Chapter VI. The Trade in Bamboo

It is obvious that in a discussion of the trade in bamboo, the question of transportation must be considered. As was stated in the chapter on distribution, bamboo for the most part follows the streams. The streams, therefore, offer the easiest egress from producing regions. By their very structure the cut poles are suited for shallow stream transportation. Since roads in the Western sense are very few, and railways fewer, by necessity if not from preference most of the transportation is by water. 

[image]Bamboo raft on its way to Shanghai via Soochow Creek. 
The bainboo is Mao chu 毛竹 

Bamboo is carried by raft or junk. But as the streams near the cutting places are usually not large enough for junks, the raft is the method generally followed. This also applies in the case of short distances on canals and rivers. If allowed to soak in the water too long, the culms deteriorate, and in some cases mildew. This lowers their quality and their money value accordingly. So, when carried to distant points, best quality bamboo is carried by junk. Junking bamboo to market is a distinct trade, and some boatmen handle nothing else. The junk owners accept all responsibility for delivering the cargo safely at destination, even to the extent of paying transit taxes. Freight is usually paid according to the number of pieces, and in the case of bundles where the shorts taken from tree tops are shipped, charges are made according to agreement, depending on the size of bundles, etc. 

Using Shanghai as an illustration, the organization of the business is something like this : the wholesale dealers all have resident agents in producing centers, especially at Hangchow and Huchow. Here the poles are collected from small cutters and piled on a junk until a load is made up, or lied up into bundles and made into rafts. These serpentine rafts, sometimes l00 yards long, are interesting features of the water traffic as they glide along to the cities. The bamboo raft, incidentally, is sometimes used in certain parts of China as a ferry or as a means of transporting passengers. In the province of Szechwan bamboo rafts about 70 feet long are employed to carry passengers from Suifu to Kiatingfu. The front ends of the poles are turned up and platforms are built on the rafts upon which the passengers must stay with their belongings, as the rafts under them are usually awash. 

When the poles arrive in Shanghai, they are taken to the yards of the dealers who grade them and pile them in cones, the big ends on the ground. The unit of sale is the ti, or bundle. The number of poles in a ti varies according to size. There may be fifteen of the largest size, thirty of the medium size, or fifty of the smallest size, in a ti. So that in buying a bundle the purchaser gets approximately the same amount of wood in any case. The quoted price per ti is $ 10.00 irrespective of contents. Large poles sell for $70.00 a hundred, smaller kinds per hundred are $30.00, and bamboo heads for brooms, etc. sell for around Tls. 70 per hundred bundles. Baying by weight was formerly done, but it was found that some farmers allowed 

[image] Landing at a. yard in Zau Kia tu; a section of Shanghai.

their poles to soak in the canals to increase the weight. Hence, this method is not now popular. In Shanghai there are many small hongs that retail bamboo- Most of the trade, however, is done through seven big wholesale dealers, four of whom are in Nantao, a Chinese section of the city. it is estimated that each one of these dealers does a yearly business of more than $300,000; that means together a business of over two million dollars in raw bamboo alone. And Shanghai, it must be remembered, is only one of many large cities doing such a business. 

The following is a picture of the industry in the Nanking district. There are five kinds of bamboo produced in Nanking which bear Chinesse trade names. Tan chu (淡竹), Tsu chu (紫竹) , Kwang chu (广竹) , Ya chu (牙竹), and Chao chu (早竹) respectively. They all grow on the plains. The chief producing centers in the Nanking district are Shun-hua-chen (淳化镇) a village south of the city, and Sain-pai-low (三牌楼), a section of the city itself. The economic and commercial value of the different varieties ranks in the order mentioned above except that Chao chu should come third. About 500 mow of land in the district produce Tan chu. (1 mow = 1/6 English acre). This bamboo is consumed in the local basket industry. The present market price of Tan chu is 39 catties for a dollar, while a basket sells at from 100 to 800 cash (10 to 80 coppers). Tsu chu is only produced in the southern suburbs on less than 100 mow of land. It is used in making bamboo furniture, which sells at from $2.00 to $10.00 a piece. As the local supply is inadequate, large quantities are imported from Anhwei. Each cane of about one inch in diameter, sells at about ten cents. Chao chu is very brittle, and is cultivated mainly for its shoots, one variety of which, known as Chao-sun (早笋), is ready for the market in the first or second month of the lunar calendar, while another, called Hang-keng-sun (行根笋), is marketed from that time on to the mid-Autumn Festival. Both are used as food, and are very much in demand by the restaurants. The market price varies greatly, but at present is about 10 or 20 cents a catty. The producing area covers some 200 mow. The producing area for Kwang chu is about the same for Chao chu. It is chiefly used as substitute for clothes lines by washerwomen. Each picul sells at about 270 coppers and contains 20 or 30 stems. Ya chu is a fine variety which is used for garden decoration. It is of no use commercially. The shoots are edible and are marketed in the fourth month of the lunar calendar, but they are not very popular. 

In Foochow one of the commercially used bamboos is a large species called Ma chu (麻竹). Manufacturers making use of this variety They number over 60 and employ more than 200 laborers. 

[image] A bamboo yard are mostly located at Nantai (南台). 

The bamboo is largely made into baskets for bamboo shoots, as an extra cover on tea chests when these are shipped to the interior, and for packing lacquer or wooden ware. It is also used to make sheds and fences. The diameter of this kind of bamboo is about two and a half inches. Smaller bamboos are used in making furniture, bamboo screens, umbrella handles, clothes lines, etc. There are over a hundred manufacturers at Cheng-tai (诚台), employing over 300 laborers. Strips of a "small bamboo" are made into fruit baskets, and some of them are used to plait into ropes for towing boats, etc. 

According to one business man, a manufacturer of paper in China, $60,000,000 worth of paper is made every year from bamboo. Though the paper industry is one of the chief native businesses in which bamboo plays an important part, it is certainly not the only one. Reverting again to the subject of bamboo rafts, we might call attention to the figures for the producing districts, in addition to the figures above cited for the trade in bamboo poles in Shanghai. From the Chuchow district of Chekiang a thousand rafts are sent down every year to Wenchow by sea representing together about 600,000 dollars' worth of bamboo. And this is only one point of destination. It would take only ten such producing areas to put the value of the material exported from these centers at $ 6,000,000. As far as we are able to tell at present, there are at least seventeen producing centers, distributed as follows: 

(1). Hwaiking in northern Honan 

(2). Sian-fu and the Wei valley in Shensi 

(3). Ningsia and Hingan in shensi 

(4). Ichang and the Yangtse valley in Hupeh 

(5). The Han valley, Hupeh 

(6). Huchow, Hangchow, and Ningpo in northern Chekiang 

(7). Luchuan, Chuchow, and Wenchow district in southern Chekiang 

(8). The Red Basin, especially in the south, Luchow district, Szechwan 

(9). Yiyang-Paoking district in Hunan 

(lo). Nanchang and Poyang lake region in Kiangsi 

(11). Min River region, Fukien 

(12). Amoy and Kiulung river, Fukien 

(13). Along the West and Bamboo rivers in Kwangtung 

(14). North river valley, Kwangtung 

(15). Swatow district, Kwangtung 

(16). Cassia river-to-Wuchow district, Kwangsi , 

(17). Mengtzes in Southern Yunnan 

It is impossible to gauge exactly the production of these regions, for the reason that a deal of it is diverted before it reaches the ports. Some of it is made into wares of various kinds for local retail, and the excess may be exported. The Maritime Customs take account of all bamboo, bambooware, and bamboo shoots in transit at the treaty ports. An examination of the tables from Customs reports for the last ten years, however, reveals only in a general way the movements of the material and the quantities shipped through-the ports. There is still the local village trade and industries of which no possible account can be taken. The reports of the, exports of bamboo to foreign countries is comprehensive and complete, it is obvious that the internal trade is but faintly indicated by the published reports. The bamboo which comes put of southern Shensi, for instance, on its way to the large cities is shipped down the Han to Hankow where it is recorded as an import to be locally used or re-exported. What part comes from Shensi or what from other regions, it is difficult to tell, Furthermore, if one did know, the figures would not be correct, since undoubtedly a large percentage of the bamboo produced near Sianfu goes down the Wei to the Yellow river. Again, Yiyang in Hunan province is the center of a bamboo industry valued at over a million taels, the products being chiefly paper and bambooware But the Customs reports for Changsha and Yochow do not seem to indicate anything like this. The inference is that baskets, other wares, and paper made, from locally produced bamboo are shipped either via the Siang river to Tung Ting lake and the Yangtse, touching at Changsha only for the purpose of leaving sufficient for local use and delivering the bulk at the larger port cities like Hankow, Nanking and Shanghai for use there or for re-export, or by native routes entirely under native regulation to supply the large demand in the interior cities. 

Nevertheless, as we have already stated, the Customs analysis of the export trade of China indicates in a general way the movement of bamboo material and the proportional distribution among the trade centers. 

If the figures for the original export of bamboo, bambooware, and bamboo shoots for the chief ports concerned be combined, the result is most interesting. The ranking of the provinces with regard to the trade in bamboo through their respective ports conforms exactly to the laws governing its distribution. This indicates the close proximity of the production and trade centers. Bamboo is more abundant on the low-lying plains and coastal regions than it is in the interior. Also, it grows more luxuriantly nearer the tropics than it does in the north. On the list below we see that Kwangtung leads the list ; it is also the most southern of the coastal provinces. It is followed in due order by the three successive coastal provinces to the north. After them come the interior provinces, the southern ranking higher than the northern provinces. 

Original Export of Bamboo from the Province through the Maritime Customs for 1923. 

Valuation in Haikwan Taels 

Bamboo shootsBamboo etc.Total
KwangtungI9,113 £1,229,308£1,248,421

The Chinese say that a country without a universally useful plant like bamboo cannot endure. This is undoubtedly a tribute to bamboo, and we are ready to believe from our survey of bamboo cultivation in China that bamboo has added materially to the prosperity of the common people. It is all the more remarkable that during recent years, when so much that is Western has been pouring into the country, including construction materials, bamboo has not lost ground. Indeed, a glance at the tables giving the Customs valuation of the bamboo trade for the last ten years will show an average increase. The reports for the years following the outbreak of the World War do not show any considerable drop in the trade ; nor was there any special spurt noticeable after the War, showing that this disturbing factor had little effect on the trade in bamboo. The export of bamboo and bamboo- ware to Hongkong in 1921 was valued at Hk. Tls. 867,700 and that to Macao Hk. Tls. 251,434. In 1922 the export to Hongkong jumped to Hk. Tls. 1,159,065, while that to Macao slumped to Hk. Tls. 209,309 going even lower the following year. There seems to be no parallelism at work, no general cause and effect operating at the same time. The trade through each port seems to be sufficient unto itself, constituting a route separate and distinct from every other route. The reasons for the falling off of trade through particular ports may be discovered in the trend of local and provincial affairs only. A group of students graduated from European and American universities return to China inspired to develop and make something out of China's resources. Being equipped with the latest scientific training and having at their command plenty of money, they launch an enterprises ni sugar cane or rubber planting. As the labor is of course drawn from the neighboring regions, no one is left to do the usual chores, and among other things bamboo-cutting is neglected. The amount exported from that particular region falls below normal, with the result that the total amount imported into and exported from the nearest port is below normal. If the said enterprises fail, as they frequently do, there will undoubtedly be a spurt in bamboo production as in other things the following year. 

If it is not the diversion of energy and capital into other channels that causes a temporary decrease in the amount of business transacted, it is the much commoner and more prevalent disease of provincial warfare. These outbreaks occur so frequently and in some places with such recurrent regularity that it is difficult to predict prosperity for any trade or industry. The point is that when an outbreak does occur, the people are forced to leave their homes with their possessions if they wish to avoid losing them. Even their lives are in jeopardy. The result of this state of affairs is perfectly obvious. The trade reports of the following year for that region are indelible records of the blighting effect of the trouble, telling a gloomy story of misery and slow pauperization. 

From these facts and figures, it will be gathered that the trade in bamboo is holding its own and, if anything, is bigger today than ever before ; that despite wars, the influx of Western materials, and the general industrialization of China, bamboo is intensifying its position as the dependable staple of Chinese life.