Edward Harper Parker.

China, her history, diplomacy, and commerce, from the earliest times to the present day online

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first critically examined by the light of famines and other
disasters, were in their turn all obtained from the Chinese official
tables. I notice that Dr. Lionel Giles has recourse to Sacharoff


day who (at the rate of 30 per thousand per
annum) would die naturally, and would balance
about the same number of births. Moreover,
the rebellion only covered one-half of the total
area of China, so that 24,000 a day is certainly
more likely than 12,000 : in other words the
death-rate was nearly doubled ; and in any case,
from first to last, there never has been any
direct evidence as to what the population of
China is or has been except the Chinese official
statements. I have now shown that these
hang fairly well together, in spite of all defects
both in quality and in quantity. We may
accept them or reject them ; but it is unreason-
able to accept only so much as may fit in with
our own preconceived notions, and reject all
the rest. The mere opinions of Europeans are
therefore worthless, so far as they conflict with
specific evidence. The United States Minister
to China, Mr. W. W. Rockhill, in 1905 and 1911
published his calculations, based on official
Chinese estimates, the originals of which, for
1910, 1 possess ; and many other less distinguished
foreigners have aired their views ; but, just
before the fall of the Empire, the Canton viceroy
frankly informed the Emperor that, so far as
his province was concerned, the census was a
hollow sham — as probably with all the provinces.
I give here a table in two columns showing the
population of each province in 1842 and 1894 —
that is, before the Taiping rebellion, and since
China has recuperated her forces. For con-
venience' sake I ignore fractions over or under
100,000 as being unessential to the main ques-
tion. It is notorious that Cheh Kiang, Ho Nan,
Kiang Su, and Kiang Si suffered most by the
Taiping revolution, so that we need not marvel
at their comparative backwardness. Shan Si
was reduced by a terrible famine in 1877-8. Kan



[chap. IX

Suh and part of Shen Si were ruined by the
Mahometan rebelhon of 1860-75. Sz Ch'wan
calls for special remark : we have seen that in
Kublai Khan's time it had already been once
depopulated, whereas all visitors to the cele-
brated Ch'eng-tu plain certify to its being at
the present moment one of the richest and most
populous spots in China, and this plain alone
(the only large plain in the province) must
cover an area of 3,000 square miles.

Name of Province.



An Hwei .....


- 35,800,000

Chgh Kiang



Chih Li .



Fuh Kien .



Ho Nan .



Hu Nan .



Hu Peh .



Kan Suh .



Eaang Si .



Kiang Su .



Kwang Si .



Kwang Tung



Kwei Chou



Shan Si



Shan Tung.



Shen Si



Sz Ch'wan.



Yiin Nan .



Rough totals



During the rebellions which ushered in the
Manchus 250 years ago, the depopulation was
again so complete as to be nearly absolute.
When wandering over the province for thousands
of miles in 1881, I came across innumerable
" traditional proofs " of this fact. Every vil-
lager in the province speaks of it as we in
England speak of the Great Plague of 1665
(except that his historical memory is the better
trained). Another specific proof is that when,
in 1712, the land-tax was made unchangeable
for ever, Sz Ch'wan had (with the exception of

A.D. 1712-1912] SZ CH'WAN'S SPECIAL CASE 203

the four half- foreign and pauper provinces,
Kan Suh, Yiin Nan, KAvei Chou, and Kwang
Si) the lowest land-tax of all- — under 700,000
tacls, against an average of 1,700,000 for the
other provinces. At the rate of proportionate
taxation per household, this would give 700,000
households, or about 4,000,000 souls, instead of
the 80,000,000 now supposed to be there.

Apart from the fact that Sz Ch'wan has
enjoyed comparative peace for two centuries,
there was an enormous immigration at the time
of the Taiping rebellion, and from all sides ; so
that probably some of the losses in the registered
population of other provinces reappear amongst
the gain in the officially registered population of
Sz Ch'wan. I found, when there, that a stream
of immigrants from Hu Kwang {i.e. Hu Nan
and Hu Peh) and Kiang Si had long been and
still was steadily pouring in : I came across but
one village where the original population had
remained unchanged. As neither Hu Kwang
nor Kiang Si has apparently suffered any great
drain of population, it seems likely that the
desolated provinces still farther east have during
troublous times sent streams of refugees into
them, which streams have either remained there,
or have themselves moved through, or have
pushed on before them the original population.
Still, all allowances made, it is exceedingly
difficult to believe that there are now 80,000,000
people in a mountainous province, the western,
north-western, and south-western parts of which
are still but very thinly populated by semi-
independent tribes. Yet there is other and
indirect evidence in favour of some really great
increase in population. Whilst in other pro-
vinces no attempt has ever been made to sur-
charge the land-tax (except in the way of
ordinary peculation), in Sz Ch'wan for many

204 POPULATION [chap, ix

years past one " fine " and one *' benevolence "
have been annually levied on owners in proportion
to their land-tax: in other words, the official
land-tax in imperial times was, and probably still
is quadrupled ; for these two items, levied only
on the richer districts, amount to considerably
over 3,000,000 taels a year. There is yet an-
other indirect piece of evidence. Sz Ch'wan is
notorious for the fewness of its civilian officials
(all of whom, under the universal rule up to 1912,
had to serve in other provinces) : in other words, it
was the one province in the Empire where it paid
w ell:to-do persons better to stay at home than to
" trade " abroad as mandarins ; and that trade, as
we all know, is still one of the most lucrative in
China, and the one patronised by the most highly-
educated persons, as, for instance, in the great
opium smuggling " operation " carried out in 1916
by members of Parliament and a cabinet minister.
As a further illustration, by exception to what I
state as the rule, I may take the case 20 years ago
of the General Pao Ch'ao, one of the very rare
instances of a Sz Ch'wan military mandarin of
capacity. After all his brave services, it was
found onhisdeaththathe had beengrosslycorrupt,
and had made his fortune in a most dishonourable
way. However, the Viceroy Liu Ping-chang (him-
self a corrupt scoundrel, whose disgrace was sub-
sequently insisted on by Great Britain) m.anaged
to arrange things so that the Emperor did not
compel General Pao's heirs to disgorge.

It has been the practice during very recent
years for British and other foreign officials
reporting on Sz Ch'wan trade to reduce this
80,000,000 to 45 or 50-60 millions — apparently
'inero niotu, because the total is so staggering;
there is, however, no trustworthy evidence one
way or the other, and we may as well follow the







that the census was

,p. As to provincial

Mrefore, we allow the



leso vicsrovB admitted just betoro the laU of the dynaety m 1912 that the ceneM w.9
iv • in any cose it differed Uttle from the e.timete in 1 he above map As to P;»"""»l
sy have been in utter conlu.ion since lill2 : m this new Edition, therefore, we allow the
stand for what it may be worth.




In an outline work like this it would be un-
profitable to enter retrospectively into the whole
history of Chinese finance. In the chapter on
" Early Trade Notions " I have made a few
remarks bearing upon the subject of very early
trade and taxes. The chief authority for these
observations is the first standard history, by Sz-
ma Ts'ien, Avho devotes a special chapter to the
Budget ; and all subsequent dynastic histories
have, in imitation or continuation of this arrange-
ment, consecrated one or inore volumes to
" Eatables and Goods," which expression practic-
ally means " Finance and Trade " ; for the
radical idea at the bottom of Chinese financial
methods is " feeding the people, and feeding on
the people " : in accordance with this notion all
salaries were once calculated in hundredweights
of rice. Just as Anglo-Indians now say " he is a
6,000-rupee man" (a month), so did the Chinese
once say " he is a 2,000-cwt. man" (a year).

The root of all legitimate taxation has always
been a tithe or proportion, in money, kind, or
both, of the land's cultivated produce. The Salt
Gabelle (formerly associated with iron licences)
has, dynasty by dynasty, taken but a second
place in importance. Inland and Foreign Cus-
toms always held a subordinate and irregular
position until our own days, being viewed rather
in the light of the Emperor's personal fiscus,


206 REVENUE [chap, x

for the Court and favourites, than of the State's
exchequer ; and in any case they are apparently
not more than 1,200 years old, even in their
infant stage (pp. 52, 55). How the different
dynasties rang the changes, sometimes caprici-
ously, upon these three main items of revenue
is a matter of antiquarian rather than of practical
interest : the cash was got in.

We must do the best a short span of life
enables us to do, and endeavour to get a good
hold of the outlines or principles of Chinese
history before we devote our best energies to the
elaboration of special details. With these re-
serves, therefore, I refer to what I have already
said in earlier chapters, and dismiss the whole
subject of practical finance previous to the
Manchu dynasty, confining myself to a glance at
matters as we find them, say, between 1715 and
1915. Up to 1734 the Board of Revenue's annual
budget consisted, on the debit side, of a state-
ment accounting for receipts of :> —

1. Land-tax in ounces of silver.

2. Grain-tax in hundredweights of cereals.

3. Straw, grass, etc., in bundles.

4. Salt produced in " drafts " (quarters) for

5. Salt dues on above in taels (^ tael per

6. Tea in " drafts " (quarters), apparently for

7. Cop23er cashcoined fromGovernmentcopper.

At the beginning of the dynasty the total
revenue receipts in money or bullion were under
15,000,000 taels, and in 1656 under 20,000,000.
At the same time, the Emperor has left it on
record that he was well aware enormous fortunes
were made out of the provinces by his conquering
generals. In spite of expensive wars, remissions



of taxes, and imperial visits or costly tours of
inspection, the average expenditure was so much
below average receipts that for over half a
century (1740-90) there was a balance of
60,000,000 or 70,000,000 taels always in hand.
It must also be remembered that the inter-
national gold value of the silver tael was then
nearer eight shillings than the present average of
three shillings, and its local purchasing power was
also much greater than at present. If we regard
one tael as equivalent in local power to one pound
with ourselves, we shall not be far wrong. During
this halcyon period, the eighteenth century, the
regular receipts may be roughly put down at
40,000,000, and the regular expenditure at
30,000,000 taels ; the accumulated balance was
only occasionally drawn upon when the annual
surpluses were unequal to special demands ; but
these annual surpluses usually covered the ex-
ceptional expenses, just as the " free resources "
of Russia under M. de Witte were always at
hand (in theory at least) to defray unlooked-for
charges. But every now and then, under special
stress, the sale of titles or office was temporarily
resorted to, in order to ease the money market.
The following is a specimen of a genuine pre-
Taiping budget in taels :- —


Reformed land-tax ....


Profits on salt .....


Customs [very little foreign] .


Sale of office .....


Tea, fish, rushes, mining


Transfer fees ......


Octroi and miscellaneous



Less sale of office (exceptional)


Total ordinary cash receipts (taels) .


Hundredweights of grain received (value

from Tl. 1 to Tls. 2) .


Total receipts ....


208 REVENUE [chap, x

All the above revenue seems to have gone
either actually to Peking, or (indirectly thither)
as pay to the central and provincial armies ; or
to officials ; or to services connected with Peking
and its armies, such as posts, grain-boats, or
mints ; or to administrations of other matters
associated with the Peking interests, such as
repairs to the Canal, to the Peking rivers, the
Hwai dykes, or the Yellow River.

Now let us take the corresponding credit side.
Out of a total expenditure of 31,000,000 taels,
only one two-hundredth part goes in any way
directly to the public, and even this trivial sum
of 140,000 taels for " educational establish-
ments " probably refers to Peking official colleges,
or Manchu schools.

The following is a condensed specimen, then,
of a genuine pre-Taiping expenditure sheet : —

Army and army interests

Salaries, allowances

Yellow River

Posts and boats

Palaces, princes, eunuchs, etc.


Education 140,000

Taels 31,522,800

As the number of soldiers included in the above
pay total is 800,000, I presume that the 100,000
or so of bannermen at Peking would absorb be-
tween 2,000,000 and 3,000,000 taels, whilst the
100,000 bannermen in the provinces, plus the
600,000 Chinese provincial troops, would require
from 16,000,000 to 17,000,000 taels.

The working revenue or expenditure of the
provinces, which of course was never reported
in detail, and never appeared even locally on
paper in the shape of a budget, was in real fact


somewhat as follows : — about 1,500 Men rulers
would have to net on the average at least 10,000
taels a year, over and above all allowances, in
order to make their own fortunes and those of
their superiors. The " allowances and salaries "
issued by the Emperor were really held back as
security, and very often quietly peculated, by
the Men's superiors. These Men would also have
to spend on the average at least another 10,000
taels a year in order to entertain passing officials
of rank, pay the cost of their own maintenance
(including police), the salaries of secretaries, etc.
Of course some Men secretaries would have their
tens of thousands, whilst others would only have
their hundreds of taels ; I only speak of averages.
The various customs monopolists would also
require 5,000,000 taels a year for their own
fortunes, and to defray the cost of presents to
the fisc at Peking ; scarcely any of the customs
receipts went to the cerarium, whether local or
central. In other words, the 45 or 46,000,000
of official revenue must be at least doubled if we
are to get even approximately at the first instal-
ment only of what was really extracted as actual
working revenue from the popular bed-rock in a
regular way. And all this, again, is quite apart
from the irregular tyranny, bribery, peculation,
and extortion by special inquisitors, military
men, etc. ; and apart from the rapacity of tax-
collectors, police, and so on. Anything done for
the public good, such as road-making, bridge-
repairing, sanitation, charitable establishments,
municipal police, local schools, feasts, theatricals,
lighting, police — in fact everything except what
concerns the Emperor and his service — was, and
is (sulDJect, however, to a few wholesome reforms
introduced since the " Boxer " smash of 1900),
defrayed by local subscriptions or popular rates,
municipally or rurally imposed, over and above



[chap. X

the State and official taxes levied directly or
indirectly, as above described, in the name of
the central or local government.

Having now taken a retrospective glance at the
principles upon which revenues have been col-
lected and spent in the immediate past, let us
endeavour to gain an insight into the working
of a contemporary budget as it was up to the
date of post-Boxer reforms : — Towards the end
of each year the Board of Revenue, like a distant
embodiment of Themis, looks round upon pro-
vincial mankind, takes up its files, and sees that
the following items of expenditure, in which the
Central Government has an immediate interest,
are good, and must be defrayed : —

1. Pay and salaries at Peking

2. Palace needs

3. Russian and French frontier

4. Yang-tsze defence armies
6. Navies

6. Provincial armies

7. Yellow River

8. Getting grain to Peking
Railways .

Foreign loans (repaid)
New-fangled notions ,





Total Taels 41,600,000

It will at once be seen that, even in the good
old times of comparative solvency previous to
the Japanese war of 1894, the expenditure on
armies, navies, and things connected with them
had risen within a century from 19,000,000 to
38,000,000 taels; but after 1898, again, both
the central and the provincial armies were im-
proved at great expense, and in spite of dis-
bandings and retrenchments in 1900 probably
cost much more than 40,000,000. Hence it
then became urgently necessary at once to re-

A.D, 1896-1900] EFFECT OF REFORMS 211

duce the 20,000,000 taels wasted upon utterly
useless provincial troops ; hence, again, dis-
content and disloyalty ; but none the less
reforms took place at the persistent urging of
the " three good viceroys " (p. 187). The Palace
needs ceased to increase. The Yellow River
cost less than it did ; not because its condition
was better, but because times were worse, and
the people must therefore suffer in the shape of
extra floods and diminished public works ; in
1898 Li Hung-chang himself was set to work to
effect a genuine amelioration on the spot if he
could. When China was building her own rail-
ways in a modest way, and at snail-like pace,
the provinces had to send up between them
about 500,000 taels a year for that purpose ;
but when, in 1886, the new Admiralty was estab-
lished in consequence of the shock caused by the
French war, the railway fund was partly diverted
to (the elder) Prince Ch'un, the Emperor Kwang-
sii's father, as Lord High Admiral. Again, when
the Japanese destroyed the fleets, and Prince
Ch'un was dead, portions of both funds were
devoted to "pressing needs"' — in this case to
" building a new palace for the Dowager-Em-
press " ; and in 1900 a beginning was being made
with a new navy, whilst railways gradually got
involved with foreign loans and syndicates.
Arsenals had an up-and-down perfunctory and
wasteful life too in their haste to complete mili-
tary preparations. Finally, foreign loans, old and
new, the repayment of which, and of interest
thereon, in 1900 absorbed about 25,000,000 taels
a year, were entirely a new charge on the revenue.
New activities included concessions, speculations,
mills, steamer companies, mints, foreign copper
for modern coins, mines, telegraphs, telephones,
electricity, etc., some of which soon began to pay,
and some of which were worked at a loss ; in a

212 REVENUE [chap, x

few cases the central or a provincial government
found itself financially involved in one or more
of these, as for instance in the Shanghai-Ningpo
railway and the K'ai-Lan coal industry (p. 168).
In their heart of hearts the Chinese, or at least
those " in " with the Manchu Government, would
have liked to pitch the whole lot into the sea,
and go back to happy old times. And (here I
repeat in 1916 with emphasis the exact words
I used in 1900) I am not sure that they are not
right ; " progress " does not seem to conduce
to content at all ; and, personally, I think there
is much to be said for the life of a so-called
*' barbarian."

It will be seen at a glance that, bad though
things were before the Japanese war of 1894-5,
matters were infinitely worse in 1900 after the
Germans in 1897 had set the pace for " grab."
The Board had to see that 60,000,000 or
70,000,000 taels were found annually for expenses,
instead of the 40,000,000 of the happy old dolce
far niente days : this meant a corresponding
diminution in the "free resources" which used
ultimately to find a way into various private
pockets. It may well be imagined that the result
was infinitely more serious when the " Boxer "
affair came to be written off, in 1901, with its
damage to foreign investments, compensation for
foreign expenditures, and so on. Poor old Li
Hung-chang's desperate bargaining with eleven
implacable envoys at Peking is one of the most
pathetic stories in the world's history. On the
28th September the Board announced the trifle
of 982,238,150 taels. On the 1st November the
tough old statesman was reported to be spitting
blood ; on the 7th he was dead.

The Board found that the receipts it could,
at the time of Li's death, count on for the year
were (roughly) :■ —



1. Land-tax, in money .... 26,000,000

2. Native Customs


3. Foreign Customs

. 22,750,000

4. Profits on salt .


5. Likin


6. Profits on native opium


7. Miscellaneous


Loans and benevolences

Sale of office

Foreign loans (received)

Total Taels 87,000,000

This total represents the maximum probable
receipts up to the time when the " Boxer " re-
bellion broke out, and does not necessarily con-
flict with any other tables given in this chapter.
There is even here an excess over ordinary
expenditure of 46,000,000 taels, which total
still leaves 25,000,000 for the service of loans ;
3,000,000 for arsenals ; 2,000,000 for railways,
palaces, and other novelties ; and 16,000,000 for
provincial needs.

Things would thus not have been so very bad,
in spite of parlous times, if all the receipts had
been paid, in one currency, into one central chest
or account (as the Foreign Customs receipts are) ;
and if all payments had been drawn in one cur-
rency from this one chest, and remitted in one
way ; but, in the first place, all provinces had and
have two main currencies of pure silver (several
" touches ") and copper cash (several qualities),
the relation between which two differs in each
town every day. Besides this, each province
has its own " touch " and " weight " of a silver
ounce ; and some provinces use dollars, chopped
and unchopped, by weight or by piece, as well
as pure silver ; and the dollar exchange varies
daily locally and centrally in regard to both
copper cash and silver. Even this difficulty,
which involves an enormous waste of time and
energy, and opens the door to innumerable and

214 REVENUE [chap, x

inscrutable " squeezes," might be philosophic-
ally ignored if receipts and disbursements were
lumped in one account,— if the venous blood
were allowed a free course to the heart, and the
arterial blood a clean run back to the extremities.
In spite of the multitudinous reforms introduced
or at least favourably considered during the last
years of the Empire and the five years of the
Republic, most of these currency absurdities are
as rampant as ever ; but, before we enter into
the present financial situation, let us consider
the — immensa moles of incompetence and corrup-
tion with which men of the Sir Richard Dane
type have to deal before they can make any

Online LibraryEdward Harper ParkerChina, her history, diplomacy, and commerce, from the earliest times to the present day → online text (page 18 of 35)