The whole of the trade of the three western provinces—Yuen-nan, Kwei-chow and Szech’wan—has for all time been handled by Shanghai, going into the interior by the extremely hazardous route of these Yangtze rapids, and then over the mountains by coolie or pack-horse. This has gone on for centuries. But now the time has come for the Hong-Kong trader to step in and carry away the lion share of the greatly increasing foreign trade for those three provinces by means of the advantage the new Tonkin-Yuen-nan Railway has given him.
The railway runs from Haiphong in Indo-China to Yuen-nan-fu, the capital of Yuen-nan province. And it appears certain to the writer that, with such an important town three or four days from the coast, shippers will not be content to continue to ship via the Yangtze, with all its risk. British and American merchants, who carry the greater part of the imports to Western China, will send their goods direct to Hong-Kong, where transhipment will be made to Haiphong, and thence shipped by rail to Yuen-nan-fu, the distributing center for inland trade. To my mind, Hong-Kong merchants might control the whole of the British trade of Western China if they will only push, for although the tariff of Tonkin may be heavy, it would be compensated by the fact that transit would be so much quicker and safer. But it needs push.
The history of our intercourse with China, from the days of the East India Company till now, is nothing but a record of a continuous struggle to open up and develop trade. Opening up trade, too, with a people who have something pathetic in the honest persistency with which their officials have vainly struggled to keep themselves uncontaminated from the outside world. Trade in China cannot be left to take care of itself, as is done in Western countries. However invidious it may seem, we must admit the fact that past progress has been due to pressure. Therefore, if the opportunities were placed near at hand to the Hong-Kong shipper, he would be an unenterprising person indeed were he not to avail himself of the opportunity. Shanghai has held the trump card formerly. This cannot be denied. But I think the railway is destined to turn the trade route to the other side of the empire. It is merely a question as to who is to get the trade—the French or the British. The French are on the alert. They cannot get territory; now they are after the trade.
It is my opinion that it would be to the advantage of the colony of Hong-Kong were the Chamber of Commerce there to investigate the matter thoroughly. Now is the time.
[Footnote D: Cash, a small brass coin with a hole through the middle. Nominally 1,000 cash to the dollar.]
CHUNG-KING TO SUI-FU (VIA LUCHOW)