American in Chinese History: Anson Burlingame

On the eve of Chinese president’s visit to United States, I thought it’s fitting to discuss some American figures in Chinese History. The first important person is Anson Burlingame.

Mr. Anson Burlingame was appointed by Lincoln as minister to Austria-Hungary, but somehow he was not welcome there. So reluctantly he accecpted transfer to Peking (Beijing). He spent several months visiting various treaty ports to familiarize with the affairs before reaching Peking in 1862. There, he entered into his mission in full accord with the spirit of friendliness and forbearance which at that time actuated the American government toward China, and by his attractive personality and genial manners he soon established delightful relations with Prince Kung. When Mr. Burlingame resigned the Chinese made a great banquet for him. In the speeches at the banquet, Wen Siang, suggested that Mr. Burlingame become the representative of the Chinese government to the Western nations. 

Mr. Burlingame’s commission by the Chinese emperor was in the following terse form:

“The envoy, Anson Burlingame, manages affairs in a friendly and peaceful manner, and is fully acquainted with the general relations between this and other countries. Let him, therefore, now be sent to all the treaty powers as the Minister Plenipotentiary empowered to attend to every question arising between China and those countries. This from the emperor.”

He was at first received with coolness in Longdon by the older British officials, who desired to adhere to the traditional British coercive policy. But his persuasive address and enthusiastic temperament won the favour of Queen Victoria, and after his reception by the queen, his dignified conduct completely disarmed opposition and created a favourable impression not only for China, but for the United States.

Unfortunately, Mr. Burlingame died on his mission to St. Petersburg, and the only nation which immediately acted upon the proposal for a revision of the treaty was the United States.