The Chinese Empire. A General & Missionary Survey/The Province of Szechwan
THE PROVINCE OF SZECHWAN
By Mr. Joshua Vale, China Inland Mission.
Part I. General Description
Geographical Position. — The province of SzECHWAN, which is situated in the west of China proper, is the largest of the provinces, and derives its name of " Four Streams " from the four rivers, Kialing, T'o, Min, and Yalong, flowing through the province from north to south into the great trade highway, the Yangtse.
Geological. — Eastern Szechwan has been called the "Eed Basin," that is to say, a basin with a thick surface layer of red and grey or yellow sandstone. Underneath this layer are deposits of coal and lime, and the basin is surrounded by high mountain ranges through which the Yangtse has forced an eastern outlet, and in its course carved magnificent gorges which, beginning in the east of the province, continue for about 100 miles into Hupeh. With the exception of the plain of Chengtu, measuring some 90 miles by 40, there is very little level ground in this basin, whose valleys rise in many places to an altitude of over 1000 feet above sea- level ; while the basin itself has been broken up by foldings of the earth's crust, forming ranges of hills, and exposing numerous coal seams of various thicknesses and qualities ; but the fertility of the sandstone has enabled the inhabi- tants to till not only the river valleys, with their alluvial deposits, but also to bring the hills themselves under cultivation. Area and Population.—The area of the province is estimated to be 218,480 geographical square miles; its population, according to the best authorities, at 68,724,890. The distribution of the population naturally follows in the line of soil-fertility, for, as elsewhere in China, the production of food stuffs is the greatest industry of the province. It may be said that in Szechwan, when, as sometimes happens, climatic conditions are unfavourable, dearth is keenly felt, for although the people generally are well-to-do, there is no immediate means or possibility of making good the deficiency, owing to its remoteness and to the difficulties and dangers which have to be encountered to reach it. The most populous part of the province is undoubtedly the Plain of Chengtu, which, owing to its system of artificial irrigation, is par excellence the garden of Szechwan. Colonel Manifold, speaking at a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society in 1904, mentioned that he estimated that the Chengtu Plain, a specially well-watered tract of country, had no fewer than 1700 persons to each square mile. In this garden, or on its borders, there are 17 cities, including the capital, but, speaking generally, the population is essentially rural. The whole of the province, apart from the high mountainous regions of the west, is dotted with farmhouses, hamlets, villages, and market towns, many of them larger and more important than cities, and, as markets are held in rotation at these towns every few days, there is no lack of facilities for the interchange of agricultural produce and local manufactures.
Territorial Divisions.—There are 112 territorial districts (Hsien); 11 departments (San Chow); 8 independent departments (Chihli Chow); 1 sub-prefectures (T'ing); 2 independent sub-prefectures (Chihli-t'ing); and 12 prefectures (Fu); but there are only 99 district cities (Hsien), for each prefectural city is also a district city, and Chengtu, the capital, is the seat of two district magistrates. As each department, independent department, sub-prefecture, is represented by a city with its seat of government, the total number of cities in Szechwan is 142, of which 109 lie to the east of the river Min, the balance of 33 being scattered over the west of the province.
Early Inhabitants.—Information on the early history of Szechwan is somewhat meagre and unreliable. "There are evidences," says Mr. Hosie in his valuable report on the province, "all over the Red Basin of the existence in prehistoric times of a race of cave-dwellers. The Yangtse, Kialing, T'o, and Min have, in the course of ages, worn for themselves deep beds in the sandstone, and in the steep cliffs are rock-cut dwellings, with small doorways and occasional windows, and here and there a certain amount of rude mural sculpture inside and outside, vestiges of a bygone race. These empty dwellings are called by the Chinese Mantse tong—that is, Mantse caves; Mantse being the generic name applied to all the tribes inhabiting the west of the province.
"Coming to historical times, however, we find the Szechwan of to-day was, during the former and latter Han dynasties (206 B.C. to a.d. 230), divided into five principalities, one of which, called Yi-cheo Shu, and afterwards simply Shu, was usurped and ruled by the Minor Han dynasty (a.d. 221-263), with its capital where the city of Chengtu is now built, the whole kingdom being represented by the present prefecture of Chengtu."
In the declining years of the Ming dynasty (a.d. 1368- 1643) a rebellion broke out in Szechwan. It was headed by three men—Li Tsi-ch'eng, Chang Hsiang-chong, and Wang San-kuai. Much destruction of property and loss of life was caused by these men, especially by Chang and Wang. It is commonly believed that these two men almost depopulated the province. When order was restored by the Imperial Government, the province was repeopled by forced immigration from other provinces of the Empire. Even to the present day it is difficult, if not impossible, to get an inhabitant of the provinces to admit that he is a native of Szechwan. He will tell you that he belongs to Hupeh, Hunan, Shensi, Kiangsi, Chekiang, or even Kwangtung, claiming as his province the home of his immigrant ancestor.
Climate.—There are no extremes of climate in Szechwan. The temperature in summer rarely exceeds 100° Fah. in the shade, and 95° may be taken as a fair average maximum. In winter the mercury seldom falls below 35°; frost is exceedingly rare, and half an inch of ice, which appeared for a day or two on stagnant pools in the capital in 1901, was looked upon as a great curiosity. This, of course, refers to the valleys and plains of the Eed Basin, for on the hilltops in the basin, and on the surrounding mountains, snow lies for a time every winter, and huge icicles are to be met with in crossing mountain passes. Sunshine is rare in winter, for a bank of mist hangs over the land, preventing surface evaporation and consequent fall of temperature, which fact gives rise to the native proverb which says that in "Szechwan the dogs bark when they see the sun."
Irrigation.—The writer of The Far East devotes a whole chapter of his book to the Chengtu plateau (Ch. VI., "The Middle Basin," Part III.). He says: "This unique area of level land in the wide, otherwise purely mountainous, region of Szechwan cannot be passed over in a general description of the province, but demands a short essay to itself, so important is its relation to the rest of the province, and so peculiar are its characteristics in China, and, we may confidently add, in the world at large." In this chapter Mr. Little quotes largely from the writer's paper on the "Irrigation of the Chengtu Plain" (China Branch, Royal Asiatic Society Journal, 1900, vol. xxxiii., No. 11), and "Irrigation of the Chengtu Plain and Beyond " (1905, vol. xxxvi.). Mr. Hosie, in his report on the products of Szechwan, also devotes considerable space to this subject. The subject is too great to be dealt with in a short article like the present. Those interested are invited to consult the authorities named above for further information.
Products.—Mr. Hosie, in his carefully and thoroughly prepared report, devotes many pages to this interesting subject. Those who wish further information will do well to study his report, where the products are arranged under the three main divisions of—
(a) Agricultural and horticultural products.
(b) Animal products.
(c) Minerals and mineral products.
Communications.—Szechwan lies at the very back of China proper, but its remoteness would be of less consequence were it readily and easily accessible. Unfortunately it is not so. While it is true that Szechwan has magnificent waterways, and several of the larger rivers might have small light-draught steamers plying between the more important centres of trade, yet as long as the journey from Ichang to Chungking—a distance of a little more than 400 miles—remains an unsolved problem to the merchants of the west, and railways are only on paper, communication with the outside, and even between remote parts of the province itself, must continue to present grave difficulties to the trade and progress of the province.
Part II. Missions. A Review
Mission work in the province of Szechwan may be divided into five distinct periods as follows:—
I. Prospecting Period (1868-1877).—Previous to the year 1868 little or nothing was known by the Protestant Churches of Europe and America about this vast province of the west of China. The first Protestant missionaries to visit this province were the Rev. Dr. Griffith John of the London Missionary Society and Mr. Wylie of the British and Foreign Bible Society. These two workers, having travelled up the Yangtse, entered Szechwan, and visited many of the most important towns and markets, including the capital, returning to Hankow viâ Shensi and down the Han river. This journey may be termed a "Prospecting Trip," for no attempt seems to have been made to settle in any of the many cities or towns visited. The report of this journey doubtless was instrumental in calling attention to this vast unopened field, and the London Mission, even at that early period, had serious thoughts of opening work in Szechwan. No other missionaries, as far as we know, visited this province again till the year 1877, when the Rev. John M'Carthy of the China Inland Mission, after landing at Wanhsien, travelled overland, viâ Shuenking Fu to Chungking, which place he reached on 1st May of that year.
II. Pioneer Period.—Settled Mission work dates from the year 1877, when premises were rented by the China Inland Mission in Chungking. After this we are told "there followed a period of widespread evangelistic journeys, in which Messrs. Cameron, Nicoll, Easton, Parker, Riley, S. R. Clarke, and Bailer, all of the China Inland Mission, with Mr. Leeman of the American Presbyterian Mission, and Mr. Mollman of the British and Foreign Bible Society, engaged."
In the year 1881 the American Methodist Episcopal Mission joined the China Inland Mission in pioneer work in this province by renting premises at Chungking. In 1881 the China Inland Mission opened the capital, Chengtu, for settled work. Paoning and Pacheo were, after considerable difficulty, occupied during the years 1886 and 1887.
During this period a very important step was taken by the China Inland Mission in Szechwan which needs a word of explanation here, viz. the dividing of the work of the Mission into two distinct parts, named respectively Western Szechwan and Eastern Szechwan, a distinction which always appears in the Annual Report of that Mission, but which is not quite clearly understood by many. Briefly stated, the distinction is this:—Taking the Kialing river, which enters the Yangtse opposite Chungking, as the boundary, all the cities, towns, and villages east of this belong to the "East Szechwan" branch of the Mission, which is worked on distinctively Church of England lines; while all the districts west of the Kialing river belong to the "West Szechwan" branch of the China Inland Mission, and are, generally speaking, worked on Free Church lines.
The one striking feature of this period (1877-1886) is the persistence and tenacity of the pioneers. Many difficulties and disappointments attended their efforts; the people were either indifferent or hostile, and the results of their labours were very small indeed. Sickness and death were constantly occurring to hinder and even threaten the existence of the work, yet these pioneers were strong in faith, and believed in the ultimate success of their efforts to evangelise the teeming millions of this "Garden of the West."
Much seed was sown during this period, but prejudice, ill-feeling, and suspicion presented serious hindrances to the work, and eventually the riot of 1886 at Chungking almost extinguished the little churches which had been gathered by the two Missions.
III. Progressive Period.—After the settlement of the Chungking riots and the re-establishment of Mission work in that city, a period of unprecedented prosperity set in. The probable reasons for this season of prosperity seem to be threefold. First, the faithful and persistent work of the pioneers during the preceding period; second, the widespread and systematic itinerations which followed the riot; third, the semi-awakening of the people. As to the first—the faithful and persistent work of the pioneers—very little can be written, as records are somewhat meagre; but workers now on the field who followed these pioneers are able to testify to the permanent work done by this faithful band. As regards the second — the widespread and systematic itinerations — the work done by two members of the China Inland Mission in the Kiating Fu district during this period may be given as a specimen. " After selling books till we could sell no more in the city (Kiating Eu), we took the villages and market towns — all within 5 miles, 1 miles, 2 miles — and gradually we spread over what we called the Kiating district, which consists of 8 walled cities and 350 market towns or villages. We continued this work for six years and a half, constantly travelling round these villages and towns. During that period we travelled not less than 30,000 miles."
The third reason given for the prosperity of this period — the semi-awakening of the people — demands a few words of explanation. During the last few decades the people of China have passed through several periods of awakening — times when her well-wishers hoped that at last she was entering upon a new life and seriously desirous of progress. Such a period was the one under review. After the wave of anti-foreign feeling which swept over Central China in 1890 had subsided, there set in a more hopeful state of things, and this feeling having taken hold of Szechwan, the attitude of the people was decidedly more friendly towards missionaries and their work, and this may largely account for the unprecedented progress made. But there were other causes which doubtless contributed much.
During this period no less than five additional missionary societies commenced new work in Szechwan. In 1888 the London Missionary Society, whose representative. Dr. Griffith John, was the first to enter the province in 1868, took up permanent work in Chungking. In 1890 the American Baptist Missionary Union also arrived and commenced work in the west of the province, having Suifu and Kiating as their chief centres. In the same year (1890) the English Friends' Mission also began work in Chungking. The year 1892 saw the Church Missionary Society, under the leadership of Mr. Horsburgh, commence a new work east of the province, which eventually led to the occupation of that region, which had hitherto been unreached by any other Mission. Then finally, in 1892, the Canadian Methodists opened up work in the west, having Chengtu and Kiating as their headquarters.
During this period the Methodist Episcopal Mission had extended its operations to the capital and other cities near Chungking, and on the Great East Road towards Chengtu. The China Inland Mission had also opened up no less than nine centres in various parts of the province east and west.
Another important factor was the employment of native agents and the opening of out-stations. By the judicious use of native agents the missionaries, who were all too few to cope with the growing work in the larger centres, were enabled to open up new work in other cities and towns, and thus commenced a work which if persisted in will enable them to occupy all the more important towns and villages of the province, and thus secure the evangelisation of its scattered millions.
The establishment of a Mission Press during this period must not be overlooked. Dr. Virgil Hart, who, by his book on Western China, was instrumental in directing the attention of the Canadian Methodist Mission to West China, also was the means of establishing the first Mission Press in those parts. Dr. Hart, perceiving that the almost insurmountable difficulties presented by the rapids and whirlpools of the Yangtse made it very difficult to get books, tracts, and other literature to the west in large enough quantities to supply the increasing demands, determined to start a press for West China, which would supply the literature so much needed in the evangelising of this vast and needy field. This press, after very many difficulties, was established at Kiating, and continued to do valuable work till, sharing the fate of the rest of Mission work during the riots of 1895, its work was brought to a close for the time being.
IV. Opposition Period (1895-1898-1900). — The Yangtse Valley riots of 1890 threatened to spread to the west, and although no disturbances actually occurred, yet seeds of suspicion and ill-feeling were sown which eventually caused trouble and riot. The China-Japanese War was the culminating point. The news of China's utter defeat was the sign for much anti-foreign feeling, which led to the attack on Missions in the capital and other cities in the west of the province in 1895. After the settlement of these riots, and the re-establishment of the work in all the stations rioted, there appeared to be a return, for a while, to the calm and quiet of the preceding and progressive period; but this was only on the surface. Rumours of a bad nature were persistently circulated in the capital and other large cities which were intended to stir up the populace to attempt the destruction of Mission property and the expulsion of all foreigners; but through the vigilance of the officials and the efforts of the better-intentioned of the people, actual riot and disorder were prevented. In 1898, however, riots suddenly broke out again, and got quite beyond the control of the local officials. The troubles were called the Yü-man-tse Rebellion, because one of the principal leaders was a man named Yü. This uprising was chiefly directed against the Roman Catholic Church; the Protestants not coming under the wrath of the rebels, though subject to persecution and petty annoyance from local rowdies.
During the Yü-man-tse Rebellion a Protestant Conference (January 1899) was held at Chungking, the results of which have proved beneficial to many parts of the work. The fact that some eighty missionaries, representing eight Missions and three Bible Societies, could meet in Chungking for a conference was in itself cause for much encouragement to the workers, especially those who as pioneers had seen the small beginnings and had experienced the many trials and troubles of the early days.
Three permanent results of the Conference are worthy of notice : —
1. The establishment of the West China Missionary News.
2. The invigoration of the West China Tract Society.
3. The formation of an Advisory Board for West China.
From the settlement of the Yli-man-tse troubles of 1898 to the Boxer rising in 1900 — a period of nearly two years — the work in Szechwan enjoyed a time of peace and quiet, which was brought to an abrupt end in the summer of 1900, when all missionaries of all societies were compelled to flee to the coast.
V. Popular Period (1901-1907). — West China suffered very little from the Boxer Movement of 1900. On the return of the missionaries to their respective stations during the early part of 1901 they found in many places, especially in the western parts of Szechwan, what is now known as the Mass Movement in full swing. This movement may be traced back as far as 1895, when it really began, subsequent to the settlement of the riots which occurred at that time. This movement steadily grew till it was crushed by the Yli-man-tse Rebellion, but immediately after the settlement of those troubles it revived with fresh vigour and strength. During that time, however, it was almost entirely confined to the Roman Catholic Church. But after the Boxer settlement, the Mass Movement not only revived amongst the Roman Catholics, but also took hold of the Protestant Church as well.
This movement was most perplexing, even to experienced missionaries. Deputations were constantly arriving from the surrounding districts with offers from the gentry and leading men to open Gospel halls, preaching stations, or schools, free of cost to the missionary societies. Long lists were presented with the names of those who were anxious to become "adherents" of the Church or "learners" of the truth. This movement appealed in different ways to different missionaries and missionary societies. Some of the more optimistic welcomed it as an answer to the prayers of past years and the plenteous sowing of the last decades. Others, who were not quite so enthusiastic, looked askance on the movement, and generally discouraged the establishment of stations under such conditions. Notwithstanding, all were of the opinion that this was an excellent opportunity to present the Gospel to the people, and every advantage was taken of this opening and the willingness of all classes to hear the Gospel.
A recrudescence of Boxerism in 1902, which took place at the capital and the regions to the north, east, and south of that city, checked for the time being this movement towards the Church. But it spread to other parts of the province, so that nearly every part of the province has had its turn sooner or later. Missionaries who have been permitted to come in close contact with this movement have been struck with the wonderful organising powers of the leading men, and also by the ability shown by the people to support their own work. Hitherto the funds for carrying on any aggressive work have largely been furnished by the foreign society or the individual missionary, but in this movement there has been an abundant supply of money forthcoming from the Chinese themselves. The basis of their organisations was in most cases utterly opposed to the truths of the Gospel, and the methods adopted for raising the money such that they could not be tolerated by the Church; yet the fact remains that wonderful powers of organisation and self-support have been revealed, which if rightly directed and controlled might greatly accelerate the evangelisation of the millions of Szechwan, and make the Church in that province to a large extent independent of both foreign teachers and money, an end to be greatly desired.
During this period all missionaries have made great strides in the occupation of the various "spheres" allotted to them, and very many cities, towns, and villages have been opened as centres for preaching the Gospel or as outstations, so that now there are a large number of "light centres" dotted over the length and breadth of the province, and there are few districts where there are not some witnesses for the truth, or where the Gospel is not preached more or less regularly.
The great demand for scientific literature which followed the Boxer outbreak was so pressing that the Society for the Diffusion of Christian Knowledge at Shanghai decided to open a depot in Chengtu to meet this demand. The Society was able to secure the best position in the most important street, and the ever -increasing sale of books, charts, maps, and other literature has justified the Society's decision in opening a depot in that remote part of the Empire.
The Canadian Methodist Mission, recognising that Chengtu, the capital of the province, was the centre of literary activity and influence, also decided to move their Mission Press to that city. The beautiful and spacious premises, which were officially opened by H.E. the Governor-General in 1905, are worthy additions to the missionary cause in Chengtu, and bid fair to greatly extend its influence and usefulness in the west of China. One of the signs of the progressive spirit is a scheme for a Union University. Most of the missionaries have seen the importance of educational institutions, and have sought to provide schools and other facilities to meet the demand for Western learning. But since the adoption by China of Western methods of education, the demand for some institution for higher education has been greatly felt by those specially interested in the spiritual welfare of the educated classes. The scheme may take some years before it will be finally adopted, but its promoters seem justified in pushing it forward at the present time, and hope that it will eventually become an accomplished fact.
Like most of their brethren in other parts of China, the missionaries have realised the need of some central institution for training Chinese helpers and giving them a thorough grounding in Scriptural knowledge. In the past, two methods have been in vogue, viz. classes held in out- stations, and classes organised at some central point, to which all likely candidates might go for a month's study. These methods, which in the past time have been very helpful, have proved to be insufficient for the growing demands for thoroughly trained helpers who can " teach others also." Thus, during the last decade, Bible Training Institutions have been established by more than one Mission in the province, which give promise of turning out bands of thoroughly equipped men to take charge of out-stations, and become pastors of the native churches which are springing up in all parts of the province.
The progress of Mission work in this province may be summarised as follows:—
Prior to 1877 there was no resident Protestant missionary; now, if the main waterway from Ichang in Hupeh to Chengtu, the capital of Szechwan, be followed — a distance of, roughly, 1000 miles — twenty-one walled cities will be found, each with a resident worker, either native or foreign.
If the Great South Road from Chengtu to Tibet be traversed, seven walled cities will be passed within a distance of 300 miles, each of which has either a resident missionary or Chinese evangelist. If the Great North Road from Chengtu to Shensi be taken, eight walled cities will be reached within a journey of 250 miles. Each of these cities is occupied either by the Church Missionary Society or the China Inland Mission.
Should the Great East Road from Chengtu to the treaty port of Chungking be chosen — a road passing right through the heart of the province with its teeming population and eight walled cities— the cities would be found occupied by the American Methodist Episcopal Mission. Further, on the mid -province waterways — the three rivers running from the east of the province down towards Chungking — fifteen of the twenty cities located there are worked by various Societies. Nevertheless, there are some three thousand towns and villages still unoccupied.
- China, No. 5 (1904), by Consul Hosie.
- The Far East, by Mr. Archibald Little.