Heinrich Handel-Mazzetti: [A Botanical Pioneer In South West China] - chapter 42

[p.172:] Chapter 42. Repatriated

Surveillance by the Chinese authorities — safeguarding my collections — departure — unpleasantness in Hankou — river and sea voyages — Ihe British escort — boils — first news of the peace terms — via Wesel and Munich to Tyrol and Vienna — my collections restored at last — further work by my collector and his disappearance

Christmas had come before the authorities began to bother their heads about us. In response to orders from Beijing, we were then required to register our names and have our photographs sent there. Although the newspapers reported that China now wished to ship all enemy aliens back to their own countries, none of us believed these stories, especially as the government had hitherto put up valiant resistance to any such proposal from the Allies. Unhappily, our trust soon proved to have been misplaced. The belief, previously shared by all the Chinese, that we were going to win the war, and the fear that they would then be called to account for their actions, were the main reasons why the Chinese government had refrained from imposing sterner restrictions on our lives. Now, however, they outdid all the shabby tricks which they had played on us during the war itself. Only a government as venal as the Chinese would — for a payment of half a million dollars — have acceded to such unreasonable demands on the part of the Allies, despite the objections raised by large sections of the Chinese population, notably the business community, and despite the fact that the armistice had been signed. Strict control of all business premises was imposed at the beginning of February 1919, and their owners were forbidden to take out or bring in goods of any description. On the very first evening after the new regulations had come into force, as I was going home after dinner, a policeman stopped me and wanted to search my jacket pockets. He actually took hold of my raincoat to detain me, and I had to exert some force to free myself, though I remained calm. However, our complaints proved effective and we were spared any personal molestation; we did not even have to report regularly to the authorities, though such a measure was enforced in other parts of China.

We received word that 26th February had been fixed as the day of our departure, but the dujun found ways of prolonging our stay, much to the annoyance of those like myself who wanted to get home without further delay. We were allowed only 350 Ib of personal baggage, and I therefore gave up any idea of taking my collections with me, especially as they would have been subject to repeated searches at every frontier crossing, and made arrangements for them to be stored in safety until they could be forwarded to Europe. At first we were told that we would be permitted to sell all our movable property, but this concession was then altered to cover household goods only; everything else was to be requisitioned. As I felt that it would be impossible to instil into the official mind any understanding of the nature and importance of my collections I decided to deceive the authorities into thinking that I was selling them. This was not easy, as the dujun himself wished to purchase them, saying that he would present them to the provincial agricultural college. Then he said that he simply wanted to take them into a place of safety, and finally claimed that they were not really household goods at all. However, I outwitted him by pretending that the sale was a fait accompli, having been transacted in accordance with the ill-translated terms of the original decree. In fact I conveyed them to the Catholic mission and left them in the custody of the procurator, Pater Prandi, an Italian who had been the landlord of several of my compatriots and who was a helpful and trustworthy man. The officials of the aliens control commission, who were presumably well aware of my ruse but realised that my collections were really of no interest or value to them, remarked to our Chinese servants that I was a crafty fellow and that I was probably plotting, even now, to decamp and slip away to Yunnan once more. Despite this suspicion no one placed any restrictions on my freedom and I was allowed to continue my rides in the country right up to the end. Indeed, the officials behaved very decently, evidently on the instructions of the dujun Chang Qinyao, who was known to be a good friend of the German community. As none of us knew what we would be permitted to take in the way of written or printed matter, and as the shorthand extracts from my diaries did not fit into any of the categories listed in the regulations, I consigned all my papers to the care of the Dutch consul general, so that even if the worst came to the worst they would be safe. However, this had one serious disadvantage: without my botanical specimens and my notes the enforced delay was a sadly unproductive time, and my gloom was deepened by the miserably wet weather which persisted throughout the winter and made trips into the country almost impossible; nevertheless, the security of my collections had to be the paramount consideration.

As the end of the peace negotiations now seemed to be in sight I gave up any thought of further travels and sold my splendid stallion, which had carried me for three years, to a compatriot who had been exempted from repatriation. However, in response to violent objections from the British consul he was expelled one night at the very last moment, together with his wife and three young children. Too distressed to utter a word, he left the pony in the care of his mafu, who probably let it starve. Of all the partings which I endured in China hardly any was more sorrowful than this. I sold the mare to a Chinese, who gave me quite a good price for her. Because of the first slump in the exchange rate at home, all the extra dollars which I scraped together by selling my possessions — among which was my long forbidden Browning pistol — built up into a nice little capital sum. I also took back with me the unspent half of the last remittance from the Academy of Sciences in Vienna; when changed back into Austrian crowns it yielded roughly double the amount of the entire original payment.

[p.173:] Our personal liberty remained unrestricted up to the end; on the afternoon before our departure — for lack of other occupation and knowing that it would be my very last outing — I borrowed Wieczorek's pony and despite the bad weather went for a long ride into the country. As the Liebenzeller mission at Wugang had been exempted from repatriation, although they had at times suffered much annoyance from the authorities, I took the opportunity of sending my factotum Wang Dehui there, having arranged for him to travel in the company of Sister Gramenz, who had just recovered from a grave illness and was now returning to the mission. The purpose of his trip was to spend six weeks collecting the spring flora of Yun Shan. He carried out his task successfully, but was unable to continue to the very end; while he was in the temple robbers stole some of his clothing and soldiers took his blankets.

During the last few days the supervisory authorities became somewhat neglectful; they were reluctant to bother with any matters which might make work for them. We were then told that we had to be at the railway station after lunch on 25th March and that we should arrive at Wuchang [note # 192: One of the cities of the conurbation of Wuhan on the Yangzi River in Hubei. The others are Hankou and Hanyang (SGH).] on the following afternoon.

"What are you going to provide for us on the journey?" we asked the officials.

"Tea!" was their answer.

"Yes, and what to eat?"


"Really? Do you think we're going to put up with that?"

Just at that moment a Chinese hotel keeper happened to come past and, pushing the officials aside, we arranged with him to have our evening meal served in a dining car specially coupled on to the train. No one who knows the German community in China will be surprised to hear that it was a wild and convivial evening, and that the official interpreter — a good natured fellow — imbibed his share of liquid refreshment Throughout the entire journey we took good care that the whole of the daily allowance of $3 a head which the government provided for our board went into our stomachs, and that not a cent was diverted into the pockets of the officials. Dr Hume, the American physician, boldly came to the station to see us off and wished us all a hearty "Auf Wiedersehen, really!" In particular he came to bid farewell to Herr Wollheim and his family, for whose exemption he had pleaded energetically but in vain against the wiles of the British consul, who was in a position to blackmail the dujun by threatening to reveal his involvement in opium and smuggling rackets.

At 10 o'clock that night, in pouring rain, the train steamed out of the station, carrying a party of soldiers to guard our baggage. Among the officials who accompanied us there were some pleasant young men, in particular two of the officers, but their chief was an elderly bureaucrat, dull and sluggish, who installed himself in a first class compartment with his cronies and his provision hampers and stayed there. As day broke we were approaching Yueyang. The flood plain of the Dong-ting lake was now a rich green meadow, probably consisting for the most part of Carex species kept short by mowing. Further on there were extensive tea plantations, some of them between fields of Vicia faba. The vegetation appeared to be the same as that around Changsha. To the right of the railway were some chains of hills of moderate elevation, but then the country became flatter and flatter and at 4 o'clock that afternoon we reached a grimy little station on the outskirts of Wuchang. The baggage was unloaded and taken to the steamship landing place. The officials waited at the station for the billeting officers, who had gone ahead, and we waited patiently beside them until it began to grow dark. Then we began to worry about our baggage, imagining that it was lying out in the pouring rain, and realised that unless we did something to expedite matters it would be midnight before we moved into our accommodation. We told the official in charge that we wanted to go at once.

"Not yet!" was his reply.

Then one of us started getting ready to leave the railway station.

"You must not leave!" cried the elderly Chinese official, and a soldier seized our compatriot by the elbow. He tore himself loose and struck out with his cumbersome Chinese umbrella, open as it was, against the soldiers, who responded by drawing their sabres halfway from their scabbards with a clatter, and loosening their Mauser pistols in their holsters. It was clear that one man alone could do nothing effective and that we must all act together. We therefore got back into the railway carriage, dragged out the elderly bureaucrat and the rest of the officials — or at least persuaded them to get out — and all set off together from the station. In the meantime the billeting officers arrived, and before long the steamship took us to Hankou, where we were accommodated in a Chinese hotel. Though cold and draughty, it was comparatively clean. The old bureaucrat took his revenge by telling the authorities in Hankou and the officials from the German consulate that we were highly dangerous people and that we all wanted to abscond, with the result that we were not allowed to step outside the hotel during the two and a half days we stayed there. This led to certain minor incidents, for we were accustomed to rebuff any Chinese who attempted to touch us. One particular scuffle was provoked by a Chinese soldier who stopped a Chinese nursery-maid while she was taking the children in her charge to visit some acquaintances, and gave her a prod in the back. The officer presented himself and requested us most humbly and earnestly not in any circumstances to strike his soldiers.

"Certainly we shan't," was our reply, "but when someone lays hands on a German citizen he is not prepared to tolerate any assault, be it minor or major. Surely you understand that?"

"Yes", he replied, "quite right. None of the soldiers will touch any of you again."

[p.174:] On 29th March, a fine sunny day, we boarded a splendid river steamer, the "Jiangyong''. We were allotted the best cabins, for even the Germans from Hankou had refused to travel otherwise than first class European; for some of them it was probably their first and only experience of first class travel — and free into the bargain. In Shanghai we were housed in the Nantou camp, and we were allowed exit permits for the whole of the following day. Through the kindness of the Netherlands consul general I met the French consul general, H. Wilden; he had formerly been in Kunming and was acquainted with my scientific work. It was he who had recommended the American zoological expedition to call on me for advice, and in return for the help I had given them he now promised that the French authorities would do what they could to safeguard my collections.

On the morning of 3rd April we embarked on a British freighter, the " Antilochud'. This was the last stroke of good fortune which I experienced during my travels in China, for the " Antilochud' was a far better ship than the steamers previously employed as transports, the "Noni', "NovanT and "Atreud'. The conditions prevailing on the "Atneud' — used for bachelor accommodation —were scandalous: miserable rations without any bread, temperatures of up to 43°C in the berths, no baths, extreme shortage of water, no room for exercise on deck, and other indescribable hardships which resulted in the deaths of seven of the men who were shipped home on her. Since that time various newspapers — not only neutral but even American and Japanese — haid voiced such strong criticism of Fraser, the British consul general — he had even forbidden German doctors to join the ship — that everything possible had been done to improve conditions on board the " Antilochud''. Nevertheless, the accommodation was bad: deep down in the hold, devoid of any portholes and quite impossible to ventilate. However, the baths were good and the food was adequate, though the Chinese "comprador" tried to make money out of the provisions supplied to him — by baking cakes and similar dainties and selling them for his personal profit — until we brought him to heel by staging a "cake strike". The British escort party, who posted only four guards in all, behaved irreproachably, and the three hundred soldiers who joined the ship in Hong Kong to return to Plymouth did not make themselves objectionable, though their officers did occasionally utter offensive remarks. I had planned to fish for plankton during the voyage and through the kind intervention of Dr Blumenstock, a German doctor from Shanghai who sailed as the ship's medical officer, obtained permission from the captain to do so, but unfortunately my five-year-old net fell to pieces on the very first cast and I had to give up the attempt

The voyage was the most agreeable which any of the ship's officers had experienced during the past thirteen years. The 9000 ton ship steamed smoothly at speeds of up to 14 knots, touching only at Hong Kong, Singapore, Colombo, Suez, Port Said, Gibraltar and Plymouth. In the Red Sea I had my last two attacks of malaria, one of them extremely severe, but

a course of quinine and a stay in the well ventilated sickbay which had been erected on the deck rid me of it for good. I was also troubled by recurrent boils, first occurring in November and numbering about forty in all. With his limited resources, the ship's doctor was unable to treat them effectively. When I got home it became apparent that they were due to scabies, and a course of autovaccination cured me completely. The voyage was not without scientific interest. Dr O. Israel and Dr H. Weigold, members of the Stotzner expedition to Sichuan [note # 193: Walter Stötzner led an expedition to Western China and Tibet in 1914. He was accompanied by H. Weigold, founder of the bird observation station on Heligoland, Otto Israel, Professor of Geodesy in Dresden, E. Funcke, entomologist, and W. Limpricht, botanist. They explored the mountains north of Kangding [Tatsienlu] from 101' to 104' 30' and 30' to 31' 40', in an area about 300km by 200km. The outbreak of war brought the expedition to a premature end. Stotzner managed to get home to Germany via the USA in 1917, but the others were interned . Stötzner, Walter, Ins Unerforschte Tibet, Tagebuch der Deutschen Expedition Stötzner 1914, Leipzig, 1924, pp.316 with numerous photos and three maps. W. Limpricht reported his botanical work in his book Botanische Reisen in den Hochbergen Chinas und Ost Tibets, Feddes Repertorium, XII,1922.], joined the ship in Hong Kong. Weigold, who had formerly been a teacher in the German-Chinese secondary school in Guangzhou, was able to tell us all about the marine creatures which we saw, including sea snakes (two species) off Singapore, flying fish, dolphins (both common and bottle-nosed), whales and in particular the birds, ornithology being his speciality. Some of the Germans who had been in Kunming, among them Stiebritz and his family, also joined us in Hong Kong. They had travelled there via Tonkin, where the French had treated them with unexpected kindness. We had all thought that once the armistice had been signed we should soon be home, and the worry caused by not knowing what we would find when we got there was made worse by the reports printed in the few scraps of newspaper which we got hold of in the ports where the ship touched. In Plymouth a socialist newspaper was smuggled on board for us; it assumed that the peace conditions were already known to its readers, but we were able to deduce them, though only incompletely, from the hostile comments which it made on them. So this was how "peace with law and justice" would look. Compared with such a contemptuous dismissal of the fair and reasonable aspirations of democratic Germans towards justice and freedom, our hated militarism seemed nothing more than a children's game. This, then, was how President Wilson, the world's worst swindler, had trapped us into accepting his fourteen points, and had then proceeded to twist them into something completely different Filled with rage and foreboding, we steamed through the Channel; we had to wear life jackets and the helmsman steered clear of all floating objects including one which, so we were told, really was a mine. On 16th May, in the morning, we disembarked at Rotterdam, and found that everything was even worse than the impression given by that paper in Plymouth. Was it really necessary for our deluded neighbours to pander to the revengeful urges of a [p.175:] hundred million people, instead of leading mankind towards peace?

The friendly welcome which we received from the Dutch and from the Germans resident in Rotterdam, and the enthusiastic reception which awaited us at the German frontier and at Wesel, our dispersal camp, where we arrived late in the evening of the same day, did little to relieve our bitter disappointment We stayed there for three days waiting for our baggage; when it finally arrived we had to unload and reload it ourselves. Weigold and I spent the days most enjoyably in exploring the moorlands, which I had never seen, under the guidance of the local pharmacist E. Gansloser and his wife, who entertained us most sumptuously. Our native countryside, seen for the first time after five years' absence in China, left some vivid impressions, notably the keen air, the uniform pale green of the beech woods newly in leaf, and the sombre grey of our sparsely branched short-needled pines. Together with the other Austrians of our party and seven Turks, I travelled by local trains to Munich, where we separated. A further week passed before I found out where my mother was living and obtained an entry permit for Tyrol. Through the kindness of my colleagues in the Nymphenburg botanical gardens I was enabled to look through the five wartime volumes of the Ostemichische Botanische ZeitschrifL Devouring their contents like a starving man, I was to some extent consoled to find that life in the world of science was still going on.

On 30th May I at last left Munich. Next morning, as the train bore me along the Inn valley, its well remembered mountains now struck me as absurdly small: they looked as if their lower halves were missing. At 10.30 am I reached Maierhofen in the Zillertal, where I was reunited with my mother. She, dear soul, had endured five years of worry and anxiety, though of course, had I remained in Europe, she would probably have lost me for ever. Out of tender consideration for my feelings — perhaps too tender when dealing with a matter-of-fact scientist — she had withheld news of her failing health. Her heart, undermined by the happenings of those terrible years, had more than once been on the brink of fading into nothingness, but her constitution, steeled by her love of Nature — a love which she had passed on to me — had rallied again and again, though the mortal husk which remained was a wreck seemingly twenty years older than her actual age. Yet it was a great joy to see her once more; during my stay in Changsha there had been a gap of eight months without news from her, and I had begun to fear the worst. Then after a short stay in Linz I reached Vienna on 5th June.

On the stroke of midnight, just as Whit Sunday was ending, I opened the door of my apartment. On

emerging next morning, my steps turned first to the centre and focus of my scientific life, the Botanical Institute. Life in the city was not as bad as the foreign newspapers had made out, and it was a relief to find that the streets were free from spiked helmets, gaudy uniforms and rattling sabres. Though living conditions were still miserably cheerless, I soon adapted myself to the new ways of existence and was glad to find that the ordinary people of Vienna were just the same as they had always been. Likewise little changed were my colleagues and my chief, Professor Wettstein. He had fought my cause with unflagging tenacity during my absence, and his delight on seeing me safe and sound was expressed in a welcome of more than ordinary warmth and cordiality. I also owe it to him that I was able to make good use of that unhappy postwar time.

The Chinese, however, had now begun to realise who had tried to-trick them and who had dealt honestly with them. In October 1919 the government in Beijing accordingly declared that personal property belonging to German and Austrian citizens was to be restored to its owners. The British promptly returned those of my crates which they had found and seized on an Austrian ship when war broke out, 'but General Tang Rirao, the governor of Yunnan, had other ideas. Besides smuggling opium and printing counterfeit banknotes, he hoped to make money out of my plants. Thus began a period of dreadful anxiety and uncertainty, a mental torment far worse than any of the minor troubles which I had endured during my years in China. Many of the plants which I had found had in the meantime been collected by Forrest, who had subsequently traversed some of the routes which I had travelled, and as his material was shipped to Britain without delay its publication gained priority over my discoveries. Despite the pleas of the Netherlands Legation and the vigorous efforts of the Norwegian missionary Amundsen [note # : Amundsen had returned to Kunming in 1919 in the service of the Norwegian Mission Society and had been appointed German consul, a post which he held from 1919 to 1924.] the Yunnan government hung on to my collections until May 1921, and refused to surrender them until the German consul in Hankou, Dr Bracklo, intervened. Herr R. Schnabel advanced the shipping charges and Dr J. Stonborough defrayed the costs of conveyance from Trieste to Vienna, but when they finally reached me on 5th April 1922 it was too late for my mother to share my rejoicing. The letter which I wrote to the governor was not one which he would have wished to frame and hang on the wall; indeed I doubt whether any of his staff would have dared to translate it to him in full. [p.176:] Through the good offices of my friends in Changsha my plant collector Wang Dehui was able to spend the summer of 1920 in Pingxiang in the west of the province of Jiangxi ("Kiangsi"), from which he brought hack an excellent though not very large collection. In 1921 he resumed his activities in the border zone between Jiangxi and Fujian, where he worked under the aegis of Pastor A.Seipel in Ningdu, and again achieved highly satisfactory results — until he met his death on Mount Xunfeng Shan near Nanfeng, presumably killed by a tiger. Enclosed with his last consignment of plants was the following poem:

From the highest mountain peak

Rivulets run murmuring towards the valley

On the crest I gather for a distant country

The flowers that Nature brings forth

[Biographical notes . . . Schneider, Amundsen and Andrews :]