Category Archives: France

China Envy in Late 1700s

From Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China’s Last Golden Age, by Stephen R. Platt (Knopf, 2018), Kindle pp. 9-11:

There were good reasons why the East India Company did not do anything else that might put their little foothold in China at risk. In the eyes of Europeans in the late eighteenth century, the empire of the Qing dynasty was an unequaled vision of power, order, and prosperity. It had long been, as Adam Smith described it in 1776 in The Wealth of Nations, “one of the richest, that is, one of the most fertile, best cultivated, most industrious, and most populous countries in the world.” Smith believed China to have been at a stable climax of development for eons—at least as far back as Marco Polo’s visit in the thirteenth century—which meant that although it did not have the capacity to develop any further (an advantage he reserved largely for Europe), it nevertheless showed no signs of retreating from its pinnacle of prosperity. “Though it may perhaps stand still,” he insisted, “[China] does not seem to go backwards.”

Enlightenment champions of reason saw in China the model of a moral and well-governed state that needed no church—a secular empire, founded on rational texts and ruled by scholars. “Confucius,” wrote Voltaire with admiration in his Philosophical Dictionary of 1765, “had no interest in falsehood; he did not pretend to be a prophet; he claimed no inspiration; he taught no new religion; he used no delusions.” In reading extracts from Confucius’s works, Voltaire concluded, “I have found in them nothing but the purest morality, without the slightest tinge of charlatanism.” The state that had been founded on those works was, he believed, the oldest and most enduring in the world. “There is no house in Europe,” he observed, “the antiquity of which is so well proved as that of the Empire of China.”

China’s political unity in the later eighteenth century was dazzling not just to British economists and French philosophers but to Americans as well, once they began to emerge as a nation of their own. In 1794, a U.S. citizen of Dutch descent, who had served as interpreter for an embassy from the Netherlands to China, dedicated the published account of his voyage to George Washington, celebrating in particular “the virtues which in your Excellency afford so striking a resemblance between Asia and America.” China was for him the standard by which Western countries could be measured: Washington was virtuous because he exhibited some of the qualities of a Qing dynasty emperor. The highest hope that the writer could muster for the future of his new nation was that Washington, in his “principles and sentiments,” might procure for the United States “a duration equal to the Chinese Empire.”

These were not just Western fantasies. China in the eighteenth century was not only the most populous and politically unified empire on earth, but also the most prosperous. The standard of living in its wealthy eastern and southern cities was easily a match for the companion regions of western Europe, as was life expectancy. To measure by the consumption of luxury goods such as sugar and tea, the quality of life in eastern China in the 1700s appears to have left Europe behind. At the same time, however, due to the Qing government’s tight strictures on foreign trade and residence, China was also seen from outside as impossibly guarded and remote, “the only civilised nation in the world,” as one British writer put it, “whose jealous laws forbid the intrusion of any other people.” The immense riches of the empire were—to the eternal frustration of westerners—always just out of reach.

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From Habsburg to Bourbon Spain

From The Penguin History Of Latin America, by Edwin Williamson (Penguin, 2003), Kindle pp. 195-197:

The state of Spain was embodied in the weak and imbecilic Charles II, the last of the Habsburg line and a monarch incapable of male issue. Upon his death in 1700 there followed a war among the European powers to decide the Spanish succession. Philip of Anjou, the grandson of Louis XIV of France, eventually acceded to the throne of Spain, but his right to it was recognized by his enemies at the price of important concessions set out in the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713. Flanders and the Italian dominions were lost to Austria and Savoy; Great Britain kept Gibraltar and Minorca, and was allowed the exclusive right to supply African slaves to the Spanish Indies, and to an annual shipload of merchandise for trade with the American colonies; Portugal retained her smuggling centre of Colônia do Sacramento on the east bank of the River Plate. These concessions to Britain and Portugal underscored Spain’s imperial debility, since they infringed, at least for a time, the monopoly of trade with the Indies, which she had done so much to defend. Spain’s sovereignty was now reduced to the Peninsula and her realms in America and the Philippines.

This curtailment of power, though humiliating, at least unburdened Spain of dynastic possessions in Italy and the Low Countries which had drained her over the past two centuries. The Treaty of Utrecht, in fact, forced Spain to relinquish the Habsburg concept of empire, based as it had been on an essentially medieval vision of a supranational constellation of kingdoms under a single sovereign pledged to the defence of Catholic integrity in Europe. The new dynasty of French Bourbons would rule Spain as a European nation state among others, and her still very substantial dominions overseas would be regarded as resources to be exploited economically so as to strengthen her position in the theatre of European power politics. Over the course of the new century, therefore, the Bourbons were to recast the aims and methods of Spanish imperial government.

The spirit of reform significantly altered the ideological basis of the Catholic monarchy, which the Habsburgs, having taken it over from Ferdinand and Isabella, had developed as the guiding principle of their imperial statecraft. The peculiarly Spanish symbiosis of Crown and Church, which endowed the Catholic monarchy with its monopoly of legitimacy, gave way under successive Bourbon kings to a more stringent absolutism of French regalist inspiration. According to this new doctrine of the divine right of kings, the monarch was invested with the authority to rule by God Himself; his power, therefore, was not limited in principle by religious and ethical sanctions upheld by the Church, and much less so by the more ancient, medieval sense of contract with or obligation to his subjects which was still latent in Spain and which had always been much closer to the surface among the conquistadors and their successors in the Indies.

The new regalism permitted the monarch to do what the Habsburgs had been restrained from doing by the force of religious counsel: it allowed the Crown to frame policies on pragmatic grounds of national self-interest. Impracticable chimeras upon which Catholic Spain had spent so much blood and treasure – the defence of orthodoxy against Dutch rebels and English schismatics, the crusade against the Turk, the protection of Indian rights in the New World – no longer needed to be pursued beyond reasonable limits, for the light of reason had to be allowed to filter through the blinds that kept Spain in her neo-medieval ‘darkness’. And yet, those blinds could not be removed altogether; the Catholic Church was too well entrenched in the state and society and, in any case, the Bourbons realized the value of the Church as both a pillar of the social order and a unifying factor in a far-flung empire.

The ideology of the Bourbon reformers has been aptly called the Catholic Enlightenment, for it was a cautious attempt to adjust to the scientific and rationalist spirit of the eighteenth century without disturbing the fundamentals of the Catholic faith.

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Napoleonic War Surplus in Venezuela

From Bolivar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Kindle pp. 216-217, 220:

THE ORINOCO WAS BUSTLING with outsiders. Admiral Brion, who was living in one of the lavish mansions on the waterfront, was overseeing a veritable whirl of activity along the river. … War supplies, too, were suddenly becoming plentiful. In June, a British ship delivered clothing and supplies for ten thousand men; days later, Brion himself brought in a valuable cargo of arms. By the end of July, a large ship had sailed in from London, followed by a brig from New York, bearing enough muskets, pistols, gunpowder, swords, and saddles to outfit an entire army. Bolívar purchased any and all such supplies, paying for them however he could—with mules, fruit, tobacco, livestock. “Arms have been my constant concern,” Bolívar had written to Luis López Méndez, his agent in London, but now they were flowing to him in abundance. So much so that at times there was no need for the equipment. One shipment arrived with fine leather saddles for Páez’s cavalry—saddles his wild horsemen would never use. The remnants of Wellington’s war with Napoleon, nevertheless, were beginning to put Bolívar’s troops at striking advantage. Within a few months, he had stored away fifty thousand stands of arms.

Wellington’s victory had provided something else to the republic: regiments of seasoned war veterans. As irony would have it, British soldiers who had fought alongside General Morillo’s officers in Spain were now enlisting to fight against them in Venezuela. The two years that followed the Battle of Waterloo saw a vast reduction in the size of the British army. In April of 1817, the London Times reported that half a million ex-soldiers were coming home to Britain’s greater population of 25 million. In good times, this would have been difficult enough; but these were not good times—England and Ireland had suffered famine, riots, rampant unemployment—and soldiers were returning to almost certain poverty. When Bolívar’s London agent López Méndez announced he wanted to recruit experienced soldiers to fight in the revolution, he found himself flooded with applicants.

Bolívar … allowed any of the foreigners appalled by the conditions of his post to leave without reprisals or recriminations. The ones who remained would prove to be an invaluable infusion of grit and dedication. Within a month, he would be sending for more. Within five years, fifty-three ships would bring more than six thousand volunteers from Britain and Ireland to serve in South America; 5,300 actually arrived. The ones who made it up the Orinoco to the plains quickly learned that making war in that faraway terrain was no easy way to earn money. Their contributions made a great difference to the revolution in that precise moment in history. Bolívar was convinced of it. He was known to say that the real Liberator of Spanish America was his recruiting agent in London, Luis López Méndez.

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Civil War Butchery in Venezuela, 1813

From Bolivar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Kindle pp. 151-154:

A British traveler in the service of Spain now noted a marked change in Caracas. Spaniards were being dragged to the dungeons, made to surrender their wealth to patriot coffers. The unwilling were taken to the marketplace and shot. Not outright, but limb by limb, so that onlookers could watch them wriggle as musicians struck up lively airs. These spectacles caused such merriment that the multitude, provoked to an obscene frenzy, would finally cry, “Kill him!” and the executioner would end the victim’s suffering with a final bullet to the brain. A Spaniard in agony had become a source of amusement, a ready carousel of laughs.

Outside Caracas patriots hardly fared better. The “Legions of Hell”—hordes of wild and truculent plainsmen—rode out of the barren llanos to punish anyone who dared call himself a rebel. Leading these colored troops was the fearsome José Tomás Boves. A Spanish sailor from Asturias, Boves had been arrested at sea for smuggling, sent to the dungeons of Puerto Cabello, then exiled to the Venezuelan prairie, where he fell in with marauding cowboys. He was fair-haired, strong-shouldered, with an enormous head, piercing blue eyes, and a pronounced sadistic streak. Loved by his feral cohort with a passion verging on worship, he led them to unimaginable violence. As Bolívar’s aide Daniel O’Leary later wrote, “Of all the monsters produced by the revolution . . . Boves was the worst.” He was a barbarian of epic proportions, an Attila for the Americas. Recruited by Monteverde but beholden to no one, Boves raised a formidable army of black, pardo, and mestizo llaneros by promising them open plunder, rich booty, and a chance to exterminate the Creole class.

The llaneros were accomplished horsemen, well trained in the art of warfare. They needed few worldly goods, rode bareback, covered their nakedness with loincloths. They consumed only meat, which they strapped to their horses’ flanks and cured by the sweat of the racing animals. They made tents from hides, slept on earth, reveled in hardship. They lived on the open prairie, which was parched by heat, impassable in the rains. Their weapon of choice was a long lance of alvarico palm, hardened to a sharp point in the campfire. They were accustomed to making rapid raids, swimming on horseback through rampant floods, the sum of their earthly possessions in leather pouches balanced on their heads or clenched between their teeth. They could ride at a gallop, like the armies of Genghis Khan, dangling from the side of a horse, so that their bodies were rendered invisible, untouchable, their killing lances straight and sure against a baffled enemy. In war, they had little to lose or gain, no allegiance to politics. They were rustlers and hated the ruling class, which to them meant the Creoles; they fought for the abolition of laws against their kind, which the Spaniards had promised; and they believed in the principles of harsh justice, in which a calculus of bloodshed prevailed.

EVEN AS DECEMBER CAME AND went—even as Spain crept out from under Napoleon and Ferdinand resumed his teetering throne—the butchery in Venezuela continued. It is altogether possible that the Spanish nation, emerging from its long night of terror, had little idea of the carnage that consumed its colonies. For Bolívar, a war to the death was a retaliatory measure; he had believed it would unite Americans against foreigners. The result was quite the opposite: Americans turned against Americans—Venezuelans took up weapons against their neighbors—and the revolution became a racial conflict, a full-fledged civil war.

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Simon Bolivar Meets the Pope

From Bolivar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Kindle p. 65:

In the elegant bustle of the Humboldt villa in Rome, however, the diplomat Wilhelm von Humboldt introduced Bolívar to Antonio Vargas Laguna, Spain’s ambassador to the Holy See. Vargas would later be imprisoned for his harsh and principled views of Napoleon, but in those early and heady days of 1805, when tolerance was the rule and France was perceived to be a progressive force in the world, the candid ambassador was a highly respected presence. In a fit of generosity, he offered to take Bolívar to the Vatican to meet Pope Pius VII.

Perhaps Vargas thought he had prepared his young guest adequately when he told him that a visitor to the pope should be ready to kiss his sandal and pay deference to papal symbols. But the ambassador was rudely surprised by the scene that unfolded under his supervision. When they were ushered into the papal offices and Bolívar was expected to step forward, kneel, and kiss the cross on the pontiff’s sandal, he refused to do it. Vargas was taken aback, visibly flustered. The pope, seeing the diplomat’s embarrassment, tried to make light of it. “Let the young Indian do as he pleases,” he murmured. He extended a hand and Bolívar took it and kissed his ring. The pope then asked him a question about the Indies and Bolívar answered it to his satisfaction, after which the audience was over and the pope moved on to someone else. As they were leaving the Vatican, Vargas scolded the young man for not following the proper etiquette, to which Bolívar had the sharp retort, “The Pope must have little respect for the highest symbol of Christianity if he wears it on his sandals, whereas the proudest kings of Christendom affix it to their crowns.”

It is hard to know what was more irksome to Bolívar at that moment: being expected to kiss a shoe or being rebuked by a Spaniard. He had been away from Spain’s sphere of influence for almost a year now and the distance had been clarifying. He had—as Alexander von Humboldt would come to realize many years later—a deep-seated hatred for Spain. It had started as a natural Mantuano [white Creole elite] response and had grown in the few months he had spent in Venezuela as a married landowner, struggling to manage his properties. It had grown again in France, where he had seen the exuberance of a nation rid of its Bourbon king.

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Fall of Saigon, 1941

From Storm Clouds over the Pacific, 1931–1941, by Peter Harmsen (War in the Far East, Book 1;  Casemate, 2018), Kindle pp. 244-246:

The city of Saigon was peeking into an uncertain future at the end of July 1941. The population knew that the Japanese military would arrive within just days, completing the takeover of French Indochina that had begun less than a year earlier in the north. As the Municipal Band was practicing for the welcoming ceremony in the city’s main square, Japanese advance parties quietly moved into the best hotels, preparing for the arrival of much larger numbers of soldiers. The French officials had promised a peaceful occupation and pointed out that Saigon was lucky to escape the fate of Syria, another French possession, which had just recently been invaded by British and Australian troops.

Despite the reassuring words from the officials, apprehension loomed everywhere. French and Japanese planes roared across the sky over Saigon, as if to symbolize rivalry between the two nations for mastery over the city. The government-controlled newspapers ominously warned people not to stage any protests against the city’s soon-to-be masters, confirming that anti-Japanese feelings were running high, especially among ethnic Chinese and sympathizers of the Free French under General Charles de Gaulle. There were even runs on the British Hong Kong-Shanghai Bank, the Chartered Bank of India, and several Chinese banks, and they had all been forced to introduce temporary limits on the amount of money that could be withdrawn at a time.

The Japanese came on July 30. At 6:30 am a Japanese transport painted in dark gray touched the pier of Saigon harbor. The deck was loaded with barges and motorboats, and the masses of infantrymen in khaki ascended from the hull to get a first glimpse of the tropical city through the morning mist. Fifteen minutes later, the next transport arrived, and by the end of the day a total of 14 vessels had carried 13,000 Japanese troops to Saigon. Thousands of others were onboard 30 vessels anchoring at Cap St. Jacques at the mouth of the Saigon River. Soldiers also poured out onto the pier at the naval base at Cam Ranh Bay.

Over the next few days the soldiers worked around the clock to unload weapons and supplies onto the docks. Trucks were leaving incessantly for new barracks being set up on the outskirts of Saigon. Japanese officers with long traditional swords tied to their belts moved into private homes that had been requisitioned and ordered vacated, relegating the original inhabitants to passenger ships anchored in the river. Several office buildings belonging to French and British firms were also taken over for military purposes. “The Japanese have landed, and the British threat to Indochina is ended,” a local paper wrote, suggesting that Britain might have repeated its invasion of Syria here, although this was sheer fabrication.

Rather than a defensive move forestalling a British invasion, it was an offensive step with deep strategic implications. As the New York Times explained, “it will put a total of 40,000 Japanese troops in Southern Indo-China, will station Japanese planes within easy bombing range of British Malaya and Burma, within an hour’s flight of Bangkok, Thailand, and will enable Japanese air patrols to cover the ship routes of the China Sea and complete Japanese air domination of all Indo-China. The five-year-old base of Cam Ranh Bay itself is virtually equidistant from the powerful American base of Cavite, guarding the approach of Manila Bay, and from the British bases of Hong Kong and Singapore. It is about 600 miles from the coast of the Netherlands Indies.”

In the French city of Vichy, half a world away, reports of the Japanese influx reached the weak German-tolerated government led by Marshal Philippe Pétain. The Vichy regime had acquiesced in the Japanese takeover, but only because it saw no other option. Resistance similar to that offered in Syria, where French troops had fought vigorously against the British and Australians, was out of the question. The clashes with Thai troops in recent months had demonstrated the desperate weakness of France in Asia. Still, the Vichy officials were furious and frustrated, and prone to blaming the United States for the unbridled Japanese advance in Asia.

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Thailand Attacks Indochina, 1941

From Storm Clouds over the Pacific, 1931–1941, by Peter Harmsen (War in the Far East, Book 1;  Casemate, 2018), Kindle pp. 217-219:

In early January, forces of the Kingdom of Thailand crossed the border into French Indochina in four different sectors from northern Laos to Cambodia. The attackers made swift progress in most places. Pockets of resistance were wiped out by over-whelming firepower. At the southern edge of the Thai advance, scattered fighting took place along the Route Coloniale 1, the main road connecting Bangkok to Phnom Penh and the other major cities of French Indochina. The French defenses, made up to a large extent of Indochinese recruits, considered the terrain near the road unsuitable for defense and pulled back, allowing the Thai forces to occupy large tracts of land virtually unopposed.

The Thai offensive came as no major surprise to the French. Thailand, one of few Asian nations to escape Western colonialism, had been tempted by the speedy defeat of France in the summer of 1940 to request the return of territory in Laos and Cambodia that had been ceded to the French colonial power in the preceding decades. Part of the Thai motivation was also a desire to act fast and seek a strengthened position in this particular part of Asia before Japan moved in and made it impossible. Following the political fashion of the 1940s, Thailand carried out the drive for more land in the name of bringing “all Thai people” under one government, even though not all the areas claimed by Bangkok were inhabited by people that could justifiably be described as Thai.

In addition, there were domestic reasons for Thailand’s sudden aggressive demeanor. Militarism was growing in the country, and the civilian leadership was increasingly dominated, or rather threatened, by the Army’s jingoistic top brass. Early in the crisis with France, while the United States was seeking to mediate, Washington’s ambassador to Bangkok was visiting Thai Prime Minister Pibul Songgram at his private residence. The American envoy noticed that Army officers were sitting in an adjoining room, listening in on the conversation through an open door. “They might kill me if I do not follow their desires,” the Thai prime minister told his American visitor.

The mediation made little difference, and by late 1940 tensions between France and Thailand had built up. In December, all Thai nationals had left French Indochina, and in the end the diplomatic staff at the Thai consulate in Saigon had been ordered to pack up and sail for Bangkok. In the same month, Thai airplanes dropped bombs over the French colonial city of Vientiane. French pilots who were scrambled to intercept the bombers were surprised to be faced with aircraft that were “extremely well flown.” It seemed, they said, that the Thai pilots had “plenty of war experience.”

Once the land invasion in early January 1941 was a reality, the French military commanders in Indochina set in motion contingency plans prepared a few months earlier. It called for the concentration of the few forces available in a two-pronged counterattack in the forested area around Route Coloniale 1 on January 16.

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Origins of the Japanese-British Alliance, 1902

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle pp. 573-574:

The proposal to create an alliance between England and Japan had its origins in Russian policy in the Far East. As noted earlier, after the conclusion of the Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese had been forced by three European powers to return the Liaotung Peninsula to China. However, Russia not long afterward leased this territory, signed a secret treaty with China, and began constructing a railway. The Russians now administered Port Arthur and Dairen and were steadily expanding their hold over northwestern China. Russian towns had been founded along the railway line. Other countries with interests in East Asia were concerned about Russia’s moves in Korea, and many believed that a clash between Russia and Japan was inevitable. However, the Japanese were by no means adequately prepared for such a conflict, and it was obvious that it would be extremely difficult for the country, unaided, to dislodge the Russians.

Japan had two possible courses of action. One (favored by Itō Hirobumi) was to reach an understanding with Russia whereby Manchuria would be yielded to the Russians. In return, Japanese predominance in Korea would be recognized. The other (favored by most other Japanese officials) was for Japan to act in concert with major European powers in order to contain Russia. It was unlikely that France would join an anti-Russian coalition, as France and Russia had recently concluded an alliance. Japan’s most likely partners were Germany and England, both of which were convinced that the Russians were infringing on their rights in East Asia. In April 1901, in conversation with Lansdowne, Hayashi had voiced the opinion that in order for there to be permanent peace in East Asia, a firm relationship between Japan and England was essential. Lansdowne agreed, but this was only the private opinion of the two men.

Even before this time, men in Japan and England had advocated such an alliance. In 1895 Fukuzawa Yukichi had written an editorial proposing an alliance; and in England Joseph Chamberlain, the minister for the colonies, had informally discussed the subject with the Japanese minister. In 1898 the Japanese government, about to end the occupation of Weihaiwei, consented to the British proposal to lease the city from the Chinese, adding that it hoped that the British would in return be sympathetic and offer help if Japan needed to take action to ensure its security or promote its interests. A pro-Japanese mood swept England in 1900 after the Japanese army rescued British subjects in Peking besieged by the Boxers. Hayashi Tadasu, who became minister to Great Britain that year, concluded that England was the only country with which Japan could form an alliance against Russia.

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Japan’s Treaty with Korea, 1876

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle pp. 256-257:

The first meeting between representatives of the two countries lasted for four days. The negotiations were conducted with ritual politeness on both sides but consisted mainly of repetitions of familiar arguments. The Japanese wanted to know why their attempts to secure a treaty of peace and friendship had been consistently rebuffed; the Koreans in return wanted to know why the Japanese had used titles for their emperor that put him on an equal footing with the emperor of China, thereby placing Korea in a subordinate position. After denying any intent of asserting suzerainty over Korea, the Japanese asked why their ship had been fired on at Kanghwa. The Koreans answered that because the Japanese marines were dressed in European-style uniforms, they were mistaken for either French or Americans. They failed to apologize, saying merely that the provincial officials had not recognized that the ships were Japanese. The Japanese delegates then demanded why the Korean government had not informed its provincial officials of the flags flown by Japanese ships and insisted that this required an apology. The Korean commandant replied that he was charged only with receiving the Japanese visitors; he was not authorized to make an apology.

The negotiations dragged on, interrupted by periods of consultation between the Korean commissioners and their government in Seoul, but on February 27, 1876, a treaty of friendship was at last signed between Japan and Korea. After the signing ceremony, the Japanese offered presents to the Koreans, not only the traditional bolts of silk, but a cannon, a six-shooter, a pocket watch, a barometer, and a compass. The gifts (with the exception of the silk) were strikingly like those the Americans had given the Japanese when the first treaty between the two nations was signed, and the treaty itself had almost identical significance: Japan was “opening” Korea, the hermit nation, to diplomatic relations and to trade. One Western scholar later commented,

As the Western Powers had done with herself, so did she now, without one particle of compunction, induce Korea to sign away her sovereign rights of executive and tariff autonomy, and to confer on Japanese residents within her borders all the extraterritorial privileges which were held to violate equity and justice when exercised by Europeans in Japan.

When word of the signing of the treaty reached the diplomatic community in Tōkyō, the ministers of the various countries asked for an audience with the emperor so that they might express their congratulations. The emperor invited them to a banquet at the Shiba Detached Palace, where each minister had the opportunity to convey joy over the signing of the treaty and hopes for greater and greater friendship between Japan and Korea.

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Hidden Christians Unhidden, 1868

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle pp. 109-110:

Now that the long-debated issue of the port of Hyōgo [Kobe] had at last been settled, on July 7 the shogunate further decided to permit foreigners to conduct business in Edo and Ōsaka. With this, full compliance with the provisions of the treaties signed with the foreign nations had been achieved. This did not signify that all the shogunate’s problems had been solved: major and minor problems constantly arose, and increasingly the young emperor was obliged to take part in decisions.

One minor problem arose as a direct consequence of the foreign settlements. On July 14 the Nagasaki magistrate arrested and imprisoned sixty-eight Christians. Christianity had been prohibited in Japan for about 250 years, but “hidden Christians” in the region of Nagasaki had preserved the religion without guidance from ordained priests or even from Christian books. Over the years the beliefs of these Christians had steadily drifted from orthodox teachings, and by now the hymns they sang, originally in Latin, had become gibberish, memorized by believers who had no idea of the meanings. Most of the Christians were poor fishermen and peasants. If suppressing such a cult had been a purely religious matter—if, say, it involved a heterodox Buddhist sect—it could have been achieved without difficulty, but the suppression of a Christian sect immediately involved the foreign powers, which were highly sensitive to attacks on their religion.

As far back as 1857, as the result of negotiations between Townsend Harris and the senior councillor Hotta Masayoshi, it had been agreed that foreigners should be able to practice their religions without hindrance, and the Americans obtained permission to erect a Protestant church in the foreign settlement. At the same time French priests were active in promulgating Catholicism, especially in the area of Nagasaki. The hidden Christians, overjoyed by the arrival of coreligionists, openly visited the church erected by the French and appealed to the French minister for support. Some, rejoicing that their hour had at last come, flaunted their new importance, leading to conflicts even within families. Buddhists, angered by the government’s slowness in punishing the Christians, even though the religion was still prohibited, threatened to take matters into their own hands and kill the Christians. The latter responded by arming themselves with bamboo spears. After the arrests on July 14 the French and Portuguese consuls in Nagasaki demanded the release of the Christians and, when this was refused, reported the matter to their legations, urging them to negotiate with the shogunate for release of the prisoners.

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