Maiden Voyage: The Senzaimaru and the Creation of Modern Sino-Japanese Relations

Maiden Voyage: The Senzaimaru and the Creation of Modern Sino-Japanese Relations

by Joshua A. Fogel


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After centuries of virtual isolation, during which time international sea travel was forbidden outside of Japan’s immediate fishing shores, Japanese shogunal authorities in 1862 made the unprecedented decision to launch an official delegation to China by sea. Concerned by the fast-changing global environment, they had witnessed the ever-increasing number of incursions into Asia by European powers—not the least of which was Commodore Perry’s arrival in Japan in 1853–54 and the forced opening of a handful of Japanese ports at the end of the decade. The Japanese reasoned that it was only a matter of time before they too encountered the same unfortunate fate as China; their hope was to learn from the Chinese experience and to keep foreign powers at bay. They dispatched the Senzaimaru to Shanghai with the purpose of investigating contemporary conditions of trade and diplomacy in the international city. Japanese from varied domains, as well as shogunal officials, Nagasaki merchants, and an assortment of deck hands, made the voyage along with a British crew, spending a total of ten weeks observing and interacting with the Chinese and with a handful of Westerners. Roughly a dozen Japanese narratives of the voyage were produced at the time, recounting personal impressions and experiences in Shanghai. The Japanese emissaries had the distinct advantage of being able to communicate with their Chinese hosts by means of the “brush conversation” (written exchanges in literary Chinese). For their part, the Chinese authorities also created a paper trail of reports and memorials concerning the Japanese visitors, which worked its way up and down the bureaucratic chain of command.

This was the first official meeting of Chinese and Japanese in several centuries. Although the Chinese authorities agreed to few of the Japanese requests for trade relations and a consulate, nine years later China and Japan would sign the first bilateral treaty of amity in their history, a completely equal treaty. East Asia—and the diplomatic and trade relations between the region’s two major players in the modern era—would never be the same.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520283305
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 09/22/2014
Series: Philip E. Lilienthal Asian Studies Imprint
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Joshua A. Fogel is Canada Research Chair and Professor of History at York University. He is the author of many books, including Articulating the Sinosphere: Sino-Japanese Relations in Space and Time and Japanese Historiography and the Gold Seal of 57 CE: Relic, Text, Object, Fake. He is also the editor of The Nanjing Massacre in History and Historiography and the online journal Sino-Japanese Studies.

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Maiden Voyage

The Senzaimaru and the Creation of Modern Sino-Japanese Relations

By Joshua A. Fogel


Copyright © 2014 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-95917-0


The Armistice, Shanghai, and the Facilitator

BECAUSE OF THE TOKUGAWA SHOGUNATE'S BAN on sea travel on pain of execution for over two centuries, by the 1860s Japanese had little training available for building or sailing ocean-worthy vessels. Fishing boats along the coastal waters of the archipelago and along inland rivers were certainly present, but these boats could never sail far on the ocean and their size was restricted. Those that lost their mainsails or were for some other reason castaway from shore were lucky to be picked up at sea by foreign sailors; they, then, often found it difficult or, indeed, impossible to return to Japan because, through no fault of their own, they had violated the ban on sea travel.

When the large party of Japanese sailed aboard the Kanrinmaru to the United States to ratify the United States–Japan Treaty of Amity and Commerce in 1860, the accords that had been signed aboard the USS Powhatan in 1858, this was the first time that any Japanese—there were a total of ninety-six Japanese nationals in the shogunal party—had purposefully crossed an ocean. It would still be several years before they would actually navigate the vessel entirely by themselves.

Traveling to and from mainland Asia or to the islands in Southeast Asia was considerably less difficult, though certainly treacherous at times, and indeed Japanese had sailed for commercial, cultural, and religious reasons to China and Korea over the course of many centuries—though not always with navigational success—from at least the first century of the Common Era. They had also traveled to many places in the Philippines, Viêt Nam, Champa, and Cambodia. Those precocious seagoing efforts, however, came to an abrupt end in the middle of the seventeenth century, and by the middle of the nineteenth the Japanese had considerable catch-up to play in the field of navigation.

Although they took to it like gangbusters and had in fact been keen observers of foreign ships and navigational techniques in the years leading up to the opening of ports, when the Japanese government set out on its own in the early 1860s to establish commercial and diplomatic ties with China, they were still not quite ready to go it alone. Within two years' time, though, they would be. And, even when they eventually could sail a ship on the open seas, they remained a fair distance from being able to build one.

Thus, the Japanese government's decision to launch the first mission across a large body of water—cart before horse, one might say—preceded the ability to build or navigate a ship on such a voyage. The Western powers were forcing themselves on Japan, and the shogunate wanted at all cost to avoid the fate already visited on China. Even with limited access to information about the outside world, the principal lesson learned from China's resistance to Western pressure and subsequent losses in fighting and sovereignty was simple: join the club before the members brand you as one of those others. One of the leaders of the Liberal Party, Sugita Teiichi (1851–1929), put it most succinctly after an 1884 visit to China: "Westerners have come [to East Asia], fighting for their interests, each wanting to assert hegemony. We lie within the contested sphere and are wondering if we should be their main course or if we should move forward and join the guests at the table. It is certainly better to sit at the table than to be served as the entrée."


Before the Senzaimaru existed as such, there was a British vessel named the Armistice. Lloyd's Register of British and Foreign Shipping for 1856 lists the Armistice for the first time: no. 875, owned by one J. Longton, "destined voyage: Sld. S. Amer." (in other words, moving between Sunderland in Great Britain and South America). It had been constructed in 1855 in the shipyard of one R. Wilkinson in the major British shipbuilding center of Sunderland on the northeast coast of England. There is a slightly earlier record of the Armistice in the daily Lloyd's List (now extant solely in hundreds of pages in a handwritten edition on microfiche at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England), a daily accounting of all British ships sighted in ports around the globe. It puts the Armistice at the port of Deal on the English Channel about eighty miles east of London, arrived on July 30, 1855, and set to sail for Montevideo (capital of the then-young country of Uruguay); its master's name is given as "Peace" ("H. Peace" in subsequent editions of Lloyd's Register).

Over the next three years, this information remained fairly stable. It was listed as a barque (also spelled bark), a relatively small, oceangoing, square-rigged vessel with three masts. It weighed 358 tons—sometimes given as 374 tons, but this must represent additional material taken on board—was sheathed with yellow metal and marine metal, and measured 111 feet, 5 inches in length, 25 feet, 5 inches in breadth, and 16 feet in depth.

We glean from Lloyd's List over its first few years that the Armistice's circumstances were slowly beginning to change. As early as 1856 it was sailing not only between Deal and Gravesend (at the mouth of the Thames River east of London) and South America, but to Colombo, capital of Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) off the coast of India, Table Bay (near Cape Town, South Africa), and the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean; in 1857 it added Cochin (along the west coast of India), and other ports as well. The ship's captain is occasionally given as "Pearse," though this may be a misprint.

From mid-December 1858, when it was at Gravesend, through early November 1859, when it was spotted at Deal and departing for San Francisco, the Armistice simply disappears from the records of Lloyd's List. It may have put in for repairs, or simply evaded notice, though the latter is less likely. In Lloyd's Register for 1859 it was listed as belonging to the port of Liverpool. The change of principal ports from which it operated may have had to do with a change in owners—now a "J. Sullivan." Its "destined voyage" was given as "Lon. C.G.H." (London–Cape of Good Hope), and its master as "H. Peace." For the first time, on November 2, 1859, Lloyd's List gives "Richardson" as the ship's captain, and we learn as well that the Armistice is sailing between Deal and Gravesend in Britain and various ports—San Francisco and Vancouver—on the west coast of North America. Then on November 9, 1859, it is listed in Gravesend as "put back for San Francisco (with damage)." Something significant, though for now lost to history, must have transpired in the commercial plans of the owner and captain of the Armistice, as from this point on, the ship made no further trips to Africa or the Indian subcontinent; through most of 1860, it sailed between London and ports along the west coast of North America: Puget Sound and Port Townsend in Washington state, San Francisco, California, and Victoria in British Columbia, and one trip to Valparaiso along the coast in central Chile.

Again, a major shift with consequences that could not have been foreseen at the time took place with the New Year, 1861. At the very end of 1860, December 15, Lloyd's List notes that the Armistice was in the port of Shanghai where it had been for over two months. This information was also reported in the North-China Herald; it is the first sighting of the ship calling at any East Asian port, but there it would remain for the rest of its life. The newspaper reported in early October that it was under the command of Captain Henry Richardson and was carrying a cargo of "Spars, &c.," meaning material made of wood or metal used to support the sails on the vessel, and in late October it gives "Harkort and Co." as its consignees. Lloyd's List makes no mention of it, but the North-China Herald notes that it arrived in Shanghai again on January 9, 1861, coming from Nagasaki (the first mention of a Japanese port, opened to the British in 1859), and that its consignee was now A. R. Tilby.

Throughout the year 1861, the Armistice sailed back and forth between Nagasaki and several Chinese ports: Wusong (five times), Shanghai (six times), and Xiamen (twice). On one of its trips from Nagasaki, arriving in Shanghai on March 8, 1861, the ship's cargo is given as "sundries," as it would be on a number of occasions later in the year. Early in 1862 it arrived again from Nagasaki with a cargo listed as "General," though how this differs from "sundries" is not easily discernible.

The Armistice was not the first vessel in East Asian waters transporting goods between Shanghai and Nagasaki; the North-China Herald lists a number of ships doing it from January 1859 (the very month Japanese ports opened to Western trade), such as the Thetis, the Tung Yu, and the Eastern Star. It was not the first British ship to do so on a regular basis, that honor falling to the 700-ton steamship Azof (occasionally reported asAzoff ) of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, which commenced this service on August 31, 1859, and required but a four-day journey each way. Soon thereafter two other P&O steamships began the same service: the 812-ton Aden (boasting it could make the trip in three days) and the 816-ton Cadiz.

Captain Richardson sailed the Armistice into this mix of British and other foreign vessels, in addition to the numerous Chinese ships in mainland harbors, in late 1860. The next year, he would sail back and forth countless times, moving quantities of goods from one port to another, and the Armistice continued this hectic pace into early 1862, adding Shantou (Swatow) and Hong Kong to its numerous Chinese ports of call. After its first trip to Shanghai and Nagasaki, and even following its sale to the Japanese, the Armistice never left East Asia.

By 1862, Lloyd's Register gave Henry Richardson as the owner as well as the captain of the Armistice. There were several more sightings of this ship given in Lloyd's List, but these must be mistaken, as the ship would be sold to the Japanese government before midyear. Further inaccuracies emerge in Lloyd's Register, which continues to list theArmistice in all of its editions through 1870. Richardson and his crew surely had little idea how seminal his sale would be historically. Undoubtedly, their primary concern was with how they would get home from Nagasaki once the Armistice was transferred into Japanese hands. The names of the fifteen crew members have disappeared from history—at least, for now—and of Henry Richardson only his name is known, nothing as yet having come to light of his city of birth or residence back in Great Britain. If he had a less common name, his traces might be more easily tracked. He (and his crew) would ultimately make the trip to Shanghai together with his wife aboard the Senzaimaru, as the Armistice was soon renamed, and then promptly vanish into the recesses of time. Even the usually reliable North-China Herald makes no mention of his leaving the city of Shanghai. As noted earlier, in 1862 the Japanese now had a ship but they still lacked anyone with the requisite knowledge or ability to sail an oceangoing vessel; as we shall soon see, they would thus hire Richardson and his crew back to get their party to Shanghai.


While all of the above was underway, the nature of regional and interregional commercial shipping was undergoing a fundamental transformation. For centuries ships had sailed largely by wind power, but from the 1850s more and more shipbuilders were switching to steam. Steam required coal, and the longer the voyage over water, the more coal would have to be transported with its other cargo as well as passengers and crew—or acquired en route. For this reason, the transition from wind to steam took place over a protracted period of time, culminating by roughly 1890. Despite the great distance involved, Britain, which dominated transoceanic trade, found its steamship trade with China, after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, greatly enhanced by virtue of the expensive products—tea being the most highly valued of all—that it brought back to the home country. All of this notwithstanding, sail ships continued to exercise extraordinary staying power even after mid-century and the cutting of the Suez Canal.

Thus, despite decades of the presence of the steamship and the greater ease of sailing such a vessel, sail ships remained in full force through the end of the century. The Armistice was not only a pioneer in inter-Asian, Sino-Japanese trade, but it was at the top of its class, even though steamships were gradually becoming ubiquitous everywhere. It was in the middle of this overlapping of technologies (wind and steam) that the Japanese acquired their first oceangoing vessel.

Logic would seem to suggest that even the most up-to-date Japanese in the early 1860s understood little of the intricacies of such navigational matters, and there are no surviving records that the Japanese government officials sought to purchase a steamship but ultimately settled for a sail ship. Expense was, indeed, a priority, but technology does not seem to have played a role. Logic, however, is not a precise science and does not always lead to scientifically accurate conclusions. Charles Alexander Gordon (1820–1899), a surgeon attached to the British military, visited Japan in 1861 during a period of service in China. While in Nagasaki, he reported on the following trip:

Before proceeding to the town, I visited the steam factory on the opposite side of the harbour. Having landed at a well-built pier close to it, from a native boat, I walked, unmolested or uninterrupted by any person, direct into the building. There steam machinery, such as we see in our dock-yards at home, but on a less considerable scale, was in full operation. Japanese workmen, under the superintendence of Dutch overseers, were busily engaged in manufacturing various pieces of mechanism suited to steam-engines and ship architecture. A small steamer, still on the stocks, was under the process of having steam-engines placed in her; and these, I was informed had been all manufactured on the spot. Great, however, as was my surprise at this, it was considerably increased, when I learnt that among the steam-vessels in harbour was one, named the 'Scotland,' if I mistake not, that was manned and worked by Japanese alone.

Among other articles that were being made were axles, cranks, toothed wheels; and as I walked through the factory escorted by one of the overseers, who, by the way, was most civil, he pointed out to me an object which he informed me was the model of a steam boiler which they had begun to forge for a large-sized vessel.

Thus, the Dutch were clearly mentoring the Japanese—who were obviously quick learners—in the construction of the next generation of sea vessels, and such a person would surely have understood the relative priorities of steam and sail for transporting goods across oceans as well as the ins and outs of commercial trade in a place like Shanghai. Shanghai was not only by far the biggest port in the region; it also was home to the greatest volume of trade. Already by 1760 it was the single most valuable port for trade through the Qing dynasty, and was engaging in foreign trade prior to the advent of the nineteenth century. As that century proceeded and ever more Westerners, especially after the Opium War (1839–1842) and resultant Treaty of Nanjing, settled in the city, Shanghai became a magnet for commercial interests domestic and foreign. When the Taipings ravaged nearby cultural centers over the course of the 1850s, many thousands of Chinese fled to the city for the security provided by the foreign powers.

Central to China's long Pacific coastline, Shanghai was thus pivotal in both China's opening outward and Japan's opening to export trade. It was also China's closest port to Japan. Although boasting a long history, the Shanghai garrison (zhen) having been established in 1267 under the Southern Song dynasty, Shanghai County was first created in 1553 by the Ming, and in the mid- to late Ming it was attacked several times by marauding "Japanese" pirates. Trade between Ming-era China and Muromachi-period Japan was active and mutually profitable. It was largely carried aboard Japanese vessels operated by a series of Zen monks, beginning in the early fifteenth century. In time Shanghai became the center of a thriving handicraft industry and trade. In 1685 the new Qing dynasty founded a Customs Office there to collect revenues, and by the early nineteenth century the office of Susong daotai (circuit intendant of Susong) was in place in Shanghai; this official was informally known as the Shanghai daotai. On the eve of our encounter, the population of Shanghai was estimated to be 200,000.


Excerpted from Maiden Voyage by Joshua A. Fogel. Copyright © 2014 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Introduction: Situating 1862 in History and Shanghai in 1862
1. The Armistice, Shanghai, and the Facilitator
2. Japanese Plans and the Scene in Nagasaki
3. Getting to Nagasaki, Loading Cargo, and the Voyage to Shanghai
4. Coming to Terms with the City of Shanghai and Its
5. Westerners in Shanghai: The Chinese Malaise
6. Opium, Christianity, and the Taipings
7. Dealings with the Chinese Authorities
8. Preparing for the Trip Home
9. Subsequent Missions to China in the Late Edo Period
10. The Senzaimaru in Fiction and Film
Conclusion: The Senzaimaru in History
Appendix: Japanese and Chinese Texts


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