A Wayfarer in China/Chapter 2

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A Wayfarer in China by Elizabeth Kimball Kendall
Chapter II

CHAPTER II

DAYS IN YUNNAN-FU

THE situation of Yunnan's capital is extraordinarily picturesque. It stands in a wide plain, its northern wall running along a low rocky ridge from which there is a charming view over city and lake to the great mountains that skirt the plain on all sides. Lying at an elevation of nearly seven thousand feet, it is blessed with a white man's climate. Eighty-five degrees in the shade marks the highest summer temperature, and the winters are just pleasantly bracing. Europeans who have experienced the biting winds of Peking, the damp heat of Canton, or the gray skies of Chengtu find in the bright days and cool breezes of Yunnan some mitigation of their exile to this remote corner of the empire. The city itself is not very attractive in spite of its many trees, for it seems a network of narrow lanes, only broken here and there by a temple enclosure or a stretch of waste land, the whole shut in by sound thirty-foot high walls; nor are there any sights of special interest, with the exception of a rather fine Confucian temple. But the country roundabout affords many charming excursions. The waters of the lake, some twenty-three miles in length, once perhaps washed the west wall, but it is gradually silting up, and to-day it is five miles away and is reached by heavy sampans which ply the narrow canals that intersect the rice-fields. Farm buildings, tea-houses, and temples buried in groves of bamboo are dotted over the plain, which is crossed at intervals by high, stone-paved dykes lined with trees. The rich cultivation of the lowland is in sharp contrast with the surrounding hills, bare and barren save where the presence of a temple has preserved the forest.

Yunnan-fu, with a population of some eighty thousand, seems a fairly prosperous town. Copper is found on the neighbouring hills, and the metal-work of the place is famous, although by law all copper mined must be sent to Peking. But the importance of the city depends mainly upon its trade. It is the centre of a large though rather scantily populated district abounding in the great staples, rice, beans, and millet, as well as in fruit and vegetables. Formerly Yunnan stood in the forefront of opium-producing provinces, but when I was there not a poppy-field was to be seen. The last viceroy, the much respected Hsi Liang, the one Mongol in the Chinese service, himself not an opium smoker, had shown great determination in carrying out the imperial edicts against its use or production, and rather unwillingly Yunnan was brought into line with the new order. Under his successor, Li Ching Hsi, a man known to be given over to the use of the drug, unwilling converts hoped for better days, only to be disappointed. After a more or less serious effort to reform, he announced that he was too old to change, but the province had a long life before it, and must obey the law. So he made amends for his own short-comings by enforcing the restrictions almost as vigorously as his predecessor had done. What was true at that time in Yunnan was also the case in Szechuan. Although always on the watch for the poppy, nowhere did I see it cultivated. Probably in remote valleys off the regular trails a stray field might now and then have been found, innocently or intentionally overlooked by the inspector, but in the main poppy-growing had really been stamped out; and this where a generation ago that careful observer, Baber, estimated that poppy-fields constituted a third of the whole cultivation. Credit where credit is due. Manchu rule may have been weak and corrupt, but at least in respect of one great popular vice it achieved more than any Western power ever thought of attempting. Certainly not last among the causes for its overthrow was the discontent aroused by its anti-opium policy. And now it is reported that individualism run mad among the revolutionary leaders has led to a slackening in the enforcement of the rules, and the revival of poppy cultivation.

For half a century Yunnan has known little peace. Twenty years long the terrible Mohammedan rebellion raged, and the unhappy province was swept from end to end with fire and sword. Marks of the devastation of that time are everywhere visible. Hardly had it been put down when the war with the French in the eighties again involved Yunnan. Later came the outbreak of the tribesmen, while the Boxer movement of the north found a vigorous response here. Bloodshed and disorder have given the country a set-back from which it is only beginning to recover.

But the coming of the railway has brought fresh life to Yunnan, and the prospects for the future economic development are very promising. In the capital there were many signs of a new day. The Reform movement had taken good hold in this remote corner of the empire. A hospital with eight wards and under Chinese control was doing fine work. Schools were flourishing, and there was even a university of sorts. The newly organized police force pervaded the whole place and was reputed quite efficient. But it was the new military spirit that most forced itself upon you; you simply could not get away from it. Bugle practice made hideous night and day. Everywhere you met marching soldiers, and the great drill ground was the most active place in the town. Dread of the foreigner underlies much of the present activity and openmindedness towards Western ideas. The willingness to adopt our ways does not necessarily mean that the Chinese prefer them to their own, but simply that they realize if they would meet us on equal terms they must meet us with our own weapons. Writing of the Boxer rising, Sir Charles Eliot summed up the Chinese position in a sentence, "Let us learn their tricks before we make an end of them." Now it might read, "Let us learn their tricks before they make an end of us." The drilling soldiers, the modern barracks, the elaborately equipped arsenals, as well as the military schools found all over China to-day, show which one of the Western "tricks" seems to the man of the Middle Kingdom of most immediate value. At the military school of Yunnan-fu they have a graphic way of enforcing the lesson to be learned. A short time ago the students gave a public dramatic performance, a sort of thing for which the Chinese have decided talent. One of the scenes showed an Englishman kicking his Hindu servant, while another represented an Annamese undergoing a beating at the hands of a Frenchman. The teaching was plain. "This will be your fate unless you are strong to resist." The English and French consuls protested formally, and the proper apologies were made, but no one believes that the lesson was forgotten.

It is not to be wondered at that the people of Yunnan are alive to the danger of foreign interference, for they see the British on the west and much more the French on the south, peering with greedy eyes and clutching hands over the border. In the last fifteen years commissions of the one and the other have scoured the province with scarcely so much as "by your leave," investigating the mineral resources and planning out practicable railway routes. Within the capital city the French seem entrenched. A French post-office, a French hospital, French shops, hotels, missions, and above all the huge consulate, are there like advance posts of a greater invasion. There is an ominous look to these pretentious establishments holding strategic points in this or that debatable territory. Take the French consulates, here in Yunnan-fu and in Hoi-hou, or the Russian in Urga, the North Mongolian capital, they have more the aspect of a fortified outpost in a hostile country than the residence of the peaceful representative of a friendly power.

And Yunnan is beginning to move. For some time past the Government has been considering seriously the project of a railway across the province on the east to the Si Kiang and Canton, and just before I arrived in Yunnan-fu two engineers (significantly enough Americans) started northwards to make the preliminary surveys for a line connecting the capital with the Yangtse. If these two schemes can be carried through under Chinese control, good-by to the hopes of the French. Just at the time that I was in Yunnan there was much excitement over the Pien-ma matter, a boundary question between the province and Burma. A boycott of British goods had been started which would have been more effective if there had been more goods to boycott, but it indicated the feeling of the people, and the viceroy, Li Ching Hsi, was winning golden opinions for the stand he took in the matter, which, however, did not save him from ignominious deportation by the Revolutionary party only a few months later.

But whatever the feeling towards foreigners in the mass, the individual foreigner seemed to meet with no unfriendliness on the part of the people in Yunnan-fu, and apparently official relations were on a cordial footing. I found the Bureau of Foreign Affairs ready to do all it could to smooth my way across Yunnan, but perhaps that was due in part to the fact that the chief of the bureau had been for several years consul in New York. By arrangement I called one afternoon, in company with a missionary lady, upon his wife. Threading our way through narrow, winding streets, our chairs turned in at an inconspicuous doorway and we found ourselves in a large compound, containing not so much one house as a number of houses set down among gay gardens. The building in which we were received consisted apparently of two rooms, an anteroom and a reception room. The latter was furnished in the usual style (invariable, it seems to me, from country inn to prince's palace), heavy high chairs, heavy high tables ranged against walls decorated with kakemonos and gay mottoes; only in the centre of the room was a large table covered with a cloth of European manufacture on which were set out dishes of English biscuits and sweets. Our hostess, dressed in a modified Chinese costume, received us with graceful dignity. Her fine-featured face bore a marked likeness to many that one meets on the street or in the church of an old New England town, and its rather anxious expression somewhat emphasized the resemblance. She spoke with much pleasure of the years she had spent in America, and her daughter, who had been educated in a well-known private school in New York, looked back longingly to those days, complaining that there was no society in Yunnan-fu; but she brightened up at a reference to the arrival of a new and young English vice-consul, hoping that it might mean some tennis. It was an unexpected touch of New China in this out-of-the-way corner. Before we left, two younger children were brought in, both born in America, and one bearing the name "Daisy," the other "Lincoln," but already they were forgetting their English.

During my three days in Yunnan-fu,[1] through the kindness of the British Consul-General I was given a chance to make one or two excursions into the surrounding country. An especially charming trip that we took one afternoon was to Chin Tien, or "Golden Temple," a celebrated copper temple about five miles out. Near the town our chairs were borne along the narrow earth balk between the bean- and rice-fields, but farther on our way led over the top of a high dyke lined with trees. We mounted by a charming winding road to the temple, set high on the hillside among its own groves of conifers, the courts of the temple, which rose one behind the other, being connected by long, steep flights of steps. In the upper court we were met by the friendly priests, the quiet dignity of their reception being somewhat disturbed by the din of the temple dogs, goaded almost to madness at Jack's imperturbable bearing. Chinese temples rarely offer much of interest; the construction is usually simple and their treasures are few, but everything is freely shown, there are no dark corners, and the spacious courts gay with flowers are full of charm. The sacred images which they contain are generally grotesque or hideous. Not often does one show a trace of the gracious serenity that marks the traditional representations of Buddha; on the other hand, they are never indecent.

While I was seeing a little of Yunnan-fu and its people, the preparations for my overland trip were

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MY SEDAN CHAIR AND BEARERS

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A MEMORIAL ARCH NEAR YUNNAN-FU


moving forward, thanks chiefly to the kind helpfulness of Mr. Stevenson, of the China Inland Mission. For many years a resident of the province, and wise in the ways of the country and of the country-folk, his advice served me at every turn. Engaging the coolies was of course the matter of chief importance. On them would depend the success of the first stage of my journey, the two and a half or three weeks' trip to Ning-yüan-fu in the Chien-ch'ang valley. A representative of the coolie "hong," or guild, a dignified, substantial-looking man, was brought to the inn by Mr. Stevenson. After looking over my kit carefully (even the dog was "hefted" on the chance he might have to ride at times), he decided the number of coolies necessary. As I wished to travel fast if need came, I threw in another man that the loads might be light. The average load is seventy or eighty catties, a catty equalling about one pound and a quarter. In Yunnan the coolies generally carry on the shoulder, the burden, fairly divided, being suspended from the two ends of a bamboo pole. For myself I had four men, as I had a four-bearer chair, the grandest of all things on the road save the mandarin's chair with its curved poles raising the occupant high above the common herd. At first I did not realize the significance of the number, although I marked the interest with which my interpreter inquired how many bearers I should have. What I did appreciate was the extreme comfort of my travelling arrangements. Seated in my chair, which was open above and enclosed below, and furnished with a water-proof top and with curtains that could be lowered to protect me against sun or rain, wind or importunate curiosity, I felt as though on a throne. Under the seat was a compartment just large enough for dressing-bag, camera, and thermos bottle, while at my feet there was ample room for Jack. For my interpreter there was a two-bearer chair, with which he was vastly discontented, and I, too, had my doubts about it, although our reasons were not the same. He felt it beneath his dignity to travel with two bearers only ; I feared that it was too great a burden for two men, even though the chair was light and the Chinese literatus, small-boned and lacking in muscle, is no heavy burden. Anyway, the arrangement did not work well, and at Ning-yüan-fu the interpreter was provided with a closed chair and three bearers, to his own satisfaction and to mine also, again for different reasons.

A sedan-chair is too luxurious to be long endurable, so I added a pony to our caravan, purchased, from a home-going Dane of the customs service, for forty-four dollars Mexican. The Yunnanese ponies are small and sturdy, and as active as cats. They are all warranted to kick, and mine was no exception. Although he was described as a gentleman's steed, he had the manners of a pack-horse. I doubt if any one of our party escaped the touch of his hoofs, and it was a joy to see him exchange salutations with the ponies we met on the trail. However, he was sure-footed and willing, and although hardly up to so long a trip as mine, yet with care he came out very well at the end. But it required constant watchfulness to make sure that he was properly watered and fed, even though most of the time I took along a coolie for no other purpose save to look after the horse, and lead him when I was not riding. And to the very last it meant an order each time to insure that the girths were loosened and the stirrups tied up when I was out of the saddle. When we started from Yunnan-fu our caravan was made up of thirteen coolies, six chair-men, six baggage-carriers, and a "fu t'ou," or head coolie, whose duty it was to keep the others up to their work, to settle disputes, or to meet any difficulty that arose. In short, he was responsible both to me and to the hong for the carrying-out of the contract which had been duly agreed upon. In my limited experience, the fu t'ou is a great blessing. I found mine capable, reliable men, adroit in smoothing away difficulties and very ready to meet my wishes. As for the contract, that was a serious matter. Each detail was carefully entered in a formidable document, the route, the stages, the number of men, the amount to be paid, and the how and where of payment. The hong had one copy and I another which was handed over to the fu t'ou at the end of the trip, that he might show it to the chief of the hong as proof that he had carried out the contract. Each coolie was to receive $7.00 Mexican, or about $3.50 gold, for his journey from Yunnan-fu to Ning-yüan-fu, reckoned usually as sixteen stages. About one third the amount was to be paid before starting, the remainder in specified sums at stated intervals en route. I had no concern with the men's daily food, but from time to time I was expected to give them "pork money" if they behaved well. It would have been cheaper, I believe, to have hired coolies off the street, but far less satisfactory, for the hong holds itself responsible to you for the behavior of its men. And in their turn the coolies pay a definite percentage of their earnings to the hong.

My stores and bedding and other things were packed in large covered baskets insecurely fastened with padlocks. As time went on, covers became loose and padlocks were knocked off by projecting rocks, but nothing was ever lost or stolen. To keep out wet or vermin I had the baskets lined with Chinese oiled cotton, perishable but cheap, and effective as long as it lasts. Other sheets of the same material were provided for use in the inn. One was laid on the floor and my camp-bed set up in the middle of it, while others were spread over the wooden Chinese beds with which the room was generally well supplied, and on them my clothes, saddle, etc., were placed. When new the oiled cotton has a strong, pungent odour, not pleasant but very effective against vermin.

A most important item was the money to be used on the journey. I had an account with the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank at Shanghai, and wherever there were Europeans it was possible to get checks cashed, but from Yunnan-fu to Ning-yüan, a journey of two and a half weeks or more, I should be quite off the track of foreigners. Fortunately Yunnan is waking up in money matters as well as in other ways, and has a silver coinage of its own; moreover, one that the inhabitants are willing to accept, which is not always the case, as I found later to my cost. With the help of native bankers I was duly furnished with a supply of Yunnan dollars, akin to Mexican dollars in value, and I obtained also some Szechuan coins to use when I entered that province. In addition I became the proud possessor of some seventy dollars in Hupeh money. This I was told would pass anywhere after crossing the Yangtse. When I reached Ning-yüan-fu, however, I found that no one would take it save at a heavy discount. Unwilling to burden myself with it longer, I decided to let the Chinese bankers have it, even though at a loss, but when they discovered that the money was in twenty-cent pieces they would have nothing to do with it at any price. So I carried it some two thousand miles farther, to Hupeh itself. But even there it was not willingly accepted. In the railway offices at Hankow not more than forty cents would be received in small coins. If your ticket cost $10.50, you paid for it in unbroken dollars, giving the railway a chance to unload some of the undesirable change upon you. In the end I found myself reduced to peddling twenty-cent pieces among friends and friends of friends. For small change on my journey I carried rolls of copper cents, while the cook festooned himself with long ropes of copper "cash," about twenty to the American cent.

By the arrangement of the Foreign Office two soldiers were detailed to escort me across Yunnan. It is by the wish of the officials rather than at the traveller's request that this escort is given. The Chinese have learned through an experience not wholly to our credit that injury or even annoyance to the European may bring a punishment quite out of proportion to the harm done; so to avoid difficulties the official is inclined to insist upon sending soldiers with the foreigners passing through his district, and the traveller as a rule perforce accepts the arrangement. If he refuses, he will find it more difficult to secure redress for any loss or in jury suffered. For my part I did not feel inclined to object. The expense is borne by the Government, save for the customary tip, and in more ways than one I found my escort useful. At irregular intervals they were changed. When we reached the end of the last stage for which they were detailed, I gave them my card to carry to the proper local official. This was replied to by sending a new pair bearing the official's card.

Some of the men were old-time soldiers, hardly to be distinguished from yamen runners in their untidy black and scarlet jackets decorated with bold lettering on the back; and their weapons consisted simply of something that might be described as a small sword or a huge carving-knife in a leather sheath. After entering Szechuan I was usually accompanied by quite real soldiers, men of the new service, fairly shipshape in khaki and putties and carrying up-to-date guns. But whether of the old order or of the new, I found the men at all times very courteous and friendly, and ready to do any little service that came their way. It was the duty of one man to stay with me, while the other looked after the baggage coolies. As more at home in the particular district through which we were passing, they were often very helpful to my coolies in pointing out a short cut or in finding our intricate way across the fields. Sometimes one was sent in advance to make sure of the best quarters the village where we were to pass the night could afford, and they often showed great zeal in tidying up the room for my coming. The preparations consisted usually in stirring up the dust of ages on the floor, a proceeding I did not like, and in ruthlessly tearing out the paper that covered the lattice opening, of which I much approved. Glass is rarely seen in West China, and the paper excluded both light and air, but never the gaze of the curious, as a peep-hole was very easily punched. On the march my escort, quick to notice my interest in the flowers, were active in bringing me huge nosegays gathered along the trail, so that my chair was often turned into a gay flowery bower; and they sometimes showed their love for dogs, or perhaps sought to prove their zeal in my service, by picking up Jack and carrying him for the half-hour, to his great disgust, as his sturdy legs were untiring, and equally so was his desire to investigate every nook and corner. "Little fu t'ou," the coolies called him, because of the careful watch he kept for any stragglers of the caravan.

  1. The words "fu" and "chou" and "hsien," attached to so many Chinese place-names, are terms denoting administrative divisions. "Fu" maybe translated prefecture, "chou," department, and "hsien," a district. The towns having these terminations are the headquarters of the respective divisions.