Sometimes small incidents, rather than glorious exploits, give us the best evidence of character. So, as portrait painters are more exact in doing the face, I must give particular attention to the marks of the souls of men. — Plutarch

Story of China - R. Van Bergen

General Description

When Columbus began his voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, it was his purpose to find a new and shorter route to India and Cathay, or China. The word Cathay is no longer used by us, but the Russians and the people of Central Asia, still call the Chinese Ki Tai (kee-tye).

It is not definitely known how the name China came into use. A great many people who have lived in China, and who have studied the language, have tried to investigate the matter. Some think that it came from the Tsin family, who owned a large territory in the western part of the empire, when the first people from Europe came overland to China to trade. One of the members of this family became Emperor of China. His country was known among the people of Arabia, Persia, and India as fin, Chin, or Sin. It seems likely that the old Israelites had also heard of the Chinese, for the prophet Isaiah says in one place: "Behold, these shall come from far: and lo, these from the north, and from the west; and these from the land of Sinim." But there are others who believe that the word China comes from the old Chinese word Tsan, meaning silk. They say that the word China means the Land of Silk, just as Brazil means the Land of a (crimson) Dyewood. We can not tell who is right, but we know that if we speak of China to a Chinese, he does not know what we mean, unless he has learned that word from us.

[Illustration] from The Story of China by R. Van Bergen

The Chinese have no special name for their country. When they speak or write of it, they call it sometimes Chung kwoh (choong-kwoh), that is, the Middle Kingdom, because they believe that their land is the center of the world. They also think that China is the most civilized and refined country on earth, and they call it Chung Hwa Kwoh, which means the Middle Flowery Kingdom. When they think of China as a powerful empire, they call it Shih pah seng, that is, the Eighteen Provinces, just as we speak of our country as the United States.

The Chinese often calls himself Hanjin or Han-tsz', meaning the son of Han. Sometimes he speaks of himself as a Tang-jin, or man of Tang, because at one time China was called Tang shan, or Land of Tang. They have other names, but these are the most common.

The Chinese Empire is larger than the United States, but it has territories which do not belong to China Proper, just as we have the outlying territories of Porto Rico and the Philippine Islands. These territories are: Manchuria, Mongolia, Sin-Kiang, Koko-Nor, and Thibet. They cover two-thirds of the area of the Empire, but together contain only about one-thirtieth of the entire population.

China Proper, that is, the Eighteen Provinces, has an area of 1,500,000 square miles. It is about as large as the United States between the Atlantic Coast, and a line drawn down the eastern boundary of Montana, Wyoming and Colorado, but not including Texas. Or it has the same area as our western territory beginning at the Pacific Coast and ex-tending eastward to Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas and Texas.

Within these eighteen provinces of China Proper, in area about one-half of the United States without Alaska, live four hundred and twenty million people. The population of the United States is about seventy-six million, or twenty-one to every square mile; but in China Proper, there are two hundred and twenty-five to every square mile.

China Proper is bounded on the north by Mongolia; on the east by Manchuria, the Gulf of Pe-chih-li (pay-chee-lee; pe = north), the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea, the Formosa Strait or Piscadores Channel, and the South China Sea; on the south by the Gulf of Tong-King, Tong-King, and Burmah; and on the west by Burmah, Thibet, Koko-Nor, and Sin-Kiang.

The coast line is not unlike that of our Atlantic Coast. China is almost in the same latitude as the United States, and has the same variety of climate and productions. Owing to the trade winds, the heat and cold are greater than in our country along the coast. Ningpo is in about the same latitude as New Orleans, but in the winter the snow is often six inches deep, and the people there can cut ice for use in summer. The Pei-ho (pay-hoh) River, not far from Peking, is frozen during three months in the year; but the heat is so great in summer that fine peaches, grapes, and sweet potatoes are grown. The climate in the north is generally dry and healthful; but in the south it is damp, especially in May, June, and July. In the interior of China, as in that of the United States, the climate varies with the altitude or height from the level of the sea, and with the direction of the winds.

The general slope of the country is from west to east. From the high Himalaya (he-mah-lie-ah) Mountains in Thibet, four mountain ranges extend. Furthest north are the Tien shan (teen shahn) or Heavenly Mountains, some peaks rising to a great height. Within this range is the Pi shan (pee shahn), the only volcano known in China. South of it, and extending in the same direction, is the Nan shan or Kuen-lun (kwen-loon) range. It divides into two branches; one of these lies toward the southeast under the name of Siueh ling (see-oo-ay ling) or Snow Mountains (like our Sierra Nevada), and joins the Yun ling (yoon ling) or Cloud Mountains. The other branch is known as the Nan shan or Ala shan (ah-lah shahn). It is probable that great mineral wealth may be found in these mountains, since many precious stones come from them. But as the superstitious Chinese believe that they conceal a number of monsters, as well as fairies and genii, they are not explored. There are two other mountain ranges in China Proper, but they do not rise to any great height and are not important.

The great desert in Mongolia is named the Gobi (go-bee), that is, Sandy Sea, or Shamoh, which means Sandy Floats. It is 1,800 miles long, and between 350 and 400 miles wide. It covers an area of 1,200,000 square miles, equal to nearly one-third of the United States. While the whole of this tract of land is not a desert, the fertile parts are rare.

Boat on the Yang tsze

The Chinese love and are proud of their rivers, because they are navigable to a great extent, and they use them as the highways for trade and travel. The principal river is the Yang tsz', or Son of the Ocean, named Yang tsze Kiang (yahng tsz' kee-ahng). Kiang means river. This river has different names in its course, but is generally known as the Ta (tab) Kiang, or Great River; the name of Yang tsz' is used only when it approaches the ocean. It rises in Thibet, but little is known of it until it appears in the southwest province of China, named Yun-nan (yoon-nahn), when it is called Kin sha Kiang (kin shah kee-ahng) or River of the Golden Sand, because much gold dust is found in its bed. It is navigable at Chung King, 1,400 miles from its mouth, although it passes through a gorge, where navigation is difficult. But stern-wheel steamers of great power, built after the model so often seen upon our rivers, have gone up and down the rapids through that gorge. This river runs through the richest and most fertile part of China. It is thought that one hundred and fifty million people live in the valley drained by the Yang tsz' and its tributaries. This is twice the entire population of the United States. We know that in some parts of this valley there are 800 people to the square mile.

The Hoang-ho (hwahng-hoh) is known as "China's Sorrow." In a direct line from source to mouth, it would be 1,200 miles long, but it has so many curves and bends that it runs to nearly twice that distance. The Chinese say that this Yellow River has changed its bed six times, and it is well known that, before 1853, it had an entirely different bed from the present one.

Gen. J. H. Wilson, an American Engineer who examined part of this river, says of it: "Generally, the river resembles the Missouri at and above Bismarck, in width, color, and volume of water, and even in the character and appearance of its fore-shores; but, after it enters the delta, unlike the Missouri, it has no river valley, with hillsides nearby, rising to the higher level of the rolling prairies. On the contrary, its shores are never higher than ten or twelve feet, and at places not more than five feet, even in the driest season. The plains are almost perfectly level, and stretch away in either direction from the river's margin hundreds of miles, without the slightest rise or depression that can be detected by the most practiced eye. They are absolutely as level as flowing water." This is the reason why we read of so many floods in the basin of this river. Thousands of people have been drowned, but the government does not try to prevent future disasters.

The Chu-Kiang (choo kee-ahng), or West River, is another important waterway. It is really formed by three branches, called the East, North, and West Rivers, but the last-named is by far the largest. Together they drain a region of at least two hundred thousand square miles.

The Pei-ho, or North River, is unimportant, except for the fact that it comes within about thirty-five miles of Peking, and is navigable beyond Tientsin (teen-tsin), a large city at the head of the Grand Canal. At the mouth of the Pei-ho, are the Taku (tah-koo) forts, and a bar which prevents the entrance of ships except those of very light draught.