AN AMERICAN IN CHINA: 1936-39 A Memoir



"In 2009, the journey down the Three Gorges will be a very different one. The once formidable cliffs and chasms will remain, but they will be dwarfed by the gigantic dam, losing much of their current grandeur. The temples and monuments, sentinels of China's rich history, will drown beneath the murky waters, usurped by a new monument - a testament to the world in which the forces of modern technology reign."

From PBS site


Slide show from today's China (from China Daily Web site)

Travel from Chongqing to Three Gorges Dam


The most impressive section of the Yangtze is the Three Gorges area, which includes the Qutang Gorge, Wuxia Gorge and Xiling Gorge, collectively known as the Sanxia, or Three Gorges.


三峡好人 - Still Life


A World Washed Away

A man and a woman return to Fengjie, an old town doomed by the construction
of the Three Gorges Dam, in Jia Zhang-ke's film "Still Life," opening in January.
Fengjie, upstream from the dam, was submerged in May 2006.

Click the poster for a trailer (with German subtitles)


Larry King Live aired "bumps" into commercial of video clips set to music. This one, set to the music from Brokeback Mountain, seemed a little extra cheesy. 1/22

Butterfield & Swire

If you were traveling on the Yangtze in the 1930's, chances are that Butterfield & Swire or Jardine Matheson would have made all your travel arrangements. To a large extent these two British companies controlled a considerable portion of shipping, travel and mercantile interests not only on the river but up and down the China coast. Their almost 100-year grip on Chinese affairs would not end until the Japanese occupation.





There is no such thing as the Yangtze in Chinese. The term is virtually a foreign invention. The Chinese call the river the Chang Jiang or long river..

Although it was not officially called that until some years later, the Yangtze Patrol was born in 1854 when the USS Susquehanna, sailing from Shanghai to Wuhu, became the first American warship to ascend the Yangtze.

In 1889, a steamer built by Archibald Little, was the first to reach Chungking in the Upper Yangtze.

Click here for
interactive map of
Yangtze in 1930s.


In 1861, John Swire & Sons Limited of London began to trade with China through agents. In 1866, in partnership with R.S. Butterfield, Butterfield & Swire was established in Shanghai. Four years later, a Hong Kong branch of Butterfield & Swire was also opened.

Taikoo (太古) is the Chinese name of Swire. It is also the brand name of its business, like Taikoo Cube Sugar and Taikoo Shing.

By the early 1920's British investment in the Yangtze Valley, including Shanghai, was over £200,000,000. This was almost as much as was invested in the whole of British India at that time, and much more than was invested in British Africa.

More than half of the shipping on the Yangtze was owned by two British companies — the China Navigation Company of John Swire of
London, and the Indo-China Steam Navigation Company of Jardine Matheson and Company of Hong Kong.

Both Companies
also had substantial investments in other industries in the Yangtse
Valley, as well as in docks, wharves, and warehouses.

Four years after the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Butterfield & Swire closed all of its China offices. In 1974, Butterfield & Swire in Hong Kong was renamed John Swire & Sons (H.K.) Ltd.

Click on above image of the USS Tutuila
to download a PowerPoint slide show on the Yangtze Patrol prepared by the Naval Postgraduate School
in California. You must have the Microsoft PowerPoint application installed on your computer to do so..


Taiping Rebellion


During the decade ending in 1864 the Yangzte valley was wrent by the destructive Taiping Rebellion, far more deadly that the US civil war. Some 20 million Chinese were killed. A biblical tract of a Scottish minister appears to have played a small part in pushing a young fanatic over the edge when it was read by Hung Hsiu Chuan.

Calling himself the Younger Brother of Jesus or Heavenly King, Hung began a clean-up campaign that espoused land reform and fought corruption and immorality. It would have an echo a century later in the Communist Revolution.

Sinking of the Panay


See the rather breathless but fascinating 22-minute Universal Newsreel film of the Panay incident of Dec. 12, 1937. A rare view of the risks
and trials of life in the Yangtze patrol in a war-torn China




The Yangtze was not an easy river to navigate, and with its swift currents and shoals presented problems very similar to those of the Mississippi.

The Americans made good use of their experience in river navigation, and were also more willing to carry cargo on deck to speed up loading and

They were more partial to paddle than to screw steamers, the former being better against strong currents and for reversing off shoals. This combination of factors gave the Americans a decided advantage in the early years, and the Shanghai Steam Navigation Company, belonging to the American trading firm of Russell and Company, was the most
important company on the river for the first fifteen years of foreign trade.

Because of American influence the luxurious river steamers which plied on the Lower and Middle Yangtse during the heyday of foreign trade were very similar to the Mississippi steamers of Mark Twain's

_ From A.D. Blue's "European Navigation on the Yangtze"








































Site Map
Old China Photos
Old China Excerpts
1930s Shanghai
To Order
Lily Lee
Readers Comments