The plans of the Doctor included a journey up the great river, the Yangtze. There was abundant opportunity for the proposed voyage, as there were two lines of steamers making regular trips as far as Wuhan, about six hundred miles from Shanghai. One line was the property of a Chinese company, and the other of an English one. The Chinese company's boats were of American build, and formerly belonged to an American firm that had large business relations in the East. The business of navigating the Yangtze had been very profitable, and at one time it was said that the boats had made money enough to sink them if it were all put into silver and piled on their decks.
Canal Scene South of Shanghai

But there was a decline when an opposition line came into the field and caused a heavy reduction of the prices for freight and passage. In the early days of steam navigation on the Yangtze a passage from Shanghai to Wuhan cost four hundred dollars, and the price of freight was in proportion. For several years the Americans had a monopoly of the business, and could do pretty much as they liked. When the opposition began, the fares went down, down, down, and at the time our friends were in China the passage to Wuhan was to be had for twenty-four dollars, quite a decline from four hundred to twenty-four.

The boys had expected to find the boats in China small and inconvenient. What was their astonishment to find them like the great steamers that ply on the North River, or from New York to Fall River or Providence. They found the cabins were large and comfortable, though they were not so numerous as on the American waters, for the reason that there were rarely many passengers to be carried. The captain, pilots, engineers, and other officers were Americans, while the crew were Chinese. The managers of the company were Chinese, but they left the control of the boats entirely in the hands of their respective captains. One boat had a Chinese captain and officers, but she was a small affair, and, from all that could be learned, the managers did not find their experiment of running with their own countrymen a successful one.

At the advertised time the three strangers went on board the steamer that was to carry them up the river, and took possession of the cabins assigned to them. Their only fellow passengers were some Chinese merchants on their way to Nanjing, and a consular clerk at one of the British consulates along the stream. The captain of the steamer was a jolly New Yorker, who had an inexhaustible fund of stories, which he was never tired of telling. Though he told dozens of them daily, Frank remarked that he was not like history, for he never repeated himself. Fred remembered that someone had said to him in Japan that he would be certain of a pleasant voyage on the Yangtze if he happened to fall in with Captain Paul on the steamer Kiang-ching. Fortune had favored him, and he had found the steamer and the captain he desired.
A Gentleman of Zhenjiang

Frank observed that the steamer had been provided with a pair of eyes, which were neatly carved on wood, and painted so as to resemble the human eye. The captain explained that this was in deference to the Chinese custom of painting eyes on their ships and boats, and if he looked at the first boat, or other Chinese craft, large or small, that he saw, he would discover that it had eyes painted on the bow. This is the universal custom throughout China, and though a native may have a suspicion that it does no good, he would not be willing to fly in the face of old custom. In case he should leave his craft in blindness, and any accident befell her, he would be told by his friends, "Serves you right for not giving your ship eyes to see with."

The steamer descended the Woosung River to its intersection with the Yangtze, and then began the ascent of the latter. The great stream was so broad that it seemed more like a bay than a river. This condition continued for a hundred and fifty miles, when the bay narrowed to a river, and the far-famed Silver Island came in sight. It stands in mid-stream, a steep hill of rock, about three hundred feet high, crowned with a pagoda, and covered from base to summit with trees and bushes and rich grass. At first it might be taken for an uninhabited spot, but as the boat approaches you can see that there are numerous summer houses and other habitations peeping out from the verdure. A little beyond the island there is a city which straggles over the hills, and is backed by a range of mountains that make a sharp outline against the sky. This is Zhenjiang, the first stopping place of the steamer as she proceeds from Shanghai to Wuhan. She was to remain several hours, and our friends embraced the opportunity to take a stroll on shore. Here is Frank's account of the expedition:

"The streets of Zhenjiang are narrow and dirty, and the most of them that we saw seemed to be paved with kitchen rubbish and other unsavory substances. The smells that rose to our nostrils were too numerous and too disagreeable to mention. Fred says he discovered fifty-four distinct and different ones, but I think there were not more than forty-seven or forty-eight. The Doctor says we have not fairly tested the city, as there are several wards to hear from in addition to the ones we visited in our ramble. I was not altogether unprepared for these unpleasant features of Zhenjiang, as I had already taken a walk in the Chinese part of Shanghai.
Plowing with a Buffalo

"Everybody says that one Chinese town is so much like another that a single one will do for a sample. This is undoubtedly true of the most of them, but you should make exceptions in the case of Guangzhou and Beijing. They are of extra importance, and as one is in the extreme north, and the other in the far south, they have distinctive features of their own. We shall have a chance to talk about them by-and-by. As for Zhenjiang, I did not see anything worth notice while walking through it that I had not already seen at Shanghai, except, perhaps, that the dogs barked at us, and the cats ruffled their backs and tails, and fled from us as though we were bulldogs. A pony tried to kick Fred as he walked by the brute, and only missed his mark by a couple of inches. You see that the animals were not disposed to welcome us hospitably. They were evidently put up to their conduct by their owners, who do not like the strangers any more than the dogs and cats do, and are only prevented from showing their spite by the fear that the foreigners will retaliate if any of them are injured.

"We bought some things in the shops, but they did not amount to much either in cost or quality. Fred found a pair of Chinese spectacles which he paid half a dollar for. They were big round things, with glasses nearly as large as a silver dollar, and looked very comical when put on. But I am told that they are very comfortable to the eyes, and that the foreigners who live in China, and have occasion to wear spectacles, generally prefer those made by the Chinese opticians. A pair of really fine pebbles will cost from ten to twenty dollars. The glasses that Fred bought were only the commonest kind of stuff, colored with a smoky tint so as to reduce the glare of the sun.
Carrying Bundles of Grain

"We went outside the town, and found ourselves suddenly in the country. It was a complete change. Going through a gate in a wall took us from the streets to the fields, and going back through the gate took us to the streets again. We saw a man plowing with a plow that had only one handle, and made a furrow in the ground about as large as if he had dragged a pickaxe through it. The plow was pulled by a Chinese buffalo about as large as a two-year-old steer, and he was guided by means of a cord drawn through the cartilage of his nose. It was a poor outfit for a farmer, but the man who had it appeared perfectly contented, and did not once turn his eyes from his work to look at us.

"A little way off from this plowman there was a man threshing grain on some slats. They looked like a small ladder placed on an incline, and the way he did the work was to take a handful of grain and thresh it against the slats until he had knocked out all the kernels and left nothing but the straw. Such a thing as a threshing machine would astonish them very much, I should think, and I don't believe they would allow it to run. Labor is so cheap in China that they don't want any machinery to save it. When you can hire a man for five cents a day, and even less, you haven't any occasion to economize.

"The man who brought the bundles of grain to the thresher had them slung over his shoulder, as they carry everything in this country. Two bundles made a load for him, and they were not large bundles either. Such a thing as a farm wagon is as unknown as a threshing machine, and would not be useful, as the paths among the fields are very narrow, and a wagon couldn't run on them at all. Land is very valuable in the neighborhood of the towns, and they would consider it wasteful to have a wide strip of it taken up for a road. And, as I have just said, labor is very cheap, especially the labor of the workers who carry burdens. All the men I saw at work in the field were barefooted, and probably the wages they receive do not leave them much to spend on boots, after they have supported their families and paid their taxes. They must have a hard time to get along, but they appear perfectly cheerful and contented."
A River Scene in China

From Zhenjiang the steamer proceeded up the river. The account of what they saw was thus continued by the boys:

"The southern branch of the grand canal enters the river at Zhenjiang. The northern branch comes in some distance below. The river is plentifully dotted with junks, but this condition is not peculiar to the vicinity of the canal. All the way up from Shanghai to Wuhan it is the same, and sometimes twenty or thirty boats will be sailing so closely together as to endanger their cordage and sides. Perhaps you have seen New York Bay on a pleasant afternoon in summer when every boat that could hoist a sail was out for an airing? Well, imagine this great river for hundreds of miles dotted with sails as thickly as our bay on the occasion I have indicated, and you can have an idea of the native commerce of the Yangtze. Nobody knows how many boats there are on the river, as no census of them is taken. The mandarins collect toll at the river stations, but do not trouble themselves to keep a record of the numbers. I asked a Chinese merchant who is a fellow passenger with us how many boats there are engaged in the navigation of the Yangtze and its tributaries, and he answers,

"'P'raps hunder tousand, p'raps million. Nobody don't know.'

"Another says, 'Great many big million,' and he may not be far out of the way, though his statement is not very specific.
A Nine-Storied Pagoda

"I have heard a curious story of how the foreigners have secured more privileges than are allowed to the native merchants. Every district has the right to tax goods passing through it. At each district there is a barrier, commanded by a petty official, with a military guard, and here each native boat must stop and pay the transit tax. For long distances these taxes amount to a large sum, and frequently are a great deal more than the goods cost originally. These taxes are known as 'squeezes,' and the barriers where they are paid are called 'squeeze stations.' But the foreigners have secured a treaty with China, or, rather, there is a clause in one of the treaties, which exempts them from the payment of the transit 'squeezes.' They only pay the customs duties, and the local tax at the place of destination. Transit passes are issued by which goods belonging to foreigners, though carried in native boats, are exempt from squeezing, but these passes can only be obtained by foreigners.

"Since the law went into operation, many Chinese merchants have gone into partnership with foreigners. The former furnishing the capital and attending to all the business, while the latter obtain the transit passes and give the name to the firm. A gentleman whom we met in Shanghai is associated with some wealthy Chinese. They put in the money, and he furnishes his name and gets the passes, which none of them could do.

"The native junks will always give a free passage to a foreigner who will pretend to own the cargo, since they can escape the squeeze if he plays his part successfully. The captain says that last year a sailor who wanted to join an English gunboat at a place up the river was carried through for nothing by a junk whose cargo he pretended to own. He passed as a 'foreign merchant,' but the fact was he had never bought anything in his life more valuable than a suit of clothes, and had sold a great deal less than that.

"The river above Zhenjiang is in some places very pretty, and the mountains rise out of the water here and there, making a great contrast to the lowlands farther down. There are several large cities on the way, the most important (or, at all events, the one we know the most about) being Nanjing. It was famous for its porcelain tower, which was destroyed years ago by the rebels. Every brick has been carried away, and they have actually dug down into the foundations for more. There is only a part of the city left, and as we did not have time to go on shore, I am not able to say much about it. But there are several other cities that were more fortunate, since they were able to save their towers, or pagodas, as they are generally called.
Little Orphan Rock

These pagodas are always built with an odd number of stories, usually five, seven, or nine, but once in a great while there is an ambitious one of eleven stories, or a cheap and modest one of only three. We saw one handsome pagoda of nine stories that had bushes and climbing-plants growing from it. I suppose the birds carried the seeds there, and then they sprouted and took root. They make the pagoda look very old, and certainly that is quite proper, as they are all of an age that young people should respect.

"There is a funny little island, and not so little, after all, as it is three hundred feet high, that stands right in the middle of the river at one place. They call it the Little Orphan Rock, probably because it was never known to have any father or mother. There is a temple in the side of the rock, as if a niche had been cut to receive it. Fred thinks the people who live there ought not to complain of their ventilation and drainage, and if they fell out of the front windows by any accident, they would not be worth much when picked up. Away up on the top of the rock there is a little temple that would make a capital lighthouse, but I suppose the Chinese are too far behind the times to think of turning it to any practical use. Great Orphan Rock is farther up the river, or a little out of the river, in what they call Poyang Lake.

"Around the shores of Poyang Lake is where they make a great deal of the porcelain, and what we call 'chinaware,' that they send to America. The captain says he has frequently taken large quantities of it down the river to Shanghai, and that it was sent from there to our country. They dig the clay that they want for making the porcelain on the shores of the lake, and they get their fuel for burning it from the forests, not far away. The entrance to the lake is very picturesque. There is a town in a fortress on a hill that overlooks the river, and then there is a fort close down by the water. Probably the fort wouldn't be of much use against a fleet of foreign ships, but it looks well, and that is what pleases the Chinese."


Study the chapter for one week.

Over the week:

  • Read and/or listen to the chapter.
  • Review the vocabulary terms.
  • Complete the enrichment activities.


Freight: Goods or items in transport.
Monopoly: A situation in which solely one company, cartel etc. exclusively provides a particular product or service, dominating that market.
Cabin: A private room on a ship.
Optician: A person who makes or dispenses lenses and eyeglasses.
Canal: An artificial waterway or artificially improved river used for travel, shipping, or irrigation.
Mandarin: A high government bureaucrat of the Chinese Empire.
Toll: A fee paid for some liberty or privilege, particularly for the privilege of passing through a waterway or over a bridge or on a highway.
Tax: Money paid to the government other than for transaction-specific goods and services.
Duty: A tax placed on imports or exports.


Activity 1: Narrate the Chapter

  • Narrate the events aloud in your own words.

Activity 2: Study the Chapter Pictures

  • Study the chapter pictures and describe how each relates to the story.

Activity 3: Observe the Modern Equivalent

  • Examine the chapter setting in modern times: The city of Shanghai, China.

Activity 4: Map the Chapter

  • Find the country of China on the map of the world.
  • Find the Yangtze river and trace it to where it passes through Shanghai.
  • Trace the Yangtze river path taken by the boys from Shanghai to Nanjing on the map of China.
  • Find the cities of Guangzhou in the south and the capital of Beijing in the north, also mentioned on the chapter.

Activity 5: Map the Chapter on a Globe

  • Repeat the mapwork from Activity 4 on a three-dimensional globe.