SZE-CH'UEN (Four Rivers), a western province of China, bounded N. by Kokonor, Kan-suh and Shen-si, E. by Hu-peh and Hu-nan, S. by Kwei-chow and Yun-nan, and W. by Tibet. Estimates of its population vary from 45,000,000 to 68,000,000; estimates of its area from 185,000 to 218,000 sq. m. It is considerably larger than any other province of China, Yun-nan, which comes next in size, covering less than 150,000 sq. m. Sze-ch'uen contains twelve prefectual cities, inclusive of Ch' engtu Fu, the provincial capital. The western portion forms part of the mountain-lands of Central Asia and much of it is over 10,000 ft. high, while heights of 16,000 to 19,000 ft. occur. The northern portion is also mountainous, but the east central part of Sze-ch'uen consists of a red sandstone table-land (see CHINA, i). Towards the north-east end of this plateau, commonly known as " the red basin, " is Ch'eng-tu Fu (pop. 450,000- 500,000), the provincial capital. The plain in which the city stands is about 70 m. long and 30 wide, and is noted for the density of its population (about 5,000,000), its wealth, and its splendid irrigation works.
The fauna includes bears, yaks, various kinds of antelope, monkeys and parrots. The flora includes magnificent yews, a great variety of bamboos, tallow, varnish, soap, and wax trees, rhododendrons and giant azaleas. The ethnological and commercial boundaries are sharply defined by the physical features. The mountain districts are poorly cultivated, and are inhabited by Ijin or barbarians, who are distinguished under the tribal names of Si-fan, Lo-lo and Man-tsze, and who maintain a semi-independence. Tibetans are also scattered over the western region and are numerous in the district of Pa-tang. The table-land is inhabited by Chinese, and is one of the most thriving and populous regions in the empire. These Chinese exhibit great diversity of type, due in part to immigration from other provinces in the 17th century three fourths of the inhabitants having, it is said, been exterminated towards the close of the Ming dynasty.
Through the southern portion of Sze-ch'uen runs the Yangtszekiang, which is there navigable throughout the year, while the province is traversed by three large rivers, the Min-kiang, the Fu-sung-ho and the Kialing-kiang, all of which take their rise in the mountains on its north-west border, and empty into the Yangtsze-kiang at Su-chow Fu, Lu Chow and Chung-k'ing Fu respectively. A series of rapids disturb the waters of the Yangtsze-kiang between I-ch'ang and Chung-k'ing, a distance of about 500 m. According to the native authorities there are 13 big rapids and 72 smaller ones on these waters. In ordinary circumstances it takes about six weeks to traverse the distance. In 1898 Mr A. Little took a steamer, which had been built for the purpose, up the rapids, and since then one or more of these boats have ascended them. The province is intersected by numerous but difficult roads. The Ta-pei-lu, or great north road, leads from Ch'eng-tu Fu to Peking. From the same centre there branch roads to Chung-k'ing Fu, to Paoning Fu and to Ya-chow Fu, while another road connects Chung-k'ing Fu with Kwei-chow Fu on the Yangtsze-kiang and beyond with I-ch'ang Fu in Hu-peh. From Ya-chow Fu, again, start two important roads, one leading into Tibet by way of Yung-king, Ts'ing-k'i Hien, Ta-chien-lu, Li-tang, Pa-tang and Chiamdo, and the other to Western Yun-nan via Ts'ing-k'i Hien, Ning-yuen Fu, and Yen-yuen Hien to Ta-li Fu. From Ta-li Fu this road continues through Momein to Bhamo in Burma. Another road connects Pa-tang and Li-kiang Fu with Ta-li Fu, and yet another crosses the southernmost corner of the province connecting Tung-ch'uen Fu in Yun-nan with Ta-li Fu in the same province. In 1910 a loan of 6,000,000 was arranged for the construction of a railway from Hankow through the provinces of Hu-peh and Sze-ch'uen to Ch'eng-tu Fu.
The products of Sze-ch'uen include silk, tea,, rice, sugar, hemp, vegetable wax, tobacco, timber and oranges. A larger quantity of silk is produced in eastern Sze-ch'uen than in any other province of the empire. Large quantities are exported to Shen-si, Shan-si, Kan-suh, Peking, Yun-nan, Tibet, Kweichow, Kwang-si, Hu-nan and Hu-peh.
White wax is another valuable article of the Sze-ch'uen trade. It is made exclusively in the department of Kia-ting Fu, the climate of Wax. ' wn ich appears to favour the propagation of the disease among the insects which is said by the natives to be the cause of the plentiful secretion of wax. This belief is borne out by the fact, that in the districts where the insects breed only a small quantity of wax is produced, and experience has taught the natives the advantage of breeding the insects in one district and producing the wax in another. The region of Kien-chang in the south of the province has been found most suitable for breeding purposes, and it is there, therefore, on the insect trees, which are evergreens with large and pointed ovate leaves, that the breeding processes are carried on. At the end of April the producers start each with a load of the eggs of the insects for the district of Kia-ting Fu, a journey which on foot occupies about a fortnight. The road between the two districts is very mountainous, and as exposure to the heat of the Sun would hatch the eggs too rapidly, the travellers journey only during the night. At Kia-ting Fu the eggs are eagerly bought up, and are at once put upon the wax tree. Baron von Richthofen thus describes the subsequent process:
" When the egg balls are procured they are folded up, six or seven together in a bag of palm leaf. These bags are suspended on the twigs of the trees. This is all the human labour required. After a few days the insects commence coming out. They spread as a brownish film over the twigs, but do not touch the leaves. The Chinese describe them as having neither shape, nor head, nor eyes, nor feet. It is known that the insect is a species of coccus. Gradually, while the insect is growing, the surface of the twigs becomes encrustated with a white substance, this is the wax. No care whatever is required. The insect has no enemy, and is not even touched by ants. In the latter half of August the twigs are cut off and boiled in water, when the wax rises to the surface. It is then melted and poured into deep pans. It cools down to a translucent and highly crystalline substance."
Tobacco is grown very generally throughout the province, and is exported in large quantites to Si-fan, Tibet, Yun-nan, Hu-nan, and the export to Hankow alone is estimated at 6J million Ib annually. The best is grown in the district of P'i Hien; the next quality is said to come from Kin-t'ang Hien, and the third quality from Shih-fang Hien, all these districts being in the plain of Ch'eng-tu Fu. The habit, which is unknown in other provinces, of smoking the tobacco leaves rolled up in the shape of cigars obtains largely in Sze-ch'uen. Salt is also produced in Sze-ch'uen in large quantities from brine, which is raised from wells. Tsze-liu-tsing, in Tsze Chow, Wu-tung-kiao, hear Kia-ting Fu, Pao-ning Fu, and T' ungch'uen Fu, are the districts where the wells are most abundant. The brine is raised from the well with long bamboo tubes and bamboo ropes, and is then led to large pans for evaporation. In the district of Tsze-liu-tsing petroleum is struck at a depth of from 1800 to 2000 ft., and is used for evaporating the brine. Coal, iron and copper are found in many parts. The only coal worked is of an inferior quality, and the iron is smelted with wood alone. Ning-yuen Fu is the principal district from which the copper is produced. Wheat, barley, beans, rice, Indian corn, potatoes, etc., are among the other products of Sze-ch'uen.
Chung -K'ing Fu(pop. about 600,000) is the principal treaty port. It imports textiles, aniline dyes, metals, soap, petroleum etc., and exports silk, wax, tobacco, sugar, oil, musk, medicinal plants, etc. By the terms of the Mackay Treaty, signed at Shanghai in 1902, the port of Wan Hien (pop. 140,000), which is situated on the Yangtsze-kiang, 200 m. below Chung-K'ing Fu, was opened to trade in 1905. Both Protestant and Roman Catholic missions are at work in the province; the Protestants opening their first mission station, at Chung-K'ing, in 1877.
See L. Richard, Comprehensive Geography of the Chinese Empire, pp. 104-119 and the authorities there cited (Shanghai, 1908); also ' The Province of Sze-ch'uen," in The Chinese Empire (M. Broomhall ed. ; London, 1907); and Colonel C. C. Manifold, "Recent Exploration and Economic Development in Central and Western China," in Geog. Journ. (1904), vol. xxiii.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)