1902 Encyclopedia > China > Rivers of China

(Part 5)


Rivers of China

Rivers.—The rivers of China are very numerous, and, with the canals, form some of the most frequented highways in the empire. The two largest are the Yang-tsze which is less known to fame for its value in a commercial sense, than by reason of the vast and destructive floods which have form time to time caused it to inundate the low-lying country on either side of its banks. According to Chinese geographers the Hwang-ho takes its rise in the "Sea of Stars," on the eastern side of the Bayen-kára Mountains, in the Mongolian province of kokonor, where it has gained for itself the name of Ah-urh-tan, or Golden River, from the colour of its waters. For some miles it runs in two streams, and when united takes at first a south-easterly course. Next trending in a north-easterly direction it traverses the province of Kan-suh and passes northwards through the Great Wall until it reaches the rising ground in the neighbourhood of the In-shan. Thence curving to the south-east and south it re-enters China through the Great Wall and continues its southerly course, forming the boundary between the provinces of Shen-se and Shan-se as far as Tung-kwan. Here it makes a sharp bend and runs nearly due east to Kai-fung Foo. In the neighbourhood of this city it enters on the great eastern plain of China, and the alternations which have taken place in its bed between this district and the sea has earned for it the well-deserved title of "the Sorrow of Han." According to the Chinese records this portion of the river has changed its course nine times during the last 2500 years, and has emptied itself into the sea at as many different mouths, the most northerly of which is represented as having been in about 39° lat., or in the neighbourhood of the present mouth of the Peiho, and the most southerly being that which existed before the last change in 1851-53, in 34° lat. The breaches that were made in the northern bank of the river east of Kai-fung Foo during the floods of 1851, 1852, and 1853 caused its waters gradually to overflow the low-lying country to the northwards; the these, after spreading over a belt of country about 12 miles in width, struck the bed of the Ta-tsing River, and having forced their way into that narrow, clean cut channel, followed it to the sea. The result of this change has been that the old course of the river is dry, and that the muddy dun-coloured water—hence the name Hwang-ho, or Yellow River—after permanently flooding a large tract of country, are now leading up to another grand catastrophe by destroying the banks of the new channel which they have found for themselves. Already the increased volume of water has added another obstruction to those before existing to the navigation of the river by destroying a large stone bridge of seven arches at Tse-hoheen, a town situated 210 miles from the mouth, the ruins of which have seriously impeded the course of the stream. But the Hwang-ho is of little value for navigating purposes. At its mouth lies a bar having at its deepest part about from 7 to 9 feet of water only; further up, about 3 miles below Tse-hoheen, there is a shoal extending right across its bed, at the deepest point of which there is about 11 feet of water, while in the passage at the extremity of the sunken bridge at Tse-hoheen there is a depth of only about 5 feet.

A far more valuable river in every way is the Yang-tsze Keang, which takes its rise in the Min Mountains of Tibet, and after a course of 2900 miles empties itself into the Yellow Sea in about 31° lat. In common with most of the large rivers of China, the Yang-tsze Keang is known by various names in different parts of its course. From its source in Tibet to Seu-chow Foo in Sze-chuen, it bears the name of Kin-sha Keang, or River of the Golden Sands. From Seu-chow Foo to Yang-chow Foo in Keang-soo, its volume has gained for it the title of Ta Keang, or the Great River; and from the ancient name of the district through which it thence passes, it is known for the remainder of its course as the Yang-tze Keang, or the Yang-tze River. Chinese geographers state that it has two sources, the more northerly of which gives birth to the Kang-chuh ah-lin at a point about 1600 le to the southeast of the source of the Yellow River; and to the more southerly one of the two the Na-ko-to-moo-tsing ah-lin, which rises on the south of the range, owes its existence. Both these streams twist and turn eastward for upwards of 200 le, when they unite and form one stream, which flows in an easterly and afterwards southerly course until it enters the Chinese province of Yun-nan at the Hwang-shing Pass, or Pass of Imperial Victory. It then turns northward into the province of Sze-chuen, and thence after receiving several important tributaries it takes an east-north-easterly course, until passing into Hoo-pih it dips southwards to the boundary of Hoo-nan in the neighbourhood of the Tung-ting Lake, the waters of which contribute largely to swell its volume. From this point it makes a curve northwards as far as Han-kow, receiving on the way the waters of the Han River. From Han-kow it bends its course again southwards to the Po-yang Lake. Thence through the province of Gan-hwuy it proceeds in a north-easterly direction until it reaches Nanking, 200 miles from the sea. Here the influence of the tide begins to be felt, and beyond this point it gradually widens into the great estuary by which it is connected with the ocean. The basin area of the Yang-tsze Keung is reckoned to be about 548,000 square miles, and it is navigable for steamers as far as I-chang, upwards of 1200 miles from its mouth. Unlike the Yellow Keang are dotted manky rich and populous cities, among which the chief are Nanking, Gan-king, Kew-keang, Han-kow, and I-chang. Beyond this last-named city the navigation becomes impossible for any but light native craft, by reason of the rapids which occur at frequent intervals in the deep mountain gorges through which the river runs between Kwai-chow and I-chang.

Next in importance to the Yang-tsze Keang as a water highway is the Yun-ho, or, as it is generally known in Europe, the Grand Canal. This magnificent artificial river reaches from Hang-chow Foo in the province of Che-keang to Tien-tsin in Chih-li, where it unites with the Peiho, and thus may be said to extend to Tung-chow in the neighbourhood of Peking. After leaving Hang-chow it passes round the eastern border of the Tai-hoo, or Great Lake, surrounding in its course the beautiful city of Soo-chow, and then trends in a generally north-westernly direction through the fertile districts of keang-soo as far Chin keang on the Yang-tsze keang. Mr Ney Elias, who in 1868 travelled along the Grand Canal from Chin-keang to the new course of the Yellow River, thus described the characteristic of this portion of its course:—

"The Grand Canal between Chin-keang and Tsin-keang-pu, or in other words, between the Yang-tsze and the old bed of the Yellow River… is everywhere in good repair, and the adjacent country well irrigated, and apparently in a thriving state, both as regards cultivation, and, to judge by the aspect of the towns on and near its banks as regards trade also. After crossing the old Yellow River, however, a part of the canal somewhat less known is reached, and the flourishing condition of the country is no longer noticeable; on the contrary, for a distance of about 150 miles, though the canal itself is in tolerably good working order, the country is its vicinity has an arid, sterile appearance, and is but thinly populated. There are few towns or villages, and some there are seem neither populous nor busy, though they are not in ruins, and bear but few traces of the rebellion…The canal, which at one time was so deep that at many place the level of the water was above that of the adjacent country, is now everywhere considerably below it, rendering irrigation at even a short distance from its banks, without mechanical appliances, almost an impossibility; even the dry bed of the Loma Lake is scarcely cultivated on account of its elevation above the level of the canal, though it is only separated from it in some parts by a bank of a few yards in width. It is true that this lake appears never to have been more than a shallow flood lagoon, nevertheless it was some feet below the general level of the country, and was connected with the canal by means of water-courses and sluice gates; and if this is difficult to irrigate how much more so much be the country above and beyond it! This 150 miles being passed over, the Wai Shan (sometimes called Yü Shan) Lake is reached at a small village, called Han-chuang-cha. This is the most southern of a chain of lakes or rather lagoons, which stretch from far to the south of hanchuang-cha (I believe from near Su-chan-fu on the old Yellow River) to within a few miles of Tse-ning-chow, and which constitute the only important feeder of the Grand Canal to the southward. In the summer they merge one into the other, and form a continuous sheet of water, though very shallow in parts. In winter, when the water is low, these shallow parts are mere morasses, which divide the sheet into three or four separate lagoons. In former days the canal ran in some places by the side of these kagoons, and in other through portions of them, but being everywhere embanked on both sides, it was only dependent upon them for its supply of water, the canal itself forming an unobstructed means of communication through the year. Of late years, however, this section of the canal has been allowed to go to ruin, and those portions only are used which run through the morasses existing in the dry season, the lagoons themselves forming elsewhere the only channel for navigation. Near the northern limit of these lagoons stands the city of Tse-ning-chow, the first place of any importance on the canal north of Tsin-kinag-pu; it is said to be a place of considerable trade in ordinary times… Still proceeding northward, a distance from Tse-ning-chow of about 25 miles, the summit level of the canal is reached near a small town called Nan Wang. It is here that the River Wen falls into the canal, a portion of its waters flowing to the south, and the rest to the north, precisely as described by Staunton and other writers… About 30 miles beyond Nan Wang we come to the new Yellow River, the canal for that distance being extremely narrow and shallow—a mere ditch in fact, running between embankments large enough to confine a stream of infinitely greater volume. The banks along nearly the whole of the Grand Canal between the old and the new bed of the Yellow River, excepting those portions bordering on or traversing the lagoons, are surrounded by earthen walls crenellated after the fashion of city walls, behind which are stockades at intervals of every few miles. All this work has the appearance of being recently constructed, though in many places it is already being broken up by the country people to make room for cultivation, for they can ill afford to lose that strip of land immediately adjacent to and irrigated by the canal. The villages also make an attempt at fortifications, some of them being surrounded by earthen or mud walls or mosts; and, indeed, many solitary farms have some species if defensive works round them, and in most cases a small, square brick tower within. These towers are rarely met with to the south of the province of Shan-tung—they are probably the "water castles" mentioned by the historian of the Dutch Embassy."

On the west side of the canal, at the point where the Yellow River now cuts across it, there is laid down in Chinese maps of the last century a dry channel which is described as being that of the old Yellow River. Leaving this point the canal passes through a well-wooded and hilly country west of Tung-ping Chow, through the city of Changkew Chin and to the east if Tung-chang Foo. At Lin-tsing-Chow it is joined at right angles by the Wie River in the midst of the city, and from thence crosses the frontier into Chih-li, and passing to the west of T_h Chow and Tsang Chow joins the Peiho at Tien-tsin, after having received the waters of the Ke-to River in the neighbourhood of Tsing Heen. At Tien-tsin the canal ends, and the Peiho completes the communication to the vicinity of Peking.

Another of the of the large rivers of China is the Han Keang, which rises in the Po-mung or Kew-lung mountains to the north of the city of Ning-kenag Chow in Shen-se. Taking a generally easterly course from its source as far as Fan-ching, it from that point takes a more southerly direction and empties itself into the Yang-tsze Keang at han-kow, "the mouth of the Han." This river has some noticeable peculiarities. Not the least of these is that it is very narrow at its mouth (200 feet) and grows in width as the distance from its mouth increases. Another marked feature is that the summer high-water line is for a great part of its course, from E-ching Heen to Han-kow, above the level of its banks, the result being that were it not for artificial barriers the whole of the surrounding country would be under water for a great part of the year. In the neighbourhood of Seen-taou Chin the elevation of the plain above low-water is no more above its lowest level. To protect themselves against this inevitably recurring danger of inundations the natives have here, as elsewhere, thrown up high embankments on both sides of the river, but at a distance from the natural banks of about 50 to 100 feet. This intervening space is flooded every year, and by the action of the water new layers of sand and soil are deposited every summer, thus strengthening the embankments from season to season. In summer the river would be navigable for steamers of moderate size as far as Laon-ho Kow, which is situated 180 le above Fan-ching, but in winter it would be quite impossible to reach the latter place. The chief trading places on the Han-keang are Sha-yang Chin, Yo-Kow, Sin-Kow, Seen-taou Chin, Fan-ching, and Laou-ho Kow.

In the southern provinces the Se-keang, or Western Rover, is the most considerable. This river takes its rise in the prefecture of Kwang-nan Foo in Yun-nan, whence it reaches the frontier of Kwang-se at a distance of about 90 le from its source. Then trending in a north-easterly direction it forms the boundary between the two provinces for about 150 le. From this point it takes a generally south-easterly course, passing the cities of Teen Chow, Fung-e Chow, Shang-lin Heen, Lung-gan Heen, Yung-kang Chow, and Nan-ning Foo to Yung-shun Heen. Here it makes a bend to the north-east, and continues this general direction as far as Sin-chow Foo, a distance of 800 le, where it meets and joins the waters of the Keen Keang from the north. Its course is then easterly, and after passing Woo-chow Foo it crosses the frontier into Kwang-tung, and finally empties itself into the China Sea in the neighbourhood of Macao.Like the Yang-tsze keang this river is known by various names in different parts of its course. From its source to nan-ning Foo in Kwang-se it is called the Se-yang Keang, or Rover of the Western Ocean; from Nan-ning Foo to Sin-chow Foo it is known as the Yuh-keang, or the Bending River; and over the remainder of its course it is recognized by the name of the Se-keang or WesternRiver. The Se-keang is navigable as far as Shaou-king, 130 miles, fro vessels not drawing more than 15 feet of water, and steamers of a light draught might easily reach Woo-chow Foo, in Kwang-se, which is situated 75 miles further up. In writer the navigation for junks is difficult above Woo-chow Foo, and it is said that rapids are met with about 100 miles beyond that city.

The Peiho is a river of importance as being then high water-way to peking. Taking its rise in the Se-shan, or Western Mountains, beyond Peking, it passes the city of Tung-chow, the port of Peking, and Tien-tsin, where it meets the waters of the Yun-ho, and empties itself into the Gulf of Pih-chih-li at the village of Takoo. The Peiho is navigable for small streamers as far as Tien-tsin during the greater part of the year, but throughout the winter months, that is to say, from the end of November to the beginning of March, it is frozen up.

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