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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 6, Issue 8 (April 1, 1932.)

The Chinese Railways

The Chinese Railways.

All eyes are on China nowadays, and it would be of interest, perhaps, to have a glance at the railway system of the Celestial Empire, now transformed into a Republic under American methods and ideas. The transportation in China is naturally slow, as the country is using her river navigation preferably to the railway accommodation, and the railway system in China is very little developed. In fact, China built no railways of her own, all the existing railway lines being constructed and run by foreigners. The Tzingtao railway was built and managed by Germans, and all the rolling stock was brought from Germany, including locomotives and points. During the Great War the line was confiscated, and the Chinese Government thus received a railway that it can claim as being the only Government railway in China at the present time.

In 1898 the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, together with a firm of British merchants in China (Jardine, Matheson and Co. Ltd.), founded the British Chinese Corporation, to carry on in China “or elsewhere” the business of contractors for railways and public works. The activities of the Company started with an advance of a loan to the Chinese Government for the double tracking of the Peking-Mukden railway line, and this line, as well as the Shanghai-Nanking railway, are in the hands of British interests. The Russo-Asiatic Bank advanced money for the Peking-Hankow railway.

In 1902 the Banque de Paris promoted railways in Yunnan and Shan-Si Provinces (South and North China). After the French, the Americans tried to develop Chinese railways and to promote new ones, but without marked success, as far as the writer knows.

Generally speaking, political and commercial quarrels over the matter of railway development in China have marked the past and are affecting the present situation. Thus a scientific and quiet working of the Chinese railways is a thing never yet attained. The Government of the Chinese Republic took over the administration of several hundreds of miles of railways, under special arrangements with the Powers, but the deplorable state of the Chinese Treasury is barring every progress and possibility of expansion.

China is an ex-territorial country, which means that all foreign merchants doing business in China must, by treaty, do so under their own laws and regulations. It is the dream of the present Chinese Government to abolish the exterritoriality and to govern the white men like their own, but it seems very improbable that such a change should take place in the near future. The Republic of China has not yet codified her laws and modernised her institutions to the extent page 31 that foreigners may become subject to them. The present war with Japan is a further complication, and the Chinese railways are deteriorating seriously and require a good hand to put them in order. It is significant to note that an American company has been organised recently in the north of Shantung to operate a fleet of fifty motor trucks to carry produce to the ports.

The chaos and disorder prevailing in China affects very seriously the transportation of goods and produce in China. Although the rolling stock is good, brought mainly from Europe and Great Britain, the running of railways is defective and the control slack. Continuous civil wars and so-called bandits are often interrupting the working of the railways, damaging sometimes the track and stock to a very considerable extent.