No. 84.
Mr. Seward to Mr. Evarts.

No. 422.]

Sir: It became my duty last year to inform the Department of the distress caused in parts of North China by the failure of seasonable rains. The story was a very sad one, but it would seem that a sadder one may be told of distress now prevailing over a wider area as a result of a further failure of rain.

The district now affected comprises the province of Shansi, parts of this province (Chihli), and of Shantung, Shensi, Honan, Szchuen, and Kansu. It is safe to say that high prices for food, causing more or less distress, prevail among a population of about sixty millions of people, and that actual famine is pressing upon districts aggregating a population of ten or fifteen millions.

It would be idle to attempt to give a detailed statement of the districts in which the suffering is more severe, or to offer an opinion as to the loss of life which must result. It is enough to transmit to you sundry extracts from the Shanghai newspapers and extracts from private letters in my hands reciting the main features of the information which has been received.

It is one of the most pitiable features of this famine that there is an abundance of food in the country, and that it is only the lack of transportation which is the cause of so much misery. The crops have been good in the districts surrounding the stricken region, but as food can be transported only on wagons or pack-animals, it cannot be brought in sufficient quantities to save the lives of the people.

It is due to the Chinese officials here and in the famine districts to say that they appear to feel deeply the misfortunes of their countrymen, and that they have made great efforts, all things considered, to relieve them.

Not a few foreign missionaries have gone into the distressed districts provided with greater or less sums of money subscribed by foreigners, and are distributing relief as they best may. Opium and missionaries have been classed by some of the Chinese as the most unfortunate incidents of foreign intercourse; but the latter have been of late winning golden opinions, and from this time henceforth will be accorded in North China, at least, a position more in accordance with the real merits of their labors. Looking simply to the political aspects of their presence I may say that to-day their withdrawal would be a severe blow to the influence of foreigners and the prospects of friendly intercourse.

A great many refugees have come into this city and into Tientsin. Their presence here is not noticeable, however, but this may be due to the fact that extraordinary efforts have been made to extend relief and to keep beggars out of the streets, and even out of the city. At Tientsin, as you will read in the inclosures, the presence of the refugees has been more noticeable, and there a mat house, set aside for women and children, [Page 110] has been burned, and about 1,500 lives lost. I inclose a memorial of the viceroy, dealing with this most distressing incident. You will notice, however, that he carefully avoids an estimate of the dead.

It is possible that the lessons of these two famine years may not be lost upon the Chinese. They know perfectly well that, with adequate transportation, but comparatively few lives would have been lost. In any western country this knowledge would result in an effort to provide the means needed for transportation in any future case of the sort, and I do not doubt that even here the argument will be a powerful one to aid those who are desirous of promoting measures of progress.

I have, &c.,

[Inclosure 1, No. 422.]


In former letters I gave a general account of the famine in this province taken from official records, and also some particulars of the suffering in and around the provincial capital, from personal observation. It is my intention now to give some particulars concerning the central and southern part of the province. But the region is so extensive to travel over and the time so brief for inquiry, that the account must necessarily be very incomplete. Yet I have seen and heard enough. It is said that familiarity with suffering makes one less liable to be affected by it. Familiar as many kinds of famine suffering have been to me for the last two years, this last journey southwards made me sick, at least, that I wished I could return with my eyes closed and ears stopped. To see and hear was most painful to endure. I cannot write all. Some things are too horrible to be described except in general terms. But I begin:

January 28.—Stopped at an inn 10 miles south. A little before starting, I saw in a street of Fai Yuan Fu a man lying on the road about to die of starvation. The carts became blocked, and people had to go around by another way.

January 29.—Forty-five miles south there was a fall of an inch of snow in the night. Saw four dead on the road, and one unable to walk, moving about on his hands and knees; one of the dead was a boy about ten years old, carried by his mother on her shoulder; she was the only bearer, priest, and mourner; she laid him on the snow outside the city wall, and the last sight I got of them was, she standing at some distance off on one side, and a dog watching at some distance on the other.

January 30.—Ninety miles south saw two dead, apparently only just dead, and dressed in good clothes; he could not be a poor man. A few miles farther on saw one walking like a drunken man; after passing him I stopped and told my servant to get some cash out to give him; there was a little wind, and while we were getting the cash a puff a little stronger than the rest made him fall; to give him money there was useless, and we could not stay.

January 31.—One hundred and thirty miles south. To-day saw fourteen dead by the roadside; a stocking was all one had on; and so light was the corpse a middle-sized dog dragged it about; two of the dead were women. They had had a burial, but it consisted in nothing more than moving them from the road and placing them with their faces downward; that was all. Want or cupidity of the passers-by had dealt kindlier with one than the other, for they had left her her clothes. A third was a feast to a score of crows and magpies; one man had snow over him and was untouched—a proof that he had been there three days at least, and that no dogs nor wolves could be near. While the road was thus strewn with the dead, there were plenty of pheasants, fat enough, close by; a fox and a rabbit opposite where the poor woman had fallen; and wild ducks in the river appeared none the worse for the famine. Alas that man should bind himself and others to death by the iron chains of custom. Another painful contrast forced itself on me that day. A lot of magpies were making an unusual din, and some were picking up feathers. When I came up to them I saw one of their number dead. But how many dead men and women have I seen on the road without any weeping except the mother over her child. Yet what most affected me that day was what was said by an old man when we were climbing Ling Shan together. We had just passed a young man dead on the road; then he said in the most touching manner: “Our mules and our donkeys are all eaten up; our laborers are all dead. O, how is it that God lets us poor people die like this?” Saw two wolves in the twilight looking out for the dead. In one village was a notice put up that those who rob and steal shall be put to death without mercy. In another village a notice was put up that it was agreed by the villagers that should any one be “unruly” he should be put to death without mercy. People dare not travel through these hills singly.

[Page 111]

February 1.—One hundred and fifty miles south. Traveled half a day, Saw six dead, of whom four were women; one in an open field by the roadside, with only a string about her waist. Another was in a river; but the water was not deep enough to cover and freeze over her, so what was exposed was at the cruel mercy of the fowls of the air. Another was half clad in rags, in one of the cave-houses which open into the road. Another, half clad and half eaten. Saw what appeared to be two brothers from fifteen to eighteen years old, moving at the rate of men of eighty, each leaning heavily on his staff. Saw a young man carrying his mother on his back. She was far gone—about to breathe her last. On seeing me observing them closely, he begged for a few cash, the first who had done so since I left Fai Yuan Fu. The regular beggars are all dead long ago. A mile or two farther on a woman about forty had fallen and was trying to rise, but could not, from her second knee. Saw two heads stuck up in cages, to be a warning to those who rob and steal. Saw hats and shoes here and there along the road, but no dead bodies near, perhaps all that was left between men and wolves.

February 2.—One hundred and eighty miles south. Saw twelve dead, all stripped of their clothes, but among them only one woman and two boys. At Hung-tung Hien a group of three were lying together. They appeared to be a boy, his father, and grandfather. My servant said he saw several more; but I only state what I saw myself On the snow we saw marks of a struggle and blood, but no dead body near; yet it was some justification of the warning to men not to travel singly along these narrow defiles. Two more heads hung up in cages on the trees. For some miles a large number of trees, on both sides of the road, as far as the eye could see on a level country, were stripped of their bark to a height of 5, 10, and 20 feet for food. Most were elm trees. There were also groups of several houses, with doors and windows open, and jars and other trifling utensils in them. Their occupants were either gone away or dead; but nothing was touched, for they could be turned to neither cash nor bread.

As a break to this long catalogue of misery, it was delightful to see (for the snow was all thawed here) wheat very extensively sown. Though there be drought elsewhere, they have abundance of water to irrigate here, and they seem to make the most of it. I could see in all the villages along the road considerable quantities of straw, indicating that they had had a good crop of grain; but on inquiry I was told the crop was very promising up to the time when the ears came out; then a sudden flood and mildew destroyed their hopes, leaving them nothing but straw. So, not by water alone, either, can a man live; but by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord. This abundance of water for irrigation extended only over ten miles.

February 3.—Two hundred and ten miles south. Saw seven dead, not one woman, but there was one old man with gray hairs and one infant just born. Again the trees were barked, but there was no wheat in the ground; but cart-loads of men, occasionally foot-travelers. These were armed, some with a shining bright sword, with a rusty old knife, others with spears and clubs, all with some weapon or other; even children in their teens carried them. Some were glad to keep close to us as we were riding. We did not feel any safer of their company. At Siang-Ling Hien, 10 miles south of Ping Yang Fu, there were many carts come from Pu Chou Fu for grain. There were forty carts altogether. To keep order volunteers are enrolled and paid by the government in that prefecture. This was told me by one of the volunteers themselves who had come to accompany the grain-carts; otherwise, they would be robbed. A woman at Ping Yang Fu came up to me in the street and asked me to go into a house. On asking what for, she said there are young girls here waiting to be taken away.

February 5.—Fresh ones dead on the road since we passed south two days ago. A mother and her son in the morning; in the afternoon at Hung Tung Hien, the dead were actually in heaps on each other. It was here we saw the group of three together a few days ago. To-day three more are heaped together, two women and one boy. On the main street there was a man dead, with the edge of a big stone between his teeth. If he lived could he possibly speak in such plain language? He had nothing better to eat, so he died biting the stone. Others were thrown into the river. One of the innkeepers to-day asked me if I had any medicine to cure the famine fever. It had commenced about the beginning of January.

February 6.—Other fresh ones on the road dead, one a young woman, another a middle-aged one. I will not describe. Suffice it to say they had not perished from want, but had been robbed and left to perish from cold. (?) The one I saw a few days ago on her knees was now dead; about a hundred yards off saw two men grinding something very dark. I went up to them; it was millet-husks mixed with old cotton from ragged garments. As coal rises in price, house timber is, in demand and people are pulling down their houses and splitting the wood for fuel.

February 7.—To-day is the worst of all; we saw abundant proofs of men eating stone or clay. I bought three stone cakes. The stone is the same as our soft-stone pencils. This is pounded to dust and mixed with millet-husks in more or less proportions, according to the poverty of the people, and then baked. It does not look bad, but it [Page 112] tastes like what it is—dust. The dead to-day number more than any other day. We did not reckon them in returning, but on seeing so many fresh ones we counted them again this afternoon. There were no less than twenty-nine in eighteen miles from Ling Shi Hien northwards, and the circumstances were more frightful, too. In one valley the road branched into two. One might take either side of the stream. Accidentally, I took one and my servant the other. We were in sight of each other though not within talking distance, and it was less than two miles before the road reunited again. On his road the servant saw a woman lying in a ditch after being robbed of all, like others. Although not conscious of any one passing by, yet she moved. Farther on we saw a man’s head cut clean off his body; a cruel murderer’s deed; and that is not all. We saw among the dead some wounded heads, not in such a way as we usually saw done by wolves and dogs and birds. Even the dogs were getting savage; they barked and howled at us when we were driving them away from the dead. Many of the former bodies had disappeared, but their places were more than supplied by fresh ones.

I need not say that we were terribly sick of this horrible journey. If we could give relief wherever we went, then it would be a joy, but, as it was, such scenes as I have not half described and such tales as I cannot venture to do more than hint at, repeated daily, and even several times a day, made me almost afraid to mention the subject. It was like reopening a painful wound to me; but how much more to the poor people themselves.

After being away fourteen days, on the 10th I reached—thank God—Tai Yuan Fu in safety.

The above is what I saw. Now I have to give a brief account of what I heard. Not that I heard less (it was far more), but I am sure no one cares to read much more of such terrible suffering. I met men from the province of Sze Ch’nau, en route for Peking, and they said that the whole way from Fêng Hien, in that province, there were dead men on the road, now and then. These men said that snow had fallen in Honan about a foot deep. I met others later who had come from Si Ugan Fu. There about a span of snow had fallen. I met others from Ning Hia, in North Kansu. There grain was cheap and in abundance, but scarcer each step as they came across the northern half of Shan Si. No snow worth mentioning had fallen on their route. The Yellow River, at the pass where they crossed over to Shan Si, on their way to Kiang Chow, had not before been passable by ice since the twenty-fifth year: of Tao Kuang (thirty-two years ago), so the poor people have had unusual cold as well as famine to contend with this winter. The soft stone is sold at prices varying from two to five cash per catty, according to distance of carriage. Bark is sold at from five to seven cents per catty at the places where I inquired. The roots of rushes are dug and eaten. This causes the face to swell, and the stone, when taken in large quantities, has the same effect as chalk; people die of constipation. The price of grain is three or four times the usual rate, and the price of turnips and cabbages five and six times. Flour costs seven, eight, or nine cash an ounce, according to the place at which it is bought.

In every city we passed through they said twenty, thirty, or forty people died there daily. At Ping Yang Fu they said that two “wan jên k’ïng” were filled, and that two carts were daily employed in carting the dead. One innkeeper told us that somebody, in three days, had counted no less than two hundred and seventy dead on the road.

The main road goes most of the way alongside the river Fên, and a good deal of the soil can be irrigated on one side or the other, but away a few miles east or west are the hills. The dead there are far more numerous. Whole families, old and young, die in their houses, and there they remain, unburied. At Kiei Hin Hien, in Fen Chow Fu, the innkeeper said that half of the people were either dead or gone away. Those from Lin Kin Hien and I Sz Hsien and Wan Chun Hien, in Pu Chow Fu, said that the number of the dead there was frightful. In one Hien a third were dead already; in another, six out of every ten. In cross-questioning, they insisted that in most of the hiens in Pu Chow Fu more than half were dead. Whoever I asked, from Ping Yang Fu, Pu Chow Fu, Kiang Chow, and Kiei Chow (for I met people from all these place, at some inn or other), I did not meet a single man who would admit that five out of ten remained, except that man who spoke of a third dead. The rest maintained that five or six or seven out of every ten were dead, and they gave instances of villages numbering three, four, and five hundred people last year, only numbering one hundred now.

Here in Yang Kü, nevertheless, judging from inquiries made last year, these statements are exaggerations—true indeed of certain places, but not of whole prefectures. But make a liberal discount and say that only five out of ten will remain at the end of the famine (this I fear is discounting too much), what a terrible and unprecedented famine will it be!

Consider the area. Grain is sent to every hien in Pu Chow Fu overland via Hwai-lu, a distance of about 6,500 miles, not to speak of what comes from Manchuria. If it could be obtained at a less distance, from any other direction, of course it would be done; so we have a radius, and can calculate the square miles. The population of Shansi is mostly in the south.

[Page 113]

Now let us see what is done for their relief. Passing rapidly through each place, I could not possibly get very accurate information. It is only an approximation in this as in other matters I can hope to give. The lowest allowance I heard of was one hundred cash per month to each person (three and one-third cash per day), and the highest I heard of was three hundred cash per month (ten cash per day). A Wei Yuan told me that this place where ten cash was given was the best he had heard of, too, on his way from Fai Yuan Fu to Kian Chow and back. In many places grain was distributed instead of cash, and between two and three ounces was allowed for each person per day. There may be more given in some places, but I did not hear of full three ounces being given anywhere. Fai Yuan Fu is an exception. In the suburbs there are three large soup-kitchens, where altogether about twenty thousand people go. Food to the value of thirty to fifty cash is given to each adult daily—an abundant supply when the people are at home and earn money too. It is very different with the mass of the whole province. I have not heard of any means devised to enable the people to provide for themselves. They trust, or, rather are obliged, to be satisfied, with what is given them directly, and the first and second parts of this letter show with what results.

If what I have written is not enough, let me add that I have heard from several different sources that in many hiens men eat each other. When I said it was hard for me to believe, they were ill-pleased with my incredulity, and supported their statements with so many particulars that I no longer doubt it. I refrain from repeating them. When I inquired the reason for coal rising in price, I was told that none go singly to the coal-pits for it, for they will be stripped of their all, and their beasts, whether horses, cows, mules, or donkeys, eaten up. Among the mountains the people of one village dare not visit another; not only whole families die, but some of the smaller villages perish altogether; and that I hear even here in Yang Kü hien, where the provincial capital is. Houses are turned to sepulchers filled with the dead. I have asked myself more than once, am I among the living or the dead? Snow has not fallen; wheat is not sown; and I have just heard from highest authority that in the southern part of the province some who have money in their hands are dying because there is no grain to be bought.

Grain has been bought in abundance in Tientsin and elsewhere by the governor’s agents, but all the beasts of burden in Shansi and the adjoining provinces are not sufficient to carry the grain. When matters have come to such a pass it is a small thing to say that the roads are so narrow in the mountains that half the carriers are obliged to travel by night while the other half travel by day to prevent delay in waiting at the defiles.

All praise to those officials who try so many means with such vigor to relieve these poor people; but it would be hypocrisy and flattery to praise everything.” Alas! that there should be officials who will not adopt measures which are known to be of great service in other countries, out of sheer prejudice. The blood of the dead myriads must rest upon their unhappy heads. Though wise measures can afford much temporary relief, all human efforts are, after all, miserable patches. We must look to God and implore Him to have mercy upon us speedily.

A fall of snow would make the rich bring out their hoarded grain. But should it rain to-day, there still remain four months of dire famine and fever for these unhappy people.

So all thanks and blessings be unto those willing hearts who now contribute so generously to their relief.

Yours, very truly,


[Inclosure 2 in No. 422.—Translation.]

Memorial of Li Sung Chang.

Li Hung Chang respectfully requests the imperial attention to a memorial reciting the particulars of a fire at Tientsin, the result of carelessness, by which loss of life was occasioned, recommending certain dismissals from office and other penalties, and asking that censure be visited upon himself.

The memorialist respectfully represents that year after year the province of Chihli has been visited by the calamity of floods or drought resulting in deficient harvests; and that as Tientsin is at the points of intersection of highways from all points of the compass, the collection of people there is excessive.

Since 1871 free soup-kitchens have been opened each winter for the maintenance of famine refugees from far and near, the management of which has been intrusted to the public relief office, which has year by year managed the business without errors.

The area affected by drought is larger this year than heretofore, and the number of [Page 114] poverty-stricken people who have fled to Tientsin for food is beyond all comparison. It became necessary to increase the number of soup-kitchens, and while your memorialist was at Tientsin, he had directed that, with a view to proper supervision, the salt commissioner, Ru Shah, the customs intendant, Li Chaotăng, and the territorial intendant, Lin Pinglin, to distribute among themselves the oversight of these kitchens, and had instructed them to select suitable deputies who should be instructed to use due care in all the details of the management.

From the opening of winter to the 1st of January there had from time to time been additional kitchens opened to the number of twelve, at which about 60,000 persons were fed daily. As the numbers of people at these places was so immense, and the number of large temples was limited, it became necessary to build mat sheds upon vacant pieces of ground, within which sheds rice-straw was spread upon the floor, as dwelling-places for the famine refugees.

Your memorialist is now in receipt of a report from the commissioner and intendants named above, in which they state that upon the 6th of January last, at between nine and ten o’clock a.m., a fire broke out at the women’s soup-kitchen, outside the east gate, through the carelessness of some person. Ru Shan, Li Chaotang, the local officials, and fire companies rushed with all speed to the rescue. But the weather was exceedingly dry, there was a strong wind, and the mats and straw of which the sheds were composed kindled in an instant. In a moment’s time they were entirely consumed. With all haste a large number of the refugees who dwelt within were rescued. The number of those burned to death is not small, but at the moment it is difficult to make an enumeration, &c.

At the consideration of this report your memorialist was overcome with astonishment and horror. The kitchen in question was constructed of mats and straw, within which the poverty-stricken refugees congregated. As the weather was cold the inmates could not avoid having a fire, and by default of careful watching on the part of the deputies the fire occurred.

Although this disaster was so sudden that at the moment human strength was of no avail, still the business of these kitchens is of the greatest importance, and your memorialist had over and over again impressed and instructed the officials to be careful. How ought they then to have added caution to caution in their guardianship!

Since now a large number of persons have been burned to death it is abundantly evident that the deputies were careless and indifferent to an extent without parallel. It becomes the duty of your memorialist to request the imperial assent to the dismissal from the public service, never to be again employed, of the deputies Lü Weichang, expectant subcommissioner of salt, and Ling Tiňgwang, expectant official.

Li Chaotaoig was in general superintendence of this kitchen, and he failed in exercising due care; although Ru Shih and Lin Pinglin had not the immediate oversight of the burned kitchen, and the last named, on the day of the disaster, had gone out of town to inspect the river embankments, still they were associated with the first named in the general superintendency of the soup-kitchens, and they cannot be said to be blameless.

Your memorialist must therefore request that your Majesty will order the appropriate board to determine suitable penalties to be visited upon Li Chow Tang, newly appointed provincial judge of Chihli, and now customs intendant at Tientsin; Ru Shan, salt commissioner, and Lin Pinglin, territorial intendant at Tientsin.

Although your memorialist was at the time of this catastrophe residing at the provincial capital, still its occurrence in the soup-kitchen at Tientsin has filled his heart with fears and self-reproaches, and he begs that the board be asked to pass censure upon him.

In reference to the numbers of those who lost their lives, and of those who were rescued, and as to the origin of the conflagration, stringent orders have been sent, with all haste, for a thorough investigation—the dead are to be decently coffined separately; the living are to be removed to another kitchen to receive care; that those who were burned, but not fatally, receive careful and speedy medical aid; and that suitable assistance be rendered to others who may have suffered by the fire—care being taken to avoid fraud. And renewed orders have been sent to the above-named commission, intendants, and their subordinate officers, to exercise all care and diligence in advance in devising means to prevent a recurrence of such a calamity.

All of which is respectfully submitted.

[Inclosure 3 in No. 422.—Translation.]

Memorial from Li Hwng Chang, &c., asking that the closing of all distilleries in the province of Chihli be sanctioned.

Your memorialist respectfully represents that the price of grain throughout Chihli is continually increasing, because of poor harvests and also because of excessive waste.

There are, upon a general estimate, more than a thousand distilleries in the province, [Page 115] using more than 4,000,000 pounds of grain daily, or from 120,000,000 to 140,000,000 pounds per month. Reckoning two pounds of grain as sufficient to feed one person one day, and it seems that the distilleries in question are daily consuming the food of between two and three millions of human beings. The establishments named are continually buying up and using both the grain grown within the province and that from abroad, with the result that there is a scarcity of food for the people, for although there is no lack of grain brought here from far and near by merchants for sale, the price is not, as usual, moderate. It appears that there is a large number of distilleries in the Yung Ping Hsuanhwa and Shuntien districts, and that those in the Yung Ping and Tsunhwa districts import their own grain in immense quantities, which they purchase in Manchuria. As now the provinces of Chihli and Shansi, being famine stricken, are looking to the grain of Manchuria for food supplies, it is certainly trying to one’s patience to learn that the distilleries are controlling that market. A person may abstain from liquor for an entire year, but if, he does not eat twice each day, he suffers from hunger. There is an original difference between these two articles of food and liquor.

The distilleries in question are required to pay an annual tax not exceeding a sum total of 30,000 taels ($40,000), an amount of no importance to the exchequer, while the disaster arising from their consuming the supplies of food for the poor is manifestly great.

Heretofore in years of famine government has forbidden the distillation of spirits, and already in Shansi, in obedience to an edict, the distilleries have been closed. The province of Chihli, being immediately about the capital, is important, and now that the price of food is advancing daily, and the people are in distress, it becomes especially important to shut off non-essentials and to conserve the necessary means of life.

It becomes, therefore, the duty of your memorialist to request that, with the exception of Jehol and Chengta, where abundant harvests and cheap grain render the step unnecessary, within the province of Chihli, and the metropolitan district, from February 1, 1878, the operation of all distilleries be for the present suspended, in order to relieve the wants of the people. After the receipt of a good harvest, distillation may be renewed under the established tax regulations.

In case this project meets with the imperial assent, your memorialist will issue the interdictory order, with appropriate penalties for illicit distillation, and will instruct local officers to be watchful and just in enforcing the order and in preventing official clerks and constables from accepting bribes for complicity in its violations, and to deal sternly with any cases of extortion or false accusation, using suitable discrimination in their execution of the law, &c.

Approved by an imperial edict.

[Inclosure 4 in No. 422.]

Extracts from private letters and from newspapers relating to the famine in China.

[From The North China Daily News. Shanghai, January 12, 1878.]


The fate of the hundreds of thousands of Chinese who are brought face to face with death by this terrible famine has come to be a problem too vast for this effete government to grapple with. One may well stand appalled at the proportions which the famine has assumed. It is estimated—and apparently with a fair degree of reliability—that there are 90,000 refugees at Tientsin now, and still they come. There is a large supply of grain both here and at Taku, but I hear doubts are expressed as to there being a sufficient quantity to meet the demand. Much of this grain, too, is in the hands of speculators, and if used for the poor must be bought at a high price.

Ten or twelve soup-kitchens and cake-shops, where millet gruel or steamed corn-bread is served, have been opened in and around Tientsin. A new soup-kitchen, just finished on the 22d instant, ready for its inmates to enter the next day, took fire and burned up early the next morning. All the buildings of the temple in connection with which the mat-sheds were erected were destroyed. This was in the city. Most of the soup-kitchens are a few li distant from the city.

It is reported that at each of these conventicles there were from 70 to 80 deaths on one cold night a few days since—the daily rate being near 30 at each. The quantity of food is reduced to the minimum; they are huddled together in mat-sheds as thick as they can lie on the ground, and it is impossible for it to be otherwise than that multitudes should perish.

The famine, or something else, seems to be having an influence on the troops in the employ of the viceroy. It is said that each liang-tsz, or company of 500, is now being [Page 116] reduced at a monthly rate of ten men—all of whom are being sent to their homes in the south.

A letter has just been received from Rev. T. Richard, who is now in Tai Yuenfoo, Shansi, in which he speaks of the famine as being “far more extensive,” and the suffering much greater, than in Shantung last year. “I wonder,” he says, “if any good people will once more pity their fellows, for the suffering I hear of on all hands is past description.” Extracts from various proclamations are also given. One very forcibly shows the present condition of this year by an allusion to each of the preceding four years.

The ascending gradation of which may be feebly represented thus—want, hunger, dearth, emptiness, fullness of distress. Another states that 230,000 tls. of silver and 130,000 tan of grain have been contributed by different persons, but that this will fall very far short of carrying the people of 78 chow and hsien districts through to the time of wheat harvest.

Another rumor is afloat, that heavy demands have again been made on the banks and pawn-shops of Tientsin in aid of the sufferers, an intimation being made that in contributing consists their happiness. I do not vouch for it.

It is very cold. Much snow has fallen far to the south. We are having dark, disagreeable days, but no snow.


January 26.—The famine is the great question of the day here. On all hands we hear of the most distressing condition of the people of Shansi, Shensi, North Honan, and South Chihli. A memorial of the governor of Shansi in the Gazette, a few days ago, portrays the picture in most harrowing lines. It is calculated that in that province alone 1,000 are dying daily; that it embraces some five or six millions of people, probably seven-tenths of the entire population and hsiens of Shansi. In the four provinces the numbers must amount to 9,000,000 or 10,000,000, five times the number threatened with famine in India, the crisis of which is now passed. Tribute rice from the south to the amount of 6,000,000 piculs is ordered to be diverted, at the governor’s urgent request, to meet their pressing wants. Money, too, is pouring in upon them. Mr. Richard, of Chefoo, is at the provincial capital in charge of one of the three imperial soup-kitchens, and it would appear that the 2,000 taels he took with him, the residue of the money over from the Shantung famine, with sums since added from home, is being spent in this way. From his great experience of similar distress in Shantung, and the careful and discriminating manner in which the funds placed in his hands were disposed of, we may rest assured he has adopted the best means to reach the largest number at the smallest working expense. A sum of 500 taels remitted by the Shanghai Relief Committee, besides some local sums, were forwarded the other day to him, through one of the native banks, at 3 per cent. discount. The greatest distress is in the south of the province. He informs us that news of the most appalling description reaches him; the dead lying on the roadside, supplying food for the hungry dogs and magpies, and children being boiled and eaten. The distress in Chihli is nearly as bad in some places, and is more easy of access. We hear that several of the missionaries at Peking and Tientsin are prepared to go forth to the work of relief. Subscription lists have been opened in Peking among the missionaries, and donations to this end from $25 to 50 taels have been subscribed by many of their number. Many refugees are collecting at the capital and at Tientsin, and we have just heard of the dreadful massacre of the innocents there on Sunday morning last, about ten o’clock, when some 2,500 to 3,000 helpless women and children lost their lives by being burned alive. They were encamped in a mat inclosure on the southeast corner outside the city wall. Tickets for 4,000 were issued for the place. The sights, it is said, were something horrible. It is estimated there are 50,000 refugees in Tientsin.

The weather is intensely cold, the minimum at night falling as low as 3° above zero, and during the day to 21°. Many must die from cold, accelerated by insufficiency of food, and many from diseases following in the wake of famine.

Li Hung-chang, governor-general of Chihli, &c., memorializes reporting the amounts which have been raised as contributions toward the requirements of famine-relief in that province, under the regulations to which the imperial sanction has been given. The contributions collected up to the end of April last have already been reported (see Gazette of June 30, 1877); and the following statement now remains to be made of the amounts additionally collected, viz, in silver, tls. 52,, in Tientsin nominal [Page 117] cash, computed at 3,500 per tael, tls. 11,753.9.3.8; in maize, pls. 5,690.5.4, equivalent, at the rate of tl. 1.8 per picul, to tls. 10,; in Barbadoes millet, pls. 711.1.6.5, equivalent, at the rate of tls. 1.5 per picul, to tls. 1, The aggregate amount is tls. 75, (in addition to the tls. 214,344.7 collected to the end of April); and the whole is accounted for under the head of contributions supplied to meet the requirements of the famine expenditure dating from 1876. Lists of the contributors are submitted, with requests for the issue of appropriate rewards.

[From the North China Daily News, Shanghai, January 25, 1878.]


The holidays have passed very quietly, and I ought to say pleasantly, too, I think—a quiet pleasure, which after all brings more real enjoyment than those which are mingled with great excitement. The only matter of note was an entertainment given by the minstrel club of Her Majesty’s ship Midge, last evening. The farces of “Box and Cox” and the “Mischievous Monkey” were very well rendered, songs and other performances filling up the evening, and greatly amusing the audience till almost midnight. The proceeds of the entertainment were intended to go to the “Famine Relief,” but I have heard it said that some of the community refused to attend if anything was given to the Chinese, and so the funds may be diverted from this object. It is a great pity if such an unworthy feeling exists, and it does not seem possible that it can represent the general sentiment. The feeling of the community on the subject of relief is now being tested by a circular issued by the committee of last year (Rev. C. A. Stanley, chairman, and Rev. J. Lees, treasurer), soliciting funds to be used in sections where government aid is not given. It is to be hoped the result may show that such a feeling as is indicated above does not exist, or, if it does exist as an excuse for not doing a duty, may it be shamed into concealment as unworthy of a manly character.

About ten o’clock yesterday morning (7th) a fire broke out among the mat-sheds in one of the relief yards just outside the southeast corner of the city wall. A strong northeast wind was blowing at the time, and scarcely an hour passed before the sheds were all burned, and between 2,800 and 3,000 women and children were suffocated or burned to death. As correct an estimate as I can get gives the number of inmates as 3,000, of whom only a little over 100 escaped.

The location of this soup-kitchen was unfortunate. On the east side was the city ditch, on a part of the south and west sides was an ice-pit, while houses lined the remaining sides. In addition, it was surrounded by a strong fence of kauliang stalks plastered with mud, in which there was only one gate. And it is said that on the bursting forth of the flames the gatekeeper locked the gate and ran away. Many of the Chinese showed much courage in trying to render assistance, as testified by an eye-witness, who, passing just at the time, hastened to do what he could in tearing down the fence and rendering other services. He speaks of the scene at that time as terrible beyond description. The scene presented after the fire had done its work was ghastly and horrible, and the picture of it rises before my mind as one that can never be effaced. The contortions of the features, the position of the body, hands, limbs, mouth, and eyes, the same as when the flame and smoke overtook them, reminded one of the descriptions of Pompeii. Had the gate been left open, probably many more might have made their escape, but so rapidly did the flames spread through the mat-sheds, and in the straw and mats spread on the ground as a protection against dampness, that before an opening could be made in the fence, few even were left to linger on in suffering.

How the fire originated no one seems to know—a spark, possibly, from the range where at the time the millet was cooking.

A very extensive fire occurred on Saturday night in the northwest suburb, the particulars of which I have not heard. It is very cold; at eight o’clock this morning the mercury stood at 7°.

We publish elsewhere two letters regarding the famine in the north of China, which bear out the most extreme statements that have been made regarding that calamity. One is from Père Aymeri, quoting the substance of letters that have reached him from Shansi, Shensi, and Honan; the other from Mr. Richard, who is at Tai-yuen-foo, in the heart of Shansi. Both concur in describing the suffering as truly horrible. The names of eight or nine millions are said to be down for relief in the three provinces most afflicted; but how far this is from representing the total number of sufferers, or [Page 118] how inadequate is the relief forthcoming, may be inferred from the accounts of children being boiled and eaten, clay and leaves even used for food, and men, women, and children dying and dead by the roadside. We can sympathize in the earnestness of the appeal for funds made by those who are daily witnesses of such horrors, and we are convinced that the appeal which Mr. Muirhead, on behalf of the relief committee, makes for further aid will evoke a willing response from many who had not yet realized the horror of the scenes which are described in Mr. Richard’s letter. It may be that what we send is a drop in the bucket, but every hundred dollars suffices to save some lives and relieve some measure of suffering. The whole of the funds hitherto subscribed have been remitted, but we share the hope of the committee that more will be forthcoming in answer to this renewed appeal.

the famine in the north.

To the Editor of the North China Daily News:

Dear Sir: Will you please insert the inclosed two letters in regard to the famine in the north. The one is from Rev. Père Aymeri, who describes in brief the terrible Condition of things raging over whole provinces. The other is a continuation of letters that have been sent by Mr. Richard at Tai-yuen-foo, but have not come to hand. Both most earnestly appeal for assistance from the famine-relief fund, but our supplies have all been sent north to the scene of suffering. It would be a great satisfaction if timely relief were afforded in answer to these appeals, and the committee would be glad to receive and forward any assistance that might be rendered.

Honorable Secretary


M. le President: Can you, as you did last year for the sufferers of Shantung, send through the Procure of the Lazaristes, who has authority over the Catholic missionaries of the provinces afflicted by the famine, some portion of the amount which has been obtained for those suffering from the effects of the famine?

I do not think it necessary I should give you in detail a translation from the Italian of the horrible accounts I have received from numerous letters which have been sent to me from Shansi, Shensi, and Honan, where the famine is most general and terrible, and from Shantung, where the famine is far from having disappeared, though it is less severe there than it was last year.

These letters are truly heartrending; the people are dying, one might say, like flies; the cold, added to the failure of nourishment and fuel, leaves them nothing but yellow earth mixed with leaves of various kinds of trees to prolong their lives for a few days. The wild fruits, collected before they are ripe, and the stalks of the millet, are all that are left them; even water has failed, and it is often necessary tor the sufferers to seek it at a distance of half a day’s journey.

The future is very terrible, for, in many parts, the want of rain will prevent the ground from producing, and in many places the people will have consumed all of the grain-seed before sowing time.

The letters I have received are of a nature to make me believe that the details of the famine given in the Peking Gazette, and reproduced in the North China Daily News, are correct.

Hoping the committee will take my request into consideration,

I am, &c., &c.,

Procure des Lazaristes,

Dear Mr. Muirhead: As I do not know whether the posts here are reliable, I send you duplicate of a letter forwarded a few days ago, and if this reaches at the same time, perhaps it had better be published.

It is some time since I saw any account of the Indian famine. In comparison with it, I believe the suffering here is far more terrible. The names of eight or nine millions are down for relief, namely, Honan, two; Shansi and Chihli, about one, and Shansi, five or six millions. That people sell their lands, pull down their houses, sell their wives and daughters, eat roots and carrion, clay and refuse, is nothing strange, [Page 119] but a constant occurrence. And if this were not enough to move one’s pity, the sight of men and women and little children lying helpless by the roadside, or, if dead, torn by hungry dogs and magpies, should do so. The news has reached us within the last few days, from more than one source, that children are being boiled and eaten. If there is pity in the human heart, and the possibility of assistance at hand, this is the time to call it forth. The terrible tales of sieges even sink to nothing before it, for it is only single cities which thus suffer; but here it is a thousand cities—a whole European kingdom! Many thousands of lives were actually saved, and no less than seventy thousand relieved last year, by the generosity of foreigners and their Chinese friends at the ports. It was then a labor of love on your part, who so nobly strove to do good. The blessing of God will ever rest on such deeds. Now we have one of the greatest famines this dynasty has had to contend with. Any help given will be most conscientiously given to the real sufferers. Want will be the only condition of relief. If friends at the ports or elsewhere do not consider Shansi too far away, every tael they contribute will relieve so many sufferers; and in multitudes of cases life depends on there being such help at command. I feel much difficulty in calling for aid this year again. It seems like laying too much on willing hearts, but when each day brings news of greater and greater suffering, I cannot but put the matter before those friends who showed such readiness before, and let them do what they can. To-day my landlord told me that two carts laden with corpses went out at the east gate of this city, which were to be buried together in a common pit. He did not know the number that were carried out singly. I have no words to express the anguish and despair of these poor people.

I remain, yours faithfully,


chinese famine relief fund.

A meeting of the above committee was held Saturday; present, Mr. Glover in the chair; the Revs. Dr. Nelson and W. Muirhead, Messrs. Wetmore, Lemarchand, Forbes, Hübbe, and Dr. Johnston. A letter of apology was read from M. A. Hennequin.

The secretary stated the occasion of the meeting, that it was owing to the letters which had been received from the north in regard to the famine, and Which had appeared in the public papers. The subject was then taken into the serious consideration of the committee as to what should be done. The exceeding sadness of the case was acknowledged, though there was a feeling of deep regret that very much of the prevailing suffering was owing to the want of sufficient roads and means of communication from Tien-Tsin to the famine-stricken districts. It seems that large supplies of rice had been forwarded to that port which were allowed to lie on the wharves exposed to all weathers, or to be otherwise stored up for lack of suitable means of conveyance, while multitudes were perishing at no great distance, and human flesh was resorted to by the living as a necessity of existence.

Various members of the committee were strongly of opinion that the Chinese Government was seriously at fault for this state of things; and both on account of the present famine, and, possibly, any future one, it ought to be most urgently pressed upon that government that railways and such like means of transport should be at once proceeded with, so as to open the country and prevent the recurrence of the terrible destitution now so widely prevailing. The hope was expressed that the publication of these sentiments, at the instance of the famine relief committee, would come to the knowledge of the native authorities, and carry weight with it in their case, leading them to adopt such measures as in similar circumstances to the present would prove effective for the saving of human life.

It was then agreed that the foreign settlements should be divided into various districts to be canvassed by the members of the committee, as was the case last year on the occasion of the Shantung famine. The following order was resolved on:

Honkew, Rev. Dr. Nelson and Dr. Johnston.

Honkew to Nanking road, Messrs. Wood and Gubbay.

Nanking road to Foo-Chow road, Dean Butcher, Messrs. Lemarchand and Glover. Foo-Chow road to Yang-king-pang, Messrs. Forbes, Hubbe and Wetmore.

The French concession, M. Hennequin.

Chinese in the settlements, the outports and Japan, Rev. Messrs. Muirhead and Palmer.

It was further resolved that telegrams be sent to England and America appealing for assistance.

My Dear Mr. Muirhead: In accordance with the resolution passed at this morning’s meeting I called on Mr. Davenport and General Stahel, who both consented to [Page 120] forward under their official signatures the telegraphic appeals for assistance to England and the United States which were draughted by the committee. I append copies of the two telegrams which have gone forward. Mr. Helland deserves the warm thanks of the committee for his liberality in allowing both messages to pass free of charge as far as London over the northern lines.

I have also called on Monsieur Godeaux, who has kindly promised to advise the committee of the best means of appealing promptly to the charity of the French people.

I am, yours truly,

January 26.

Appalling famine raging throughout four provinces North China. Nine millions people reported destitute. Children daily sold in markets for food. Foreign relief committee appeals to England and America for assistance. Requests you form London (or American) committee, collect funds and deposit Agra Bank.

At a meeting of the Chinese famine relief fund committee on Saturday, it was re solved to divide the settlements into districts as was done last year, and canvass for subscriptions in aid of the appalling distress revealed by the last accounts from Shansi. Telegrams were also sent through the English and American consuls to London and New York, appealing for assistance. The committee took occasion to express an opinion which we would like to hope may have some effect on the consciences of Chinese statesmen, viz, that the government is itself in great measure responsible for the frightful loss of life which is occurring, from its neglect to make roads or maintain communications, thereby rendering infinitely difficult the transport of supplies which had been actually accumulated at the port of Tien-Tsin. But there have been famines in China before without this lesson being learned, and there are mandarins elsewhere than at Nanking who would rather see the people perish than admit such a pestilential foreign innovation as a railway.


[From the North China Daily News, Shanghai, February 4, 1878.]

The morning after the burning of the soup-kitchen, at the southeast corner of the city, I sent you such statements as could be gathered at the time relating to the tragic event. As is always the case, such statements must be modified by ascertained facts, which cannot at once be had.

The fire occurred just at the time of the morning meal. One of the higher officers, who is looking after matters since the fire, told me that strict orders had been issued for the gate to be locked at meal time to prevent outsiders from mingling with the inmates and getting a part of the food, and in the confusion it was impossible to get the gate open instantly.

Accurate statistics are not available, either through their not having been kept or through the unwillingness of those in charge to furnish them, but from careful inquiry I think there was not less than 2,800 inmates.

The number burned to death may also be fixed with a good degree of certainty. Five days ago, after all the bodies had been placed in coffins, the number of coffined bodies, large and small, then on the ground was, by actual count, 1,005, while more than 200 had been claimed and removed by friends. Other coffins were filled with the remnants of clothing, while still others contained, or were waiting to receive, either the bones of such of the unfortunate inmates as were almost entirely consumed, or the surface ground of the place. All these rags and this earth are to be buried as being stained or impregnated with blood.

Another method of computing leads to about the same result. A salt merchant of Tientsin, named Kao Hoch’uen, offered to give 3,000 coffins. The number taken from the shops was 1,500. Some of these were used for clothing, bones, and earth, while some were still empty; so that I think we are safe in fixing the number of deaths at not less than 1,200.

The general supervision of the soup-kitchens this winter is intrusted to the Tientsin Tao-t’ai Lin, the customs Tao-t’ai Li, and the former Tao-t’ai Ting. The persons in immediate charge of the place recently burned were of the rank of Tien Sz, named Ting T’ing-hwang, and Lü Wei-ch‘ang. All these persons are expecting punishment of [Page 121] some sort, in consequence of this sad affair. The inmates who escaped have been temporarily provided for in temples near by, or transferred to other relief sheds. Many of them have requested that an allowance of grain and money be made them, and they be permitted to return to their homes, which request, I am informed, will be complied with.

We are looking forward to the coming summer with unusual interest, as it is generally understood that the coal-mines are to be opened and mining pushed forward in them vigorously. May this lead to other equally important advance movements.


A couple of gentlemen, recently returned from a tour in the country, give a most distressing account of the state of some portions through which they passed. In many villages fully half the houses had been despoiled of all their wood, doors, windows, beams, &c., which had been sold for a mere trifle to procure food, leaving only the mud walls standing. In some cases I have heard of the beams being sold as fuel at 3 cash for 2 catties. In the Chi Chow district scarcely any animals are to be seen, and many of the villages are half deserted; indeed, in some villages it was said that “more than half” the people had gone away, and of those left, according to the local constables’ statements, and in villages of sixty to eighty families, the remainder were being decreased by death at the rate of one daily. The district is likely to be almost ruined by the time crops come again.

The magistrate of Chi Chow adopted the following method of relief: It was announced that grain would be sold in the city at half price. It was sold, however, in very limited quantities, and only on every third day, and the business was done so slowly that many had to go away unserved; and even this sale was stopped about eighteen days ago. The grand defect of this plan is that it does not meet the case of the great majority of the people; they have no money to buy with. Many persons who farm 40 to 100 mow of land, and have been well-to-do farmers, have not a cash with which to help themselves.

One of the Hsien magistrates, under this same Chow city (Tsao-hsiang Hsien), adopted a different method. He announced that on a certain day 5 measures of grain would be given to each destitute person. Previous to the day of distribution runners were sent to all the villages to ascertain who were really destitute.

The announcement stated that those receiving grain would be required to sign an agreement to repay the grain the coming year. Those who possessed even one mow of land were thereby rendered ineligible to the relief. Thus those who might have some hope of being able to repay the grain if their land produced the coming season were debarred the aid they needed by this very prospect, while those who had no such prospect dared not sign such an agreement; consequently no one went. It would be interesting to know if this proffered grain was a government grant. The evil deeds of this official have been so many and so bad that he has become a by-word among his people, and, as a matter of fact, has almost ruined his district by his injustice and oppression.

Some time since proclamations were issued forbidding the slaughter of cattle, on the ground that the officials were praying for snow. It was privately intimated to the butchers, however, that by the payment of a few hundred taels they would not be molested in their business. This they very properly declined to do. As a consequence no beef is to be had. Our first fall of snow came yesterday, about an inch deep, and perhaps the strictures may now be removed.

Yen King-ming, special high commissioner for the superintendence of the arrangements for famine-relief in Shansi, submits a further report of his proceedings and investigations, having now traversed the eastern division of the province, and reached the district city of Yün-ch’êng. He received on the 8th December, at Kaop’ing, the imperial rescript acknowledging the receipt of his earlier report on the western section of the province; but previously to this, on the 29th November, he had set out from T’ai-yüan Fu, the provincial capital, on his journey eastward. In the Wu-hiang and Ts’in Chow districts he found that the soil of the uplands was baked to the consistency of brick, and that there had been no autumn crop. The relief agency had but lately been set in operation, and the distressed population had gathered around it awaiting succor. The country lying west of Ts’in Chow was in the same condition. Turning southward through Lu-ngan Fu he found that the winter wheat had not been planted, and that the country, its own provisions of grain exhausted, was depending upon the [Page 122] importations from Kwang-p’ing Fu, in Chihli, by way of Tung-yang Kwan. Flour was selling, at 60 or 70 cash per catty, which is three or four times the ordinary price. In Li-ch’êng, Lu-chêng, and Ch’ang-tsze, the suffering from drought had been somewhat less, but the price of provisions was not diminished, and the population was suffering in an extraordinary degree. Passing through the southeastern border districts of the province, the memorialist proceeded westward to Yang-ch’êng, Ts’in-shui, &c., in which districts the suffering was found to be still more intense than in Ts’in Chow and Lu-ngan. At Fêng-t’ai it was found that 250,000 was the number of applicants for relief, and at Yang-ch’êng 180,000 individuals were in the same category. These two points are the centers at which the largest numbers are collected. Generally speaking, the country embraced within Ts’in Chow, Lu-ngan Fu, and Tsêh Chow is for the most part hilly and cultivated to a comparatively small extent. The population is principally engaged in the iron industry; and as the furnaces suspend their operations on all sides during a season of distress, the working classes find it all the harder to obtain means of subsistence. There are but few wealthy residents, moreover, in these districts, and local contributions are not easily obtained. For the issue of relief, the principal source of supply is the public granaries, but with such a multitude of mouths to feed, the small store of grain is exhausted in the twinkling of an eye. In Tsêh Chow, as this department borders on Honan, supplies of grain have been received through the agency of the famine commissioner Wu Ta-ch’êng, but the amount thus obtained is limited and cannot suffice for all wants. The district authorities are performing their duties in obedience to the imperial commands, and are not intrusting their functions to the class of underlings. Although some may be more gifted with ability than others, no complaints are forthcoming of malversation or other malpractices. A salutary warning has been afforded by the governor’s impeachment of some twenty or more of the provincial officials. In conclusion, the memorialist dwells once more upon the painful scenes he has witnessed at every stage of his journey, in the course of which his chair has continually been surrounded by crowds of the famine-stricken population imploring relief, to whom he has administered comfort in soothing words, assuring them of the imperial sympathy. The roads are lined with corpses in such numbers as to distance all efforts for their interment; while women and children, starving and in rags, know not where to look for the means of keeping body and soul together. The distinctions drawn a short time ago in respect of the degree of impoverishment in individual cases has now disappeared; all are equally reduced to utter destitution. The memorialist, his heart wrung with despairing pity, cannot but ask why has a calamity so awful as this been visited upon the people. He can only ascribe it to his own failure in the due discharge of his duty, and he feels that his shortcoming admits of no excuse. In reply, the grand council has received a rescript expressing profound sympathy with the sufferings of the people as reported in this memorial, and directing that all that is possible for their relief be done in consultation with the governor of the province.