Heinrich Handel-Mazzetti: [A Botanical Pioneer In South West China] - chapter 40


Chapter 40. Summer on Yun Shan Near Wugang

A journey in a carrying chair — checkpoints — useless coolies — flowering trees on the Yun Shan — profusion of species — climbers and shade plants — mosses and fungi — rainstorms and mist — animals LJebenzeller mission — civil war — bandits in uniform

After visiting Anjiapu a second time I set off from Xikuangshan on 28th May aiming to reach Wugang, my second night's stop, in good time to see the trees on the Yun Shan in flower. Brauer had to go to Xinhua and I therefore took the opportunity of travelling in his company as far as Lengshuijiang, on the river 20 km upstream from Xinhua and 180 m above sea level. On the journey I found that my pony was temporarily unfit to travel. Some time earlier, when I had been riding on paved roads near Loudi, it had lost both front shoes and as there was not a smith to be found and I could not wait to let the hoofs harden, both of them had worn down very badly and unevenly, as I had already noticed on my excursions around Xikuangshan. So I sent it back there, and my friend Tolkmitt, whom I knew to be a man who loved and understood horses, most kindly agreed to look after it in my absence. Brauer lent me his carrying chair, which was brought that very night Much against my will I squeezed into the box, which to anyone except the lazy Chinese is an instrument of torture rather than a pleasant means of conveyance.

Some five kilometres upstream we crossed the Zi Jiang and soon afterwards turned into a valley leading south-westwards. Tall bamboos (Phyllostach-ys puberula) with pendent crowns of delicate bright green leaves, in many places without any admixture of trees, clothed the hills on both sides of the narrow valley, creating a pleasing picture. The journey by travelling chair soon proved anything but enjoyable. The bearers bumped the chair against every corner that we passed, and before long it looked sadly battered. At one spot they tipped it right over and finally, having reached a large village called Wenjia-qiao, three of them declared that they had never learnt how to carry a chair and if they were to go any further they required a fifth man. I of course refused, but a stout and helpful bystander quickly found me new bearers, and my old ones were so considerate as not to insist on payment for their valuable services. It was amusing to see how the populace, attracted by the unaccustomed sight of my European crates and boxes, at first crowded round and then, as my bearers halted and set down the [p.167:] chair with me in it, suddenly scattered and ran off, to the merriment of the few who remained.

Next day we surmounted the gently sloping watershed (420 m) at the head of the valley and descended into a hollow harbouring the village of Longqiaopu. It was situated on another minor tributary of the Zi Jiang, which emerged from a little ravine and flowed on to join the river through a second, much deeper gorge to the north of a mountain called Baiyunya. At this point the main road from Xinhua to Shaoyang was barred by guards posted by the southerners' forces. They had several hundred men there and in the next two villages. With their large coolie-style hats they looked less military than the northerners, and they did not have their coarse features and crude manners; on the contrary, many of them stood to attention when they saw that I was a European. At the picket on the next ridge, where there were some old fortifications, some officers were present and a checkpoint had been set up. With the utmost politeness, the soldiers asked to examine my baggage. Under ordinary circumstances I could have refused, as no one except the Maritime Customs was empowered to open Europeans' baggage. However, since the cessation of diplomatic relations the authorities had given orders that the1 . baggage of any German or Austrian who had been granted a travel permit was to be inspected. A refusal would only have aroused suspicion, and might have prompted the soldiers to enquire how it was that I came to be travelling at all. I accordingly declared that I was not in possession of any forbidden articles — I had strapped on my revolver under my coat — and requested them to make haste, as I had no time to lose. After opening my tin trunk, always an object of intense suspicion, they said they were satisfied and at my request most obligingly issued a certificate which would exempt me from further molestation. With my nose in the air, I stated that I did not intend to travel via Shaoyang since the northerners' troops were occupying it This probably helped to speed the baggage inspection, which was actually quite unobjectionable, and when one of the officers pretended to find cause for suspicion in a roll of cardboard the other officer did not back him up. My men had to answer searching questions about their places of origin, but as none of them came from Northern China they were allowed to pass without demur. One of my new chair porters, a man who had already made trouble after every short rest and who had to be shoved and tugged before he would take up his place once more, seized the opportunity to abscond.

A fairly long descent led to Qukoupu below the southwest side of Baiyunya, a bare sandstone mountain. Here a man was found to replace the missing chair porter. I continued southwards and on the fourth day reached Yakoupu, a place on the road from Shaoyang to Wugang, about thirty kilometres to the west of the former. There I found two of the Liebenzeller missionaries, who kindly invited me to stay in the mission building at Taohuaping. After leaving the mountain tract I entered the Shaoyang basin, which extends to the west of Wugang as far as Xinning [note # 187: But Xinning is SSE of Wugang (SGH).].It was a uniformly undulating landscape of severely weathered limestone which outcropped here and there, occasionally forming projecting escarpments with spires and turrets. Many of the low hills were clothed with woods of Pinus massoni-ana, and further on were groves of Cupressus funebris on the rock scarps.

This was my first journey in a carrying chair, and it soon proved so unpleasant that I swore it would be my last. To sit there between four coolies stinking of garlic and other unmentionable things is certainly no pleasure. Moreover, any glimpses of the wayside are no more than momentary, and to show untrained collectors what plants to gather is practically impossible without stopping, getting out and walking back. Growing on the fieldbanks and near the houses was a not uncommon scarlet fungus, Ithyphallus rubicundus, but I was hurried past at such a speed that I failed to recognise the toadstools, thinking that they were animal entrails discarded by some passer-by, and in the end I had to be content with a very poor specimen. The daily cost was ten times that of horseback travel, and I began to think longingly of my brave little pony in Xikuangshan. I could have had him sent on to me after he had recovered, but he would certainly have fallen into the hands of soldiers or bandits. On reaching Taohuaping I therefore bought another pony, a handsome and well proportioned grey mare, after putting her through her paces that morning, and sent the carrying chair home. I knew that I could get back the price I had paid for her, but in my haste I unfortunately went wrong in my assessment of her teeth; not until some time later did I realise that she was barely four years old and hence not really strong enough to carry me. That afternoon I set off again and, travelling mostly along the river, reached Wugang at noon on the third day (4th June).

There had been heavy rain in the previous few days, and I spent a day there drying out my things, so as to be ready to set to work immediately on arriving at Yun Shan. A coolie from Xikuangshan, an unutterably stupid and apathetic fellow, although he knew very well how to extract "squeeze", managed to scorch my tropical helmet, saddle cover and one of my panniers, and even set fire to a bundle of paper. To light the lamp he used a strip of paper soaked in paraffin as a spill, and then amused himself by balancing it, still blazing merrily, on his hand. When given the job of buying fodder and conveying it to the mountain on the horse, he simply refused to do the work; so I finally chased him out and reported the matter to the Chinese who had supplied him. However, he crowned his stupidity by reappearing in Xikuangshan, where he was thrown out on his ear. Serviceable coolies are much more easily found in Yunnan than in Hunan, though the inhabitants of Hunan are supposed to be the most intelligent people in China [note # 188: Mao Zedong was Hunanese (SGH).].

Unfortunately I once again reached Yun Shan too late and missed the flowering of some of its [p.168:] trees. Nevertheless, repeated traverses of the forest revealed an undreamt of wealth of trees and shrubs which had escaped my notice in the previous year, and I was now able to study and collect them in various stages of development Aesculus wilsonii, a horse chestnut with long dense panicles of small florets, had just come into flower at the sides of the woodland streams. Many of the ten different oaks (chiefly Lithocarpus) still carried their pollen catkins, as did the sweet chestnuts. Lithocarpus henryi, an evergreen tree of frequent occurrence in the beech zone on the upper part of the mountain, opened its male flowers, borne on angular, branching panicles, somewhat later, and there was a new species, L paniculate, which did not flower until August Maples were also well represented, among them the tall Acer amplum growing in sunken channels at the upper edge of the forest and the interesting A. henryi with leaves of three leaflets. Here and there the pink flowers of Albizzia julibrissin gleamed among the trees. The white-leaved crowns of Sorbus nubium (a new species) stood out conspicuously in the upper storey of the forest Growing on the crest to the southwest of the temple was one solitary example of a remarkable new species of lime tree (Tilia endochrysea) which did not flower until August Another stately tree, seldom seen in flower, was Emmenopte-rys henryi with large, opulently perfumed, pale yellow flowers and enlarged calyx lobes of the same colour as an added attraction to pollinators. Bretsch-neidera sinensis, the sole representative of its family, is a splendid tree discovered by Henry in southern Yunnan and not seen again since. I collected its previously unknown fruits, though their identification had to await the arrival of further material gathered by my collector during the following spring. Mangli-etia fordiana, a tree with a stout trunk and a broad crown, was still carrying its rather small red magnolia-style flowers with a scent of lemons. Cinnamon bark was gathered by the Chinese and used for medicinal purposes, but the tree from which they collected it (Cinnamomum jensenianum, a new species) is not common, and is seldom found with its tiny flowers and its fruits, the latter borne on stalks as thin as hairs. Although only five or six square kilometres in area, this seemingly inexhaustible forest harboured over one hundred species of trees and shrubs. There were numerous huge climbers (lianas) which had just come into flower, including Schizophragma integrifolium, Ficus baileyi, Parthenocissus heterophylla, Kadsura chinensis, several species of Actinidia (A. chinensis, A. arguta and A. purpurea) and a bramble (Rubus malifolius) with undivided leaves and stems 5 cm thick which scrambled up into the highest treetops. Out of the four species of bamboo which grow on that mountain I found three in flower. Not many of the herbaceous plants were yet flowering, but I found the yellow-brown Impatiens siculifer, a large flowered Solomon's seal (Disporopsis fusco-picta), a dainty violet meadow rue (Thalictrum clavatuni) in large numbers, the low growing Lysimachia trientaloides with clusters of starry golden yellow flowers in the middle of whorls of narrow dark green leaves, a new orchid (Liparis pauliana) with a flat brown lip and thread-like tepals, growing in moss on top of rocks,

and a broad-leaved sedge, Carex scaposa, which displayed pretty white and pink coloration at its flowering time. Some of the shade-loving plants did not flower until late in the season, followed by Fordiophyton gracile (a new species) and Sarcopyra-mis nepalensis and hordes of inconspicuous species of Lecanthus, Elatostema and Pilea. Last of all came two Gesnerads, turgid with sap, Hemiboea henryi and H. subcapitata, which had large bell-shaped violet flowers with orange yellow markings and white hairs, though these flowers were almost completely enclosed by a mantle of water-filled bracts, and just peeped out through an opening at the apex. Growing in wet spots on the rocks were other, rosette-forming Gesnerads (Oreocharis primulina and the new Qiirita fimbrisepala), while yet another (Lysionotus pauciflorus) dangled its flowers on hair-thin stalks among the ferns which clothed the tree trunks. One of these ferns was Cyclophorus sheareri with tongue-shaped fronds, golden brown on their undersides. There were several dozen species of ground-living ferns ranging from ordinary bracken and Diplazium orientale with broad triangular foliage 1.5 m tall to the dwarf Trichomanes parvulum which carpeted the rocks in sheets less than 1 cm thick. There were many species of mosses: Aerobryum speciosum, of which I found a specimen with capsules, Floribundaria intermedia and other species of Neckeraceae hung hi profusion from the trees, while others grew on branches and leaves, and beside and in the water. However, plump cushions of moss were confined to the rocks, and were not to be found on the forest floor as in Europe. Lichens were abundant, and fungi were represented by parasitic forms and by toadstools, the latter emerging in large numbers in late summer. I also found what I took to be the fruiting bodies of the mycelium which causes rotting wood and bamboo to glow in the dark. The parasitic fungus Cordyceps aurantiacus (a new species) was putting up its club-shaped growths from the body of a grub which lives in rotting wood. C. sinensis is of course a well known species found in mountainous districts and used as a medicine. There were numerous species of slime fungi bulging out from beneath the bark of the trunks of certain trees. Algae, however, were poorly represented.

My accommodation was a room in a large temple called Guanyin Ge. As its window and door were on one side only it became extremely dank and musty in wet weather and it was no easy task to prevent moulds from spoiling the botanical material which I had collected. Although the room had a board floor and was not actually damp, even my good German saddle became mouldy, something that had never happened before, even in the Salween valley. Bad weather often hampered my field work; out of the seventy four days which I spent on that mountain only eighteen were without rain. From time to time there were violent rainstorms which brought the mountain-sides down in landslips and cut deep channels through the bean fields round the temple. On one occasion a stream came surging through the temple dining room and flooded the courtyard to such a depth that one could have floated a boat there. However, the rheumatism which had troubled me in the summer of 1916 vanished completely in the first few days of my stay on Yun [p.169:] Shan. Possession of a permanent base made the work much easier than it was when I was constantly on the move, and as I was able to obtain charcoal and make a fire for drying the paper, the botanical specimens which I prepared were really excellent.

One piece of equipment which saved a great deal of tree climbing was a six metre pole with hooks at the top, but it was too awkward to take on my travels and not something for which a replacement could be found at every halt I also collected zoological material; insects of the most varied kinds were abundant, and in the mountain streams there were salamanders of a species (Pachytriton brevipes) which had been found only twice before, and, strangely enough, crabs. In the forest there were many different snakes, the commonest being the harmless Zaocys dhumnades, usually black in colour and never less than two metres in length. Also present was a poisonous snake, Ablates maior, with protective colouring of leaf green. A wild cat caught a hen quite near the temple, but was driven off before it could carry it away. Tracks of wild boar were often to be seen, and a muntjac deer was caught in a trap. Living in the trees were small squirrels with two pale stripes on the back and a thin tail without much hair.

Throughout August the rain persisted unrelentingly and I therefore had to abandon my plans for a trip to the mountain range to the southwest, the crests of which were some 200 m higher than Yun Shan, though I should have liked to make the journey at the same time of year as my previous visit to Yun Shan in 1917. From the summit of Yun Shan there were clear views of the valleys on the near side of the mountain range. All parts of it were green, being covered with shrub meadows; high forest was confined to a few deeply cut channels and was presumably composed of the same tree communities as the forest on Yun Shan. However, I particularly wished to see one forest which filled an extensively branching gorge, because it was at a lower altitude. In the mist, however, I might have failed to find the place, especially as the porters whom I would certainly have needed for the three or four day trip would have sought every possible excuse for shirking a journey into the mountains.

I took my meals with the German missionaries and I am deeply grateful to Herr L. Jensen for his hospitality; indeed, it was he who made it possible for me to spend the summer there. Herr R. Paul and Sister E. Gramenz also assisted me in all kinds of matters. The Liebenzeller missionaries belonged to an extreme sect whose members believe in the literal truth of the Bible. To his credit, however, Herr Jensen, once he realised that I did not share these convictions, made no attempt to win me over. Yet it remains a mystery to me how Dr E. Witt, the mission's medical officer, a man with a first-rate medical education — to whom I also owe a debt of gratitude — could believe that the laws of nature have a cause which is to be found outside the natural world itself. Yet evening after evening, when the distant clouds, piled up in the shapes of mountains and dragons — always different, yet always the same — had been replaced by a stain of sombre red spreading across the western sky, almost anyone might have felt inclined to see the sunset as a sign from heaven: a symbol of the decisive battle then being fought on the fields of France.

Otherwise there was not much news from the rest of the country. The general commanding the southern troops in Wugang had mustered the bandits from the west and southwest to fight against the northern army. In mid-June two thousand of them arrived with their women; they were given uniforms and after some delay sent off to attack Shaoyang. While in Wugang they behaved much better than die soldiers, especially the northerners. In the meantime the northern forces had occupied Xinhua and the road leading from it to Shaoyang. They even established a small garrison in Xikuangshan, but all remained quiet there, though their troops played havoc in Shaoyang and Xinhua. The only flag that they respected was the German — ostensibly their enemy's. The very morning after entering Shaoyang they posted a sentry outside the German mission, though their soldiers climbed over the walls of the British mission and shouted insults at the missionary, and the guard sent that afternoon to protect him — at the request of the Germans — absconded almost immediately. Herr Paul, sailing along the Zi Jiang river to fetch long awaited supplies for the mission, was advised by northerners and southerners alike to hoist the German flag on his boats — although it had long ago been officially forbidden — so that he would then be allowed to pass in safety. While on a journey Tolkmitt heard some soldiers grumbling about him: "Why doesn't he go back and join the Army?" they said, evidently thinking he was an Englishman. They went on complaining until his servant explained that he was actually a German. And the most telling fact of all was that Allied nationals were unable to travel at all; they required passports, but owing to the unsafe conditions existing in the province none were being issued.

One day a gang of twenty bandits appeared at Lanxinguan on die southern side of Yun Shan. Ten of them were slaughtered on the spot and the others scattered. Four of them fled on to the mountain, throwing away tiieir rifles as they ran, and took the road down to Wugang. However, the people there were ready for them, and only one turned back and got away. On 14th August a further thousand bandits from the west arrived in Wugang, the general having lured them there. Once tiiey were inside the town he ordered his soldiers to surround them and told them they were too unreliable to be of any use to him. After brief parleyings he had their rifles confiscated, gave them each a dollar and let them depart in peace.

On 20th August I left Yun Shan, travelling eastwards down a long, gently sloping valley and reaching Wugang that evening via the Xinning road. The whole valley was filled with tall bush meadow-land; only along the stream were there any surviving shrubs, conspicuous among them being the large white panicles of Hydrangea paniculate. I found a bog moss (Sphagnum palustre) — the first I had seen for a long time. Near the lower end of the valley there were some little woods on the slopes, consisting of pure stands of Cunninghamia trees. Splashing down a rock face was a waterfall, and despite its deforested state die valley was not entirely without scenic attraction.

[chapter 41:]