Shanghai-Hangzhou-Ningbo Railway, or Huhangyong Railway as it is called in Chinese, used to be the main railway line in the southeast coastal area of China. It had been designed to begin in Suzhou, thus it had been called Suzhou-Hangzhou-Ningbo Railway, which consisted of Jiangsu Section and Zhejiang Section, the starting point of the latter was later changed to Shanghai instead, thus the name of Shanghai-Hangzhou-Ningbo Railway. Construction of its Zhejiang Section commenced at the end of 1906 and Shanghai-Hangzhou Section was completed and put into operation in August 1908. The railway was 189km long.
The railway was built against the backdrop of the social movement of business people and patriotic people in Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinces to fight for the right of railways and operate them. The History of Zhejiang in the Republic of China Period I, compiled by Zhejiang Provincial Archives carries details of the movement.
In 1876, China’s first railway, Wusong Railway, was built and went into pilot operation. In the eighth month of the 24nd year of the Reign of Emperor Guangxu in the Qing Dynasty, British envoys asked for the permission of Qing government on signing with the latter draft agreements on building the Suzhou-Hangzhou-Ningbo Railway, in which British companies gained the right of building five railways, including the Suzhou-Hangzhou-Ningbo Railway.
With the right to build in their hands, the British companies stalled the construction, and did not submit planning for the construction even after five years passed, when Zhejiang business people began to realize the importance of railways and plan to get the right of building the railways back to Chinese people. Under public pressure, Sheng Xuanhuai, the supervisor of railway construction of the Qing government, asked in a letter to the British to cancel the original agreement if the latter could not make a planning within six months. But the British government simply ignored it. Also, in 1905, US consulate in Hangzhou sent a letter to the General Chambers of Commerce of Zhejiang Province in an attempt to seek the right of building the Zhejiang-Jiangxi Railway.
To foil the attempts by Britain and America to control the lifeline of Zhejiang, in July 1905, Tang Shouqian, a business person in the province, led the establishment of Zhejiang Provincial Railway Co Ltd and acted as its general manager. The company began building the 16km Jiangshu Railway, as the pilot section of Shanghai-Hangzhou Railway, and raised funds in November 1906 to build Zhejiang Section of Shanghai-Hangzhou-Ningbo Railway.
The British government spared no efforts in stopping the Chinese people from building their own railways. It accused the Qing government of default, and made the latter order cease of construction. As Qing government lacks money, in October 1907, the British made it sign a 1.5m pounds loan agreement, with a maturity period of 30 years and an annual interest of 5 li. The agreement also stipulated that the chief engineer and chief accountant should be British, attempting to control both the technology and finance of Shanghai-Hangzhou-Ningbo Railway.
The agreement sparked strong opposition of people in all lines of work in Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinces. Tang Shouqian started the movement for protecting Chinese right of building the railway, established the Association of Refusal of Loans of the People of Zhejiang Province, denying borrowing money from British companies. Zhejiang Railway Company’s proposal received wide support. People of all walks of life lived frugally to buy shares and raised 3m pounds within days, double the amount that would come on loan from the British. To save and use well the money raised by people for building the railway, Zhejiang Province also established China’s first commercial bank.
During the movement, Zhejiang people made great financial contributions and some even died for the endeavor, leaving a praiseful legacy. Their story spread across Zhejiang and rallied the people against the enemy, as “all who heard the news were indignant and opposed the loan, businessmen talked of stopping the business, servants talked of quitting and businesses in the city talked of making donations”. Zhejiang people living abroad also supported the movement through donations, and announcements. 115 renowned people in the province jointly signed a petition for the governor to ask the central government to decline the loans from the British and elected Wang Wenshao, a Hangzhou native and a great scholar who was serving in the Qing government to represent the railway in both provinces. Wang pointed to the great losses that might occur in the letter to the Emperor, as “if the loans were made, the right of railway would no longer be in the hands of the Chinese, and in the future the outside forces would play a more damaging role as they could gain an upper hand with the loan; moreover, as the will of the people was now strengthened, a mistake would lead to riots.”
Under great pressure from all sides, the Qing government had to back down. In the end, the government used the 1.5m pounds loans on other places. Shanghai-Hangzhou Railway was funded by Zhejiang Railway Company, a sign that the movement for protecting the right of Shanghai-Hangzhou Railway was partly won.