Heinrich Handel-Mazzetti: [A Botanical Pioneer In South West China] - chapter 33


Chapter 33. Along the Main Road From Huangguoshu via Guiyang to Guiding

Anshim — shrub meadows — tea — the watershed — a noisy inn — a visit to die dujun — Qianling Shan,Dong Shan and Nanyue Shan — a mountain circle — meadow bogs — rest houses

The road, in much better condition than most of the main routes in Yunnan, led north-eastwards to Zhenning, passing over horizontally stratified ridges of coal-bearing marl above limestone, with quartzite on top. Conical rock formations were only a little less prominent than before and seemed to belong to the quartzite layer. Next day a short march, for the most part in a channel between rows of limestone cones, brought us to the large town of Anshun. Most of the inns were better than those in Yunnan; in one place the mafu was greatly alarmed when I found an inn that was perfectly clean.

"There can't have been any horses here for ages," he said, "and there could be evil spirits inside. I'll have to drive them out before I take my horses in there." So saying, he set light to a bundle of straw and waved it about under the manger.

On another occasion it was my turn to be annoyed. The local official had provided me with a watchman, and just as I was going to sleep he began to make an earsplitting clatter outside my open door by hammering on a large hollow bamboo, with the idea of keeping thieves away. The Chinese may be able to put up with such a racket, just as they will sleep under an electric light, sometimes even with their eyes open, but I rejected his well meant endeavours with unconcealed indignation. Along the road were the ruins of numerous stone-built houses belonging to deserted villages, the occupants having presumably fled to escape extortion and looting by passing soldiers from China's growing armies.

Anshun lies on a fair-sized river flowing south-eastwards. Previous measurements of its latitude were correct, but its longitude differs considerably from mat shown in the atlases; according to my route survey it is 105° 58' 30" east of Greenwich [note # 169: 105' 56' on Operational Navigation Chart H-11.], i.e., somewhat further west man the distance stated on the margin of Davies' map, "about 35 miles to Guiyang". In fact it is 80 km south west [note # 170: Correctly only slightly south of west (SGH).] of the provincial capital. The road continued more or less in a straight line along a similar channel to Pingba. My mafu was greatly amazed to see a horse harnessed to a plough, though certainly it was a pitiful sight and one that we met nowhere else. He was equally astonished at seeing horsemeat on sale — apparently it was sometimes eaten in that district Broad-leaved trees of new and different kinds began to appear beside the characteristic species of the montane woods, some of them even in the short distance we had travelled since leaving the Guarding district Among them were Paulownia tomentosa, Cercis chinensis and Firmiana simplex, all three now showing an abundance of brown shading among their dark foliage: in the first two it was produced by their closely packed fruits and in the third by the felty covering of its young inflorescences. Growing on the bare rocks were two splendid gesnerads, Didymocarpus ebumeus with thick fleshy leaves and large pendent violet flowers (Fig.46) and Lysionotus pauciflorus, the latter not yet fully developed; equally frequent was the small yellow-flowered Sedum drynarioides with abundant glands. Except in such places much of the ground was covered by shrub meadow [note # 171: "Buschwiese". Handel-Mazzetti defines this as "lush mesophilic meadow with scattered shrubs, resembling broom in their habit of growth, spreading out at their tops, their twigs covered with lichens. The shrubs are for the most part the same as in mesophific mixed forest, but also include several species of Berberis. Grasses are somewhat scanty."] , a community of plants all of which were under one metre in height. A few grasses were still flowering, as were the shrubs and subshrubs; there were various Leguminosae including several species of Lespedeza, Desmodium and Indigofera which formed besom-shaped or pyramidal bushes studded with pink flowers in various shades, those of Lespedeza formosa contrasting elegantly against its silvery foliage. There .was Castanea seguinii with a profusion of yellowish flower spikes, Hypericum hookerianum with golden yellow flowers, Salix praticola (a new species) and other shrubs. Mingled with them were herbaceous plants with magnificent flowers, the finest of all being Osbeckia crinita with large dusky pink blooms, their calyces covered with long red bristly hairs, followed by Platycodon grandifforus with deep blue saucer-shaped bells, Iris tectorum, Belamcanda sinensis with pink flowers, Anemone japonica and Senecio argunensis. Bracken — our native species — was abundant and there was a understorey of Nephrodium xylodes or some other fern resembling our native ttelypteris. The entire plant community showed unmistakable resemblances to those flourishing under similar climatic conditions in certain stretches of the Nu Jiang and Drung Jiang valleys, especially as small trees of Betula luminifera were growing here and there. Today for the first time I saw tea in cultivation, something I did not meet again until long afterwards. The bushes were planted at an altitude of 1300 m, in rows between maize, and looked somewhat windswept Their twigs were blanketed with lichens; probably the damage done when the leaves were picked made the twigs prone to colonisation by them. I stopped at a teahouse where the local product was proudly set before me. I remembered then that I had seen a few tea bushes planted in the grounds of the Provincial Agricultural College at the foot of Changchong Shan near Kunming, but I do not know whether they survived [note # 172: Tea is nowadays grown as far north as Shandong province (SGH).].

Next day, beyond the southwards draining valley channel in which Pingba lay, there was yet again a change in the landscape. We came to a chain of limestone hills dipping south-westwards beneath the marl bluffs of a low mountain range. At their foot were some truly mesophilic meadows with an [p.146:] abundance of cocksfoot grass and familiar central European flowering plants such as Daucus carota, Senecio argunensis, Agrimonia zeylanica, Prunella vulgaris, Hypericum perforatum and Lotus comicula-tus. On dry sandstone I again met the Vaccinium shrub communities I had seen in Yunnan (V. camph-orifolium and V. fragile) together with the small fern Gleichenia linearis, but soon we were once more among conical limestone hills, though we followed the surface of the stratified rock across country which was gently folded towards the north west In a little defile I found the last edelweiss of my travels in China (Leontopodium artemisiifoUum), while the hedges and thickets became more interesting. Torric-ellia tiliifolia, a tall tree with leaves like our limes, was frequent. The streams were edged by deposits of tufa and growing on their banks were willows and dense colonies of Madscus chinensis, a sedge. On crossing a river at an altitude of 1200 m I realised that we had traversed an inconspicuous but important watershed. The river flowed from the south and, to judge from its size, must have journeyed a considerable distance from its source. We had therefore crossed the watershed between the Yangzi Jiang and the Nanpan Jiang, the headstream of the West River of Canton. In this more or less uniformly elevated country there were hardly any vantage points giving far-ranging vistas, but from here there was a fine view to the north, across a green hollow to two mountains, one of which was wooded and carried a temple. The river emerged from between them after making a gentle curve to the east Beyond the river, near the little town of Qingzhen, I once more encountered a few pine trees, clearly of a different species from those seen in Yunnan, though a close relative. Their needles were shorter and thinner and the trees were darker in hue than the Yunnan pines, differences which were immediately obvious to me, having as I did the appearance of the Yunnan species freshly imprinted on my memory. It was Pinus massoniana, a pine which extends into the tropics. Occurring with it was Liquidambar formosana, a stately are resembling the planes, and indeed related to them. We met it here for the first time, and it accompanied us for some distance.

On 27th June we climbed slowly up a col at 1320 m and during the afternoon went steadily downhill, first into a little hollow and then eastwards along the stream which drained it. Before long we again came to limestone strata, dipping eastwards above the marls of the ridge. The new pine formed woods and Abelia microphylla, carrying a profusion of little pink bells, grew on the rocks. We hardly noticed the plain on to which we emerged on leaving the narrow valley. We soon caught sight of the city wall, hidden among the trees; another half hour and we were entering the west gate of the provincial capital, Guiyang. After searching for some time I found an upper room in a tolerably comfortable inn.

Guiyang (Kweiyang) was situated on level ground at 1070 m altitude; it extended over a larger area than Kunming and claimed seventy thousand inhabitants. Being provided with neatly covered drains, its streets made a favourable impression of cleanliness, but its trade was less prosperous than that of Kunming and it lacked any buildings substantial enough to lend it an air of dignity. Late that evening and early next morning the police came and asked to see my passport; if I had none, they said, they would have to put a guard over me and my baggage. However, Lao Li entreated them to come back by daylight, and after they had finally inspected the passport, they withdrew satisfied. Later came a visit from a higher official, who apologised, though not directly, and said that they had indeed received excellent recommendations some time before my arrival, but they were surprised that I had sought lodging in an inn so crowded with Chinese. "But where else could I have gone", I thought, "there were no fellow countrymen of mine in the town; no Chinese citizen had offered me hospitality and I was certainly not going to ask for an invitation; moreover, as a guest in a private house it can be even more difficult to keep intrusive onlookers at a distance than it is in an inn." Schoch, my Swiss friend, had lodged in the same inn in 1916, when he travelled on foot from Kunming to Zhenyuan [note # 173: 160 km east-northeast of Guiyang.] and during the journey had diligentiy collected plants, a set of which he presented to me. The people here still remembered the large bundle of Chinese : straw sandals which he used to carry on his back. Though a 'pair of these sandals would certainly not last a European more than a day, they cost only 15 cash (= 2 ½ Heller) and on paved roads they were undoubtedly the best footgear; walking round Guiyang in my leather shoes I slipped and fell several times on paving stones worn smooth by constant use. The ponies also had a hard time on the paved roads, My pony — its hind hoofs unshod as was usual in Yunnan — had recently had several attacks of inflammation of the pasterns and I therefore let Lao Li ride it, as he was much smaller and lighter than I. However, I did not want to entrust it to him for long, fur he was as bad a rider as any man in South China. An officer lodging in the inn helped me to treat it and with shoes on all four hoofs it trotted along merrily once more. He also offered his services as a guide to the temple groves in the vicinity, and told numerous untruths, for instance that he was going to Liping with a convoy carrying money and would meet me again there; he was evidently not a man fit for any serious enterprise. Another visitor was a highly intelligent youth who spoke English and was sometimes tiresomely persistent in his attentions wlten I was sitting at my work. I had to extend my stay in Guiyang to have shoes made in European style; a pair cost six Mexican dollars, but I cannot remember whether they lasted until the autumn. I also .got a tailor to make me a raincoat out of raw silk coated with oil, a tolerably durable fabric, as my camel-hair cape was too heavy for that climate. However, the raincoat turned out to be atrociously ill-fitting; it stuck out some 20 cm beyond each shoulder and even though I had it re-oiled twice it did not remain waterproof for long.

Upstairs I was able to keep idle spectator at bay, but my stay was not really enjoyable. On a gallery a few metres across the street was a man suffering from a venereal disease. He lay there, stark [p.147:] chapter 33 the road from huangguoshu via guiyang to guiding naked, wiping away the pus with scraps of paper which blew about all over the yard. After I had sent someone to complain, he hung up a sheet of paper, but soon forgot it once more. The episode casts a revealing light on Chinese perceptions of decency and antisepsis. Down below in the yard I watched the hotel guests dragging the bedsteads out of the rooms and pouring boiling water over the cracks to destroy lice and bedbugs. All night long there were outbursts of hellish din with loud voices and singing in a room diagonally below mine, but the innkeeper was unwilling to put a stop to the racket as he profited by selling tea to the party.

As Zhang Yizhou had given me a passport which was valid for Yunnan and Guizhou only, saying that when I reached Guiyang I would be able to get one for the provinces further east, I paid a visit to the dujun. The government in Guiyang had neither an aliens' officer nor an interpreter, and I had to take Lao Li with me for the latter purpose. Like many of our elderly generals in Austria, the dujun's knowledge of the world was strictly confined to military matters, and when Li told him that I had come to China for the purpose of collecting plants, his mouth dropped open in astonishment

"What sort of plants?" he asked, with an expression on his face which said "Surely you don't expect me to believe that tale!" Li in his turn pretended to be amazed at such a stupid questions.

"Plants growing in the wild, of course", he replied. In the subsequent course of our interview I evidently failed to make him understand the real nature of my activities, for he kept a close watch on my trips out of town, and the policemen at the town gates always asked my men where I had been. He raised no objections to my proceeding along my chosen route across Guizhou and issued me with a new passport, but his authority did not extend to Hunan or Jiangxi and I therefore had to request our ambassador A. von Rosthorn to apply on my behalf to the government in Beijing, as I expected to encounter difficulties in those provinces. However, my fears proved groundless; the authorities there did not bother their heads about European travellers and did not even provide me with an escort.

To the south and east of the town there were cone hills, and to the north and west were tracts of more or less continuous mountainous terrain. For my first outing, on 1st July, I chose Qianling Shan, a hill some 200 m higher than the town, situated at the edge of the mountains just north of the route along which I had come. On the limestone which formed its lower part and on the sandstone overlying it were forests of tall broad-leaved trees including Quercus acutissima and Myrica rubra, a shrub remarkably similar to the strawberry tree (Arbutus) in the appearance of its leaves and its red fruits, which have a sharp resinous flavour but when cooked with sugar make excellent eating. There were also hornbeams (Carpinus fargesiana) together with smaller numbers of other broad-leaved trees, a few pines and Cunninghamia trees. The understorey consisted of camellias (Thea oleifera), Vaccinium japonicum, a shrub with angular winged shoots and white flowers like those of Oxycoccus, and Gaultheria laxiflora. Huge trees of Meliosma henryi, resembling privet but covered in blossom, stood among the Liquidam-bar trees around the temple which was situated in the hollow between the two summits. Growing there in damp shady spots were a few plants which I had not previously met with in China, among them our familiar garden Funckia (Hosta coerulea) together with Lysimachia trientaloides, L. capillipes and various ferns, which also flourished on the rocks. Dong Shan, reached through the east gate, yielded fewer novelties but it offered a wide ranging prospect over the entire town and the surrounding countryside, now mantled in green: the calm blue river flowed from the mountains in the south-west and swerved eastwards round the southern end of the town, where it was spanned by a large bridge visible among the pale grey houses. Further afield, a few bare cones of whitish limestone and a yellowish brown band of marl lent colour and diversity to the landscape. At the foot of the mountain lime was quarried to be spread on the ricefields. The heath meadow communities- established here furnished some interesting plants, among them Potentilla chinensis with finely cut leaves and yellow flowers.

Nanyue Shan, somewhat further away to the south, also gave a fine vista from its bare summit The view was in fact most extraordinary. A little distance away from the mountain was a series of cone hills 200-300 m in height. Most of them tended to merge into one another, though here and there was one which stood out from the rest They were arranged in a closed ring or oval, roughly 15 km from north to south and 5 km from east to west From its shape it might have been taken for a gigantic crater were it not that its outer perimeter was so clearly demarcated from its surroundings and that its sedimentary structure was so obvious. The limestone strata of this mountain ring dipped radially towards the middle of the trough and above it were deposits of marl and two bands of harder rock with a softer band between them. Inside the limestone ring the two harder bands formed two low concentric walls, much more regular in shape than the outer ring. Far away to the south the slightly elevated ground in the middle of the trough hid part of the ring and I could not see whether it was completely closed. The entire triple ring stood in the middle of a plain which stretched far into the distance, especially towards the south. The trough had obviously been formed in the same way as a doline, by the sinking of its middle, but what were the forces that had cut off its outer perimeter and shaped it into such a smooth circle?

Platycarya, /tea, Gnnamomum, Xanthoxylon, LJgustrum lucidum, aspens and oaks were the main elements in the woods around the temple, but higher up I found Schizophragma integrifolium, usually an enormous climber, but here in the variety 5. integrifolium minus spreading over the bare rock. Another find was Pyracantha discolor, a new species. On the way back I passed a spot where a cadet school or some similar body had been engaged in a surveying exercise. An immense number of plane tables had been set up at intervals of twenty paces or a little more. Chinese paper had been spread over the sketching paper to protect it and work had obviously come to a standstill. I knew that the Chinese had failed to produce any topographical survey of their country, but the sight made me regret even more keenly my decision to abandon any further surveying, a decision which I had taken because in that [p.148:] tangled and intricate terrain mapmaking would have diverted too much time from my botanical work, and as I descended to lower altitudes that work became more and more exacting.

When I left Guiyang on 6th July I had sacked my plant collector arid took with me instead a young lad formerly employed by the mafu. He was called Xiao Zhu ("little pig") and I had had my eye on him for some time. He was lively and resourceful, and an excellent tree climber, and he proved quite satisfactory once I had given him and Yaftscha a good telling-off for shirking their work. I found out that they were changing the paper on only half the plants in the presses, and leaving the other half until the next day, simply to save themselves trouble. Knowing this, I was not surprised that the material collected on the journey at the height of the rainy season was less than perfectly preserved.

East of Guiyang the landscape was formed mainly of sandstone. The road crossed several rivers flowing northeast; the smaller channels were bordered by Mariscus chinensis and sometimes almost filled by it; pollarded willows and ash trees grew along their banks. On a hill in the little town of Longli I found Poliothyrsis sinensis, a large tree covered with panicles of small white honey-scented flowers; it belongs to the tropical family Flacourtiac-eae. A little further on the road was bordered by boggy meadows where I gathered rich booty among the large colonies of reedmace (Typha orientalis), including our native moss Acrocladium cuspidatum. Twining among the spiny-leaved twigs of the Cunn-inghamia and spreading up to a considerable height over the low trees were the branching fronds of a clubmoss, Lycopodium casuarinoides, with curved leaves, hair-thin but remarkably stiff. Pines and deciduous oaks, with an understorey of shrubs consisting of Clethra cavaleriei and Vaccinium iteophyllum, made up the woods growing on the hillsides. During the midday halt in a village called Longzu I took the opportunity of exploring a gully filled with shrubs. Scrambling over them was the shaggy Actinidia fulvicoma var. hirsute with narrow leaves and white flowers; down at the bottom I found Nephwdium decursivopinnatum, a slender fem with spreading tufts of soft fronds. Some of these newcomers stayed with us constantly as we travelled along the road, while others such as Macleaya cordata, a herbaceous perennial well over 2 m tall with thick round seagreen leaves and bulky panicles of pink florets like meadow rue, turned up only in a few spots.

Each stage in the journey brought changes in the flora and in the customs of the people. The heat became more and more oppressive. I had bought a fan, and was obliged to ply it vigorously. In the hostels the porters and other travellers used to wash themselves — or at least their feet and their bodies above the waist — in hot water every evening, and in some places along the road there were resthouses, not hostels but stone buildings of solid construction, sometimes with a little temple adjoining, extending over half the width of the road. Water for the use of travellers was.. set out in earthenware jugs and in some of them there were traders offering food for sale. I had to forbid my men to buy beef, as rinderpest was rife among the cattle. Everywhere along the route we saw cows at their last gasp, and freshly flayed hides stretched out to dry. The ridge between Wangcheng Qiao and Guiding ("Kweiting") is an anticline in a stratum of limestone; the route led across it through a little ravine with miniature waterfalls and caves. Otherwise, however, the scenery was monotonous, and the scale of the landscape was much larger than it had been west of Guiyang, so that I soon regretted having given up my mapmaking; along this stretch it could have been done quite easily, without demanding much time or attention. But the link with what had gone before was already severed, and to start again somewhere in the middle would not have given reliable results. Guiding (1020 m) lies slightly lower than Guiyang. One of the "soldiers" sent to relieve my escort turned up there at noon on the third day of the journey, but the other, bringing the safe-conduct letter, did not arrive until some time later. The crowd of people who were gaping at me as I ate my lunch greeted this fellow with cheering and roars of laughter; he was evidently a popular figure, though one side of his mouth hung down almost as far as his chin.

[chapter 34:]