The tragedy of Ye Mingchen and the tangled situation of Late Qing

In 1856, the Arrow Incidence became the fuse of the Second Opium War. The governor of Guangdong Ye Mingchen was long given the blame for precipitating the War for his mistake in handling this diplomatic affair. His contemporary Xu Fucheng described him as “six nots” for his behavior after the Arrow Incidence: “he would not fight, not make peace and not defend; he would not die, not capitulate and not run away.” It sounded like a joke of history, but beyond this joke is a tragedy fate of a man and a country.

Ye Mingchen was a high-ranking Chinese official during the Qing Dynasty. He came from a scholarly family in Hubei province and was awarded the highest degree in the imperial exams in 1835 in his thirties. He had held position as a compiler in the imperial elite school, prefect of Xing’an in Shaanxi province, circuit intendant of Yanping in Shanxi provinces, salt inspector in Jiangxi, surveillance commissioner in Yunnan and financial commissioner first in Hunan, later in Gansu and finally Guangdong province. To conclude his so many positions, he rose rapidly through the ranks in the Qing civil service and reached an admirable status at a fairly young age.

Ye was appointed governor of Guangdong province in 1848, and was involved into the conflict with Britain at once. Later as a reward for his ostensible success in keeping the British out of Guangzhou, he was promoted to Viceroy of Liangguang as well as imperial commissioner in 1852, which made him the chief official in charge of relations with the West. In At that time, there was no modern diplomatic protocol in Qing. Ye was considered as the only official governor in charge of foreign affairs. In 1854, Britain and the US joint to acquire to amend the treaty for more right in China. These amendments include to open up more cities for business, to decrease the traffic and to set embassies in Peking. To Chinese people at that time, the cut in traffic was more tolerable than set embassies in the capital. It is completely unimaginable to have those rude foreigners and uncivilized wandering in the Imperials capital!

There were two different opinions among the government officials. One of them advocated declaring war against these Western countries, such as the famous Lin Zexu, and the other advocated peace. Though it was obvious that the Imperial China could no way won any war against these foreigners from the defeat of the First Opium War, while science and technology of China was still in the Middle Ages. Many of these governors still regard the Western countries as the surrounding nomadic people that China has faced for the past thousands of years. Ye belonged to the first group, but he realized that wars could only bring defeat and more treaties for China, his strategy was to not face with the British ambassadors. When the ambassadors come to see him, he used excuses to send them away or to the capital to see the emperor. The governors in the capital would tell these ambassadors Ye was the person in charge of diplomat. Imperial China was so lack of formal diplomatic that no department could deal with the demand from these Western countries.

The conflict with the British Empire came to a head in 1856 when the Arrow Incident happened. Ye seized the Chinese-owned lorcha Arrow, which was illegally flying the British flag at the time. The British claimed the officers destroyed a British national flag while searching a smuggling ship.
Along with the death of Auguste Chapdelaine, these two incidents provided both British and French with an excuse to start the Second Opium War. Ye was not able to resist the British with military force. Indeed, he could not resist the British Army. “He would not fight, or make peace, or defense” because he didn’t have any army. All the elite troops of Qing was in Zhejiang Province repressing the Taiping Revelation. Even the troops could be gathered in Guangzhou, they would be defeated easily with guns and cannons. He could not rely on the Guangzhou people, nor would he want to surrender to loose the dignity of the emperor of the Qing Emperor. As a result, he even saved the trouble to defense Guangzhou. The British and French troop entered the city without any difficulty.

He could not run away because his duty of being the governor of Guangzhou. The British forces captured Ye and brought him as a prisoner of war to Calcutta in British India. Temporary people said he should commit suicide before being captured, which he did finally, but he had his intend. “He would not die” He acquired to see the king of Britain several times during his captaincy to express the righteous and will of peace of Chinese people, but nobody gave him a chance to do so.

After Ye was captured. Xianfeng Emperor did nothing to his rescue but promulgated an edict denouncing Ye’s dereliction of duty, and removed all his positions. Before his hostility, he took food with him and announced he would never eat any foreign food. One year later died in Calcutta in British India where he died over fasting. He called himself Su Wu on the sea.
Su Wu was an eminent diplomat in Han Dynasty. Su was held hostility while he was in his mission into foreign territory for 19 years. He endured many hardships before he finally returned to Han though his mother passed away and his wife remarried, and he was little rewarded. Chinese people remember his story for two thousand years and regarded as the epitome of faithful service. However, Ye’s coffin was brought back to Guangzhou in 1859, nobody knew where he was buried.


Extracts of Liang Shuming’s book: A comparison of Eastern and Western cultures

There were many books during the Republican China on the comparison between Chinese and Western culture. I will introduce some of these books in my later post. I hope to share my translation of Eastern and Western Cultures and their Philosophies by Liang, Shuming.
Liang, Shuming (1893-1988) was a philosopher, teacher, and leader in the Rural Reconstruction Movement in the late Qing Dynasty and early Republican eras of Chinese history. He was a master in research of traditional Chinese culture and Buddhism. He was once described as the ‘The last Confusian’ by Guy S. Alitto. There are many good stories about him to prove the lost spirit lays in him. But let’s come to our topic.
Liang was recruited to the philosophy department by Cai Yuanpeu in 1917. The book was first published in 1921 based on Liang’s lecture in 1919.

The following extracts is some of the paragraphs I find intriguing.

What is culture? It is the life-style of a people. What is life? It is the expression of inexhaustible will, something quite close to the will in Schopenhauer—always being satisfied and yet not fully satisfied. (Lin Anwu, Liang Shuming and His Theory of the Reappearance of Three Cultures. “Contemporary Chinese Thought Vol 40 No. 3”, 2009)

If we cannot recognize the characteristic of a certain culture, then it should not be considered as a culture. You cannot discover the characteristic of your own culture, but it can be easily tell by other people. When Asian people view Western life-style, we notice the difference is obvious. At first, we saw gun, cannon, ironclad, telescope, steamboat, train, telephone, lamps, and later we discovered radios, planes, daily living facilities. All these staff seemed so different than our mule cart, oil lamp, candle and everything from the old days. We were dazzled and puzzled. When we calmed down and thought about, we found out that all these Western inventions share a similar characteristic – their effectively conquest of nature.

Our manufacturing process depends everything on the talent of a craftsman’s passing his experience and technique. While Western culture depends everything on science- it is a method of combining separate experiences and insufficient knowledge into a wisdom, this is developed completely separate with craft and can deal with all daily task.

To take medicine as an example, China has medicine, which indeed is a kind of craft. When a Western medicine prescripts, there must be certain medicine to certain illness. You cannot find big difference in prescriptions from different doctors. Master of Chinese doctor devote all his talents into prescriptions. Ten doctors can have ten different prescriptions and these prescriptions can differ largely. Because there is no specific standard for which medicine can cure which disease. What is the illness? Where is its lesion? They don’t need to be found out; only the subjective observation of the symptoms is enough. What is the compound of a certain medicine? How will it function? There is no clear answer to these questions. All medicine are divided by ’hot’ and ‘cold’. But whether it is ‘hot’ or ‘cold’, the opinions differ. The ten different prescriptions are just a result of that.
The demand for an objective and well-recognized knowledge is the spirit of science. Completely despise the objective regulations while advocate talents of single people, it is the spirit of art. It can be roughly concluded that in the West, even art is scientific, meanwhile, in the East, science is artistic. They are two extremes of two different roads.
Science requires principles, truth should be generally acknowledged, so every one can learn and benefit from the previous discoveries. The key point of it is new inventions. It is progressed step by step, and surely future is always more advanced than the past. Art concentrate on genius, it is the gift of individual. The nowadays people always cannot catch up with talents of the previous masters, the key point is the ancestral secret, and naturally people regard ancient a better time than now.
Art is passed by teachers to their students under special bonds, as a result, many sects are created, and there is no acknowledged standard in academic. The first step may not be stable every time, and it is hard to progress through. Moreover, this passed knowledge always faces the danger of distinct. This explains why it is often true for the past to be more eminent than present.

Then we try to view the knowledge itself to see the difference. The same illness, Chinese medicine calls it stroke; Western medicine calls it cerebral hemorrhage. Chinese medicine says one illness is typhoid; Western medicine judges it as intestinal inflammation. Why is it so different? Because the method of looking at the illness is different. The Western medicine dissected the body and visceral to reach its conclusion, its judgments come from experiment. The stroke and typhoid in Chinese medicine, on the other hand, is the body’s normal function is interrupted by cold and disturbed wind as its literal meaning. Is there any proof to say is it a result of the interruption of wind and cold? Yes, for the symptoms look like so. This method can probably be described by ‘guessing’, or in a kinder way ‘subjective’. To experiment is the method of science. The method of subjectively hypothesis, we can call it the method of metaphysics.
Metaphysics does not change the behaviors of objects, roughly observing it as a whole and treat the object as itself. While science always changes the behavior of the subject, try to analyze it in a different view, and observe it as different things. Take the patient as an example, Chinese medicine view him as a whole person, but Western medicine don’t think anything can be discovered by overall viewing him, but viewing him as a aggregate of blood, flesh, bone and organ. So Chinese medicine does not require to find the lesion. Western medicine requires so because they regard the illness as an illness of an organ of the patient.

I like the examples with Chinese and Western medicine, they illustrate the difference concisely. I would translate more in later post.

How to meditate (Zeng Guofan’s twelve objectives for self-cultivation)

1. Background
Zeng Guofan(曾国藩1811-1872) brought out his twelve objectives of daily practice in his thirties. These include to be respectful, to meditate, to get up early, to read history etc. Now, I would like to talk about the second rule of it: meditation.
Zeng is a great person changing the course of Chinese history anyway. According to a brief introduction in Wikipedia, he was an eminent Han Chinese official, military general, and devout Confucian scholar of the late Qing Dynasty in China. He was also a Confusion practitioner, whose thought he obeyed as his beliefs throughout his life. He carried out many conservative reforms of late Qing. I will talk about him in my later posts.
I learned most of the interpretations following from a independent scholar in Chinese culture called Li Qiang. He talked about the twelve objectives in a chart program about traditional Chinese culture.

2. Benefits
In the concept of Chinese medicine, People should move everyday. There are two kinds of motions, the external motion like when you do sports, and the internal motion happens all the time, like when you breathe, your heart beats etc. When you meditate, your body seems not moving in the outside world, but you are actually building a static dynamic with your body. When you are at peace, your Governor Vessel will be moving more smoothly.
For thousands of years, Chinese culture concentrates much on combing the mind and the internal motion of body, thus the Taoist has developed the concept of Qi and Chinese medicine believes that behaves of people are determined by their physical condition of illness. In the Chinese concept, human consist of two parts, your body, which is mostly protein, and your heart or mind. While you can do Zhangzhuang to balance your body, meditation can actually help you to make your heart and mind at peace.
We are probably the same human being as our ancestors millions of years ago, but what we have to face is a more complex world. Computers may speed down after years of usage, because at times they seems to be resting, there are still programs running backstage consuming their energy. This is same with your mind too! Meditation can close those programs in your mind and make up for the extra consumption of your life.

3. Audience
This is good practice for every one! From old man to small children can all benefit from it.

4. Condition and time
You don’t really need a quite place for it as long as you feel comfortable and will not be disturbed. You don’t need to cross your legs but keep your posture nature enough for you. Zeng did meditation for two hours in total per day, but it was not a continuous time for he had to handle a lot of staff everyday. Maybe fifteen to thirty minutes each time. I cannot catch up with it, but I do it about twenty minutes everyday before I sleep, and I feel really peaceful both in body and mind to fall asleep.

5. Instructions
There are three steps that you should follow to meditate according to Zeng.
First of all, you don’t need to cross your legs like the Indian meditation necessarily. Keep your body straight, your spine upright in a position that you are comfortable with. Have your eyes focus on something nearby. ‘Your eyes focus on your nose, your nose focus on your mouth, your mouth focus on your heart’. It is better to have the tip of your tongue touches your palate.
Second, now you can start to meditate. The simplest rule of it is to be concentrating. You can concentrate on some external thing at first which is easier to accomplish, like you can draw a dot on the wall. You can concentrate on a mental image, like my mom would focus her mind on a flame. It is also good that you can focus on your body, like your breath, which is the most obvious motion we can feel about our body everyday. After months of practice, you can try to feel more inner movement of your body, such as the Governor Vessel in Chinese medicine.
Third, feel your connection with nature and the whole world. This sounds magical, but scientifically, scientists have discovered that when people are in deep sleep or concentrating, their brain waves are known as Beta wave at this time (There is also Alpha wave at other times). And this beta wave is indeed near the frequency of Earth. I think this is probably a result of millions of years evolution of human beings instead of a coincidence.
Zeng described the above as “To find your position and understand your fate, like a tripod standing in universe (Zhou Yi explained a tripod as: the sages use the banquet to show their awe for god)”(正位凝命,如鼎之镇)and ”To feel the back and forth of your energy, and the wane and well of human’s heart ”. Everyone can be really depressed at times, or feel mad about anything, but after a night sleep, he would simply spirit up again to face the new day of challenges. Meditation can help you to charge, and make you feel your real desires and hidden expression without the influence of the outside world and materialistic heart. It can help you to fulfill yourself and find peaceful happiness in life.

After all, when I write posts, I translate thoughts from Chinese into English in my mind. This is surely more intellectual than the google translation but I would make those bad instruction mistakes,(I have been taught the joke by my English teacher that a restaurant tried to use google translation to translate the Chinese dishes into English and made a lot of awkward mistakes, also for the name of one dish, it said ’no translation’) there are so many expressions I don’t know how to use and many things I find hard to express in English… Ask me if anywhere confuses you. Thank you!

The Chinese international students to the U.S and the Boxer Indemnity

Do you know? The East Asian library of University of Pittsburgh has a collection ranking No.14 in North America, and the Chinese collections ranking 13. In 1941, the Education Minister of the Republic of China Chen Li-fu, commissioned by the National Library of Peking, donated to University of Pittsburgh 231 volumes of the Rare First Edition of Siku Quanshu, known as Imperial Collection of Four. During the 1930s, the Harvard-Yenching Institute editor Professor Hongye gifted 77 volumes ?? and concordances. The two donations laid the foundation for the Chinese Collection of the East Asian Library. Chen Li-fu, whose family was known as the Republic four families, served as Minister of Education in 1939, he studied mining science at University of Pittsburgh, and in 1924 received a master’s degree. On the second floor of Hillman Library, you can still find the Siku Quanshu on shelf.

Many Chinese people have studied abroad during the Late Qing and the Republic China period. Studying abroad at that time had as much popularity as it has today. Many international students had studied in the United States back to that time. Yung Wing, the first foreign student in China left Hong Kong for the United States in 1847. This marked the beginning of studying abroad history of China. Yung Wing grew up in a Christian primary school and then followed a priest to the United States. He graduated from Yale College in 1854 and went back to China. He persuaded the Qing Dynasty government to send young Chinese students to the United States to study Western science and engineering.

The school gate of Tsing Hua University

From l87l-l889 period, under the help of the the late Qing ministers Zeng Guofan and Li Hongzhang, and under Yung’s effort, the Qing government carried out the Chinese Educational Mission. Four batches of students were sent to the United States and Europe to study, with 30 people each batch and a total of 120. They were the first Chinese official sent students. They were sent abroad to help China develop in industry and technology. However, the average age of these students was only 12, which indeed had caused problem. Besides the high expectations on them, many of them were almost unaware of their task and their mother land, some were also not motivated enough on their study due to their young age. Though the Qing government had sent teachers to teaching them Chinese culture and history, when a conservative official went to the US to meet these students, he was irritated to see that these students seem to accept the Western culture so much and had given up their tradition. In 1881, the originally 15-year plan was forced to stop because of the opposition from conservative forces, while most of the students got back not completing their studies. Some of the students from the Chinese Educational Mission later played an eminent role in the history, including Tien You Jeme (Zhan Tianyou) who was the chief engineer of the Imperial Peking-Kaigan Railway and Shaoyi Tang, the first prime minister of the Repulic in 1912. At the same time, there was also a small number of students studying abroad at their own expense, among them was Sun Yat-sen, Honolulu, Hawaii, to high school.

The Imperial Examination System was abolished in 1905, thus the value standard was fundamentally changed. The Imperial Exam, started from the 7th century, was considered as the main way for students to increase their social status in the traditional society, thus redistribute social resources regularly. With China opening up to see the whole world, studying scientific and cultural knowledge outside the country was regarded a replacement of the change in social status.

The first batch of the Boxer Indemnity students

From 1890 to 1911, there was a boom in the number of Chinese studying abroad. The United States and other countries also unveiled a number of strategies to attract Chinese students. In May 1908, the U.S. Congress formally adopted the motion to return the remaining part of the Boxer Indemnity China, to dispatch students to respective colleges in the United States. Boxer Indemnity, with its official name Austria-Hungary, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Netherland, Russia Spain, United States and China-Final Protocol for the settlement of the Disturbances of 1900, was signed on September 7, 1901 with China and eleven countries for the Boxer group movement, as well as the destruction of the embassies in Peking. In 1900 eight countries sent allied troops to China Boxer Rebellion. In 1908, the United States eliminates claims equivalent to an amount of $ 11,961,121.76 for the construction of Tsinghua University as a preparing school for studying abroad. From 1912 to 1929, more than one thousand students studied in the United States every year. Once the Boxer Indemnity was the hardest exam in China. Celebrities who had got this scholar included Qian Zhongshu and Hu Shi, both are famous Chinese intellectual at that time. Hu Shi was student of John Dewey. He was a leader in the May Fourth Movement and a leader in the New Culture Movement. In fact, many of the leaders in these two movements had studied abroad to US and Europe. Even though at that time, there were a lot of bilingual translators in China spreading Western thoughts through newspaper and magazine, these intellectuals who had an experience of studying abroad played a key role in social and cultural reform.

The crash of different cultures can be motivating at times. After the China’s defeat of several wars in the late 20th century, Chinese people had held a complex view on the Western culture. Radical movements like the Boxer Movement happened throughout the country partly due to the misunderstanding of the Western culture. The experience of studying abroad of many intellectuals helped China to recognize the West a culture as great and old as Chinese culture, and led to sensible comparison between the Eastern and Western culture through the Early Republican China. These intellectuals shared high social status, thus they reform China in defferent ways through what they had learned from the West. The opposite of war and meaningless destroying is understanding, which is the essence of this story.

Introduction to this blog

I was trying to do an engineering blog before, which is my major indeed. But I have changed my mind to change the focus on something that interests me more. This is also something I can express in my own words instead of paraphrasing and referencing from academic materials

The Chinese modern history is especially the part of Chinese history I am interested in. It is a critical time in the history of China. Events happened during those years make China what it is like now, and will surely light the path for China’s future.
This period, known as the end of Qing and the republic of China, is the starting point of the globalization as well as the modernization of China, and never before had China been crashed with the Western World in the thousands of years of Chinese history.
Like any other great social changes happening all over the human history, the progress of reforms was slow and painstaking. It was full of exciting promises of revolution and blood. Creating is a kind of destroying. The traditional Chinese culture, usually referring to the culture formed during the cycle of imperial China, faded and some of it is lost completely today.

Many history books would take the following event as the prologue of China’s modern history:
The Macartney Embassy, also called the Macartney Mission, was a British embassy to China in 1793. The Mission ran from 1792 to 1794.It is The goal of the embassy was to convince Emperor Qianlong of China to ease restrictions on trade between Great Britain and China by allowing Great Britain to have a permanent embassy in Beijing, possession of “a small unfortified island near Chusan for the residence of British traders, storage of goods, and outfitting of ships,” and reduced tariffs on traders in Guangzhou.
The embassy was ultimately not successful in its primary objectives. The failure of the primary objectives was not due to Macartney’s refusal to kowtow in the presence of the Qianlong Emperor, as is sometimes believed. It was also not a result of the Chinese reliance on tradition in dictating foreign policy, but rather a result of competing world views which were uncomprehending and to some extent incompatible.
The Macartney Embassy is historically significant because it marked a missed opportunity by the Chinese to move toward some kind of accommodation with the West. This failure would continue to plague the Qing Dynasty as it encountered increasing foreign pressures and internal unrest during the 19th century.
(Paragraphs edited from Wikipedia:


In 1793, the French Revolution and the industrial revolution were still in progress, George Washington was the America President, and people in China is still living in the same country that they had for three thousands years, thinking they are a superior culture and the center of the world.
The Chinese history text book for all university students hasn’t included this, but it is indeed intriguing, and this is why I select this part of history as the topic of my blog for this is among all those history that the whole world should never forget.

In the latter posts, I would like to introduce and analysis people and events from this historical period, also talk something about culture of the Imperial China.
The following are two pictures taken during the Republican China period. The first one is a streetscape of Guangzhou and the other is the bund of Shanghai.


I am not a native English speaker, so I may use impropriate expressions and words in my posts. I really hope you can help me to point them out through comments or my email when I am making such mistakes. This will certainly do me great favor to help me with my English writing. I am thinking much slower in English, so please pardon me if I may have bad structures of passages.
It is my first time to open up a blog, so please don’t hesitate to criticize it, so that I can make progress. If you have any questions or interests about the topic, please also contact me.
Thank you in advance!