Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/863

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[We copy the following interesting correspondence from the pages of the "Southern Workman." It contains various significant facts admirably presented.]

Singapore, May 10, 1881,

Messrs. Editors.

IN a previous letter I spoke about a negro, S. A. Butler, a resident of Shanghai, China. His career is quite remarkable. His parents were Africans, or pure negroes; his father a preacher in Washington, D.C. He was educated in Paris, and there learned to speak French, Italian, German, and Spanish. I think he has an aptitude for languages. When Mr. Burlingame was appointed Minister to Peking some years ago, he met Butler in Paris, made him his private secretary, and took him to China, where he became familiar with the spoken Chinese.

Mr. Burlingame always put him on a footing of social equality. Wishing to go into business, Butler left the American embassy, and took a post in one of the great American trading-houses. Subsequently he went into the service of the Shanghai Navigation Company. For some time past, the Chinese officials and some of the rich Chinese merchants have been watching carefully the operations of the Europeans in steam navigation, supported by European capital. These prudent, careful men determined that, if there was any profit in the trade, the Chinese should have it, and not fan qui (foreign devil). Therefore they began to buy steamships themselves, and to run them to and from their own ports. They organized the China Merchants' Steamship Company. They put their own, and not foreign, money into it. They purchased the Shanghai Company's steamers, and Butler went into their employment. Still, these Chinese, careful and economical as they are, did not understand the business of running steamships, for it is a business which requires special training. These men were cheated by Europeans in the quality of the vessels sold, and they were held in great contempt by Europeans and Americans who kept lines of steamships in the East, and who believed that their dominion over the sea would never be successfully disputed by the "pig-tails."

The Chinese concluded it would be well to employ Europeans, at first, in the most responsible positions. But the trouble has been, that the Europeans have generally tried to rob the Chinese when employed by them. The owners of this new Chinese line, including some of the most influential men in the Chinese Government, put Butler in charge of one of the most important departments of the business, and authorized him to reorganize the service in his own way. He is a natural organizer, one of those men who know how to put things in their proper place, how to put down confusion. He systematized the business, brought order out of chaos, introduced economy, enforced discipline, and rivaled the Europeans in their steamship service. The result is, that after two years' work this Chinese steamship company, instead of running at a loss, has earned over a million dollars net profit. The prospect now is, that it will earn very large annual dividends.

The Chinese official who is at the head of the company told me that they considered Butler not only a man of great ability, but an honest man. He said that he was a very safe adviser, and they regarded him as an important agent in the future operations of the company. Now this Chinese company own already thirty-six steamers. They are bidding for the trade of the Pacific Ocean. One of their vessels lately went to San Francisco, and reduced the price of freight to China. The American and European lines are by no means easy at the appearance of this great steamship fleet; no one knows where its operations will stop. As these people learn more thoroughly the steamship business, they will become more formidable rivals to the Europeans, and, as they are content with much less profit than the Europeans, and the business is conducted at their own homes, and not with a distant European basis, it is easy to see that the time is soon coming when the vast trade of the great Pacific Ocean will be in Chinese hands.

Coal is an expensive article in China. Supplies for steamers are brought from Australia and Java. Now, there are immense coal-fields in China. The Chinese will not let the Europeans touch these coal-fields under any circumstances, but they can touch them themselves. Already they have opened a vast colliery about eighty miles from tide-water, at Tientsin; a canal from the mine to the ocean is about finished. The coal is owned by the same people who control the steamship company. This year