Anson Burlingame Essay

1021 words - 5 pages

Anson Burlingame

Anson Burlingame is most famous for helping to negotiate the Sino-American treaty that bears his name, and the sensitive voice by which he espoused equitable treatment for the Chinese in both the states and the mainland. While much has been written on how Americans reconciled their nominal deference to the Chinese government with their need for labor in the settled western frontier, little has been written on how China felt during the mid-nineteenth century. Great Britain, Prussia, Russia, France, and the United States pressured China to ratify various trade treaties, and in desperation for able assistance, the Asian country turned to Burlingame for counsel. The ...view middle of the document...

The instructions were sure to circumspectly respect Britain's presence: "The Chinese officials appointed at this time must act in accordance with the British treaty; the powers must avoid slighting them" (2). In the late 1860's, when economic intercourse was still in its inchoate stage, respecting even the most seemingly symbolic and supposed provisions of tacit or spoken agreements and treaties was imperative. The fourth point of instructions even gave Burlingame broad discretionary authority to make sure that the Chinese delegates were only spending money for accommodations out of their own pocket without foreign assistance. His Imperial Highness was not prepared to leave cultural or even titular pathways for Britain and the other countries to find reproach for the Sino-American delegation.

None of these attitudes were nevertheless designed to undermine China's self-perceived stand as a major industrial power. It might have been playing the supplicant in asking other countries for some restraint and moderation in awaiting its ratification of treaties, but it projected a strong measure of independence. An "official wooden seal for use in correspondence" (3) was granted to Burlingame as a charge of the emperor. Imperial officials were obligated to return to their homeland exactly one year into their services. These appointments in the European fashion of citing envoys or those with similar capacities reflected a new understanding in Chinese policy. The Chinese government stubbornly continued to attest to the superiority of its institutions, but had partially reconciled itself to Western practices.

What truly prevailed, though, was the mutual accordance of respect and congeniality necessary for a sensible atmosphere. Carefully mirroring the language of the Tientsin Treaty, the imperial instructions asked that the students of its elite T'ung-wen Kuan institution accompanying the officials be given immunity and protection. Such seemingly trivial demands had foreshadowed the Burlingame Treaty in the past, and now China enacted upon American promises with broadening interpretations of the Burlingame-China negotiations of 1868. According to the instructions, no European official would be compelled to show traditional Asian gestures of deference to the Asian delegation. China was willing to forego the nuances...

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