No. 120.

Mr. Denby to Mr. Bayard .

No. 34.]

Sir: I have the honor to state, as a matter of interest to a great many persons in the United States, and as part of the current history of China, the position of that Empire as to the construction of railroads.

The most prominent man in China to-day is Li Hung-chang, who is grand secretary of the Empire, viceroy of the province, and one of the heads of the admiralty board. His residence is at Tien-Tsin, but he lately spent some weeks at Peking. I had the pleasure of meeting him on several occasions. He seems to have great respect for foreigners. He has for some years been in favor of building railroads. He has had a hard fight in China to have his views approved. The opposition comes chiefly from the censors and the board of revenue. The censors represent that numbers of men would be thrown out of employment, graves would be desecrated, and internal troubles would ensue. The board of revenue claims that if railroads are built the whole revenue service of China would have to be changed. It seems likely in effect that the lekin tax, which is one of the chief sources of revenue to China, would have to be abandoned or materially modified. This is a consummation that the foreigners most ardently desire. The viceroys generally oppose railroads because they tend to centralization of power, and thereby diminish their own influence. But Li Hung-chang, through all the changes of men and measures, has maintained his power, and there seems every reason to believe that he will succeed in his plan of constructing railroads.

I send to the Department the dying memorial of Tso Tsung Tang, which contains an able presentation of the argument in favor of constructing railroads in China. By way of parenthesis I will state that a dying official always leaves a posthumous memorial to the Government. It also happens often that after he is dead some distinguished honorary office is conferred on him by imperial decree. This memorial of Tso Tsung Tang preceded by a very few days the visit of Li Hung-chang to the capital, and furnished him a fine opportunity to press his railroad views.

It was considered, certainly with reason, that the best mode of inviting the attention of the members of the Government to the merits of railroad would be to exhibit a working model of an American roadway and rolling-stock. The Chinese are eminently a practical people and without much scientific knowledge; therefore an actual ocular demonstration of the thing proposed is the surest and easiest mode of carrying conviction to their minds.

[Page 181]

Acting upon this peculiarity, a complete working model railroad was procured from the United States. It consisted of 100 feet of main track and sidings, with switches and turn-table, a passenger locomotive and tender, mail and baggage cars, passenger cars, Pullman parlor and sleeping cars, different kinds of freight cars, a full section of seats and berths in sleeping-car, &c. The cars were 5 feet long, and all other parts of the model were in equal proportion, and care had been taken to make the model throughout an exact representation in miniature of road, locomotive, cars, &c, in actual use in the United States, complete in the smallest detail. The motive power was clock-work. This model was exhibited to the viceroy, Li Hung Chang in his yamên at Tien-Tsin, in September last, and he expressed himself much pleased with it, and said he would exhibit it in Peking when he went there in October.

On the 16th of October the model, which had been conveyed to Peking, was again exhibited before the viceroy by his order, and on the following day the viceroy presented it to Prince Chun, the Emperor’s father. Several native mechanics who were able to work the model went with it to the prince’s palace and worked it successfully in the pleasure grounds of the palace. The prince was highly pleased and thanked the viceroy heartily. He also gave presents to the mechanics and had them instruct his own attendants in the working of the model. Two days later the prince sent the model to the imperial palace, where it was exhibited to the Emperor and Empress dowager, and worked successfully. Their majesties were much interested and amused, and spent some time in a minute examination of the model. It was the first and most complete representation they had ever seen of the much talked of railroad, and it enabled them and the prince to realize many of the benefits that this modern institution would confer on China. It is understood that the event materially assisted the viceroy in his advocacy of railroads for China, and their majesties lent a willing ear to all he had to say in favor of railroads, and agreed to allow him to prepare for their introduction into the country.

It is to be hoped that this good result will be followed by measures favorable to the adoption of our system of railroads in various parts of this vast Empire. There are many ways in which our system is peculiarly adapted to China, and it may be expected that the enterprise and skill of our engineers and manufacturers will find a profitable field for employment in China, and furnish men and material fitted to sustain the high reputation of our railroads and their management.

I have, &c.,

CHARLES DENBY.