Among the railway concessions obtained by Britain from the Chinese government during the battle for concessions in 1898 was one covering a line that would branch off from the Shanghai-Nanking Railway (another British concession) at Soochow, run southwestward to Hangchow, at the head of the Ch'ien-t'ang estuary, and turn southeastward to terminate at the treaty port of Ningpo. Traversing the coastal areas of Kiangsu and Chekiang provinces, a fertile and well-populated region, the economic possibilities of this railway had been long recognized by the British. After an unsuccessful attempt to make it an Anglo-German enterprise in 1897-98, the concession was granted to the British and Chinese Corporation, a British syndicate formed that year by the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation and Jardine, Matheson and Company for the furtherance of British railway interest in China. The line was to be financed and constructed by the corporation under the nominal ownership of the Chinese Imperial Railway Administration.

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