Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Wu Chien-chang

3675191Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period, Volume 2 — Wu Chien-changJohn K. Fairbank

WU Chien-chang 吳健章 (T. 道普), merchant and official, was born in the village of Ts'ui-wei 翠微, subdivision of Kung-ch'ang 恭常, in the district of Hsiang-shan (Heungshan, present Chung-shan), Kwangtung. He has been rather inconclusively identified as the Cantonese Hong merchant, Wu T'ien-yüan 吳天垣, or Wu Shuang-kuan 吳爽官—the Samqua of the T'ung-shun Hong 同順行 which was founded in 1832. It is possible, however, that he was a brother or cousin of Wu Tien-yüan. In 1842 an elder brother of Wu T'ien-yüan, named Wu T'ien-hsien 吳天顯, was an expectant intendant of a circuit, by purchase. Wu T'ien-hsien was nominated by the authorities of Canton, with the approval of the Hong merchants, to accompany Wu Ch'ung-yüeh [q.v., Howqua], to Kiangsu to assist in the negotiations with the English—his acquaintance with the "barbarian" language being a qualification for this task. The mission was cancelled, however, because of the disapproval of Emperor Hsüan-tsung.

According to the history of Shanghai (1871), Wu Chien-chang, as a collegian of the Imperial Academy (a degree obtained by purchase), was made (1843) acting intendant of the Shanghai Circuit—officially known as the Su-Sung-T'ai (Soochow-Sungkiang-Taitsang) Circuit. In November 1843, when the port of Shanghai was opened to foreign trade, the post of intendant was occupied by Kung Mu-chiu 宮慕久 (T. 景虞, H. 竹圃, chü-jên of 1819, d. 1848); and Wu Chien-chang was not active in matters relating to the foreign community until 1848, when he assisted the authorities at Shanghai as expectant intendant of a circuit. In August 1851, as acting intendant of the Su-Sung-T'ai Circuit, and concurrently superintendent of customs at Shanghai, he took charge of foreign relations. By the foreign community he was called Samqua. At this time the British government had resolved to put upon the Chinese authorities the entire responsibility for the enforcement of the tariff, and the regulations established by treaty. This decision was made because the efforts of British consuls to enforce the treaty regulations appeared to penalize British nationals alone, to the advantage of their foreign competitors. For a number of reasons the treaty tariff was not strictly enforced by Wu Chien-chang, and considerable friction ensued between him and the British consul.

On September 7, 1853, members of the Triad Society 三合會, seized the walled city of Shanghai; the imperial custom house in the foreign settlement was demolished, and Wu Chien-chang was rescued from the city by American friends. On September 9 the British and American consuls began the collection of promissory notes in lieu of duties in cash, and this system continued, in spite of Wu's protests, until February 9, 1854 when his power to collect duties was again acknowledged. The difficulties of collection were so great, however, that at his suggestion arrangements were made to tax the foreign trade of Shanghai at stations in the interior. This obliged the foreign authorities to suggest a compromise arrangement which, with the approval of I-liang [q. v.]; governor-general of Kiangnan and Kiangsi, was agreed to by Wu and the consuls of Great Britain, the United States and France at Shanghai (June 29, 1854). On July 12 the custom house reopened under the charge of three foreign inspectors who were nominally appointed by Wu and were paid by him. They assessed, but did not themselves collect, the duties on foreign trade. The Imperial Maritime Customs Service was the outgrowth of this arrangement.

During the siege of Shanghai by the imperial forces in 1853-54 Wu Chien-chang was active in hiring a fleet of foreign vessels. On July 11, 1854 he was impeached on several counts, one being that he had entered into partnership with the American firm of Russell and Company which had sold supplies to the rebels at Shanghai. In April 1855 he was found guilty on this and other charges, and in December was sentenced to deportation. In March 1856, however, pleas were made on his behalf, partly on the ground of his extensive financial contributions to the imperial cause. In 1858 he was still active at Shanghai with the rank of expectant intendant of a circuit. His career illustrates many aspects of foreign relations in the Hsien-fêng period, particularly the influence of the Cantonese merchant class in the growth of the treaty ports.

[Hsiang-shan hsien-chih (1827) fu-lu 18a–b; Hsiang-shan hsien-chih (1879) 11/59b, 77b, 91b, 15/19b; Kuang-chou-fu chih (1879) 55/9a; Liang Chia-pin (see bibl. under Li Shih-yao), Kuang-tung shih-san-hang k'ao (1937) p. 350; Shanghai hsien-chih (1871) 12/23b–24a; I-wu shih-mo, Tao-kuang period 53/36b, 57/20b–21a, Hsien-fêng period, particularly 8/15b, 10/25a, 19/10a; 2/48/50a; North China Herald; Foreign Office Correspondence, China (P. R. O., London); J. K. F., Articles in Chin. Soc. and Poli. Sci. Rev., Oct. 1934, Jan. 1935, Jan. and Apr. 1936; 東平州志 Tung-p'ing chou chih (1879) 15/42a.]

John K. Fairbank