to Mr. Evarts
Peking , December 21, 1877. (Received February 25, 1878.)
Sir: While at Shanghai, lately, I learned that the process of removing the Woosung Railway has been carried far toward completion. The engines had been taken to pieces, and the rails and ties put in store.
It was said by the Chinese authorities that the material would be transferred to Formosa, where an effort is being made to work coal-mines after foreign methods, and a disposition has been shown to introduce telegraphs and railways. It is very doubtful, however, whether the plan will be carried out. The promoters of progressive measures there have many difficulties to contend with, which may, more or less, defeat their objects; and indeed, the material in question is not well adapted for serious work. The governor of Fukein told Mr. Holcombe last summer that it would not answer his purposes.
Of course, a great deal of disappointment is felt at Shanghai in consequence of the policy pursued by the authorities. The railway was an accomplished fact, and it served greatly the convenience of both foreigners and natives. The latter in particular had occasion to use it, and had only good to say about it. It was promising to yield moderate dividends.
It may be said, moreover, as I think, that the destruction of the line has disappointed many Chinese of the official class. The viceroy at Tientsin expressed himself to me on one occasion as favorably disposed to it, and the ministers of the Tsung-li Yamên once said to a foreign minister, “Why cannot you people start a railway at one of the ports?” Its projectors had much to hope for, indeed, in the general readiness of the Chinese to avail of improved methods, when once they are brought clearly before them, and from the quiet support of the class which is anxious to promote the development of material interests.
The projectors of the line were, indeed, so confident of the support of the authorities that they did not hesitate to apply to the customs to be allowed to land the material free from duty. It was three years from the time that the land was purchased before the iron was laid. The object in view was freely spoken of in the mean while, both among foreigners and natives, and no objections were made. I, myself, secured the punishment of certain Chinese who had assaulted one of our countrymen while prosecuting grading operations, and I urged my predecessor in office here to unite with his colleagues in bringing the business before the foreign office, in order to forestall opposition, should such spring up.
No one, perhaps, would have beeen so hopeful had the grave complication between Great Britain and China, growing out of the Yunnan difficulty, been anticipated. From the moment of its occurrence it was the policy of the Chinese Government to raise a counter grievance, and this had more to do with the hostility suddenly manifested against the railway than all other causes combined.
One cannot but feel great anxiety as to whether the experiment made at Shanghai will tend to retard the introduction of railways. I am disposed to think that, taken in all its bearings, it will do more good than evil, although, of course, the destruction of the railway is to be deplored. The effort made there, however, has demonstrated the fact that such works will be appreciated by the people, and that the unreasoning hostility toward them expected by many, is not likely to be developed.
Unfortunate, therefore, for the moment, as that experiment proved to be, we cannot regret that it was essayed.[Page 96]
It is said that there are at this moment 60,000,000 of people threatened with distress in consequence of the famine now prevailing in this and the adjoining provinces, and that hundreds of thousands must perish. Harbors, rivers, and canals are frozen, and the roads and mule-paths are neglected and out of order. The carriage of food supplies becomes so expensive under these circumstances, as to be practically impossible in any adequate measure. Yet these provinces possess great natural resources, and embrace, in particular, a district which is richer in coal and iron than any other in the world. The introduction of railways, by developing new industries, and by enabling the people to avail of new and distant markets, would go far to remove the danger of a recurrence of such disasters.
I have not failed to point out, in the past, mistakes committed by the promoters of the Woosung Railway. I do not hesitate, however, to assert that generous ideas, and not selfish ones, were those which impelled them to take up the undertaking. It remains to be hoped that what was liberally conceived shall not fail, in whatever way, to bring about the results which its projectors expected, and which are of so vast importance to the welfare of this people.
Regarding the matter in this light, I shall speak of it to the ministers of the foreign office from time to time, as I may be able to, without in any way giving offense. I am fully aware of the delicacy of my position as a diplomatic officer. It is one, however, which has responsibilities of a humanitarian sort, and I do not wish to forget this fact, in my anxiety to preserve, always, an attitude of respect and friendliness.
I am, &c.,