John Nisbet.

Burma under British rule--and before; (Volume 2) online

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Momein and Szumao, in Yunnan, the distance is about
600 miles. The diplomacy which, early in 1898, obtained
from China the indirect and informal guarantee against
cession of any portion of the Yangtse valley to any
foreign power and the right to construct a railway from
the Burmese frontier across Yunnan, should, if necessary,
be able to obtain the privilege of posting Consuls and
allowing British subjects to establish themselves and to
trade at important points further west, such as Suifu,
Chingtufu, Tongtchuenfu, and Talifu. In addition to
the Consuls at Momein and Szumao, the only other
resident British officials now on that Chinese frontier are
the subalterns in charge of detachments of the Burma
military police force stationed at Sima and Sadon,
between Momein and Myitkyina, and at Satisu, about
forty miles to the north-east of the Kunlon ferry on the
Salween river. The French are meanwhile showing
greater activity than ourselves. French Consuls left Ton-
quin for various posts in Yunnan during February, 1901.
The natural outlet for trade in the most important part
of the Yangtse valley being, as already stated, eastwards
towards the coast, it would be only an insignificant
portion of its commerce which could be profitably diverted
towards Burma. With the Yangtse navigable for 1,750
miles as to its main branch, viz, to Suifu, for boats
of 60 tons ; to Pingshan, about twenty miles higher up,
for boats of thirty tons; and beyond that, for a light draft
stern-wheeler to Kiating, 280 miles further up, the limit
of navigation, there seems little chance of any import-
ant deflection of trade from this natural outlet towards
Shanghai. Below Chungking the only practical com-
petition which can be offered to this natural line of least
resistance is the railway from Canton to Hankow, which
is already in process of construction by the American
Brice Syndicate.



The trade routes leading westwards from the province
are mule and cattle tracks, literally footpaths of the most
primitive description, ascending and descending steep
hillsides. What trade there is on the Yunnan plateau,
which varies from 5,000 to 8,000 feet in elevation, and
whose capital is Yunnan Sen, though by far its most
important trading centre is Talifu (7,000 feet in elevation),
very probably already finds its way into Burma without
any expensive railway. So far as concerns the bulk of
the traffic that will interest Europeans, however, this must
naturally proceed eastwards down the Yangtse Kiang.
Mr. Bourne, of the Blackburn Commercial Mission, has
shown that the first step towards tapping this trade
is not a railway, but the extension of steam navigation
on the Great River from Ichang to Chungking, and
thence to Suifu, 1,750 miles from Shanghai. Towards
this end the recent promise of China to open the rivers
to trade and to establish a treaty port in Hunan is a
distinct step. Sound commercial proposals are certain
to be seriously entertained as soon as ever merchants
obtain something in the shape of guarantees respecting
the capital involved in extensive investments of this
nature. To give or to obtain such guarantees is also
obviously the duty of the British Government in the
interests of British commerce.^ The loan to China, in
1898, of ;!^ 1 2,000,000 at three per cent, is, strengthened
by the conditions attached to it, in itself almost of the
nature of an informal guarantee that British commercial
interests in the Yangtse valley will be adequately safe-
guarded by the British Government.

Previous to the Panthay or Mohammedan insurrection
of 1854, in Yunnan, when the population is supposed to
have been reduced from something between 10,000,000
and 15,000,000 to about 5,000,000, the commerce of this
highland region is reported to have been extensive and
valuable. The present population is variously estimated

^ The French Government have sanctioned a guarantee of four and
a half per cent, for seventy-five years on a sum of 70,000,000 francs
(^2,800,000) required for the extension of the Tonquin line from
Laokai to Yunnan Sen, interest being guaranteed by annual grant
under the law of December, 1898 (see page 16).



at from 5,000,000 to upwards of 11,000,000, and some
assert that it is quite as large now as ever it was.

So far as the trade of the south-eastern portion of the
province of Yunnan is concerned, consideration of the
geographical and physical features of the country seems
to indicate that the natural lines of trade are either by
the West river (Sikiang) to and from Canton and
Hongkong, or else by the Red river (Songka) and
Hanoi, the capital of the French possessions in Tonquin.
The French maintain that in the latter route they have
solid advantages. They are certainly nearer to the
tracts to be tapped ; but the commercial advantages
gained by China's agreement of June, 1896, to throw
open the West river to foreign trade as far as Wuchow-
fu, and the inclusion of Nanningfu on the Yukiang, a
tributary of the West river, as a treaty port in Feb-
ruary, 1899, should tend to equalize the natural possi-
bilities between Hongkong and Hanoi. In any case,
however, the commerce throughout by far the greater
portions of the provinces of Kwangsi and Kwangtung
must proceed by the valley of the Sikiang to and from
Canton and Hongkong. If the trade of south-eastern
Yunnan find its natural outlet through Tonquin, and even
if, in addition thereto, a considerable share of the western
Kwangsi trade be attracted towards the French railway
now being pushed on from Hanoi in the direction of
Nanningfu, about 200 miles to the north-east, — the great
trade centre on the Yu river, the main southern tribu-
tary of the Sikiang — there still remains an ample and
promising field for commercial energy radiating from
Hongkong and Canton. Just as has already happened
in the case of Chungking and the upper Yangste valley,
so also will trading developments or other considerations
in due time lead to the extension of the agreement of
June, 1897, ^^^ gradually include the upper portions of
the West river.

But, with the conclusion ot the Anglo-German Agree-
ment published in the autumn of 1900, the political and
the future commercial position has changed entirely
throughout southern China. This Agreement between
the greatest military and the greatest naval powers in



the world to keep the Yangtse river and the seaports of
China " free and open to trade and to every other
legitimate form of economic activity" on behalf of all
nations, to make no use of the present complications to
wrest territorial advantages from China, and to endeavour
to maintain the integrity of that empire, has completely
altered the political complexion of matters. If France,
urged mainly by purely selfish motives, continues to try
and push northwards with feverish haste in order to
establish a preponderating influence in any so-called
sphere or zone, it seems very probable that such action
would, in consequence of this Anglo-German Agreement
as to the Yangtse valley, result in a joint protest from
these two powers in terms which could not be very
agreeable to her aiitoiir propre ; because, although the
Yangtse valley is not specifically mentioned in the
Agreement, it is obviously the maintenance of the " open
door " all along the Yangtse river that is meant in the
exchange of notes between the British and the German

There need be no disguising the fact that Britain
might, if so inclined, have obtained paramount influence
on the Yangtse as an offset for Russian aggression at
Port Arthur and in Manchuria, and for Germany's action
in Kiao Chow. But the opportunity was not then taken
advantage of; and to-day one very good reason, though
probably not the only one, for this forbearance is patent
to all. For years the South African war had been loom-
ing on our colonial horizon, and the Anglo-German
Agreement was simply making the best of things so far
as the Yangtse valley and the rest of China is concerned.
Its conclusion and its publication were no doubt expe-
dited by the expression given by the highest Chinese
authorities to their views regarding the extreme serious-
ness of the situation. On ist September, 1900 (see Blue
Book, China, No. 5, i^goi) the Yangtse Viceroy, Chang
Chih Tung, telegraphed as follows to Consul-General
Warren, at the same time requesting him to transmit the
message to the British Government : —

I am quite satisfied that England really does not desire the partition
of China. But it is to be feared that, if she merely looks on and delays



to take action, all sorts of complications will arise ; and the situation
in the Yangtse valley, in spite of our measures for the preservation of
order, will be ruined by the disturbances which will arise in every
province unless a cessation of hostilities is made quickly."

Chungking, the commercial metropolis of Szechuan,
with an estimated population of 400,000, and distant
about 500 miles in a straight line north-east from Talifu,
is the proper point from which Anglo-Chinese railways
should be constructed so as to radiate throughout
Szechuan and Kweichow, and perhaps ultimately become
connected with the Burma railway system at the Kunlon
ferry. As yet, however, this does not seem to be a press-
ing necessity. Hankow, the terminus of the American
Brice Syndicate railway from Canton, now being rapidly
pushed on, is very much nearer Chungking than the
Kunlon ferry is. Canton is also nearer to Chungking
than Kunlon is, and still more so is the treaty port of
Wuchow. And there can be no doubt whatever that
a railway from Canton or Wuchow to Chungking would
hold out far better promise of being remunerative than
any Kunlon-Chungking scheme, because (i) it would be
easier and cheaper to construct and maintain, (2) it would
pass through or close to coal tracts, and (3) it would tra-
verse areas having a larger trade and better commercial
prospects than the mountainous province of Yunnan. If
a railway were made from Wuchow to Chungking (500
miles direct) via Kweilin, capital of Kwangsi, and
Kweiyang, capital of Kweichow, goods from Hongkong
could be delivered in four days in place of taking three
months as at present. This route is said by Consul
Hosie to present no very great difficulties, while coal and
iron are reported to be obtainable near Kweiyang in tracts
through which the railway would pass. From Wuchow
to Kweilin it could follow the Fu or Kweikiang canal,
which is not suggestive of engineering difficulties such as
are inevitable in Yunnan. And even as regards Yunnan
Sen, the route from Hong-kong, — by Canton, Wuchow,
Nanningfu, and Poseting (Posai), the limit of navigation
on the Yukiang, — is maintained by many to be the best
way of reaching Yunnan Sen by railway ; for it follows
a gradual slope in place of crossing the mountains and



valleys, as must be the case between the Kunlon ferry
and the town of Yunnan Sen.

Now, what have our French neighbours done in the
way of railway construction in Tonquin, and what projects
appeal most directly to them in the immediate future ?

Among the railways of first importance is one, just
completed, running north-westwards from Nam-Dinh via
Hanoi to Laokai, to receive the trade of the southern
part of Yunnan.

In December, 1898, the Colonial Committee of the
French Chamber agreed to guarantee 70,000,000 francs
(^2,800,000) for this line, and the Chamber " almost
unanimously " adopted the Bill for a loan of 200,000,000
francs (^8,000,000) for the construction of other railways
guaranteed by the Government of Indo-China, The
chief project covered by this was the Tonquin railway,
begun in 1890, running north-east from Hanoi to Lang-
sun, and extending northwards to Langchow, within the
borders of Kwangsi, as far as which it is now constructed.
Endeavours will probably be made to continue it north-
east to Nanningfu, and thence to the treaty port of Wu-
chow on the West river. From Nanningfu a branch
will extend to the treaty seaport of Pakhoi. But provi-
sion was also made for a coast line in the direction of
Annam, and a line terminating in Cochin China.

Taking a comprehensive and liberal view of affairs,
Britain can well give her best wishes to a French line
from Tonquin into south-eastern Yunnan via the Red
river, provided Britain secures possession of all trade
routes trending in any western direction through Talifu
or other northern routes into Burma and Assam.

French activity must naturally attract towards Hanoi
a certain proportion of the trade that now exists or that
may be capable of being developed. Even if such
attraction amounted actually to deflection, it would not be
of much consequence were it not that British commerce
is handicapped against French trade by heavy import
duties in Tonquin.

In 1898 a railway reconnaissance survey was made by
French officials from Kwangtung through Hunan to
Hankow, and indications have already been given that
French agents would like to construe the British sphere


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of influence in the Yangtse (Takiang or " great river ")
valley as terminating at the Tong Ting lake, above which
the upper Yangtse is generally called the Chingchow
river. More recently, however, particular attention has
been bestowed upon projects having special reference to
Yunnan and Siam. During the spring of 1899 M.
Doumer, Governor-General of French Indo-China,
visited Yunnan Sen and pressed upon the Chinese Vice-
roy considerations regarding the extension of the railway
line from Laokai to the provincial capital. Fifteen
French surveyors were engaged in operations near this
town, while other seventeen surveyed between there and
the French frontier. Among other concessions desired
was the demand for the immediate building of a terminal
station ; but at the same time M. Doumer made it his
particular care to try and interfere in the negotiations of
the Burma- Chinese Boundary Commission, He pro-
longed, though he could not otherwise interrupt, the
successful conclusion of Mr. Scott's mission. Numbers
of agents of French syndicates went to Yunnan Sen
seeking concessions of various sorts, French shops were
opened, and the tricolour flew from the centre of the
city. There was jubilation among the French that they
appeared to be stealing a march on the British ; but it
was premature. During the summer a strong anti-
French feeling manifested itself The tricolour flags
were torn down by the mob, and the Viceroy had to issue
a proclamation warning the inhabitants against molesting
French surveyors. But the French railway survey and
the definite alignments were stopped, so that the graves
of the revered ancestors of the population were no longer
ruthlessly insulted without substantial and satisfactory
compensation being given. Of course the murder of a
few surveyors would be at once utilized to make enor-
mous demands having for their true object little else than
the obstruction of British commercial interests and their
normal expansion. As Yunnan Sen is not a town of any
real importance, the anxiety to connect it with Laokai by
railway must clearly have some other than a commercial

^ While these pages are being passed for press the following rather
VOL. II. 17 c


The only counterpoise to this ceaseless French activity,
inaugurated by the Roman Catholic missionaries and

serious addition to our information on this subject appears in the Times,
May 23, 1 90 1 : —

"Canton, May 3, vici Rangoon, May 22. The political activity
disjjlayed by the French in this region has doubtless helped to
bring home to the Chinese authorities the dangers with which the
reckless policy of the old regime has been fraught. Under the
energetic impulse of M. Hardouin, the French Consul, who has learnt
all the approved methods of French political propagandism in Siam,
the French are unquestionably making strenuous efforts to assert special
claims to influence in and around Canton. No less than six French
gunboats have been sent to patrol the Canton waters, a small steamer
has been subsidized nominally to carry French mails from Hong-kongto
Canton, and the usual inducements are being offered to Chmese junk
owners to fly the tricolour. A French bank will shortly open a branch
here, and various other schemes are on foot to place French enterprise
en eviiiefice. The commercial interests of France in Canton, which
mainly consist of a small share, barely 15 per cent., of the silk trade
with Lyons, cannot possibly explain this sudden outburst of activity.
Still less can they explain the need which France has suddenly dis-
covered for laying an independent cable from Saigon to Amoy, whence
it can directly connect with the Russian system over the northern tele-
graph wires. Despite the most liberal treatment which the Eastern
Telegraph Company has accorded to French posessions, this scheme
has long been advocated by the French colonial party, but it was, 01
course, pooh-poohed in British circles with our customary optimism,
until about three weeks ago news came from Amoy that a French ship
had entered and landed a cable there. It was a smart piece of work
carried out in a business-like fashion with the utmost secrecy, render-
ing telegraph communication between France and her Far Eastern
possessions independent of cables under British control.

The provinces of Kwang-si and Yun-nan have hitherto been regarded
as the main objectives of French colonial expansion from Tongking.
M. Doumer, the Governor-General of Indo-China, has undertaken a
journey to Europe with the avowed object of urging upon the French
Government the completion of the railway connecting Tongking with
those provinces, but there is some reason to believe that a project,
whereof we are already witnessing the preliminary steps, is being matured
for including within the sphere of French expansion the whole province
of Kwang-tung with Canton itself. Some anxiety is certainly begin-
ning to be felt, not only by the Chinese authorities, but also in respon-
sible circles in Hong-kong, as the prosperity of our colony is indissolubly
bound up with freedom of trade in Canton and the wealthy province
of which it is the capital. French protectionism has killed the impor-
tant trade with Singapore formerly carried on with the French posses-
sions, but Singapore has ample resources in its own Hinterland.
Hong-kong, on the contrary, is wholly dependent upon the maintenance
of the open door on the mainland. French activity in Canton, there-
fore, deserves at least to be carefully watched."



energetically supported by the French Government, is
the encouragement of British pioneers of commerce in
western China. Unfortunately, however, British mer-
chants have only too often been urged to proceed slowly,
if not actually snubbed when appealing for assistance
and encouragement.

M. Doumer also during the spring of 1899 visited
Siam to try and impress on King Chulalongkorn the
desirability of extending the existing Siamese railway
line eastwards towards the French frontier. The only
line in Siam is a short one from Bangkok to Khorat on
the north-east. The contract for this State railway was
given to an English firm, while the Director-General
appointed to supervise the work was a German who had
tendered for the work unsuccessfully. Hence inevitable
friction arose. The contract was cancelled in 1896, and
was afterwards given to a German firm for completion.
The matter was brought to the notice of the House of
Commons in 1899, but Government decided that the
action constituted no breach of the British- Siamese treaty.

As Khorat is no commercial centre, nor likely to
become one, the railway is foredoomed to commercial
failure. Yet railways are a pressing want of the country.
Undeterred, therefore, by their unfortunate experience in
this instance, the Siamese Government have decided on
an immediate survey for a railway from Bangkok to
Chiengmai (Zimme), the second city of the kingdom and
an important trade centre, about 400 miles to the north-
west. A large volume of trade already passes up and
down the Menam river between Bangkok and Chieng-
mai, but the waters fall so low during the dry season that
navigation becomes interrupted. Writing of " The Pro-
gress of Siam," the special correspondent of the Times,
on April 4, 1899, remarked of this scheme that —

The prospects of such a line are superb. It would be only 400
miles in length, and would pass for its entire distance along one of the
richest valleys in the world. I have travelled widely in Asia, and 1
consider that the country up the Menam valley from Bangkok through
Chiengmai to the north-west frontier of Siam is the richest I have ever
seen. Every acre will grow paddy. Rice is the staple export from
Siam ; it is with rice that the country purchases British goods. Now
it is only the neighbourhood of the lower plains that sends rice to



Bangkok. If a railway were built to Chiengmai, thousands of square
miles now growing only sufficient paddy for home consumption would
be thrown under cultivation.

With the contemplated extension of the Rangoon-
Mandalay line from Pegu to Moulmein almost in the
immediate future, Chiengmai would be certain to be
linked up ; and this strengthening of the position of
Siam would probably mean more to Britain than the
strengthening of our position on the lofty plateau of

Under the Treaty of Tientsin, negotiated with China
by Lord Elgin in 1858, it was open to a British subject
" to clear his goods of all transit dties by payment of a
single charge!' The transit dues thus arranged were
defined to be " a sum in the name of transit duty which
will free goods, whether of export or import, to pass
between port of shipment or entry to or from any part
of China without further charge of toll, octroi, or tax
of any description whatsoever!' This single payment
was not to exceed 2\ per cent, ad valoj'em (in addition
to the five per cent, customs duty on imports), and ''on
payment thereof a certificate shall be issued which shall
exempt the goods from all further inland charges what-

Notwithstanding the clear stipulations on the point,
this transit-pass system has been allowed to become to
a great extent inoperative owing to the treaty rights not
having been ab initio enforced to their full extent by
the British Government. There is no necessity to ad-
duce elaborate proofs in support of this statement. They
are convincingly given in Consul-General Brenan's
report of 1897 on the State of Trade at the Treaty Ports
in China, and Lord Charles Beresford's Break-up of
China bristles with concrete examples of this habitual
violation of the treaty stipulation.

Owing to this want of prevision and of firm insistence
on the stipulated conditions from 1858 onwards a system
of provincial exactions of the nature of transit dues,
octroi, or toll has become established which is decidedly
prejudicial to the interests and the expansion of British
trade. These indefinite inland taxes are known as



" Liking The further the provincial authorities are
from the central Government of China the more inde-
pendent do they become, and the more openly are they
able to exact these illegal transit dues which cause delay
and loss to trade and hinder its expansion. This Likin
or illicit provincial customs duty is levied in every pro-
vince and sometimes in every district of a province.
Whenever any new trade route is opened a Likin
exaction is at once imposed, and unless paid delay and
loss inevitably result. In fact, the provincial govern-
ments rely to a great extent upon Likin for their revenue.

These Likin exactions are notoriously heavy and vexa-
tious in the Kwangtung and Kwangsi provinces, but
they also operate greatly against trade in Yunnan. Thus,
between Bhamo and Yunnan Sen goods are said to be
subjected en route to no less than seven different duties,
which must of course act as a deterrent to commercial

Great difficulty is, however, encountered in endea-
vouring to obtain something like a true estimate of almost
anything connected with Yunnan, even from those who
have visited the country. Thus Mr, Colquhoun [China