Popular Science Monthly/Volume 19/October 1881/Correspondence

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[We copy the following interesting correspondence from the pages of the "Southern Workman." It contains various significant facts admirably presented.]

Singapore, May 10, 1881,

Messrs. Editors.

IN a previous letter I spoke about a negro, S. A. Butler, a resident of Shanghai, China. His career is quite remarkable. His parents were Africans, or pure negroes; his father a preacher in Washington, D.C. He was educated in Paris, and there learned to speak French, Italian, German, and Spanish. I think he has an aptitude for languages. When Mr. Burlingame was appointed Minister to Peking some years ago, he met Butler in Paris, made him his private secretary, and took him to China, where he became familiar with the spoken Chinese.

Mr. Burlingame always put him on a footing of social equality. Wishing to go into business, Butler left the American embassy, and took a post in one of the great American trading-houses. Subsequently he went into the service of the Shanghai Navigation Company. For some time past, the Chinese officials and some of the rich Chinese merchants have been watching carefully the operations of the Europeans in steam navigation, supported by European capital. These prudent, careful men determined that, if there was any profit in the trade, the Chinese should have it, and not fan qui (foreign devil). Therefore they began to buy steamships themselves, and to run them to and from their own ports. They organized the China Merchants' Steamship Company. They put their own, and not foreign, money into it. They purchased the Shanghai Company's steamers, and Butler went into their employment. Still, these Chinese, careful and economical as they are, did not understand the business of running steamships, for it is a business which requires special training. These men were cheated by Europeans in the quality of the vessels sold, and they were held in great contempt by Europeans and Americans who kept lines of steamships in the East, and who believed that their dominion over the sea would never be successfully disputed by the "pig-tails."

The Chinese concluded it would be well to employ Europeans, at first, in the most responsible positions. But the trouble has been, that the Europeans have generally tried to rob the Chinese when employed by them. The owners of this new Chinese line, including some of the most influential men in the Chinese Government, put Butler in charge of one of the most important departments of the business, and authorized him to reorganize the service in his own way. He is a natural organizer, one of those men who know how to put things in their proper place, how to put down confusion. He systematized the business, brought order out of chaos, introduced economy, enforced discipline, and rivaled the Europeans in their steamship service. The result is, that after two years' work this Chinese steamship company, instead of running at a loss, has earned over a million dollars net profit. The prospect now is, that it will earn very large annual dividends.

The Chinese official who is at the head of the company told me that they considered Butler not only a man of great ability, but an honest man. He said that he was a very safe adviser, and they regarded him as an important agent in the future operations of the company. Now this Chinese company own already thirty-six steamers. They are bidding for the trade of the Pacific Ocean. One of their vessels lately went to San Francisco, and reduced the price of freight to China. The American and European lines are by no means easy at the appearance of this great steamship fleet; no one knows where its operations will stop. As these people learn more thoroughly the steamship business, they will become more formidable rivals to the Europeans, and, as they are content with much less profit than the Europeans, and the business is conducted at their own homes, and not with a distant European basis, it is easy to see that the time is soon coming when the vast trade of the great Pacific Ocean will be in Chinese hands.

Coal is an expensive article in China. Supplies for steamers are brought from Australia and Java. Now, there are immense coal-fields in China. The Chinese will not let the Europeans touch these coal-fields under any circumstances, but they can touch them themselves. Already they have opened a vast colliery about eighty miles from tide-water, at Tientsin; a canal from the mine to the ocean is about finished. The coal is owned by the same people who control the steamship company. This year coal will be delivered to ships. If the Chinese prefer to consume the coal in their own vessels, instead of selling it to the foreign steamers, it will not take long to wipe out the foreign service, as the cost of the coal will be so much less than that now used by all steamers.

Butler is a leading man in this magnificent enterprise in China.

I have related this incident because it bears on the question of the "color-line," and I write this from a city where the presence of twenty-six different nationalities has obliterated all color-lines. There is a lesson in Butler's life. He fought for his position and won it. He did not sulk for it, or cry for it, or beg for it; he commanded it. He made himself the peer of men about him, and they acknowledged it, as all men will admit, when forced to meet the matter. Men sought him, as they always seek men who have advantages, either in brains or experience. Interested as I am in the negro question, it was to me a most important incident to meet, on the seaboard of the great Chinese Empire, an American negro, educated, capable, doing his work well, and a leader among men.

Several weeks after meeting Butler, I was with the King of the Hawaiians on board the royal yacht of the King of Siam, on the river Menam. On the way to the capital of the country, Bangkok, the yacht stopped for a moment at the custom-house, in order to take on board some officials. I noticed a negro sitting in the stern of a boat, and inquired about him. A merchant said to me: "He is at the head of the custom-house on the river. It is a very responsible place. This negro is a man of considerable education, is honest and capable; so he was appointed to the place, and discharges the duties well." I had no opportunity to speak to this man, but I counted it as another incident of my trip that I had met another negro who was doing credit to himself. I have written this letter for the sole purpose of presenting these facts to the younger colored people in America, that they may know that their race can hold itself if it will.

[Mr. Armstrong adds to the above valuable information a few notes on travel, which we are sure will interest our readers:]

The city of Bangkok contains about four hundred thousand people. Through the center of it flows a large river; from the river canals are cut in every direction; and, while most of the people live on land, very many thousands live on the water entirely. A raft is made of bamboo, and tied to the river-bank. A house is then built on the raft. In it one or more families live. The back part of the house, or the part toward the river-bank, is used for living purposes, while the front part, facing the river, is used for stores or manufacturing purposes. One wishing to do some shopping hires a canoe, rowed by two men. This canoe is moved along the river, and stops in front of the houses. The passenger, sitting in it, leans over the side and inspects the articles in the house on the raft; when the trade is over the canoe moves off to another place. It is, in fact, a river-carriage. These water houses extend for three miles up and down the river. They rise and fall with the tide. In rowing the canoes or boats, the men stand up, facing the bows. The oar is fastened to a stake in the boat, and the rower dips the oar in and pushes it while standing.

About one year ago the Queen of Siam, while passing up the river in a royal barge, was run down by a steam-tug. There were numbers of people standing by, but none of them dared to rescue her, because she was sacred, and could not be touched; so the poor woman went to the bottom. Just before we arrived at Bangkok she was cremated; a vast temple was built for the occasion, and an altar of sandal-wood was erected in the center of it. In this the body was placed, and burned to ashes. Festivities continued for ten days. The total cost of the cremation was above one half million dollars. Cremation is universally practiced in Siam. In many cases the bodies are taken to a temple and exposed in the open air; vultures and carrion birds come down in dense flocks, and consume the flesh in a few moments. The bones are then burned, and the ashes are scattered in the waters of the sacred river Menam.

The Siamese are a pleasant people, but very lazy. Rice and fish are cheap, and if the people can get this food they will not work. Few of them are forehanded. The consequence is, that the Chinese come in, get the best lands, and do the best part of the business. In the end the four million Siamese will pass away, and the country will be in the hands of the Chinese entirely. It is a case of the "survival of the fittest."

The Chinaman is the New-Englander of the Pacific in his energy and pluck. The Chinaman of the northern part of the empire docs not emigrate. Though he is poor, he prefers his mud-hut and his associations to foreign lands; no inducements so far have brought him out of his home. The southern Chinese, living along the coast, in the vicinity of Canton, are the people who emigrate. All who have left are, however, but a fraction of the people in only one province. California holds seventy-five thousand of these people; Australia, perhaps, as many more. What are these numbers to the forty millions of one province alone in south China?

I do not despise their religion. Let no one despise any religion which contains any good. The central doctrine of their religion is ancestor-worship. It is believed that the spirit of the father, or ancestor, wanders about in an unhappy, restless condition, unless it is worshiped. While every Chinaman worships, therefore, the spirits of his forefathers, he is always on the lookout for a son who will, in turn, worship his spirit. This is no idle business with these people. It is no Sunday affair. It will not do to meet in the temples and say we ought to worship our forefathers. They do it. It is a practical belief, which controls every man's life. The father, while living, is the head of the family, and the profoundest respect is paid to him till he dies. If a Chinaman has money, he would starve himself just as quickly as he would allow his father to go without support. Of the thousands of poor "coolies," or laborers, who have gone from China to the Hawaiian Islands to work on sugar-plantations at eight dollars per month, the majority remit money to their parents; so a missionary in Hong-Kong told me; much of it went through his hands. But the worship of ancestors requires presence at the tomb. So the Chinaman, the moment he has obtained a little money, returns home and worships at the tomb. But every Chinaman must have a son, as I have said. (Of course, under this system of religion early marriages are the rule.) Probably every one of the seventy-five thousand Chinamen in California is a married man, but has left his wife at home. It is clear to me that they would not hesitate to bring them—firstly, if they could afford it; secondly, if they felt secure of property and liberty. The Chinaman has found that, so far as he is concerned, the treatment given him by the proud and Christian civilization of America is more unjust than that of the most despotic of any taotai (magistrate) of his native land.

It is said in America: "Oh, these Chinese don't intend to stay; they will not mix with our people. They make money, and go home!" True! But here are some twenty "treaty ports" in China and Japan opened to Europeans and Americans. These people come here, engage in business, make money, and go home. There is not an Englishman, or a Frenchman, or an American, or a German, who does not frankly admit that he came here to make money, and that he shall return home at the earliest possible moment to spend it. Make one of these foreigners believe that his life must be spent here, in the East, and he would look about for his razors.

Here, in Singapore, the Chinese are at the head. Look at the map, and you will see the commanding position of this place, at the southern extremity of Asia. Here the trade of the East centers. The English took it over sixty years ago, when its population numbered about four thousand, all Malays. Now there are one hundred and thirty-seven thousand people, and of these sixty thousand are Chinese, who have come from China, a thousand miles away. All that is valuable, in the way of trade, or business of any kind whatsoever, is in their hands. The Malay can not stand against them for a moment. They outdo him at every turn. Trade from Japan, northern China, the Malaysian peninsula, the vast archipelago of immense islands which include Sumatra and Borneo, stretching away for three thousand miles to the skirts of the Australian Continent, centers here. Thirty languages are spoken, but the Malay is the language of trade, because it is easy to learn. Though, as I say, the Malaysians are of little account here, they were, at the start, the dominant race, and their language became the medium of conversation between the score of races which meet here. Though they have got into the background, in the great struggle, they have left their language to the common use, till some other takes its place.

The similarity of the Malays to the Hawaiians is striking. Though these two nations are five thousand miles apart, and there is no tradition of any intercourse in the ancient days, even the languages have words in common. For death, the Malay says "mate," the Hawaiian says "make"; for eye, the Malay says "mata," the Hawaiian says "muka." For want of thrift, laziness, and supreme indifference to the future, the Malay and Hawaiians are one and the same. The Chinamen will soon be masters of the situation here, and the Malay will submit to it.

W. N. A.


Messrs. Editors.

The minute creature about which Dean y. R. Manly asks for more definite information, in your September number, is undoubtedly the Leptus Americanus, described and figured by me six or seven years ago in the "American Naturalist." It is a minute, six-legged mite of the genus Leptus, now generally recognized as but the larval form of some eight-legged Trombidium. Being away from home, I can not now give you the exact references, but may send you more particulars at some future time. Respectfully,

C. V. Riley.
Albany, New York, August 31, 1881.