Three million Haikwan taels, or approximately U. S. $2,000,000, represent approximately the yearly trade of China in bamboo, bambooware, and bamboo shoots as accounted for by the Maritime Customs Reports. As one of China's chief products, it takes a place alongside silk, cotton, hides, pig, iron, paper, tea, and oils (bean, peanuts, and wood). The above figure includes the net import of bamboo in the open ports, as well as the figures for the amount of export to foreign countries.
Though the other products are used in China in varying degree, none of them is put to such a variety of uses or appears in so many forms as bamboo. In this respect bamboo is absolutely unique. Even the manufacture of paper is dependent to a great extent on bamboo supplies. Bamboo provides the pulp for a big proportion of writing paper, as well as for other grades. Silk is merely a fabric, and a luxury. Iron is used locally in many ways and for a number of useful articles, but a great deal is also imported in the form of machinery. Many articles now made of iron were formerly made of bamboo. There is a tremendous local cotton business, but Japanese and American cotton goods manufacturers are formidable rivals. The import of cotton goods has been very heavy. Tea is simply a beverage, and can never be anything else. Native vegetable oils have a local value, as adulterants, if for nothing else, but they serve no useful purpose unless combined with other articles. Finally, there is a steady procession of hides out of the country, native manufacture being strictly limited. Leather is not all important, and imports are relied upon by the Chinese dealers.
Bamboo, however, by contrast with these others, takes a place occupied by no other product. No bamboo is imported into China. The trade is entirely internal, or directed outward to foreign countries. Bamboo seldom if ever finds its way back to China in one of its multitudinous guises as an import.
The figures for the net import into the treaty ports do not tell the whole story of its extensive use in China or its usefulness. From the financial standpoint, they do not take into consideration the large trade through the native customs, nor the local village trade near the places where the poles are cut. If to this could be added in money an amount which would truth- fully represent the marginal utility of bamboo, the present figures for its trade would be increased far and away above those for silk or any other leading Chinese product, Unlike the other commodities, the ways in which bamboo are employed are not confined to one sphere. lis uses are not limited to building and construction only, but to miscellaneous uses, including the making of toys, implements, furniture, paper, even food and clothing.
It is our purpose in the following pages to outline as far as possible all phases of bamboo, particularly as related to the economics of China. We shall attempt to give the economic interpretation to all bamboo phenomena. To do this we feel that our own experiences are insufficient. We wish, therefore, to supplement them by drawing on the knowledge of those older in China experiences and in more intimate touch with her resources. From the books of those who know, from conversations with others who are finding out, and from our own beginnings, we have tried to extract the constituents wherewith to build a bamboo lore.
It is impossible to say when bamboo was first used by man. Doubtless its history runs back to the beginning of civilization in Asia, which may also mean the beginnings of all things human or related to humans. Velenovsky claims that the plant flourished in the Cretaceous Age, just before the opening of the Tertiary, when the first men appeared. That man and bamboo have been closely, associated in China from prehistoric times has support in the fact that one of the simple radicals, or elements of a Chinese ideograph, is a picture of bamboo, chu, 竹. Though now considerably conventionalized and abbreviated after the long lapse of time, there is still unmistakable evidence that the character for bamboo was meant to be a picture of two canes side by side, each with branches and leaves. The ideographs were originally built up of picturographs or pictures of objects for which the spoken language had names. For instance, 木, meaning a tree, is a picture of a tree with trunk, roots, and branches; and 林 means a forest. You see it is the plural of 'tree'. The latter is an ideograph. These picturographs were evolved in the days when Ku Wen, 古文 or the Ancient Learning, was in its infancy. The Chinese ascribe the invention of the Ku Wen characters to Ts'ang Chi, a four-eyed minister who served Huang Ti (B.C.2,6oo). The invention of a character specially to signify bamboo implies the established role it had already played in those times, a fact which in itself places the beginning of the knowledge of bamboo and its uses at an even earlier date.
Bamboo not being within the easy reach of Western science has never attained the prominence obtained by less famous plants. Some men have indeed made careful studies from time to time, and it is mainly due to their efforts that Westerners know anything at all about the plant. According to the present state of knowledge in China, bamboo has been thoroughly exploited. In art, in philosophy, in trade, in popular knowledge, it has run the full gamut of all its uses, but in science in China as in the West bamboo offers refreshing mystery. The authoritative works available to the Westerner. were written ten years ago, some twenty or more, so that one feels in consulting them like a person looking up an historic character as described by a contemporary. To one living in China where bamboo is so common this condition of affairs seems strange and out of all proportion to the investigating spirit of modern science. In the current journals some very interesting accounts and discussions concerning bamboo have occasionally appeared, such as Seifriz's articles in the "American Journal of Botany" on "Gregarious Flowering", etc. and those by other men which have been published in the past in such journals as the "Philippine Journal of Science," the botanical garden publications from Java and Ceylon, and the "Indian Forester", not to mention French and Japanese papers. Except for the first mentioned investigator, however, one is impressed with the gap in time that exists between these articles and the present. Is there a lack of interest? If so, why?
As this is not to be a botanical exposition of bamboo, the present remarks might seem to be irrelevant. But this is not quite so. We are hoping that the contents herein contained will call attention to bamboo sufficiently to stimulate some adventurous investigator to go in pursuit of further knowledge. For not only is bamboo as such a fascinating subject in its purely sociological relations, but it is remarkable as a plant and offers splendid material for investigation and possible solution of many problems interesting to the biologist. The nomenclature of bamboo is in an exceedingly backward state. Even the physicist and engineer who are looking about for cheaper material wherewith to reinforce concrete may find something to engage their interest. Obviously, investigations of a scientific nature are of great value, for they divulge facts about the plant which will be useful in its further exploitation for economic purposes.
Financially, bamboo is a good investment. The returns are large A bamboo forest as compared with the small amount of trouble and expense necessary in its cultivation. Since the life of most bamboos is very long, one is not troubled with anxiety about the prospects of the forthcoming crops at every stage of growth from the planting season to the time of harvest. Bamboo simply goes on producing year after year.
The discussion in the following chapter on the nature of the plant may shed some light on this aspect. Since bamboo is so wide spread in China, it is not necessary to travel far to see it or to obtain samples as is the case with most raw materials. The distribution of bamboo in general, and of the various kinds of bamboo in particular, is important information for both the economist and the ecologist. The new map attached to and containing the results of this study seeks to localize bamboo only in places from which definite information has been obtained. This is followed by an analysis of the properties of bamboo. The uses of bamboo are the logical outcome of its nature and properties. The description of them is as full as we could possibly make it, in order t,o show to what extent bamboo is an economic factor in the lives of the Chinese. At the end is a summary of the trade in bamboo, bambooware, and bamboo shoots for the past ten years, with a comparative view of the production by provinces which ought to suffice to establish permanently the reputation of bamboo as the universal provider.