Heinrich Handel-Mazzetti: [A Botanical Pioneer In South West China] - chapter 22

[p.99:] PART III 1916

To the Frontier of Upper Burma Chapter 22. To Lijiang with a Visit to Mount Gang Shan

Yunnan's war against Beijing—attempts to obstruct my departure—cook and caravan—fossil plants in a coal seam at Lube — Dali marble—Mohammedans—on Mount Gang Shan — a trip on the lake

It was a conjuncture of circumstances — fortunate for me though unfortunate for others —that made possible the realisation of my wildest dreams in the summer of 1916. The leisurely calm of the little city of Kunming lasted for less than a month after my return. At the beginning of December we attended the funeral of our fellow countryman Maiwald. Typhoid fever carried him off before his time, the immoderate eating and drinking so prevalent in the East having enveloped his body hi a thick layer of fat which proved impermeable to injections. He was laid to rest on the slopes of Mount Changchong Shan in a burial ground for Chinese Protestants. Otherwise little of note happened in our little community. However, various excursions including all-day rides into the country gave me an opportunity of adding to my collections, and I joined the German consul on a three day hunting trip to Zhongduilong near Yanglin from 4th to 6th February.

In December 1915 President Yuan Shikai, hoping to become Emperor of China, sought support from the Allies by offering to declare war on Germany. He needed to have himself formally elected as Emperor, and for that purpose he issued orders to the provinces. These secret orders were subsequently published in Yunnan: his supporters were to receive liberal handouts of cash and government jobs, and the opposition were to be locked up without delay. Titles of nobility were to be reintroduced, new medals and coins had already been struck and the coronation festivities had been arranged. We Germans would certainly have been hi an unenviable situation, for Yuan Shikai was a militarist who detested foreigners. Then General Cai E, a man from South China well known as leader of the revolution against the monarchy, journeyed unobtrusively to Yunnan. At the end of 1915 he persuaded Tang Rirao, the dujun, to deliver an ultimatum to Yuan Shikai calling on him to declare his intentions, and to back it by ordering his troops to march to the northeast As this brought no response, he then declared war on Beijing, claiming that his object was to save the republic. The English government, through their consul general, offered him three million dollars if he would abandon his plans, but he rejected the offer with feigned indignation. Moving more swiftly than anyone expected, his troops marched out of Yunnan and occupied Yibin, its garrison and local governor having fled on receiving word of their approach, and other towns in Sichuan. Before long all the south had rallied to his support. Unrest and disorder spread throughout China. In Kunming the streets were bedecked with flags every time a senior officer marched out with a few soldiers, but elsewhere in the province, although it had previously had the reputation of being one of the safest, bands of deserters began to roam the country robbing travellers and interfering with the flow of traffic. Prices also rose considerably. However, Cai E's activities delayed China's entry into the European war for many months and he thus unknowingly rendered valuable service in enabling me to continue my scientific work in China. A huge obelisk has been erected in his memory on Mount Yuelu Shan near Changsha in Hunan, and we too should remember him gratefully.

The flora of the Nu Jiang region had proved so rich and unusual, although the flowers had been past their best at the time of my visit, that even before leaving I had resolved to spend the next summer there, or if this were impossible, to send two competent plant collectors to work there. As the authorities even in 1915 had looked askance on my travels, though admittedly for understandable reasons, I realised that they would now do all they could to prevent me from even approaching my goal, and I had to keep my plans secret However, so as not to attract suspicion at the very outset, my departure from Kunming had to be open and above-board. Weiss, the consul, procured a pass for the two collectors valid for the territory ruled by the tusi of Yezhi, and gave it to me to hand to them if I was obliged to send them out on their own. The authorities at first boggled at the idea of issuing even this document, and then drafted it in most equivocal terms: it stated that they were not to be permitted to enter the district where the frontier between China and Burma had not been demarcated, and that if they engaged in any activity other than botanising they were to be reported to the aliens control office. I wrote to all the missionaries with whom I was acquainted telling them in some detail of the tasks which my collectors were to perform and asking them to remind them of their duties from time to time and to do what they could to assist them in their work. I therefore felt that I could expect some results from this project, provided the collectors succeeded in reaching the Nu Jiang territory ruled by the tusi of Yezhi. However, from the experience of Forrest and especially Schneider, I realised that the results achieved by collectors would fall short of what I could accomplish if I were on the spot myself.

I had already met the new commissioner for aliens — on his visit to the consulate I had watched him picking his nose and flicking the bits at the walls until it started to bleed so briskly that he had to use the wastepaper basket to catch the drips — and I had told him I might perhaps go to Lijiang for the summer, to which proposal he had raised no objec[p.100:] tion. As it was now clear that there was no prospect of my returning to Europe in the near future, the consul informed him of my planned departure date and asked for the usual letter of safe conduct The authorities then declared that they could not now allow me to travel, as Lijiang was too near the border of Sichuan, with which Yunnan was at war, and the Burmese frontier, and naively pointed out that plants did not grow along major routes but near minor tracks, in places inhabited by "ill-disposed barbarians". Such reasoning carried no more weight with Weiss than with me, and he even suggested that if necessary I should simply travel without a permit; I asked him to tell them that my sponsors would hold me responsible if I failed to make good use of the money [note # 113: The Academy of Sciences in Vienna sent him 6000 crowns on 24th February 1916.] which had recently been remitted to me, and that I could not postpone my departure even for a short time, for the results would then fall short of what such an expenditure might be expected to produce and, as human life in Europe was now so cheap, it would be cowardly not to accept slightly greater risks than usual in order to attain my lofty aims. The authorities then acquiesced, and I felt relieved that all my costly preparations had not been in vaia In reality nothing could have been more favourable for the execution of my plans than the state of disorder of the province, for under the prevailing conditions many officials paid little heed to the government's decrees.

Footgear, clothing and equipment had to be renewed. European products such as canned food — 1 needed at least one month's supply as iron rations — had soared to enormous prices; I had to pay 2.50 dollars a dozen for ordinary 8 x lOVi cm Ilford photographic plates, and quinine, which Dr Vadon, the French doctor, willingly supplied, cost four times as much as the year before. Pawelka provided me with a cook who had given him satisfactory service on his travels. Though he could not act as interpreter he was resourceful and energetic. I now knew something of the country and the people along my route. If I needed help in a difficult conversation I could turn to one of the numerous missionaries with whom 7 was already acquainted, but for the ordinary needs of the journey my grasp of Chinese was by now sufficient, and what I chiefly required was a man who could travel with me through the mountains on foot. Unfortunately, as later transpired, this fellow cared more for the bottle than for my cuisine. He finished all his work with amazing speed simply because he wanted to get back to his brandy. The chickens which he placed before me were half raw and still red with blood, the potatoes were green and the meat was impossibly tough. His bread began to stink after two days and turned ropy, and his cakes, which he baked himself to save money, were still worse. He lacked the first inklings of cleanliness, always a difficult matter to bring home to Chinese domestics; his habit of packing the grooming brush among the crockery was the least of his offences against hygiene. He had a high-pitched voice and whenever any other Chinese were present he showed off the few words of French which he knew, though he usually got them wrong. His favourite phrase was "il-y-en-a-pas", by which he meant: "one cannot, I don't want to, I don't know" and other negatives of the same kind These were not his only imbecilities: on the second morning of the journey he bought four hens at a low price but tied them to one of the loads so clumsily that by noon three of them were dead. Pawelka had sold me a horse cheaply for him, and for my own use I had bought from the consul one of his splendid Sichuan ponies, which proved an excellent mount. When I was recruiting the necessary caravan of ten pack animals it counted strongly in my favour that unlike other Europeans I always treated my men well, provided they did their jobs properly. My headman from the previous year's caravan rushed to join me and, although prices were now much higher, allowed me to beat him down to an increase of only five cents. He agreed to take me "to Lijiang, then for ten days further on main routes". As plant collector I initially took on an exceptionally dull-witted and idiotic fellow, since I expected to find Jin Jinwen in Guangtong and engage him. Wu Suoling was unwilling to go on any more journeys because his father was now too old; besides he had a travelling cookshop and probably felt content with his memories of the Nu Jiang trip; at any rate, he told everyone that in Beixailue the price of maize was one Sichuan rupee.

On the afternoon of 27th April 1916 the policeman on duty at the west gate bowed deeply, though without removing his cap, and asked, "Where to?". "If you only knew!" I thought to myself, but I had no good wishes to spare for him or the dujun as I set off on that hot and arid day. For most of the time I had two "soldiers" attached to me as an escort, but so far as I could see no special measures had been taken to check my movements. The fragrant Symplo-cos paniculate was in flower everywhere, as were Dichotomanthes tristaniaecarpa (the only representative of its genus), Diospyros mollifolia with greenish flowers, Phoebe neurantha, Picrasma quassioides and, further on, the low growing Jasminum beesianum with red flowers. I met a troop of local militia marching without weapons, their only military insignia being a label sewn on their clothing; their officer was asleep in his carrying chair. As Jin Jiangwen was no longer in Guangtong I sent a telegram from Chuxiong to Kok asking him to send Lao Li to meet me in Dali.

Lithocarpus dealbata, Quercus franchetii and other oaks were now putting forth their new shoots, which were arranged almost in whorled patterns, and in the little woods where they grew the ground was coloured yellow brown by a layer of young leaves which had dropped from mem. Here and there were trees of Castanopsis delavayi in full bloom, looking just like sweet chestnuts. In the dry weather now prevailing I noticed that many of the shrubs, in particular Osteomeles schwerinae, growing on this soft friable marly soil stood on little hillocks held together by their roots, while all the earth around them had been swept away by wind and water — a phenomenon commonly seen in desert regions. I spent May 5th and 6th in Liihe studying the fossil flora of the coal seam where I had discovered it in 1915 but had then lacked the time to collect more than a few specimens. This year, forty metres below the coal seam containing the dicotyledon leaves, I found another marl stratum with older remains, among them a twig probably belonging to the genus [p.101:] Palissya, closely related to Taiwania, It was not exactly a pleasure to toil for two days in dust and burning sun, scraping and hammering, and the yield of usable pieces was meagre, as the marl was extremely brittle. I was glad to quit my lodgings — a hot, stuffy hole pervaded by an atrocious stench from the pigsty. However, the local people and passing travellers — the place was directly adjacent to the main road — were most friendly and in no way troublesome. I collected a few more carbonized plants from an outcrop of coal to the west of Liihe. As regards living plants, there were hardly any that I had not seen before. The weather was hot, often windy and dusty, and only once was there a shower of rain. I encountered some fair-sized parties of recruits wearing clean new uniforms. They had no rifles, first because there were not enough to go round and secondly because the authorities were afraid they would sell them. Although I had instructed my cook to tell anyone in authority that I was simply going to Lijiang for the summer, he was all too eager to boast of our projected trip to Weixi and Zhongdian, and I repeatedly had to remind him to be discreet

I reached Dali on 12th May and was immediately visited by the official who had held the corresponding post in Zhongdian in 1915. He walked in smoking a cigarette and wearing a dandified European suit with an unbelievably nigh stand-up collar. Our conversation proceeded somewhat lamely as my servant had chosen that moment to absent himself. While in Dali I received a letter from Bishop de Gorostarzu of Kunming, to whom I had written a farewell letter expressing the hope that his missionaries would give me as friendly a reception as I had enjoyed in 1915 — thanks to his letter of recommendation — especially as I was now acquainted with them. His letter now advised me to resort to them only in emergencies, for he suspected that their Christian chanty might in some cases have suffered from the effects of the war. However, in the districts where [ hoped to work I was totally dependent of their help as go-betweens, and I must say that in the prevailing conditions I could not have wished for greater helpfulness; but for their fear of the civil authorities, they would even have offered me hospitality.

On 15th May I set out to climb Gang Shan, a long range rising steeply to the west of the town and running parallel to the lake. It was a sombre-coloured mountain, its core built of mica-schist and gneiss; between them, halfway up, the famous Dali marble was quarried. Polishing reveals multicolours*) veiling and mottling, resembling sections cut through bracken roots, though chiefly in reddish-brown and green, and without much strain on the imagination it is possible to make out figures of men and anirrals, trees, lakes, clouds ana so forth. The Chinese give each piece a label saying what the figures are supposed to represent, and often embellish them with a few strokes of the paint brush, though pieces which have been touched up are less valuable. Several pieces are usually mounted together in a wooden frame for hanging on the wall; altenatively, single slabs are used as tabletops, or fittec together to make flower vases or similar objects. At the foot of the mountain, less than half an hsur distant from the town, we came to one of the gently sloping alluvial fans which spread out from its short steep parallel gulleys as far as the lake. Stretching far into the distance were graves dating from the Mohammedan uprisings which took place in the second half of the nineteenth century and depopulated the country for many years. They were finally put down by General Ma, who based his operations on Dali and was now worshipped as a god in a tempe in the town. At the time of my visit the Mohanmedans were once more very numerous, but they were entirely peaceable; they seldom put up signboards in Arabic (I saw some at the railway station in Kaiyuan) and only once — a few days previously in Xiaguan — did I meet one of them wearing a red fez. The slopes of the Gang Shan had been deforested to a considerable altitude and the ascent in the hot sun was not enjoyable. Some 600m above the town was a gleaming white temple, visible from afar. I rode up to it, sent my coolie back with the pony and continued the climb on foot with a bendi-boy [note # 114: "Bendi" is a Chinese expression for "native", free from derogatory overtones. The boy was probably a Bai. (Handel-Mazzetti's note). "Bendi" simply means "of (or from) this place." (SGH).] from the mountain woodcutters as my guide. There was in fact no proper path, and I had to use a timber slide or chute which had cut through the scrub and the humus layer down to the stratified rock beneath and ran in a straight line steeply upwards. The mountainside was dotted with a small sulphur-yellow rhododendron (R. trichocladum) and a larger one with fiery red blooms (R. nerii-florum). Everywhere between them were light green bamboos, willows with inconspicuous flowers, Benzoin sikkimensis, Bex delavayi, Viburnum coidifolium and the white bells of Vaccinium and Pieris species. Immediately to the right there was a splendid view into the ravine, with the deep yellow Rhododendron sulphureum growing on the rocks at its top. As there were only a few trickles of water, the day's booty — not very large — was somewhat dried up by the time we got home. Though fir forest extended down the slopes of the ravine to about 3500m, on the spur the track ran upwards in its shade and then turned down to the left towards a spring, becoming fainter and fainter. However, I was obliged to climb straight upwards along the rounded crest of the spur, making my way through the forest which was here quite without a path of any kind. This meant a tortuous scramble through dense rhododendron undergrowth, slipping on hidden roots or sinking into deep cushions of moss (Plagiochila spp., Herberta delavayi, Lepidozia pinnata, Anastro-phyllum donianum, Dicranum perfafcatum, Rhacomi-trium javanicum, Breutelia yunnanensis) and then dragging myself up again over the slippery unstable earth by grasping the gnarled branches of the deep purple Rhododendron haematodes. The upper part of the spur was relatively sharp and rather dry, and here the undergrowth was formed by large cushions of Diapensia bulleyana, now opening its sessile yellow flowers. Noon had passed before I reached a minor summit at about 4050m, from which the route at first descended a little and then climbed again very steeply to the main crest some 250m higher (Fig.34). Rhododendrons and willows covered it thickly, extending to the very top beyond the firs. It was hardly feasible to reach it in a one day trip, and as I was not equipped to spend the night out-of-doors I turned back, having gained my chief objective — a general impression of the plant communities. Up on top, although no more than a small snowpatch still persisted, not even the rhododendrons were in flower. As I approached the town wall the mafu [p.102:] came to meet me with my pony. I was surprised and pleased at his unexpected thoughtfulness, the more so as my new climbing boots were too tight and pressed uncomfortably, though that problem did not last long: they got so much use that they were soon broken in.

Because of a lame dog which kept falling into the cesspit and then running about the yard, the whole house stank abominably, and after a rest day spent in putting my plants in the press I was glad to depart. For the first day of my onward journey to Lijiang I went by boat, as I wanted to collect the deep water plankton of Lake Erhai. I planned to sail northeast across the deepest part of the lake, reaching; the opposite shore at the foot of a steep mountainside, while the caravan went ahead to Shangguan., However, the wind got up md raised quite bijg waves. The boatman was unwilling to venture into open water and I had to be content with trawling at a depth of a few metres and collecting the surface plankton. The latter was obviously much better developed than in the previous autumn. The same green Desmidiaceae (in particular Qpsterium aciculare) made the water look quite turbid when viewed in the right light, and in every handful which I scooped up the slender, sickle-shaped unicellular plants were visible to the naked eye — indeed they almost clogged the net after a minute's trawling. Among the day's finds was a new genus of microscopic crayfish (Handeliella paradoxa); its nearest relatives are marine. Waiting for me at the landing place at Shangguan was the deputy commander of the local police. Without saying a word, he accompanied me to the inn, where my servant told me that during the journey two men from a caravan which had oeen overtaking ours had pushed our pack animals to the side of the track, and one of our loads had rolled down the hillside. He had at once had the men arrested, and now they were brought before me. As there was probably just as much blame on our side as theirs, I felt that all I could do was to tell them what I thought about the matter, and let them go. They thanked me on bended knee, glad to escape a flogging. The policeman fetched a carpenter and ordered him to repair the crates by next morning; they were quite badly split, but by fortunate chance their fragile contents were undamaged.

Once again I encountered numerous recruits, not yet in uniform; exceptionally large numbers lad been levied from the Lijiang district, as the authorities knew that the Naxi were not seriously oppoied to conscription. Next day I was met by Lao Li, who had reached Dali before me and stupidly departed again. With him was another quite young boy, who had joined him partly because every Chinese and so it seemed, every native tribesman always hail a companion with him, and also because he wantec to offer his services, though this was contrary to the wishes of Kok, who had already selected the bes of Forrest's collectors for me. With the latter though in mind, and also because I noticed that he had an eye infection, I did not even consider taking him. I chose the main route via Heqing, which crossed the Heish-anmen range by the Sanshishao pass at 327: im, running through limestone and sandstone and passing to the north of Mount Ma'an Shan, outside the zane of volcanic rock from which the latter is built.

On 29th May there were still very few plant, in flower, among them some willows, a white-flowered climber (Schizandra grandiflora) and, on the limestone rocks of the descent the opulent ftrmu/a i/fa with egg-yolk yellow blooms and sticky glands which gave it an aromatic odour.

I arrived in Lijiang on 21st May and avoiied any contact with the new magistrate, an old-si yle Chinese of somewhat fanatical religious outlook. Since he was in dispute with Kok over the erection of a mission building and as everyone knew thit I was a friend of Kok, it can hardly have surprised him that I failed to pay him a call. I let it be km wn that I was spending the summer in Nguluke, but was retaining my caravan since I thought I might hav: to return to Kunming at short notice. I then got rid of the wretched fellow who had supposedly beei a plant collector; I dismissed him with a genenus reward and sent him back to Kunming. However, my cook claimed to be his friend and wanted to go hack with him; it took all Kok's powers of persuasion to induce him to stay.

[chapter 23:]