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such cheap prices, unless they were furnished to them at rates as low or even lower than the cost of production, there can, it is presumed, be little doubt that the Russians, in the first instance, part with them at a loss, but are eventually remunerated by the high profits they are able to realize on teas.
On the other descriptions of piece-goods imported by the Russians, few remarks have to be offered. The cottons are described as resembling twills in texture, and are said to measure about 16 inches in breadth, and 25 to 30 yards in length; a cotton fabric of this description is much used by the Russians for towelling. Of their linen I have merely met with one specimen, which proved to be the production of a Pomeranian loom, and is only partly composed of flax; it is of stout but very inferior texture, measures 32 inches in breadth, and the pieces, say the Chinese, vary in length from 12 to 20 yards. Velveteens form no inconsiderable item of the Russian imports, but are not met with at Canton; and the camlets are known to be principally of Dutch manufacture.
Leather.—The buffalo and the morocco leather imported by the Russians is extensively used in the north of China. Of the former there are two kinds, the red and black, which serve for the manufacture of shoes, trunks, cushions, &c, &c.; the latter is worked up into a greater variety both of colours and sizes; the red, black, and green skins are preferred, and are used for the manufacture of purses, bags, and cases of all kinds. It is only in the form of these articles that Russian leather is seen at Canton, as the tanners of this place dress large supplies of a soft description well suited to the wants of the people, obtaining their raw material from the western province of Yunnan.
Furs and manufactures form doubtless the staple import commodities; but many other articles may also be enumerated. Such are works in tin, iron, steel, brass, copper, and lead. Iron pots, copper kettles, and brass-ware are largely supplied, both for the use of the Chinese and the Mongolian tribes, and brass washing-basins of Russian manufacture may often be seen in the north of China. Their fine soft iron is also in request, and is imported in the shape of small pigs or bars, weighing little more than a catty a-piece, packed in boxes each containing 130 or 140 pigs. One Chinese informant says that copper coins of a superior quality of metal are also imported as copper, meaning probably Russian kopecks, which are intrinsically worth the value they represent. The other articles of hardware are fire-arms, cutlery, padlocks, metal buttons, and apparatus for opium-smoking, consisting chiefly of long steel needles, but including, say some, the drug itself. Coral is sought for particularly by the Mongols, who use it profusely to decorate their saddles and girdles. Musical-boxes, watches, mirrors, ornaments, talc, soap, and other minor articles, complete the list of imports. But besides the wholesale dealings carried on with Europe, there are other transactions of a local or retail nature conducted for the express purpose of supplying the Chinese with the agricultural productions of the country beyond the Baikal, and consisting, on the side of the Russians, of imports of grain and cattle merely, whilst the Chinese goods received in return are suited only to the consumption of Siberia.
Turning now to the export side of the trade, as that which chiefly interests the Russian merchant, since he has to look to his returns not only to bring him a profit, but to compensate him for the low valuation so often set on his goods at Kiakhta, we come at once to the most prominent commodity of the whole trade, tea.
Tea forms, as is well known, the principal article of the Kiakhta trade, and there appears no reason to doubt the general statement given by the Chinese that the Russians derive their teas from the same places that we do; viz., -black teas principally from the province of Fuhke'en, and green teas chiefly From that of Ganhweh. The merchants resorting to Hokow (in Keangse), the grand emporium for the teas from both those provinces, are divided into two general classes, severally termed, in common parlance, the Se Pang, or Western Company, and the Kwang Pang, or Canton Company. The former one is said to be by far the most numerous; and it is very probable that such is the case, as the merchants known under this name supply not only the Kiakhta trade, but also the northern and western provinces of China, and its wide spread colonies and dependencies in Mongolia, Turkestan, &c. It is also freely admitted that they purchase the finest qualities of tea, besides those of common or inferior description, forwarding the former to the markets of European Russia, and the latter, in the shape of brick tea, to Siberia, or the Mongolian steppes, the Kalmucks, or Kirghis Tartars, &c.
The superiority of the tea consumed in Russia to the generality of that imported into the United Kingdom may be accounted for by the circumstance of its being a more costly kind, unsuited on account of its expensiveness to our markets, where, if imported, it is only used to mix with or flavour other teas. Tea of similar quality, commonly known as "present tea," may be procured at Canton for 4 or 5 taels per catty. The Russians term the finer kinds which they procure "flower teas," and those of more ordinary description "leaf teas," and they are said to take the latter in the proportion of one to four of the former. It is known that tea is often purchased in Russia for 40 silver roubles per oka (about 2 guineas per pound English), and even in Germany, where less expensive kinds are consumed, 3 thalers per pound is considered a low price. For such teas in England there exists a very small demand ; but were it otherwise it is doubtful whether they could be transported there by the ordinary long sea voyage, during which the tropics have twice to be crossed, without losing the delicate flavour which is preserved to them by the colder latitudes and land transit of Russia.
The accounts received of the amount of tea-supplied to Russia vary considerably, though they agree in stating that the demand steadily increases, and it would seem indeed to have nearly doubled during the last ten or twelve years. The following brief estimate of the quantity exported during the last four years may serve to convey some idea of the present extent of the trade, but should be accepted with considerable reserve, as even an approximation to accuracy in respect to figures or quantities has been found unattainable in the course of these inquiries.
It is known that these teas consist of congous and pekoes of fine quality, and although the proportions of each have not been ascertained, there is good reason to believe that the latter predominate. The size of the packages also admits of dispute, and the doubts on this point greatly increase the difficulty of estimating correctly the gross amount exported. One statement says that the chests average 50 catties in size, and 18 dollars in cost, which would nearly be equal to 25 taels per pecul; other informants speak of their
weighing 40, 60, and 90 catties; whilst a Russian account makes mention of poods, or 90 pounds English. The probability is, that the size of the packages varies according to the quality of their contents.
For green teas there appears to be but a limited demand; and it is said that a considerable portion of 36,000 packages, which were forwarded last year (1851) to Kiakhta, but arrived too late for the trade of the season, remained unsold, and reduced the supply for 1852 to 19,000 packages, 17,000 of which consisted of young hyson of superior quality. Another account says that the annual supply of this description of tea fluctuates between 25,000 and 40,000 packages, chiefly young hyson with imperial and gunpowder.
Brick tea is another very important item of the trade, and must be exported to a large amount, as it is as great a necessary of life to the Russian peasants, and to the Kalmucks of Astraehan, as it is to the nomades of Mongolia. At Kiakhta, where no coin is allowed to circulate between the Russians and the Chinese, it 9erves as the money unit, or standard of value, in which every other kind of exchangeable property is expressed. The practice of making tea into bricks, cakes, or tiles, as they are variously called, is common in all the provinces where tea is produced; and the quality of the tea when thus manufactured varies as greatly as the size or shape of the bricks. Those sent to Russia appear to average an oka (2} lbs.) in weight, but we also hear of variations in size, from 3 to 4 lbs., and in cost from 16 to 22 pence each. The only estimate rendered me of the sale of this article gives about 3,000,000 lbs. as the quantity received by the Russians at Kiakhta; but this calculation in all probability is greatly underrated, unless large supplies are forwarded across the western frontier of the Chinese dominions.
Taking 250,000 pnckages as a medium estimate of the supply of tea (inclusive of green) for 1852, and calculating these at an average weight of 60 lbs., and at a moderate value of 20 dollars each, and including also the abovementioned quantity of brick tea, we shall have 18,000,000 lbs. as the total quantity of the Kiakhta sales, representing a value (in China) of 5,300,000 dollars.
An estimate so loosely formed as the above is, of course, not deserving of great reliance. But when we consider—alter allowing for contraband importations via Hamburg—that the re-exports of tea from England to Russia do not probably amount to more than 2,000,000 lbs.,—that the taste for tea in that country, from the noble to the serf, has now become universal—and that its population is double that of England, which consumes annually more than 50,000,000 lbs., there are grounds for concluding that exaggeration forms no feature of the above calculation, and that its error lies rather in underrating than in over-estimating the extent and value of this unknown trade.
Chinese Manufactures.—Both siikaaud cotton piece-goods are exported by the Russians, but to a limited extent; and it would appear that late improvements in their own manufactures have had the effect of lessening the demand for Chinese silks and nankeens. Siberia, however, continues to purchase considerable quantities of these goods, especially the cotton fabrics, which on account of their great durability are suited to the wants of an unrefined population. The women of the better classes use two kinds of silken stuffs, which they call " kanfa" and "fan-sa." The former is the Twantsze or broad Nanking satin, and the latter the Fangsze, or elosely-wove Hangchow silk. Of cotton cloths two sorts are supplied; they are called "Poo " and "Tsoopoo" by the Chinese, and are known in Siberia as " Kitaika" and " Daba." They differ from each other in respect to quality only, both being calico of a strong description, and generally dyed blue, red, or some bright colour. The quantity entering into consumption it is impossible to estimate: one calculation gives 80,000 pieces only; whilst travellers speak of both silken and cotton goods being in general use through Siberia.
Bhubarb is mentioned as being largely exported, but the trade in it is said
to be a monopoly which rests in the hands of Bucharian merchants. The annual supply is said to be between 300,000 and 400,000 lbs. weight.
Stiyar-candy is purchased by the Russians in limited quantities, and used by them as a sweetmeat. It is the produce of the cane of Fuhkeen, sent from thence by sea to Teentsin, and so on to Peking.
No other staples remain to be enumerated, but mention may be made of the following sundries:—Wooden brown lacquer tea-cups of large size, intended for the use of brick teas—they wear well, and are quite capable of resisting the action of boiling water; crackers or fireworks of the same construction as those sold at Canton; Chinese ink, stationery, pictures, &c., the gaudy colours of which possess attractions in the cabins of Siberia; toys of all descriptions, blinds of split bamboo, vases, cups, &c, of nephrite, agate, chalcedony, and cornelian, figures of wood and bronze, porcelain, furniture, artificial flowers, colouring-matters, tobacco, dried fruits, sweetmeats, &c.
A few remarks on the carriage of the goods along the surprising route which is traversed by this trade may be deemed pertinent to the subject.
Teas, silks, and all other Chinese merchandise for the wholesale or direct Russian trade are first collected at Chang-kea-kow, or Kalgan, a large frontier city just within the great wall, where they often change hands before the final arrangements are made for carrying them across the desert to Kiakhta. The goods are transported either on the backs of camels or in small carts drawn by a single ox or bullock. The former animals, when laden with burdens not exceeding 300 catties (400 lbs.) in weight, require from 40 to 50 days to perform the journey between Kalgan and Kiakhta, estimated at 804 miles. Oxen take a longer time on the route, but probably convey the goods in a safer condition, as they seem generally to receive higher rates 6f remuneration. These rates, which vary considerably according to the scarcity of beasts or quantity of merchandise, range between IJ and 3^ taels for 100 catties, say from 2 to 5 dollars for the whole distance between the above-mentioned places; but the average or most usual rate appears to be 2J taels, or about 3£ dollars per 100 catties. The oxen are owned chiefly by Isakbar, and the camels by Mongol tribes; and the peaceful and profitable employment which is thus afforded to thousands of these nomades is not the least benefit that results from the trade.
The Russians transport nearly all the returns of the wholesale trade to Nijnei-Novgorod and Moscow, making use of both land and water communication. In the former case, sledges form the means of conveyance, and the best part of a year is commonly occupied in the journey, although choice teas and silks can be pushed on at an increased speed. By the latter route the waters of the Angari, Yennessei, Obi, and Irtish, serve alternately as far as Tiumen; but owing to the shortness of the summers, delays are necessarily great, and goods thus forwarded are said to be sometimes 3 years on their way to the heart of European Russia.
The cost of conveyance westward is greatly increased by the chests of tea being packed in raw hides, to secure them against the damage they would otherwise sustain from constant exposure to concussion, and at times to moisture. It is only through countries circumstanced similarly to Russia, where the rates of remuneration are remarkably low both for man and beast, that bulky commodities, however valuable, could bear or repay so long and tedious a transit. The cost of transport from Kiakhta to Moscow is computed at 40/. sterling per ton weight, or 4Jrf. per lb.; and if the means of making an accurate calculation were obtainable, it would probably be found that nearly the same expense is incurred in conveying the teas from the place of production in China to Mae-mae-chin. We have already seen that the transit across the desert between Kalgan and Kiakhta, a journey of 800 miles, costs, at a moderate calculation, 3$ dollars per pecul (100 catties), or say l^d. per lb. Now the distance from Kalgan to the N. of Fuhkeen, the province from which the Russians derive the largest portion of their teas, is about 1200 miles, or half as long again as the desert journey; and as the greater part of the transit through the provinces is also a laiid one, it may be concluded that the expenses amount to at least as much as those that are incurred between Kalgan and Kiakhta. Thus the expense of transport on the Chinese side may fairly be computed at 3±d. per lb., which, added to that of the Russian transit, gives a total of 7$d. as the cost of the carriage of each lb. of tea, from the place of its production to the central market of Russia. This amount, which forms, it will be seen, an inconsiderable addition to the value of fine teas, is of course exclusive of all dues or other charges, and is therefore only to be compared with the freight paid for shipping, which on tea to England varies from %d. to l$d., according as the rates range from 21. to 6/. per measurement ton. The protective duty of 70 per cent, ad valorem, imposed in Russia on all teas imported from foreign countries, serves in some measure as an index to the costs which attach to the Kiakhta trade.
Little is to be observed on the other points of trade. Second to Kiakhta is that of Kokand and Bokhara. Russian caravans reach the former place both from Orenburg and Semipalatinsk, and are met there by Chinese merchants from Kashgar and Yarkand, in Chinese Turkestan, on which Kokand borders. Considerable quantities of skins cross the frontier from Bokhara, and are principally paid for in brick tea. There is also Tsuruchaiton on the Argun (to the E. of Kiakhta); but this place is not much frequented, and its trade consists of the usual interchange of brick tea, coarse blue and white Chinese cloths, and tobacco, for sheepskins, Russia leather, &c.
This imperfect glance at the Kiakhta trade suggests the conclusion that its importance to Russia is very considerable; not more, perhaps, in respect to the consumption of home manufactures, than in furnishing extensive sources of profit and employment to the Siberian settlements. The Russians, however, during the last two or three years have manifested a desire to open a trade on the seaboard of China, the advantage of which to European Russia would appear at first sight to be only procurable at the expense of the traffic now carried on at Kiakhta. But if, as there is reason to believe is the case, the mutual demand for tea and for Russian goods is steadily increasing, an extensive commerce, both inland and maritime, would not be incompatible; for, admitting that Western Russia might be supplied with tea more conveniently by sea, it is equally certain that the land route would continue to be the most serviceable one for its eastern dominions, and the one by which the furs, skins, and leather of the latter could more readily be forwarded to Mongolia and the North of China, where they are chiefly consumed.
The goods which the Russians import are well suited to the Chinese market; and owing to the peculiar system which regulates the Kiakhta trade, they can afford to dispose of them at very low rates; therefore these circumstances are alone sufficient to secure these imports the extensive circulation they command. But in the event of their being introduced into China by a maritime route, they would naturally have to enter under a wholly different system; the same, in short, as that under which the trade of other foreign nations should happen to be conducted, and would thus be brought into a fair and equal competition with the manufactures of England and other countries.