to Mr. Evarts
Peking , November 2, 1880.
Sir: My predecessors have had frequent occasion to inform the Department of the embarrassments which our commerce in common with that of other nations has for years been suffering from the existence of the Woosung bar, at the mouth of the Shanghai River. They have also advised the Department of the earnest efforts which have been made by the Shanghai Chamber of Commerce, the foreign consuls at Shanghai, and the diplomatic representatives at Peking, to induce the Chinese authorities to dredge the bar, or at any rate to permit the foreign powers to do so, with the proceeds of a light levy on the commerce of Shanghai.
Some months ago in one of the diplomatic conferences held here, Sir Thomas Wade was instructed by the diplomatic corps in their behalf to present to the foreign office an urgent request to permit them to order the improvement of navigation at the bar and pay for the work by collecting light dues from the vessels which sail to and from Shanghai. In no way was the Chinese Government to be burdened, though Chinese vessels were like others to pay the dues required.
To this request the foreign board have replied in a paper which I inclose. * * *
The diplomatic conferences which were found last spring to be so serviceable, were resumed on the 25th ultimo. Among the subjects considered was that of the Woosung bar. This paper of the Tsung li Yamen was thought by all to be so feeble as to call for no formal reply. Sir Thomas Wade was instructed to renew and urge his request.
It is well understood that the real reasons why the Chinese authorities object to the dredging of the bar, are two-fold:
- First. They dislike any innovation. An immense power of inertia has to be overcome to gain their assent to any change.
- Secondly. They regard the bar as a natural defense of Shanghai against the war-vessels of heavy draught and especially against the ironclads. They speak of it as a “heaven-sent barrier.” A noteworthy article in one of the Chinese newspapers of Shanghai lately spoke of the proposition to remove the bar as a profane suggestion to interfere with the will of Heaven.
Of the heavy burdens which the existence of the bar lays upon vessels of deep draught, there is overwhelming proof. Some very valuable and interesting figures are given in a recent dispatch from Consul-General Denny, which I inclose. There would, of course, be no need of arguing with any western nation to induce it to permit the improvement of the access to its principal port. But it is by no means certain that the present attempt of the diplomatic body will meet with early success. Even when permission has been received, time and money will be needed to make a complete examination of the river and the bar. For it is by no means certain exactly what the best remedy for the trouble is. The best engineering talent of the west should be employed to make a careful study of the problem. It seems to me highly probable that some considerable annual expenditure will always be necessary.
I have, &c.,
- The Chinese name of the Shanghai River.↩