( Originally Published 1910 )
Five Grand Divisions—Climate—Area and Population—The Eighteen Provinces
THE empire consists of five grand divisions: China Proper, Manchuria, Mongolia, Turkestan, and Tibet. In treating of this huge conglomerate it will be most convenient to begin with the portion that gives name and character to the whole.
Of China Proper it may be affirmed that the sun shines nowhere on an equal area which combines so many of the conditions requisite for the support of an opulent and prosperous people. Lying between 18° and 490 north latitude, her climate is alike exempt from the fierce heat of the torrid zone and the killing cold of the frigid regions. There is not one of her provinces in which wheat, rice, and cotton, the three staples of food and clothing, may not be cultivated with more or less success; but in the southern half wheat gives place to rice, while in the north cotton yields to silk and hemp. In the south cotton is king and rice is queen of the fields.
Traversed in every direction by mountain ranges of moderate elevation whose sides are cultivated in terraces to such a height as to present the appearance of hanging gardens, China possesses fertile valleys in fair proportion, together with vast plains that compare in extent with those of our American prairie states. Furrowed by great rivers whose innumerable affluents supply means of irrigation and transport, her barren tracts are few and small.
A coast-line of three thousand miles indented with gulfs, bays, and inlets affords countless harbours for shipping, so that few countries can compare with her in facilities for ocean commerce.
As to her boundaries, on the east six of her eighteen provinces bathe their feet in the waters of the Pacific; on the south she clasps hands with Indo-China and with British Burma; and on the west the foothills of the Himalayas form a bulwark more secure than the wall that marks her boundary on the north. Greatest of the works of man, the Great Wall serves at present no other purpose than that of a mere geographical expression. Built to protect the fertile fields of the "Flowery Land'' from the incursions of northern nomads, it may have been useful for some generations; but it can hardly be pronounced an unqualified success, since China in whole or in part has passed more than half of the twenty-two subsequent centuries under the domination of Tartars.
With an area of about 1,500,000 square miles, or one-half that of Europe, China has a busy population of about four hundred millions; yet, so far from being exhausted, there can be no doubt that with improved methods in agriculture, manufactures, mining, and transportation, she might very asily sustain double the present number of her thrifty children.
Within this favoured domain the products of nature and of human industry vie with each other in extent and variety. A bare enumeration would read like a page of a gazetteer and possibly make no more impression than a column of figures. To form an estimate of the marvellous fecundity of the country and to realise its picturesqueness, one ought to visit the provinces in succession and spend a year in the exploration of each. If one is precluded from such leisurely observation, undoubtedly the next best thing is to see them through the eyes of those who have travelled in and have made a special study of those regions.
To more than half of the provinces I can offer myself as a guide. I spent ten years at Ningpo, and one year at Shanghai, both on the southern seacoast. At the northern capital I spent forty years; and I have recently passed three years at Wuchang on the banks of the Yang-tse Kiang, a special coign of vantage for the study of central China. While residing in the above-mentioned foci it was my privilege to visit six other provinces (some of them more than once), thus gaining a personal acquaintance with ten out of the eighteen and being enabled to gather valuable information at first hand.
A glance at the subjoined table (from the report of the China Inland Mission for 1905) will exhibit the magnitude of the field of investigation before us. The average province corresponds in extent to the average state of the American Union; and the whole exceeds that portion of the United States which lies east of the Mississippi.
PROVINCES AREA SQ. MILES POPULATION
Kwangtung (Canton) 99,970 31,865,000
Totals 1,532,420 407,331,000