to Mr. Bayard.
Peking , November 17, 1886. (Received January 3, 1887.)
Sir: I have the honor to report to the Department that, owing to the heavy and incessant down-pour of rain which prevailed during the summer and early part of the autumn in the province of Chihli, many districts in the prefectures of Shuntien, Paoting, Hochien, Tientsin, and other places were flooded by the overflow of the rivers and bursting of their embankments.
The crops are entirely destroyed and the country completely covered with water—countless houses have been demolished or rendered uninhabitable; most of the people are roofless, and no small number on the verge of starvation; and a winter of fearful severity to be faced; all the evils that are implied in the three words, hunger, cold, and nakedness, lie before these Chinese unfortunates.
The inundations have caused the Government serious uneasiness, and it is to be feared there is too good reason for anxiety. The districts flooded are immense; the ruin caused complete; there is little prospect of the water draining off before the winter sets in, so many tens of of square miles of land will be converted for some months into a frozen lake, and thousands of agricultural people will be utterly deprived of the means of earning food. The land flooded is so low that the drainage towards the sea is slight and slow, and the unseasonable rains during the month of October have counteracted to a great extent any diminution which might have taken place, so that at present the water on the plain in some places adjacent to Tientsin is almost as deep as when the flood was at the highest point. Immense districts more or less ice-bound, and thousands of starving people to be housed and fed during a severe winter—this, then, is the prospect which the Government has to face, and this, not in a remote region of the Empire, but in the immediate neighborhood of the capital, where the Emperor has not only already heard, but is likely to still hear, the cry of distress with unpleasant distinctness.
The following appropriations of rice and money have been made by decrees issued by the Empress Regent and Emperor, to alleviate the distress of the sufferers:
On the 9th of August 66, 130 piculs of rice were granted by imperial order, to be distributed among the famine-stricken in the four prefectures above alluded to. The rice to be taken from the tribute grain of Kiangsu in transit to Peking, and the money necessary to defray cost of transit of same is also given to afford relief to the sufferers.
On the 4th of September another allotment of 50,000 piculs of tribute rice was given from the Kiangpei supply, as well as the money [Page 101] necessary for cost of transportation of same, to be distributed among the sufferers in the Shuntien prefecture.
On the same day the Empress Regent granted by imperial decree from the palace fund the sum of 20,000 taels for the same purpose.
On the 5th of September a further decree appeared, based upon a memorial presented by the governor-general, Li Hung Chang, granting an appropriation of 100,000 taels to be used at once in giving succor and relief to the destitute in various districts in the prefectures of Tientsin and Yungping, the money to be furnished by the provincial treasurer of Chihli. The Empress also decreed on the same day that the board of revenue shall appropriate 20,000 taels from the moneys due for the imperial palace, to be applied toward giving relief to the distressed through tout the flooded districts in the province of Chihli.
Hundreds of refugees are seen daily—men, women, and children—going to and returning from the Government soup kitchens, where they receive a quantity of gruel per diem, but the small amount received cannot very well support life, especially to those who are half-clothed and barely sheltered from the nights’ cold.
In the districts surrounding and belonging to Tientsin through which the high road to Peking passes, for nearly 15 miles every village is destroyed, the country presenting one vast and almost uninterruped expanse, of water, dotted here and there with island hamlets (the walls of the remaining houses) and forlorn trees. Boats of various description are to be seen skimming over these waters, and the trade in fishing has received an immense impetus, many of the farmers, whose means of support by agricultural pursuits are cut off, having taken to fishing as a source of livelihood. While this occupation will help to keep many from the pangs of hunger for a short time, it will cease when the water is frozen.
I have, &c.,