Heinrich Handel-Mazzetti: [A Botanical Pioneer In South West China] - chapter 21

[p.96:] Chapter 21. Via Weixi, Shigu and Dali to Kunming

The Lidiping ridge — an encounter with a caravan — govennnent orders — fossil plants — a police search for opium

In Cizhong I packed up my collections as best I could, using sticking plaster to seal the lids of the tin linings inside the crates, and hired ten pack animals and an extra riding horse — the latter to carry Lao Li to Weixi, as his foot was still not completely healed despite the missionaries' care. As there were no professional mafus here I had to scour the whole of Cizhong and Cigu before I found a man who had one horse and another with two or three; and when it came to settling the accounts it was not easy to explain the calculations to them. After three days I at last set off, crossed the rope bridge at Cigu and travelled downstream along the road which I had taken on my outward journey. Growing on rocks among the maquis, in spots where there was not much shade, a pretty orchid (Coelogyne ovalis) had opened its pendent fimbriate brown flowers, most of them solitary, but here too the arrival of autumn had brought an end to most flowers and had tinged the foliage with new colours. Down in the valley Excoecaria acerifolia was robed in scarlet, and in the mixed woodland on the higher slopes various deciduous trees had assumed brilliant hues of yellow and orange, while the maples had turned dark red. The conifers and broad-leaved evergreens seemed even darker in contrast After five days on the road I reached Xiao Weixi at noon, and wishing to learn something of the Lisu people I visited one of their villages an hour's journey up the side of the valley (Fig.33). On advice from Pere Lesgourgues I took a few photographs in my pocket, as the people were at first very shy and timid, and I wanted to make them understand what I planned to do. When I reached their village they had all fled into the maize fields; all I could do was to take surreptitious snapshots of them between the piles on which their log houses were built. One of the pictures shows a tribesman peering nervously at a photo held out to him by my guide. Most of them wore grey garments of hemp fibre, and men and women alike had puttees round their legs, a few of them having strips of blue and red fabric in them. The men wore a headdress of similar material wound into a short cylindrical tube. In the stretch from Kakatang to Weixi the valley was not so deep and the vegetation was the same as that growing at the same altitude on the Yunnan tableland. Here I found Cephalotaxus fortune! again, though at one place only, which must be its most westerly site.

After arriving at Weixi at midday on 10th October I called on the official, who was on friendly terms with the missionaries. I made no protest when he asked me to accept an escort of two armed police as far as Jianchuan, as there had been several robberies on that road and if a traveller had no escort the authorities would disclaim all responsibility. For the journey from there to Dali I found a Chinese caravan willing to take me at a reasonable price, for they would otherwise have had to travel back unloaded, and we set off the very next morning. As money was running short I was unable to insist on their taking the straight route to Dali, though it would have been of greater interest In fact the carayanmen said that they were not willing to travel on any but the major road, though this was probably at Lao Li's instigation; he did not want to hear anything more about "little" roads. So we travelled due east up on to the Lidiping (3500m) road, which though it climbed higher was more direct than the road formerly in general use, shown on Davies' map. Gently sloping pastures covered the broad ridge, and between them were extensive forests. The only conifers were spruces, grey with beard lichens, but among them were various broad-leaved trees in brightly coloured autumn garb. The rivulets from the abundant springs on these pastures converged in a shallow trough running northwest along the ridge and forming the uppermost part of the valley which continued past Shogo and joined the Jinsha Jiang at Jizong. Gentians (Gentiana picta and others) were the only flowers still open. Situated on a knoll was the police post, a building of some size, as Lidiping was notorious for its bandits; indeed robberies still go on there, and I was informed that the police themselves take part in them. There were splendid vistas over the whole of the bowl-shaped Weixi valley, and eastwards over the small basin of Ludian and down the narrow valley below it as far as the Jinsha Jiang. Photographs enabled me to make important additions and corrections to the map. This part of the broad divide between the Lancang Jiang and the Yangzi has all the characteristics of a secondary range, and though deeply furrowed by valleys it presents a few prominent mountain groups. Owing to the predominance of sandstones and clay-slates the soil, visible everywhere through the sparse woodlands, was red-brown in colour. For a short stretch where it skirted the Ludian basin the watershed formed a narrow crest, and the track led down its steep declivity. On the next day I reached Labikou, where I made an addition to my small ethnological collection — a Naxi Buddha painted on a rough board in the shape of a shovel. The housewife was reluctant to sell it but the tinkle of dollars assuaged her heartache. Another hour's march brought us to the Jinsha Jiang at Judian.

The track now continued along its valley as far as the bend at Shigu. Alluvial fans from the side valleys alternated with sandy river terraces, and the valley floor was dotted with Naxi villages. Only in a few places was it so narrow that the path had had to be hewn out of the rock, as it was where the limestone snout of Heshiya projected at right angles into the valley. A further bed of limestone, steeply positioned between slates, its top forming the border of the Zhongdian tableland, curved to the west here across the valley, though remaining horizontal. On the road I encountered a seemingly endless Tibetan caravan coming from Batang. When the leading Tibetan and his beasts failed to give way quickly [p.97:] enough, my mafti rushed at him. In his anxiety the Tibetan drew his cleaver, and the mafu threatened to attack him with the iron spit used to hang the cooking pots on, but by yelling at them I managed to separate them in time. No wonder the Tibetans were nervous: not long before, some Tibetan cara-vanmen had chopped some wood from a tree in a village. Thereupon the villagers had charged at them and shoved forty two of their mules into the river, where they had drowned. The Tibetans then went to tie magistrate at Lijiang and demanded that the villagers should pay for the mules, but he decided that, as they had started the quarrel by their thieving, what had happened served them right

"Wherever they go they cause trouble", declared the Chinese mafu, yet the very next day he himself entered a field beside the road and dug up enough turnips to last for a week or more. I spent the night of 15/16th October at Shigu, at the place where the Jinsha Jiang, surrounded by lesser mountains only 1000m in height, suddenly swings round, almost reversing its direction, and flows on to cut right through the middle of the Lijiang snow range. The weather was cloudy and overcast, and it rained all next day during the crossing to Guanshan.

In Jianchuan I told the soldiers to report to the magistrate; from here on the roads were safe and I would not need them any more. However, two of them came back in great haste and told Lao Li that an order had arrived by telegram directing that I was to be escorted by soldiers to Kunming and at all exists to be prevented from travelling to the Nu Jimg. All this arose from a journey made by a fellow countryman to the southern border of the province, arousing the suspicions of the French and British authorities, who thought he was politically motivated and alerted the Chinese government. Some of their attention spilt over in my direction, though luckily they were two months too late; even today the recollection still gives me a certain mischievous satisfaction.

On 20th October I arrived at Dali and halted for a few days. A servant from the yamen came to ask when I intended to resume my journey; I had not requested an escort, and I had therefore departed without one. The dishonest mafu whom Schneider ard I had dismissed in 1914 because of his large-scale frauds, though we retained his horses in partial recompense, was still prowling around Dali, running up debts and telling anyone foolish enough to listen to him that I still owed him $400. Lao Li was scared of him and, before going out one evening, secretly borrowed the Browning automatic which I kept urder my bed. I thought I must have mislaid it one night while visiting Pere Guilbaud, but when I found it back in its place just after Lao Li had been in my room attending to some minor task, I immediately taxed him with the matter. At this he turned as white as a sheet; he had obviously supposed that his attempted deception had been successful. In Dali I drew out some cash and bought a few Chinese souvenirs, notably some beautifully made teacups and silk embroideries, and a collection of 270 Chinese drugs of plant origin; as an aid to their identification I also bought for 30 cents a three volume book with illustrations. I sent Lao Li back to his home in Lijiang with a note to Kok asking him to send the standard barometer by post to me in Kunming. He was still very anxious about his foot and uncertain whether it would ever recover completely.

On 27th October I hired a boat to go fishing for plankton in Lake Erhai and learn something of the flowering plants: besides various inconspicuous underwater species I found Xystrolobos yunnanensis, Boottia yunnanensis, Nymphoides peltata and Poly-gonum atnphibium growing there. I sailed on to Xiaguan before joining the new caravan, which had completed only half a day's march. Next day, because of this delay, we were overtaken by nightfall during the descent to Hongya and had to unpack the paraffin lamp from its box so as to find the ill-marked path; fortunately nothing got lost. Hongya is situated to the south of the main watershed of the Yunnan tableland in the territory of the Red River, and the pass which we had to cross, some 2600m in altitude, is the highest and most prominent on the road from Dali to' Kunming. After the traveller has climbed up again on to the plateau there are only minor ups and downs from then on. As we were crossing the hilly limestone country between Xiang-yun and Yunnanyi, the last terrain of its kind until just before the capital, a wolf ran across the road, at exactly the same spot as in the previous year. From there on limestone was replaced by sand, sandstones and marls. Between Nanhua and Liihe and also just after the latter village we again saw carbonized and silicified tree-stumps and portions of fallen tree-trunks embedded in seams of coal which were lying at a remarkably steep angle. A little digging with the plant trowel in the marls above the coal seam soon yielded some well preserved impressions of dicotyledonous leaves, though only in fragments. But I was not really equipped for such brittle specimens — how was I to transport them? A solution was soon found. I took off the waistcoat which I used to wear on those cool mornings and evenings, wrapped the pieces individually in it and put the whole package in a saddlebag. The village official in Liihe was a cousin of my servant and that evening I had an opportunity of observing an incident typical of the conditions existing in China. The police entered the hostelry in a routine search for opium smokers; but when, squinting through a crack in the door, they recognized Lao Li engrossed in his favourite pastime, they hastily withdrew.

Having arrived in Chuxiong I soaked the fossils in paraffin and went to bed early, as I had no plants to put in the press. Late that night, when all honest men were asleep, the lijin official appeared. He wanted to see my caravan pass and asked how it was that I had arrived there without an official escort — "like a thief, as the xianzhang (town clerk) had allegedly said. Lao Li replied that I was asleep and sent him away, telling him he could come back in daylight if there was anything he wanted. I left the official in no doubt of my attitude, namely that I was unwilling to waste any time on the matter. On departing I was provided with a messenger from the yamen carrying a letter. Whether because of this or because of an independent initiative on the part of the official in Guangtong, a large party of police entered the inn while I was there; in any event, their commander suspected that I had opium in my boxes and wanted to open them with his Chinese keys. Though small in stature, Lao Li was extremely [p.98:] useful in such crises; he argued with him for some time, then began to revile him in the most frightful language, and finally seized the fellow by his collar, though he was much taller than himself, whereupon the policeman withdrew apologetically with his entire party. Having caught two French missionaries smuggling opium — and I know of others for whom it was almost a regular occupation — it is not surprising that the Chinese had begun to suspect every European traveller of smuggling. If a report that I was under suspicion were to have reached Kunming ahead of me, my entry into that city might have been held up or might have attracted undue notice — complications which would have been doubly disagreeable because of the political tensions between ourselves and the French and English, who were on the lookout for any pretext to harm our good name.

On arriving at Shezi, the next overnight stop, I was glad to find that I was still in time to despatch an express letter to the German consul in Kunming informing him of the situation — the only other way would have been to send a special messenger — and it was an easy matter for him to arrange for an order to be issued to the guard on the city gate instructing them to let me and my caravan pass in without hindrance. For the greater part of the next two days I had a succession of "soldiers" as escorts. Most of them were ridiculous figures with little in the way of effective weapons: one man had a gigantic rifle with

a broken butt and another had a pike three and a half metres long. The nearer we came to Kunming the worse were the inns along the road. There were still a few pretty spots near Liifeng: an ancient bridge with several arches across the stream coming from Dazhuangkou, and then a fine view of the little rive' coming from Luozi and winding through a S-shaped ravine. This I saw standing on a crest which was clothed with steppe grassland, still green although it was early November, interspersed with a few sub tropical shrubs. From there on the landscape was barren, though at the sides of the valleys there were; patches of colour created by thinly laminated, gently sloping layers of marl and beds of red sandstone above them. Laoyaguan was a sizeable place, though not shown on the maps, situated just before the ascent to the watershed above the river Pudu He. Above the town I found the interesting Eriolaenai malvacea growing in a hedge. Living in holes in the earth by the wayside were lepers, eerie and repellent figures who lived by begging from passers-by. In front of us we saw the Xi Shan range and on the left, after we had passed Aiming, the mountain separating us from Fumin rose straight up from the edge of the track. Between them, slightly to the left, the Biqiguan saddle cut through the ridge, and on 8th November I re-entered Kunming, where my friend Stiebritz once more gave me accommodation.

[chapter 22:]