China Chapter XXIV - The Future Of China

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Chapter XXIV - The Future Of China

It is obvious that arterial communication is the first organic need of all civilized States, and pre-eminently of a country so vast and various in its terrestrial conditions as is China. This need has been recognized by the ablest of its rulers, who, from time to time, have made serious efforts to connect the most distant parts of the empire by both land and water routes. The Grand Canal, or Yunho ("River of Transports"), is pronounced as memorable a monument of human industry in its way as is the Great Wall. It is not, however, a canal in the Western sense of the word, but merely, as Richthofen has explained, "a series of abandoned river beds, lakes and marshes, connected one with another by cuttings of no importance, fed by the Wanho in Shantung, which divides into two currents at its summit, and by other streams and rivers along its course. A part of the water of the Wanho descends toward the Hoangho and Gulf of Pechihli; the larger part runs south in the direction of the Yangtse." The Grand Canal links Hangchow, a port on the East China Sea, south of the Yangtse, with Tientsin in Chihli, where it unites with the Peiho, and thus may be said to extend to Tungchow in the neighborhood of Pekin. When the canal was in order, before the inflow of the Yellow River failed, there was uninterrupted water communication from Pekin to Canton, and to the many cities and towns met with on the way. For many years past, however, and especially since the carriage of tribute-rice by steamers along the coast began, repairs of the Grand Canal have been practically abandoned. The roads in China, confined generally to the northern and western sections of the country, are described as the very worst in the world. The paving, according to Baber, "is of the usual Chinese pattern, rough bowlders and blocks of stone being laid somewhat loosely together on the surface of the ground; 'good for ten years and bad for ten thousand,' as the Chinese proverb admits. On the level plains of China, where the population is sufficiently affluent to subscribe for occasional repairs, the system has much practical value. But, in the Yunnari mountains, the roads are never repaired; so far from it, the indigent natives extract the most convenient blocks to stop the holes in their hovel walls, or to build a fence on the windward side of their poppy patches. The rains soon undermine the pavement, especially where it is laid on a steep incline; sections of it topple down the slope, leaving chasms a yard or more in depth." Where traveling by water is impossible, sedan chairs are used to carry passengers, and coolies with poles and slings transport the luggage and goods. The distances covered by the sedan chair porters are remarkable, being sometimes as much as thirty-five miles a day, even on a journey extending over a month. The transport animals--ponies, mules, oxen and donkeys--are strong and hardy, and manage to drag carts along the execrable roads. The ponies are said to be admirable, and the mules unequaled in any other country. The distances which these animals will cover on the very poorest of forage are surprising.

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The rapid adoption of steamers along the coast and on the Yangtse has paved the way for railways. Shallow steamers have yet to traverse the Poyang and the Tungting Lakes, which lie near the Yangtse, and Peiho and Canton Rivers, as well as many minor streams. It is the railway, however, that is the supreme necessity. Mr. Colquhoun has pointed out that, except along the Yangtse for the thousand-odd miles now covered by steamers, there is not a single trade route of importance in China where a railway would not pay. Especially would a line from Pekin carried through the heart of China to the extreme south, along the existing trade routes, be advantageous and remunerative. The enormous traffic carried on throughout the Celestial Empire in the face of appalling difficulties, on men's backs, or by caravans of mules or ponies, or by the rudest of carts and...

(The entire section is 7,266 words.)