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merchants, in spite of the fact that their experience is limited to the nations visiting their ports or living in the vicinity of their country, are proverbially keen traders. From the first day Europe came in contact with them it found its match, and of late years, as their knowledge has extended, the Chinese merchants are coping successfully with our own in every department of trade, and, indeed, in many cases gaining ground on them. China is no longer the country in which fortunes can be made rapidly, and though they object to change their ancient habits at the bidding of the new comers, the literati are not insensible to the advantages of picking up such knowledge from us as they find it
convenient to use, while the body of the people, as we shall presently see, are not much more prejudiced against foreign innovations than some nations nearer home. For centuries their system of competitive examinations has been pushed to an extreme which the most enthusiastic of the advocates of this plan for fixing the literary status of the candidates for public offices have never dreamed of introducing into Britain ; and in the few instances in which their young men have sought education in the universities of Europe and America, they have been found, if not so eager to seize every novelty as the Japanese, not inferior in ability to the best students of Nippon. The mandarins are, like all bureaucrats, jealous of losing by the introduction of a new system what they have gained by an old one-conservative of their privileges, and bigoted to a degree which has often brought evil on China. But the people at large are—it is the opinion of Mr. Williamson and all who have travelled much in the country-shrewd, painstaking, and indomitable. They are intelligent, docile, and orderly, and if not so polite as the Japanese, often what seems rudeness is dictated by invincible curiosity-in its way a species of intelligence—by a misunderstanding on the part of the visitors, or, at worst, by the malicious suggestions of the official aristocracy, few of whom can tolerate “the foreign devils."
The great delta plain of the north-east is the most noticeable feature in its topography. It varies in breadth from 150 to 500 miles, and extends for about 700 miles in a southerly direction. The greater portion of it is generally below the level of the Yellow River; hence the disastrous inundations which often accompany the rise of that river. It is, indeed, as much the delta of the Yellow River, and to some extent of the Yang-tse-Kiang, as Egypt is the daughter of the Nile; and owing to the great quantity of mud brought down by the Yellow River, and the absence of ocean currents, this delta is rapidly increasing, and the adjoining sea shoaling. As an instance, Mr. Douglas, from whom we have taken these facts, notes that the town of Pootai was one le—that is, about one-third of an English mile—west of the seashore in the year 220 B.C., and in 1730 it was 130 le inland, thus giving a yearly encroachment of about 100 feet. Again, Seen-shway-Kow, on the Pei-ho, was on the seashore in 500 A.D., and it is now about eighteen miles inland. This delta plain is remarkable for its annular form, and for the fact that it encloses within it the mountainous districts of the province of Shan-tung. We have mentioned the inundations which, directly or indirectly, have exerted such an influence on the social life and history of China. The rivers, of which there are many throughout the country, are in general confined within low banks, and though efforts are made by means of embankments and other artificial barricades to prevent both them and the canals overflowing, the industrious agriculturists are not always able to prevent disastrous floods and inundations. The two greatest rivers in the country are the Yang-tse-Kiang, and the Hoang-Ho, or Yellow River. The first mentioned is well known to commerce, but the second has attained an evil reputation, on account of the great inundations of the low country which it has caused. In the neighbourhood of the city of Kai-fung-Foo it enters the great Eastern plain of China, and so often has it changed its course between this district and the sea, that the Chinese know it by the expressive name of the “Sorrow of Han.” In 2,000 years it has altered its course nine times, flowing into the sea by as many different beds. In 1851, 1852, and 1853, it overflowed its banks, submerging a country twelve miles wide, and forcing its waters into the narrow channel of the Ta-tsing River, with the result that it is rapidly eating away the banks of its new course, in time to precipitate a still greater catastrophe than that which it was the cause of nearly thirty years ago. The Yang-tse-Kiang flows for 2,900 miles froin the mountains of Tibet, and drains a basin of 548,000 square miles. It is navigable for steamers 1,200 miles from its mouth, but beyond this distance it ceases to become navigable for any but light native craft, the rapids which occur in the deep mountain gorges between Kwai-chow and I-chang effectually barring the way (pp. 25, 28). The Grand Canal-one of the many canals in China—was constructed as early as the seventh century, and as in all parts of its course there is a perceptible current, it is usually classed among the rivers of the Celestial empire. Commencing at the town of Hang-chow, it traverses 700 miles of country, until it unites with the Pei-ho, near the town of Lin-tchin Chow. It varies in breadth, but is connected with so many offshoots and branches, that it plays a most important share in the commerce and agriculture of the country which it ruins. Its banks are lined with cities, towns, and villages, and owing to its richness of soil, and the easy means of communication which the Canal affords, the plain of the Grand Canal is one of the most thickly populated in all the country. Since the Taeping rebellion, some parts of this important public work liave been allowed to fall into decay, with the consequence that regions once prosperous now look arid and barren, and villages and towns which for hundreds of years were the homes of busy hives of the most industrious of men, are now falling into decay, and, in some instances, are almost deserted. It is true that the authorities often talk about undertaking the repair of the Canal. One savant has written a treatise on its hydrology extending, it is said, to forty volumes, and other officials are almost equally industrious in compiling reports. But the genius of Yu, the famous engineer, who deepened the channels and drained the flat, is yet wanting to these literary hydrologists, and meantime China is becoming a desert in its very best portions. As a specimen of the reckless policy adopted, it may be noted that there used to be a brick-faced dyke at Kao-chiayen, but the bricks were used to build a wall around Chingchiang-pu, on the old course of the Yellow River. Accordingly, should its waters chance to return, incalculable damage would be done.* Another large river is the Han Kiang, which is remarkable for the fact that, contrary to the rule, it is narrow at its mouth, and widens as it is ascended, and in that, during the summer, its waters are high above its banks, and would therefore overflow the surrounding country were it not for the artificial barriers which confine it, and afford admirable facilities for irrigation. Sekiang, in the south, the Pei-bo (p. 29), which is the highway to Pekin, the Men, and Chu-Kiang, or Pearl River, are among the other principal water-ways of China. On all of these rivers there is an immense local traffic. They are covered with boats, and near the cities with thousands of floating dwelling-houses, in which are born, live, and die a large population, whose habits and mode of existence form some of the most curious features in the strange life of China. Mr. Thomson describes the “country boats” being towed along the banks, and even through the rapids by the united efforts of from fifty to two hundred men. These traders are natives of the neighbouring villages, and gain their living by this laborious work, and by pillaging the numerous wrecks which are thrown upon the shores of the Yang-tse-Kiang and other rivers. By law, all such wrecks become the property of the first person who finds them. Even were a junk to drift from its mooring, and in sight of its owner be carried to the opposite bank, the law would authorise the first man who seized it to appropriate it, provided the crew were not aboard.
the upper part of the Yang-tse-Kiang was unnavigable, owing to its bed being completely blocked up with rocks. But the local inhabitants set to work and cleared out the channel partially. They have, however, been careful, Mr. Thomson notes, with true Chinese instinct, to leave some of the most dangerous obstructions, so as to profit by the fees paid for haulage, and out of the pillage of wrecks. Some day this river may form a route between India and China, but meantime the merchants who do business on its upper waters must be men of courage and energy, for to shoot some of the rapids in this part of the Yang-tse-Kiang is a feat which requires no ordinary nerve. Scarcely a week passes but
some trader loses his all in these wild cataracts. But if he survive he calmly begins life anew, in the same perilous occupation in which the savings of years have been engulfed. The lakes of China are numerous, for not only do they drain considerable tracts of country, but, as in the case of the Toong-ting in Hoonan, and the Poyang in Kiang-si, they unite with the great Yang-tse-Kiang, and aid in increasing the noble network of water-ways which permeate the most populous provinces of China. The Poyang Lake is said, during the rainy season, when it receives the superfluous waters of the Yang-tse-Kiang and other rivers, to be nearly 300 miles long : then a great portion of the country in the vicinity is a perfect morass. At this season it is a wild stormy water, and when the wind blows its waters lash with such fury against the bank on which Nan-chang-Foo stands, that a strong stone barbour of refuge for vessels has been constructed. But in the dry season its