CHAPTER VI (Three Years in Western China)



A Tibetan criminal in a cage—The armed ruffians of Chiung Chou—A floating bamboo bridge—Brick tea for Tibet—Fraternizing with Tibetan pilgrims on the summit of the Flying Dragon Pass—Chinese originality—Over the Ta Hsiang Ling Pass—A non-Chinese race—Across the Ta-tu River under Sifan protection—In the country of the Lolos—Lolo language—Sifan language—Asbestos cloth—A dangerous country—Lolo rogues—Over the Hsiao Hsiang Ling Pass—Lolo women—The valley of Chien-ch'ang—Ning-yuan Fu.

Leaving the city by the south gate and crossing the bridge which spans the river flowing under the wall, we proceeded south-west through the great plain of Ch'êng-tu. Here there is a perfect network of limpid streams and irrigating canals rushing swiftly southwards, and fitted with sluices to ensure the flooding of the plots which in summer and autumn form one vast rice-field. As might be expected, this water-power is not allowed to run to waste; tiny mills for hulling rice and grinding wheat were to be seen on the banks of many of the streamlets. Clumps of bamboo and plantations of fir encircled the farm-houses, and a tree called by the Chinese ching-mu—probably a species of beech—grew extensively along the narrow waterways. It is a tree of rapid growth; it is allowed three years to develop, when it is cut down for firewood and supplanted by a young sapling. The primitive Chinese barrow was much in use in the plain for passenger and other traffic, nor was the squeaking of the wheel absent.


To the south of the small district city of Shuang-liu, we met a party of Tibetans clad in their long, reddish, woollen gowns. They were on foot, but each was leading his pony by the bridle. A few hundred yards behind them was a large, wooden, barred cage, slung on a couple of carrying-poles supported by a pair of bearers. In the chair sat an individual heavily chained, and clothed in even a more pronounced red than his guards. Although I was unable to get at the details of the case, beyond the apparent fact that the gentleman in irons was a criminal being escorted to Ch'êng-tu, yet the method of conveyance told me that he was a criminal of no ordinary type.

Cotton spinning and weaving and the manufacture of looms and iron pans were the chief industries of the plain. At many of the country villages the raw cotton, which comes by water from the central provinces, was being handed to the women, who brought in exchange yarn and cotton cloth of their own spinning and weaving.

Before entering the district city of Hsin-ching, which lies about fifteen miles south by west of Shuang-liu, we had to cross three branches of a river, a tributary of the Min, by wooden bridges of somewhat novel construction. Stones in bamboo baskets were piled on both banks of the river, and on these the ends of the bridges rested. On the stages supporting the floors, similar baskets of stones were suspended, to keep them from being washed away by the rapid current. Pigs' bristles, which, the western farmer will be somewhat surprised to learn, are highly prized as manure, formed an important item of the trade seen on the plain.

From Hsin-ching the road runs west over a fine level tract of country as far as the city of Chiung Chou. I must confess that I felt considerable anxiety in approaching this place. Baron von Richthofen has drawn a very dark picture of it. He says:—"All the men are armed with long knives and use them frequently in their rows. I have passed few cities in China in which I have suffered so much molestation from the people as I did there; and travellers should avoid making night quarters there, as it was my lot to do. The city is large and overcrowded with people. They are badly dressed, and have repulsive features."

It was with the view of ascertaining whether the morals of the people of Chiung Chou had improved since the Baron's visit, and to impress upon the inhabitants, if necessary, the words of their sage Confucius, who preached "How pleasant a thing it is to be able to attract strangers from afar," that I resolved to spend the night of the 1st of March within the walls. I was quite prepared to be greeted by a population of armed ruffians; but, more fortunate than the Baron, I was agreeably disappointed. The people were not more curious than in other towns; and, as for knives, I failed to see any except in the hands of innocent-looking butchers. My writer, however, declared that he saw one young fellow with a knife, but he explained that only the young blades carry such dangerous weapons. I did not observe any one particularly well dressed or good looking, nor, on the other hand, did I see any one with repulsive features. There were beggars and dirt as a matter of course. What I did specially notice, however, was that the place had a very sleepy atmosphere; the whole street of shops, which strikes the main street at right angles and leads to the south gate, remained closed as we left the city early next morning.


Chiung Chou lies on the south-western edge of the Ch'êng-tu plain. A fine stone bridge of fifteen arches spans the river—the Nan Ho—which flows eastwards to the south of the city. It is two hundred and fifty yards long and twenty-four feet broad; at either end there is a stone archway, and on the centre stands a pavilion, whence we caught a glimpse of snow-clad mountains to the west. The piers of the bridge are heavily buttressed. To the south of the river low uplands, well covered with pine, succeed the plain, and stretch with two breaks of valleys, wherein lie the market-town of Pai-chang-ch'ang, or Pai-chang-yi, and the district city of Ming-shan, respectively, as far as the left bank of the Ya Ho. In the Pai-chang valley a stream flows north-east to join a larger affluent of the Min River. Here we met a number of carriers with medicines from Yün-nan. The Chinese pharmacopœia is very comprehensive; tigers' bones and deer's horns are well-known celestial remedies, but dried armadillo skins as a drug had hitherto escaped our ken. Bundles of rush wicks—the pith of the Juncus effusus L.—were also going north in large quantities from the Ming-shan district. The road west of Ch'êng-tu was for the most part unpaved, but to the south of Chiung Chou boulders from the bed of the Nan Ho were laid in glorious disorder on the pathway. Even for the Chinese straw sandal they proved impracticable, and one of my bearers slipped and fell forward on his carrying pole, one of the brass spikes of which pierced his temple. Now, thought I, had the time arrived to display my store of foreign medicines, and I was looking forward to the effect which an application of Friar's Balsam would have on the patient and his comrades, when there was a sudden call for tobacco. My pleadings to be allowed to treat the case were in vain—a handful of cut tobacco was placed over the wound, and all the assistance I was permitted to give was the loan of my handkerchief to bind the head and keep the narcotic in position.

From the low, rising ground to the west of Pai-chang-ch'ang we obtained a good view of the country beyond; dark hills with a snow-clad range in their rear lay before us. The white foamy crest of a huge billow breaking on a darker sea would fairly represent the picture. The Chin-chi pass, two thousand feet above the sea, divides the valley in which Ming-shan is situated from the valley of the Ya Ho. The cultivated terraces on the hill sides which bound the latter were built up with rounded stones and baskets of shingle lying by the left bank indicated that the valley is liable to inundation. We struck the river, which flows east, five miles from Ya-chou Fu, the city on the right bank from which it derives its name. Crossing a tributary by a wooden bridge of seven arches, we were soon face to face with the main river, which we passed over by a floating bridge, the first of its kind I had seen in China. High cones of stones in baskets were piled on both banks, and round these a huge cable of woven split bamboo was wound; bundles of bamboos firmly tied together, about a foot apart, floated on the surface of the water, each bundle being securely fastened to the cable at its up-river end; planks were spread on the bundles to form a roadway; and rails of bamboo ran along both sides of the plankway. The city, which is picturesquely situated on rising ground, has broad streets and possessed, what was indeed a luxury to us, a good inn. It was altogether too tempting, and I determined to take a day's rest, and make some enquiries as to the trade in brick tea, of which it is the centre.


Within and on the borders of the prefecture of Ya-chou, all the brick tea sent to Tibet is prepared. The tea-growing districts, in their order of production, are Jung-ching, Ya-an, and Ti'en-ch'üan Chou. Chiung Chou produces least. On the Mêng-shan Hills, which lie within the Ming-shan district, a tea is grown exclusively for use in the Imperial Palace, and is brought to Ya-chou for transmission to Peking. The estimated total value of the tea grown within the prefecture is one million taels, while the duties collected were given as forty thousand taels. The best tea is picked by hand in the second moon; the coarse tea is picked, or rather cut—a knife is used for the purpose—during the third moon, when leaves and twigs are indiscriminately collected. The growers sell to the tea hongs, fine leaf at from four to five taels per picul (133⅓ lbs.), coarse leaf at about 1•8 taels for the same quantity. Three qualities of tea are prepared, known respectively as "Ku yü," "Mao chien," and "Sui fang," the selling price being two, one and a half, and one mace per catty. The leaf is steamed, and made up into long, narrow, flat packages, having an inner casing of banana leaf, and an outer casing of matting. A package of the finer tea weighs eighteen catties, or twenty-four pounds, while a package of the coarser tea frequently weighs only ten catties, or thirteen and a third pounds. The standard of sale at Ya-chou is the sum of fifty taels, the number of packages that can be bought for this sum varying according to the state of the market.

The total value of the tea trade with Tibet amounts in round numbers to between £150,000 and £200,000. All this tea is carried on the backs of porters, piled on a wooden framework which curves forward over the head, and is thus conveyed from Ya-chou to the town of Ta-chien-lu, near the Tibetan frontier, the journey usually occupying fifteen days. The number of packages in a load varies, of course, according to the quality of the tea. I have counted as many as fourteen packages, but the average load contained from eight to nine. The freight per package between the two places was said to be three hundred cash, but as loads varied as to the number of packages or bricks, and the bricks themselves as to weight, there must be some more satisfactory method of calculation in making payment. Like the salt carriers in Kuei-chow, these porters, whom we counted by hundreds daily to the south of Ya-chou, were wanting in leg, nothing beyond an ordinary development being observable. During their arduous mountain journey they rest frequently and long.

This tea differs altogether from the brick tea prepared in the Russian tea hongs at Hankow. The latter is manufactured from the dust and broken leaf of fine teas into hard, solid bricks, or into thin, ridged cakes, an infusion of which is exceedingly palatable. The Tibetans, on the other hand, eat the leaves churned up with butter, not even a twig being lost.

But the products of the prefecture are not confined to tea; two varieties of drugs are largely exported. They are called Hou p'o and Huang lien. The former is the bark of Magnolia hypoleuca, S. et Z, and the latter consists of the rhizomes of Coptis teeta Wall. The bark of the wild Magnolia being thicker, is preferred to the bark of the cultivated tree and fetches a much higher price. Coal and iron are also mined and worked.


We spent the greater part of the 5th of March struggling in a dense mist along the right bank of a small tributary of the Ya Ho. A pass, called the "Flying Dragon," 3580 feet above the sea, lies between this and a larger tributary of the same river. A long pull over a frightful road brought us to the summit, where we sat down and made friends with a number of Tibetans of both sexes, who were engaged in a pilgrimage to the sacred mountains of Western China. The women were sturdy and good-looking, gaily ornamented with ear-rings and brooches, and had none of that lifelessness and insipidity which characterize their almond-eyed sisters. No mock-modesty debarred them from chaffing and laughing at my European features and dress. Up the west side of the pass scrambled about twenty ponies and mules, panting and blowing; not without sufficient cause, for they were carrying heavy loads of copper from Ning-yuan, and, from Yün-nan, the bark of a species of Rhamnus, which is used for making a green dye.

Are the Chinese wanting in the faculty of invention? It is well known that they will make an exact copy of any pattern that may be supplied to them. A tailor has been known to produce a new coat duly patched to match the exemplar; but the ability of the race to give an original idea to the world has been hotly disputed. I think the water-wheels of Kuei-chow, which I have described in a previous chapter, are novel and ingenious, and south of Ya-chou I saw the water-wheel turned to two skilful and, at the same time, practical uses. A part of the horizontal axle of the wheel was removed, and an iron elbow inserted; to the elbow a long iron rod was attached by an eye; to the lower end of the rod was fixed a polisher, which, as the wheel revolved, was drawn backwards and forwards over the surface of a stone pillar being prepared for building purposes. On exactly the same principle, except that the axle of the wheel was vertical instead of horizontal, the rod was made to blow a blacksmith's bellows.


Descending from the pass, we took up our head-quarters for the night on the right bank of the Jung-ching River, as this tributary of the Ya Ho is called. Great excitement now began to manifest itself among my followers. We were only a day's journey from the foot of the Ta Hsiang Ling Pass, and carriers from Yün-nan, who came to our inn, were cramming them with the difficulties that had to be surmounted. Snow, so they said, was lying deep on the passes, and they had only just managed to get through with their lives. Chinese statements have invariably to be heavily discounted, and the problem as to how far a Chinese believes his most intimate friend has been present with me for many years, and still remains unsolved. Instead of following the hill road along the right bank of the river to the city of Jung-ching, we crossed to the left bank by a ferry a few miles from our night's quarters, and traversed a plain well watered and cultivated. We saw one or two villages on the plain, but they were miserable places, and scarcely a soul was visible as we passed through them. Recrossing the stream by a plank bridge, we soon caught sight of the low stone walls of the city. The universal clanging of the blacksmith's anvil, loudly proclaimed the local industry. Coal and iron are both found in the neighbourhood, and agricultural implements, cooking pans, and crampoons were being hammered into shape. South of Jung-ching the valley contracts, frequently leaving room for the bed of the stream only, and the hills are more precipitous, rocky, and uncultivated. They were not bare, however, for the tea-tree was everywhere prominent.

The village of Huang-ni-p'u lies 1400 feet above the city of Jung-ching, and 5640 feet under the summit of the Ta Hsiang Ling, which was clad with snow. When we awoke on the morning of the 7th of March, we found the whole mountain enveloped in a thick mist, which became denser as we ascended. When we reached the Hsiao Kuan, or Lower Pass (4800 feet), the snow lay thick by the roadside; but all around was buried in white gloom. Huge icicles hung from rocks projecting over the rugged path, and we frequently heard their crashing as they fell, amid the din of roaring torrents, into the depths below. As we ascended, the snow became deeper, increasing from two to three inches above the Lower Pass to a couple of feet. The pathway, which skirts the edges of ravines and precipices, was one continuous mass of slush, snow, and ice—higher up, dry and crisp; and, starting from Huang-ni-p'u at half-past six in the morning, we stood on the summit (9366 feet) at half-past two in the afternoon, having indulged in two short intervals of rest. A stiff, north wind was blowing over the ridge, and I overheard one of the escort duly warning my followers that shouting on the summit would most certainly provoke a storm. For a time not a sound but that of our own footfalls on the crisp snow broke the stillness of the gloomy scene. It became monotonous, and, when I took to snowballing my dog in sheer desperation, my laughter and his joyous barking made them hurry down the southern face of the Pass.

On leaving the clouds, we looked down into a plain shut in by lofty ranges and broken by spurs bounding ravines washed out by mountain torrents. On a plateau in the plain, stands the district city of Ch'ing-ch'i Hsien, nearly four thousand feet below the summit of the Ta Hsiang Ling. Down the plain, which runs almost due north and south, flows a stream, nurtured by the melting snows on the surrounding peaks. The city is of no great size; but it is exceedingly interesting, as being the junction where the main high-road from Tibet to China and the road from Yün-nan by the Chien-ch'ang valley meet. Here we parted with the brick-tea carriers, sorry that it was not our fortune to accompany them to Ta-chien-lu, and attempt the country beyond that famous border town. From Ch'ing-ch'i the road goes south, descending to the bases of the precipitous mountain ranges hemming in a valley, which expands and contracts, and is plentifully strewn with stones and pebbles. Fifteen miles to the south of the city, the road suddenly descends about two hundred feet down into a wider valley. Far below us, we could see the hamlet of Lung-tung, encircled by plots of yellow rape and green wheat and poppy—a real oasis in the white stony valley. This descent leads not only to a new country, but to a new race.


At Lung-tung I noticed a marked difference in the features of the people, especially the women. The faces were sharper and more pointed than the ordinary Chinese type, while the foreheads were exceedingly prominent. There was an undoubted mixture of foreign, probably Sifan, blood. It is a peculiarity of all these non-Chinese races that the women are the last to abandon their national dress, and they cling with tenacity to profuse decoration. The women of Lung-tung backed up their facial distinction with a lavish display of silver ornaments.

For some distance south of the hamlet there was no attempt at cultivation in the stony wilderness; but gradually we found signs of stones having been collected, patches of land dyked, and rivulets diverted for irrigation purposes. Watercress was growing wild in the limpid water. Trees, although not very numerous, were not wanting; the mulberry, orange, red-date, and pear were to be seen. The orange was a tall tree, bearing a small round fruit with a thick wrinkled skin, which reminded me forcibly of a miniature "Buddha's Hand"—Citrus sacrodactylus. Cotton in small quantities was also growing in this valley. Many of the houses were roofed with thin boards weighted with stones, instead of the usual Chinese tiles, and the graves were covered with mounds of rounded stones carefully whitewashed.

The garrison town of Fu-lin, whence a bridle-path leads over the mountains to Ta-chien-lu, lies at no great distance from the left bank of the Ta-tu River, the southern boundary of the valley. In the immediate neighbourhood of the town were a few cultivated patches; but agriculture, to judge from the precautions taken against inundation from the waters of the Liu-sha, which was hurrying down the valley to join the Ta-tu, would appear to be carried on under difficulties. A line of white shingle, running east and west, backed by rising ground, was the only visible indication of the presence of a watercourse, and it was only on reaching the miserable village of Wa-wa, built on a sandbank held together by bushes of luxuriant cactus, that we were able to espy the green waters of the Ta-tu rushing violently eastward in its pebbly bed, to be quickly lost in a gap in the mountains to the south-east. Several forks, into which the river is divided, unite to the west of Wa-wa.


Descending to the ferry, we found ourselves face to face with a pure non-Chinese race. The boatmen, who were tall—one was over six feet—wiry fellows, with level grey eyes, at once fraternized with me and took me under their protection. They were Sifans, and spoke Chinese with a decidedly foreign accent. One of them, with a fearlessness impossible in a Chinese, asked me a few questions in a most respectful manner, and answered with readiness and evident pleasure the queries I put to him regarding the river. To a random question as to its breadth, a Chinese by my side at once answered over a hundred ch'ang, or one thousand Chinese feet, but my protector quietly rebuked him, remarking that one should not answer such a question off-hand, and, after some reflection, said the river was six hundred feet broad. I estimated the breadth at nearly two hundred yards; but it was difficult to fix distances with any accuracy in the presence of mountains which threw everything else into insignificance. The Sifans smiled when I tried to ascertain the depth by plunging a bamboo over the side of the boat in mid river.

Owing to numerous falls and rapids, only rafts can be navigated the entire distance to Chia-ting Fu, where the Ta-tu, after its junction with the Ya Ho, enters the Min. Once a year there is a busy scene on the banks of the Ta-tu River. In the end of April, thousands of carriers have to cross the river at this very spot, with their precious loads of white wax insects from the valley of Chien-ch'ang, on their way to the prefecture of Chia-ting. As delay is injurious to their living freight, they haste and race to be first at the ferry. Crossing the Ta-tu as we did on the 9th of March, we were too early to witness the flight of these carriers, which ceases not night or day. Trade, as we saw it, was of a less exciting nature; copper and pine boards from the south, met cotton and salt from the north.

In the walled town of Ta-shu-pao, less than a mile from the south bank of the river, the fine tall men and sprightly women of an alien race, could, without difficulty, be picked out from the Chinese. They wore white turbans jauntily inclined to one side, and carried themselves with a grace that savoured of independence. The Ta-tu River may be looked upon as the southern limit of the region inhabited by Sifan tribes, and the northern boundary of the Lolo country which stretches southwards to the Yang-tsze and east from the valley of Chien-ch'ang towards the right bank of the Min. I found a few Sifans to the south of the Ta-tu, but they were isolated families who had lost touch with their respective tribes. Amongst the Chinese they have an evil repute for immorality; yet my experience of them, limited as it necessarily was, proved that they possessed certain traits of character which are altogether wanting in the Celestial, or, if not altogether wanting, at least existing in a very rudimentary form only.


One instance will suffice to explain my meaning. I had expressed a wish for a lengthened interview with a Sifan, and, on arrival at P'ing-pa, the second stage south of the Ta-tu, word was brought to me that there was a "tame wild man" in the village. With some difficulty he was induced to come to our inn, the reason of his hesitancy being, as he explained when alone with me in my room, that the Chinese might treat him badly if they knew that he was talking with me. When I had calmed his fears and elicited from him as much information as I could regarding his language, I asked him before leaving to accept a couple of hundred cash for the trouble I had caused him, and as a reward for the knowledge which he had imparted. This he absolutely declined, saying that he had rendered me no service deserving of reward. As, in the course of conversation, he had informed me that his home was in the hills three miles distant, and that he had come to P'ing-pa to make a few purchases, I pointed out to him that, by accepting this trifling sum, he would be able to secure a small present from me to his family. More argument convinced him that there would be no harm in accepting it on this condition, and he left after profuse thanks on behalf of the other members of his household. Would a Chinese have hesitated? I trow not.


South of P'ing-pa we found ourselves fairly in Lolodom. When we were breakfasting at the hamlet of Shuan-ma-ts'ao on the morning of the 11th of March, ten wild-looking fellows suddenly put in an appearance. They were dressed in brown felt woollen cloaks from neck to knee, their legs and feet were tightly bandaged with cotton cloth, they wore straw sandals instead of shoes, and their hair was drawn forward in the shape of a horn, projecting above the forehead and bound with cloth. Each was armed with a long wooden javelin, fitted with a large broad iron arrow-head. Some snatched a hasty meal, while others sharpened their javelins on a stone by the side of the street. We began to think that they had sinister intentions regarding ourselves or our property, but they quickly disappeared in Indian file up a narrow path over the hills to the south-west. Sheep were being driven in the same direction, and these men were probably shepherds preparing to ward off the attacks of wild animals from their flocks. At Hai-t'ang, which we reached after a steep descent, we took up our quarters in a new inn just completed and therefore clean. As the morrow was market-day, we resolved to be present and swell the crowd. Snow fell heavily and somewhat dulled the market, so I induced two out of the living mass of Lolos to come and spend an hour or two with me at the inn. I jotted down their numerals and a few common words, and can thus compare my transcription of the sounds with those taken down by Mr. Baber from Lolos in other parts of the country.

Lolos near Wa-shan. Lolos near Ma-pien. Lolos of Hai-t'ang.

(Mr. Baber.) (Mr. Baber.)

1. Ts'u Tchih Tzŭ

2. Ni Ni Ni

3. Su (or Soa) Su Swa

4. Erh Li Li

5. Ngu Ngu Ngou

6. Fo K'u Hu

7. Shih Shih Shih

8. Shie Hei Hei

9. Gu Gu Gu

10. Tch'ie (or Ts'e) Tch'e Tsei

It will be noticed that, with a very few exceptions, these numerals are almost identical, and it may, without any great stretch of the imagination, be taken for granted that the Lolos speak one language with only slight dialectic differences. Unfortunately, the men whom I met were unable to write—that they have a written language has been distinctly proved—so that I was powerless to assist in deciphering what up to the present moment remains a sealed book.

It will be appropriate in this place to compare the numerals of the Sifans as taken down by different travellers at different places, and the comparison, I think, shows that, as in the case of the Lolos, the Sifan tribes have also one language, with local dialectic variations. My Sifan told me that their written language resembles Tibetan, which is very probably the case.

Sifan of Tzŭ-ta-ti. Sifan of (?) Lu-ku. Sifan of P'ing-pa.

( Mr. Baber.) (Mr. Hodgson.)

1. Tu Ta Ta

2. Nu Na Na

3. Si Si Hsi

4. Jro Rê Ro

5. Ngei Nga Nga

6. Tch'u Tru Ch'u

7. Shun Skwi Shön

8. Jih Zi Ris

9. Ngo Gu Anga

10. Tch'i-tch'i Chê-chi Chei-chei

I agree with Mr. Baber that the sound given by Mr. Hodgson for seven is impossible. The former follows Sir Thomas Wade, who, in transliterating Chinese characters, uses the letter j to represent a semi-r sound; and this will account for the seeming difference, which does not actually exist, in the words for four and eight. To my ear the sound was sufficiently broad to warrant a full r.

White and brown cloaks appeared to be worn indiscriminately by the Lolos, and during the whole of my passage through their country I noticed only one exception, and that was a blue cloak with red fringes. Of this divergence from the usual custom I was unable to find any satisfactory explanation. When we were strolling in the market at Hai-t'ang, several loads of China-root—Pachyma cocos—passed us on the way north. This product is found in great abundance in the hills of Ssŭ-ch'uan, and Yün-nan and is highly esteemed as a medicine.

At Hai-t'ang I thought I had made a discovery that would revolutionize the whole world of dress. On returning from the market to my inn, I caught sight of a piece of cloth of somewhat loose texture in the hands of one of the waiters, and, when examining it, was astonished to learn that, instead of being washed when dirty, it was thrown into the fire, which consumed the dirt and left the material itself intact. Shades of angry washerwomen rose before my mental vision and seemed to curse the age of invention. Nothing deterred, I promptly put the statement to the test, and had the pleasure of seeing the cloth extracted from the fire clean and again ready for use. It was described to me as being manufactured from the fibrous roots of a grass which grows in the gullies of the mountains in the neighbourhood. With that inconsistency which characterises the Chinese, it was called "fire-consuming," not "fire-proof" cloth. Reader, it is sometimes very hard to be rudely undeceived. Must I confess that the only discovery I made was, that asbestos exists in Western Ssŭ-ch'uan? Washerwomen, your career is not yet ended!


An additional escort of Lolos joined us at Hai-t'ang. They wore their national dress, and the petty officer in command was further ornamented with a thin oval brass plate, fixed in his left ear by a brass ring. We left our comfortable quarters to face a snowstorm, and plodded all day through snow and slush half a foot in depth. Garrisons, each supposed to be thirty strong, lined the road at intervals of a mile with guard-houses between. This part of the country, skirting as it does the western border of independent Lolodom, is the scene of frequent Lolo raids, whole caravans—goods, animals, and men—being swept off, and carried into the inaccessible mountains to the east.

Our escorts were now relieved at each garrison, and the men were armed with swords. Just before entering the Yüeh-hsi plain, a soldier pointed out the spot where, a few years previously, an army of five thousand men had invaded Lolodom to punish marauders, and he added that not a man had returned to tell their fate. The buildings on the plain, which runs north-east and south-west, are more like watch-towers than dwelling houses; they have two storeys, but no windows on the ground floor. We saw numbers of Lolos in the city of Yüeh-hsi T'ing, many of them nominally in official employ, though, in reality, salaried hostages for the good behaviour of their tribes. Here our escort was again strengthened, and, when we left the city on the morning of the 15th of March, we were preceded by an army of gaily-dressed soldiers armed with flags, pikes, and halberts. The south of the plain is divided into two valleys by a range of hills; that to the south-east leads to independent Lolodom, where no Chinese dare venture; through the other to the south-west runs the road to Ning-yuan Fu and Yün-nan.

The latter gradually narrows, being bounded on the east by precipitous rocky cliffs, and on the west by sloping heights to a certain extent amenable to cultivation. In the bed of the valley, which is rough and stony, were garrisons and guardhouses fully tenanted. Treble stockades of wooden piles were thrown up round them, but they would be perfectly useless against a determined raid, there being no escape in case of defeat except by steep paths leading up the mountain sides into the country of the Lolos.

During our stay at the small town of Hsiao-shao, which lies at the end of the valley and at the northern entrance of a narrow pass, many of my followers were struck down by fever, and I passed a most uncomfortable night amidst their groans—hardly a suitable preparation for the morrow, when the Hsiao Hsiang Ling Pass had to be surmounted. Here I found that there were rogues even among the Lolos. Soon after our arrival, four ruffian-looking fellows turned up, and announced that they had been deputed to form my Lolo escort next day. I told them that I was much gratified at the forethought of their officials, and asked them to come on the morrow; but they were persistent in their demands for a gratuity beforehand. This I declined, until their persistence became an absolute nuisance, when I was weak enough to make them a small present and trust to their word. Needless to say, they broke it.

Having mounted my sick on ponies, we passed through the south gate of Hsiao-shao and entered the pass, our approach being heralded by a musket-shot from the sentry of the Chinese and Lolo guardhouses, which mark the entrance. A couple of guardhouses could be made out on rocky heights up the pass to the south-west, and their sentries, warned by the report of the musket-shot, could be seen standing out darkly against the snowy mountain behind. The same signal was given by each sentry as we advanced.


Turning south-west, we soon began the actual ascent of the Hsiao Hsiang Ling, which, though less precipitous than the Ta Hsiang Ling, was somewhat troublesome, owing to the greater depth of snow. On the summit, which is 9800 feet above the level of the sea, we were shrouded by a white gloom which entirely hid the surrounding country from our view. The southern slope is gentle, the path, after a short descent, entering a gorge which leads to the garrison town of Têng-hsiang, lying at the feet of lofty mountains and occupying the head of a narrow valley running north and south. Here the soldiery were busy strengthening the walls at the north gate. When we left by the south gate next morning, accompanied by an additional escort of bearers of flags, spears, swords, tridents, and muskets, the peaks of the mountains bounding the valley on the west side were lit by the rising sun, throwing the steep pine-clad sides of the eastern range into gloom. The bed of the valley was wild and uncultivated, but the full bloom of some wild fruit trees helped to brighten the scene and the silence was broken only by the humming of bees in search of food. A range running east and west soon blocks the valley, and the road goes west through the sub-district of Mien-shan till again intercepted, when it turns south-west along the left bank of a branch of the An-ning River. A rocky gorge, with just sufficient room for the stream, then supervenes, and the road is cut out of the solid rock to within a short distance of the town of Lu-ku, which lies close to the north-eastern corner of the great plain of Ning-yuan.

While we were watching the cormorant fishers at the point where the stream leaves the gorge, a bevy of Lolo women, who had been marketing at Lu-ku, came up, and afforded us the rare opportunity of a close inspection. They were chatting and laughing on the way back to their mountain homes. They wore large round caps of black cloth, à la "Tam O' Shanter," short jackets, and petticoats just long enough not to conceal their bare feet. A pink strip let into the skirt in front from waist to foot seemed to be the fashion. Their bodices were fastened at the neck by embroidered collars decked with silver ornaments and clasps. Most of them were pretty, but some suffered from loss and decay of the front teeth. They might, without any great stretch of the imagination, have been taken for a group of Italian peasant women.


On the morning of the 18th of March we left Lu-ku, and, ascending a low plateau, found ourselves on an immense plain stretching southwards. The stream which flows by the town is joined, a little to the west, by another from the north, and the two combined form the An-ning River, which goes south down the plain and enters the Ta-ch'ung or Ya-lung, a large tributary of the Yang-tsze, or, as it is here called, the Chin Chiang—the "Golden River." Only about twenty miles now separated us from the prefectural city, but, owing to the sickness of my followers, who were happily beginning to recover in the face of the southern breezes blowing the very breath of life into their fevered and toil-worn frames, we had to divide the distance over a couple of days. Early in the afternoon of the 19th of March, we crossed the last spur which projects into the plain from the hills which form its eastern boundary and, passing through the beautifully cultivated and well-wooded gardens in the suburbs and then through a busy thoroughfare alive with pack-animals laden with long hollow cones of salt, we entered the west gate of Ning-yuan, more generally known in Western China as Chien-ch'ang Fu.

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