Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Yeh Ming-ch'ên

3678130Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period, Volume 2 — Yeh Ming-ch'ênTu Lien-chê

YEH Ming-ch'ên 葉名琛 (T. 崑臣), Dec. 21, 1807–1859, Apr. 9, official, was a native of Hanyang, Hupeh. His grandfather, Yeh Chi-wên 葉繼雯 (T. 桐封, H. 雲素, d. 1824), was a chin-shih of 1790; his father, Yeh Chih-shên 葉志詵 (T. 仲寅, H. 東卿, 遂翁, 1779–1863), was a collector and connoisseur of antiquities in stone and bronze; and his younger brother, Yeh Ming-fêng 葉名灃 (T. 潤臣, H. 翰源, 1811–1859), a chü-jên of 1837, was a bibliophile. Yeh Ming-ch'ên himself became a chü-jên in 1831, a chin-shih in 1835, and a member of the Hanlin Academy. He was appointed prefect of Hanchung, Shensi, in 1838, and in the same year was transferred to Hsing-an in the same province. From 1839 to 1841 he officiated as an intendant in Shansi and in Kiangsi. Raised to judicial commissioner of Yunnan in 1841, he became in the following year financial commissioner of Hunan and was transferred to a similar post in Kansu in 1843. Early in the following year his mother died. When the customary period of mourning was ended (1846) he became, for a short time, acting governor of the Metropolitan area. In 1847 he went to Kwangtung as financial commissioner and in 1848 was raised to the post of governor of that province.

At this period the Taiping Rebellion (see under Hung Hsiu-ch'üan) was taking form in Kwangsi and spreading to neighboring provinces. In Kwangtung, bandits under various names and sects sprang up everywhere, and with these Yeh Ming-ch'ên had to deal. Along the coast, too, pirates became every active. As governor, and later as governor-general, he was on the whole successful in putting down these uprisings, though the measures he used were harsh in the extreme and the loss of life was truly appalling. As if these internal troubles were not enough, he had continually to face outside pressure in the form of complications with foreign merchants and governments. There were questions about the admission of foreigners to the walled city of Canton, and more serious still the case of the lorcha "Arrow" which led to the bombardment of Canton and finally to the Anglo-French entry to Peking in 1860. In 1848-49 the informal agreement for a two years' extension of the admission of foreigners to the city of Canton expired (see under Ch'i-ying) and the question was raised again by Samuel George Bonham 文翰 (1803–1863), governor of Hongkong. Negotiations were carried on under the leadership of Hsü Kuang-chin [q. v.], governor-general of Kwangtung and Kwangsi, in co-operation with Yeh Ming-ch'ên. But for commercial reasons and owing to an insufficient force in Hongkong, the English did not press the matter, and hence feeling about it abated. This outcome was regarded as satisfactory to the Chinese government, and for their services both Hsü Kuang-chin and Yeh Ming-ch'ên were rewarded—the former being made an hereditary viscount (子), the latter an hereditary baron (男). For his efforts to suppress bandits and uprisings Yeh was granted in 1851 the rank of Junior Guardian of the Heir Apparent. In September 1852 he was made acting governor-general of Liang-Kuang (Kwangtung and Kwangsi) and Imperial Commissioner in charge of foreign affairs, the appointment to the latter post being confirmed early in 1853. In 1855 he was made an assistant Grand Secretary and early in 1856 a Grand Secretary—still holding his post in Kwangtung.

At this time several nations of the West—England, France and the United States—were directing their energies to a revision of the treaties. They appealed to Yeh Ming-ch'ên about the matter in 1854, and he replied that his government saw no necessity for revision. In his handling of foreign affairs he assumed a haughty and intransigent attitude and usually avoided direct contacts. The governor of Hongkong, Sir John Bowring 包令 (1792–1872), and the American commissioner, Robert M. McLane 麥蓮 (1815–1898), went to Shanghai and then to Tientsin to push recognition of their claims. Making no headway in the north, they returned south and reported to their governments on the necessity of force. In 1856 the English, the Americans, and the French again appealed to Yeh for a revision of the treaties, and again they were rebuffed. On October 8, 1856 there occurred the affair of the lorcha "Arrow." The "Arrow" was a boat owned by a Chinese and captained by a British subject, with a Chinese crew. Being registered at Hongkong, she flew the British flag. While at Canton on the above date she was boarded by Chineae officers, and most of the crew were arrested on suspicion of an earlier act of piracy. As a mattew of fact, her registry had expired eleven days previously, but this was not then known to the Chinese officials. The British consul, Harry S. Parkes, 巴夏禮 (1828–1885), protested to Yeh on the ground that the crew was entitled to British protection and that the ship's flag had been hauled down. The affair dragged on—with charges and countercharges—from bad to worse. On October 27 British warships opened fire on Canton, directing their aim particularly at the residence of the governor-general. But since a policy of force did not, at this time, have the sanction of Parliament the British temporarily withdrew. On December 5 a British sailor was killed and the village implicated was burned by British troops as a warning to others. Angry Chinese mobs soon (December 14) set fire to the foreign Factories. In July 1857 Lord Elgin 額爾金 (James Bruce, 1811–1863) reached Hongkong. He and the French Baron Gros (Jean Baptiste Louis Gros 格羅, 1793–1870) were the two high commissioners authorized to submit final demands to Yeh. This they did on December 12 in simultaneous notes, demanding direct negotiation, occupation of some nearby territory, and payment of an indemnity. Two days later Yeh replied in a tone of defiance. On the 15th Honam island was occupied and on the 24th an ultimatum w as sent to Yeh, threatening bombardment of Canton. Yeh's reply being still evasive, the allied forces began on the 28th the bombardment of Canton. The city fell the following day and was policed by joint Chinese and Western authority. On January 5, 1858 Yeh was captured in one of the local yamens and taken on board H. M. S. "Inflexible." The boat steamed from Hongkong February 23, taking him to Fort William, in Calcutta, India. Later he was lodged in a villa, Tolly Gunge, outside Calcutta, where he remained until his death in the following year. His remains were returned to China and buried at Han-yang. In the meantime Canton was kept for three years under joint British, French, and Chinese administration, until the signing of the conventions of Peking, late in 1860 (see under I-hsin).

Yeh Ming-ch'ên was tall and bulky with little or no refinement of appearance or manner. Like many officials of his day, he was fortunate in passing the routine government examinations, and then was placed in positions of responsibility for which he was not fitted. Brutalized by the harsh treatment he had meted out to rebellious natives of Kwangtung, he came to believe that Westerners might be brought to terms, if not by force, at least by arrogance, obstruction, and interminable delay. He had little conception of the gravity of the international problems involved, and took little or no pains to learn. Possibly a realization of the fate of his two predecessors induced in him a policy of indecision. Lin Tsê-hsü [q. v.] had resorted to force and brought on a disastrous war. Ch'i-shan [q. v.] acquiesced, but his peace was obtained at great price. Both fell into disgrace and incurred the imperial punishment. Yeh Ming-ch'ên took a middle course, and therefore had no policy at all. At the same time Western merchants, through their representatives in China, made demands which appeared to the Chinese as motivated by greed and by territorial ambitious. They showed little consideration for the internal difficulties China was then facing. Moreover some of their leaders, such as Parkes, were unduly ruthless in the methods they employed.

It is reported that Yeh Ming-ch'ên and his father, who was with him in Canton, were believers in occult Taoism. After his capture, documents were discovered which showed that he made use of the fu-chi 扶乩, or planchette, and put confidence in oracular divination, even in important affairs. This misplaced confidence perhaps accounts in part for the very inadequate preparations he made for defence, and why he was so easily captured. After his capture the people of Kwangtung propounded a saying which may be translated as follows: "He would not fight, he would not make peace, and he would not take steps for defense. He would not die, he would not surrender, and he would not flee. In his pretense at being a minister and a governor there were none like him in antiquity and there are almost none like him today." (不戰不知不守, 不死不降不走, 相臣度量, 疆臣抱負, 古之所無, 今之罕有).

[1/400/2b; 2/40/44b; 5/4/22a; Han-yang hsien-chih (1884) jên-wu lüeh, shang 37b; Han-yang hsien-chih (1868); Hupeh t'ung-chih (1921) 138/29a; Ying-chi-li Kwangtung ju-ch'êng shih-mo (The Story of the British Entry into Canton) in Yang-shih ch'ien-ch'i-pai êr-shih-chiu ho chai ts'ung-shu (see under Chao Chih-ch'ien); Ch'ou pan I-wu shih-mo (see I-hsin), Hsien-fêng period; Cooke, George W., China in 1857–58, with portrait of Yeh; Leavenworth, Charles S., The Arrow War with China; Cordier, H., L'expédition de Chine de 1857–1858.]

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