Volume 11 Issue 4 - November 6, 2009 PDF
Utilization of Fuel and Development of Fuel Industry in Qing Taiwan
Pin-Tsang Tseng

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As fuel is an important material in daily life, its acquirement and utilization is thus a significant subject of research in life history, economic history as well as in environmental history. Historians Braudel and Pomeranz have both pointed out that one important reason contributing to the prosperity of modern Europe is its advantage of forest resources, which could not only benefit important industries like shipbuilding and steelmaking, but also provide civilians sufficient fuels for cooking and warming. To ensure the fuel supplement, governments of European countries, China and Japan had taken various measures since the 16th century, including protecting forests from illegal logging, seeking new lands providing woods, afforesting on a large scale, and developing alternative fuels such as coal. Ensuring provision of energy had become a crucial condition for development of modern civilization.

The demand for fuel in modern world not only changed people's attitudes toward fuel resources but also changed the structure of fuel industry. Forests and the later-developed fossil fuels had become state-owned or private property but not public goods. Fuels were commercial products that could be sold to make profits, and thus it could be the investment goal of capitalists. Under such circumstances, the producing and processing of timber, charcoal and fossil fuels was not individual work but on a large-scale with the investment of capitalists. With the expansion of scale and soar of production efficiency, fuel industry was gradually dominated by capitalists and moving toward capitalization.

While much academic attention has been paid on the history of fuel and energy in Europe and China, there are few studies exploring the acquirement and utilization of fuel in Taiwan. In particular, the fuel industry during Ming-Cheng period and Qing Dynasty were often neglected due to the limitation of historical data. To overcome the research restriction, this paper explores various resources to examine how fuel was consumed and traded in Qing Taiwan, and then traces the development of fuel industry. These resources include: family account books recorded by Suzhou code which was exclusively used by the Chinese merchants during the Qing Dynasty; "Dan-Xin Archives," which is the official archives of Danshui and Xinzhu in Qing Taiwan, and surveys on consumption of Han people conducted during the early period of Japanese rule as supplement.

Four major types of fuel, namely straw, timber, charcoal and coal were used in Qing Taiwan. Among them, straw, including bean rattan and cane exaction, were used mainly by people engaged in agricultural production, who could provide themselves fuel from farms. With the rest of the population having to buy timber and charcoal, the consumption demand for timber and charcoal thus constituted the main market of fuel in Qing Taiwan. Furthermore, the market of fuel shows obvious differences between southern and northern Taiwan. While the inhabitants in northern Taiwan mainly used straw and charcoal made of Taiwan acacia, and coal was used in some urban areas of Keelung and Taipei, cane exaction played an important role as fuel in southern Taiwan. In addition, the types of charcoal also varied between the north and south.

During the late Qing, the expenses of fuel per capita was 4-5 dollars, and the consumption of timber per capita was around 0.9-1.0 ton. The amount was similar to the consumption in Pearl River Delta but much lower than that of late-18th-century France, which was more than two ton. Even so, fuel was still a crucial expense in Han families, occupying 8% of the living expenditure of a worker family. When accounting the fuel expenses of all non-agricultural population in Taiwan and the industrial expenses of fuel together, it could be estimated that the value of fuel market was more than 3,100,000 dollars in 1893, and the industrial expenses of fuel was mainly used in roasting tea leaves.

Figure: Planting of Taiwan acacia
Source: National Taiwan University Library, Dan-Xin Archives, No. TH33902-010.
Notes: In a legal case at Danshui County during late Qing Dynasty, the prosecutor who accused of illegal logging of Taiwan acacia provided this figure. The figure shows that Taiwan acacia were often planted around gardens on hills to prevent from wind or serve as a boundary mark. The farmers could also gain profits from logging and making charcoal at that time.
Since the mid-Qing Dynasty, increase in population led to further growth in the market of fuel, but the natural forests decreased with the expansion of farmland. While cutting and selling timber was mainly engaged in by the lower class of Taiwanese society, including the unemployed and women, coal business was a new venture attracting opportunists. On the one hand, timber industry was restricted to shallow mountain areas whereas deep mountain areas were hardly explored because of its long distance, ban of Qing government and the threaten of "head-hunting" of the aborigines. On the other hand, the engagement of coal business ran high risk in deep mountainous areas but enjoyed high profits, thus some opportunists devoted to the business, and some of them emerged as rich merchants in Qing Taiwan.

After opening the ports, the demand of fuel increased rapidly because of the growing needs for roasting tea leaves, opium, and business of craftsman. However, the forests in shallow mountains in northern Taiwan decreased due to the development of camphor and tea planting. The shortage of timber resulted in the spread of coal in northern Taiwan. Simultaneously, some businessmen actively joined the afforestation industry, including Lin family at Banqiao, Lin family at Wufeng, Cheng and Lin families at Xinzhu. By contrast, in southern Taiwan, although there were plenty of natural forests, rich merchants largely subscribed coal from workers, intending to control the circulation channel of coal. Such involvement in fuel industry was the first sigh of state or capitalists monopolization in energy industry. The monopolization was formally operated during the later colonial period, when the Japanese government controlled mountainous regions and Japanese entrepreneurs occupied the power to exploit fossil fuels.
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