Even in countries like England, Germany or the United States which have a complicated network of railways, which connect every port with the inland cities and such cities again with small towns - and in many cases even villages - roads are numerous; new roadways are being constructed every day, and all of them are being carefully attended to. The pros-perity of a country depends entirely upon the volume of its trade, both internal and external, and such trade becomes practically impossible but for a large network of roadways. In ancient times each village was self-contained, producing within its own confines all the necessaries of the population; the proportion of the population that indulged in luxuries was very small; there was a sharp line of demarcation between the rich and the poor; the rich people were naturally able to pay heavy prices for the luxuries which in most cases had to be transported through long distances. In contrast to the position to-day when the difference in the cost of transport, as between luxuries and necessaries, is extraordinarily small, the cost of luxuries in the olden times was unusually heavy, mainly because of the transport charges. It is an interesting fact that even only a hundred years ago, an article which was considered a luxury in London and for which high prices were paid in the market, was no more costly than many of the articles which constituted necessaries in Dresden - where such an article was manufactured. In modern times the venue has altogether changed, owing to the easy means of communications and the relatively small cost of transporting the article; some articles manufactured in France are just as much a luxury there, as in the Argentine or China. But the volume of the trade of the world is in necessaries; the bulk of the trade of practically every great industrial and agricultural country is either in raw produce like wheat, maize, cotton or oats or slightly manufactured articles like sugar, tin plates, wrought-iron, or cheap cotton goods. These goods take up a large amount of space and hence transport means practically everything in this trade. You may have fields producing as much as a hundred bushels per acre in some part of Mongolia far away from all means of cheap communication. From the point of view of the trade of the world this production is of no value whatsoever, simply because the value of an article is, properly speaking, the marketable value. No commodity, not even gold, has an intrinsic value. The value of gold will depend entirely on the amount of commodities it is able to buy. It is true, no doubt, that a sovereign is a sovereign, no more no less; but as we have seen during this European war the same sovereign worth the same 20 shillings was, in many cases, only able to buy goods which could be purchased for 10 shillings in normal times. Just as the value of money in the shape of commodities varies according to circumstances, the value of commodities in the shape of money also varies. The purpose of a country which wants to increase its trade is not only to get the highest value for its commodities, but also to sell as much of it as possible. Such an object is attainable only when there is proper means of communication in the land. If the cost of transport is heavy owing to bad roads and lack of railways, then the holder of the produce or manufactured articles would not be able to sell his goods cheaply. In these days when there is heavy competition in almost every branch of commerce, countries which have advantages of good roads and railways take away the trade from those that have neither of these. The result will be that as a consequence of such competition, the volume of trade of the country which has not the advantage of good roads or railways would be considerably reduced. China to-day is suffering from the lack of proper roads and sufficient mileage of railways.
Besides roads and railways, waterways constitute an important means of transport within the country. At one time China had a network of canals, facilitating thus the internal trade; to-day many of these are silted up and the few that are tolerably fit are navigable only for the most shallow of boats - and only for a short season in the year. If only the canals and small rivers that connect the inland towns with the ports of the sea board had been properly taken care of, the volume of Chinese trade might have been considerably more than the total of to-day. Therefore any scheme of general reform in this country should pay attention to the development of communications, both by land and water. There has been a commendable activity with regard to railway building, especially during the past two years - although, however, it is too early to count upon the success of all the concessions that have been granted for railway building. But as regards communication by waterways, practically nothing has been done. This is a work which Chinese will have to do themselves with, possibly, a little of foreign engineering help.
Agricultural production and a large volume of trade are possible only when there are sufficient aids to cultivation. For hundreds of years the Chinese farmer has had no help at all; when there was a drought he left his crops to wither under the scorching rays of the sun with a mute and unavailing appeal to the heavens; when there were heavy rains or floods the harvest was washed away without any possible chance of help. In other civilized countries the governments have been able to do a great deal to prevent such visitations, although it is understood that it is beyond human power to do away with such altogether. In China, peculiar political and economic causes make the Government helpless so far as relieving distress of this kind is concerned.
The main system of farming out revenues which is being followed even under the republican regime is not calculated to make the Government take any permanent interest in the welfare of the cultivators. So long as each official from the Viceroy, or Tutuh under the new regime, down to the Hsien or village official, is bent upon obtaining as much revenue as possible, and remitting as little as possible to his superiors, there is neither care nor inclination to endeavour to attain the welfare of the cultivator. Apart from the faults of the Government, the social and economic conditions are also against any particular attention being devoted to public welfare. Land has been divided and sub-divided from father to son in this country from time immemorial; the farmer as a rule has very little resources with which to improve his land; and drought or famine for a single season cripples his resources so absolutely as to leave him helpless. It is, of course, out of the question to expect the Chinese farmer to use modern implements and modern methods of agriculture by means of which he would be able to increase the harvest. The farmer in this country is as a rule too poor to do anything of the kind. When it is remembered that the average holding is less than five acres per head of a family, it may easily be seen how futile it would be to attempt any modern methods. The latest models of agricultural implements in use in Europe, and principally in America, are useless for holdings of less than a hundred acres. The cost is also prohibitive, from the Chinese point of view. A steam plough or a steam thresher of the smallest conceivable size that could be used in the fields costs as much as the total value of at least ten average holdings in this country. A further impediment to agricultural prosperity in this country is the unfortunate tendency of the people to destroy all natural aids to cultivation. It is not averred that such destruction is wanton or that it is not due to the driving forces of the grinding poverty and other unfortunate circumstances. For hundreds of years the people have been accustomed to destroy all the timber they could lay hold of, simply because they had to keep warm in the winter with as little expenditure on the score of heating as possible. Year after year the country has been denuded of its trees; and where the populace could find no trees they even laid hold of the shrubs and dried twigs to such an extent that in parts of China one sees square miles of territory without any greens worth speaking of - especially during winter. If the consequence was only a dearth of fuel supply it would be bad enough; but it had a very direct effect on agriculture. It may be generally known that forests and trees are very essential to cultivation. Forests hold the water that comes down in the shape of rain for quite a long period; the moisture once evaporated descends in the shape of rain to the benefit of the fields under cultivation. The presence of trees in large numbers is also extremely beneficial to agriculture. Where there are no trees the land is not so fertile as in places where there are trees. Again, the roots absorb a good deal of the moisture and water above the soil. Thus the denudation of trees in China is responsible for the smallest rain collecting itself into a flood and devastating large areas of cultivated fields. In the absence of forests to hold the water, and of roots of trees to hold the moisture of rain, the water flows along, causing destruction in its wake. Such devastation caused by want of trees is not the only evil that afflicts the farmer in this country. The denudation of trees also furnishes the reason for extensive periods of droughts, and also the frequent recurrence of them. For a certain area to have the benefits of rains it is necessary that the neighbouring area should have enough moisture to evaporate and form into clouds. It is the experience of the world that the only means of obtaining rains useful for cultivation is by preservation of trees and forests. It has been shown that such a situation could be remedied by artificial means. Forest preservation as also re-afforestation have been successfully attempted in India; and any scheme of reform proposed for the reorganization of Chinese affairs should not lose sight of this aid to agriculture.