Friday, August 29, 2008

Farmers of Forty Centuries About Tientsin


On the 6th of June we left central China for Tientsin and further north, sailing by coastwise steamer from Shanghai, again plowing through the turbid waters which give literal exactness to the name Yellow Sea. Our steamer touched at Tsingtao, taking on board a body of German troops, and again at Chefoo, and it was only between these two points that the sea was not strongly turbid. Nor was this all. From early morning of the 10th until we anchored at Tientsin, 2:30 P. M., our course up the winding Pei ho was against a strong dust-laden wind which left those who had kept to the deck as grey as though they had ridden by automobile through the Colorado desert; so the soils of high interior Asia are still spreading eastward by flood and by wind into the valleys and far over the coastal plains. Over large areas between Tientsin and Peking and at other points northward toward Mukden trees and shrubs have been systematically planted in rectangular hedgerow lines, to check the force of the winds and reduce the drifting of soils, planted fields occupying the spaces between.
It was on this trip that we met Dr. Evans of Shunking, Szechwan province. His wife is a physician practicing among the Chinese women, and in discussing the probable rate of increase of population among the Chinese, it was stated that she had learned through her practice that very many mothers had borne seven to eleven children and yet but one, two or at most three, were living.
It was said there are many customs and practices which determine this high mortality among children, one of which is that of feeding them meat before they have teeth, the mother masticating for the children, with the result that often fatal convulsions follow. A Scotch physician of long experience in Shantung, who took the steamer at Tsingtao, replied to my question as to the usual size of families in his circuit, "I do not know. It depends on the crops. In good years the number is large; in times of famine the girls especially are disposed of, often permitted to die when very young for lack of care. Many are sold at such times to go into other provinces." Such statements, however, should doubtless be taken with much allowance. If all the details were known regarding the cases which have served as foundations for such reports, the matter might appear in quite a different light from that suggested by such cold recitals.
Although land taxes are high in China Dr. Evans informed me that it is not infrequent for the same tax to be levied twice and even three times in one year. Inquiries regarding the land taxes among farmers in different parts of China showed rates running from three cents to a dollar and a half, Mexican, per mow; or from about eight cents to $3.87 gold, per acre. At these rates a forty acre farm would pay from $3.20 to $154.80, and a quarter section four times these amounts. Data collected by Consul-General E. T. Williams of Tientsin indicate that in Shantung the land tax is about one dollar per acre, and in Chihli, twenty cents. In Kiangsi province the rate is 200 to 300 cash per mow, and in Kiangsu, from 500 to 600 cash per mow, or, according to the rate of exchange given on page 76, from 60 to 80 cents, or 90 cents to $1.20 per acre in Kiangsi; and $1.50 to $2.00 or $1.80 to $2.40 in Kiangsu province. The lowest of these rates would make the land tax on 160 acres, $96, and the highest would place it at $384, gold.
In Japan the taxes are paid quarterly and the combined amount of the national, prefectural and village assessments usually aggregates about ten per cent of the government valuation placed on the land. The mean valuation placed on the irrigated fields, excluding Formosa and Karafuto, was in 1907, 35.35 yen per tan; that of the upland fields, 9.40 yen, and the genya and pasture lands were given a valuation of .22 yen per tan. These are valuations of $70.70, $18.80 and $.44, gold, per acre, respectively, and the taxes on forty acres of paddy field would be $282.80; $75.20 on forty acres of upland field, and $1.76, gold, on the same area of the genya and weed lands.
In the villages, where work of one or another kind is done for pay, Dr. Evans stated that a woman's wage might not exceed $8, Mexican, or $3.44, gold, per year, and when we asked how it could be worth a woman's while to work a whole year for so small a sum, his reply was, "If she did not do this she would earn nothing, and this would keep her in clothes and a little more." A cotton spinner in his church would procure a pound of cotton and on returning the yarn would receive one and a quarter pounds of cotton in exchange, the quarter pound being her compensation.
Dr. Evans also described a method of rooting slips from trees, practiced in various parts of China. The under side of a branch is cut, bent upward and split for a short distance; about this is packed a ball of moistened earth wrapped in straw to retain the soil and to provide for future watering; the whole may then be bound with strips of bamboo for greater stability. In this way slips for new mulberry orchards are procured.
At eight o'clock in the morning we entered the mouth of the Pei ho and wound westward through a vast, nearly sea-level, desert plain and in both directions, far toward the horizon, huge white stacks of salt dotted the surface of the Taku Government salt fields, and revolving in the wind were great numbers of horizontal sail windmills, pumping sea water into an enormous acreage of evaporation basins. In Fig. 196 may be seen five of the large salt stacks and six of the windmills, together with many smaller piles of salt. Fig. 197 is a closer view of the evaporation basins with piles of salt scraped from the surface after the mother liquor had been drained away. The windmills, which were working one, sometimes two, of the large wooden chain pumps, were some thirty feet in diameter and lifted the brine from tide-water basins into those of a second and third higher level where the second and final concentration occurred. These windmills, crude as they appear in Fig. 198, are nevertheless efficient, cheaply constructed and easily controlled. The eight sails, each six by ten feet, were so hung as to take the wind through the entire revolution, tilting automatically to receive the wind on the opposite face the moment the edge passed the critical point. Some 480 feet of sail surface were thus spread to the wind, working on a radius of fifteen feet. The horizontal drive wheel had a diameter of ten feet, carried eighty-eight wooden cogs which engaged a pinion with fifteen leaves, and there were nine arms on the reel at the other end of the shaft which drove the chain. The boards or buckets of the chain pump were six by twelve inches, placed nine inches apart, and with a fair breeze the pump ran full.
Enormous quantities of salt are thus cheaply manufactured through wind, tide and sun power directed by the cheapest human labor. Before reaching Tientsin we passed the Government storage yards and counted two hundred stacks of salt piled in the open, and more than a third of the yard had been passed before beginning the count. The average content of each stack must have exceeded 3000 cubic feet of salt, and more than 40,000,000 pounds must have been stored in the yards. Armed guards in military uniform patrolled the alleyways day and night. Long strips of matting laid over the stacks were the only shelter against rain.
Throughout the length of China's seacoast, from as far north as beyond Shanhaikwan, south to Canton, salt is manufactured from sea water in suitable places. In Szechwan province, we learn from the report of Consul-General Hosie, that not less than 300,000 tons of salt are annually manufactured there, largely from brine raised by animal power from wells seven hundred to more than two thousand feet deep.
Hosie describes the operations at a well more than two thousand feet deep, at Tzeliutsing. In the basement of a power-house which sheltered forty water buffaloes, a huge bamboo drum twelve feet high, sixty feet in circumference, was so set as to revolve on a vertical axis propelled by four cattle drawing from its circumference. A hemp rope was wound about this drum, six feet from the ground, passing out and under a pulley at the well, then up and around a wheel mounted sixty feet above and descended to the bucket made from bamboo stems four inches in diameter and nearly sixty feet long, which dropped with great speed to the bottom of the well as the rope unwound. When the bucket reached the bottom four attendants, each with a buffalo in readiness, hitched to the drum and drove at a running pace, during fifteen minutes, or until the bucket was raised from the well. The buffalo were then unhitched and, while the bucket was being emptied and again dropped to the bottom of the well, a fresh relay were brought to the drum. In this way the work continued night and day.
The brine, after being raised from the well, was emptied into distributing reservoirs, flowing thence through bamboo pipes to the evaporating sheds where round bottomed, shallow iron kettles four feet across were set in brick arches in which jets of natural gas were burning.
Within an area some sixty miles square there are more than a thousand brine and twenty fire wells from which fuel gas is taken. The mouths of the fire wells are closed with masonry, out from which bamboo conduits coated with lime lead to the various furnaces, terminating with iron burners beneath the kettles. Remarkable is the fact that in the city of Tzeliutsing, both these brine and the fire wells have been operated in the manufacture of salt since before Christ was born.
The forty water buffalo are worth $30 to $40 per head and their food fifteen to twenty cents per day. The cost of manufacturing this salt is placed at thirteen to fourteen cash per catty, to which the Government adds a tax of nine cash more, making the cost at the factory from 82 cents to $1.15, gold, per hundred pounds. Salt manufacture is a Government monopoly and the product must be sold either to Government officials or to merchants who have bought the exclusive right to supply certain districts. The importation of salt is prohibited by treaties. For the salt tax collection China is divided into eleven circuits each having its own source of supply and transfer of salt from one circuit to another is forbidden.
The usual cost of salt is said to vary between one and a half and four cash per catty. The retail price of salt ranges from three-fourths to three cents per pound, fully twelve to fifteen times the cost of manufacture. The annual production of salt in the Empire is some 1,860,000 tons, and in 1901 salt paid a tax close to ten million dollars.
Beyond the salt fields, toward Tientsin, the banks of the river were dotted at short intervals with groups of low, almost windowless houses, Fig. 199, built of earth brick plastered with clay on sides and roof, made more resistant to rain by an admixture of chaff and cut straw, and there was a remarkable freshness of look about them which we learned was the result of recent preparations made for the rainy season about to open. Beyond the first of these villages came a stretch of plain dotted thickly and far with innumerable grave mounds, to which reference has been made. For nearly an hour we had traveled up the river before there was any material vegetation, the soil being too saline apparently to permit growth, but beyond this, crops in the fields and gardens, with some fruit and other trees, formed a fringe of varying width along the banks. Small fields of transplanted rice on both banks were frequent and often the land was laid out in beds of two levels, carefully graded, the rice occupying the lower areas, and wooden chain pumps were being worked by hand, foot and animal power, irrigating both rice and garden crops.
In the villages were many stacks of earth compost, of the Shantung type; manure middens were common and donkeys drawing heavy stone rollers followed by men with large wooden mallets, were going round and round, pulverizing and mixing the dry earth compost and the large earthen brick from dismantled kangs, preparing fertilizer for the new series of crops about to be planted, following the harvest of wheat and barley. Large boatloads of these prepared fertilizers were moving on the river and up the canals to the fields.
Toward the coast from Tientsin, especially in the country, traversed by the railroad, there was little produced except a short grass, this being grazed at the time of our visit and, in places, cut for a very meagre crop of hay. The productive cultivated lands lie chiefly along the rivers and canals or other water courses, where there is better drainage as well as water for irrigation. The extensive, close canalization that characterizes parts of Kiangsu and Chekiang provinces is lacking here and for this reason, in part, the soil is not so productive. The fuller canalization, the securing of adequate drainage and the gaining of complete control of the flood waters which flow through this vast plain during the rainy season constitute one of China's most important industrial problems which, when properly solved, must vastly increase her resources. During our drive over the old Peking-Taku road saline deposits were frequently observed which had been brought to the surface during the dry season, and the city engineer of Tientsin stated that in their efforts at parking portions of the foreign concessions they had found the trees dying after a few years when their roots began to penetrate the more saline subsoil, but that since they had opened canals, improving the drainage, trees were no longer dying. There is little doubt that proper drainage by means of canals, and the irrigation which would go with it, would make all of these lands, now more or less saline, highly productive, as are now those contiguous to the existing water courses.
It had rained two days before our drive over the Taku road and when we applied for a conveyance, the proprietor doubted whether the roads were passible, as he had been compelled to send out an extra team to assist in the return of one which had been stalled during the previous night. It was finally arranged to send an extra horse with us. The rainy season had just begun but the deep trenching of the roads concentrates the water in them and greatly intensifies the trouble. In one of the little hamlets through which we passed the roadway was trenched to a depth of three to four feet in the middle of the narrow street, leaving only five feet for passing in front of the dwellings on either side, and in this trench our carriage moved through mud and water nearly to the hubs.
Between Tientsin and Peking, in the early morning after a rain of the night before, we saw many farmers working their fields with the broad hoes, developing an earth mulch at the first possible moment to conserve their much needed moisture. Men were at work, as seen in Figs. 200 and 201, using long handled hoes, with blades nine by thirteen inches, hung so as to draw just under the surface, doing very effective work, permitting them to cover the ground rapidly.
Walking further, we came upon six women in a field of wheat, gleaning the single heads which had prematurely ripened and broken over upon the ground between the rows soon to be harvested. Whether they were doing this as a privilege or as a task we do not know; they were strong, cheerful, reasonably dressed, hardly past middle life and it was nearly noon, yet not one of them had collected more straws than she could readily grasp in one hand. The season in Chihli as in Shantung, had been one of unusual drought, making the crop short and perhaps unusual frugality was being practiced; but it is in saving that these people excel perhaps more than in producing. These heads of wheat, if left upon the ground, would be wasted and if the women were privileged gleaners in the fields their returns were certainly much greater than were those of the very old women we have seen in France gathering heads of wheat from the already harvested fields.
In the fields between Tientsin and Peking all wheat was being pulled, the earth shaken from the roots, tied in small bundles and taken to the dwellings, sometimes on the heavy cart drawn by a team consisting of a small donkey and cow hitched tandem, as seen in Fig. 202. Millet had been planted between the rows of wheat in this field and was already up. When the wheat was removed the ground would be fertilized and planted to soy beans. Because of the dry season this farmer estimated his yield would be but eight to nine bushels per acre. He was expecting to harvest thirteen to fourteen bushels of millet and from ten to twelve bushels of soy beans per acre from the same field. This would give him an earning, based on the local prices, of $10.36, gold, for the wheat; $6.00 for the beans, and $5.48 per acre for the millet. This land was owned by the family of the Emperor and was rented at $1.55, gold, per acre. The soil was a rather light sandy loam, not inherently fertile, and fertilizers to the value of $3.61 gold, per acre, had been applied, leaving the earning $16.71 per acre.
Another farmer with whom we talked, pulling his crop of wheat, would follow this with millet and soy beans in alternate rows. His yield of wheat was expected to be eleven to twelve bushels per acre, his beans twenty-one bushels and his millet twenty-five bushels which, at the local prices for grain and straw, would bring a gross earning of $35, gold, per acre.
Before reaching the end of our walk through the fields toward the next station we came across another of the many instances of the labor these people are willing to perform for only a small possible increase in crop. The field was adjacent to one of the windbreak hedges and the trees had spread their roots far afield and were threatening his crop through the consumption of moisture and plant food. To check this depletion the farmer had dug a trench twenty inches deep the length of his field, and some twenty feet from the line of trees, thereby cutting all of the surface roots to stop their draft on the soil. The trench was left open and an interesting feature observed was that nearly every cut root on the field side of the trench had thrown up one or more shoots bearing leaves, while the ends still connected with the trees showed no signs of leaf growth.
In Chihli as elsewhere the Chinese are skilled gardeners, using water for irrigation whenever it is advantageous. One gardener was growing a crop of early cabbage, followed by one of melons, and these with radish the same season. He was paying a rent of $6.45, gold, per acre; was applying fertilizer at a cost of nearly $8 per acre for each of the three crops, making his cash outlay $29.67 per acre. His crop of cabbage sold for $103, gold; his melons for $77, and his radish for something more than $51, making a total of $232.20 per acre, leaving him a net value of $202.53.
A second gardener, growing potatoes, obtained a yield, when sold new, of 8,000 pounds per acre; and of 16,000 pounds when the crop was permitted to mature. The new potatoes were sold so as to bring $51.60 and the mature potatoes $185.76 per acre, making the earning for the two crops the same season a total of $237.36, gold. By planting the first crop very early these gardeners secure two crops the same season, as far north as Columbus, Ohio, and Springfield, Illinois, the first crop being harvested when the tubers are about the size of walnuts. The rental and fertilizers in this case amounted to $30.96 per acre.
Still another gardener growing winter wheat followed by onions, and these by cabbage, both transplanted, realized from the three crops a gross earning of $176.73, gold, per acre, and incurred an expense of $31.73 per acre for fertilizer and rent, leaving him a net earning of $145 per acre.
These old people have acquired the skill and practice of storing and preserving such perishable fruits as pears and grapes so as to enable them to keep them on the markets almost continuously. Pears were very common in the latter part of June, and Consul-General Williams informed me that grapes are regularly carried into July. In talking with my interpreter as to the methods employed I could only learn that the growers depend simply upon dry earth cellars which can be maintained at a very uniform temperature, the separate fruits being wrapped in paper. No foreigner with whom we talked knew their methods.
Vegetables are carried through the winter in such earth cellars as are seen in Fig. 88, page 161, these being covered after they are filled.
As to the price of labor in this part of China, we learned through Consul-General Williams that a master mechanic may receive 50 cents, Mexican, per day, and a journeyman 18 cents, or at a rate of 21.5 cents and 7.75 cents, gold. Farm laborers receive from $20 to $30, Mexican, or $8.60 to $12.90, gold, per year, with food, fuel and presents which make a total of $17.20 to $21.50. This is less for the year than we pay for a month of probably less efficient labor. There is relatively little child labor in China and this perhaps should be expected when adult labor is so abundant and so cheap.

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