« AnteriorContinuar »
Some great benefits and much internal prosperity have also been attained in consequence of those widely-spread systems of competitive examinations and patriarchal authority that lie at the root of all Chinese polity, and which have essentially aided in maintaining the integrity of the empire.
The Roman Catholic missionaries who, in the seventeenth century, undertook the survey of China, were astonished at the advanced civilised condition of the provinces, and in their letters they fell into the natural error of over-estimating the knowledge and capabilities of the people. At that time Europe was slowly recovering from the effects of long eivil and desolating wars, and perhaps they were thus in some degree justified in considering China as being comparatively more highly civilised; but the remarkable extension of European education, and the numerous scientific discoveries of the two past centuries, have entirely reversed the respective positions, and China has for many years been comparatively stagnant and even retrogressive, and must therefore be prepared to have new vigour transfused into her veins by the gradual influence of European science and enterprise. It has been maintained with some apparent reason that the introduction of Western modes of thought and action will act fatally upon her existing institutions, and that the Chinese are destined to submit to the superior mental and physical power of foreigners. The frequent rebellions in the provinces, the encroachments of alien nations, the weakness of the Imperial Government, and, above all, the seeming absence of cohesion among the people, coincide with such a view. But it happens that progression, the main element hitherto wanting in Chinese civilisation, is becoming gradually but surely developed by this state of disorganisation. The late hostilities with England, the existence of a semi-religious civil war mainly created by the presence and teaching of foreign missionaries, the circumstance of consuls and merchants living and trading with perfect freedom and impunity in the heart of the country-these and other events have at last directed the attention of these longisolated, self-reliant people to the true power of their foreign visitors, and have awakened their minds to a sense of their own weakness and deficiencies.
The Chinese are, as a nation, gifted with a keen perception of whatever affects their own interests, and their Asiatic cunning teaches them to make the best use of the opportunities given for accumulating wealth or gaining power; they have also remarkable capabilities for labour and endurance; and whenever they discover that it would be to their advantage to adopt foreign improvements, it is certain that they will not forego any means of
obtaining them; and when once the Spirit of Progress begins to make its way into their country, the Anglo-Saxon will find that he will have a hard race to run to gain pre-eminence. There is, perhaps, no institution so utterly opposed to the progress of an Eastern nation as that of caste, and this has no existence in any portion of the empire. The people, therefore, unrepressed by any sense of personal degradation, and being also intensely clannish in all their social relations, are peculiarly devoted to their own soil. They are also fair agriculturists, and most ingenious, patient mechanics, and possess that cheerful, laborious disposition so necessary for the welfare of an over-populated country. China Proper contains within itself many physical advantages: the rivers are numerous, and many of them are navigable for a more than usual proportion of their length; the water-communication by the means of canals is very extensive; the mountainous country towards the West is rich with mineral wealth, and, when required, coal can be obtained in great quantities in the North-Western and Central provinces. She also possesses a great extent of seaboard singularly free from outlying rocks or shoals, and containing several useful, well-sheltered harbours.
It must not, however, be supposed that China is a very wealthy nation, or that the land is in any extraordinary degree productive. Much misapprehension upon these subjects has arisen from the remarks of travellers who have only visited those fertile districts bordering upon the sea-coast, and who, judging from what they had personally observed, have been led to form exaggerated estimates of the revenue and population of the whole empire. It has happened that the provinces from which have been gathered the principal items of information are those of Che-kiang and Kiang-su, which respectively contain the wellknown treaty ports Ningpo and Shanghae. How erroneous must be all general estimates based upon these two provinces will be at once seen by examining the provincial revenue and population returns, where we find that Che-kiang and Kiang-su, although only equal in extent to one-fourteenth of the area of the provincial empire, yet yield above one-fifth of the whole revenue, and support one-sixth of the population.
The physical geography of a country containing the enorarea of 1,300,000 square miles, and embracing the parallels of 20° and 40° N. latitude and meridians of 101° and 122° of E. longitude, is necessarily very varied; but investigations into this subject are much simplified by regarding China Proper as consisting of three distinct. physical divisions-the Mountainous country, the Hill country, and the Great Plain.
Upon examination of a map of China, it will be found that by tracing from south to north the line which indicates the 110th degree of E. longitude, the empire will have been divided into two almost exactly equal parts, each containing an area of above 600,000 square miles. All the country west of the line thus traced is mountainous and thinly populated; eastward of this line the land slopes towards the sea, and embraces the fertile and densely inhabited provinces containing the Plain and Hill country. Nothing so clearly points out the marked difference existing in the respective producing power of Western and Eastern China as the Government returns of the provincial population and revenue for the year 1847, in which we find that out of a total population of 368 millions the western division above indicated only supports about 65 millions; and with respect to revenue the disproportion is still greater, for the amount sent to the Imperial and Provincial treasuries from the eastern division exceeds above seven-fold that of the western. This excessive disparity in the relative conditions of the empire, and the consequent dependence upon the resources of the seaboard provinces, have a most detrimental influence upon the general welfare of the nation.
The Plain occupies the greater part of North-Eastern China, and, beginning near the Great Wall, it extends southward to the banks of the Yang-tze-kiang, varying in breadth between 150 and 400 miles, the whole surface being approximately estimated to equal 210,000 square miles. That portion lying in the province of Chihle, and which supplies the more immediate wants of Pekin, is dry and sandy, and produces in considerable abundance wheat, millet, and vegetables. The Plain as it widens towards the south becomes well-watered by the numerous rivers and lakes in Kiang-su and Ngan-hui, and furnishes in a most extraordinary degree quantities of grain, tobacco, cotton, and tea; its most productive portion lies in the maritime province of Kiang-su, and has the advantage of being drained by the Grand Canal. This part of the Plain is especially remarkable for the excessive population that it contains, and, incredible as it may appear, there is unquestionable proof that each square mile in Kiang-su supports not less than 800 human lives. The physical character of the Plain varies in each of the provinces of which it consists; in Shantung its level is considerably above that of the sea, and its surface is undulating; as it approaches the coast it becomes low and sometimes swampy; near its southern limits in Ngan-hui and Hoo-peh it again becomes undulating and dry, with the exception of that part adjacent to the Yang-tze, which is subject to the annual overflow
of that river. The Great Plain is more productive and more densely inhabited than any other equally extensive portion of the known world, and to it China is indebted for nearly one half of her population, and more than one half of her wealth.
The hilly country may be loosely defined as consisting of that part of China south of the Yang-tze-kiang situated between the 110th degree of E. longitude and the sea; the slopes of the hills produce the tea-plant, the valleys and the rich soil near the mouths of the southern rivers yield large crops of rice, and the borders of the canals and inland streams are plentifully lined with mulberry-trees in the silk districts, and with fruit-trees in the provinces near the tropic. The whole of this part of the empire is amply supplied with water communication; and thus, although the swampy nature of the rice districts, together with other local causes, have hitherto prevented the construction of roads sufficiently broad for wheeled traffic, yet, thanks to the existing network of canals and rivers, there is no absence of good and moderately rapid means of transport.
The mountainous country consists of the entire inland half of the empire, and has for its western boundaries the lofty and sterile table-lands of Tibet and the sand wastes of Mongolia. Long ranges of mountains running in parallel lines from south to north are the principal physical features of this infertile country. The inhabitants are generally poor, and often subject to much privation and want; rice, their chief article of food, is for the most part imported from the productive provinces near the sea, and when this supply fails, which from causes out of control is too frequently the case, they suffer much from severe and widely-spread famine. The Roman Catholic missionaries resident in these provinces describe most vividly the miseries of the labouring population among whom they live. In Sz-chuen, a vast province containing an area equal to nearly four times that of England, we hear of mothers selling their children into slavery, of whole families starved to death, and of thousands subsisting for months upon little else than such nourishment as could be derived from the unnatural combination of a few grains of rice with roots and common earth. Shut off by Tibet from all resources on their western frontier, the natives of Sz-chuen have to trust entirely to what their own stubborn soil will produce, and to such imports as they can obtain from their neighbours to the eastward, and these imports are often thinned by the inundations of the Yang-tze-kiang and Hoang-ho, or by those desolating insurrections to which the whole empire has, of late, been so constantly subjected.
The industry of the scattered population of the western provinces is chiefly directed to the extraction of those mineral and metallic ores which form the principal wealth of this part of China, the most important being coal, iron, copper, gold, and silver.
The coal that mainly supplies the south is chiefly found in Sz-chuen. The Yang-tze in its course through this province cuts through a succession of cross ranges of hills extending in a direction almost due north and south at right angles to the river. In the gorges thus formed narrow horizontal seams of coal, averaging from three to five feet in thickness, are laid bare upon the face of the slopes. The men employed in excavating these seams do not work to any great depth, and are usually content with the large lumps extracted near the surface. This coal has been found to be of an inferior kind, and ill-adapted for the purposes of steam-vessels. Coal is also obtained, but not to any great extent, in the central provinces of Kiang-si and Hoonan, but, being almost exclusively bituminous, its use is chiefly confined to the supply of the distilleries of sam-shu, a strong yellow spirit extracted from rice, of which there is a great consumption throughout China. Hankow, the great centre of the native inland trade, and from its position necessarily a most important commercial city, receives from the coal districts moderate cargoes of coal, which are subsequently distributed amongst the towns and villages lying adjacent to the Yang-tze or its tributaries, and it is from Hankow that the foreign steamers trading on the river usually obtain their supplies. The engineers of these steamers state that the Chinese coal is, with the tubular boilers now in general use, apt to choke the tubes; that it gives out great quantities of thick black smoke; and that it is very rapidly consumed: and these objections are not met by any sufficiently compensating advantages in respect of economy, for it is not a little remarkable, considering the cheapness of labour, that the price of this native coal averages twenty-six shillings per ton.
In the north a coarse kind of anthracite is obtained from Shansi, and is much used in the factories and foundries of that province: small quantities of this coal are also sent to Tientsin and the south. The total amount at present raised in these northern districts, although greater than that obtained in Szchuen and Hoo-nan, is still very inconsiderable, not exceeding upon the average half a million of tons annually; but there is good reason for believing that it will be from Shansi that the best coal will eventually be obtained; and as the inhabitants are accustomed to the working of mines and casting of metals, it is probable