Heinrich Handel-Mazzetti: [A Botanical Pioneer In South West China] - chapter 3


Chapter 4. In the Land of the Black Yi

Trade goods — bog meadows of the Ziliba pass — landscape of Daliang Shan — feuds — an opium commissioner — a hot spring — remnants of the primaeval forest of Suosuo Liangzi — distant views

In Xichang the bishop had meanwhile been making arrangements for our journey to the "independent" Yi (Lolo) in the Daliang Shan range. Tlie Chinese called them "black-boned" (Hei Yi) and feared them like the plague, and among Europeans they have had a bad reputation since the murder of the English traveller Brooke [note #13:John Weston Brooke 1880-1908. In 1908, accompanied by two friends, Lieutenant Brooke slipped out of Ningyuen (Xichang) and travelled northeast to Chao-choh (Zhaojue). There they met a friendly chieftain and were passed on from one tribe to the next. On 24th December, while discussing payment for passing through a chief's land, Brooke "in a friendly way laid his hand on the chief's shoulder..." Touching was a deadly insult among the Lolo. The chief drew his sword and struck a blow at Brooke, who parried with his arm. He drew his revolver and shot the chief, but the tribesmen killed him on the spot. Fergusson, W.N. Adventure, Sport and Travel on the Tibetan Steppes. London,1911.], though he admittedly [p.18:] tried to force his way into their territory without proper preparation or the necessary experience. The Chinese ventured into Yi country only by special agreement and then only singly, but a few years earlier after many fruitless attempts they had succeeded with the aid of the Naxi people of Guabi in establishing an official with a small garrison at Zhaojue, some 50km east-north-east of Xichang, and made safe the road between them. We chose this route for our visit because we had not much time to spare and because it was still unmapped, although three Europeans, to say nothing of the missionaries, had already travelled it As the Yi did not use money we took goods for barter, including cloth, ribbons, salt and a small cask of rice spirit, though as soon became evident someone had forgotten die tap. As they were said to be extremely covetous of guns, we thought it wiser to leave our rifles in Xichang, and we gladly dispensed with our escort, who would in any case have been useless. We set out on 20th April taking with us, apart from a few of our own men, only one extra, a "white" Yi (Bai Yi) from the mission staff as interpreter, since the black Yi spoke no more than a few words of Chinese.

The Daliang Shan ("high cold mountain") sweeps up in a stupendous slope to a height' -of 1800m above the Xichang basin and, further north, rises directly from the valley of the Arming He. Bare and featureless from a distance, it is in fact furrowed by countless channels and ravines. At Daxinchang, behind a low ridge parallel to the eastern side of the lake, is the meeting point of three valleys coming from the south east, and here the real ascent began. In the lower part of the eastern valley there was a long scree fan extending down to the foot of the slope, and the dusty track zigzagged up it. Up at Shuangxunba we reached another valley running in the same direction, and after a further stiff climb we came to Alami, our first night's halting place, in a side valley at 2900m. The inn was a Chinese house and half its roof had collapsed, but the rest of the inhabitants were Yi, who offered us gifts — a hen and a young goat — and asked us to put in a good word for them with the authorities. Two of them were held as hostages to guarantee the safety of the route and though they were exchanged every four months they were now needed for agricultural work. A small pinewood and higher up a few scattered firs and broad-leaved trees were all that remained of the mountain forests which, to judge from the huge rotting trunks half buried in leaf mould, must once have stood here. The shady woodland and the damp forest floor carpeted with moss and shade-loving plants were now only a dream, though they had left vestiges in the form of humus, in some places resembling alpine peat. Otherwise the plant cover consisted chiefly of ugly low-growing thorn bushes — the narrow-leaved Berberis sanguines and Quercus spinosa — with a few rhododendrons scattered among them. Higher up on the Ziliba pass there was alpine sward at 3250m, and here things began to get more interesting. The grassland was no longer a steppe but a real meadow, although neither grasses nor flowers had yet unfolded. Round its margins were low bushes, just over 20cm in height, covered with blue flowers which completely hid the small scaly grey leaves. It was Rhododendron intricatum, one of the few species with flowers of that colour. We had reached the watershed. On all sides, barely 200m above us, were rounded tops covered with turf and pine tanglewood. The brooks, two of which we crossed in another boggy patch, flowed south east.

After crossing a somewhat higher col we went on slightly downhill. Sheltered by the steep sides of an eroded channel, a glade of rhododendrons had grown up along the sides of the a stream. They formed small trees up to 6m tall with long narrow leathery wrinkled leaves, their undersides coated with white felt, and heads of magnificent pink blossoms. It was Rhododendron denudatum. At a similar spot near the village of Luoluokou we found Rhododendron rex in flower. The trees were small and slender, and did not match the stately giants on Longzhu Shan, but their low stature made their leaves look even larger. Proceeding eastwards we soon came to the edge of a deeper valley running north and south. A river of some size ran along its broad green floor, flanked by meadows and marshes, making a much more pleasing and natural impression than the rice fields of Chinese peasants, for whom the climate was too cold. The sides of this valley had also been clear-felled, but far away on the mountain range to the north we saw remnants of forest apparently consisting of the firs which we had already seen growing singly. The whole terrain is made up of red sandstone with only a gentle dip, and the Daliang Shan is not a dome formation but simply a broad elevated mass cleft by longitudinal channels. The track ran north-north-east and crossed the valley near Lanba at 2700m; at the side of the valley there were abundant springs, welling up at the foot of the convex slope where it dipped beneath the recent infill on the valley floor. Our native bogbean (Menyanthes) flourished in the bogs, and a heron was strutting across them. The bird is sacred to the Yi, and one of them, who had come simply for the sake of the trip, turned towards it, folded his arms and bowed down.

Before climbing the next ridge we passed through a fair-sized village called Suosuokou. The houses were huddled together on a spur projecting from the slope, and were surrounded by an earth wall. At the wayside was a post with a crossbar and lashed to it was a young dog, yelping pitiably. Among the Yi this is the symbol of a feud. When we passed again later it was yelping no longer. Any attempt to put an end to its suffering might well have cost us our heads. At the top there was a watch-tower, already in ruins though built only a few years previously. We rode past the splendid forest of Suosuo Liangzi, apparently the only untouched woodland in the district; we had no time to stop, but we put it on the programme for our [p.19:] return journey. We spent the night at Xikuai, in the house of the headman, a friend of the mission in Xicrang. Like the others, his house had only one room and I had to put up barricades round my campbed to prevent the hens and pigs from scratching up the mosses which I had spread out beneath it to dry. This village was situated in anotier valley system, in a broad river bed, dry and not so green. To the north the river bends sharply back and is recrossed by the track which leads straight eastwards over a large ridge and an undulating tract beyond that Then, running in a curve to the north in a deep gorge, it breaks through the mountain range between the Muji Liangzi 450m above it to the right and the much higher mountain, possibly reaching 4000m, above Zhaojue. On the undulating ground just mentioned, which extends from the north into the broad valley as far as the souti bend of the river, is the village of Sanwanghe, a sirall Chinese settlement with an army post and ricefields below it. The valley resounded with the lamentations of the Yi in their nearby village and on the kill opposite, where they were cremating a body on a large pyre in the pinewood. Everywhere the rock was red sandstone, but beneath it, where the river broke through, grey clay-slate mud shale was exposed, and down in the Zhaojue depression there were multicoloured marls above it The village, surrounded by a large quadrangular wall of new masonry, was situated in a barren plain not far from the main branch of our little river as it comes from the north. After joining a few kilometres further down, the waters hurried onwards through a seemingly narrow valley towards the Yangzi, into which they finally discharged almost one degree further south; from this point onwards, owing to the deeply incised channel eroded by the Yangzi, the landscape gradually became somewhat more impressive. We arrived in Zhaojue at midday. Because the magistrate was entertaining a visiting commissioner whose function was opium eradication, there was no room in his small yamen, but lie found us accommodation in the temple.

The opium commissioner had not so far found any opium poppies in this part of the Yi territory, but someone suggested that there might be some in the next valley. However, the soldiers were afraid to go there. The officials apparently regarded this "expedition" as having fulfilled their task of purging Yi territory of opium, and now asked whether they might come with us, as they felt they would be safer from the Yi in our company. We therefore agreed to set out together next morning at 8 o'clock. It rained all night and in the morning the mountain above the village was covered with snow. After waiting till 9 o'clock on that cold morning (23rd April) we sent one of our men into the yamen. The answer he brought back was that the soldiers had not yet finished their rice. This was more than we could stand, and we set off with a Yi as our guide. Travelling north east we climbed over a little ridge, pausing to collect plants among the scanty remnants of a mercilessly destroyed forest along the valley bottom of a little stream and on the slopes on either side. The presence of Epimedium acuminatum confumed that the spot had once been forested. Before us was the Lemoka valley, traversed by a small river which entered from the north west and left through a narrow defile at the north east The river curved to the east but the view along it was blocked by several ridges which were not as high as Longtou Shan [note #14: Height 12,820ft = 3907m on ONC H-11. ] , visible on clear days from Yibin far away on the Yangzi. We had previously seen this mountain in the direction of our route and I planned to get as close as possible, since its position had been fixed by observations from the Dongchuan-Yibin road and would provide a datum for my survey. We had been down on the plain for some time when the officials at last appeared high above us, escorted by the garrison of thirty two men from Zhaojue, and announced their arrival by blasts on a trumpet However, we made our way towards the hot spring which welled up from the limestone above the river. Like all the watercourses here, the river was easily waded, and its banks were edged with tamarisk bushes (Myricatia germanica). We estimated the temperature of the spring as 45°C. A stone wall completely submerged in the warm water was covered with a distinctive growth of algae, especially Cyanophyceae. The brick-red Hypheotrix coricea, in tough gelatinous layers as thick as one's finger, enveloped the entire wall, while a blackish Scytonema and the dark green Phormidium pseudotenue filled the running water itself. We stopped there for lunch, and while we were eating our meal the Yi living or working in the vicinity gathered round us, squatted on the ground and eyed us inquisitively. As if they had been dogs, they snatched up the chicken bones which we threw away and gnawed the scraps of meat left on them. It is not surprising that d'Ollone [note #15: d'Ollone, Henri, Les demiers barbares — Chine, Tibet, Mongolia. Paris, 1911. English translation, In forbidden China 1906 - 1909. ] , who with de Gue'briant was the first to set foot on their territory and traversed it as far as the Yangzi, called them "les demiers barbared'. Black with dirt, their appearance was far from reassuring, and yet we found them perfectly easy to get on with, far easier than the deceitful Chinese.

I next climbed the nearest ridge south of the defile. Called Wushi Liangzi, it is an outlier of the higher range Woheletie, and rises 325m above the river basin, itself a little under 2000m above sea level. The route then continued to the right beneath Longtou Shan, which was so close that I could make out the scrub oak which clothed it The projecting brow was not its highest summit t'Ut merely a mass of stratified Tock sloping down steeply to the south and east and, as the photogrammetrk survey showed, certainly no higher than 3700m, trough deeper into the range there is a domed summit which might reach 4000m. To the south east there is a group of mountains higher than the Longtou Shan, but they probably lie beyond the Jinsha Jiang. To the north there is also the range which we had already seen, running more or less east and west Though some travellers report snow-capped peaks there is no question of anything of the kind. Its shape makes the Longtou Shan the most notable mountain of the district. The Wushi Liangzi was the first limestone mountain which we encountered, coming from the [p.20:] west as we did. The barberry which we had seen near Kunming, Berberis wilsonae, a small shrub with closely veined leathery leaves, made up the stiff thorny scrub, together with a holly-leaved oak, Quercus gilliana, which we had seen in many places since leaving Xichang.

The soldiery marched back into Zhaojue close on our heels, and next morning one of the officials came to complain that our horses had smashed the wood-framed window at the rear of the temple. Of course it was not the horses that had done this but the mafus, who claimed that they had been unable to find any other wood for their cooking fire. The official would probably have said nothing about it had he not wished to show that he was aware of our having decamped.

Next day we began our return journey along the same route and got as far as Xikuai. We met a Frenchman, Monsieur Guerin, an official of the Indochina Railway Company, to whom we had lent a few pack animals from our caravan so that he could travel to this spot He had not yet encountered any snow, a fact which shows that the snowfall, now continuing at this lower altitude as rain, had come from the east or northeast, as in winter. In Xikuai we assembled a good collection of ethnological specimens including pipes — tiny musical instruments made from three pieces of bamboo, split and carved — food bowls, covered drinking cups with three or four small bamboo tubes through which the drink is sucked up, necklaces, ear pendants and articles of dress. We also purchased swords, crossbows, the head of a 6m long lance and other military gear including heavy cuirasses made of boiled leather, and the chiefs brother had his photograph taken in one of them [note #16: see Rock, Joseph, The Ancient Na-Khi Kingdom of Southwest China, Vol 1, 222 and Plate 82.]. These articles are still in use and are not antiquated or obsolete; to this very day the various tribes carry on feuds and fight bloody battles, often leaving as many as fifty dead. Most of them were ornamented with round scrolls and flourishes in red, yellow and black paint. This art had survived even among the subjugated Yi in Yunnan, and most of the Chinese saddles offered for sale there were Yi handicraft As we had run out of trade goods we paid for our purchases with an agreed weight of silver coins, for they melt down the dollars and convert them into jewellery.

On 25th April, just as the rain stopped, we at last reached the primeval forest of Suosuo Liangzi and set to work. The forest lay at an altitude of around 2600-2850m, filling a little gorge and covering its sides as far as the crest of the main ridge. It belonged to a type which we had not previously met — or at least not in such a well developed state: temperate zone mixed forest There were comparatively few evergreen trees, including two large-leaved oaks, Quercus glauca and Q. engleriana, hollies, Pinus armandii and Tsuga yunnanensis; deciduous broad-leaved trees predominated, notably a maple with large rounded leaves (Acer franchetii), aspens, the elm-like Zelkowa serrata, Sorbus hupehensis, Ptetocarya insignia with pinnate leaves and long hanging catkins, still bearing last year's dry fruits each with a pair of broad wings, birches (Betula albosinensis) and willows. Shrubs included Deutzia longifolia and Viburnum erubescens with large white flowers flushed with pink. Rhododendron denudatum was a common tree in the forest and small bamboos grew here and there. The forest floor and the rotting trunks were thickly covered with mosses, and when I finally climbed down to the bottom of the gorge I found various shade-loving plants in flower, some of them small and dainty such as the white Anemone flaccida, Eutrema yunnanense, Sanicula serrate, Polygonum, a golden saxifrage (Chtysosplenium davidianum), the new Primula crassa with coarse hairs, Viola moupinensis, the green flowered Paris thibetica and P. polyphylla var. stenophylla\ and others coarse and juicy, such as the aroid Arisaema lobatum and two remarkable green-flowered members of the lily family, Tupistra viridtflora and Rohdea uwtepala, the latter a new species; both have fleshy flower, spikes and broad lanceolate leaves, but those of Rohdea have undulate margins. On a ledge on a small cliff I found a new herbaceous paeony with large bright red flowers (Paeonia oxypetala) and near the stream, for the first and only time during my travels, Cercidiphyllum japonicum, far from its usual range. According to E.H. Wilson it was the largest broad-leaved deciduous tree he found in China, but here there were only a few flowering shoots sprouting from the stump where it had been felled.

We spent the night at Lanba. Crossing the Ziliba pass next day, we found many more flowers than on our outward journey: the densely hairy Anemone tvpestris, the dainty Ranunculus ficariifolius and Primula faberi with its narrow yellow blooms. Carex rara ssp. capUlacea, the main component of the sward, had opened its inconspicuous flowers. On the bank of a stream Euonymus oresbia, a shrub with stout quadrangular upright green branches, was in blossom, though it would be some time before its leaves unfolded. To vary the route we took a track to the left down through Yameiti. The rain had cleared the air and I climbed a ridge to enjoy the distant view. Range upon range, the mountains stretched into the distance in superb clarity, first the lower chain between the Aiming He and Yalong rivers down as far as Dechang, then the steep jagged peaks of the range which projects from the south into the great bend of the Yangzi, then further away towards the north broad triangles and obelisks thickly covered with snow, some of which, as these mountains are over 5000m, must surely be glaciers and neve, and lastly, directly north and somewhat closer, the huge pinnacles around the source of the Jianchang itself. We spent the night in Daxinchang and by midday on 27th April we were back in Xichang. We handed over our spoils to the missionaries to be forwarded by the next caravan to Kunming; I had now despatched six crates of plants. For my survey I staked out a baseline above the town and on 2nd May a second line to the south of the top of Lu Shan. During this visit I came across a little wood lying in a hollow. Being largely undisturbed it was not without botanical interest I tried out a new pony and we bought it I also took a boat across the lake to fish for the plankton and the flowering pondweed (Potamogeton). The tall aquatic grass Zizania aquatica (American wild rice) is cultivated here, and its young sprouts make a tasty vegetable.

[chapter 5:]