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Memoirs of Robert Dollar
Vol. 1 - Chapter Twenty-five. Hasty Trip to Japan and China


From Pittsburg we proceeded to Washington to attend the annual meeting of the United States Chamber of Commerce. This meeting was well attended, there being a greater number present than had ever before attended. These meetings are drawing the commercial interests of the United States much closer together, thereby giving them an influence they had never before possessed. At the request of Mr. Rhett, the President, I addressed the assemblage.

I had several conferences with the Shipping Board on the work they have before them, and from what I learned, they certainly have a big job on their hands. I also called on some of the Cabinet Ministers, and on the heads of various departments, discussing with them subjects of general public interest.

We then went to New York, to attend to some business concerning our branch office. While in New York I attended two meetings of the Directors of the American International Corporation, which, under the presidency of Mr. C. Stone, has progressed. They have decided to enter more into Chinese enterprises than they have in the past. They asked me to express my opinion of the future of China for commercial enterprises and investments. I also attended a couple of meetings at the India House, and had conferences with big shipping men of New York.

We returned to California by way of Vancouver, B. C. At Vancouver we were building a large saw-mill, preparatory to entering into the. manufacture of lumber on an extensive scale, to provide cargoes for our steamers going to the Orient. We were also establishing a terminus for our steamship line, as we had secured the Great Northern Railroad dock and warehouse, opened large offices, and were getting an organization together to successfully manage the business. My son, Melville Dollar, was in charge. At this time we had started negotiations to buy the controlling interest in the China & Export Company of Shanghai, China, which had mills and lumber yards scattered throughout the largest Chinese cities. As considerably over a quarter of a million dollars would be involved, we considered it necessary for my son Harold (who was home from Shanghai on a vacation) and me to go to China to make an investigation as to the property values of the company.

We arrived in San Francisco the middle of February and on the 5th of April, we left for Vancouver to embark on a Canadian Pacific liner for Shanghai. Before sailing, we spent a week looking over our various interests in the vicinity of Vancouver. We found the shipping department had been well systematized; the frame of the mill had been erected, and the machinery on hand and being set up. The wharf was built and there was the appearance of a big manufacturing plant.

The steamer made such a short stop at Yokohama that I did not have time to visit Tokio, where there were several Japanese with whom I would have enjoyed renewing my acquaintance. At Kobe, we had one day, which I spent in our branch office. Sixteen days out from Vancouver, we arrived in Shanghai. We immediately got down to business, and, after nearly two weeks of hard work, had about concluded our investigations as to the value of the properties, when we received a hurry up cable from the British Admiralty commandeering our three steamers, so I had to leave at once on the steamship "Bessie Dollar.' She was scheduled to load in Hongkong, and we were in a fix. On arrival at Hongkong, I at once called on the Commodore, and arranged with him to do what he proposed doing with the vessel, but to let us have half the cargo space to take care of our obligations. What appeared at first to be a serious stoppage of our business, turned out to be quite satisfactory after readjusting our business to suit the circumstances. Getting the ship fitted out for the British service kept me in Hong Kong eight days.

From Hong Kong we proceeded to Manila. Here the American Government had made arrangements for us to load some of the seized German steamers, the Pacific Mail to load the balance. On account of the war, business was very brisk, and it was only a case of getting the goods, to sell them. Like other parts of the world, lack of transportation was the chief trouble. Hemp and copra, that would stand a high rate of freight, were moving freely; but sugar would only pay $30.00 per ton, so no steamer would carry it. At the port of Hoilo, there were over 100.000 tons in warehouses.

On this visit I learned that Americans and Filipinos were getting to understand each other better, and instead of antagonism, there is now a friendly feeling of working together for the common good. There are no signs of American capital entering the Islands to any large amount. This is the more remarkable, if we compare them with China, which, although continually torn by revolutions, is drawing freely on American capital. There seems to be an utter lack of confidence, by financiers, as to the future of the Islands. The natives have been clamoring for independence and, now, when they see that the kind of independence they will get, will be absolute, and that the American army and navy will leave them to work out their own salvation, the fear of Japan has caused them to change their minds. Now they don't want the Americans to leave them to their fate. They want a complete self-government, and, without the consent of the United States, to get into all kinds of troubles with other nations, and then to have the United States fight their battles for them. They now see this is not workable, and until they get an army and a navy of their own to protect them (which may be in the dim and distant future), they must, as soon as they are ready for it, accept a government similar to that of Canacia or Australia. I believe that the well thinking Filipinos will take this view of it, and if immigration is allowed, it will make the Islands one of the richest countries on earth—but, they must first have labor, then capital, to accomplish this.

I had to return to Shanghai as quickly as possible, to close the China Import & Export Company deal before the 1st of July, so remained only two days in Hong Kong on my return trip. On arrival in Shanghai, I concentrated my efforts to find the best, and cheapest land along the waterfront suitable for the erection of a wharf and warehouse terminals for our trans-Pacific steamers, and for accumulating freight from the Outports for export. We finally bought one thousand feet frontage containing ten acres, and where there would be twenty-seven feet of water at low tide, along the front of the wharf when built, which is sufficient for our largest steamer. In the near future, we will commence the erection of the wharf and warehouses.

1 looked over the city, to see how much it had extended during the past eighteen years, as I have a distinct recollection of where the boundaries were at that time. I was astounded to find the city had increased in area more than forty per cent. No wonder that land had increased tenfold in value in those eighteen years. There are no desirable vacant houses, and rents are very high.

We went to Hankow on one of the palatial river steamers and, while I had often seen it before, I was more impressed than ever with this beautiful country, with its rich, productive valley. At times the valley is so wide that the hills cannot be seen on either side, and it is seldom that they can be seen on each tide at the same time. The Province of Sezchuen, alone, has over fifty millions of people, and it is so cut off by the rapids, called the Gorges, that it is inaccessible to commerce. This makes them an entirely self-supporting community, that raises and manufactures what it requires. An effort is now being made to connect Chung-kiaug with the outside world with three small steamers, but the navigation is most difficult and dangerous. That pioneer of American commerce, the Standard Oil Company, has built a boat, and now has her in the service between Ichang and Chungkiang. but in the not very distant future a railway will supplant this service.

It »s over two years since I visited Hankow, and I find a number of substantial buildings have gone up, and many improvements have been made. Railroad building has been slow, but the Hankow-Canton Railroad is now open for passenger travel to Changshau, a distance of one hundred and sixty miles. Good cars, shops, offices and dwellings have been built in a very substantial manner at Wuchang. Two years ago we purchased over five acres of land right in the city. At that time, I thought we paid too much for it, but found it could be sold now at a twenty per cent advance. We are erecting an attractive building on a corner, for an office, and a manager's residence. Like Shanghai, Hankow is destined to be a great commercial center and its prosperity will not detract from, but will help Shanghai. As the former is destined to be a great railroad center of China, there is plenty to be done.

We wanted to go to Peking, but were told that the Government had commandeered all trams to move troops to Peking, where fighting had started. As it was a long way around to return to Shanghai, then go by ocean steamer to Tientsin, our objective point, we waited two days and learned that a train would start, but with only a fair chance of getting through as fighting was going on in earnest. However, we took a chance and went on it.

Never venture, never win, was our motto. We were fortunate, as the Monarchist forces gave up and we managed to get through. Fighting had ceased the day before we got there. We found that every one that could possibly get away, had gone to Tientsin and Petiho. So we bad the great big hotel almost to ourselves. Souvenirs of the day before were visible at the door, in the shape of two bullet holes. The walls of many houses were riddled with holes, and at the Chien Mein (City) gate, several hundred bullets and shells had hit. We visited the place where Chung Hsur had been. It had been destroyed by shell fire and was still burning. It was outside the Forbidden City wall. Holes had been drilled through this wall and the muzzles of two cannon were still sticking through it. At such close range and with the protection of the wall, the Monarchists had had no show.

Chung Hsun escaped in an auto, sheated with steel plate. It had been hit scores of times, as each bullet had made a dent in the steel, so when he got out of range, the car did not look much like its former self. The city was full of soldiers, and as they had no accommodations for so many, we saw many trainoads leaving, mostly in box cars and gondolas. In the latter, were both horses and men. They did not appear to stand on the order of their going, but were bundled out in any old way. I noticed at the rear of each tram, one second-class coach was filled with officers.

It is needless to say, most of the parties I wanted to see could not be found, although I succeeded in finding a number of Americans and British, but no Chinese. The entire Administration was out of town. We were able to get a train going to Tientsin, which was heavily guarded by soldiers, besides,: there were a lot of them at every station. We were heartily glad and thankful to get safely to what we call our home, when in Tientsin—the flat above our office which is a comfortable and pleasant place to stay, and which we enjoyed. Business was almost at a standstill, and no one knew where they stood, but in a few weeks business will be resumed as if nothing had happened.

It might not be amiss for me to recite here what started all the row. Chang Hsun was a Monarchal sympathizer and escaped from Nanking with his army, and, planting himself with his troops in a corner of Kiangsu Province, for three years levied on the inhabitants for the subsistence of his army of about forty thousand men. When the two factions at Peking got to the point where they could not agree, the President inadvisedly invited Chang Hsun to come to Peking as a mediator. He came in a peaceful way, but incidentally brought five thousand of his best troops with him. all fully armed. In a couple of days he had sized up the situation, and saw how weak the Government was, so he put the thirteen year-old Emperor on the throne, believing by this act he had re-established the monarchy. As his troops had been well placed, he easily got possession of the city. But the troops in adjoining cities stood true to the Republic, and, coming in from all directions, surrounded the city. Fighting commenced, and Chang Hsun, seeing he had been caught in a trap, deserted his men and went to the Dutch Embassy, where he claimed their protection. Had it not been for this move, his head would have parted company from his body. It is well that this test came, as the provinces declared unanimously for the continuance of the Republic.

In Chinese politics there is always something next. The old Government is in power in Peking, but Sun Yat Sen and Tong Shai Yei are in Canton getting together the young Progressives, as they are called, evidently for the purpose of starting another rebellion. The last one was started with Sun Yat Sen and said to have been financed in Tokio, but Yuen Shai Kai had been fully informed and was ready for them, so it fizzled cut in a short time. Some newspapers state that this time funds will not be forthcoming from Japan. If that is correct, then it will not likely amount to much; but, if money can be obtained, there will be another ugly civil war. Poor China is having her troubles, and all her well wishers hope that trouble will cease before foreign intervention becomes necessary. If the good, well-thinking Chinese could only see the situation as Americans see it, they certainly would get a United China.

We got back to Shanghai by the Tientsin & Pukow Railway, passed the rebel stronghold and saw a number of soldiers, but were unmolested. Had a week in which to close the business I had on hand, and sailed on the steamship "Empress of Asia." on the 5th of August, for Vancouver, where we arrived August 20, 1917.


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