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The Pattern of Railway Development in China

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 March 2011

E-tu Zen Sun
Pennsylvania State University
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After three-quarters of a century of fluctuating efforts, the development of railways in China remains an unfinished task today. In contrast to industrially more advanced countries, which had built most of their existing lines by the turn of the present century, railway construction is regarded even now as an indispensable part of the economic development of China. Measured by the potential demands of the country the existing railway facilities are small indeed. Recent data indicate that at the end of 1952 the Chinese railway system consisted of some 17,570 miles of tracks, including all lines in operation on the mainland and Hainan but excluding those on Formosa. This means that there is one mile of railway for every 216 square miles of territory (or approximately 463 miles per 100,000 square miles), and that for every 1,000,000 of population there are 39 miles of rail transportation. Small though the figures appear to be, they nevertheless represent an increase over those of a decade ago. In 1942 the estimate was 12,036 miles of railways in all of China, including those in Manchuria and the occupied areas; the ratio was then 274 miles of railroads per 100,000 square miles, and 27 miles per 1,000,000 population. The vast potential development that lies ahead is apparent when we compare the above figures with those for the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan.

Symposium—The Patterns of Railway Development
Copyright © The Association for Asian Studies, Inc. 1955

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1 In July, 1951, the mileage in operation was reported to be 16,740 miles. The completion of additional lines totaling at least 831 miles by the end of 1952 brings the higher figure; see Chang, Li, “Railway Construction in China,” Far Eastern Survey, 22 (March 25, 1953), 4: 3738.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

2 Chia-ao, Chang (Kia-ngau), China's Struggle for Railways (New York, 1943), 297.Google Scholar

3 The railway mileage in these countries per 100,000 square miles and 1,000,000 population respectively was as follows: United States, 7,970 and 1,940; United Kingdom, 21,360 and 436; Germany, 20,150 and 550; Japan, 9,120 and 190; see ibid., loc. cit.

4 Han-sheng, Ch'üan, T'ang-Sung ti-kuo yü yun-ho (The T'ang and Sung Empires and the Canals), special publication of the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica (Chungking, 1944), 126.Google Scholar

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6 Chao-hsing, Wu, Chung-kuo shui-chih shih (History of Chinese Tax Systems), II (Shanghai, 1937), 6671Google Scholar. The major stations discussed here do not include the branch stations and toll gates under their jurisdiction.

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In this article “dollars,” “$,” or “CN$” (after 1928) refer to Chinese currency. The American dollar is indicated by “US$.”

In the years covered by the present study there were notable fluctuations in the exchange value of the Chinese currency. The following average official rates in terms of the U.S. dollar will give some indication of the dominant trends: In the early Republican years, US$1 was equal to (old Chinese) $2.40 in 1915, and $1.80 in 1925. In 1935, after the introduction of currency reform and managed exchange rates, it was US$1 to CN$3.3O. During the Japanese war the rates were US$1 to CN$12 in 1939, and to CN$20 from 1942 on. Actually in 1941 the blackmarket rate had already reached US$1 to CN$40, and in private transactions the value of the CN$ continued to plunge downward as inflation sharply spiralled. See the China Year Book for 1916, 1926, 1931Google Scholar. China Handbook 1937–1945. Tamagna, Frank M., Banking and Finance in China (New York, 1942)Google Scholar, passim.

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30 Tseng, , 413Google Scholar. Ministry of Railways, Bureau of Statistics, comp., Statistics of Railways for the Year Ending December 31, 1927, 36.Google Scholar

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38 Ibid., 153.

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41 Ting, Leonard G. and Chin, R. Q. P., “War and Transportation in China,” Nankai Social and Economic Quarterly, 12.1–2 (January, 1941), 7.Google Scholar

42 Ibid., loc. cit. Chia-ao, Chang, 147, 154155Google Scholar. It was estimated that in 1931 transportation and communications amounted to more than 26 per cent of all foreign investments in China; see Fong, H. D., Industrial Capital in China (Tientsin, 1936), 5.Google Scholar

43 The Board of Posts and Communications, comp., Yu-ch'uan-pu tsou-i lei-pien (Memorials of the Board of Posts and Communications), II (Peking, 1908)Google Scholar, 202b-204a. (Hereafter YCP).

44 TTKP, 1: 182–183; 2: 118. Hsin-ch'eng, Chang, 125.Google Scholar

45 TTKP, 1575: 5. The Shanghai-Nanking suffered from an additional imposition in the early period of its operation in the form of likin levies: the entire line was divided into nine sections, with the likin duties for each section set at 1.5 per cent ad valorem; passing through all nine sections on the railway, therefore, a shipper would have had to pay 13.5 per cent ad valorem on his goods; this drastically reduced the volume of freight for this railway: see Wu, , II, 85.Google Scholar

46 Railway Statistics for 1926, 15Google Scholar; ibid, for 1927, 15. TTKP, 2: 190; 3: facing 226; 4: facing 164.

47 TTKP, 1558: 2–8; the liver competition for the Hankow-Canton was fiercest between Hankow and Changsha in the northern section, Canton and Shaochou in the south. Ibid., 1594: 5–7; 1548: 6.

48 Ibid., 1587: 5; 1594: 7; 1604: 8.

49 Ibid., 1548: 7–8; 1575: 4, 6.

50 CEY, II, L55.

51 YCP, 294b.

52 Ming-hsün, Ch'en, Ching-chi kai-tsao-chung chih Chung-kuo kung-yeh wen-t'i (The Problem of Chinese Industries during Economic Reorganization), (Shanghai, 1928), 85.Google Scholar

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54 TTKP, 1: 112–113; 2: 81, 95–97, 98–100, 103; 3: 116–117.

55 Ibid., 1: 89–90; 3: 91–92; 4: passim. Tseng, , 402.Google Scholar

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57 Ibid., 1: 142–143; 2: 16; 1322: 5 f.; 1323, 1324: passim.

58 CEY, II, L60–62.

59 Ibid., L63. TTKP, 1569: 4–5; 1612: 4. For the Shanghai-Nanking Railway, throughtraffic arrangements with river transport on the Yangtse was a way of increasing its own freight load.

60 Ting, and Chin, , 8.Google Scholar

61 Ibid., 15–20.

62 See e.g., Chueh-min, Pao, “Lunghai-lu ti wan-ch'eag yü k'ai-fa hsi-pei” (The Completion of the Lunghai Railway and the Development of the Northwest), in Chung-kuo ching-chi yen-chiu (Research in the Chinese Economy), Fong, H. D., ed., (Changsha, 1938), 11, 11701178Google Scholar. Tung Ch'eng-hsien, “Ts'ung Chung-lcuo t'ieh-lu chih hsü-yao t'an-tao yün-shu-chung chih t'iao-hsieh” (From China's Railway Needs to Harmony in Transportation), ibid., 1161–1168.

63 Chao Kuo-chün, Northeast China (Manchuria) Today, mimeographed volume, M.I.T. Center for International Studies (Cambridge, 1953), 92.

64 Li, 41, gives 200,000 kilometers. The map at the end of the present paper shows the principal railways in China in 1953.

65 The emphasis on new trunk lines was brought out in a report by T'eng Tai-yuao, Minister of Railways, in November, 1951: Ta-kung-pao (Hong Kong), november 5, 1951Google Scholar. Li, 37, 38. China Daily News (New York), september 25, 1953Google Scholar (hereafter CDN).

66 Li, 40, 41.

67 As samples of these “before” and “after” descriptions of regional economic development in relation to the coming of railways, see: I-chiu-wu-ling nien ching-chi lun-wen hsüan (Selected Essays on the Chinese Economy, 1950)Google Scholar, VII (Peking, 1951), 83 (hereafter LWH). Ta-kung-pao, Feb. 2, 1952; Sept. 5, 1952. CDN, April 9, 1953; Oct. 8, 1953; Oct. 16, 1953.

68 The New York Times, july 27, 1953Google Scholar (hereafter NYT). CDN, Feb. 12, 1953 (Chou En-lai's speech to the National Committee of the People's Political Consultative Conference, Feb. 4, 1953); Oct. 7, 1953.

69 For English text of the agreement see Wu, Aitchen K., China and the Soviet Union (New York, 1950)Google Scholar, Appendix D, 420.

70 LWH, VII, 45–46.

71 Ibid., 60. CDN, October 27, 1952.

72 NYT, December 13, 1952.

73 CDN, Aug. 1, 1953; Aug. 24, 1953.

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76 LWH, VII, 135. CDN, Oct. 8. 1953.

77 Ta-kung-pao, July 15, 1953 (the figure given is 800 kilometers).Google Scholar