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Franco-Chinese War, 1884-1885
Sino-French War, 1884-1885
Chinese-French War, 1884-1885
Chine-French War, 1884-1885

Soon after the French Charge in Peking had announced (1866) to the astonished Yamen that his government was about to annex Korea, France would appear to have concluded to seek territorial expansion only in the south. France had made a treaty with Annam in 1862, and twelve years later concluded a second one in which France recognized the complete independence of Annam, in much the same way as Japan recognized by treaty the independence of Korea two years later. Indeed French policy in Annam afforded Japan a model for policy in Koreaa similar satellite of China.

In 1874 France also actually acquired Cochin China. China protested because the treaty in effect made France, rather than China, the suzerain over Annam. The matter remained in dispute until the latter part of 1883 when Li Hung Chang signed a convention with France according to which the Chinese troops were to be withdrawn from Annam, and the two nations were jointly to guarantee the independence of this territory which for two centuries had paid tribute to Peking. There was a sudden change of government in France and the convention was repudiated at Paris. The new French cabinet proposed an expedition to China and a liberal credit was voted. Then a French officer, Riviere, was killed in an engagement with the Black Flags, an irregular company of troops which were supposed to be more or less supported by the Chinese Government. War became all but inevitable. Indeed, it seems quite plain that France was seeking to provoke war for the sake of securing more territory in the south.

China, stung by the charges of bad faith, defiant and unhumbled, still quite ignorant of the weakness of the empire, perhaps misled by encouragements from Germany and England, and quite underestimating the strength of France, was determined to yield no territory to France, and also not to yield suzerainty over Annam. At this point John Russell Young, the American minister, whose relations with Li Hung Chang were very intimate and confidential, and whose relations with Tsung-li Yamen were cordial, pleaded for peace. The question was, as he tried to explain, not whether China was in the wrong or in the right, but whether she could afford a war with a foreign power. She had relatively few troops with a modern training, and they were in the north. To transport them to Annam there was no railroad, and the Chinese Navy could not protect them by sea. France was studiously cultivating Japan with a view to securing joint action against China. Russia was an eternal menace to the Chinese northern frontier. England was busy in Egypt, and presumably not unwilling that France should become involved in China. For China itself war seemed likely to end. in disaster.

At length the counsels of Mr. Young had their effect and he was asked to invite the good offices of the President to secure a mediation of the dispute. To this request Secretary of State Frelinghuysen replied, July 13, 1883: "This government cannot intervene unless assured that its good offices are acceptable to both. In such case it would do all possible in the interests of peace. The United States Minister at Paris has been directed to sound French Government, and ascertain if it will admit our good offices in the sense of arbitration or settlement."

The answer was not long delayed. France declined to accept the good offices of the United States. The French forthwith proceeded to declare a blockade of Tonquin and Annam, and although negotiations continued at Shanghai, the troops of the two nations came into active conflict in December, 1883. On May 11, 1884, Li Hung Chang signed with Commandant Fournier a convention which was intended by the Chinese to be the protocol to a treaty. In the Fournier Convention France waived a claim for indemnity in return for the acknowledgment of her territorial and commercial claims in Annam. There was entire disagreement between the Chinese and the French as to the interpretation of this protocol, and even as to its authorized text, and on June 23, 1884, Colonel Dugenne and twenty-two French soldiers were killed in an engagement at Bade.

Again China appealed to the good offices of the United States and again (July 20, 1884) Minister Young referred the matter to Washington. China wished to submit to arbitration the question as to whether she had acted in bad faith with reference to the Fournier Convention. Again France declined to admit the good offices of the United States.

China was thus brought face to face with war. The American minister renewed his efforts to find a peaceful solution, feeling that peace at any price which France might demand would be better than conflict. At length Prince Kung asked Mr. Young to go to Shanghai, see M. Patenotre, the French representative, and obtain a settlement. China was even willing to agree to any indemnity which Young might recommend. The American minister referred the request to Washington for approval, but Secretary of State Frelinghuysen was wary, having already been twice repulsed by France, and withheld his approval. An August 5 Admiral Lespes attacked Keelung in Formosa. After this attack all hopes of peace vanished. The Chinese were roused. Prince Kung was retired, and with the retirement of the prince came the eclipse of Li Hung Chang, who had clearly realized the folly of resisting the French.

Early in September the China Merchants Steam Navigation Company which had been purchased a few years before from Russell and Company, was resold to the former owners, and the American flag was raised over the fleet of steamers. France, thus deprived of the opportunity of making a most profitable reprisal upon China, was now less than ever willing to accept any good offices from the United States. However, the American Government kept in very close touch with the rapidly developing situation and on several subsequent occasions was the medium of communication between Paris and Peking. Sir Robert Hart also undertook the task of mediation and after more than a year of work succeeded in bringing about the signing of a protocol, April 4, 1885.

Mr. Young, although his efforts at mediation between China and France had failed, was determined to demonstrate the good faith of the United States in its advocacy of arbitration as a means of settling disputes, and was able to secure the consent of the Chinese Government to the arbitration of the 'Ashmore Fisheries Case' by the British and the Netherlands consuls at Swatow. The case involved the action of the Chinese officials in depriving Dr. W. Ashmore, an American missionary at Swatow, of a fishery which he had purchased in connection with a mission. An award of $4600 was made to Dr. Ashmore June, 1884. Earlier in the same year Mr. Young had proposed that the claims of the foreigners arising out of a riot at Canton in September, 1883, be submitted to arbitration, but he was unable to secure the consent of the Chinese to such a statement of the disputed points as would have satisfied the British authorities.

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