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Grand Canal - Late Manchu

Communication from the Yangtze with Peking is generally considered to have been established during the Yuan dynasty, and such was actually the case. But the conjmunication was very imperfect, and the grain transport by that route existed only in a small degree. Floods occasionally interfere with the adoption of the inland route, and in 1850 Tao Kwang ordered the sea route to be again resumed, both on account of economy and also on account of the dangerous class of men engaged in the rice transport. Soon afterwards the Yellow River changed its course, and the Taiping Rebellion for a long time prevented much attention being paid to the Canal; but in 1865 Li Hung-chang, then Viceroy at Nanking, secured the repair of a large extent of the embankments. In 1887-8 the Yellow River floods interfered with the carriage of grain by the Canal to Peking. It is thus evident that the inland route has even in late years, after the experience of over four centuries, been constantly obstructed.

The opening of the interior waterways of China to foreign trade in the 19th Century did much to increase the commerce of the treaty ports, and led to a greater use of the Grand Canal. The imports of Tientsin, at the head of the canal, increased over 50 per cent during the decade 1894-1904. The right of foreigners to travel to all interior points for business or pleasure, and the privilege of navigating all streams with small steam vessels, made their effect very noticeable. Travel by boat was the most convenient and comfortable method in China; and throughout the basin watered by the Grand Canal there was so vast a system of natural and artificial waterways that there was scarcely a dwelling which may not be reached by a boat of some sort.

With the coming of coast steamers and railways, the Grand Canal, silting up from year to year, lost much of its former glory. By the end of the 19th century the Grand Canal had fallen into the same neglect which marked everything else in the Celestial Empire. The people who practiced many useful arts long ages before the rest of the world had emerged from comparative barbarism, had been smitten with a palsy of inaction; and engineering science, which demanded inventiveness and application, had sunk to the lowest level.

In the early part of the 20th century, the quantity of grain transported by the Canal from Shantung, Honan, the River Provinces, Hukwang and Chekiang exceeded 4,000,000 piculs. This transport was in the charge of an officer holding a Viceroy's rank, and eight Taotais, besides an immense staff of men, and the fleet consisted of boats of 800 to 1,000 piculs capacity [ the weight that one person can carry - 133.3 pounds or 65.5 kilograms]. The grain carried by the Canal appears to be limited to a portion of the tribute sent from Shantung and Kiangsu, and is not more than 220,000 to 230,000 piculs. The rest of the tribute was either sent by sea in junks or steamers, or was paid for in silver remitted to Peking.

In the first month of the year the fleet for the north Kiangsu tribute grain was collected at Yangchow, where the rice which had been bought up in the neighboring districts of Paoying and Kaoyu was stored. The quantity sent was under 120,000 piculs, but over 800 boats were required, and the loading of these occupied so much time that the fleets, consisting of about fifty boats each, which sailed in company, did not reach Ts'ingkiang-pu, 340 li distance [a li is about half a kilometer], before April. In another forty days they reached Shantung, 400 li further on the road, and from thirty-three to forty days were required to cover 326 li to the Yellow River.

As the north branch of the Grand Canal was five feet above the level of the Yellow River, a rise in the waters of the latter had generally to be awaited. The delay occasioned by this in the crossing varied from a week to seven weeks. The passage of the river by the fleets generally occurred in the latter part of July or beginning of August, and by the end of July or middle of August they entered the River Wei, and passed out of Shantung, to the Governor's great relief. From that point to Tientsin the passage was apparently easy, for notice was seldom taken of their movements by the Peking Gazette; but by the end of September their difficulties began again, as they approached the Yellow River on their return journey. In some years they failed to recross the river, but generally after immense exertions they were dragged across, and got back to Yangchow in time for the next year's rice.

The total distance by water from Yangchow to Tientsin was just under 2,500 li, and the double journey of the fleet occupied a whole year, during which the attention of the officers of the Transport Department and the assistance of the Provincial Governors were indispensable. The rice transport seems to exist for the benefit of the Canal. The difficulty experienced in transmitting this small quantity of tribute rice led to wonder as to what was done when the whole quantity was carried by canal route.

In the early 20th century the canal was still of immense potential and considerable actual importance to four large and rich provinces of the Chinese Republic, in that it furnished one of their most important traffic routes. Its improvement is of great value, therefore, to all American firms having business in the lower Yangtze valley.

In 1910, owing to the silting up of the Grand Canal as a result of the diversion of the Hwai river by the Yellow, serious floods occurred, and attention was drawn to the necessity of adequate improvements. Under Mr. Chang Chien, a survey bureau was or^mizcd, and in 1912 the Hwai river report was published. This led to arrangements, in 1914, for a $20,000,000 loan from American interests, and a group of prominent American engineers was sent to study the problem. The outbreak of the war stopped development of the project.

In 1916 American capital ($3,000,000) was again pledged for the improvement of the Grand Canal between the Yangtze river and the border of the Shantung province. An agreement was signed in 1917 by the same American corporation with representatives of the Chinese Government for a loan of $6,000,000 (United States currency) for improving the canal south of Tientsin in the provinces of Chili and Shantung. Surveys were made in 1918 and 1919 by American engineers; although no work has yet been done, owing to conditions growing out of the Great War, the contracts still stand, and it is anticipated that the work will eventually be accomplished.

In 1920 the Kiangsu Grand Canal Board was organized with headquarters at Yangchow. It employes one American engineer and its revenues are derived from provincial taxation. Pending the putting into effect of the loan agreements just described, this board endeavored to attend to those problems of the greatest immediate urgency, in order to permit the continued use of the canal.

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Page last modified: 02-07-2012 18:29:13 ZULU