1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Canton (China)

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CANTON (more correctly Kwang-chow Fu), a large and populous commercial city of China, in the province of Kwangtung, situated on the eastern bank of the Pearl river, which at Canton is somewhat broader than the Thames at London Bridge, and is navigable 300 m. into the interior. The Pearl river has an additional course of 80 m. to the sea, the first part of which lies through a rich alluvial plain. Beyond this rises a range of hills terminating in abrupt escarpments along the course of the river. The bold shore thus formed compresses the stream at this point into a narrow pass, to which the Chinese have given the name of Hu-mun, or Tiger’s Gate. This the Portuguese translated into Boca Tigre, whence the designation of “the Bogue,” by which it is commonly known among Europeans. When viewed from the hills on the north, Canton appears to be little more than an expanse of reddish roofs relieved by a few large trees,—two pagodas shooting up within the walls, and a five-storeyed tower near the northern gate, being the most conspicuous objects. These hills rise 1200 ft. above the river. Little or no vegetation is seen on them; and their acclivities, covered for miles with graves and tombs, serve as the necropolis of this vast city. Three or four forts are built on the points nearest the northern walls. Facing the city on the opposite side of the river is the suburb and island of Honan. The part of Canton enclosed by walls is about 6 m. in circumference, and has a partition wall, running east and west, and dividing the city into two unequal parts. The northern and larger division is called the old, and the southern the new city. Including the suburbs, the city has a circuit of nearly 10 m. The houses stretch along the river for 4 m., and the banks are almost entirely concealed by boats and rafts. The walls of the city are of brick, on a foundation of sandstone and granite, are 20 ft. thick, and rise to an average height of 25 ft. On the north side the wall rises to include a hill which it there meets with, and on the other three sides the city is surrounded by a ditch, which is filled by the rising tide, when, for a time, the revolting mass of filth that lies in its bed is concealed from view. There are twelve outer gates—four of which are in the partition wall, and two water gates, through which boats pass from east to west across the new city. The gates are all shut at night, and in the daytime a guard is stationed at them to preserve order. The streets, amounting in all to upwards of 600, are long, straight, and very narrow. They are mostly paved and are not as dirty as those of some of the other cities in the empire; in fact, considering the habits of the people and the inattention of the government to these matters, Canton may be said to be a well-governed and comparatively cleanly city. The houses are in general small, seldom consisting of more than two storeys, the ground floor serving as a shop, and the rest of the house, with the court behind, being used as a warehouse. Here are to be found the productions of every quarter of the globe; and the merchants are in general attentive, civil, expert men of business, and generally assiduous.

The temples and public buildings of Canton are numerous, but none of them presents features worthy of special remark. There are two pagodas near the west gate of the old city, and 124 temples, pavilions, halls and other religious edifices within the city. One of the pagodas called the Kwangtah, or Plain Pagoda, is a Mahommedan mosque, which was erected by the Arabian voyagers who were in the habit of visiting Canton about ten centuries ago. It rises in an angular tapering tower to the height of 160 ft. The other is an octagonal pagoda of nine storeys, 170 ft. in height, and was first erected more than thirteen centuries ago. A Buddhist temple at Honan, opposite the foreign factories, and named in Chinese Hai-ch‘wang-sze, or the Temple of the Ocean Banner, is one of the largest in Canton. Its grounds, which cover about seven acres, are surrounded by a wall, and are divided into courts, gardens and a burial-ground, where are deposited the ashes of priests, whose bodies are burned. There are about 175 priests connected with this establishment. Besides the Hai-ch‘wang-sze the most noteworthy temples in and about the city are those of the Five Hundred Gods and of Longevity, both in the western suburbs; the Tatar City Temple and the Temple of the Five Genii. The number of priests and nuns in Canton is not exactly known, but they probably exceed 2000, nine-tenths of whom are Buddhists. The temples are gloomy-looking edifices. The areas in front of them are usually occupied by hucksters, beggars and idlers, who are occasionally driven off to make room for the mat-sheds in which the theatrical performances got up by the wealthy inhabitants are acted. The principal hall, where the idol sits enshrined, is lighted only in front, and the inner apartments are inhabited by a class of men almost as senseless as the idols they serve.

The residences of the high officers of government are all within the walls of the old city. The residence of the governor-general used to be in the south-west corner of the new city, but it was utterly destroyed by the bombardment in 1856. The site remained desolate until 1860, when it was taken possession of by the French authorities, who erected a Roman Catholic cathedral upon it. The residence of the commander-in-chief is in the old city, and is said to be one of the best houses in Canton. There are four prisons in the city, all large edifices. For the space of 4 or 5 m. opposite Canton boats and vessels are ranged parallel to each other in such close order as to resemble a floating city; and these marine dwellings are occupied by numerous families, who reside almost constantly on the water. In the middle of the river lie the Chinese junks, some of them of from 600 to 1000 tons burden, which trade to the north and to the Strait Settlements. The various gilds and associations among the people and the merchants from other provinces have public halls each for its own particular use. The number of these buildings is not less than 150. Canton was long the only seat of British trade with China, and was no doubt fixed upon by the Chinese government for the European trade, as being the most distant from the capital Peking.

Formerly only a limited number of merchants, called the hong or security merchants, were allowed to trade with foreigners. They were commonly men of large property and were famed for integrity in their transactions. All foreign cargoes passed through the hands of these merchants, and by them also the return cargoes were furnished. They became security for the payment of customs duties, and it was criminal for any other merchant to engage in the trade with foreigners.

Although it is in the same parallel of latitude as Calcutta, the climate of Canton is much cooler, and is considered superior to that of most places situated between the tropics. The extreme range of the thermometer is from 38° to 100° F., though these extremes are rarely reached. In ordinary years the winter minimum is about 42° and the maximum in summer 96°. The hot season is considered to last from May to October; during the rest of the year the weather is cool. In shallow vessels ice sometimes forms at Canton; but so rarely is snow seen that when in February 1835 a fall to the depth of 2 in. occurred, the citizens hardly knew its proper name. Most of the rain falls during May and June, but the amount is nothing in comparison with that which falls during a rainy season in Calcutta. July, August and September are the regular monsoon months, the wind coming from the south-west with frequent showers, which allay the heat. In the succeeding months the northerly winds begin, with some interruptions at first, but from October to January the temperature is agreeable, the sky clear and the air invigorating. Few large cities are more generally healthy than Canton, and epidemics rarely prevail there.

Provisions and refreshments of all sorts are abundant, and in general are excellent in quality and moderate in price. It is a singular fact that the Chinese make no use of milk, either in its natural state or in the form of butter or cheese. Among the delicacies of a Chinese market are to be seen horse-flesh, dogs, cats, hawks, owls and edible birds’-nests. The business between foreigners and natives at Canton is generally transacted in a jargon known as “pidgin English,” the Chinese being extremely ready in acquiring a sufficient smattering of English words to render themselves intelligible.

The intercourse between China and Europe by the way of the Cape of Good Hope began in 1517, when Emanuel, king of Portugal, sent an ambassador, accompanied by a fleet of eight ships, to Peking, on which occasion the sanction of the emperor to establish a trade at Canton was obtained. It was in 1596, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, that the English first attempted to open an intercourse with China, but ineffectually, for the two ships which were despatched on this mission were lost on the outward voyage, and it was not till about 1634 that English ships visited Canton. Unfortunately at this time a misunderstanding having occurred with the Chinese authorities owing to the treachery of the Portuguese, a rupture and a battle took place, and it was with difficulty that peace was again restored. In 1673 China was again visited by an English ship which was subsequently refused admission into Japan, and in 1677 a factory was established at Amoy. But during an irruption of the Tatars three years later this building was destroyed, and it was not till 1685 that the emperor permitted any trade with Europeans at that port. Upon the union of the two East India Companies in London, an imperial edict was issued, restricting the foreign commerce to the port of Canton.

Tea was first imported into England about the year 1667, and in 1689 a customs duty of 5s. per ℔ was for the first time imposed. From this date to 1834 the East India Company held a monopolv of the trade at Canton, and during this period the prosperity of the port increased and multiplied, notwithstanding the obstructions which were constantly thrown in the way of the “barbarians” by the Chinese government. The termination of the Company’s monopoly brought no alteration in the conduct of the native authorities, whose oppressions became before long so unbearable that in 1839 war was declared on the part of Great Britain. In 1841, while the forces under Sir Hugh (afterwards Lord) Gough were preparing to capture Canton, Captain Elliott entered into negotiations with the Chinese, and consented to receive a pecuniary ransom in lieu of occupying the city. Meanwhile the war was carried on in central China, and finally resulted in the conclusion of the Nanking treaty in August 1842, under the terms of which four additional ports, viz. Shanghai, Ningpo, Fu-chow and Amoy, were thrown open to foreign trade, and foreigners were granted permission to enter the city of Canton, from which they had hitherto been excluded. This latter provision of the treaty, however, the Chinese refused to carry out; and after endless disputes about this and other improper acts of the Chinese government, war was again declared in 1856, the immediate cause of which was an insult offered to the British flag by the capture of certain Chinese on board the “Arrow,” a small craft trading under English colours. The outbreak of hostilities was followed by the pillage and destruction of the foreign “factories” in December 1856 by a Chinese mob, and twelve months later Canton was taken by assault by a force under Sir Charles Straubenzee, which had been sent out from England for the purpose. From this time until October 1861 the city was occupied by an English and French garrison, and the administration of affairs was entrusted to an allied commission, consisting of two English officers and one French officer, acting under the English general. Since the withdrawal of this garrison, the city of Canton has been freely open to foreigners of all nationalities, and the English consul has his residence in the Yamun formerly occupied by the allied commissioners, within the city walls.

On the conclusion of peace it became necessary to provide a foreign settlement for the merchants whose “factories” had been destroyed, and after some consultation it was determined to fill in and appropriate as the British settlement an extensive mud flat lying to the westward of the old factory site, and known as Sha-mien or “The Sand Flats.” This site having been leased, it was converted into an artificial island by building a massive embankment of granite in an irregular oval form. Between the northern face of the site and the Chinese suburb a canal of 100 ft. in width was constructed, thus forming an island of about 2850 ft. in length and 950 ft. in greatest breadth. The expense of making this settlement was 325,000 Mexican dollars, four-fifths of which were defrayed by the British government and one-fifth by the French government. The British portion of the new settlement was laid out in eighty-two lots; and so bright appeared the prospect of trade at the time of their sale that 9000 dollars and upwards was paid in more than one instance for a lot with a river frontage, measuring 12,645 sq. ft. The depression in trade, however, which soon followed acted as a bar to building, and it was not until the British consulate was erected in 1865 that the merchants began to occupy the settlement in any numbers. The British consulate occupies six lots, with an area of 75,870 sq. ft. in the centre of the site, overlooking the river, and is enclosed with a substantial wall. A ground-rent of 15,000 cash (about £3) per mow (a third of an acre) is annually paid by the owners of lots to the Chinese government.

The Sha-mien settlement possesses many advantages. It is close to the western suburb of Canton, where reside all the wholesale dealers as well as the principal merchants and brokers; it faces the broad channel known as the Macao Passage, up which the cool breezes in summer are wafted almost uninterruptedly, and the river opposite to it affords a safe and commodious anchorage for steamers up to 1000 tons burden. Steamers only are allowed to come up to Canton, sailing vessels being restricted to the anchorage at Whampoa. There is daily communication by steamer with Hong-Kong, and with the Portuguese colony of Macao which lies near the mouth of the river. Inland communication by steam is now open by the west river route to the cities of Wuchow and Nanking. The opening of these inland towns to foreign trade, which has been effected, cannot but add considerably to the volume of Canton traffic. The native population is variously estimated at from 1,500,000 to 2,000,000, the former being probably nearer the truth. The foreign residents number about 400. Canton is the headquarters of the provincial government of Kwangtung and Kwangsi, generally termed the two Kwang, at the head of which is a governor-general or viceroy, an office which next to that of Nanking is the most important in the empire. It possesses a mint built in 1889 by the then viceroy Chang Chih-tung, and equipped with a very complete plant supplied from England. It turns out silver subsidiary coinage and copper cash. Contracts have been entered into to connect Canton by railway with Hong-Kong (Kowlun), and by a grand trunk line with Hankow on the Yangtsze. It is connected by telegraph with all parts. The value of the trade of Canton for the year 1904 was £13,749,582, £7,555,090 of which represented imports and £6,194,490 exports.  (R. K. D.)