Heinrich Handel-Mazzetti: [A Botanical Pioneer In South West China] - chapter 31


PART IV 1917

Through Guizhou to Hunan Chapter 31. Across East Yunnan

China breaks off relations with Germany—barren karst—buffalo carts—my survey resumed — the mountain range of Majie and Shizong—a guard of honour — Bailing Shan—the cone hill terrain of Looping — the central Chinese floral region — hill forests

The task of sorting out and repacking my collections lasted well into 1917, and the uncertainty of the political situation also made me hesitate before undertaking any major enterprise. On 13th March the government and parliament in Beijing decided to break off diplomatic relations with Germany in conformity with the example set by the Americans — a decision reached after the majority originally opposed to this course had been induced to change their minds by a payment of 16 million dollars. Tang Rirao, the dujun of Yunnan, was a tolerably honest man, even though he engaged in opium smuggling as a sideline and financed counterfeit coiners.

"I would actually go along with the government, if I could see any advantage in it for us," he said to the German consul, when the latter urged him to protest against the decision.

I visited him on the following day to show him my plant collections and with the unstated purpose of stiffening his half-voiced resolve to go against the government's decision. In the meantime, however, he had reconsidered the matter, and on 21st March Herr Weiss, the German consul, with his wife and young children, was compelled to set out on the arduous overland journey to Yibin on the Jinsha Jiang. Weiss chose that route after steadfastly resisting the blandishments of the Aliens Commissioner Zhang Yizhu, who wanted him to travel via Tonkin, a route which would have delivered him into the hands of the French authorities, who were intensely hostile towards him. German nationals were deprived of extraterritorial status and forbidden to travel outside the district, though apart from perfunctory house searches and confiscation of firearms they were not otherwise molested. Pawelka having departed with Weiss, I went to live in the consulate and took my meals with Stiebritz and his family, who were now living in a somewhat cramped house in the lower part of the town. In giving Stiebritz notice to quit his former residence, the bishop had acted under pressure from the French consul, but the conditions on which he terminated the lease were commendably generous. Being an Austrian citizen, I was still more or less free to travel, but the breaking off of relations with Germany was just a foretaste of what was to come. Nevertheless I knew that — once I had got safely away into remote country districts — there would be ways of eluding any restrictions which might arise from the progress of hostilities and I would thus be able to continue my work as long as possible, and it was perfectly clear that I had nothing to fear from the Chinese people themselves.

My aim was to undertake something new, and to see as much of China as possible, especially those parts still unknown to the western world. As my final destination I chose Shanghai and planned to journey there via Guizhou, Hunan, Jiangxi and Zhejiang. At thai, time I did not realise that a great deal of material had already been collected by the missionaries in Guizhou and studied by Leveille — though unfortunately published in quite unusable form — otherwise I would have chosen a route further south through Guangxi, a province still entirely unknown even today. I also wanted to keep to the . main mountain chain, because there were still forests to be found there — and hence the flora would be of greater interest — and because it would give me an opportunity of escaping, from time to time at least, from the worst effects of the climate. When I paid my farewell visit to the dujun I was highly amused at what he had to say. He asked whether he should provide me with an escort; if so, it would have to be a troop of at least twenty soldiers — any fewer, and their rifles would be stolen! I declined, on the grounds that as a European I had nothing to fear from any party of bandits fewer than twenty in number, and against a larger band even twenty soldiers would be useless. The Aliens Commissioner advised me that the southern route from Yiliang via Xingyi was safer, and I gladly followed his recommendation, because it diverged from the Yunnan highlands — of which I had seen quite enough — much sooner than the northern route via Qujing, and because it passed through lower lying territory. In Yunnan my interest had been focused on the mountains, but now, if I was to make new discoveries, I had to concentrate on subtropical areas at low altitudes.

I again took Lao Li as my servant, for I knew that I would have to cope with difficult discussions and might need to communicate in writing in other dialects. I also hoped, sometimes at least, to enjoy tolerably well cooked meals. The caravan was provided by the same mafu as in 1916. Unfortunately he did not have the same men and came with the caravan himself; more than once I had to show him who was master. When the appointed day came the caravan, of course, failed to turn up; the men were still away in Houyanjing collecting salt. I was not willing to wait, so I told him to assemble another caravan and catch me up. I needed only eight pack animals, for I had cut down my baggage to the bare essentials, and expected to be able to despatch crates of specimens as I filled them. I had had the tent made into waterproof bags for the herbarium [p.136:] sheets; I knew I would not need it for this journey, and the old bags were worn out. Kok had long since returned my dark brown Sichuan pony after treating it successfully, and I told Li to ride the mule, although the little chap found it alarmingly high off the ground. Unfortunately the only coolies he could find as plant collectors were Yafcha, of whose work in 1914 I had unhappy memories, and another fellow —equally tiresome, and shortsighted into the bargain; I sent him home after three weeks.

After a warm farewell from the German community, I departed from Kunming on 5th June, feeling somewhat uneasy at having to leave behind all the specimens I had collected — material of inestimable value to me — together with the remainder of Schneider's collections. Packed in fifty-one carefully soldered tin-lined crates, they were deposited in the storeroom at the German consulate. Fire, water and war were constant perils, and no one could foretell how the political situation would unfold or what ill effects it might have on my material. When war was declared the authorities actually had several of the tin boxes opened, and it was only through Stiebritz's efforts that they survived intact — indeed, in 1918 he arrived barely in time to rescue the whole roomful of crates from a flood.

I took the old caravan road, which must have been heavily used in the days before the railway was opened, for in some places it had been worn down through the marl to a depth of five metres. On the second evening I reached Yiliang and there, barely an hour's journey from the railway, I received a reminder of the joys of travel in the rainy season in China. Arriving at the Nanpan Jiang, I found that the latest flood had deposited a broad strip of glutinous slippery mud on the meadows to a level of two metres above the top of the river bank. I had to dismount into the mud and jump into the wretched ferry boat The route continued due east above an arid lateral valley having the appearance of a graben. Growing on its slopes was Ziziphus sativa, a thorny shrub bearing fruits not unlike dates; indeed, Europeans called them "Chinese dates" and used them to make preserves [note # 153: The wild ones are sour; the fruits usually eaten are cultivated (SGH).]. The valley led up to a marl ridge at 2000 m. This ridge ran parallel to the Nanpan Jiang valley, where the river had cut a gorge running east and west. Near the village of Dashao a broad offshoot branched off northwards from the ridge. The ridge was covered with forest consisting of Keteleer-ia, Quercus variabilis and Pinus armandii, and was still typical of the Yunnan highlands, though the view to the southeast revealed something quite different Stretching away before me was a gently undulating expanse; in the distance beyond it was a low, uniformly jagged range of mountains, disappearing into the blue at each end, and still further way to the southeast was a broad massif of greater altitude which the people called Laogui Shan. All these mountains had a remarkably uniform southwesterly trend or strike. In the foreground was a shallow channel extending southwestwards to Mile, ftojecting from its floor — not, as more usually seen in mountainous country, from the crests on dther side — were rock outcrops cleft into rectangular shapes by the processes of karst formation. Their limestone towers and walls looked like crenellated castles, or the distant ruins of an Oriental city excavated by archaeologists, and had been shaped by the action of the weather on the hard underlying stratum after erosion had stripped off the soft marl above it. A few of these rocky hills were wooded, as was one situated directly in the centre line of the valley and crowned by a temple called Shifeng Si. It was here that we crossed the uppermost stretch of the valley.

We stopped for the night at Tianshengguan, a village on arid level terrain beyond the valley. The only available drinking water was coloured red by the clay which it contained, just as had been the case in the closely .similar karst territory to the west of Yanyuan in Sichuan. Here there was another reminder of that district — the buffalo cart v/hich served as a means of transport as far as Banqiao, something which I saw nowhere else in South China, except in the towns of Kunming and Mengzi. The creaking emitted as its imperfectly circular wl heels rotated on its single ungreased axle resounded! far and wide over the waterless plains, and the low growing thombushes did nothing to damp the resonance; it was a counterpart of the melancholy sounds of the Illyrian karst The rock formations resulting from the action of the weather were reproduced on a smaller scale in the bottoms o1" the erosion channels. There the red earth had been washed away and pointed grey limestone cones, as tall as a man, stood exposed. Their smooth rounded sides were irregularly grooved, the rock having been leached away by downpours of rain. Some of them were grotesquely sculptured and even perforated, while others had been so deeply undercut that they had toppled over. Agriculture and food preparation were extremely primitive. Besides hand mills there was a stone roller; turned in circles by a buffalo, it ran on an almost flat conical bed and ground the corn. Dendrobium clavatutn, an orchid which II had seen on the rocks in the upper Jinsha Jiang vjilley, was flowering on the walls of the farmyards ami tie rooftops. At one spot the route approached the river valley, but it then turned aside on to the flat tableland beside it, giving me a vista of the pine-clad mountain range north of the river, a landscape c if the kind I had so often seen in the Yunnan highlainds. Some distance further on, having passed the karst terrain of Muji Shan, we descended to Majie, a town situated in the broad valley plain of Luliang, itself largely occupied by karst. A considerable part of the plain, from the town as far as the foot of the : steep hill on the eastern side of the valley, was taken up by a lake. This is not shown on Davies' map, though it seems to be indicated in Stieler's Hand Atlus [note # 154: No lake is shown on modem Chinese maps; perhaps it fills in the wet season only (SGH).] However, the only permanent part of the lake seemed to be the deeper, roughly circular, area about 5 km in diameter at the foot of the hill; the rest consisted of a lagoon which bordered on the tongues [p.137:] of land at the mouths of minor streams and was perhaps occasionally fed by an overflow from the river which normally ran past it Round the lagoon were rice fields on fertile alluvial soil with an underground water supply. That evening I found my mafu sitting in the yard sewing up an old wound in his foot with coarse black thread, an operation which caused some merriment among the Chinese bystanders.

Next day I left surveyed country behind me and set foot on virgin ground. Though Leclere had visited parts of the district, his exploration had been confined to the country south of my route and had been purely geological. Davies' conscientiously drafted map shows the district as a blank; the distances marked on the dotted line representing the road are far from the truth, and the features shown on other maps are pure conjecture. Despite the political unrest I felt under an obligation to recommence my route survey, having until now merely made a few additions to the map. I simply took the precaution of sketching the survey in one of my own notebooks so that none of the men who watched me putting plants in the press would see anything of it Next morning I therefore rode up on to the mountain range which we now had to cross. I photographed the lake from above and that single plate enabled me to map its exact outline as it existed on that day. The massif, which reaches about 2500 m at its highest point north of the pass, extends northeastwards and hence belongs to the Chinese strike line, the general trend of strata found everywhere in Central and South China. Up there at Dongshan was a sulphur mine; I met one of the packhorse caravans taking the sulphur away. From that spot I had a view of the Nanpan Jiang valley — a wide, green and apparently cultivated channel extending as far as Qujing. The slopes of the mountain consisted mainly of limestone, with some bands of coal dipping southeast in their lower parts. Growing there in surprisingly large numbers were little juniper trees, slender and pyramidal in outline; this species, Juniperus formosana, is even more prickly than our own. After a long wait for the caravan I realised that they must have taken another route and rode on by myself. The track descended slightly into a hollow where there were more limestone knolls outcropping in rows. At a teahouse I found a guide who showed me the way to the next ridge. It had a thick covering of evergreen oak forest and was built of sandstone with outcrops of coal. Not far beyond it I found my caravan just finishing their lunch break, and snatched a hasty meal. Once again we saw below us parallel ridges and channels, the ridges broken by many gaps and the channels partly filled by knolls and hillocks where stratified rocks outcropped. All this obscured an/ clear picture of the structure; all one could see were alternating strata of limestone, sandstone and marl. Far away to the east I saw Mount Bailing Shan, the emblem of Luoping and the whole of that district, towering up to a comparatively high altitude at the end of a short range of jagged peaks. From the first ridge onwards the track led along a contour line, the streams running in the contrary direction from northeast to southwest, and finally descended into a hollow where it crossed a stream flowing down from the right.

Shizong was a little town on a river which likewise came down from the southwest Traced downstream, its valley, bounded on the left by the range we had just crossed and on the right by broad gentle ridges of no great altitude, became wider and wider. Rising out of the plain in front of us were a few small limestone hills, some if not all consisting of vertically set strata, and on the right were a few tributary streams flowing between spurs projecting from a tract of hummocky sandstone hills covered by pine forest The military commander, a major, came to visit me and explained that he had received a letter from the dujun instructing him to give me an escort of soldiers, and that the authorities in Guiyang had been commanded to replace them when I got to the border. I protested indignantly, but when I saw that resistance was of no avail I tried to negotiate a reduction in their' number.

"But why so few," he asked, "surely an important man is always glad to have a large retinue?" However, servility and bootlicking have always been detestable to me, and why should I, a humble private citizen, be bothered with a party of soldiers? But my objections left him unmoved. The dujun would hold him responsible, he said, an argument which I could not deny, and in putting my own case, I had to remain polite despite my annoyance. My escort accordingly turned up next morning — a lieutenant with a detachment of twenty regular soldiers equipped in full marching order. Despite my fears, their behaviour was impeccable and wholly discreet Indeed, I formed the impression that the dujun might have had second thoughts about letting me depart with such a beggarly caravan, and really intended them as a guard of honour rather than a means of supervising my activities. It hardly needs adding that I did not allow their presence to interfere in any way with the work of surveying the route, which, though carried on quite unobtrusively, was now producing results.

The dominant species in the steppe which filled the valley basin was Imperata cylindrica, a grass with silver-white flower spikes. Beyond the basin the route ascended towards Mount Bailing Shan, crossing a stream at its foot. There was no bridge, for only in short stretches did the stream run on the surface, having cut its bed into the conglomerate. In at least two places and, judging from the configuration of the landscape, in other spots further on, it ran through natural tunnels, and the route led over one of these. We climbed through sparse woodland, Lithocarpus spicata var. collettii alternating with Pinus yunnanensis, on to a ridge. On the right it sloped down to a stream flowing towards us, and on the left deep, steep walled channels descended northwestwards in line with the strike of the strata towards the valley — from here no longer visible — of the little river which ran through Shizong. The crest itself soared up in front of us towards a line of conical summits, the furthest being the main peak of Bailing Shan (ca. 2400m). The track passed to the right of it reaching only 2110 m. Lilium delavayi had opened its splendid red flowers in the pine forest; there was also a peculiar dry-habitat form of [p.138:] Dracocephalum urticifolium resembling a large sage, together with the little Iris collettii and a remarkable low-growing bamboo, Indocalamus andropogonoides (a new species), with soft, almost non-woody culms. Growing on fertile red earth among the grass was the multi-stemmed red-flowered Pedicularis henryi, which kept us company all the way through Hunan and turned up again on the border of Guangdong, and the tall, deep yellow P. lopingensis (a new species). The people of this mountain range were Miao [note # 155: Possibly Buyi rather than genuine Miao (SGH.).]. Dressed in grey hempen clothing, they were tilling their meagre fields, but none of their villages was situated near the main road. Flowering among the limestone rocks was Smilax herbacea, an erect herbaceous plant with olive green flowers —belonging to a genus which otherwise consists mainly of woody climbers — and Bletilla yunnanensis, a pink orchid with grass-like leaves. Magnolia delavayi was still frequent there. The district yielded such rich spoils, and seemed to promise still more further on, that I was unwilling to hurry and stopped for the night in a little Chinese village called Cha'er, still in the mountains at 2050 m. The people lived in wretched mudhuts thatched with straw, each having three rooms, one in the middle for human occupation, and two others, one on each side, without doors of their own, for buffaloes, cattle and pigs. As accommodation for the party of twenty soldiers they were far from satisfactory, and the officer in command was most displeased, but that had been one of the reasons why I had not wanted an escort For my own lodgings I found an empty house, which at least enjoyed good ventilation, as half its roof had fallen in.

The clear weather on that day, coupled with the sight of a few little summits peeping over the next ridge, tempted me to walk forwards a short way to the edge of the mountainside. There, revealed before me, was one of the most striking views I have ever seen, one of those startling vistas which remain unforgettably imprinted on the mind of a traveller unexpectedly confronted with a new landscape of a kind he has never even dreamt of before. I was totally unprepared for the journey across Guizhou, and there, lying before me, was the distinctive scenery of the province, a landscape with which I was destined to become thoroughly familiar, but here suddenly unveiled in its most characteristic form, finer and closer to perfection than I ever saw it afterwards. Yet what first rose into my mind were not the earnest thoughts befitting a scientist: I simply burst out laughing at the sight. It looked as if the forces of nature had gone crazy and in their play had flung down a pile of spinning tops which lay there with their points upwards, though some were tilted sideways and a few had longitudinal instead of horizontal grooves. Or was it really a petrified fir forest, spread out there beyond the subsidence area of Luoping? There were certainly at least a thousand, if not several thousand, of these conical hills arranged side by side in irregular rows, each from 50 to 100 m in height, becoming somewhat taller as they receded into the distance south-eastwards. Everywhere between them were funnel-shaped potholes, looking as if they were the moulds in which the cones had been cast The cones themselves were girdled and banded by the horizontal strata; the more even the stratification, the more regular were their shapes. Here and there, however, were a few in which the strata ran obliquely or even vertically up to their apices, the separate layers of rock standing out distinctly because of the absence of vegetation [note # 156: Handel-Mazzetti's photograph (Fig. 128 in I he first edition) is unfortunately too poor to be worth reproducing.] Because it lay so much lower tihan my viewpoint, the whole scene could be taken in at a single glance; the slope of Mount Bailing Shan leading up towards us was formed mainly from the flat surfaces of the strata; either it had been raised up, or the ground beyond it had sunk.

Situated among the cones was a large polje of typical form and appearance, deepening somewhat all round its edges,, which were under cultivation. The mountainside itself also consisted of karst There was a deep, steep walled doline on the left at the foot of the huge summit cone, and a broad shallower one to the right of the track. We had in fact passed several others on the previous day. The Luoping basin lies at an altitude of 1600 m, and on the descent into it there was a noticeable change in the plant cover, visible on the slopes only 300 m above it This point evidently marked the end of the climatic aridity of the Yuiman highlands. This district was exposed to the southeast monsoon, and the abundant precipitation compensated for the edaphic dryness, in other words the waterless state of the freely draining karst soil. The lower altitude was equivalent to that of the subtropical zone even in open country in central Yunnan, and besides the greater warmth the more uniform distribution of rainfall throughout the year in that more maritime climate had a marked effect on the plants. Although the slope had been deforested and converted to pasture and although the Chinese were still trying to burn as much as they could, I was struck by the luxuriant growth of grasses, low shrubs, climbers amd herbaceous plants, all of them vigorously asserting their right to live. We had entered a new fiorisltic region, though it did not coincide with the political boundary; indeed we still had two days to go before leaving Yunnan. Flourishing there were two scramblers with large round leaves: Actinidia chinensis with shaggy brown hairs and a bramble, Rubus clinocephalus, with entire leaves and sessile flower clusters in the leaf axils. Tall grasses were just starting to sprout — probably Saccharum arundinace-um and Themeda gigantea. Amongst them, almost completely hidden, Castanea seguinii, a shrubby chestnut barely a metre tall, was coming into flower. Lilium brownii, its stems as tall as a man, with small leaves and a few very large perfumed flowers, brown externally, was also growing there. An alder (Alnus nepalensis), though a water-loving tree, was still frequent. Another woody plant was Viburnum cylindricum, which has larger leaves than most of its genus. Down at the bottom, by the village of Jinsuo-[p.139:] luo was a grove of tall trees beside a spring, among then Photinia, Eriobotyra and a whitethorn of treelike dimensions, the stiff pinnate thorns at the base of ;ts trunk covered by white lichens pencilled with black. The lichen was Graphis lopingensis (a new species). On the dry plain itself CUnninghamia lanxolata was abundant, forming woods and alleys. Though it was perhaps not wild even there, further west it is exceedingly uncommon and its occurrence at that site testified to the change in climate.

Luoping, only two hours further on, was a little town much like Shizong, situated near the western boider of the plain, which had no drainage outlet I cortinued my journey next morning (12 June). Some of the hills were clothed with broad-leaved forest, anc I climbed one of them near the village of Jinzhishan. The trees were remarkably uniform in height — about 10 m — and they formed a canopy of dark green foliage without any very large leaves, /tea yuananensis was the dominant species, a tree which might be taken for a bird cherry with small green flowers and leathery leaves, but which really belongs to the saxifrage family. Others included Platycarya strobilacea with pinnate leaves, Xanthoxylon alatum, Schoepfia jasminodora, a large-leaved fig (Ficus sihetensis), the loquat or Japanese medlar (Eriobot-ryi japonica) and near the top Photinia crassifolia, another species with a felty covering. From the top of the conical hill I could see the next few. Here the/ were further apart and the strata dipped gently to the east; their sides hence ascended in remarkably tegular steps, like the pyramid of Cheops. This part of the terrain had apparently subsided somewhat mere than the rest; the dolines were hence filled in and cultivated tracts of fertile weathered friable soil stretched between them. How is it that the forces of the weather, acting on a geological formation (the Trias) which elsewhere presents totally different external appearances, can produce such strange manifestations as these conical hills? That realm of scijnce is too far removed from my own for me to attempt to answer the question, but I have a feeling that the rainfall — almost tropical in its character — may have had something to do with it.

Further eastwards we came to a row of large shapeless hills extending to the left of the track, and in front of us we saw a plateau dipping gently to the north east; its lower strata seemed to extend outwards from beneath it and, bent upwards through an angle of 90°, projected vertically in jagged peaks reaching a somewhat higher altitude to the south of the plateau. After crossing a stream which squeezed out of the valley between two hills on the left and flowed on towards some larger mountains, we arrived at a little market town called Banqiao. The forest growing on a limestone hill there was somewhat different in its composition. Lithocaipus dealbata, Pistacia chinensis, Carpinus turczaninowii and Xanthoxylon were the dominant trees; Cupnessus fimebris was also frequent but may have been planted. That evening the caravan leader whom I had engaged in Kunming at last caught up with us. He had picked out the very worst of his beasts for our little stroll to Shanghai, and his only utterance was the unprintable oath which makes one word in three of the speech of some people of Yunnan. The stream from Banqiao, after uniting with the next, also flowed towards the line of hills on the left, but finding no breach it disappeared into a sinkhole at the foot of a cliff. Before long the track climbed up to the jagged peaks we had seen on the day before, reaching an altitude of 1920 m. The plants again provided a reminder that we were still in Yunnan: the reddish steppe consisted of Andropogon delavayi with the usual herbaceous species, while the trees were Pinus armandii, P. yunnanensis and Keteleeria davidiana. But we soon met something new. Beside a large stream which we crossed near Kougai at midday I found Pterocarya stenoptera, and further on, near a hamlet called Baigong, Cinnamomum glanduliferum, a close relative of the camphor tree. The track veered away from the mountains along which we had been travelling and turned at first partly and then fully to the north, affording a view of two deeply cut river valleys. The first river was the Huangni He, which rose to the west of Shizong and flowed towards us at the bottom of a smooth south-facing precipice crowned with jagged spires, and the second was the Kuaize He, which came from the north and flowed in a westerly curve round a bluff to join the first at Jiangdi [note #157 : Handel-Mazzetti seems to have the names of the rivers the wrong way round, or to be misapplying the name Hwangni He (SGH.).]. Down to an altitude of 1250 m the forest, growing on sandstone, consisted of pines, Keteleeria and Quercus variabilis. The subtropical flora which I had expected, and for which I had planned a day's stay, was completely lacking.

[chapter 32:]