Western Enterprise in Far Eastern Economic Development: China and Japan

By G. C. Allen; Audrey G. Donnithorne | Go to book overview

CHAPTER X THE FACTORY INDUSTRIES

THE Chinese governing classes were, for the most part, as incurious about Western industrial technology as they were about other features of European civilisation, and they allowed to pass unheeded for many years the new productive processes which had transformed manufacture in the West. Robert Bridges can hardly have been thinking of the nineteenth-century Chinese officials when he wrote of the Orientals whose

'. . . wiseacres have seen the electric light i' the West and come to worship.'

The introduction of modern factory methods, therefore, had to wait for foreign initiative. It is true that exceptions can be found, but they are not numerous enough to disturb this broad generalisation and they can be briefly dismissed.

To the rulers of countries in a pre-industrial stage the chief attraction of modern technology usually lies in its contribution to military power and efficiency. It is not surprising, therefore, that the chief initiative shown by the Chinese Government in the industrial field during the nineteenth century was in connection with the production of armaments. China's military weakness had been amply demonstrated in her contacts with Western Powers, and it was with the hope of remedying this condition that during the sixties the Government built several arms-making factories. The same motive was behind the attempt of Chang Chih-Tung, towards the end of the century, to establish a centre of heavy industry near Hankow, although in this case the wish to found a Chinese source of supply of rails was perhaps equally important. Chang's project bore a resemblance to those exercises in entrepreneurship which, under the purposeful hand of the Japanese Government, were in the same period beginning to show noteworthy results. His undertakings included iron and coal mines, blast furnaces, a steel plant, an arsenal, a technical college and a laboratory. A number of European technicians, mostly Belgians, were engaged, and at one time forty foreigners were working at the ironworks alone. The venture seemed to promise well, and the Hanyehping Coal and Iron Mining and Smelting Company, which operated these plants, supplied a considerable amount of the rails, wagons and other equipment required by the Peking-Hankow Railway. Later, however, this ambitious enterprise suffered from mismanagement. The iron mines eventually passed under Japanese control and

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