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Chinese delegation fascinated by city's industries; Carl recalls a delegation from the Chinese government on their first visit to Europe, with Birmingham top of their list of places to go.

IT was a momentous event, the arrival of the Chinese Commissioner, Pin-Ta-Jeu, in Birmingham on June 8, 1866. He led the first official delegation from the Chinese government to Europe and the metropolis of the Midlands was high on his list of towns to visit.

For 300 years the rulers of China had looked inwards and had made their kingdom mostly inaccessible to outsiders. Now they had been forced to allow in British and French traders and as a result they had decided to look beyond their borders and find out what was happening in Europe.

This opening up had resulted from humiliating defeats inflicted upon the Chinese by the British and French. China was a huge country with a population of 400 million and although it was selfsufficient, the two great European powers were determined to exploit this massive market for their own advantage.

Britain had been buying Chinese tea in large quantities for many years, but the imperial authorities would only take silver in payment. This outflow caused a major fall in British silver reserves and so merchants began to trade Indian opium instead. The effect was disastrous and by 1839 there were more than 12 million opium addicts in China, leading the emperor to act. He had the British trading station in Canton locked down until the merchants handed over their opium.

The next year Britain responded with war. Its ships bombarded and captured Chinese ports and its troops defeated the Chinese army on land. Eventually the emperor was forced into a demeaning peace treaty whereby it opened up four more ports to British traders, paid a substantial indemnity, and ceded Hong Kong.

Despite this, tensions remained heightened. The British, and also the French, continued to press for more concessions, whilst the Chinese sought to minimise them. A second opium war broke out in which Anglo-French forces with modern firepower rapidly overwhelmed Chinese infantry and cavalry in major battles.

Peking was captured, the emperor having fled, and led by Lord Elgin the British burned the imperial Summer Palace. It was move that shocked the Qing dynasty and the people of China. Beaten and humiliated, leading Chinese figures such as the regent Prince Cong realised that in order to protect China they had to learn about and then adopt Western military technology and armament production. This led to the Self-Strengthening Movement.

The visit of the Chinese Commissioner was one aspect of that limited move towards modernisation. His itinerary included Denmark, Belgium, Prussia, and Russia as well as France and England. He arrived here from Paris and was granted a private meeting with Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace on June 6. Two days later he alighted at Snow Hill Station and was entertained by the mayor, Edwin Yates, at the Queen's Hotel. Pin-Ta-Jen was described by the Birmingham Journal as "a hale old gentleman, with a fine bronzed countenance, adorned with an iron-great moustache, and beard. He wore a dark blue dress that was buttoned on the side. His skull cap was embroidered round the border, and in front was a large jewel".

In common with the other members of the party, his head was shaved and "a pigtail of wonderful length, and jet black in colour, hung down his back, terminating in a tassel". Pin-Ta-Jen was accompanied by his son, the secretary of the commission, three Chinese attaches, an English and a French interpreter, a Foreign Office representative and servants.

After the mayor's reception and excepting Pin-Ta-Jen who was slightly indisposed, "the illustrious strangers paid a visit to some of the principal manufactories of the town". First on their list was the acclaimed silver plate works of Elkington and Mason in Newhall Street - and later the location of the much-loved Science Museum.

In its show room the visitors looked upon cases "filled with silver goods, centre-pieces, dishes, trophies, and other articles, which bespeak the wealth and glory of the firm; each article exhibiting, in the grace of its outline, and the delicacy of its workmanship, the combined talent of the establishment". Next they went into the fine art room "where some of the most beautiful specimens of the cunning smith's art are to be found; and thence by the way of the bronze room and the designing room, into the works".

The Chinese visitors were astonished that over 600 men, women, boys and girls were employed there; while the workpeople themselves gathered in crowds at every point "to look at the strangers, quizzing their faces and their costume".

Before they left, "the Chinese gentlemen were duly initiated into the mysteries of stamping, the soldering of tea pots, the chasing of silver plates and dishes, casting, fitting, gilding, burnishing, and other processes carried on the industrious hive of this illustrious firm".

Next on the agenda, and just round the corner in George Street, was the pin making establishment of Edelsten and Williams with its impressive engine house. Here the "huge arms of the engine thrust through the floor, work themselves nervously up and down, and set the machinery of the whole place in motion".

'' From a gallery in the drawing room the Chinese delegation watched as wire was drawn into thin lengths. They then "crossed some rickety tramways, thrust out from the buildings high in the air" into the pin making department. In particular the visitors were excited by and took great interest in the "small machines which cut the wire, grind the point of the pins, and head them at the same time".

The Chinese delegation entertained Hengler's Circus. The Birmingham Journal that "the Chinese gentlemen very much amused'' The morning's visits finished at Gillott's renowned pen manufactory on the corner of Graham Street and Frederick Street, also in the Jewellery Quarter. Mr R. W. Ward, a machinist, was deputed to escort the party and "they frequently expressed their satisfaction", according to the Birmingham Daily Gazette. However, "the Celestial visitors were most delighted by some diminutive pens, which were so small that the aid of a powerful glas was required to perceive their perfection".

Street, also in the Jewellery Quarter. Mr R. W. Ward, a machinist, was deputed to escort the party and "they frequently expressed their satisfaction", according to the Birmingham Daily Gazette. However, "the Celestial visitors were most delighted by some diminutive pens, which were so small that the aid of a powerful glas was required to perceive their perfection".

As they left the works, "a large number of persons - probably four or five hundred - were waiting for the departure of the company, who, from their picturesque garb and their mission, attracted considerable attention".

As they left the works, "a large number of persons - probably four or five hundred - were waiting for the departure of the company, who, from their picturesque garb and their mission, attracted considerable attention".

was at After lunch at the Queen's Hotel, the first chosen site of interest was the vast Metropolitan Carriage Works in Saltley. Here each week, 1,400 workers produced between 45-50 railway carriages and 250 railway wagons. Of most interest was a circular and revolving steam saw in the middle of a bench. According to the Birmingham Daily Post, two mechanics fed the "saw baulks of wood as rapidly as possible, and tossed the slice son one side the moment they were out through".

After lunch at the Queen's Hotel, the first chosen site of interest was the vast Metropolitan Carriage Works in Saltley. Here each week, 1,400 workers produced between 45-50 railway carriages and 250 railway wagons. Of most interest was a circular and revolving steam saw in the middle of a bench. According to the Birmingham Daily Post, two mechanics fed the "saw baulks of wood as rapidly as possible, and tossed the slice son one side the moment they were out through".

reported were The steam engines of the The steam engines of the works were also fascinating and "there can be no doubt that the opinions of the Commission on the subject of steam will be one of the most interesting portions of their report".

Leaving Saltley, the mayor took his guests the short distance to his own establishment, that of John Yates' Edge Tool Manufacturers of Rocky Lane in Aston. This firm traced its origins to Thomas Yates, who was a die sinker in Coleshill Street in 1788. His son, John, extended the business to four properties, where he carried on electroplating, spoon making, pewtering, brassfounding, and the manufacturing of beer pulls and bar fittings. He also opened up his edge tool works.

In inspecting them, the Chinese delegation watched with interest as the forgeman swung himself about in front of his anvil, "as he regulated the falling blows of the heavy tilt hammers. The thunder of the blows of these hammers, the shaking of the ground, the flying sparks as the hammers dropped on the red-hot metal, the bare-breasted, black-faced workmen, and the crowds of lads on all sides, made up a scene of the most curious but interesting nature".

One of the Commissioners, Fung Yi, approached two youngsters and asked them if they could read or write.

According to the reporter, "one ragged urchin, who was begrimed with dirt, said he was eight years of age and could neither read nor write". Next to him was an 11-year old who could not read but was able to write his name. Fung Yi told them that "your fathers ought not to make you work before you can read".

On leaving John Yates's works crowds loudly cheered the visitors, as they did when they arrived at Aston's button making premises in Princip Street on the edge of the Gun Quarter. It employed 900 people. Mr Aston and his son conducted the commissioners over the works with every attention so that they could witness "the manufacture of all description of buttons, from the raw material to the finished article".

One notable feature that drew comment was the fact that gas was manufactured in the building, which was probably the only place in Birmingham to do so. The Commissioners took with them "an excellent assortment of buttons from this manufactory, and we hope that it will lead to a good trade at some future date".

That evening of June 8, the Chinese delegation were entertained at Hengler's Circus. The Birmingham Journal reported that "the Chinese gentlemen were very much amused, and forgot the reputed soberness of their race so far as to laugh most hilariously, and clap their hands like their English friends."

It had been intended for them to attend another place of entertainment.

The Prince of Wales Theatre, "but they were so much delighted with the performance at the circus that they remained to the close".

Throughout the visit the Chinese delegation was accompanied by the mayor, "who paid the most assiduous attention to them". The Chief Commissioner had several times expressed his wish to pay his respects to Mrs Yates, and so the first place they went to on Saturday, June 9, was the home of the Mayor. Afterwards the Chinese party was taken to the works of Osler's and Winfield's, both in Broad Street, and then further afield to Chance's glass works in Smethwick and finally it was hoped, to a coal mine.

From Birmingham, The Chinese Imperial Commission took the train to Manchester, thence to London and finally to America. Their visit was the beginning of what would become a close relationship between Birmingham and China - and more on that next week. ? The research for this article has been inspired by the British Chinese Heritage Project | Chinese Lives in Birmingham historical project by the Chinese Community Centre Birmingham (CCC-B), that looks at the lives of individual migrants and British Chinese, as well as the development of the Chinese community within Birmingham. The project was archived at The Library of Birmingham this week.

| A drawing of the Prince of |Wales (above), later Edward VII, on a visit to Gillott's Victoria works in Graham Street in 1874; (left) a tilt hammer, like the one that fascinated the Chinese Commissioners in 1866, that was presented to the Science Museum in 1952 by A. and F. Parkes of Dartmouth Street. The Science Museum had been the works of Elkington's, which had been visited by the Commissioners and (bottom left) a wonderful photo from 1956 looking towards Aston Cross from the corner of the Aston Road North and Yates Street, which was named after Edwin Yates, the Mayor of Birmingham when the Chinese Imperial Commission visited Birmingham in 1866. Edwin, was a publicly-minded figure who played an active role on Birmingham Council and at the end of his term, Vale Street, off the Aston Road North, was renamed Yates Street in his honour. It was just up from Rocky lane where the family business of John Yates, edge

'' The Chinese delegation was entertained at Hengler's Circus. The Birmingham Journal reported that "the Chinese gentlemen were very much amused''

CAPTION(S):

The Queens Hotel in nStephenson Street 4in August 1960; thanks to the late Dennis and Horace Hall. This is where the Chinese Imperial Commission stayed in Birmingham
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 6, 2014
Words:2183
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