Section A: Construction of railways
Preliminary Report on the Trip Undertaken by Imperial Order Across Chinese Turkestan and the Northern Provinces of China to Peking in 1906–07 and 1908 by Col. Baron Mannerheim
The national awakening describing the current policy of China was given not only a strong push but at the same time an absolutely new direction in the field of railroad building. Having appreciated the value of railroad communications for raising the welfare of the country, the government has raised the issue of development of a railroad system as one of the first items in the program of reforms. Having put an end to concessions as a method of railroad construction, a method which has been in place since the time of the Japanese-Chinese war, with its exclusive rights violating the sovereignty of China, the government has established a concerted plan for the future development of railroad construction using state funds.
A grandiose network of railways has been planned. Many projects were adopted by the highest power; others have been essentially approved while the third ones exist only in the form of petitions submitted to the throne. The implementation of the whole plan has serious difficulties. To avoid describing the general railway program planned by the central government in more detail, I shall touch on it only to the extent it relates to the provinces visited by me.
Due to the decentralization of finances and local provincial patriotism characteristic to China, the means collected in one province cannot be used for construction of railroad communications in another. The planned lines are broken into “sites” and the administration of each province is responsible for constructing the site running through it. The budgets of some provinces fail to cope with their commitments; in fundraising, they face conservatism and the enmity of the illiterate broad masses of Northern China to all foreigners, and the distrust of merchants and capitalists. It is enough to mention that mandarins will supervise the construction to discredit all matters in the eyes of the population. Waste and the excesses of the mandarins appointed as heads of railway enterprises in the south only increase distrust of them, which is very strong.
In cities and villages they try to educate the population and deliver lectures on the advantages and importance of railways construction for the wellbeing of their locality. Sometimes mandarins speak in public themselves but in most cases students do that for a fee from the administration. They promise dividends within four years and invite people to subscribe to shares of the projected railway. To involve the broad population in the business, shares are issued at a cost accessible to all, for example, of 2 lans in Xi’an (approximately 2 roubles and 80 copecks), and 5 lans in Henan province. Setting an example and making advances to authorities, mandarins manage to raise some funds. However, merchants and others follow their example very unwillingly. For now, attempts with trial subscriptions, despite pressure from the authorities, have yielded unsatisfactory results so far.
The order by the fantai of the Shanxi province about the introduction of a small additional land tax in the area between the cities Xi’an and Tongguan intended for covering charges on forthcoming construction of the railway was also a failure. People who usually submitted to the traditional abuses of the authorities became indignant. The echo of their protests reached Peking [Beijing] and the new taxes have been cancelled.
Having estimated fairly that the poor population of Gansu province is not able to give those huge sums needed for construction of the railway from Xi’an to Lanzhou, Viceroy Shen started development of industry and the natural resources of the province with special energy. The gold mine in the vicinity of the city of Xining belongs to the category of mountain enterprises. Not underestimating the value of the last measures, which will be elucidated below in more detail, I find the funds invested in these new enterprises to be too insignificant to generate the huge sums needed for construction of the said railway.
Another difficulty is lack of workers with technical education. A great number of technicians are needed to build so many railways simultaneously. Even now when the majority of projects have not been started, they are hiring people who were interpreters for foreign engineers and contractors as construction workers.
Not only have they not resolved successfully the issue of investments required for construction of the railways planned, the administrations of provinces do not even take measures to study the feasibility of projects. Except for rare cases they do not undertake any research work and the budgets drawn up do not take into consideration the peculiarities of individual sites. Usually they proceed from calculations of 10,000 lans per li or in other words about 60,000 francs per kilometer. They say that this calculation is close to the real needs in flat localities, i.e. for the most favorable working conditions. In the provinces travelled by me the construction of the projected lines is confronted with great difficulties that undoubtedly will increase the cost stipulated by the budget.
A third of the railroad built by the Franco-Belgian Society from the city of Kaifeng to Henan runs across forested mountains and the other two-thirds of the line runs across the plain. One kilometre will cost about 180,000 francs. The railroad connecting the city of Taiyuan with the Peking-Hankow line runs across highlands which are really difficult. To make the construction cheaper they built a gauge one-metre wide, but in spite of that one kilometre also cost 180,000 francs.
The major projects of railways in provinces I crossed were the following ones:
- Cities of [Louyang]-Tongguan-Xi’an-Lanzhou-Hami-Urumqi-Ili;
- Kalgan [Zhangjiakou]-Datong;
- Datong-Guihua [Hohhot];
- Guihua [Hohhot]-Gucheng [Qitai]-Urumqi;
The first one is a continuation of the railway being completed by the Franco-Belgian joint-stock company from the station of Zhengzhou on the Peking-Hankow line to the city of [Luoyang]. According to the contract to implement the project the government has no right to take advantage of services of any other society except for the above mentioned.
The site of the [Luoyang]-Tongguan railway should be constructed by the administration of the Henan province. An English engineer who serves on the Northern Chinese railway was invited to do research work. He had left for the site just when I arrived at the station of Zhengzhou. They say about four to five million lans were collected for building the road. The cost of one kilometre of this site, running almost all the way across forested mountains, undoubtedly will exceed the costs of the line of Kaifeng-Zhengzhou-[Louyang]. Therefore, not less than 50 million francs will be required for project implementation. The trial subscriptions I saw were far from adequate. It is very doubtful that the provincial administration will manage to collect such a significant sum but the Franco-Belgian Society is ready to assist them either in terms of its capital or making a commitment to carry out the construction, and it can be only assumed that this railroad will be constructed somehow in the nearest future. The construction will require no less than two years and most likely three years. One hundred ninety to two hundred kilometers of the line from Kaifeng to [Luoyang] have been constructed within three years though they were built simultaneously in two directions from the station Zhengzhou, and the completed line mentioned above will be 240 to 250 kilometres long.
On the next site of Tongguan-Xi’an, research was undertaken a year ago by Japanese engineers. The direction of the route, however, has still not been decided on conclusively. There are two projects: one is from Xi’an along the southern bank of the Weihe River across the cities of Lintong, Weinan, Huazhou and Huayin to Tongguan, and the other one is across the city of Sanyuan, which has substantial trade with Tongchuan and Tongguan. The last project is probably intended to connect this line with the railway projected from Taiyuan to Puzhou. The locality does not have any technical difficulties. According to the Chinese authorities, about three million lans are required for construction of 160 kilometers of the projected railroad. To this day subscriptions do not total one million. Taking into consideration the great importance of Xi’an and its brisk trade, it cannot be doubted that this project will be carried out in the nearest future but it should be assumed what the construction can be launched only on completion of construction of the [Louyang]-Tongguan railway, i.e., in two to three years. It is doubtful that they will dare to increase the costs of delivering materials using a more expensive way than by railway. If we assume that the construction will take two years, Xi’an will be connected with the network of railways not earlier than 1913-1914.
Other sites of this ambitious highway belong for now to the planning field. No research has been undertaken and trial subscriptions in Gansu collected such insignificant sums that they cannot even be taken into account in discussion of the project which will require hundred of millions. The provinces of Xinjiang and Gansu are too poor, at least for now, prior to the development of their mountain riches and the barter between the mother country and those remote provinces is insignificant; thus, such a railroad would not be profitable without connecting it with the network of other railways. They mainly attach only a strategic significance to it. It is doubtful that within the present period the central government will find it possible to invest the funds needed in this business, considering its many other pressing needs. It is possible to make assumptions on the direction of the projected construction of a branch from Pinlan to Ninxia. Whatever the direction this line could be given, technical difficulties on the site of Xi’an-Lanzhou are quite significant. Considering the fact that the district of forested mountains to the north of Pinlan has little population it is quite possible that the authorities will reject the proposed direction and opt for the rich valley of Weihe.
If it is assumed they will construct at most 200 kilometers a year working very hard, and that they begin the work building the railway to Xi’an soon and complete it by 1913-1914, I estimate that Lanzhou cannot have the road built prior to 1916-1917. It is apparent that further construction is a matter of the distant future. More significant technical difficulties will be on the site Lanzhou-Gulan, in two or three places in northern Gansu, in two places in the district across the desert and some river crossings.
Projects two, three and five are linked so closely that they should be considered together. The line Datong -Taiyuan-Puzhou is of strategic importance as it will facilitate a concentration of troops close to the capital. Prior to intensive utilization of the mountain resources of the province it is doubtful that this railroad will be paid for even if it would manage to take a part of the transportation load from the Xi’an-[Louyang]-Zhengzhou line. This assumption is confirmed by the fact that the Taiyuan-Shijiazhuang railway, which has just been constructed across a region where coal and iron have been used for a long time, has not justified the hopes assigned to it yet.
The line Kalgan-Datong-Guihua [Hohhot] promises to be a profitable one. Through the latter city almost all barter is carried out between Northern Gansu and the Xinjiang province from one side and East China from the other. I’d like to note as characteristic the mistrust and absence of interest of the population in the construction of railways, that the trial subscription in the rich city of Guihua [Hohhot] brought in only 10,000 lans.
Till now no research has been undertaken on all these roads. They say that the site Taiyuan-Puzhou will be under construction earlier than others.
The last project of the railway construction from Guihua [Hohhot] across the desert to Gucheng [Qitai] and Urumqi was submitted by Ilian tsan-tsun Chan. A branch of the line will run across Ninxia to Lanzhou. Proceeding from the description of a two-month caravan route I have, the locality will not have special technical difficulties. Even carts carried by camels can be seen on the road. At the same time such a road could enable the government to expand the colonization of Mongolian land by the Chinese which at present includes only the strip closest to their frontiers. It is likely that they have postponed implementation of the project; at least nothing is known about its implementation at the moment.
The last loan intended for the construction of the line Tan-tsin-Pukow [Tanxin-Puzhou?] is an important step in the railway policy of the Chinese Government. Having got rid of the burden linked with the concession method of building, it now has the opportunity to implement a program using foreign capital as well as foreigners but who are at their service. The speed of carrying out construction of western railroads will depend on the degree of the government’s ability to make full use of the new method.
CITATION: Mannerheim, Col. C.G.E. (transl. Eric Walberg and Anatoli Koroteyev, and ed. Eric Enno Tamm) “Preliminary Report on the Trip Undertaken by Imperial Order Across Chinese Turkestan and the Northern Provinces of China to Peking in 1906–07 and 1908.” In Collection of Geographical, Topographical and Statistical Materials for Asia 81. St. Petersburg: Military Publishing House, 1909. http://horsethatleaps.com/report.