The Chinese Empire. A General & Missionary Survey/The Province of Yunnan

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By the Rev. John M'Carthy, China Inland Mission.

The province of Yunnan (Cloudy South) is situated in the south-western corner of China proper, and borders on both English and French possessions in Burmah and Tonkin. It possesses an area of 146,680 square miles, with an estimated population of 12,000,000, or the same as Mexico. Being so far removed from the busy sea-bound provinces, and not being in the way of the ordinary traveller, it does not occupy so much of the thought and effort of the Christian Church as its importance would warrant. And yet there is hardly any part of China that has a more exciting ancient history.

It is generally accepted that the inhabitants of this province originally came through Burma from Hindustan. The name given to the district when first mentioned in Chinese history—during the Chau dynasty, 1122-255 B.C.—was Shan-tsan. No particulars are given, the name only being mentioned. It seems to have been afterwards divided into six princedoms, until in the seventh century one prince obtained supreme control. Frequent attacks were made upon these people by their neighbours from the north and east, and during more than a thousand years the aborigines fought desperately with the Chinese for life and home.

Through all these years the people seem to have been able to maintain their independence until A.D. 1252, when Kublai Khan subdued the province, since which time it has been under Imperial rule.

There are to-day many places in Yunnan which mark the campaigns of Mang-cu-ko, a celebrated Imperial General about A.D. 230-40, and in Yunnan Fu there is a memorial temple erected to his memory.

Near the Hsia-kuan, at Tali Fu, there is a "myriad-grave" of Chinese soldiers who fell in the seventh century; and west of Tali Fu is also a Tartar "myriad-grave" to the memory of those who died during Kublai Khan's expeditions. Here people pray for the restoration of their sick.

Without dwelling upon the various risings which took place until the final conquest of Yunnan by the Chinese, reference should be made to a Mohammedan rebellion which was only subdued some thirty years ago. The rebels were most powerful in the western part of the province, and indeed for several years a Mohammedan prince ruled over a good part of Westeen Yunnan, having his seat of government in Tali Fu.

With regard to these Mohammedans it may be interesting to quote the remarks of a very intelligent and reliable observer—the late E. Colborne Baber, Esq., of H.M. Legation in China—who during wide travels in Western China, and a prolonged residence in Szechwan, had unusual opportunities of forming correct conclusions on the matters about which he wrote. He says:—

"The Mohammedans of Yunnan are precisely the same race as their Confucianist and Buddhist countrymen; and it is even doubtful if they are Mohammedans, except so far as they profess an abomination of pork. They do not practise circumcision, though I am not sure if that rite is indispensable; they do not observe the Sabbath, are unacquainted with the language of Islam, do not turn to Mecca to pray, and profess none of the fire-and-sword spirit of propagandism." He also quotes the opinion of an Indian native officer who accompanied Dr. Andersen's expedition to Tali at an earlier period—"who frequently lamented the laxity that prevailed amongst them," and asserted that they were "no Mussulmans."

This rebellion was finally repressed with the most fearful brutality. The city of Tali was taken by treachery. When the Mohammedans had surrendered and given up their arms, the so-called Sultan came into the Imperial Camp and asked to see the Commander. On being introduced he begged for a cup of water. He then said that he had "nothing to ask but this—'Spare the people' "; then drinking the water he almost immediately expired, he having already taken poison. His head was at once struck off and exposed, and, heedless of his prayers, the victors proceeded to massacre the helpless garrison and town folk.

After the fall of Tali Fu the rebellion was gradually suppressed in other places; the majority of the rebels that remained being glad to become loyal subjects when they had the opportunity of doing so. The ruins, still to be seen in many parts of the province, tell the sad tale of how fearful the struggle must have been, and with the exception of the capital, Yunnan Fu, the province has not even yet recovered its former prosperity. There is little doubt but that the evident sympathy shown to the Mohammedan Pretender by the British and others during the rebellion has not tended at all to promote good feeling towards the foreigner on the part of the Chinese authorities in the province.

The province has sometimes been called "the Switzerland of China," being very mountainous, especially in the west and north. The mountains west of the city of Tali are 8000 feet above the city, and as the city stands 6500 feet above the sea level, the highest peaks of these mountains compare favourably with Mont Blanc. At Likiang, some distance north of Tali Eu, there is snow on the mountains all the year round. To the east of this latter city there is a beautiful lake, which is some 35 miles long and about 7 miles wide. Like the Sea of Galilee, it is subject to sudden squalls of wind, which come down with great force from the mountains on the west of the city, and make navigation at times extremely dangerous.

South of the city of Yunnan Fu there is another fine lake (these are called "seas" by the people), 40 miles long and from 5 to 8 miles wide. There are also many smaller lakes throughout the province.

Among the principal rivers are the Upper Yangtse, the Salwen, the Mekong, and the Red River. None of these, except perhaps the last, are of any value in the province for navigation.

Among the Chinese the province has been proverbial for its rich mines of gold, silver, copper, iron, and lead, and if put under proper supervision, with the employment of modern machinery, all this mineral wealth might become a source of great profit to the province, and indeed to the Empire. As at present managed, however, the public benefit is infinitesimal. Salt wells also are found in many places, also coal.

Arrangements have been made between the Chinese and the French Governments for a line of railway to join Tonkin and Yunnan Fu. The work is going forward, but the unhealthiness of the route near the Tonkin border has been a hindrance. It has been difficult to get labourers who can stand the climate. It is also reported that there is to be a private short line of railway from Bhamo to Tengyueh, and thus avoid the old caravan road through the Ku-ch'in Hills, and facilitate the transport of goods from Burmah into this part of China. While the difficulties of engineering such a railway could doubtless be overcome, the mountainous character of the country cannot but make its construction very expensive.

The climate of Yunnan is very equable, as most of the plains, especially in the central part of the province, are from 5000 to 7000 feet above sea-level. Thus the temperature in the summer does not often exceed 86° in the shade, and in winter there is seldom much snow in the plains, except in the eastern parts on the borders of Kweichow. Here the winters are more severe and the snow lasts longer. As a rule the rainy season commences in June and lasts till the end of August, and sometimes into September. At the beginning of the rains the rice is planted, and reaped about October. In the dry or winter season opium, wheat, and beans of various kinds are grown.

The healthiness of the greater part of the province, especially in its western section, has been emphasised by Captain Eyder—who has for long been occupied in surveying a great part of the province—in a paper read before the Geographical Society in London; his idea being that in the future this part of Yunnan may become the sanatorium for Burmah and Tonkin.

The quantity of opium grown is increasing yearly, and it is considered to be of a very good quality. The foreign drug is not generally used, except when brought in by officials for their own private consumption. The continually increasing growth of the poppy naturally leads to the greater use of the drug by the people, and their consequent deterioration. The ordinary Yunnanese, from whatever cause, is the most lethargic specimen of humanity that could well be imagined. Nothing seems to move him, not even the desire to make money, which is supposed to be such a distinctive characteristic of the Chinese in other parts of the Empire. Among the majority of workmen the general feeling seems to be—if you get enough for food and opium by half a day's work, why distress yourself by labouring the whole day! There can be little doubt but that the lazy, listless attitude of the mass of the inhabitants may be largely attributed to the widespread prevalence of opium eating and smoking. One grievance often referred to by the people is, that while Indian opium is allowed to enter China, Yunnan opium is not allowed to enter Burmah—though nevertheless much is smuggled into that country.

With regard to the people themselves, in addition to the Chinese—many of whom are immigrants from Szechwan, Hunan, Hupeh, and other provinces, even as far east as Kiangsu—there is a large number of the aboriginal tribes—some say between fifty and sixty—spread over the province. Some of these are only found, in any number, in the east. They have all distinct dialects, and some say distinct
The Chinese empire- a general and missionary survey (1907) (14781731484).jpg

An Aboriginese Festival.

The top picture shows some of the men engaged in a dance. The bottom picture shows the primitive musical instrument—a kind of wind-pipe organ—which they use.

languages. It is more likely that many of these tribes are only different branches of the same original families, and that many dialectic differences are only differences of the same original tongue. This is the decision arrived at by F. S. A. Bourne, Esq., a Consular Agent who was specially detailed to acquire information for the British Government in the district where these tribes are found in greatest numbers. In his report to the British Government, he says: "There is no family of the human race—certainly no family with such claims to consideration—of whom so little is accurately known as of the non-Chinese races of Southern China. This is in great measure due to the perfect maze of senseless names taken from the Chinese in which the subject is involved. There is a catalogue of 141 classes of aborigines, each with a separate name and illustration, without any attempt to arrive at a broader classification. It appeared to the writer that before these tribes could be scientifically assigned by etymologists, they must be reduced to order among themselves, and that something might be done in that direction by taking a short vocabulary[1] and obtaining its equivalent in the dialect of every tribe met, when a comparison would reveal afiinities and differences. The twenty-two vocabularies that follow are the result.[2] A comparison of these vocabularies and a study of Chinese books (especially the Yunnan Topography) has led to the conviction that, exclusive of the Tibetans (including the Si-fan and Ku-tsong), there are but three great non-Chinese races in Southern China: the Lo-lo, the Shan, and the Miao-tse."

If this can be fully substantiated, it would be a rather comforting consideration, as it is evident that in that case a thorough knowledge of these three languages would give ample facilities for evangelising these various tribes. The barest reference only can be made to these families of tribes, as to give information of any value as to their history and manners and customs would require a separate paper for each one.

The Shans.—The main body of the Shan people inhabits the valley of the Salwen, and the country as far as the Mekong eastward and the Irrawaddy westward. They are found to the north as far as Tengyueh Ting, where they occupy the whole of the Taiping Valley. Within the Chinese borders they are governed by their own hereditary chieftains, subject to Chinese officials. They call themselves the "Tai" family, and are a peaceable and industrious people. Most of them are ardent Buddhists; but some are found who worship "Nats" or demons, like their neighbours the Kah-ch'ins.

The Shan tribes stretch south and west into Burmah. Those in Burmah are well known, and a good deal of Christian effort has been put forth for their benefit. The Scriptures and other books have been translated into their language by the missionaries of the American Baptist Mission. Nothing has yet been done for these people dwelling within the Chinese border, though they are quite accessible.

The Ming-kia tribes, whose principal location is in the Tali plain, and on towards the Yungchang Prefecture, are generally considered to be allied in race to the Shans.

The Lo-lo.—The old Chinese name for the Lo-lo race was "Ts'uan" (barbarian), a name taken from one of their chiefs. Where the Lo-lo come from is not yet decided, but their present habitat is well defined. In the great bend of the Yangtse river, in long. 103° east, between that river and the Anning river, the Lo-los are at home. This country, occupied by the independent Lo-los, covers an area of 11,000 square miles, and is called "Liang-shan" or " Ta-liang shan " (Great Ridge Mountains). This designation does not mean any particular peak or peaks, or special range, but applies to the whole Lo-lo region, a district mountainous throughout, and containing a few summits which reach the limits of perpetual snow. Thus they live in independence of China under their own tribal chiefs. Thence they extend in a scattered manner as far north as lat. 31° 15', long. 103° 30' east. To the west they extend to the Mekong river. To the south they are found occupying here and there the higher ground. To the east they are found as far as Kweiyang in the Kweichow province. They seem to be more numerous as Ta-liang-shan, their present home, is approached, and form much of the largest part of the population in North-Eastern Yunnan and North-Western Kweichow.

The Miao-tse.—These are the ancient lords of the soil in Kweichow and Western Hunan. Indeed, Kweichow has been for ages the battlefield between the Aborigines and the Imperialists. Some of these tribes have passed over the borders of the north-western part of Kweichow, and now inhabit the north-eastern part of the Yunnan province, not far from Chaotung Fu. There may be other families residing in other parts of the province, but the main body of this people seems to be gathered in the district indicated. The tribes of Miao-tse are designated by the Chinese as "Black," "Magpie," etc., according to the dress, generally, of the women. Being rather shy, they are usually found off the main roads, and so it has been difficult to get to know much about them, except in the south-eastern part of Kweichow, where they are more numerous.

Mr. Pollard of the Bible Christian Mission has been able of late years to gain an entrance among the Miao-tse of this province, and already has a large and interesting work among them.[3] Hundreds have been received into Church fellowship.

There is also a large work going on at Anshuen Fu, in the Kweichow province, among the same people,[4] where Mr. Adam of the China Inland Mission has had much encouragement in the work. It will soon be easier to get much interesting information about their history, manners, and customs.

In addition to these three families of tribes whose representatives are to be found in this province, there are also several of Tibetan origin in the west who are quite accessible. Among these are the Tibetans, pure and simple, the Si-fan, the Ku-tsong, and the Ka-ch'in tribes. These latter inhabit the hills between the Shan country and Burmah. Among the Burmese Ka-ch'ins, the American Baptist missionaries are carrying on a good work, but the Chinese Ka-ch'ins, as well as the Chinese Shans and the other border tribes, are still outside the pale of any effort for their temporal or spiritual benefits.

Missions.—There are only two Missions having workers in this wide field: the China Inland Mission and the Bible Christian Mission. The Bible Christian Mission commenced their work in association with the China Inland Mission, and are now working in the districts in the Prefectures of Tungchwan and Chaotung, and, as already mentioned, have lately opened work among the Miao-tse in the neighbourhood of the latter Prefecture. Their two main stations were opened in 1887 and 1891.

The first distinct effort made for the benefit of the Yunnan province by the China Inland Mission was made in 1875, when a work was commenced in Bhamo in Upper Burmah by the Rev. J. W. Stevenson and Mr. (now Dr.) H. Soltau—not only for the preaching of the Gospel to Chinese residents and traders, but also to establish a station which should form a base for missionary effort for the province of Yunnan. Although for many years the disturbed condition of the border districts between Burmah and China prevented the effective carrying out of this latter intention, there is little doubt but that the opening of the station has done much to call attention to the needs of this province, and to stimulate the further efforts that have been made since within its borders. This station is still occupied, and now that free access is secured by the occupation of Upper Burmah by the British, it is likely to be of more value to the work in Yunnan than ever before. This will be all the more certain if the small line of railway between Bhamo and Tengyueh, already referred to, is really completed.

It is an interesting fact, which should be had in grateful remembrance, that the opening of the whole of Western China—Yunnan included—to Gospel work, was accomplished, under God, in consequence of the murder of a Christian Civil Officer of the British Government. In the last letter written by him to his family at home, Mr. Margary spoke of his own trust in God and in Christ his Saviour, and of his desire that prayer should be offered by his Christian friends in England that his journey on Government matters to Burmah should tend in some way to the opening up of those wide provinces, through which he was passing, to the preaching of the Gospel.[5]

It will be remembered that Mr. Margary travelled safely through to Burmah, and joined the expedition that was then awaiting his arrival to escort it into China. Among the Ka-ch'in Hills the party were attacked, and, it was said, by wild hill tribesmen. Mr. Margary going forward to find out the cause of trouble was, when alone, murdered at Manwyne. By the Chefoo Convention, which followed, the Chinese Government agreed, among other things, to the issue of an Imperial proclamation, to be circulated all over the eighteen provinces, making it widely known that foreigners had the right to travel everywhere in China.

Members of the China Inland Mission, who had been specially preparing for widespread evangelisation, had thus a very favourable opportunity given them to initiate those itinerations that have resulted in the opening up of permanent work in all these western provinces.

In the year 1877 the writer of this paper started on a journey from Shanghai to Bhamo, the latter place being reached without difficulty of any kind. The journey was made in company of a Christian Chinese friend and a couple of coolies who carried the few absolutely necessary things. As the distance from Chungking to Bhamo was performed on foot, and the traveller was each day, and all the day, before the people, who were uniformly kind and friendly, the question of the possibility of missionary residence in Yunnan province was settled in the only satisfactory way it could have been settled at the time.[6]

Another evidence of the goodwill of the people of Yunnan was afforded by the safe arrival, shortly afterwards, in Bhamo of Dr. Cameron of the China Inland Mission. Having travelled west in Szechwan, he entered Yunnan from the north, and, passing Tali Fu, he made his way through Yungchang Fu, Tengyueh, and the Shan States into Burmah. Everywhere he found the people kind and obliging, and by no means antagonistic to the presence of foreigners. Though at that time the British Government would not allow any one to cross from Burmah to China, at a later period the return journey from Bhamo to Shanghai was accomplished by Mr. Stevenson and Mr. Henry Soltau.

No station, however, was opened in the province until 1881, when Mr. George Clark was enabled to secure premises and begin missionary work in the prefectural city of Tali. Yunnan Fu, the capital of the province, was opened in 1882; Kutsing Fu, in the more eastern part of the province, being opened for work in 1886, and Pingyi Hsien, within a day of the Kweichow border and on the road to Anshuen Fu in Kweichow province, was opened for permanent Mission work in 1904.

Much has been done from these various centres during the years since they were opened. Many wide itinerations have been made over various parts of the province, although the results hitherto have been rather discouraging.

Since the reopening of the work in the province in 1901, after the Boxer rising in China, the word, "In due season we shall reap if we faint not," seems to be to some extent in course of fulfilment. This has been due, no doubt, to the increase of prayer which has been called forth for the work in every part of China by the dreadful experiences of 1900. There is certainly a greater willingness on the part of the people to hear the Word preached and to welcome friendly intercourse.

At present there are five centres which are being worked by the members of the China Inland Mission: Bhamo, opened in 1875; Tali Fu, opened in 1881; Yunnan Fu, opened in 1882; Kutsing Fu, opened in 1886; and Pingyi Hsien, opened in 1904.

The conformation of the country renders it necessary that a number of other centres should be opened if there is to be any widespread evangelisation of the province, for the mass of the population reside in plains which are divided from each other by high hills or mountain ranges. Thus a great deal of valuable time and strength are necessarily wasted in efforts to itinerate from one plain to another, and the work done in one of these plains cannot affect the people in another.

It is desirable that medical missionary work should be largely increased; indeed the ideal plan would be to have a medical missionary for each large centre. At present the China Inland Mission has only one medical missionary for the whole province ! When it is remembered that it takes twenty days of travel to reach Tali from Bhamo, that from Tali to Yunnan Fu would need thirteen days, and five more days would be needed to reach Kutsing Fu from Yunnan Fu, it will be seen how impossible it would be for the medical man to do more than attend to those who come to him for advice in his own district.

There is also special need for the work of Christian women. No prosperous work can be looked for if the mothers and daughters are neglected, and this can only be accomplished by Christian women. The need for such workers will be evident when it is mentioned that for more than a year there has been only one unmarried lady and only three married ladies for all the women for whom the China Inland Mission is responsible in the province. There is certainly sufficient reason here for praying the Lord of the Harvest to send more labourers into His Harvest.

Special prayer is now being offered for the opening of two more stations between Yunnan Fu and Tali Fu on the way to Bhamo. Most of the market towns in the Tsu-hsiong Prefecture have been visited by Mr. Sanders during his itinerations some years ago. Yungchang Fu, eight days' journey west of Tali, might have been the China Inland Mission's first station in the province if the writer had had money enough with him in 1877, or if he could have remained there when he passed through on his way to Burmah, for a house was offered for rental at that time. Although he hoped to get money in Bhamo and return within a reasonable time, the way back into China was barred by the British Government.

Yungchang Fu is situated in a plain more than 20 English miles long and from 6 to 8 miles broad, with many market towns and villages, the whole plain almost being under cultivation. Tengyueh Ting is really an open port, where any foreigners have the right to reside and trade. There is a British Consul located there and an Imperial Commissioner of Chinese Customs with his staff. Being on the edge of the Chinese Shan States, it would not only be a good centre for the plain in which it is situated, but would also be a good place from which to begin work among the Shan tribes that lie between Tengyueh and Manwyne, where Mr. Margary met his death. One has often thought that a Gospel Hall in this latter town would be a most fitting memorial to Mr. Margary 's memory.

  1. See Appendix I.
  2. See China, No. 1, 1888.
  3. See Bible Christian Magazine for November 1906. Mr. Pollard has already prepared a small primer for their use, and translated the Gospel of Mark into their language.
  4. See p. 251 et seq. Also A Modern Pentecost. Morgan and Scott. 3d. net.
  5. The writer of this paper has had this statement from Mr. Margary's own mother. Mr. Margary's prayers, though not answered as he may have expected, have been most certainly granted.
  6. For a full account of this journey see a paper read by Mr. M'Carthy before the Royal Geographical Society, and published in the Royal Geographical Society's Magazine for August 1879.—Ed.