The Shadow of the Gloomy East/Chapter 9

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The Bold Industry

THERE is another "free profession" of the same kind pursued to this very day in the Far East of Russia. In former times—some twenty or twenty-five years ago—many men were actively engaged in it, who now, or whose sons, belong to the richest classes of the cities of the Far East.

In the early spring numerous bands of Koreans and Chinese travel from Korea and China to the countries of Ussuri and Amur. These are the poorest of the poor inhabitants of the "country of the sad dusks" (Korea) and the Sun State (China). Some of these newcomers obtain work in the local coal or gold mines, others as dockers in the ports of Vladivostok and Nikolayevsk on the Amur, some are engaged as labourers by the peasants and Cossacks of Ussuri and Amur. But a certain number of the most enterprising and the most energetic men who thus find themselves thrown upon their own resources in the virgin forests where the Amur tiger reigns supreme, search for gold and precious stones in the unknown beds of the mountain rivers and streams, or wander over the hills of the Sihota-Alm mountains searching for the priceless, miraculous medical root, Jensheng, which is paid its weight in gold. Sometimes the enterprising roamers succeed in trapping a few beautiful, almost black sables, martens, or even beavers, which have still their settlements in the rocky folds of the mountains. In such hard work, in perpetual danger from the savage criminals who escape from hard labour in Saghalien, or the tiger, lord of the wilderness, passes the life of the Chinese or the Korean.

The summer and half of the autumn gone, the yellow guests begin the return home. Their paths are as well known as the course of the migratory swans and storks who flit before the winter comes. And all the roads trodden by the yellow travellers, who are burdened with their booty, are infested by Russians. The migrants are usually clothed in white, the Korean colour, which helps to conceal them in their surroundings of snow. The Russians go in for "the daring industry" or the "white swan hunt" armed with rifles. A bullet finds the traveller in his disguise. The robber escapes unpunished, leaving the dead body of his victim a prey to wild beasts. Nor does the thought disturb him that on the far-off Eastern coast there is a family awaiting the return of a husband or father, on whose courageous searches for gold or Jensheng in the mysterious and dangerous wilderness of the mainland depend their life and existence.

A great number of men in the Far East enriched themselves in this way. At present the "white swan hunt" is being pursued by the peasants near the lake Chanka, which is the junction of many converging paths of the yellow prospectors, who usually go down the river from Sungach to the frontier of Mongolia. Besides the peasants, the Cossacks indulge In this unpunished crime as a matter of profession.