Peking in July 1906. A committee over which Prince Ching presided was appointed to study the commission’s report, and A parliamentary constitution promised. on the 1st of September following an edict was issued in which the establishment of a parliamentary form of government was announced, at a date not fixed. To fit the country for this new form of government (the edict went on to declare) the administration must be reformed, the laws revised, education promoted and the finances regulated. This edict, moreover, was but one of many edicts issued in 1906 and following years which showed how great a break with the past was contemplated. In November 1906 two edicts were issued with the object of reorganizing the central administrative offices. Their effect was to simplify the conduct of business, many useless posts being abolished, while an audit board was created to examine the national accounts. In November 1907 another edict was promulgated stating that for the present the formation of Houses of Lords and of Commons to determine all public questions was not practicable, but that it was proposed, as a preliminary measure, to create an Imperial Assembly. At the same time a scheme of provincial councils was ordered to be prepared. A more definite step followed in 1908 when a decree (dated the 27th of August) announced the convocation of a parliament in the ninth year from that date.
One of the changes made in the public offices brought China into conflict with Great Britain. On the 9th of May 1906 a decree appointed Chinese commissioners to control the Imperial Maritime Customs. This was the only The control of the Maritime Customs. department of the government under European (British) control, and the only department also against which no charge of inefficiency or corruption could be brought. The change decreed by China was in accord with the new national sentiment, but by all the foreign powers interested it was felt that it would be a retrograde step if the customs were taken out of the control of Sir Robert Hart (q.v.), who had been since 1863 inspector-general of the customs. The British secretary of state for foreign affairs (Sir Edward Grey) at once protested against the decree of the 6th of May, pointing out that the continuation of the established system had been stipulated for in the loan agreements of 1896 and 1898. As a result of this and other representations the Board of Control of the Customs was late in 1906 made a department of the Board of Finance. The Chinese controllers-general continued in office, and despite the assurances given to Great Britain by China (in a note of the 6th of June 1906) that the appointment of the controllers-general was not intended to interfere with the established system of administration, the absolute authority of Sir Robert Hart was weakened. Sir Robert Hart returned to England in 1908 “on leave of absence,” Sir Robert Bredon, the deputy inspector-general, being placed in charge of the service under the authority of the Board of Control, of which on the 5th of April 1910 it was announced that he had been appointed a member. This step was viewed with disfavour by the British government, for, unless Sir Robert Bredon’s post was to be merely a sinecure, it imposed two masters on the maritime customs. On the 20th of April Sir Robert Bredon severed his connexion with the Board of Control. At the same time Mr F.A. Aglen (the Commissioner of Customs at Hankow) became acting Inspector General (Sir Robert Hart being still nominally head of the service). The attempt on the part of the Chinese to control the customs was evidence of the strength of the “young China” or Recovery of Rights party—the party which aspired to break all the chains, such as extra-territoriality, which stamped the country as not the equal of the other great nations.
In the steps taken to suppress opium smoking evidence was forthcoming of the earnestness with which the governing body in China sought to better the condition of the people. Opium smoking followed, in China, the introduction of The anti-opium agitation. tobacco smoking, and is stated to have been introduced from Java and Formosa in the early part of the 17th century. The first edict against the habit was issued in 1729. At that time the only foreign opium introduced was by the Portuguese from Goa, who exported about 200 chests a year. In 1773 English merchants in India entered into the trade, which in 1781 was taken over by the East India Company—the import in 1790 being over 4000 chests. In 1796 the importation of foreign opium was declared contraband, and between 1839 and 1860 the central government attempted, without success, to suppress the trade. It was legalized in 1858 after the second “opium war” with Great Britain. At that time the poppy was extensively grown in China, and the bulk of the opium smoked was, and continued to be, of home manufacture. But after 1860 the importation of opium from India greatly increased. Opium was also imported from Persia (chiefly to Formosa, which in 1895 passed into the possession of Japan). The total foreign import in 1863 was some 70,000 piculs, in 1879 it was 102,000 piculs, but in 1905 had fallen to 56,000 piculs. The number of opium smokers in China in the early years of the 20th century was estimated at from 25 to 30 millions. The evil effects of opium smoking were fully recognized, and Chang Chih-tung, one of the most powerful of the opponents of the habit, was high in the councils of the dowager-empress. On the 20th of September 1906 an edict was issued directing that the growth, sale and consumption of opium should cease in China within ten years, and ordering the officials to take measures to execute the imperial will. The measures promulgated, in November following, made the following provisions:—
(1) The cultivation of the poppy to be restricted annually by one-tenth of its existing area; (2) all persons using opium to be registered; (3) all shops selling opium to be gradually closed, and all places where opium is smoked to discontinue the practice within six months; (4) anti-opium societies to be officially encouraged, and medicines distributed to cure the opium-smoking habit; (5) all officials were requested to set an example to the people, and all officials under sixty were required to abandon opium smoking within six months or to withdraw from the service of the state.
It was estimated that the suppression of opium smoking would entail a yearly loss of revenue of over £1,600,000, a loss about equally divided between the central and provincial governments. The first step taken to enforce the edict was the closing of the opium dens in Peking on the last day of 1906.
During 1907 the opium dens in Shanghai, Canton, Fu-chow and many other large cities were closed, and restrictions on the issue of licences were introduced in the foreign settlements; even the eunuchs of the palace were prohibited from smoking opium under severe penalties. The central government continued during 1908 and 1909 to display considerable energy in the suppression of the use of opium, but the provincial authorities were not all equally energetic. It was noted in 1908 that while in some provinces—even in Yun-nan, where its importance tc trade and commerce and its use as currency seemed to render it very difficult to do anything effective—the governor and officials were whole-hearted in carrying out the imperial regulations, in other provinces—notably in Kwei-chow and in the provinces of the lower Yangtsze valley—great supineness was exhibited in dealing with the subject. Lord William Cecil, however, stated that travelling in 1909 between Peking and Hankow, through country which in 1907 he had seen covered with the poppy, he could not then see a single poppy flower, and that going up the Yangtsze he found only one small patch of poppy cultivation. The Peking correspondent of The Times, in a journey to Turkestan in the early part of 1910, found that in Shen-si province the people’s desire to suppress the opium trade was in advance of the views of the government. Every day trains of opium carts were passed travelling under official protection. But in the adjoining province of Shan-si there had been complete
- In 1907 further commissions were appointed, on the initiative of Yuan Shih-kai, to study specifically the constitutions of Great Britain, Germany and Japan.
- This department was organized at Shanghai in 1854. The Taiping rebels being in possession of the native city, the collection of customs dues, especially on foreign ships, was placed in the hands of foreigners. This developed into a permanent institution, the European staff being mainly British.
- The British official view, as stated in parliament on the 27th of April 1910, was that the changes resulting from the creation of the Board of Control had, so far, been purely departmental changes of form, and that the position of the inspector-general remained unaltered.
- See The Times of the 21st of April and 11th of May 1910.
- A chest contained from 135 ℔ to 160 ℔.
- A picul = 133½ ℔.
- Changing China, p. 118.