Page:The Chinese Empire. A General & Missionary Survey.djvu/87

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By the Rev. J. Campbell Gibson, M.A., D.D., English Presbyterian Mission.

The province of Kwangtung, or Canton, is of special interest on many grounds. From its maritime position, its natural wealth, and its convenient harbours, it became in ancient times the seat of an extensive foreign trade, and had an earlier knowledge of foreign nations than any other province. It appears to have been in touch with the Roman Empire, and Arab, Dutch, and Portuguese traders early brought it within the reach of Western commerce. It was almost the first field of labour of the Romish Missions in China, and it was there also that Robert Morrison began, in 1807, the work of the Protestant Missions. The Hakka section of the province was the cradle of the great Taiping Rebellion, and its people are always strongly inclined to revolutionary schemes. These plots are usually fruitless, but the great Taiping Rebellion held on its conquering course for years over a wide region of the Empire, and it held its own until the moral degeneration of its chiefs, under their unexpected successes, prepared the way for their defeat and failure. The numerous estuaries of the province, and the complicated network of its rivers and canals, not only lend themselves to legitimate commerce, but have from time immemorial been the shelter and hunting-ground of hordes of daring and formidable pirates.

This province stretches along the southern seaboard of the Empire for a distance of nearly 800 miles. It