The Burma Road

THE fall of Canton last October deprived China of her last important port of entry for war materials from abroad. Thenceforth she would have to depend on the thin trickle of supplies which might elude the Japanese naval forces to be landed at small ports such as Foochow, Wenchow or Swatow, or bring them across the boundaries of adjacent countries in the northwest or southwest. It is now apparent that Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek had anticipated this situation and had planned accordingly. While Japan was firmly closing China's front door, Chiang was laying plans to keep contact with the outside world by opening the back. Roads were started toward the frontier of Soviet Russia and toward Burma.

When Chiang moved his government to Chungking he found himself roughly equidistant from three foreign avenues for obtaining supplies: the Turk-Sib railway in Soviet Russia, the port of Haiphong in French Indo-China, and the port of Rangoon in Burma. Work had already been started on the road to Russia via Lanchow in Kansu province and Urumchi in Sinkiang. But over this route goods must be carried the entire distance of more than 2,000 miles by truck. It leads through desolate country, and obviously even with a good road much of the carrying capacity of the lorries must be devoted to fuel supplies. The route to the sea at Haiphong, through Kunming and French Indo-China, is considerably shorter and for nearly half the distance is served by a metre-gauge railway line. However, the Japanese have brought such pressure on the French that they have declined to transport war materials. The distance to Rangoon through Kunming, Lashio and Mandalay is about 2,100 miles, and is served by a railroad line only a quarter of the way. Yet it is the most dependable route now remaining for bringing in military supplies.

The Chinese started building the last, and most difficult, link in the Burma road in December 1937. It is now completed. It follows the old trail which Marco Polo traveled when he visited the Middle Kingdom more than 600 years ago. How far it will serve to assist China in solving her problem of supply remains to be seen. But its completion by native labor, without any modern road-building machinery whatever, and through a sparsely-settled, mountainous country, represents a very substantial accomplishment.

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