Introduction to the author: Chen feng, born in 1995. Doctor of History. Professor of Wuhan University. Tutor of doctor students. President of Chinese Economic and Social History Research Institute of Wuhan University. Vice president of Chinese Culture Research Institute. Expert with a special government allowance granted by the state Council. Pioneer of trans-century science of Hubei Province. Committee member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Director of Chinese Economic History Institute. Standing director of history branch of Chinese Oriental Culture Research Institute. Vice president of Chinese Economic History Institute of Hubei Province. President of Young Social Scientific Workers Association of Hubei Province.
History is a continuous causal process. The history of Wuhan is the basis of its present development. The present of Wuhan also reflects its history. Researching the history of Wuhan’s development and doing some future analyzing will bring benefit to Wuhan’s city construction.
It has been proved by archaeological materials and documents that Wuhan has a long history. The beginning of the city can be traced back to the Panlong City 3,000 years ago. The rising of Hankou town after mid-Ming Dynasty made the pattern of tripartite confrontation of Wuchang, Hanyang and Hankou come into being. Meantime, the appearance of Hankou town, which thrived by commerce, made Wuhan into a comprehensive city with the function of politics, military, culture and economy.
In Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty, business and trade in Hankou increased rapidly. Trade groups all over the country got together here and dealt in all kinds of goods. Hankou became the biggest town along the middle reaches of Yangtze River and dealt in all kinds of goods. Hankou became the biggest town along the middle reaches of Yangtze River and even ranked in the four most famous towns of China. Hankou was almost the synonym of Wuhan. With Hankou as its center, Wuhan’s status and fame rose a lot in the country.
Generally speaking, the rising of Hankou during Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty began with its business and trade, which benefited from its advantage in geographical position. Before Hankou got its fame, people of Ming Dynasty had noticed Hubei’s advantageous position：“Hubei is on the southern bank of the middle reaches of Yangtze River.…With Wuchang as its capital, Hubei occupies Jianghan Plain. To the north are Shanxi and Henan; to the south are Zhejiang and Jiangsu; to the southwest are Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou. It is also convenient to go to Guangxi and Fujian from Hubei. People here do business all around instead of living and farming together. The businessmen from all directions got together and did business here.”In the reign of Chenghua (1465-1487) of Ming Dynasty, Hankou came into being because Han River changed its course. After Hankou town was officially set up in the reign of Jiaqing, it developed rapidly due to its unique geographical position and convenient transportation, just as the local chronicles record：“Hankou is at the cross of Yangtze River and Han River. The watercourse here is much better than those of any other ports are. Sailing east along Yangtze River, you can get to Anhui, Jiangxi, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, and finally arrive at Shanghai. To the south of the river, across Dongting Lake, is Hunan Province, from which it is convenient to get to Guangxi, Guangdong, Yunnan and Guizhou. Sailing west along Yangtze River, you can get to the Three Gorges, Sichuan and Jinsha River, … It is so-called the center of nine provinces.”Hankou fully showed the advantageous position of Hubei. In addition, the economic development of Hubei Province and neighboring provinces promoted the business thriving of Hankou. As is known to all, in Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty, the main items in trade in Hankou were rice, salt, cotton, cotton cloth, tea, medicinal materials and timber, etc. Take rice for example, at that time, the output of rice of Hubei, Hunan and Sichuan increased a lot, which brought them the reputation that“a bumper harvest in Huguang (Hubei, Hunan, Guangdong and Guangxi) can feed the whole country”. All the rice produced by Hubei, Hunan and Sichuan should be transshipped via Hankou Port in order to sell to the southern provinces. Hence, Hankou became the transshipping center of rice. Extensive transaction of rice was an important element for Hankou’s further thriving. It is doubtless to say, due to the commercial booming and the extension of circulation of commodities in Hankou during Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty, Hankou became an inland super town and a national commodity market, just as the famous scholar Liu Xianting said：“Hankou is the throat of Hubei Province. All the goods from Yunnan, Guizhou, Hunan, Guangxi, Shanxi, Henan and Jiangxi should be transshipped here. It is really a key position with great strategic significance.”
However, during Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty (before the Opium War), Hankou was but a particular commercial town. It nearly had no commercial intercourse with foreign countries. At that time, Hankou (or Wuhan) still hadn’t got the features of modern city. Of course, it was far from being an international city.
In 1661, Hankou Port began to open to foreign countries, which is an important milestone in the process of Wuhan’s modernization and internationalization. From then on, merchants from British, the United States, France, Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Austria, Japan, Swiss and Peru, etc. came to Hankou to do business. At the same time, foreign merchants began to establish material processing factories here. For example, William Woks said in “Book of Tea”, “Hankou Port began to open to foreign countries in 1661. Russian set up bricktea factories there.”According to statistics, till Zhang Zhidong governed Hubei, foreigners have already set up following material processing factories:
Fengshun Bricktea Factory set up by Russian in 1863
Xintai Bricktea Factory set up by Russian in 1866
Hankou Bricktea Factory set up by British in 1872
Fuchang Bricktea Factory set up by Russian 1874
Gold and Silver Smeltery set up by British in 1875
Hankou Leather Pressing Factory set up by British in 1876
Longmao Packing Factory set up by British in 1876
Pinghe Packing Factory set up by British in 1880
Meizuishi Egg Factory set up by German in 1887
Lihe Egg Factory set up by German in 1887
In a certain sense, the establishment of the material processing factories promoted the foreign trade in Hankou. After Hankou becoming an international commercial port, both the arrival of foreign enterprises gradually transferred Hankou from an inland closed city into an open international one.
Of course, the transformation was just in its embryonic stage. Historically speaking, the transformation of Wuhan entered a crucial period.
In 1889, Zhang Zhidong began to govern Hubei Province, which is another important milestone in the history of Wuhan’s development. Su Yunfeng said:“the arrival of Zhang Zhidong is the start point for Hubei(rather say Wuhan)to step onto the way of modernization.”
During Zhang Zhidong’s governing, the process of Wuhan’s modernization was pushed forward in all aspects. The rough sketch of an international city began to make its appearance.
First, Wuhan made the best of its traditional commercial advantage and transformed from a commercial town of domestic trade into the best international commercial port in China. In the aspect of traditional business, take the amount of circulation of rice per year in Hankou for example, it was 3,368,100 kilograms from 1881 to 1890; it increased to 25,381,500 kilograms from 1897 to 1900; it increased to 53,659,250 kilograms from 1901 to 1910. The increase was so obvious that Wuhan became the biggest rice collecting and distributing center in China. As an international commercial port, Wuhan got the income of 37,223,831 taels (unit of money in feudal China) from direct foreign trade in 1908, ranking the third among four biggest commercial ports in China (Shanghai, Wuhan, Guangzhou, Tianjing); Wuhan got the income of 135,299,267 taels from indirect foreign trade in 1910, ranking the second among the four biggest commercial ports. Some people even said:“During 1910-1911, commercial affairs in Hankou are even more prosperous than those in Beijing and Shanghai.”The development of Wuhan’s foreign trade was closely related to the arrival of foreign merchants. According to the statistics, there were 45 foreign banks with 374 employees in Wuhan in 1892; 76 foreign banks with 990 employees in 1901; 114 foreign banks with 2,151 employees in 1905. Besides foreign banks, there were many foreign shops. In 1905, there were at most 250 foreign banks and shops, among which Japanese had 74 banks and shops; British, 57; German, 54; American, 22; French, 20; Russian, 8; Danish, 5; Belgian, 3; Indian, 3; Swiss, 2; Portuguese and Philippine, each had 1.
Second, modern national industry of Wuhan came into being and developed rapidly. Both commerce and industry were developed in Wuhan. One after another, Zhang Zhidong established 11 modern enterprises, such as Hanyang Iron Smeltery (1890), Huibei Guns and Cannons Factory (1890), Hubei Weaving Factory (1890), Hubei Silk Reeling Factory(1894), Hubei Spinning Factory (1895) and Hubei Nemp Manufacturing Factory (1898), which occupied 24% of all the new enterprises run by the state and run by state and private and was also the most in China. Meantime, Zhang Zhidong advocated industry and commerce, which promoted the development of enterprises run by the local people. In 1897, Hankou Bianchang Match Factory established by national capitalist Song Weichen, the biggest match factory in China, produced a hundred million boxes of matches. According to statistics, till 1911, there had been 28 large-scaled enterprises both run by the state and run by the local people, which had the total capital investment of 17,240,000 dollars, occupying the second place among all the large cities in China.
Third, Zhang Zhidong changed the traditional academies into modern schools and advocated students to study abroad, which helped Wuhan to form a relatively complete modern education system. The teaching of traditional academies put their emphasis is on Confucian classics. Devoting himself to the reform of traditional academies, Zhang Zhidong adjusted the courses of Jianghan Academy, Jingxia Academy and Lianghu Academy, aiming at “training qualified personnel for the present time.” Zhang Zhidong established a series of modern schools, such as Mathematics School (1891), Mining Institute (1892), Ziqiang Institute (1898), Hubei Technology School (1898), Hubei Normal Institute (1902), Lianghu Normal Institute (1904), Women Normal Institute (1906), etc. All these schools provided students with universal education, military education, industrial and commercial education and normal education. In another aspect, Hubei was one of the provinces, which sent the most students to study abroad in the late Qing Dynasty. Till 1905, it had sent 1,700 students to study in Japanese, which ranked first in the whole country. During Zhang Zhidong’s governing, Wuhan had became the focus of the nation as the center of modern education, just as Duan Fang presented to Emperor Guangxu:“Recently, Chinese and foreign educationists came to Hubei to visit schools there. Half of them agreed that Hubei has got a relatively complete education system. Hubei did the best in the whole country.”
Fourth, foreign banks set up branches in Wuhan and domestic banks began to appear. Wuhan became the inland financial center. When Hankou Port was opened to foreign countries, Wuhan still didn’t have financial institutions in modern sense. In 1861, British Huilong Bank took the lead in setting up its branch in Hankou. From that time to arrival of Zhang Zhidong, Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China (1863), Mercantile Bank of India (1866), Hongkong Shanghai Banking Corporation (1866), French Bank (1876), American Oriental Banking Corporation (1897) came to Hankou to set up their branches one after another. Many other foreign countries all over the world also set up their branches here. At the same time, Chinese Commercial Bank (1897), Chinese Bank (1905), Qing Bank (1906) and Zhejiang Xingye Bank (1906) also opened for business in Hankou. These modern financial institute and traditional private banks became the important support for Wuhan’s industrial and commercial development.
Fifth, transportation got unprecedented development, which laid a foundation for Wuhan’s modern communications and transportation. The direct cause of Zhang Zhidong to govern Huguang instead of Guangdong was the construction of Luhan (from Lugouqiao to Wuhan) Railway. Zhang Zhidong put great effort into railway construction. Under the supervision of Zhang Zhidong, the 1,200-kilograms-long Luhan Railway (later changing its name to Jinghan Railway) was open to traffic in 1906. The open of Jinghan Railway not only accelerated the circulation of commodities in Wuhan, but also highlighted Wuhan’s status in the country, just as Sun Zhongshan said: “Wuhan…is both the heart of China’s national railway system and the commercial center of China…Hankou is the trade center of central China and western China. Hankou is also the main tea market in China. Besides, Hankou is the only port for Hubei, Hunan, Sichuan and Guizhou to communicate with the world. The construction of Chinese railways highlights the importance of Wuhan. Wuhan has already become an international metropolitan. Hence, we must make a plan to construct Wuhan into a metropolitan just, as New York or London.” Apart from railway, transportation by water also entered a new stage of development. In 1863, the ship“Amazing”of Qichan Steamer Company of the United States berthed at Hankou Port, which opened navigation line from Shanghai to Hankou on Yangtze River. Form then on, with Hankou as the center, British, French, German and Japanese steamer companies opened the navigation lines on Yangtze River and engaged in water transport one after another. In 1905, Japanese Kobe Business Ship Corporation opened the navigation line direct from Hankou to Kobe and Osaka, which made Hankou into an international port. At the end of Qing Dynasty, the ships sailing out from Hankou could directly arrive in Hamburg and Bremen of Germany, Rotterdam of Netherlands, Sade Port of Egypt, Marseilles of France, Antwerp of Belgium and Genoa of Italy. In 1875, the Merchants’ Bureau set up steamer companies in Hankou, symbolizing that the national water transportation gained a foothold in Hankou. The development of steamer transportation helped Yangtze navigation line to gain the fame of “Golden Line”.
Undoubtedly, during the period of Zhang Zhidong’s governing, commerce, industry, education, finance and transportation of Wuhan all developed rapidly, which is an important symbol of Wuhan’s modernization. It is also a key period in the process of Wuhan’s internationalization.
During Zhang Zhidong’s governing, Wuhan formed its unique feature: comprehensive development in all aspects. Hence, Wuhan entered the period of its great prosperity.
What inspiration can we draw from the history?
We can conclude 3 main points:
First is Wuhan’s exceptional advantageous position. In the central part of China, Wuhan enjoyed the reputation of “the hub of communication of nine provinces.” Although the transportation was undeveloped, relying on the geographical advantage, Wuhan became the collecting and distributing center of business and trade. It is recorded in “An Introduction to the Commerce of Hankou” like this:“The trade in Hankou prospered because of its transportation convenience. It is in the central part of China. Its water routes radiate in all directions.……It is a key place of Chinese inland trade.”“A Brief Introduction to Wuhan”published in 1949 also records, “Hankou is a main commodities collecting and distributing place, enjoying the reputation of ‘the hub of communication of nine provinces’. Products of Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Henan, Sichuan, Gansu, Shanxi, Yunnan and Guizhou are all collected and distributed in Hankou. Hankou also provides commodities to the nine provinces. Hankou has the largest scale of trade in the country.”Hence, the commercial prosperity of Wuhan. Besides, the extension of business and trade and the formation of the international commercial port were also related to Wuhan’s prosperity.
Second, Zhang Zhidong had the ability to gain trust and support from Qing government. He could do whatever he wanted to do. In another word, without Zhang Zhidong, without the development of Wuhan and Hubei in the late Qing Dynasty. Opening Hankou to foreign countries in 1661 was a turning point in Wuhan’s history, but unlike Shanghai, Guangzhou, Tianjing and Nanjing, there was no obvious change taken place in Wuhan. Before Zhang Zhidong’s arrival at Wuhan (1889), there was neither enterprises run by the state nor a single modern school. Even the situation of commerce couldn’t be compared with the prosperity later. In fact, people at present have noticed that:“It is doubtless that Wuchang will become one of the most important cities in China. After Zhang Zhidong arrived at Wuhan, he brought his large construction plan from Guangdong to Wuchang.”We can say both the backward in development of Wuhan and the first economic booming depended upon the governor.
Third, the key is the system renovation. Both so-called“New Policy of Late Qing Dynasty”and “New Policy of Hubei” were related to the system renovation. The development of new enterprises and social economy depended on the support of new political and economic systems and policies. When Zhang Zhidong governed Guangdong and Guangxi, he had designed new policies to “gain prosperity by learning from the West,” which was realized later in Hubei. According to statistics, during Zhang Zhidong’s governing, 36 new organizations were set up, among which 25% were run by the state, 25% were set up in demand of work. From the nature of the new organizations, we can find Zhang Zhidong’s creativity: 3 education and culture organizations; 5 financial organizations; 6 organizations of military, police and judicature; 23 organizations of agriculture, industry, commerce and transportation administration. These organizations also showed Zhang Zhidong’s effort to advocate commerce and industry. The establishment of some organizations played an exemplary role in the country.
For instance, Education Bureau was set up for spreading new education system in 1902, which was one year earlier than the stipulation of Qing government. The establishment of new organizations was both the symbol of Zhang Zhidong’s reform and his main means to spread his“New policies”.
To repeat and describe history is a historian’s job; to abstract rules from historical experience and events is a historian’s responsibility. From the features and advantages of Wuhan mentioned above and the inspiration drawn from these, we can draw a blueprint for Wuhan’s development in the 21st century.
In “The General Plan of the Foundation of Our Country,” Sun Zhongshan predicted that Wuhan would become one of the biggest cities in the world. American futurist Kinry Conway also ranks Wuhan into the ten“super cities”of the world in the 21st century. Due to its advantageous position and present conditions, it is doubtless to say that Wuhan will become one of the biggest metropolitans or super cities in the world. The key is how to seize the opportunity, how to make the best of its advantages and how to lay down its developing goal.
The development of Wuhan faces lots of new opportunities now: the adjustment of domestic economic structure is accelerated; reform and open policy enters into a new stage; China is going to enter WTO; the process of urbanization and internationalization of China is quickened. If we want to seize the opportunities, we should first open our mind and reform our system.
The advantages of Wuhan are formed in the history of its development. The advantages can be concluded as following five: geographical position; water resource; transportation; business and trade; science and education.
The orientation of Wuhan’s development in the 21st century should consider its present and potential advantages. In a word, the aim is “five centers and all-round development.”
Five centers refer to transportation center, commercial and financial center, science and education center, information center and industrial center, which are necessary supports to construct Wuhan into an international metropolitan. However, as a modern city, Wuhan should develop in all aspects such as it environment, municipal administration, cultural and civilian’s qualities.
Mountains, lakes and rivers form the unique natural environment of Wuhan. We should attach importance to afforestation and purification of environment. The key of Wuhan’s municipal administration is to make a unified long-term plan that reflects Wuhan’s features. Wuhan has lots of cultural heritage. We should further cultivate and develop the culture. For instance, we can try to show the local culture in public places and eye-catching buildings. Wuhanese have both merits and shortcomings. Great effort should be taken to improve the civilian’s qualities.
We hope we can construct Wuhan into an international metropolitan with its own unique style.