Asian Studies Program

Chinese Australia

Digital Documents Record

1237 Report in the London Times on the Chinese Commissioners visit to Australian and Southeast Asian colonies in 1887

Full Document Caption:
Based on the report of Chang Chih-tung, the Cantonese Viceroy, to the Chinese Emperor on the Chinese Commissioners’ visit to Australia and Southeast Asia. The article reports on the general number of Chinese nationals in the area and their living conditions. As a result the Viceroy recommended that Chinese Consuls be established in the colonies visited by the Commissioners to protect the interests of overseas Chinese. The Consuls were to be funded from fees collected from overseas Chinese in the country that would support them and any excess was to be used to raise funds to build war ships to be used specifically for protecting overseas Chinese. In closing, the article points out that while foreign countries had negotiated in treaties with China for consulates to be established in China, no reciprocal arrangement had been made for Chinese consulates to be established overseas.

Source: ‘Chinese report on the condition of Chinese emigrants abroad’, The Times, 7 May 1888

Region: Date From: 1888 To: 1888

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In the month of August, 1886, three high Chinese officials left Canton as an Imperial Commission to inquire into and report upon the condition of Chinese abroad. After 13 months' absence, they returned in September last, having visited various Spanish, British, and Dutch colonies, and presented their report to Chang Chih-tung, Viceroy of Canton, who has addressed a memorial to the Throne containing the substance of the Commissioners' observations together with recommendations of his own. The Commissions have since started on a tour to Borneo, with a view to study the condition of their countrymen in Sarawak, the territory of the British North Borneo Company, and the Dutch possessions, but no report of the results of this journey has yet been made.

The report of the first and more important journey begins at Manila, the capital of the Philippines, which was the first place visited by the Commission. Here the Chinese community complained bitterly of the wrongs they received at the hands of the Spaniards, and earnestly begged for the appointment of Consuls to protect them, volunteering to pay all the expenses of Consular establishments. There are about 50,000 Chinese there carrying on a most thriving business, notwitbstanding the wrongs inflicted on them. They are murdered. their houses are set on fire and plundered, and the authorities sent to investigate the case evince flagrant partiality. Extortionate taxes are levied on them, and, groaning under the burden of their oppression they were about. to petition the Spanish Government when the Commission. happily arrived. From Manila the members recrossed the China Seas to Singapore, where they were received with every civility by: the Governor. Here the Chinese number about 150,000, and are the richest among the inhabitants: Four-fifths of the landed property is theirs, and large numbers of Chinese labourers pass through the port every year. A Registrar-General is appointed to look after these, but the Chinese Consul has no Joint supervision with him, and hence deceptions and irregularities by the labour companies prevail. In Malacca and Penang the Chinese also thrive in business; in Perak and Selangore the 100,000 Chinese, mostly tin miners, are well protected. Several of them are millionaires. In Rangoon there are about 30,000 Chinese, dealing mainly in rice and precious stones.

From Rangoon the Commissioners passed to the Dutch colonies, and, first to Deli, in Sumatra, the centre of a large area of tobacco plantations. To this place immigrants come mostly from Swatow, through Singapore, where they are carefully, examined by English officials to ascertain whether they know where they are going, and whether they go voluntarily. They are mainly engaged in tobacco-growing and curing, and the thrifty do well; but gambling is encouraged by the head labourers, and those who lose are compelled to remain working year after year. The Dutch laws provide that, no labour shall be engaged for more than three years, and that he shall be at liberty to go home after this period, whether he is in debt or not, but the labourers are ignorant of this, and are ill-treated in consequence. But the Dutch authorities promised the Commission to have this rectified. In Batavia. the Chinese are heavily taxed, and gambling prevails among them. In other Dutch possessions there are over 200,000 Chinese, who "are most outrageously treated by the Dutch authorities, and when the Commission visited them they all with one impulse poured forth their wrongs."

In Australia the Commissioners visited a large number of places at or near the coast, "The island of Australia, which is a dependency of England, is one of the five great continents, of vast extent in area, and possessing the richest natural products, Minerals of an kinds are found there, - a large numbers of Chinese emigrate thither to engage in mining and other occupations." A heavy tax, varying from £10 to £30 per head, is levied on Chinese landing there, the object being to prevent the immigration. Wherever the Commissioners went they received the most hearty and enthusiastic reception from their countrymen, who prayed that measures for their protection might be speedily adopted, "The number of Chinese subjects at present trading or working in foreign lands does not fall short of several millions, and in some ports the emigration is increasing, and our merchants are thriving. The advancing prosperity of our people has attracted the attention of the various foreign Governments, and their jealousy has been aroused. The Dutch authorities have been endeavouring to expel the Chinese from their colonies, and collisions between the Chinese and natives are becoming of more frequent occurrence. If measures are not adopted to render the residence of our citizens abroad more secure and peaceful, they will all flock home, and what will "become of this surplus population scattered along our sea coast? The question of affording efficient protection to our subjects abroad is, therefore, one that demands our immediate attention and solicitude. Wherever the Commissioners visited they were received with courtesy by the officials of the various foreign Governments. But more especially did the English officials manifest their friendship and good will.

So much for what the Commissioners saw, On this the Viceroy makes various suggestions for the more efficient protection of Chinese emigrants, but practically they all resolve themselves into one - viz., the appointment of Chinese Consuls abroad to look: after the interests of there countrymen. Thus he wants to see Consuls-General in Manila, in some one of the Dutch possessions in the Malay Archipelago, in: Sydney, and in Singapore, with subordinate Consu1s and Vice-consuls at various places in the Philippines, Java, Sumatra, Penang, Rangoon, Brisbane, Victoria, &c. Indeed, so important and urgent did he deem it to appoint a Consul-General to Manila that he got the consent. of the Government of Madrid for the purpose but the Manila Government objected, and the consent. was withdrawn. In Singapore he would have the Consul-General exercise a kind of co-ordinate power with the Colonial Registrar-General for the prevention of irregularities and deception on the labourers. The Consuls would be supported out of the fees derived from the Chinese residents in. the various places, and if there is a balance it would be reserved as a fund for the introduction of war ships to be specially used for the protection of Chinese abroad, In addition a literary college should be established at Manila, with an adequate library, and a corps of professors selected by the Consul-General to teach the Chinese youth there "the doctrines of our national sage, the ethics of China, the principles of the five revelations, &cs: If the fees are not sufficient to cover all expenses, the memorialist will raise the rest among the merchants, upon whom he will bestow official ,titles.

In view or the measures which Chang Chih-tung proposes to take for the protection of Chinese abroad, it may be well to explain that while foreign Powers have the right to send Consuls to China, the Chinese Government did not secure for themselves in the treaties the corresponding power of sending Consuls to foreign countries. The omission was due to simple carelessness, and perhaps to a belief on the part of the Chinese negotiators of the treaties of 1857 that China would never want to send officials abroad.