to Mr. Evarts
Peking , January 10, 1881. (Received March 8.)
Sir: I am in possession of the information—unofficial, but, I doubt not, perfectly authentic—that contracts have now been signed by the Great Northern Telegraph Company to construct a line of telegraph overland from Shanghai to Tientsin and Peking; and also a branch from Tientsin to Paoting-fu, the capital of this province. It is the purpose to complete the work by next winter.
Nothing but the military advantages to be gained by the use of the line in case of war has led the government to give its consent to this enterprise. The viceroy, Li Hung Chang, has been the active agent in pressing the government to give its assent.
The viceroy is also vigorously working to induce the government to build a railroad from Chinkiang to Peking.
The conservatives oppose the project, with the assertions that a railroad would give the foreigner easy access to the interior; that it would cause distress to the people, and that it would ruin the China Merchants’ Steamship Company. I fear their arguments will prevail, unless the authorities can be persuaded that the railroad is a military necessity. Indeed, it would not be out of keeping with Chinese precedents if the telegraphic project should even now be abandoned, provided a peaceful adjustment of the difficulties with Russia is reached. Still it seems probable that the officials have been convinced by the advantages derived from the line between Tientsin and Taku that a further extension of the telegraphic system is desirable, and that the new project will really be carried out. The importance of such a forward step is too obvious to call for comment.
I have, &c.,