. It was first brought into relations with Western Europe by the Portuguese, in the middle of the sixteenth century; and for about a hundred years the intercourse between the Japanese and the outer world was constant and friendly. The Roman Catholic missions founded by Xavier did much towards the conversion of the population. Intermarriages took place between the Japanese and the Portuguese; and it seemed highly probable that the whole population would become Christian. If this had occurred, it would have been nearly if not quite the only instance of such an event on a large scale, since the conversion of the northern tribes after the fall of the Roman empire. This, however, was not to be. The' claims of the clergy to spiritual authority were considered by the king, whom we call the Tycoon, incompatible with his own supremacy; a fierce civil war against such of the Daimios or half independent princes as had adopted Christianity, and an unsparing persecution of the Christians took place, and ended in the expulsion of all foreigners whatever from the island, and the enactment of a law forbidding all intercourse whatever, even in what might be considered cases of necessity, with foreigners of all descriptions. The Dutch, of whom a small number were permitted to remain in what was really an imprisonment at the factory of Decima; and the Chinese who appear to have been allowed to carry on a certain degree of commercial intercourse with their neighbours on somewhat similar terms, were the only exceptions. Till the American mission in 1854, which produced a treaty not of commerce but of friendship, nothing whatever was known in Europe of Japan, except what was reported by officers— generally speaking, physicians of the factory at Decima. Their opportunities of getting information were extremely small, as they never saw anything of the country except in an annual journey to the capital, which was made under the most stringent precautions against observation on the part of the travellers, and attended with the grossest indignities. Since 1854 several of the leading powers of Europe have made treaties of commerce with Japan. The Russians and Dutch made such treaties in 1857, and the Americans, English, and French, in July and August 1858. Under these treaties representatives of the various treaty powers have lived at Yeddo, and consuls have been stationed at the other ports opened to trade. Our own representative, Sir Rutherford Alcock, went there in 1859, and has lately published an account of the observations which he made during his three years' residence. His work and the various parliamentary papers published on the subject form the materials of the present article.
Sir Rutherford Alcock's book is not a satisfactory one. It is diffuse and lengthy, and is made up to its present size by interminable dissertations on all sorts of topics very slightly connected with Japan. It is the work of a man whose time hung heavy on his hands, and who appears to have passed away great part of it in recording minutely not only the incidents but the feelings and opinions of every part of his residence. It is, however, fair to say that it is also the work of a person who was constantly on the look out for information, and who had sedulously used opportunities superior probably to those which have fallen to any other European, except his diplomatic colleagues, of studying the country in which he lived. The parliamentary papers consist partly of despatches from Lord Elgin relating to the signature of the treaty, and partly of despatches by Sir R. Alcock and Colonel Neale, the charge d'affaires, who acted in his absence, in reference to the different transactions which took place between our countrymen and the Japanese, in consequence of the relations established under the provisions of the treaty. In order to bring out the true nature of the questions at issue between the Japanese and ourselves, we will begin by giving the salient points of the information collected by Sir R. Alcock as to their institutions, character, and state of society, and will then describe the transactions which have taken place between them and our own countrymen.
The most striking fact about Japan is the scantiness of our information on it. Not only have we no acquaintance with Japanese literature, but we can hardly be said to know whether such a thing exists; indeed Sir R. Alcock implies that no Englishman is really well acquainted with the language. His first employment on taking possession of his official residence, was to obtain this necessary knowledge; and he succeeded, after nearly two years' labour, in compiling a grammar. It must have been a most serious undertaking, as far at least as the written language is concerned, for the spoken language is easier. There are three systems of writing, namely, Chinese characters, which have a special meaning in Japanese, and two Japanese alphabets; but there are many different ways of writing the Chinese characters, which are used sometimes ideographically and sometimes phonetically; and all the different modes of writing are occasionally jumbled up together in the same document. The Japanese alphabets are easier. It appears, however, that it is nearly impossible to make much of Japanese without bringing to the study a previous knowledge of Chinese. The language when learnt has many peculiarities; the most striking of which is what Sir R. Alcock calls its microscopic character—that is, its tendency to introduce endless and perfectly useless distinctions upon every conceivable subject. Thus there are as many forms of numerals as there are classes of things' to be enumerated; and as we talk of a pound of butter, a stone of meat, a tod of wool, and a pocket of hops, they have one word for five fishes, another for five birds, hares, or rabbits, another for five ships, and another for five trees or sticks. Their classes of numerals, we are told, 'would fill a volume in themselves.'
Upon Japanese literature Sir R. Alcock has next to nothing to say. By dint of great manoeuvring he managed to buy or get bought for him a sort of Japanese directory or red-book, from which he got amongst other things a list of the different Daimios, with an account of their revenues; but the person who got it for him committed a crime in doing so which might have cost him his life. He also mentions some popular stories of the nature of legends, and he saw one play acted. The play was grossly indecent, and the story turned upon the exploits of certain lonins, or outlaws, who to revenge the death of their master stormed his enemy's castle, put him to death, duly disembowelled themselves, and were all buried in one cemetery, and held in the highest honour ever after. These, however, are very small matters, and for the present our knowledge of Japanese thought must be put down as nothing at all. The only bit of anything like literary information which Sir R. Alcock has to give is contained in the popular picture books, which depict a variety of domestic scenes. His book is filled with engravings taken from this source, some of which are very spirited and vigorous; but they go a very little way towards making us understand the people whom they represent.
Of the religion of the Japanese we have a little and only a little more knowledge than of their literature. Like their written language, it appears to have come from China. Both Buddhism and Confucianism have been introduced into the country; Buddhism about the sixth century of our era, and Confucianism in the first. The Sintoo creed was earlier than either, but hardly anything at all is known of it. The surprising resemblance of the Buddhist ceremonies and creed to those of the Roman Catholic Church appear to have struck Sir R. Alcock as they have struck many other observers; but it would seem from his account of the matter that it is little better than a set of idle ceremonies and puerile superstitions, and that it exercises next to no practical influence on the conduct of the population. This is the character given of Buddhism wherever it prevails. The Chinese Buddhist is merely a little more superstitious than he would be if he were not a Buddhist; and of the Japanese Sir R. Alcock observes, 'They have some but very obscure and imperfect notions of the immortality of the soul, and a future state of bliss or misery. But so far as I have seen, the educated classes scoff at all such doctrines, as fit only for the vulgar and the ignorant.' The story of the Tycoon who directed Christianity to be tolerated, as it would only raise the number of religions in Japan from thirty-five to thirty-six, looks as if there had been more activity in religious thought three hundred years ago than there is in the present day; but now at all events the population appear to have settled down into a sort of contented and narrowly limited formalism which fits in with their habits of life, and from which it would probably be exceedingly difficult to find any means of rousing them.
Of the moral condition and character of the Japanese something more definite is known than of their religious belief or their literary attainments. Tried by our standard of morals, there can be no doubt that they are a very wicked people. Their principles and practice as to the relation of the sexes is such that Sir R. Alcock declares himself unable to understand how any of the domestic virtues are possible among them. It is a common practice for women to pass their early years in professional prostitution, after which they marry without loss of character or standing. Their language and amusements are also exceedingly indecent. Besides this, they are inveterate liars. One of the five commandments of Buddhism is directed against this vice, but it is universally practised amongst them, and that without anything approaching to shame. They all lie, from the highest to the lowest, and when found out simply begin again unblushingly. They are also altogether indifferent to human life. The country is full of 'two-sworded men,' the retainers of the Dahnios, who are ready on any and every provocation to murder any one at their masters' orders. Not only were murders repeatedly committed on foreigners, but it seems to have frequently happened that when a political personage gave offence to any party of men he was murdered on the first opportunity, the murderers for the most part being killed on the spot by the guards of the murdered man, or taking away their own lives by the process of ripping themselves up. This strange practice of committing suicide whenever an event discreditable either to the character, or even to the judgment of an official person takes place, is most characteristic. It is probably unexampled in any other part of the world. Even in China no evidence is to be found of so great a contempt for human life as it appears to indicate.
This is the bad side of the Japanese character, and certainly it is bad enough; but it is very easy to take too dark a view of the race to which it applies. The faults of the Japanese all resolve themselves into the one great fault of having too low a standard of morality. With their views as to the position of women and the obligation of truth, it would seem that it would be impossible to expect from them what we should regard as beauty of character; but their contempt of life, whilst it indicates a certain roughness and brutality, indicates also a certain sort of nobility. A man who is always ready to rip himself up on the slightest occasion, and who feels bound to do so rather than endure anything approaching to a blemish on his reputation, must at all events have considerable sensibility, and acknowledge the existence of something equivalent to moral responsibility in a very marked form. As for lying and indecency, they are to a great extent relative. If people do not expect sincerity and do not understand the beauty of purity, they stand of course on a lower level than those who do; but they may nevertheless live with considerable comfort, treat each other with good humour and fairness, and be temperate, brave, and industrious. With regard to truth also it must be remembered that the estimate formed of a people like the Japanese by foreigners is of necessity less trustworthy on this head than on any other. Unwelcome guests who have forced themselves on people weaker than themselves, are pretty sure to have an intense attraction for all the lying and cheating in the country. These things are the natural defences of the weak against the strong. The Irish lie to the English, the Hindoos lie to the Europeans, but it by no means follows that they are equally insincere amongst themselves; and probably enough it might turn out, if we knew more of the internal life of Japan, that a far larger share of the lies told in that country than would have fallen to their share upon the principle of a rateable division, were told to Sir R. Alcock and the other members of the foreign missions.
The general tone of Sir R. Alcock's observations on the country do not suggest the notion that the conduct of the people at large falls further below their own low standard of morals than the conduct of European nations falls below that higher standard which prevails amongst them. On the contrary, all his observations point to the inference that the Japanese, like the Chinese, live up to their own standard and produce very tolerable uniform results. They are a laborious, industrious race; they maintain themselves in comfort, or what they consider as such; and the acts of violence which are so prominent a feature in all our relations with them, and in some of their relations with each other, appear to be the characteristics rather of a class— namely, the retainers of the half independent nobility—than of the nation at large. The bulk of the population appear to live roughly, simply, and coarsely; but they are not miserable, and are good humoured when sober. They are, however, a drunken race, and the retainers of the Daimios, whose special privilege it is to carry two swords on all occasions, are extremely dangerous when drunk, both to natives, to foreigners, and even to the unlucky animals which they happen to meet in the streets. On the whole, the moral theory and practice of Japan taken together appears to be a state of things, not indeed dignified or elevated, but tolerably comfortable, and as far as the lower and less social virtues are concerned, moderately good.
The general condition of the people closely corresponds to, and indeed is the natural complement of their moral state. They are poor, but they have hardly any wants, and such wants as they have appear to be well supplied. A Japanese requires very little personal property. At night he rolls himself up in a quilt and sleeps on a mat, with a pillow the size of a couple of brickbats under his head. The rest of the furniture of his house consists of a few pots and pans and a tub or two, for he constantly washes himself, as often as not in the street in front of his door. He wants neither tables nor chairs, for he habitually sits on his heels, and his dress is simple in the extreme. Indeed in summer the men go all but naked. They live upon fish and rice, and drink tea and saki, a spirit extracted from rice, and of this they appear to have abundance. The population is extremely dense. All the way from Nagasaki to Yeddo, which might be compared to the road from London to Aberdeen, towns or villages occur every league or two. The whole surface of the country, so far as Europeans have seen it, is cultivated, and next to none is in pasture. It is all devoted to raising some sort of grain, and the only considerable quantity of waste land spoken of by Sir R. Alcock appears to be in the mountain district of Fusiyama. The people at large appear perfectly contented with this state of things. They have arranged their affairs and portioned out the different advantages of the country in a way which satisfies them though it would certainly appear to us as dull, flat, and uninteresting a way of life as could well be imagined.
The most remarkable thing in Japan is no doubt the system of government. Many points about it remain obscure, but some leading features appear to have been pretty clearly ascertained. There are two emperors: one the Mikado, or spiritual emperor, for show; and the other the Siogoon, or, as we for the last five or six years have preferred to call him, the Tycoon, or temporal emperor, for use. The Tycoon's legal position appears to be something like that of a mayor of the palace to the Mikado, who, like the Lama of Thibet, lives in a state of perpetual imprisonment, being treated as a being too holy and wonderful to be permitted to mix with any of the common affairs of life. Some years ago the Mikado's palace was burnt down, and the master of it was fortunate enough to have to run for his life in the midst of a crowd of other fugitives. After this transient experience of the vicissitudes of life he was again caught and caged, and so remained. The Tycoon is, for practical purposes, the king of the country; but he is a king of the most limited kind. He has several titular superiors; and, as far as can be ascertained, the legislative power resides not in him, but in a council of the Daimios, or hereditary nobles, to whom he proposes new laws, which have to be approved of by them and then presented to the Mikado. It seems, however, that the Tycoon and Mikado together may overrule the Daimios.
These Daimios form the most remarkable feature in the Japanese body politic. They are the hereditary nobility of the island. There are three hundred and sixty of them; and it appears, from a list copied by Sir B. Alcock from the Yeddo red-book, that they possess revenues varying from £769,728 a year down to £6400. These revenues are computed in rice, and seem to be raised —for the matter is very obscure— by a tax or tribute of one-sixth of the gross produce of the lands of their vassals. Their relations to the Tycoon are very obscure. In their own territories they are said to be absolute masters, with power of life and death over their subjects. So absolute is this power, that not long ago one of them ordered two of his retainers to be executed just outside of Yeddo, for having allowed themselves to be disarmed of their swords. They are, however, to some extent subject to the Tycoon. One of them, for instance, was prevented from selling coal to the Europeans at Nagasaki, though he was very anxious to do so. They are obliged to pass half the year at Yeddo, and this renders necessary a long journey there and back every year with a vast train of retainers, sometimes amounting to many thousands. Whoever meets a Daimio on such a journey is bound to prostrate himself on the ground, and is liable to be cut to pieces if he refuses. Of their mode of life and pursuits little or nothing is known. It is said that unless they are blood relations, they are not allowed to visit each other; but it is possible that this may be an excuse devised to justify the impediments by which the representatives of European powers are prevented from associating with them. They appear to spend their revenues just as the old feudal nobility of Europe did, in maintaining vast numbers of perfectly idle retainers, who swarm about the country, ready at any time to enter into broils with quiet people. Yeddo is full of the palaces of the Daimios. They are long low buildings, standing in their own court-yards, and surrounded by long lines of mean outbuildings, in which live the retainers—the two-sworded men, who are supported by the Daimios' revenues. These retainers have a considerable resemblance to the retainers of early European history. They wear the heraldic cognisance of their chief, and have on all occasions to do his bidding. Every one is obliged to be under the authority of some lord, just as was the case in our own country in Anglo-Saxon times; and they possess the right of solemnly renouncing their lords' service when they become lonins, or outlaws. It is considered an honourable thing to take this step before they undertake any desperate enterprise, as it frees their lord from all responsibility for their acts. The houses in which they live in Yeddo are surrounded with moats and walls, and are thus more or less defensible. The Daimios are thus able to bring considerable forces into the field on short notice. Three of them are said in two days to have mustered ten thousand men, with artillery, when a foreign fleet first arrived in their waters. Great jealousy and ill-will appears to exist between the Daimios and the Tycoon; and it appears not unlikely that great part of the strange system of espionage which is spread over the country arises from the fact that the Tycoon finds it matter of necessity to keep an eye constantly upon them.
With the exception of a few government officers, principally military, there seem to be no public authorities in Japan besides the Daimios. It is an old observation that they have no lawyers, and it would seem that they have hardly any definite laws. Sir R. Alcock was told that there was a written code, but he could not get a copy of it; nor does he give any information as to the subjects it embraces, or the authority by which it is enacted. It appears that they have a set of criminal laws, which inflict the punishment of death for almost every offence; but very little is known of the mode of its administration. The members of the legations used occasionally to see heads exposed at particular places of execution.
Such are a few of the more salient points in the condition of this strange people. Our knowledge of them may be summed up by saying that they have apparently managed to solve the various standing problems of life in what appears to us a rough, insufficient manner, though it satisfies them. They are fed, and clothed, and governed with a considerable degree of comfort. There is little wealth and no misery in Japan; and if equality is an object, they appear to possess its advantages in an unusual degree. Even the aristocracy, so far as we know their habits, are on much the same footing, as far as the command of luxuries and physical comforts is concerned, with the bulk of the population. They have great political power, and some invidious personal distinctions; but they seem to eat, and drink, and dress, and live in the same way as the rest of the population, who again would seem to be curiously exempt from all the consequences, good or bad, which an unequal distribution of property and the application of refined science to all the arts of life has produced amongst ourselves. This state of things, however, would appear to have been produced not by any special peculiarities of the national character, but by the force of positive law. The Japanese are a wonderfully ingenious people. They fully appreciate the superiority of Europeans in point of knowledge, and are ready and willing to learn all that Europeans can teach. Their power of imitation amounts almost to genius. There is nothing which they cannot make if they have a good model before them, and there are some things which they can do, and which we with all our science cannot. 'I believe,' says Sir R. Alcock, 'the Japanese would hold their own, send out swords and cutlery to rival Sheffield, and silks and crapes to compete with Manchester and Lyons in the markets of the world.' Their legal and political system aims at the results which it has produced; and those who live under it are, as far as we know, entirely satisfied with it, and ask only to be let alone. Such are the people. How have we treated them, in fact? how ought we to treat them?
The first question does not require any very elaborate answer, as the story is short and plain. The first Christian power that broke in upon the isolation which the Japanese had maintained for about two centuries was the United States. In 1854 they, through Commodore Perry, negotiated a treaty, by which the Japanese guaranteed humane and good treatment, instead of imprisonment and death, to sailors shipwrecked on the Japanese coasts. Admiral Stirling made a similar treaty on our behalf shortly afterwards. The first treaty of commerce was also made by the Americans, and the second on our behalf by Lord Elgin, in 1858. The American treaty was procured by the skill with which their ambassador, Mr. Harris,' exploitered' (to use a strange Americanism which is creeping into use) the English and French expedition against China. The first Chinese war had made, through the representations of the Dutch, a considerable impression on the minds of the Japanese. By judiciously backing his philosophical and philanthropic arguments by significant discourses on the Western armaments, the irresistible march of events, and the great importance, under the circumstances, of securing a powerful friend in the United States, the American minister contrived to wheedle and frighten the Japanese into a treaty not merely of humanity but of commerce. Lord Elgin followed close on Mr. Harris. The forces at his command must have appeared irresistible to the Japanese; and besides this, they had crossed the Rubicon already by their first treaty. There was an interval of about a month between the two treaties; and on the 26th August, 1858, was signed the treaty between England and Japan by which our present relations are regulated.
The principal provisions of the treaty are, that an English diplomatic agent shall reside at Yeddo, and consuls at the following ports, which were to be thrown open to trade: Hakodadi, in the island of Yesso, at the extreme north-east of the island; Kanagawa, the port of Yeddo; and Nagasaki, at the extreme south-west. These were to be opened on the 1st July, 1859; Nee-e-gata, on the west coast, to be opened January 1, 1860; and Hiogo, the port of the great city of Osaca, on the east coast, and in what is called the Suonada Sea, a basin nearly landlocked by the coasts of the islands of Nipon and Sikok, to be opened January 1, 1863. At each of these places situations were to be set apart for British subjects, who were also to be allowed to travel for thirty miles round each port. Yeddo and Osaca were to be opened for their residence at the beginning of 1862 and 1863 respectively. The British authorities were to have jurisdiction over all questions relating either to the person or the property of British subjects, and over all crimes committed by them. Various provisions were made relating to trade, of which the most important referred to the coinage. It provided that all foreign coin should be current in Japan, and pass for its corresponding weight in Japanese coin of the same description; and that for a year after the opening of each port the Japanese government should furnish British subjects with Japanese coin in exchange for theirs, equal weight being given.
It was under this treaty, and in order to see its provisions carried out, that Sir R. Alcock took up his residence in Japan in 1859. There is no room for doubt that the treaty itself was obtained, if not by force, at least by the fear of it. No explicit threats were used; but the presence of the English forces in China, and the terror of their exploits there, were no doubt the arguments to which the Japanese attended. If they had supposed themselves able to object efficiently, there can be no doubt at all that they would have done so, and would have retained their traditionary policy. This appears to result from every incident which occurred in the course of Sir R. Alcock's relations with them. His account of the various disputes which he had to carry on with the government at Yeddo becomes almost tiresome from its uniformity, and there would be little or no interest in repeating the story here. The short result of it is, that the Japanese ministry exhausted all the ingenuity of which they were masters in trying to evade the necessity of carrying out their engagements, or, if that were impossible, to reduce the evil to the smallest dimensions. Their first object was to confine the foreigners within limits as narrow and as jealously guarded as those of the old Dutch factory at Decima; and they succeeded in contriving to induce the merchants who arrived at the port of Yeddo, in order to be ready for the opening of Kanagawa, according to treaty, in July, 1859, to take up their residence not at that place but at Yokohama, in a neighbouring but isolated position, so situated as to be capable of being readily cut off from all communication with the interior. They afterwards, by various concessions, induced the home government to allow them to put off for five years the opening of the ports of Ne-e-gata and Hiogo, so that Hakodadi, Yokohama, and Nagasaki are at present, and for several years will be, the only ports in Japan open to European trade.
As soon as the foreign settlers began to establish themselves at Yokohama difficulties between them and the Government began. In the first place there was a currency quarrel of a curiously intricate kind. In the world at large gold is worth about fourteen times as much as silver, but in Japan it was worth only four times as much. Hence it naturally occurred to the merchants that they would be able to make enormous fortunes at once by buying gold kobangs (worth 17s. 6d.) for about six shillings. In order to effect this they would have, in the first instance, to change dollars— the ordinary European currency in those parts—into the Japanese coins called itzeboos, of which three were equal in weight to a dollar, and were therefore by treaty to be given for a dollar. By this means they might of course have found means to export all the gold in the country; and the Government, fearing that this might be the case, issued a new set of itzeboos worth a dollar a piece. In selling they required to be paid as many itzeboos as before. In exchange they gave weight for weight, or a new itzeboo for a dollar: that is, they raised the price of all commodities on foreigners to the extent of 300 per cent. This led to all sorts of difficulties, which at last were partially overcome; but as the relation between gold and silver in Japan still remained unaltered, the Europeans contrived to export large quantities of it at an enormous profit. It could not be expected that the Japanese Government would like this, and their feelings must have been embittered by the behaviour of the merchants. Sir R. Alcock's despatches give a most unpleasing picture of the sort of men who, by the force of circumstances, became the representatives to Japan of our name and nation. He describes them as insolent, greedy, and ill bred in the last degree; and as an illustration of their demeanour gives copies of the claims which some of them made upon the Japanese for itzeboos in exchange for dollars. One of these modest persons gave an order for himself and friends (the friends being represented by people with obviously fictitious and nonsensical names) for several millions sterling of silver coin. Another person, by what he probably supposed to be a refined stroke of wit, demanded a sextillion of dollars, besides some odd quintillions, quadrillions, trillions, and billions. When a merchant sent such orders to a Government office it is easy to imagine what sort of impression the manners of the community at large must have made upon a nation distinguished from the rest of the world by an almost fanatical hatred to foreigners.
As trade made progress through the country it produced the effects which it always must produce. It greatly stimulated the demand for all articles of commerce, and of course increased the price in proportion. On the other hand it brought into Japan nothing which the inhabitants were conscious of wanting. It made them live quicker and more laboriously, but it did not in any perceptible or obvious way tend to make them happier or better. They were satisfied before they began to trade, and would seem to have been as a rule more bewildered and vexed than delighted with what we did for them. For obvious reasons this applied to the Daimios and their retainers more than to other classes of society; and in the case of the Daimios a new cause of irritation was introduced. They were anxious enough in some cases to trade on their own account, and for their own profit; but the Tycoon prevented them, apparently for political reasons. Thus the whole system of foreign trade, the questions to which it gave rise, the persons by whom it was carried on, the treaties by which it was originally introduced, were all alike hateful to the Japanese, at all events to their Government and to the aristocracy. The way which they took of showing their dislike is sufficiently well known. They did all they could to restrain foreign trade, to evade the provisions of the treaty, and to impose restraints on the exercise by the foreigners of the privileges which the treaty secured to them. Besides and beyond all this they resorted to something very like systematic assassination. It may reasonably be doubted whether the Government was itself a party to the horrible crimes which, from the first admission of foreign residents down to the present day, have been constantly committed. Probably they were not, but the constant and systematic repetition of such offences shows, beyond all doubt, that they were something more than mere accidental results of a rough state of society. There can be no doubt that they were the natural results of a deep-seated, and what might almost be called a calculated animosity against foreign intrusion.
Perhaps the simplest way of showing the length to which violence in its worst form was carried, is to give a list of the murders referred to by Sir R. Alcock and the charge d'affaires, Colonel Neale, who supplied his place in his absence.
1. August, 1859.—A Russian officer, sailor, and steward murdered at Kanagawa without provocation.
2. October, 1859.—The servant of the French vice-consul murdered.
3. 29th January, 1860.—The linguist of the English embassy murdered.
4. February, 1860.—Reported arrest of fifty men on their way to massacre the foreigners at Yokohama.
5. 26th February, 1860. — Two captains of Dutch vessels murdered at Yokohama.
6. A servant of the French minister severely wounded.
7. January 14th, 1861.—Murder of Mr. Heuskin of the American embassy. This was preceded by threats of a general massacre of foreigners. After Mr. Heuskin's murder the representatives of four of the treaty powers struck their flags and put themselves under the protection of ships of war until the Japanese Government undertook to provide for their better security.
8. July 4th, 1861.—General attack on the British embassy, in which four persons were killed and nineteen wounded.
9. 26th June, 1862.—Two marines on guard at the British Legation murdered.
10. 14th September, 1862.—Murder of Mr. Richardson; attempt to murder Messrs. Clark and Marshall (both seriously wounded) and Mrs. Borradaile.
Several other murders besides these, of Europeans of various nations have taken place since the publication of Sir R. Alcock's book; indeed, news of two or three such events has arrived within the last few weeks.
In no one of these cases was any person punished for the crimes thus committed; and there is no reason to believe that the Japanese Government ever made any serious effort to discover the criminals.
The murder of Mr. Richardson and the wounds inflicted on his friends led to the measures of retaliation inflicted on Kagosima. The crime was committed by the retainers of the Prince of Satsuma, the second of the Daimios in point of revenue. His influence must be even greater than his revenue, as he is not only absolute master of the south-west extremity of Japan, but also of the Loochow Islands. The offence given by Mr. Richardson and his party consisted exclusively in the fact that they were taking a ride on the Tocado or great high-road of Japan when Prince Satsuma's procession passed by. The right to use the Tocado was specially reserved to British residents at Kanagawa, and there was nothing offensive in the conduct of our countrymen on this occasion, as they turned back and tried to avoid the Daimio's procession when it came in their way. They were however overtaken, attacked, one of them cut down, two badly wounded, and the lady was cut at though she contrived to escape unhurt. Mr. Richardson appears to have been cruelly murdered some time after he had been disabled, and as he lay wounded on the road. One of his hands was cut off: his throat was cut, and he was almost hacked to pieces. After a good deal of negotiation in order to obtain redress, in the course of which the Government at Yeddo declared that they had no power over Prince Satsuma's retainers unless he gave them up, Admiral Kuper and his squadron went to Kagosima, Satsuma's capital; and on being refused redress carried off several steamers belonging to him. They were fired into by his batteries, and in the course of the action which followed the town of Kagosima (said to contain 150,000 people) was set on fire and left burning. How far this act was done on purpose, how far by accident, it is impossible to form a satisfactory opinion upon the evidence as it stands. However this may be, there can be no doubt as to the broad fact. We force our company and our commerce on the Japanese against their will. They find the relation a thoroughly unpleasant one, full of the seeds of bad feeling, and they show their view of the case by systematic assassination. Failing to get redress we send a fleet and burn down one of their principal towns. What this will lead to, where it will end, and what state of things it will produce in Japan, it is almost impossible to guess. We have broken up their most characteristic and cherished laws; we have aggravated the dissensions which obviously enough existed between the Tycoon and the Daimios before we came; we have in all probability given very great offence to the aristocracy by our attack on one of the most prominent members of their body; and by introducing a number of changes we have probably given the bulk of the people, in so far as they know anything about us, reason to view us with dislike. On the other hand we have succeeded in establishing a certain amount of trade. Both tea and silk are to be had in Japan in considerable quantities; and there are also coals and metals, which would be convenient if they could be got at. Such, in a few words, is the answer to the question, What we have done with the Japanese, and they with us? Let us return to the question with which we set out, What is the moral character of all this conduct? what principles of morality can be applied to it?
Several distinct views may be taken of the subject: some of them at least are both plausible and simple. The whole question may be treated as one of international law. 'You—the Japanese,' we may say—'have made a treaty with us. We do not know, and are not bound to trouble ourselves with the motives which may have induced you to make it; but now that it is made we have an unquestionable right to see it carried out. By your weakness or negligence in protecting life— which is the first duty of every government — you have practically rendered useless the right which you conceded to English subjects of living at the treaty ports, and going where they pleased for thirty miles round. Under these circumstances we must protect ourselves; and we shall do so by inflicting military chastisement either on the Tycoon or on the Daimios, whom the Tycoon ought to keep in proper order.' This is the ordinary language of international law. With variations adapted to the special condition of Japan, it is what we should undoubtedly say to any Christian nation which broke through its treaty obligations to us—provided always that we thought ourselves strong enough, and thought the object in dispute worth fighting for. It is, no doubt, perfectly intelligible; but it tacitly assumes a state of things which does not exist in any part of the East, although it forms the basis of all that we describe as international law in Europe. The essence —the specific peculiarity of law in all its forms, whereby it may be distinguished from every other set of rules and principles is force. To be a law at all, a rule must, as Hobbes says, 'be living and armed.' It must impose its own terms upon those who live under it; and there must be the means of compelling their obedience, if they are inclined to withhold it. It has frequently and truly been observed that even between European states this ingredient is to a great extent wanting in international law, which has accordingly been denied to be law in the proper sense of the term. If there be a dispute between two great European nations, as there is no common superior to decide between them and enforce his decision, there can be no law in the true sense of the word, to which both are subject. This, no doubt, is true; but it is also true that though even in Europe the phrase international law is not strictly correct, it approaches to correctness. It does so happen in fact that there are a certain number of nations—Russia, France, England, Austria, Prussia, Italy, Spain, to which may be added the United States — sufficiently powerful and sufficiently united in a joint interest to be able to enforce something very like laws on each other. No doubt the check is an imperfect one, but it is a check. There are things which no European nation, however powerful, would venture to do. It required infinite management and contrivance to get Savoy added to France; and it will no doubt require much more to carry out the same design as to Belgium and the left bank of the Rhine. Such things may no doubt be done, if the power which wishes to do them can get itself into what may be called a good legal position. If it can manage to have some ostensible justification for what is really and substantially an act of violence, it may be able to make its violence triumph; but the velvet glove is as indispensable in such enterprises as the iron hand. The hand is the agent: no weak state, be its cause ever so just, could act in Europe as France acts; but on the other hand no nation, neither France, Russia, nor England, is strong enough to be able to do such acts as the annexation of Nice and Savoy with a high hand, and without any other excuse than sic volo sic jubeo.
Thus the true nature of international law, even as between Christian states is, that it is a restraint which a few powerful nations are able to impose on each other, because it so happens that they are all of nearly equal power, and all have interests of the same kind, on which the rules of international law are based. The notion that international law has an abstract existence of its own; that it would be just what it is if the only nations in the world were the United States, the republic of San Marino, and the kingdom of Greece, is a mere delusion. It is a special system rendered possible by the condition of modern Europe; and in other states of society—for instance, in the old Roman empire—it did not exist. Neither the jus gentium nor the jus fetiale had any resemblance to what since the time of Grotius we have understood by the phrase international law.
East of the Cape of Good Hope, and west of the coast of America, the materials for international law do not exist. The preponderance of strength on the part of the European nations, and especially on the part of our own country, which has played the principal part in the introduction of western notions into those countries, is so enormously great that the restraining force on our side is not fear, but simply our own notions of duty or interest, whilst the resource of the countries with which we treat is not that consciousness of strength available for the purpose of backing reasonable demands, which enables every European nation to stand up for its own rights, but artifice, falsehood, evasion, and every now and then, when circumstances appear to be favourable, a desperate resort to what always looks like treacherous violence. Even in our own highly-civilized community the disproportion of strength between people of different classes is sometimes so great that they cannot legally contract with each other. A child cannot contract with a grown-up man, nor can a married woman contract with her husband, or with others except as his agent. Nay, under some circumstances and for some purposes a client cannot contract with his attorney. In all these cases the principle is the same. It is supposed that the relation between the parties is such that there cannot be fair play between them. A certain degree of equality of force is essential to a contract; for the contract supposes that each party is aware of his rights, is able to use them for his own advantage, and is not disabled by mental or bodily infirmity from doing so fully.
If we consider the relative strength and knowledge of the two nations, a treaty between England and Japan is very much like a contract between an infant and a grown man. Perhaps we should not have gone to war with them if they had refused to have anything to do with us; and, according to Sir R. Alcock, the Americans most undoubtedly would not. This, however, was not their view of the case. They no doubt received kind and courteous treatment from Lord Elgin; but, admirable as his qualities were, it is obvious that it was not to them, but to the ships and armies which they supposed to lie behind them, that they really gave way. Talk about peace, commerce, civilization, and the like, is plausible enough; but the practical application of the sermon— its convincing power—lies in a silent glance over the shoulder to the war steamers anchored in the bay or known to be within call. In short, what we called agreement to a treaty of commerce was in reality submission to superior force, and what we call breaches of the treaty were in substance partial, fretful, and ignorant attempts to shake off what the Japanese regarded and could not but regard as a foreign yoke forcibly laid on their necks.
To these general considerations which apply to almost all our relations with Eastern powers, some others must be added which have a special application to Japan. In European diplomacy it may always be ascertained who is the sovereign, and who has a right to make treaties and bind the nation. No one would think of accepting a treaty with England signed by the Speaker of the House of Commons, nor would any one be content with the consent of the President of the United States, unless he acted with the approbation of the Senate. It is hardly possible to say, with respect to Japan, who is the proper person to make a treaty or what are the parties whose consent is required to make it valid. Even now, after the country has been opened for three years, in a sort of way, it is by no means clear what are the respective rights of the Mikado, or Spiritual Emperor; the Tycoon, whose technical position appears to be that of an officer appointed by the Mikado; the Council of the Daimios, and the individual Daimios themselves; some of whom, like our antagonist the Prince of Satsuma, are obviously very like independent potentates. This being so, it must be owned that from their own point of view the Japanese may very probably be right. For what we can tell, they may be under nothing which they would recognize as an obligation to allow of our presence in their territory at all; and this renders our position far more intricate than it was before. We do not know with whom we have made our bargain, with whom we are fighting, or with whom we are at peace.
For these reasons the international law view of the question appears an unsatisfactory one in every way. It assumes a state of things as its basis, which does not exist. What then are we to fall back upon? It may be said that the question may be viewed as one of private morals. What business had we, directly or indirectly, to force our society on those who did not want it? What right had we to make them trade with us against their will? Ought we not to leave the place altogether and allow them, as far as we are concerned, to live as they have lived for the last two centuries?
This may be described as the ascetic or repentant view of the subject. It appears plausible enough at first sight, but when examined it will be found to involve assumptions, as arbitrary in their nature as those which form the objection to what we have described as the legal view. No doubt in all civilized countries, every man is king of his own property. 'Charbonnier,' say the French, 'est mâitre chez lui;' and we all know that an Englishman's house is his castle. It does not however follow that a nation can in the same way be viewed as an isolated individual, having power to cut itself off absolutely from all other nations, without exposing itself thereby to any interference. The absolute power which we all wield within our own houses upon a variety of subjects, is just as much conferred upon us by the public, and derived from the law of the land, as the power to vote at an election. When I say that I have the right to live by myself if I please, and to exclude the rest of the world from my house, I mean no more than that the law gives me that power, and will enforce it if need be. Indeed it does not give the power absolutely. I cannot turn my wife out of my house; she has by law as much right to be there as I have myself. If there were no law there would be no property, and if there were no property there could be no proprietary rights. Now as has been already shown, there is no law, in any proximately exact sense of the word, as between England and Japan. This is an inconvenience for both parties. It prevents us from appealing to international law when the Japanese violate their treaty with us; it prevents them from appealing to international law when we come without leave upon their territory and force them to make a treaty. Nations may be regarded either as forming members of a sort of community, as is the case with the Christian nations, or they may be regarded as mere strangers. In the first case it is a question of fact what rights they have. In the second case they have no rights at all. They are out of relation to each other; and until some system of relations between them has grown up, some other way of regulating their conduct must be discovered than the attempt to adjust to it metaphors derived from the systems prevalent between countries the circumstances of which are totally different.
The question then is how is this to be done? and the answer, though not a very ambitious one, is not difficult to find. A large proportion of the intolerance, the quarrelling, and the wars—especially the civil wars — which are the staple of history, arises from the vague notion that somewhere or other there is to be found some definite system of general law or morals, by which all the relations between nations and individuals can be regulated. There is nothing which people are more reluctant to admit in any of the more important departments of life, than the truth that there are no such things to be found as sets of general propositions absolutely and universally true; or that if they are found in any department of knowledge, they can be found only by laborious processes of detail. The thirst for universal systems of morality or politics, is exactly like the thirst for an absolutely perfect system of theology dropped straight out of the clouds; and as it has always been a fatal objection to the one notion that no one can tell which system is the true one, so it ought with reasonable men to be considered a fatal objection to the other, that no recognized system of international law or morals will enable us to deal satisfactorily with any other problems than those which arise out of the state of things on which any given system was founded. International law will enable us to steer our way pretty well through the questions, or at least through some —though not all—of the questions, which the conflict of European interests present; but it fails us altogether when we come to apply it to such a country as Japan. At best it supplies nothing more than weak analogies, which fail just in the points where we require guidance.
The only sensible, and indeed the only possible course, under these circumstances, is to fall back upon a direct consideration of the probable consequences of the course which we propose to take—the consequences to ourselves and the consequences to the Japanese—and to guide our conduct accordingly. Till the state of our knowledge on moral subjects has made great advances, we shall not be able to get much beyond this, or to lay down any general principles or systematic rules by which the conduct of such nations as our own to such states as China and Japan, ought to be regulated.
It would be a sort of impertinence in any one who had not means of knowledge of a very special kind, to offer observations of much weight on this subject. Sir R. Alcock's book and his despatches supply some remarks upon it which are worth weighing and reporting, but which do not clear the matter up. In the first place, it is perfectly clear that a treaty of amity, and even a treaty of what may be called advice and influence, is altogether a different thing from a treaty of commerce; and that we not only might secure the first without causing any irritation to the Japanese, but have the strongest reasons for doing so. It is not to be supposed for a moment that any one people will permit any other to treat its shipwrecked sailors, for instance, as wild beasts. To do so is to commit an act of hostility of the worst kind, and it would be well worth while to compel by force the renunciation of a practice which we should assuredly prevent by force if it were ever acted upon. It is also quite true that if we do not interfere with the Japanese other nations will; and it is quite possible that the Russians might acquire a position there which, in case of war, would be to the last degree dangerous to our interests throughout the East and the Pacific. The Japanese have abundance of harbours; they have also plenty of stores of every description, and large coal mines. To see these resources placed at the disposal of foreign powers without doing what we can to secure our own interests, would be to give up our position in the East. On the other hand, the existence of mere diplomatic relations with us can do the Japanese no harm. It cannot affect their institutions, or, if it does, they must take the consequences of setting up institutions so strange and inconvenient to others. It would appear, therefore, that there are obvious and solid reasons why we should, if necessary, compel them to receive our representatives, to allow our ships of war to use their harbours, and to purchase what they may require.
As to commercial relations, the question is by no means so simple. A vague notion appears to have come to prevail in the world that there is a sort of right divine in all merchants to buy and sell in every part of the world without let or hindrance, and that we ought to be prepared to enforce this right, especially against the weaker part of the world, at the cannon's mouth. This is a great absurdity. No doubt it does not follow that because an Eastern people does not like us we are not to trade with them, but immediately to withdraw and leave them to themselves. By a judicious mixture of firmness and good temper it is possible to overcome these dislikes, and set on foot relations both pleasant and profitable to both parties; but though this is possible it is a very delicate task, and it is also a task which is not always worth performing. Sir R. Alcock inclines apparently to the opinion that our trade with Japan will never be worth the expense to which we should have to go in order to keep up a squadron for the purpose of protecting it and enforcing our treaty rights. He says,' In proportion to the whole import and export trade of Great Britain, nothing Japan is likely either to take or give can be considered otherwise than trifling. One, or a half per cent., on the whole of our export trade is much too small a proportion to induce us lightly to incur unnecessary risks in preserving or in resorting to any very costly or serious efforts to extend it . . . . not all the merchants, with all the consuls and ministers combined, can make any essential change in the system of the Japanese authorities, high and low. This can only come with time or political and social revolutions.'
It is in political and social revolution that our hope of extending trade with Japan appears to reside. If we stringently assert our treaty rights, and punish all who trespass on them as we punished Prince Satsuma, we may get into an endless and shapeless contest with the country itself, and may very possibly break up the government of the Tycoon, as we have shaken and injured that of the Emperor of China, and so throw the whole country into a series of revolutions and civil wars, of which we cannot even conjecture the result. This appears to be the possible, even the probable consequence to them of the course we are pursuing; though of course it is possible that we maybe misinformed upon the matter, and that the bulk of the people, and even the nobility, would be willing enough to trade with us, if they could arrange the trade in their own way. The consequence to us is a small increase in the vast total of our existing trade. Weigh the one against the other, and is it worth while to follow our present course? This is the real question to be considered, and it has the merit of admitting of something like a solution.
It is, however, impossible not to feel that in the main it is a question of curiosity. That we shall persist in our present line of conduct is perfectly certain. 'Vestigia nulla retrorsum" is the motto of our career; and, right or wrong, there is no doubt at all that we shall stick to our point, and carry out our views, even if the result should be to revolutionize the whole structure of Japanese society. If so it must be, so be it; but let us, at all events, have the face to speak plainly. Let us say as little as may be about civilization and Christianity. The plain truth is, that we are strong and they weak. We are determined to have our way, and we hope it may be for their advantage; but have it we will whether or no. It is not just to call this outrageous iniquity and tyranny, for it is no doubt possible that our conduct may be for the benefit of all parties, and it is a question of consequences altogether; but it is just to say that we are in the habit of regulating our conduct as if no consequences, except those which affect ourselves, were of the least importance. The iron pot swims gaily down the stream, and swamps or cracks its earthen companions. This may be the course of nature, but it is nothing to be proud of; and least of all is it a just cause for singing psalms about the spread of Christianity and civilization.
We do not affect to give, or to have the necessary grounds for giving, a strong opinion on the course which ought to be taken; but of one point the general public may be perfectly certain. The interests which we are in danger of neglecting or undervaluing are those of the Japanese, and the point to which our attention ought to be specially directed, is that of obtaining trustworthy evidence as to the effect which our conduct is likely to produce on their happiness, estimated by their principles. We have no right to insist that every one shall embrace European views of life under pain of revolution and civil war; and if it is really true that this is the price by which we are to buy a slight increase to our own trade, we must think wonderfully highly of money if we are willing to take so great a responsibility for so small a consideration.
Fraser’s Magazine, January 1864.