Friday, August 29, 2008

Farmers of Forty Centuries Extent Of Canalization And Surface Fitting Of Fields


On the evening of March 15th we left Canton for Hongkong and the following day embarked again on the Tosa Maru for Shanghai. Although our steamer stood so far to sea that we were generally out of sight of land except for some off-shore islands, the water was turbid most of the way after we had crossed the Tropic of Cancer off the mouth of the Han river at Swatow. Over a sea bottom measuring more than six hundred miles northward along the coast, and perhaps fifty miles to sea, unnumbered acre-feet of the richest soil of China are being borne beyond the reach of her four hundred millions of people and the children to follow them. Surely it must be one of the great tasks of future statesmanship, education and engineering skill to divert larger amounts of such sediments close along inshore in such manner as to add valuable new land annually to the public domain, not alone in China but in all countries where large resources of this type are going to waste.
In the vast Cantonese delta plains which we had just left, in the still more extensive ones of the Yangtse kiang to which we were now going, and in those of the shifting Hwang ho further north, centuries of toiling millions have executed works of almost incalculable magnitude, fundamentally along such lines as those just suggested. They have accomplished an enormous share of these tasks by sheer force of body and will, building levees, digging canals, diverting the turbid waters of streams through them and then carrying the deposits of silt and organic growth out upon the fields, often borne upon the shoulders of men in the manner we have seen.
It is well nigh impossible, by word or map, to convey an adequate idea of the magnitude of the systems of canalization and delta and other lowland reclamation work, or of the extent of surface fitting of fields which have been effected in China, Korea and Japan through the many centuries, and which are still in progress. The lands so reclaimed and fitted constitute their most enduring asset and they support their densest populations. In one of our journeys by houseboat on the delta canals between Shanghai and Hangchow, in China, over a distance of 117 miles, we made a careful record of the number and dimensions of lateral canals entering and leaving the main one along which our boat-train was traveling. This record shows that in 62 miles, beginning north of Kashing and extending south to Hangchow, there entered from the west 134 and there left on the coast side 190 canals. The average width of these canals, measured along the water line, we estimated at 22 and 19 feet respectively on the two sides. The height of the fields above the water level ranged from four to twelve feet, during the April and May stage of water. The depth of water, after we entered the Grand Canal, often exceeded six feet and our best judgment would place the average depth of all canals in this part of China at more than eight feet below the level of the fields.
In Fig. 51, representing an area of 718 square miles in the region traversed, all lines shown are canals, but scarcely more than one-third of those present are shown on the map. Between A, where we began our records, before reaching Kashing, and B, near the left margin of the map, there were forty-three canals leading in from the up-country side, instead of the eight shown, and on the coast side there were eighty-six leading water out into the delta plain toward the coast, instead of the twelve shown. Again, on one of our trips by rail, from Shanghai to Nanking, we made a similar record of the number of canals seen from the train, close along the track, and the notes show, in a distance of 162 miles, 593 canals between Lungtan and Nansiang. This is an average of more than three canals per mile for this region and that between Shanghai and Hangchow.
The extent, nature and purpose of these vast systems of internal improvement may be better realized through a study of the next two sketch maps. The first, Fig. 52, represents an area 175 by 160 miles, of which the last illustration is the portion enclosed in the small rectangle. On this area there are shown 2,700 miles of canals and only about one-third of the canals shown in Fig. 51 are laid down on this map, and according to our personal observations there are three times as many canals as are shown on the map of which Fig. 51 represents a part. It is probable, therefore, that there exists today in the area of Fig. 52 not less than 25,000 miles of canals.
In the next illustration, Fig. 53, an area of northeast China, 600 by 725 miles, is represented. The unshaded land area covers nearly 200,000 square miles of alluvial plain. This plain is so level that at Ichang, nearly a thousand miles up the Yangtse, the elevation is only 130 feet above the sea. The tide is felt on the river to beyond Wuhu, 375 miles from the coast. During the summer the depth of water in the Yangtse is sufficient to permit ocean vessels drawing twenty-five feet of water to ascend six hundred miles to Hankow, and for smaller steamers to go on to Ichang, four hundred miles further.
The location, in this vast low delta and coastal plain, of the system of canals already described, is indicated by the two rectangles in the south-east corner of the sketch map, Fig. 53. The heavy barred black line extending from Hangchow in the south to Tientsin in the north represents the Grand Canal which has a length of more than eight hundred miles. The plain, east of this canal, as far north as the mouth of the Hwang ho in 1852, is canalized much as is the area shown in Fig. 52. So, too, is a large area both sides of the present mouth of the same river in Shantung and Chihli, between the canal and the coast. Westward, up the Yangtse valley, the provinces of Anhwei, Kiangsi, Hunan and Hupeh have very extensive canalized tracts, probably exceeding 28,000 square miles in area, and Figs. 54 and 55 are two views in this more western region. Still further west, in Szechwan province, is the Chengtu plain, thirty by seventy miles, with what has been called "the most remarkable irrigation system in China."
Westward beyond the limits of the sketch map, up the Hwang ho valley, there is a reach of 125 miles of irrigated lands about Ninghaifu, and others still farther west, at Lanchowfu and at Suchow where the river has attained an elevation of 5,000 feet, in Kansu province; and there is still to be named the great Canton delta region. A conservative estimate would place the miles of canals and leveed rivers in China, Korea and Japan equal to eight times the number represented in Fig. 52. Fully 200,000 miles in all. Forty canals across the United States from east to west and sixty from north to south would not equal, in number of miles those in these three countries today. Indeed, it is probable that this estimate is not too large for China alone.
As adjuncts to these vast canalization works there have been enormous amounts of embankment, dike and levee construction. More than three hundred miles of sea wall alone exist in the area covered by the sketch map, Fig. 52. The east bank of the Grand Canal, between Yangchow and Hwaianfu, is itself a great levee, holding back the waters to the west above the eastern plain, diverting them south, into the Yangtse kiang. But it is also provided with spillways for use in times of excessive flood, permitting waters to discharge eastward. Such excess waters however are controlled by another dike with canal along its west side, some forty miles to the east, impounding the water in a series of large lakes until it may gradually drain away. This area is seen in Fig. 53, north of the Yangtse river.
Along the banks of the Yangtse, and for many miles along the Hwang ho, great levees have been built, some-times in reinforcing series of two or three at different distances back from the channel where the stream bed is above the adjacent country, in order to prevent widespread disaster and to limit the inundated areas in times of unusual flood. In the province of Hupeh, where the Han river flows through two hundred miles of low country, this stream is diked on both sides throughout the whole distance, and in a portion of its course the height of the levees reaches thirty feet or more. Again, in the Canton delta region there are other hundreds of miles of sea wall and dikes, so that the aggregate mileage of this type of construction works in the Empire can only be measured in thousands of miles.
In addition to the canal and levee construction works there are numerous impounding reservoirs which are brought into requisition to control overflow waters from the great streams. Some of these reservoirs, like Tungting lake in Hupeh and Poyang in Hunan, have areas of 2,000 and 1,800 square miles respectively and during the heaviest rainy seasons each may rise through twenty to thirty feet, Then there are other large and small lakes in the coastal plain giving an aggregate reservoir area exceeding 13,000 square miles, all of which are brought into service in controlling flood waters, all of which are steadily filling with the sediments brought from the far away uncultivable mountain slopes and which are ultimately destined to become rich alluvial plains, doubtless to be canalized in the manner we have seen.
There is still another phase of these vast construction works which has been of the greatest moment in increasing the maintenance capacity of the Empire,--the wresting from the flood waters of the enormous volumes of silt which they carry, depositing it over the flooded areas, in the canals and along the shores in such manner as to add to the habitable and cultivable land. Reference has been made to the rapid growth of Chungming island in the mouth of the Yangtse kiang, and the million people now finding homes on the 270 square miles of newly made land which now has its canals, as may be seen in the upper margin of Fig. 52. The city of Shanghai, as its name signifies, stood originally on the seashore, which has now grown twenty miles to the northward and to the eastward. In 220 B. C. the town of Putai in Shantung stood one-third of a mile from the sea, but in 1730 it was forty-seven miles inland, and is forty-eight miles from the shore today.
Sienshuiku, on the Pei ho, stood upon the seashore in 500 A. D. We passed the city, on our way to Tientsin, eighteen miles inland. The dotted line laid in from the coast of the Gulf of Chihli in Fig. 53 marks one historic shore line and indicates a general growth of land eighteen miles to seaward.
Besides these actual extensions of the shore lines the centuries of flooding of lakes and low lying lands has so filled many depressions as to convert large areas of swamp into cultivated fields. Not only this, but the spreading of canal mud broadcast over the encircled fields has had two very important effects,--namely, raising the level of the low lying fields, giving them better drainage and so better physical condition, and adding new plant food in the form of virgin soil of the richest type, thus contributing to the maintenance of soil fertility, high maintenance capacity and permanent agriculture through all the centuries.
These operations of maintenance and improvement had a very early inception; they appear to have persisted throughout the recorded history of the Empire and are in vogue today. Canals of the type illustrated in Figs. 51 and 52 have been built between 1886 and 1901, both on the extensions of Chungming island and the newly formed main land to the north, as is shown by comparison of Stieler's atlas, revised in 1886, with the recent German survey.
Earlier than 2255 B. C., more than 4100 years ago, Emperor Yao appointed "The Great" Yu "Superintendent of Works" and entrusted him with the work of draining off the waters of disastrous floods and of canalizing the rivers, and he devoted thirteen years to this work. This great engineer is said to have written several treatises on agriculture and drainage, and was finally called, much against his wishes, to serve as Emperor during the last seven years of his life.
The history of the Hwang ho is one of disastrous floods and shiftings of its course, which have occurred many times in the years since before the time of the Great Yu, who perhaps began the works perpetuated today. Between 1300 A. D. and 1852 the Hwang ho emptied into the Yellow Sea south of the highlands of Shantung, but in that year, when in unusual flood, it broke through the north levees and finally took its present course, emptying again into the Gulf of Chihli, some three hundred miles further north. Some of these shiftings of course of the Hwang ho and of the Yangtse kiang are indicated in dotted lines on the sketch map, Fig. 53, where it may he seen that the Hwang ho during 146 years, poured its waters into the sea as far north as Tientsin, through the mouth of the Pei ho, four hundred miles to the northward of its mouth in 1852.
This mighty river is said to carry at low stage, past the city of Tsinan in Shantung, no less than 4,000 cubic yards of water per second, and three times this volume when running at flood. This is water sufficient to inundate thirty-three square miles of level country ten feet deep in twenty-four hours. What must be said of the mental status of a people who for forty centuries have measured their strength against such a Titan racing past their homes above the level of their fields, confined only between walls of their own construction? While they have not always succeeded in controlling the river, they have never failed to try again. In 1877 this river broke its banks, inundating a vast. area, bringing death to a million people. Again, as late as 1898, fifteen hundred villages to the northeast of Tsinan and a much larger area to the southwest of the same city were devastated by it, and it is such events as these which have won for the river the names "China's Sorrow," "The Ungovernable" and "The Scourge of the Sons of Han."
The building of the Grand Canal appears to have been a comparatively recent event in Chinese history. The middle section, between the Yangtse and Tsingkiangpu, is said to have been constructed about the sixth century B. C.; the southern section, between Chingkiang and Hangchow, during the years 605 to 617 A. D.; but the northern section, from the channel of the Hwang ho deserted in 1852, to Tientsin, was not built until the years 1280-1283.
While this canal has been called by the Chinese Yu ho , Yun ho or Yunliang ho and while it has connected the great rivers coming down from the far interior into a great water-transport system, this feature of construction may have been but a by-product of the great dominating purpose which led to the vast internal improvements in the form of canals, dikes, levees and impounding reservoirs so widely scattered, so fully developed and so effectively utilized. Rather the master purpose must have been maintenance for the increasing flood of humanity. And I am willing to grant to the Great Yu, with his finger on the pulse of the nation, the power to project his vision four thousand years into the future of his race and to formulate some of the measures which might he inaugurated to grow with the years and make certain perpetual maintenance for those to follow.
The exhaustion of cultivated fields must always have been the most fundamental, vital and difficult problem of all civilized people and it appears clear that such canalization as is illustrated in Figs. 51 and 52 may have been primarily initial steps in the reclamation of delta and overflow lands. At any rate, whether deliberately so planned or not, the canalization of the delta and overflow plains of China has been one of the most fundamental and fruitful measures for the conservation of her national resources that they could have taken, for we are convinced that this oldest nation in the world has thus greatly augmented the extension of its coastal plains, conserving and building out of the waste of erosion wrested from the great streams, hundreds of square miles of the richest and most enduring of soils, and we have little doubt that were a full and accurate account given of human influence upon the changes in this remarkable region during the last four thousand years it would show that these gigantic systems of canalization have been matters of slow, gradual growth, often initiated and always profoundly influenced by the labors of the strong, patient, persevering, thoughtful but ever silent husband-men in their efforts to acquire homes and to maintain the productive power of their fields.
Nothing appears more clear than that the greatest material problem which can engage the best thought of China today is that of perfecting, extending and perpetuating the means for controlling her flood waters, for better draining of her vast areas of low land, and for utilizing the tremendous loads of silt borne by her streams more effectively in fertilizing existing fields and in building and reclaiming new land. With her millions of people needing homes and anxious for work; who have done so much in land building, in reclamation and in the maintenance of soil fertility, the government should give serious thought to the possibility of putting large numbers of them at work, effectively directed by the best engineering skill. It must now be entirely practicable, with engineering skill and mechanical appliances, to put the Hwang ho, and other rivers of China subject to overflow, completely under control. With the Hwang ho confined to its channel, the adjacent low lands can be better drained by canalization and freed from the accumulating saline deposits which are rendering them sterile. Warping may be resorted to during the flood season to raise the level of adjacent low-lying fields, rendering them at the same time more fertile. Where the river is running above the adjacent plains there is no difficulty in drawing off the turbid water by gravity, under controlled conditions, into diked basins, and even in compelling the river to buttress its own levees. There is certainly great need and great opportunity for China to make still better and more efficient her already wonderful transportation canals and those devoted to drainage, irrigation and fertilization.
In the United States, along the same lines, now that we are considering the development of inland waterways, the subject should be surveyed broadly and much careful study may well be given to the works these old people have developed and found serviceable through so many centuries. The Mississippi is annually bearing to the sea nearly 225,000 acre-feet of the most fertile sediment, and between levees along a raised bed through two hundred miles of country subject to inundation. The time is here when there should he undertaken a systematic diversion of a large part of this fertile soil over the swamp areas, building them into well drained, cultivable, fertile fields provided with waterways to serve for drainage, irrigation, fertilization and transportation. These great areas of swamp land may thus be converted into the most productive rice and sugar plantations to be found anywhere in the world, and the area made capable of maintaining many millions of people as long as the Mississippi endures, bearing its burden of fertile sediment.
But the conservation and utilization of the wastes of soil erosion, as applied in the delta plain of China, stupendous as this work has been, is nevertheless small when measured by the savings which accrue from the careful and extensive fitting of fields so largely practiced, which both lessens soil erosion and permits a large amount of soluble and suspended matter in the run-off to be applied to, and retained upon, the fields through their extensive systems of irrigation. Mountainous and hilly as are the lands of Japan, 11,000 square miles of her cultivated fields in the main islands of Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku have been carefully graded to water level areas bounded by narrow raised rims upon which sixteen or more inches of run-off water, with its suspended and soluble matters, may be applied, a large part of which is retained on the fields or utilized by the crop, while surface erosion is almost completely prevented. The illustrations, Figs. 11, 12 and 13 show the application of the principle to the larger and more level fields, and in Figs. 151, 152 and 225 may be seen the practice on steep slopes.
If the total area of fields graded practically to a water level in Japan aggregates 11,000 square miles, the total area thus surface fitted in China must be eight or tenfold this amount. Such enormous field erosion as is tolerated at the present time in our southern and south Atlantic states is permitted nowhere in the Far East, so far as we observed, not even where the topography is much steeper. The tea orchards as we saw them on the steeper slopes, not level-terraced, are often heavily mulched with straw which makes erosion, even by heavy rains impossible, while the treatment retains the rain where it falls, giving the soil opportunity to receive it under the impulse of both capillarity and gravity, and with it the soluble ash ingredients leached from the straw. The straw mulches we saw used in this manner were often six to eight inches deep, thus constituting a dressing of not less than six tons per acre, carrying 140 pounds of soluble potassium and 12 pounds of phosphorus. The practice, therefore, gives at once a good fertilizing, the highest conservation and utilization of rainfall, and a complete protection against soil erosion. It is a multum in parvo treatment which characterizes so many of the practices of these people, which have crystallized from twenty centuries of high tension experience.
In the Kiangsu and Chekiang provinces as elsewhere in the densely populated portions of the Far East, we found almost all of the cultivated fields very nearly level or made so by grading. Instances showing the type of this grading in a comparatively level country are seen in Figs. 56 and 57. By this preliminary surface fitting of the fields these people have reduced to the lowest possible limit the waste of soil fertility by erosion and surface leaching. At the same time they are able to retain upon the field, uniformly distributed over it, the largest part of the rainfall practicable, and to compel a much larger proportion of the necessary run off to leave by under-drainage than would be possible otherwise, conveying the plant food developed in the surface soil to the roots of the crops, while they make possible a more complete absorption and retention by the soil of the soluble plant food materials not taken up. This same treatment also furnishes the best possible conditions for the application of water to the fields when supplemental irrigation would be helpful, and for the withdrawal of surplus rainfall by surface drainage, should this be necessary.
Besides this surface fitting of fields there is a wide application of additional methods aiming to conserve both rainfall and soil fertility, one of which is illustrated in Fig. 58, showing one end of a collecting reservoir. There were three of these reservoirs in tandem, connected with each other by surface ditches and with an adjoining canal. About the reservoir the level field is seen to be thrown into beds with shallow furrows between the long narrow ridges. The furrows are connected by a head drain around the margin of the reservoir and separated from it by a narrow raised rim. Such a reservoir may be six to ten feet deep but can be completely drained only by pumping or by evaporation during the dry season. Into such reservoirs the excess surface water is drained where all suspended matter carried from the field collects and is returned, either directly as an application of mud or as material used in composts. In the preparation of composts, pits are dug near the margin of the reservoir, as seen in the illustration, and into them are thrown coarse manure and any roughage in the form of stubble or other refuse which may be available, these materials being saturated with the soft mud dipped from the bottom of the reservoir.
In all of the provinces where canals are abundant they also serve as reservoirs for collecting surface washings and along their banks great numbers of compost pits are maintained and repeatedly filled during the season, for use on the fields as the crops are changed. Fig. 59 shows two such pits on the bank of a canal, already filled.
In other cases, as in the Shantung province, illustrated in Fig. 60, the surface of the field may be thrown into broad leveled lands separated and bounded by deep and wide trenches into which the excess water of very heavy rains may collect. As we saw them there was no provision for draining the trenches and the water thus collected either seeps away or evaporates, or it may be returned in part by underflow and capillary rise to the soil from which it was collected, or be applied directly for irrigation by pumping. In this province the rains may often be heavy but the total fall for the year is small, being little more than twenty-four inches hence there is the greatest need for its conservation, and this is carefully practiced.

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