Heinrich Handel-Mazzetti: [A Botanical Pioneer In South West China] - Handel -Mazzetti's Foreword

Handel -Mazzetti's Foreword

It was in the eighteen eighties that the French missionary Delavay sent back to Europe the first collections of plants from Yunnan, one of the remotest and at that time least accessible provinces of China. Nearly half the species he collected proved new to science and it soon became clear that his work had opened up a unique floral region, richer perhaps than any area of comparable extent in the world. This profusion of species has several causes, among them the configuration of the land itself, of great interest to geographers as well as botanists; the deeply cut river valleys between the lofty mountain chains, which are a continuation of the Himalaya though bent round to the north and south; its location in the middle of an area in which so many large genera have evolved; and the direction of the mountain chains, which allowed plants to migrate to warmer climes during the ice ages and hence escape extinction. The great beauty of many of the plants and the similarity of the mountain climate to that of Central Europe roused the interest of gardeners and encouraged patrons of horticulture to send their collectors to carry on Delavay's work. The successes achieved by George Forrest were no doubt among the reasons that persuaded the Austro-Hungarian Dendrological Society at the end of 1913 to send their general secretary Camillo Schneider to Yunnan for a year with similar objectives. To broaden the scope of the expedition the Academy of Sciences in Vienna gave financial support to enable me to participate and, my return being prevented by the outbreak of war, continued to finance me for a further four and a half years. Three of these years were devoted to Yunnan and south-west Sichuan and the last two to Guizhou and Hunan.

Although I travelled as a botanist and was fully occupied by my own work, in this book I have tried to outline my observations in other branches of knowledge. The geological structure and unique characteristics of south west China cannot fail to make an impression on the traveller, more especially as a botanist with an interest in plant geography must pay some regard to geology and will regard cartographical surveying as a routine duty. However, I have confined myself to Nature and her works, among which may be counted primitive man and his activities.

In the map(1) I have endeavoured to incorporate the latest topographical surveys and in particular to give a correct picture of the relief, which is not satisfactorily depicted in any of the current maps. My map is based on Davies' map(2) for the western parts and Stieler's Hand Atlas for the eastern. The course of the Yangzi Jiang(3) from Tsilidjiang (Qilijiang) to Suifu (Yibin) is taken from Audemard(4) . Further information was gleaned from Legendre's(5) and Bacot's(6) maps, while my own surveys showed the need for certain amendments near the Lijiang loop and for redrawing the map of the mountainous country of Zhongdian, also from Yongning to Yongshen, and from the upper Nu Jiang (Salwe-en) to the Irrawaddy. In the east some revision is needed in the remoter areas through which I journeyed. From longitude 103° to 110", however, I traversed the country only once and in a more or less straight line, and here I can give only a sketchy impression of the terrain outside my route(7). All the Latin names of the plants mentioned in the book are based on scientific identification of the collected herbarium material, which has been deposited in the Botanical Institute of Vienna University.

Books on China usually contain information on art, shooting, sport and such matters. The reader will find little of that kind, and if ethnographers feel that their interests have been neglected let them remember that a botanist spends most of his time far from human habitations, and when he returns from the field he is fully occupied in pressing and preserving the plants he has gathered. Nevertheless, I have recorded all observations that might be of value, briefly, factually and without comment. I must apologise to those readers who feel that my account gives a somewhat jaundiced view of the Chinese people. The war and its aftermath have convinced many thinkers of the utter wickedness of the entire white race and have prompted them to look elsewhere in the hope of finding something better — conceivably among the Indians. But I am not a historian and even if I were I could not allow myself to be deceived by the faded glories of such a iand as China, where the seamy side of life nowadays predominates; in the Far East the boundary between history and fable is in any case extremely blurred and indistinct.

Looking back, one remembers the enjoyment and forgets the hardships such as the food, which was sometimes revolting, or the unending toil in the rainy season, which is the botanist's busiest time because most of the plants flower in those monsoon months. It was my great good fortune to be free — far freer than anyone at home in Austria during those unhappy years. I set my own tasks; to fulfil them in the iropical luxuriance of mist-wreathed forests, on the soft carpets of the world's most gorgeous floral meadows and on the flower-spangled pastures and ridges of snow-crowned mountains twice the size of our own was indeed the greatest imaginable delight. Never have I been more acutely aware of the joy of freedom than in those days, when mounted on a splendid horse high above the dusty ground and far from the wretched doings of mankind, I rode through unexplored country admiring and recording the splendours of Nature.

Successful work in a foreign country by one ignorant of the language is impracticable without the help of Europeans resident there, and such help was granted to me in abundant measure. I have expressed my heartfelt thanks in the pages of this book. But during the preparations and after my return there were many who showed their goodwill in the form of active assistance. To them I am deeply grateful, as I am to the numerous specialists who guided and advised me during the scientific work on the collections, though that falls outside the scope of this book. Our Ambassador in Peking, Dr A. von Rosthom(8), not only granted aid through diplomatic channels, but lent money and gave unstinting help in translating the notes made by my collector after I had left China, and in the transcription of Chinese names.(9) Camillo Schneider kindly provided two photographs (Figs. 20 & 43, not reproduced in this edition). My deepest thanks, however, are due to the Academy of Sciences in Vienna, who financed my travel, and to my teacher. Professor R. Wettstein, who sponsored my application. To his unremitting support throughout my absence I undoubtedly owe my life and health.

I submit this account of my travels to the public in the hope that a feilow-feeling for nature will persuade my readers to overlook the shortcomings in text and illustrations.

Vienna, May 1926


(1) The first edition (1927) includes a coloured map at a scale ol 1:2,500,000 covering all his travels in China.

(2) Davies, Major H.R., Yün-nan - the Link Between India and the Yangtze, Cambridge University Press, 1909

(3) The Yangzi Jiang, commonly known in English as the Yangtze river, is normally called Chang Jiang in Chinese (S.G.H.).

(4) La Geographie XXIV.

(5) See footnote on page 3.

(6) Le Tibet révolté 1909.

(7) For details see: Handel-Mazzetti, H., Neue Aufnahmen in NW-Yünnan und S-Setschuan Denkschriften der Akademie der Wissenschaflen in Wien, Vol. 97. also Vol 100 (Hunan) and Kartographische Zeitschrift, Vol. 101 (Guidschou).

(8) In 1891, while serving in the Chinese Maritime Customs, Rosthorn travelled in Tibet from Kwanhsien via Mungkungtung, Fupien, Rumitscnango. Maoniu. Gala, and Tatsienlj. He was the lirst European lo explore this route. Potanin [ravelled it two years later and Isabella Bishop in the reverse direction in 1896.

(9) Handel- Mazzetti's method for transcribing Chinese place names was based on the German phonetic system In this edition all names have been transcribed into the Pinyin system by Mr Stephen G. Haw. A glossary of place names in Handel- Mazzetti's version and in Pinyin is provided.

[Translator's preface]