Annotated Bibliography of Sources on Late Traditional Shipping on the Upper Changjiang

In: Mountain Rivers, Mountain Roads: Transport in Southwest China, 1700‐1850
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Materials on the boats and boatmen of the upper Changjiang expand in number, perspective and detail from the 1860s onwards. With the Second Opium War, the Qing empire had been forced to permit the free movement of Westerners, and the upriver journey on the Changjiang into Sichuan became a popular adventure. Despite language barriers and cultural distance, Western and Japanese accounts are a rich and valuable source. Compared to their Chinese counterparts, foreign travellers described their journeys in epic breadth, serving an expanding home market as well as collecting any information of potential commercial interest. Moreover, a photography now provided a means of visual documentation that recorded targeted and as well as some unintended information.

From the 1880s, a new body of technical materials becomes available with river surveys and documentation on navigation. The earliest of these were compiled in the context of restoring infrastructure after the civil wars. Soon afterwards, the outlook modernized, with motivations ranging from the defense against Western imperialist encroachment, commercial advances into the interior of China, and the documentation of traditional shipping. With most authors possessing practical knowledge in navigation, the materials constitute the core sources for the exploration of technologies and specific shipping conditions.

The materials may be grouped into river surveys and accounts on boats and boatmen. Five works belong to the first group. The first is a handbook that was compiled to mark the restoration of the lifeboat service in 1884. Luo Jinshen 羅縉紳 (dates unknown; as an adopted child, he used the surname He 賀 until 1884, when he reverted to his natal family name) was an enterprising military official stationed in the lower section of the gorges from 1868 to at least 1891. Ding Baozhen 丁寳楨 (1820–1886), governor-general of Sichuan from 1877 to his death in 1886, initiated and to a significant degree funded the reorganization of the lifeboat service, interestingly as a project that reached across the provincial boundary into Hubei. In 1882, Luo Jinshen was put in charge and promoted brigade general. The lifeboat service operated efficiently into the twentieth century. Luo commissioned the manual in 1884, presumably to record the completion of the project. In addition to the regulations governing the service, this work recorded inspections of danger spots in the lower gorges in a detailed list with accompanying maps. Since Edward Parker met Luo and received a printed copy of the list in 1880, the surveys must have been carried out prior to the formal start of the restoration project.1

Figure 12.1
Figure 12.1Map from Xingchuan biyao showing the Xietan upriver of Zigui. The maps which Luo Jinshen had added to his guide are executed in a simplified style of landscape depiction. It is not to scale but provides a good impression of features most important for navigation, such as mountain spurs, whirlpools and broken water.Luo Jinshen 1881, unpaginated
Figure 12.2
Figure 12.2Map from Xiajiang tukao showing the same rapid as a rocky protrusion in the lower right part. Guozhang’s maps are partly based on Jiushengchuan zhi but employ a more standard style of maps.

The second work, Xiajiang tukao 峽江圖考 (Maps and investigations of the Gorges’ River), is a guide to the river section from Chongqing to Yichang of 1889 presented in a continuous map. The author Guozhang 國章 (dates unknown) is not otherwise known. According to his own preface, he was a private secretary who had served in Sichuan for almost three decades and made the passage through the gorges eight times. Guo used existing materials, namely Luo Jinshen’s map for the lower gorges, specific sections charted by a member of staff in the lifeboat service, and maps of the Wushan gorge drawn in the context of the construction of a new tracking gallery in the 1880s.2

The subsequent works were charts, surveys and collections of information made in the context of establishing steamers on the upper Changjiang. Archibald John Little (1838–1908), a merchant who lived in Chongqing between 1888 and 1908, was pursued this goal against overwhelming odds and many setbacks.3

In the initial enthusiasm, Stanislas Chevalier (1852–1930), a French priest and geographer, published a map of the upper Changjiang to Pingshan, with detail maps of the worst rapids.4

The books on the Gorges’ River written on the basis of the deepest knowledge were by Captain Cornell Plant (?–1921). Little convinced Plant to come to China in 1900, where he worked for two decades surveying and observing shipping conditions in the gorges as river inspector for the Maritime Customs. His knowledge and exact charts were instrumental in bringing specially built passenger steamers to this section of the river, while also improving safety for traditional boats. Plant published the charts in 1920 and wrote a short account of the river before departing from China in the following year. Unfortunately he authored no further accounts, as he died enroute in Hong Kong.5

Finally, the Ministry of War of Republic of China undertook a preparatory project for river regulation. Shi Xiyong 史錫永 (dates unknown) led a team of surveyors and researchers, producing a systematic investigation of the danger spots in 1920. The maps in this work followed the work of Plant, whilst the text combined printed materials with information collected from local oral tradition in the years 1918–19.6

Figure 12.3
Figure 12.3Navigation map of the Xietan, from Shi Xiyong 1921, 9

The second group of materials on boats and boatmen consists of several early and knowledgeable travel reports and two outstanding specialist works. Especially thorough accounts were published by Thomas Wright Blakiston (1832–1891), who headed an expedition in spring 1861, Archibald Little (1838–1908), an entrepreneur who spent most of his life in China and from 1887 pursued the goal of introducing steamer traffic to the upper Changjiang, and Stanislas Chevalier (1852–1930), a priest and geographer who drew a comparatively detailed map in accordance with Western geographic mapping standards in 1897–98.7

Two monographs record the boats of Sichuan. Captain Louis Audemard (1865–1955), famous for a daring voyage down the Jinshajiang, spent several years travelling the Changjiang and its tributaries around the turn of the century. He compiled his materials in five slender volumes, the last of which contains the most detail on the upper Changjiang. Audermard was not a man of many words or much of an artist, but perspicacious with technical detail and clear in his accounts. His work was published posthumously.8

Figure 12.4
Figure 12.4A moored Wuban boat (“Five-planks”), presumably in the process of carrying crew ashore. Drawing by Audemard. The drawing clearly shows the outline of the boat, that it is secured by the pole anchor let through a watertight hole in the stern and two lines fastened in the rocky shore; the light, A-shaped mast, and the reefing of the cloth sail, and the massive bowsweep.Audemard 1965, V, plate 22.
Figure 12.5
Figure 12.5Scale-drawing by G. R. G. Worcester of a Shenbozi, a craft of the Daninghe that also carried salt, passengers and cargo on the Gorges’ River when summer high waters rendered navigation too hazardous for larger carriers.Worcester 1971, plate 140.

George Raleigh Gray Worcester (1890–1969) compiled an inventory of boat types in a period when the end of traditional shipping was already in sight. A sailor by training, Worcester joined the Maritime Customs in 1919 and lived in various ports on the river until 1943, when he was interned in a Japanese prison camp. For eight years in the 1920s, his employers allowed him to work exclusively on his inventory. After his release in 1945, he put together 130 scale drawings and descriptions of boat types, together with much other information.9

Traditional shipping was not rendered immediately obsolete with the coming of the steamboat in 1908. The upper Changjiang steamers that finally provided regular service between Yichang and Chongqing, were small boats with specially built, extra strong machines. They performed the journey faster and more reliably than traditional boats, but were suitable only for passenger shipping. For many decades, the industrial transformation made few inroads into Western China. While steamers had taken over long-distance water transport along the coast and on the Middle and Lower Changjiang by the turn of the century, traditional carriers continued to dominate on the upper Changjiang into the Communist era. It was only from the 1950s that the river was tamed and combustion motors became the main means of propulsion in shipping.

The boats that were in use throughout this period of change continued to look traditional, yet shipping was not an immutable world. Changes can be identified in some instances. G. R. G. Worcester recorded that of 25 types of Sichuan craft two were of recent origin. One of these was a “reformed” boat that had just been developed and the other a much enlarged type that had been in use for no more than 50 years at the time of his research, which would make it a development of the late nineteenth century.10 Moreover, he noted that the shipping guilds had been reorganized and many religious practices became outmoded.11 On the basis of sources covering the late period of traditional shipping, we can achieve a reasonably well-supported reconstruction for about 1890, which in parts can be extended backwards to about 1860.


Luo Jinshen 1884. Xingchuan biyao 行川必要 (Guide for travelling the Sichuan River) is included in this work, but must have been written and printed earlier, as Edward H. Parker obtained a copy in 1880. Parker recognized the value of the work and translated it (see Parker 1880, 174 and Parker 1883 for the translation). Several Western travellers recorded meetings with Luo and showed themselves positively impressed. After the anti-missionary outbreak at Yichang in 1891, however, Luo was vilified as secretly anti-foreign.

According to a document in the Great Council archive of 1884 (GX10/5/10) Luo Jinshen’s family were residents of Liuyang 瀏陽 in Hunan. The entire family was killed by bandits when Luo Jinshen was a boy of twelve. He found refuge with the He family of Pingjiang 平江 and adopted their surname. His military career began when he distinguished himself in fighting the Taiping rebels (, accessed 7 July 2010).

For the restoration of the lifeboat service see also above, chapt. 6.4, pp. 251–63.


Guozhang [1889]. There is some uncertainty regarding the author’s name. The signature to the preface reads 光緒十五年嘉平月京江國璋, presumably to be read “In the twelfth month of the year Guangxu 15, by Guozhang from Jingjiang [i.e. Jinkou Zhenjiang?].” Many libraries have however identified Jiang as the family name. As virtually no information on the author is available, the issue cannot be finally resolved.


Little apparently made his fortune in the trade in pig bristles. Just before moving to Chongqing, he married Alicia Ellen Neve (1845–1926), who was already a published author and continued to write about the couple’s journeys in Sichuan and Southwestern China.


Chevalier 1899.


Plant, S. Cornell. Handbook for the guidance of shipmasters on the Ichang-Chungking section of the Yangtze River (Shanghai: Statistical Dept. of the Inspectorate General of Customs, 1920, and Glimpses of the Yangtze Gorges (Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh, 1921).


Shi Xiyong et al. 1920. The regulation plans apparently were not taken beyond the preparatory stage.


Particularly knowledgeable accounts are Blakiston 1863, Parker 1880, Little 1888, and Chevalier 1899, Bishop 1899 is particularly captivating and well-illustrated.


Audemard 1957–1965, V, 55–57.


Worcester published his work in four volumes in the 1940s. With careful, minimal editing and the insertion of some extra material, the former volumes were republished as one book in 1971.


Worcester 1971, 562f. The boat was called zhongyuan bo 中元駁 and was a widespread freight carrier (剝 or 駁) on the Tuojiang 沱江 as well as on the upper Changjiang between Yibin and Chongqing. As for all other traditional types Worcester inventorised, he assumed—in tune with the image of an unchanging China of his period—that they had been unchanged from times immemorial.


For the guilds, see Worcester 1971, 112f.; for religious practice, see his remark on the fact that the laohuaqiu 老划秋 of the Jialingjiang was one of the few boats on which sacrifices and invocations were still observed, p. 547 (see chapt. 3.5, pp. 133–34 above for this boat type).

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