Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

increasingly used for passenger traffic, but chiefly by steamship, the steamers being almost entirely owned by foreign companies. There is regular and rapid communication with Europe (via the Suez canal route) and with Japan and the Pacific coast of America. Other lines serve the African and the Australasian trade. The only important Chinese-owned steamers are those of the Chinese Merchants’ Steam Navigation Company, which has its headquarters at Shanghai.

Internal communications are by river, canal, road and railway, the railways since the beginning of the 20th century having become a very important factor. In 1898 the Chinese government agreed that all internal waterways should be open to foreign and native steamers, and in 1907 there were on the registers of the river ports for inland water traffic 609 steamers under the Chinese flag and 255 under foreign flags.

Railways.—A short line of railway between Shanghai and Wusung was opened in 1875. The fate of this pioneer railway may be mentioned as an introduction to what follows. The railway was really built without any regular permission from the Chinese government, but it was hoped that, once finished and working, the irregularity would be overlooked in view of the manifest The Pioneer Line destroyed. benefit to the people. This might have been accomplished but for an unfortunate accident which happened on the line a few months after it was opened. A Chinaman was run over and killed, and this event, of course, intensified the official opposition, and indeed threatened to bring about a riot. The working of the line was stopped by order of the British minister, and thereupon negotiations were entered into with a view to selling the line to the Chinese government. A bargain was struck sufficiently favourable to the foreign promoters of the line, and it was further agreed that, pending payment of the instalments which were spread over a year, the line should continue to be worked by the company. The expectation was that when the officials once got the line into their own hands, and found it a paying concern, they would continue to run it in their own interest. Not so, however, did things fall out. The very day that the twelve months were up the line was closed; the engines were dismantled, the rails and sleepers were torn up, and the whole concern was shipped off to the distant island of Formosa, where carriages, axles and all the rest of the gear were dumped on the shore and left for the most part to disappear in the mud. The spacious area of the Shanghai station was cleared of its buildings, and thereon was erected a temple to the queen of heaven by way of purifying the sacred soil of China from such abomination. This put a stop for nearly twenty years to all efforts on the part of foreigners to introduce railways into China. The next step in railway construction was taken by the Chinese themselves, and on the initiative of Li Hung-chang. China’s first efforts. In 1886 a company was formed under official patronage, and it built a short line, to connect the coal-mines of K‘aip‘ing in Chih-li with the mouth of the Peiho river at Taku. The government next authorized the formation of a Native Merchants’ Company, under official control, to build a line from Taku to Tientsin, which was opened to traffic in 1888. It was not, however, till nine years later, viz. in 1897, that the line was completed as far as Peking. A British engineer, Mr Kinder, was responsible for the construction of the railway. Meantime, however, the extension had been continued north-east along the coast as far as Shanhai-Kwan, and a farther extension subsequently connected with the treaty port of Niu-chwang. The money for these extensions was mostly found by the government, and the whole line is now known as the Imperial Northern railway. The length of the line is 600 m. Meanwhile the high officials of the empire had gradually been brought round to the idea that railway development was in itself a good thing. Chang Chih-tung, then viceroy of the Canton provinces, memorialized strongly in this sense, with the condition, however, that the railways should be built with Chinese capital and of Chinese materials. In particular, he urged the making of a line to connect Peking with Hankow for The era of concessions. strategic purposes. The government took him at his word, and he was transferred from Canton to Hankow, with authority to proceed forthwith with his railway. True to his purpose, he at once set to work to construct iron-works at Hankow. Smelting furnaces, rolling mills, and all the machinery necessary for turning out steel rails, locomotives, &c., were erected. Several years were wasted over this preliminary work, and over £1,000,000 sterling was spent, only to find that the works after all were a practical failure. Steel rails could be made, but at a cost two or three times what they could be procured for in Europe. After the Japanese War the hope of building railways with Chinese capital was abandoned. A prominent official named Sheng Hsuan-hwai was appointed director-general of railways, and empowered to enter into negotiations with foreign financiers for the purpose of raising loans. It was still hoped that at least the main control would remain in Chinese hands, but the diplomatic pressure of France and Russia caused even that to be given up, and Great Britain insisting on equal privileges for her subjects, the future of railways in China remained in the hands of the various concessionaires. But after the defeat of Russia by Japan (1904-1905) the theory of the undivided Chinese control of railways was resuscitated. The new spirit was exemplified in the contracts for the financing and construction of three railways—the Canton-Kowloon line in 1907, and the Tientsin-Yangtsze and the Shanghai-Hangchow-Ning-po lines in 1908. In the first of these instances the railway was mortgaged as security for the loan raised for its construction, and its finance and working were to be modelled on the arrangements obtaining in the case of the Imperial Northern railway, under which the administration, while vested in the Chinese government, was supervised by a British accountant and chief engineer. In the other two instances, however, no such security was offered; the Chinese government undertook the unfettered administration of the foreign capital invested in the lines, and the Europeans connected with these works became simply Chinese employés. Moreover, in 1908 the Peking-Hankow line was redeemed from Belgian concessionaires, a 5% loan of £5,000,000 being raised for the purpose in London and Paris. In that year there was much popular outcry against foreign concessionaires being allowed to carry out the terms of their contract, and the British and Chinese corporation in consequence parted with their concession for the Su-chow, Ning-po and Hang-chow railway, making instead a loan of £1,500,000 to the ministry of communications for the provinces through which the line would run. A double difficulty was encountered in the construction and management of the railways; the reconciliation of the privileges accorded to foreign syndicates and governments with the “Recovery of Rights” campaign, and the reconciliation of the claims of the central government at Peking with the demands of the Administration. provincial authorities. As to the foreigners, Great Britain, France, Germany, the United States, Russia and Japan, all had claims and concessions, many of them conflicting; while as between Peking and the provinces there was a quarrel mainly concerned with the spoils and “squeezes” to be obtained by railway construction; in some instances the provinces proved more powerful than the central government, as in the case of the Su-chow-Ning-po line, and notably in the matter of the Tientsin-Pukau (Nanking) railway. In that case the provincial authorities overrode the central government, with the result that “for wholesale jobbery, waste and mismanagement the enterprise acquired unenviable notoriety in a land where these things are generally condoned.” The good record of one or two lines notwithstanding, the management of the railways under Chinese control had proved, up to 1910, inefficient and corrupt.[1] Nevertheless, so great was the economic development following the opening of the line, that in Chinese hands the Peking-Hankow railway yielded a profit.

The main scheme of the railway systems of China is simple. It consists of lines, more or less parallel, running roughly north and south, linked by cross lines with coast ports, or abutting on navigable rivers. One great east and west line will The Railway systems. run through central China, from Hankow to Sze-ch‘uen. Connexion with Europe is afforded by the Manchuria-trans-Siberia main line, which has a general east and west direction. From Harbin on this railway a branch runs south to Mukden, which since 1908 has become an important railway centre. Thence one line goes due south to Port Arthur; another south-east to An-tung (on the Yalu) and Korea; a third south and west to Tientsin and Peking. A branch from the Mukden-Tientsin line goes round the head of the Gulf of Liao-tung and connects Niu-chwang with the Mukden-Port Arthur line. By this route it is 470 m. from Peking to Niu-chwang.

From Peking the trunk line (completed in 1905) runs south through the heart of China to Hankow on the Yangtsze-kiang. This section (754 m. long) is popularly known as “the Lu-Han line,” from the first part of the names of the terminal stations. The continuation south of this line from Hankow to Canton was in 1910 under construction. Thus a great north and south connexion nearly 2000 m. long is established from Canton to Harbin. From Mukden southward the line is owned and worked by China.

A railway (German concession) starts from Kiao-chow and runs westward through Shan-tung to Chinan Fu, whence an extension farther west to join the main Lu-Han line at Cheng-ting Fu in Chih-li was undertaken. Westward from Cheng-ting Fu a line financed by the Russo-Chinese Bank runs to T‘ai-yuen Fu in Shan-si.

Another main north and south railway parallel to, but east of, the Lu-Han line and following more or less the route of the Grand Canal, is designed to connect Tientsin, Su-chow (in Kiang-su), Chin-kiang, Nanking, Shanghai, Hang-chow and Ning-po. The southern section (Nanking, Shanghai, &c.) was open in 1909. This Tientsin-Ning-po railway connects at Chinan-Fu with the Shan-tung lines.

A third north and south line starts from Kiu-Kiang on the Yangtsze below Hankow and traversing the centre of Kiang-si province will join the Canton-Hankow line at Shao-Chow in Kwang-tung province. The construction of the first section, Kiu-Kiang to Nanchang (76 m.), began in 1910.

In southern China besides the main Canton to Hankow railway (under construction) a line (120 m. long) runs from Canton to Kowloon (opposite Hong-Kong), and there are local lines running inland from Swatow and Fuchow. The French completed in 1909 a trunk line (500 m. long) from Haiphong in Tong King to Yun-nan Fu, the capital of Yun-nan, some 200 m. being in Chinese territory. The French hold concessions for railways in Kwang-si and Kwang-tung.

  1. See The Times of the 28th of March 1910.