No. 128.
Mr. Angell to Mr. Evarts .

No. 42.]

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.,

[Page 180]
[Inclosure 1 in No. 42.]

the woosung bar.

Memorandum from the minister of the Tsung li Yamen forwarded to Sir Thomas Wade in a semi-official note dated October 5, 1880.

The memorandum on the dredging of the river at Woosung forwarded some time since in a note from the British minister was at once communicated to the minister superintendent of southern trade for consideration.

A reply has now been received from his excellency stating that this question was the subject of numerous discussions and proposals some years ago, none of which it was possible to give effect to; a further suggestion having now been made for the levy of an additional tax to meet the cost of the labor (requisite for dredging the bar), the minister has made it the subject of thorough investigation in order to ascertain whether there are or are not objections to the plan, and has also questioned the taotai at Shanghai on this matter. This officer has replied at length, pointing out that there are a multitude of difficulties which render it impossible to attempt to acquiesce in the arrangement proposed, and submits the following reason for the conclusion he has come to.

The silt and sand of the Poo* River at Woosung is the deposit of many hundred years. Large vessels belonging to foreign merchants that are heavily freighted have always been free to lighten, the privilege of lightening being accorded by treaty with the express object of meeting the case of shoal water (at the bar). But the text of the treaty mentions lightening only, and contains no reference whatever to dredging with a view to avoid lightening. Large foreign vessels can all avoid getting aground by loading less heavily, or they can wait for a tide to proceed on their way, or, if they do not follow either of these courses, it is open to them, if they please, to lighten as permitted by the regulations.

An abrupt decision to set to work to dredge [the bar] in the interest only of those foreign merchants who own large vessels, with the object of carrying large cargoes, and wish to save the expense of lightening, is not only a condition of things never contemplated by the treaty, but also does not seem to be consistent with reason. The taotai has never heard of the silt that has accumulated at Woosung having blocked up the channel during the hundreds of years it has existed.

The bar [serves a double object]. Without, it keeps back the muddy water brought up by the tide; within, it keeps back the water of the Poo River, upon which all the arable land on either shore is dependent for purposes of irrigation. Directly the bar is cleared, the silt brought in by the tide will be carried on to the fields, whereby much damage will be done.

Again, the numbers of junks that lie inside the river select shallow places for an anchorage, where they wait for the tide to proceed on their way, an arrangement with which they are satisfied. If the water is deepened in mid-stream, the waves caused by foreign vessels as they go in or out will create a strong wash that will come rushing straight in, rendering it equally impossible for Chinese craft to stay where they are or to proceed, and many accidents will be sure to occur. Now, agriculture and navigation are matters of vital importance to the Chinese people which cannot be disregarded, and it may be seen from the conditions explained above that the unwillingness of the Chinese Government to dredge the Poo River does not in any way proceed from a reluctance to incur the expense, for even if [special] funds were provided to meet this expense the river could nevertheless not be dredged. The proposal to raise an additional tax in order to meet the cost of this work need not, therefore, as a matter of fact, be taken into consideration.

But even if the consideration of the question of levying an additional tax were for the moment admitted, there are still numerous obstacles to the plan which render its adoption impossible. These objections the Taotai will proceed to set forth in detail.

The question of the necessity or otherwise of dredging channels in the inland waters of China is one which it is entirely for China herself to decide. Moreover, in her compassionate consideration for mercantile interests, she imposes taxes that are lighter than any other countries can boast of, and these interests would suffer, instead of deriving benefit by an increase of taxation such as is now proposed in the interests of those foreign merchants who own large vessels. All the foreign vessels that enter the port are not large ones nor do all owners of produce charter large ships for its conveyance. It would therefore be a gross injustice to force all Chinese and foreign merchants alike to provide funds for the benefit of the few individuals or firms who own large vessels because they want to carry large cargoes and save expense.

At a general estimate by a tax of one per mil on the value of all produce imported [Page 181] into, or exported from, Shanghai, an additional revenue could be raised of 125,000 taels per annum. This tax is to be levied on Chinese and foreigners alike, and the Taotai has recently heard that even among the foreign merchants there are some who object to its imposition, whilst native merchants have never considered the question of the bar at all, so that if the latter are also called upon to pay an extra duty in common with foreign merchants it is impossible that they should willingly consent, and (under the circumstances) how could the authorities bear to compel them to do so. Therefore, even if the possibility of dredging the bar were admitted the question of increasing the duties could not be considered. How much less when the bar neither can nor must be dredged.

Sir T. Wade, who is so well acquainted with Chinese and foreign matters, must be thoroughly aware of the impossibility of carrying out this arrangement. If those foreign merchants who own the few large steamers that visit the port, would consider the conditions of the Woosung bar and adapt their cargoes to their conditions, their vessels might, as a matter of fact, come and go quite comfortably; or if they do not (choose to adapt their cargoes to the depth of the water), they may wait for a tide to get in, or lighten as permitted by the regulations. These have been the courses adopted by merchant vessels ever since the commencement of foreign trade, and the Taotai presumes that it cannot be Sir T. Wade’s idea to force China to effect an impossibility or to go against the wishes of the majority of the mercantile class, because there is a sudden desire to dredge the accumulated silt of several hundred years in the interest of a few foreign firms who own large vessels and are anxious to save the cost of lightening.

The Yamen have to observe that the various points brought forward by his excellency the superintendent of trade for the southern ports, are, in effect, a true representation of the state of the case, and they imagine that the British minister who has been in China so many years will thoroughly understand (the grounds of the objections).

This memorandum is offered in reply (to the one prepared by the British minister) in hope that he will give it his careful attention.

[Inclosure 2 in No. 42.]

Mr. Denny to Mr. Angell .

As the honorable commission which was created and sent out by the Government of the United States with a view to modifying the treaties with China is now prosecuting its labors at Peking, I have thought that perhaps a few figures and comments in addition to those forwarded by the consular body and Shanghai Chamber of Commerce to different foreign ministers early in April last looking to the conservancy of the Woosung bar to the end that foreign shipping and foreign trade with Shanghai might be relieved from some of the burdens at least which are now put upon it might not be considered out of place.

The gradual setting up of this bar has been for some years a source of much annoyance as well as great expense to vessels visiting Shanghai. Grievances have repeatedly been complained of by masters of merchant vessels from time to time. Not only this, but merchants and business men here, have, through their consuls and the Chamber of Commerce, presented to the diplomatic body the most urgent reasons why some steps should be taken to check the progress of an enemy which is day by day placing additional obstacles in the way of commerce in its effort to reach the commercial center of the east. These efforts have been greatly strengthened and encouraged by the foreign ministers, who have been exerting themselves to induce the Chinese authorities to sanction the removal of this obstruction. But thus far no satisfactory results have been attained by them. One sickly excuse after another, even to profanity itself, in calling this obstruction a “Heaven sent barrier,” &c., has been put forward by the Peking Government in response to their unanswerable arguments, and this will probably continue to be the case, unless there is a united demand made upon the government by the representatives of the treaty powers for such a concession as a partial equivalent for the large sums of tonnage dues paid to it annually by foreign shipping seeking an entrance to this port. In fact it was for just such objects as this that the collection of tonnage dues was provided for in the treaties, and if these dues are to be diverted from the purpose for which they were intended, the right to collect them should be questioned.

There are at present in this harbor six American sailing ships, all of which were compelled upon their arrival at this bar to incur the expense of lightening, the deepest drawing 22 feet. The following table which I have carefully prepared from facts and figures obtained from the masters of these vessels will give you some idea at least of the expenses which the shipping to this port in such ships is now compelled to incur.

[Page 182]
Ship. Tons. Tonnage dues. Expense incurred. Total expense.
Brown Brothers 1,493 $907 61 $876 00 $1,783 61
Paul Jones 1,258 764 77 355 50 1,120 27
Top Gallant 1,280 778 13 1,037 00 1,815 13
Blue Jacket 1,396 848 65 670 00 1,518 65
Henrietta 1,267 770 23 778 00 1,548 23
May Whitridge 862 524 02 880 00 1,404 02
7,586 4,593 41 4,596 50 9,189 91

From the above statement it will be seen that while these vessels paid tonnage dues after arriving in port, in the aggregate of $4,593.41, the extra expenses they were put to in crossing the bar amounted to $4,596.50; which added to the tonnage dues, makes the total expenses for these six ships $9,189.91; and when we come to carry these burdens to the entire shipping of the port they become enormous. From the 30th September last year to the 30th September this year, the customs have collected tonnage-dues amounting to about $360,000, about one-half of which is at this port, and it is safe to say that not $50,000 of this sum is expended annually in adding to the shipping facilities of the harbor. Taking the foregoing table as our guide there is to be added to the dues collected at this port at least $180,000, expenses incurred by vessels at the bar, which makes the respectable sum of $360,000 annual tax upon this interest in order to reach Shanghai.

The expense to the Chinese Government in dredging this bar to a depth that would freely permit with seriously high tides, vessels drawing 22 to 23 feet to pass, would not be comparatively great; at all events, once the obstructions removed the labor afterwards would be easy. Suppose, however, that it should require all of the tonnage receipts for one, or even two years, to accomplish this important work, certainly the Chinese authorities owe this much at least to an interest which has paid them millions of dollars in the past, and will yet pay them millions more.

During the past summer it has frequently occurred that outgoing ships have been compelled to cross the bar and take cargo afterwards. On yesterday the steamer Indus, belonging to the Peninsular and Oriental line, went out over the bar for this purpose, and to-morrow one of the Mitsu Bishi steamers will pursue the same course. The expenses attending the shipment of cargo under such circumstances must be great.

Should the instructions of the commission preclude the consideration of such questions as this, I trust the facts I have here given, bearing upon the subject, may be some use to you in urging with your colleagues its consideration by the Peking Government.

  1. The Chinese name of the Shanghai River.