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A Hankow Flood


  On the outskirts of Hanbow, nearly all the so-called Chinese houses-or, more correctly speaking, all the most miserable shanties, letting in both wind and rain--on the bank of the river, are raised well up on piles, thirty to forty feet above high--water mark, narrow wooden pathways, running between the rows of houses, and small bridges connecting these pathways Where the houses are not continous. In these wretched dwellings live some hundreds of family, to all appearance without a care, and in the greatest state of contentment. Their business, whatever it may be, is mostly connected with boats and junbks,for each house possesses either a sampan or a small, home-made, Pat-bottomed boat, mostly rotten and leaky, which is continuality bringing its occupants to grief and when not in use is moored to the lower end of the piles. The owners ascend and descend by means of some iron spikes, driven in alternatlvely on either side of one of the piles.

  There is in times of flood the greatest distress among the river side population. When the water rises twenty-five, thirty, or more feet above its ordinary level, many Yangtze Riveror these piles are swept away, down come the houses, bringing their occupants with them, who are carried away Inthe current. Whatever becomes of the remains of these unfortunates, no one seems to know or to care, not one in twenty is recovered, of ever seen again. Of course there is great lamentation among the survivors for the next week, crackers are let off by the thousand, small floating fires are set adrift on the stream to pacify the river god, gongs are beaten, and altogether the priests have a busy time.

  So little value do the Chinese set upon human life in disasters of this description, which are of yeayly occurrence in one part of the Emptier another, that the whole thing is soon forgotten, a fresh crowd occupies the places of the former crowd, piles are re-driven, shanties rebuiit, and so the new lot live their careless, contented lvies till, history repeating itself these people follow the lead Of their predecessors.

  In the early summer of 1887, the Both well Castle, a large ocean-going steamer of three thousand tons, was lying at anchor oppsite Hanhow, waiting or a cargo of tea. She had already been there two or three weeks, and was likely to remain two or three more, the weather being very bad, she made her holding secure with two anchors and great length of cable. Before receiving her full cargo, one of these sudden floods occurred, and a week or two later Yangtze RiverI received from Captain Tod the following account 0f the disaster. He said:
  One morning, shortly after breakfast, we heard a rumbling noise far away up the stream, and not long after an immense rush of water, like large wave, came rolling down the river, carrying with it numbers of junks, boats, houses, trees, cattle, and I should be afraid to say how many human beings, all mixed up in the most Inextrlcable confusion. We heard that the river Han had somewhere received an enormous and sudden flood of water, which, added to its already swollen state, had for many miles flooded the country, and was washing all before it into the Yangtze. Across our anchor--chains eight or ten junks had drifted, and were washed and piled up one over the other. It was impossible to Teach them to set them adrift, and I was very much afraid the extra strain on the cables would be too much for them. Fortunately they held, thanks to the best Of iron, without a flaw in any of the links.

  Numbers of junks came sweeping down with the flood, all unman-ageable, many coming broadside on across our bows, which went through them like a knife, the two parts of the junk floating past on either side of our ship. It was quite impossible to launch a boat, she would have been rolled over and swamped the moment she touched the water. With great difficulty and with much risk, we managed to save the lives of three or our dozen people, but, strange to say, some of them were very much displeased at being fished up out of the water. The Chinese said it was joss pigeon', their late, and as the river joss had taken away their all, he had much better take themselves also. Three or four after wards tried to jump overboard. We put them ashore as soon as we could, and so relieved ourselves of any further responsibility.'


Wlliam Spencer Percival, The Land of the Dragon:
My Boating and Shooting Excursions to the Gorges of the Upper Yangtze, 1889

Wuhan and Its History

What to See in Wuhan

The Hankou Tea Race

• A Hankou Flood

Old Man River: Chairman Mao and The Yangtze