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Littell's Living Age/Volume 160/Issue 2072/The Defence of Canton

The China Mail publishes a full account of the present defences of Canton, as well as of the works in progress, the details of which are stated to have been collected on the spot. The Bogue forts, according to this authority, are at present garrisoned by about thirty-eight hundred troops, who show themselves to be more orderly and amenable to discipline than the unruly hordes which the Chinese forces are generally represented to be. In addition to these troops a force said to be sufficient to bring the whole up to twenty thousand were under orders to rendezvous. Fu-Mun is the headquarters of the Chinese admiral. At the forts referred to there are seven twenty-five-ton guns, and a number of smaller smooth bore cast-iron guns, the latter only likely to be of service in repelling a landing-party. The most formidable batteries are situated on two islands in the river. On the south side of the channel, opposite these islands, is another heavily armed battery commanded by a hill, on the crest of which is a fort, with barracks and accommodation for some two thousand men. After passing the Bogue there are no more defences until Whampoa is reached. Here some well-designed and most formidable earthworks are being hastily thrown up for the protection of a number of ten and twelve-ton Krupp guns. After passing these, on proceeding up the back reach of the river, there are some formidably armed forts of approved modern construction protecting the Macao passage. At the place known as Birds-nest Fort, the island itself, situated in mid-stream, has been fortified; but at this point the main defences are on the mainland. On the other reach of the river—that usually taken by the river steamers—are strong earth works, faced with masonry; these are situated near the spot known as How-kwa’s Folly, which appellation was bestowed in derision, by tars of the British fleet, on a fort built at the expense of the late celebrated Co-hong merchant How-kwa. Near this point a barrier of stones, only partially removed, still seriously obstructs the navigation of the river. Some short distance further up the river is a long, low island, dividing the river into two reaches, and on the low point of land, at the southern end of this island, is another heavily armed battery. In addition to these preparations there are some hundred or more of torpedoes, of several patterns and designs, which have been lying for some time past in the arsenals of the city, besides a fleet of stone boats, now lying at Whampoa, ready for sinking.

In the adjacent city of Canton (observes the same authority) a most complete and searching census of the population has been taken, and every house made to furnish its military contribution; in every family or house at least one man must exercise himself in the use of arms; and he receives from the district officials a jacket, inscribed with the name of his street and ward of the city. At sundown he dons this piece of military raiment, and, armed generally with a pike, or maybe a rusty musket without ammunition—as much probably for his own safety as that of people in the neighborhood—he sallies forth to do duty as a watchman and assist in preserving order in the street to which he belongs, but in the event of actual hostilities he would probably have to join the regular military forces. Every house in Canton has been subjected to the examination above mentioned, and, in consequence, bears upon its portals the Chinese characters Kau-nin-cha, in black letters on yellow paper. In conclusion the writer expresses his belief that should the French, or any other foreign nation, attack Canton with anything less than a large force, with the requisite transport and commissariat arrangements, it would only be to sustain humiliation and disgrace.