Friday, 22 March

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Ziliujing, Chengdu

Friday, 22 March


I woke at five thirty.  Commissioner Zhang said that the population of Ziliujing should be around two hundred and thousand, and the annual production of salt was 5,000,000 dan. (Fifteen dollars per dan) Its production was about sixty per cent of Sichuan’s salt production. (Ziliujing was actually Furongchang.)

The salt well in Sichuan Province was first discovered during the Qin[1], and natural gas fire wells were discovered in the Jin Dynasty. According to annals, during the time of King Xiaowen of the Qin, the chief of prefecture, Li Bing (李冰), found the springs and dug wells to make salt at Guangdu to preserve one’s health. During the Jin Dynasty natural gas fire wells were also discovered within Linqiong county. As for Ziliujing (Furongchang), it had salt wells during the early Jin Dynasty, while fire wells were discovered during the last years of the Daoguang Emperor. The salt wells could be divided into: a) yellow brine wells, b) black brine wells and, c) rock salt wells. For yellow brine wells, the salt was about two thousand feet underground, which would take around two years to dig out, and cost around some twenty-thousand dollars. Every bowl was worth one tael and eight maces.  Thirty-eight catties of salt could be made per dan.[2] For black brine wells, the salt was about two and half to three thousand feet underground, which would take three years to dig out, and cost around forty to fifty thousand dollars. Every bowl was worth three taels and six maces. Eighty-seven catties of salt could be made per dan. For rock salt wells, the salt was just over two and a half to some three thousand feet underground, which would take three to four years to mine, and it cost around forty to fifty thousand dollars. Every bowl was worth three taels and six maces. Eighty-seven catties of salt could be made per dan. Though the wells were quite deep, their openings were quite small; around five to six inches in diameter. The method of digging the wells and the tools required were quite subtle. The workers who dig and maintain the wells are professionals who pass on their skills from generation to generation. Nonetheless, those who possess such expertise, their salaries remain low. It is a great pity that even though they worked very hard they still do not earn enough to make a living. The extraction of brine from the wells is done by manual power, buffalo power or machine. The method is like this: A crane with four to six pillars was set up at the opening of the well. The pillar was made by binding several tens of big timbers or numerous small branches. The height was about ninety, to one hundred and ten to one hundred and twenty feet. On top of the crane there was a wheel which was named “Tiangunzhi”. Also there was a crane set on the ground, whose diameter was some ten feet. Between the opening of the well and the ground, there was a small wheel made of wood, which was called a “Digunzhi”. Its height was about those of the crane on the ground. Workers would cut southern bamboo (or use an iron tube) about some ten feet long which would fit the size of the opening. The tube would be emptied from within and at the bottom of it a leather string of similar diameter was attached. It was called “Xitongbian”.[3] The peel marks of southern bamboo acted as a line. One side of the line attached the crane on the ground, while the other side was attached to the sucker (or using wire made of steel), passing into the opening of the well via Tiangunzhi and Digunzhi. The rotational force of the crane on the ground was used to pull the bamboo string to extract the brine from the well. After the brine water was extracted it was stored in a big pool made of wood. (It was called “Huangtong”.) Those who wanted to purchase brine water would take a bucket if they lived close to the well, while those who lived far away would use a bamboo carrier (brine pipes) to take home the brine water. The brine pipe was invented by a Fukienese called Li Qigong (林啟公) in the Qing Dynasty. The method was to use Nanzhu or Banzhu, emptying inside and linking them to make it. At the linking point, thin hemp string was used and pasted with putty. The carrier itself was fastened with bamboo string and Jinzhu. The binding material would be replaced twice a year. If they are buried underground or sunk into the river, the materials like oil hemp need to be doubled. If there was high ground along the transportation route, which was higher than the point getting the brine, people would dig pools on the ground to retain the brine, and build a brine house next to it. They would use an buffalo-cart or manual car to get brine to the buckets upstairs and then put them into the brine pipes. There are now ten brine households in Furong. The capital of each household ranged from six, seven and ten thousand. The depth of the natural gas fire wells is from 2,800 feet to 3,200 feet. The width of the opening of the well was merely five inches, which would take 3 to 6 years to dig out. The expenditure is from fifty to eighty thousand dollars; the rent being based on the amount of fuel needed. The lease was calculated on the basis of ten years. The rent for one well of the highest quality was two thousand dollars. For mediocre quality, one thousand five hundred dollars, and for low quality, one thousand three hundred dollars. Ziliujing has four hundred and seventy natural gas fire wells, and 6,552 fire openings. For every ‘fire mouth’ its rent on average was some one thousand six hundred and fifty dollars. Also, the salts could be divided into two types: flower salt, or Ba[4] salt.

After breakfast, I went to Daifenbao with Commissioner Zhang and others to visit the salt well there. This well was drilled some twenty years ago. Now for the extraction, a furnace blower wheel is used while the sucker was also made of iron. The depth of the well is two thousand seven hundred feet. It is a rock salt well, which can be extracted every five minutes.

At 7.30 we visited the Chenglong natural gas fire well. Originally there were eighty-four fire rings, now only sixty-four are being used. The structure of every ring is that the gas is directed from the fire eye underground (which was down from the ground by about a thousand feet) to the ground via bamboo pipes. When the gas reaches the fire ring only an iron tube was used for the burning part.

At eight o’clock we took the car to Sanduozhai.[5] From reading old novels, we knew that the mountain fortress was a base for bandits. The mountain fortresses were owned by wealthy people to guard against bandits. Probably because there were many people exploring salt wells as well as fire wells, which made many of them become extremely wealthy, while people living nearby were very poor this created a big division between rich and poor. Those who were wealthy did not feel secure, so many built fortresses. The construction of the said fortress was begun in the third year of the Xiangeng emperor, and it was not finished until the ninth year. Since it was built by  three men, Li Zhenheng(李振亨), Yen Changying(顏昌英) and Wang Kejia(王克家), it was named Sanduozhai. Its width was thirty thousand feet, length four thousand feet, circumference thirteen thousand feet. The height of its stone wall was three hundred feet, width about eight or nine hundred feet. There were 2,535 crenels. It used one million one hundred gung.[6] (It had employed some two hundred thousand workers.) Some seventy thousand taels were spent. The construction was quite stable. It happened that an army division invaded but was unable to invade it. There were some five hundred households living in the fortress, and its population amounted to some seven thousand. There was a primary school. In the past there were many defense corps, but now there are only thirty guards left. Together with one hundred policemen, they took up various defensive positions in the fortress. Though the grain grown inside the fortress was not enough, the lands outside the fortress mainly belonged to the residents of the fortress. The yield of rice per year was about three thousand dan. Only one thousand (people) were needed inside the fortress, therefore provisions were quite adequate. Commissioner Zhang took us to the big house of the head of the fortress, Li Shengyong (李聲鏞), and we visited his so-called garden. When we left Mr. Li rushed to join us, and we walked to Zhongyitang. We stayed there briefly and then we left. We left the fortress at half past nine.  At 10.15 we arrived at Neijiang. We had breakfast at a branch of the Sichuan Provincial Bank. The head of the bank, Si Ganru (斯幹如), and the country magistrate received us quite well. We discussed sugar production in Neijiang. Its value was about fifteen million dollars per year. Sugar cane had been planted in Neijiang for more than two hundred years. Recently the peasants’ living has greatly improved. On average, a family of three can manage twenty mu of sugar cane farm. After the deducting of expenditures, they can earn three or four hundred dollars. The population of the whole county is five hundred and thirty thousand. There are four secondary schools and forty primary schools. The revenue contributed by the people to the government was one hundred and fifteen thousand dollars. The price of land was eighty dollars per mu. (In the past, the price was half that.) The tax per mu was five dollars per year. At 11.45 we left Neijiang. The two main roads were so slippery that cars could not proceed easily. In one section of the road we had to hire people to elevate the ground level by placing rocks and even then we could barely pass. We arrived at Chengdu after 6.00 p.m. Officer Deng Jinkang, Officer Pan Zhongsan (潘仲三), Huang Jilu (黃季陸),[7] Police Commander Yan Xiaohu (嚴嘯虎) and others were all waiting for us at the station. We then went to the Renjiaxiang Hostel. Cantonese fellow Corps Commander Wang, Head Secretary Li and Lin Chaonan (林超南) and others were all there. We discussed the planning of the trip with them.

Mei Xinru told me that Deng Xihou, Pan Zhongsan and others wanted to relate Sichuan’s difficult situation to Sun Fo in person, and to ask him to help Sichuan in the Central government. I urged him not to do so because of Sun Fo’s status as he absolutely could not criticise the shortcomings of the Central government. Moreover Sun Fo had not known Deng Jinkang, Pan Zhongsan and the others for long, so he could not speak on their behalf. This time it was advantageous to get to know each other better, then they could gradually tell him the real difficulty. When the chance came Sun Fo could do what he could to uphold justice. Mei Xinru also agreed with what I said.

[1] Qin State.

[2] Measurement unit of China. One dan equals one hundred catties.

[3] Like a sucker. For an interesting read about traditional salt mining in this specific area, see F.H. King (2014) Farmers of Forty Centuries: Permanent Agriculture in China, Korea and Japan, page 293.

[4] Sichuan.

[5] A “zhai” was similar to a fortress.

[6] It was written as “工”. It is a Cantonese word for unit of payment.

[7]Huang Jilu(1899-1985) was a KMT member who was a native of Sichuan. He had studied at Ohio States University.