CHAPTER XXI. PUBLIC WORKS

It is difficult to guess how much truth there is in the ancient traditions that the water-courses of the empire were improved through gigantic engineering works undertaken by the ancient Emperors of China. There is one gorge, well known to travellers, above Ich'ang, on the River Yang-tsz, on the way to Ch'ung-k'ing, where the precipitous rocks on each side have the appearance and hardness of iron, and for a mile or more - perhaps several miles - stand perpendicularly like walls on both sides of the rapid Yang- tsz River: the most curious feature about them is that from below the water-level, right up to the top, or as far as the eye can reach, the stone looks as though it had been chipped away with powerful cheese-scoops: it seems almost impossible that any operation of nature can have fashioned rocks in this way; on the other hand, what tools of sufficient hardness, driven by what great force, could hollow out a passage of such length, at such a depth, and such a height? It is certain that after Ts'in conquered the hitherto almost unknown kingdoms of Pa and Shuh (Eastern and Western Sz Ch'wan) a Chinese engineer named Li Ping worked wonders in the canalization of the so-called CH'ENg-tu plain, or the rich level region lying around the capital city of Sz Ch'wan province, which was so long as Shuh endured also the metropolis of Shuh. The consular officers of his Britannic Majesty have made a special study of these sluices, which are still in full working order, and they seem almost unchanged in principle from the period (280 B.C.) when Li Ping lived. The Chinese still regard this branch of the Great River as the source; or at least they did so until the Jesuit surveys of two centuries ago proved otherwise; it was quite natural that they should do so in ancient times, for the true upper course, and also Yiin Nan and Tibet through which that course runs, were totally unknown to them, and unheard of by name; even now the so-called Lolo country of Sz Ch'wan and Yiin Nan is mostly unexplored, and the mountain Lolos are quite independent of China. The fact that they have whitish skins and a written script of their own (manifestly inspired by the form of Chinese characters) makes them a specially interesting people. Li Ping's engineering feats also included the region around Ya-thou and Kia- ting, as marked on the modern maps.

The founder of the Hia dynasty (2205 B.C.) is supposed to have liberated the stagnant waters of the Yellow River and sent them to the sea; as this is precisely what all succeeding dynasties have tried to do, and have been obliged to try, and what in our own times the late Li Hung-chang was ordered to do just before his death, there seems no good reason for suspecting the accuracy of the tradition; the more especially as we see that the founder of the Chou dynasty sent his chief political adviser and his two most distinguished relatives to settle along this troublesome river's lower course, as rulers of Ts'i, Yen, and Lu; the other considerable vassals were all ranged along the middle course.

The original Chinese founder of the barbarian colony of Wu belonged, as already explained, to the same clan or family as the founder of the Chou dynasty, and in one respect even took ancestral or spiritual precedence of him, because the emigrant had voluntarily retired into obscurity with his brother in order to make way for a third and more brilliant younger brother, whose grandson it was that afterwards, in 1122 B.C., conquered China, and turned the Chou principality, hitherto vassal to the Shang dynasty, into the Chou dynasty, to which the surviving Shang princes then became vassals in the Sung state and elsewhere. Even though the founder of Wu may have adopted barbarian ways, such as tattooing, hair-cutting, and the like, he must have possessed considerable administrative power, for he made a canal (running past his capital) for a distance of thirty English miles along the new "British" railway from Wu-sih to Ch'ang-shuh, as marked on present maps; his idea was to facilitate boat-travelling, and to assist cultivators with water supplies for irrigation.

In the year 485 B.C. the King of Wu, who was then in the hey-day of his success, and by way of becoming Protector of China, erected a wall and fortifications round the well-known modern city of Yangchow (where Marco Polo 1700 years later acted as governor); he next proceeded for the first time in history to establish water communication between the Yang-tsz River and the River Hwai; this canal was then (483-481) continued farther north, so as to give communication with the southern and central parts of modern Shan Tung province.