It is said that the Chinese care nothing for the provinces of Manchuria, or the Tung-san-sheng (" Three Eastern Provinces"), as it is called by the Chinese. They form no part of the Eighteen Provinces which fill the Chinese conception of their native land. This indifference may be real and may account for the ease with which the Russians overran the country: yet Manchuria was a land worth fighting for.
From the mouth of the Ya-lu to the Great Wall Manchuria was bounded on the south by the Yellow Sea and the Liao-tung Gulf. On the west it is bounded by the north-eastern corner of the province of Chihli, Eastern Mongolia as far as the Dalai Nor Lake, and thence to the Amur by the Argun River to its junction with the Shilka. These boundaries included an area of about 360,000 square miles, divided into three provinces, called collectively, from their position to the east of China Proper, the Tung-san-sheng, or "Three Eastern Provinces," but individually known as Hei-lungchiang or Tsitsihar, Kirin and Feng-t'ien, which was also referred to as Sheng-king and Liao-tung. The names in common use, however, are Hei-lung-chiang, Kirin and Feng-t'ien, applied to the Northern, Central and Southern provinces respectively.
Up to the 20th Century Manchuria produced grain of all kinds, vegetables in plenty, tobacco, hemp, indigo, and opium ; silk culture flourishes in the South: the forests and mountains supply skins, furs, and timber : on the Eastern steppes sheep, cattle, and horses were reared in inexhaustible numbers: gold is found in the North and along the Eastern frontier to the Upper Sungari in the South. The climate is good, though somewhat rigorous: and the inhabitants are a fine, hardy, industrious people, much more friendly toward foreigners than the people of China proper. And it is a beautiful country, with rich valleys, clear streams, and mountains clothed with forests of pine and oak.
Manchuria is shaped like a gigantic letter Y, with its branches filled in. Its base rests on the Yellow Sea and is about 200 miles across from west to east. The east half is mountainous; the west half forms the Liao (Chinese for "iron") valley or plain. The northeast branch of the Y extends from the base 800 miles to the northeast. Again the eastern half is mountainous, but the continuation of the Liao plain in the south, and beyond of theSungari valley, which extends into and merges with the valley of the Amur River. The northwest branch of the Y extends 700 miles to Manchuli, on the border of Siberia. The south half is within the Liao plain; the outer half is mountainous and partly desert. A line from the base going nearly due north goes through the the Liao plain and thence the Sungari plain. Together they form the great Manchurian plain, which in general is highly fertile. The plain is bounded on the north by mountains, but Manchukuo extends 150 milesbeyond the plain to its northernmost point near Moho, on the Amur. The dominant geographical features are its great rivers and the mountains encircling them. The Liao River has its sources about 200 miles north of the base of the Y. Its main streamflows near the center of the west half.
In general it may be said that the climate of Manchuria is colder than that which is found in like latitudes in Europe and North America. For the southern part of the area this difference is not great, but in going north the departure of the mean annual temperature from the average of this latitude is intensified by the unusual cold of the winters. The climate is markedly of the continental type, and therefore subject to great extremes. With summers slightly warmer than the normal for this latitude, the winters, even at Harbin, are some 36 degrees colder than the normal. This gives to the valley of the Sungari river a winter temperature similar to that of southern Greenland. The valley of the Amur, as might be expected, is still colder. In New York and adjacent states the difference between January and July average temperatures is for the most part less than 50 degrees. At Mukden the corresponding difference is 70 degrees, and the difference increases northward to 90 degrees on the Amur river. However, lest it should be supposed that these low winter temperatures indicate a typical Arctic climate, it should be remembered that vegetation depends primarily upon the nature of the growing season and not upon the character of the intervening winters.
The winds of Manchuria, unfortunately, come from the North or Northwest in winter, and from the South or Southeast in summer. In addition to the effect which this has upon extremes of temperature, it exercises a dominant influence upon the distribution of precipitation. The winters are dry; the summer monsoons bring drenching rains. Forty-five days of continuous rain have been known in the valley of the Usuri, an amount sufficient to rot European crops cultivated in European style. It is said, however, that the natives have adapted their agriculture to the peculiar conditions and there is apparently no reason why the broad valleys tributary to the Sungari should not become an agricultural country of great wealth.
The dominant features of the topography are indicated by the direction of two lofty mountain ranges, the great Kinghan on the northwest, and the Shan-alin or Long White Mountains on the southeast. The latter extends northeast to the Amur and Usuri rivers. At its southwest end, 900 miles away, it dies out in the rugged hills of the Liao-tung peninsula. Probably both of the ranges named are much broader and more complex in their alignment than is indicated upon the very sketchy maps available. On the north side, roughly parallel to the Amur river, but lying south of its broad valley, forming the water-shed between the Amur on the north and the Nonni and Sungari and their tributaries on the south, is a tranverse range with altitudes from 3,000 to 5,000 feet. West of the Liao river is a small range along which the present boundary of southernmost Manchuria is drawn. Between the mountains thus outlined are the broad, comparatively level and seemingly highly fertile valleys of the Nonni in the extreme north, the Sungari and its other tributaries in the center, and the Liao in the south. For long distances within this territory, these valleys lie less than 600 feet above sea level. Even the low divide between the Sungari and the Liao is a gently rolling upland of moderate elevation.
The Amur river, running through a broad and fertile lowland, nominally divides that lowland politically into two parts, Russian on the north and Chinese on the south. To those who are familiar with the history of boundary lines, such a division carries the suggestion of extreme weakness. Modern civilization has found out, as some one has said, that rivers are the diameters of communities, and not their circumferences; that trade, and with it all the rest of modern life, gravitates toward the rivers, and there mingles and thereby unifies the life of the country on both sides. The boundary between Manchuria and the Russian possessions on the east is fixed at the Usuri river. All the disadvantages which must some day be felt in connection with the Amur boundary on the north must here be duplicated.
Should the country along the Amur become well peopled and civilized, it would seem as impossible to preserve one sovereignty on the north and another on the south as it was to keep the Rhine river German on the one side and French on the other. Or, again, it would seem that the difficulty of maintaining separate sovereignties on the north and south sides of the Amur would be found no smaller than that of erecting separate sovereignties on the north and south sides of the Ohio and Potomac rivers. Rivers may make very good boundary lines between purely administrative divisions, such as counties within a state, or even, in so strong a central government as the United States, between states, where a man may go down to the river bank and cross without any experience to show that a new political division has been entered. But between independent, sovereign and possibly hostile countries, while temporary barriers in times of war, navigable rivers are fatal to continued separation in times of peace.
The entire boundary of southern Manchuria was for several centuries marked by the Willow Palisade, but that has totally disappeared except for occasional widely separated ruins.
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