“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

Remembering Eunice Tietjens #5 – New China: The Iron Works

Posted: January 3rd, 2018 | No Comments »

Around 1915 Tietjens, staying at a Christian mission nearby, visited the Hanyang Arsenal and Iron Works in Wuhan, built in 1893 as a major contribution to the notions of the Self-Strengthening Movement….

New China: The Iron Works

The furnaces, the great steel furnaces, tremble and glow; gigantic machinery clanks, and in living iridescent streams the white-hot slag pours out.

This is to-morrow set in yesterday, the west imbedded in the east, a graft but not a growth.

And you who walk beside me, picking your familiar way between the dynamos, the cars, the piles of rails – you too are of to-morrow, grafted with an alien energy.

You wear the costume of the west, you speak my tongue as one who knows; you talk casually of Sheffield, Pittsburgh, Essen…

You touch on Socialism, walk-outs, and the industrial population of te British Isles.

Almost you might be one of us.

And then I ask:

“How much do those poor coolies earn a day, who take the place of carts?”

You shrug and smile.

“Eighteen coppers. Something less than eight cents in your money. They are not badly paid. They do not die.”

Again I ask:

“And is it true that you’ve a Yamen,  police judge, all your own?”

Another shrug and smile.

“Yes, he attends to all small cases of disorder. For larger crimes we pass the offender over to the city courts.”

**

“Conditions” you explain as we sit with a cup of tea, “conditions here are difficult.”

Your figure has grown lax, your voice a little weary. You are fighting, I can see, upheld by that strange graft of western energy.

Yet odds are heavy, and the Orient is in your blood. Your voice is weary.

“There are no skilled laborers” you say, “Among the owners no cooperation.

It is like – like working in a nightmare, here in China. It drags at me, it drags”…

You bow me out with great civility.

The furnaces, the great steel furnaces, tremble and glow, gigantic machinery clanks and in living iridescent streams the white-0hot slag pours out.

Beyond the gate the filth begins again.

A beggar rots and grovels, clutching at my skirt with leprous hands. A woman sits sorting hog-bristles; she coughs and sobs.

The stench is sickening

To-morrow! did they say?

(Hanyang)

 

 

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