Of Hankow, however, more is known. Here we landed after a four days’ run, and, owing to the low water, had to wait five days before the shallower-bottomed steamer for the higher journey had come in. The city is made up of foreign concessions, as in other treaty ports, but away in the native quarter there is the real China, with her selfish rush, her squalidness and filth among the teeming thousands. There dwell together, literally side by side, but yet eternally apart, all the conflicting elements of the East and West which go to make up a city in the Far East, and particularly the China coast.
Hankow means literally Han Mouth, being situated at the juncture of the Han River and the Yangtze. Across the way, as I write, I can see Han-yang, with its iron works belching out black curls of smoke, where the arsenal turns out one hundred Mauser rifles daily. (This is but a fraction of the total work done.) It is, I believe, the only steel-rolling mill in China. Long before the foreigner set foot so far up the Yangtze, Hankow was a city of great importance—the Chinese used to call it the centre of the world. Ten years ago I should have been thirty days’ hard travel from Peking; at the present moment I might pack my bag and be in Peking within thirty-six hours. Hankow, with Tientsin and Nanking, makes up the trio of principal strategic points of the Empire, the trio of centers also of greatest military activity. On the opposite bank of the river I can see Wu-ch’ang, the provincial capital, the seat of the Viceroyalty of two of the most turbulent and important provinces of the whole eighteen.
Hankow, Han-yang, and Wu-ch’ang have a population of something like two million people, and it is safe to prophesy that no other centre in the whole world has a greater commercial and industrial future than Hankow.
Here we registered as British subjects, and secured our Chinese passports, resembling naval ensigns more than anything else, for the four provinces of Hu-peh, Kwei-chow, Szech’wan, and Yuen-nan. The Consul-General and his assistants helped us in many ways, disillusioning us of the many distorted reports which have got into print regarding the indifference shown to British travelers by their own consuls at these ports. We found the brethren at the Hankow Club a happy band, with every luxury around them for which hand and heart could wish; so that it were perhaps ludicrous to look upon them as exiles, men out in the outposts of Britain beyond the seas, building up the trade of the Empire. Yet such they undoubtedly were, most of them having a much better time than they would at home. There is not the roughing required in Hankow which is necessary in other parts of the empire, as in British East Africa and in the jungles of the Federated Malay States, for instance. Building the Empire where there is an abundance of the straw wherewith to make the bricks, is a matter of no difficulty.