CHAPTER XII. TONGCHUAN TO YUNNAN CITY.

From Tongchuan to Yunnan city, the provincial seat of Government and official residence of the Viceroy, whither I was now bound, is a distance of two hundred miles. My two carriers from Chaotong had been engaged to go with me only as far as Tongchuan, but they now re-engaged to go with Laohwan, my third man, as far as the capital. The conditions were that they were to receive 6s. 9d. each (2.25 taels), one tael (3s.) to be paid in advance and the balance on arrival, and they were to do the distance in seven days. The two taels they asked the missionary to remit to their parents in Chaotong, and he promised to receive the money from me and do so. There was no written agreement of any kind - none of the three men could read; they did not even see the money that the missionary was to get for them; but they had absolute confidence in our good faith.

I had a mule with me from Tongchuan to Yunnan, which saved me many miles of walking, and increased my importance in the eyes of the heathen. I was taking it to the capital for sale. It was a big-boned rough-hewn animal, of superior intelligence, and I was authorised to sell it, together with its saddle and bridle, for four pounds. Like most Chinese mules it had two corns on the forelegs, and thus could see at night. Every Chinaman knows that the corns are adventitious eyes which give the mule this remarkable power.

We were on our way early in the afternoon of the 7th going up the valley. Below the curiously draped pagoda which commands Tongchuan we met two pairs of prisoners who were being led into the city under escort. They were coupled by the neck; they were suffering cruelly, for their wrists were so tightly manacled that their hands were strangulated, a mode of torture to which, it will be remembered, the Chinese Government in 1860 subjected Bowlby, the Times correspondent, and the other prisoners seized with him "in treacherous violation of a flag of truce," till death ended their sufferings. These men were roadside robbers caught red-handed. Their punishment would be swift and certain. Found guilty on their own confession, either tendered voluntarily to escape torture, or under the compulsion of torture, "self-accusation wrested from their agony," they would be sentenced to death, carried in baskets without delay - if they had not previously "died in prison" - died, that is, from the torture having been pushed too far - to the execution ground, and there beheaded.

We stopped at an inn that was not the ordinary stage, where in consequence we had few comforts. In the morning my men lay in bed till late, and when I called them they opened the door and pointed to the road, clearly indicating that rain had fallen, and that the roads were too slippery for traffic. But what was my surprise on looking myself to find the whole country deeply under snow, and that it was still snowing. All day, indeed, it snowed. The track was very slippery, but my mule, though obstinate, was sure-footed, and we kept going.

We passed a huge coffin - borne by a dozen men with every gentleness, not to disturb the dead one's rest - preceded, not followed, by mourners, two of whom were carrying a paper sedan chair, which would be burnt, and so, rendered invisible, would be sent to the invisible world to bear the dead man's spirit with becoming dignity. All day we were in the mountains travelling up the bed of a creek with mountains on both sides of us. We passed Chehki, ninety li from Tongchuan, and thirty li further were glad to escape from the cold and snow to the shelter of a poor thatched mud inn, where we rested for the night.

A hump-back was in charge. The only bedroom was half open to the sky, but the main room was still whole, though it had seen better days. There was a shrine in this room with ancestral tablets, and a sheet of many-featured gods, conspicuous amongst them being the God of Riches, who had been little attentive to the prayers offered him in this poor hamlet. In a stall adjoining our bedroom the mule was housed, and jingled his bell discontentedly all through the night. A poor man, nearly blind with acute inflammation of the eyes, was shivering over the scanty embers of an open fire which was burning in a square hole scooped in the earthern floor near the doorway. He ate the humblest dishful of maize husks and meal strainings. That night I wondered did he sleep out in the open under a hedge, or did the inn people give him shelter with my mule in the next room. My men and I had to sleep in the same room. They were still on short rations. They ate only twice a day, and then sparingly, of maize and vegetables; they took but little rice, and no tea, and only a very small allowance of pork once in two days. Food was very dear, and, though they were receiving nearly double wages to carry half-loads, they must needs be careful. What admirable fellows they were! In all my wanderings I have never travelled with more good-natured companions. The attendant Laohwan was a powerful Chinese, solid and determined, but courteous in manner, voluble of speech, but with an amusing stammer; he had a wide experience of travel in Western China. He seemed to enjoy his journey - he never appeared lovesick; but, of course, I had no means of asking if he felt keenly the long separation from his bride.

At the inn there was no bedding for my men; they had to cover themselves, as best they could, with some pieces of felt brought them by the hunchback, and sleep all huddled together from the cold. They had a few hardships to put up with, but their lot was a thousand times better than that of hundreds of their countrymen who were dying from hunger as well as from cold.

On the 9th, as I was riding on my mule up the mountain road, with the bleak, bare mountain tops on every side, I was watching an eagle circling overhead, when my men called out to me excitedly and pointed to a large wolf that leisurely crossed the path in front of us and slunk over the brow. It had in its mouth a haunch of flesh torn from some poor wretch who had perished during the night. This was the only wolf I saw on my journey, though they are numerous in the province. Last year, not twenty li from Chaotong, a little girl of four, the only child of the mission cook, was killed by a wolf in broad daylight before its mother's eyes, while playing at the cabin door.

Again, to-day, I passed a humpbacked dwarf on the hills, making his solitary way towards Tongchuan, and I afterwards saw others, an indication of the prosperity that had left the district, for in time of famine no child who was badly deformed at birth would be suffered to live.

We stopped the night at Leitoupo, and next day from the bleak tableland high among the mountains, where the wind whistled in our faces, we gradually descended into a country of trees and cultivation and fertility. We left the bare red hills behind us, and came down into a beautiful glade, with pretty streams running in pebbly beds past terraced banks. At a village among the trees, where the houses made some pretension to comfort, and where poppies with brilliantly coloured flowers, encroached upon the street itself, we rested under a sunshade in front of a teahouse. A pretty rill of mountain water ran our feet. Good tea was brought us in new clean cups, and a sweetmeat of peanuts, set in sugar-like almond toffee. The teahouse was filled. In the midst of the tea drinkers a man was lying curled on a mat, a bent elbow his pillow, and fast asleep, with the opium pipe still beside him, and the lamp still lit. A pretty little girl from the adjoining cottage came shyly out to see me. I called her to me and gave her some sweetmeat. I wished to put it in her mouth but she would not let me, and ran off indoors. I looked into the room after her and saw her father take the lolly from her and give it to her fat little baby brother, who seemed the best fed urchin in the town. But I stood by and saw justice done, and saw the little maid of four enjoy the first luxury of her life-time. Girls in China early learn that they are, at best, only necessary evils, to be endured, as tradition says Confucius taught, only as the possible mothers of men. Yet the condition of women in China is far superior to that in any other heathen country, Monogamy is the rule in China, polygamy is the exception, being confined to the three classes, the rich, the officials, and those who can by effort afford to take a secondary wife, their first wife having failed to give birth to a son.

It is impossible to read the combined experiences of many missionaries and travellers in China without forming the opinion that the condition of women in China is as nearly satisfactory as could be hoped for, in a kingdom of "civilised and organised heathenism," as the Rev. C. W. Mateer terms it. The lot of the average Chinese woman is certainly not one that a Western woman need envy. She cannot enjoy the happiness which a Western woman does, but she is happy in her own way nevertheless. "Happiness does not always consist in absolute enjoyment - but in the idea which we have formed of it."

There was no impertinent curiosity to see the stranger. The people in Yunnan seem cowed and crushed. That arrogance which characterises the Chinese elsewhere is entirely wanting here. They have seen the horrors of rebellion and civil war, of battle, murder and sudden death, of devastation by the sword, famine, ruin, and misery. They are resigned and spiritless. But their friendliness is charming; their courtesy and kindliness is a constant delight to the traveller. At meal time you are always pressed to join the table in the same manner, and with the identical phrases still used by the Spaniards, but the request is one of politeness only, and like the "quiere Vd. gustar?"  is not meant to be accepted.

We continued on our way. Comparatively few coolies now met us, and the majority of those who did were travelling empty-handed; but there were many ponies and mules coming from the capital, laden with tea and with blocks of white salt like marble. Every here and there a rude shelter was erected by the wayside, where a dish of cabbage and herbs could be obtained, which you ate out of cracked dishes at an improvised bench made from a coffin board resting on two stones. Towards sundown we entered the village of Kong-shan, a pretty place on the hill slope, with views across a fertile hollow that was pleasant to see. Here we found an excellent inn with good quarters. Our day's journey was thirty-seven miles, of which I walked fifteen miles and rode twenty-two miles. We were travelling quickly. Distances in China are, at first, very confusing. They differ from ours in a very important particular: they are not fixed quantities; they vary in length according to the nature of the ground passed over. Inequalities increase the distance; thus it by no means follows that the distance from A to B is equal to the distance from B to A - it may be fifty per cent, or one hundred per cent, longer. The explanation is simple. Distance is estimated by time, and, speaking roughly, ten li (3.33 miles) is the unit of distance equivalent to an hour's journey. "Sixty li still to go" means six hours' journey before you; it may be uphill all the way. If you are returning downhill you need not be surprised to learn that the distance by the same road is only thirty li.

To-night before turning in I looked in to see how my mule was faring. He was standing in a crib at the foot of some underground stairs, with a huge horse trough before him, the size and shape of a Chinese coffin. He was peaceful and meditative. When he saw me he looked reproachfully at the cut straw heaped untidily in the trough, and then at me, and asked as clearly as he could if that was a reasonable ration for a high-spirited mule, who had carried my honourable person up hill and down dale over steep rocks and by tortuous paths, a long spring day in a warm sun. Alas, I had nothing else to offer him, unless I gave him the uncut straw that was stitched into our paillasses. What straw was before him was Chinese chaff, cut into three-inch lengths, by a long knife worked on a pivot and board, like the tobacco knife of civilisation. And he had to be content with that or nothing.

Next day we had an early start soon after sunrise. It was a lovely day with a gentle breeze blowing and a cloudless sky. The village of Kongshan was a very pretty place. It was built chiefly on two sides of a main road which was as rugged as the dry bed of a mountain creek. The houses were better and the inns were again provided with heaps of bedding at the doorways. Advertisement bills in blue and red were displayed on the lintels and doorposts, while fierce door-gods guarded against the admission of evil spirits. Brave indeed must be the spirits who venture within reach of such fierce bearded monsters, armed with such desperate weapons, as were here represented. I stood on the edge of the town overlooking the valley while my mule was being saddled. Patches of wheat and beans were scattered among fields of white-flowered poppy. Coolies carrying double buckets of water were winding up the sinuous path from the border of the garden where "a pebbled brook laughs upon its way." Boys were shouting to frighten away the sparrows from the newly-sown rice beds; while women were moving on their little feet among the poppies, scoring anew the capsules and gathering the juice that had exuded since yesterday. Down the road coolies were filing laden with their heavy burdens - a long day's toil before them; rude carts were lumbering past me drawn by oxen and jolting on wheels that were solid but not circular. Then the mule was brought to me, and we went on through an avenue of trees that were half hidden in showers of white roses, by hedges of roses in full bloom and wayside flowers, daisies and violets, dandelions and forget-me-nots, a pretty sight all fresh and sparkling in the morning sun.

We went on in single file, my two coolies first with their light loads that swung easily from their shoulders, then myself on the mule and last my stalwart attendant Laohwan with his superior dress, his huge sun hat, his long pipe, and umbrella. A man of unusual endurance was Laohwan. The day's journey done - he always arrived the freshest of the party - he had to get ready my supper, make my bed, and look after my mule. He was always the last to bed and the first to rise. Long before daybreak he was about again, attending to the mule and preparing my porridge and eggs for breakfast. He thought I liked my eggs hard, and each morning construed my look of remonstrance into one of approbation. It is very true of the Chinaman that precedent determines his action. The first morning Laohwan boiled the eggs hard and I could not reprove him. Afterwards of course he made a point of serving me the eggs every morning in the same way. I could say in Chinese "I don't like them," but the morning I said so Laohwan applied my dislike to the eggs not to their condition of cooking, and saying in Chinese "good, good," he obligingly ate them for me.

Leaving the valley we ascended the red incline to an open tableland, where the soil is arid, and yields but a reluctant and scanty harvest. Nothing obstructs the view and you can see long distances over the downs, which are bereft of all timber except an occasional clump of pines that the axe has spared because of the beneficial influence the geomancers declare they exercise over the neighbourhood. The roadway in places is cut deeply into the ground; for the path worn by the attrition of countless feet soon becomes a waterchannel, and the roadway in the rains is often the bed of a rapid stream. At short intervals are vast numbers of grave mounds with tablets and arched gables of well dressed stone. No habitations of the living are within miles of them, a forcible illustration of the devastation that has ravaged the district. This was still the famine district. In the open uncultivated fields women were searching for weeds and herbs to save them from starvation till the ingathering of the winter harvest. Their children it was pitiful to see. It is rare for Australians to see children dying of hunger. These poor creatures, with their pinched faces and fleshless bones, were like the patient with typhoid fever who has long been hovering between life and death. There were no beggars. All the beggars were dead long ago. All through the famine district we were not once solicited for either food or money, but those who were still living were crying for alms with silent voices a hundred times more appealing. When we rested to have tea the poor children gathered round to see us, skeletons dressed in skins and rags, yet meekly independent and friendly. Their parents were covered with ragged garments that hardly held together. Many wore over their shoulders rude grass cloths made from pine fibre that appear to be identical with the native petticoats worn by the women of New Guinea.

Leaving the poor upland behind us, we descended to a broad and fertile plain where the travelling was easy, and passed the night in a large Moslem inn in the town of Iangkai.

All next day we pursued our way through fertile fields flanked by pretty hills, which it was hard to realise were the peaks of mountains 10,000 to 11,000 feet above sea-level. Before sundown we reached the prosperous market town of Yanglin, where I had a clean upstairs room in an excellent inn The wall of my bedroom was scrawled over in Chinese characters with what I was told were facetious remarks by Chinese tourists on the quality of the fare.

In the evening my mule was sick, Laohwan said, and a veterinary surgeon had to be sent for. He came with unbecoming expedition. Then in the same way that I have seen the Chinese doctors in Australia diagnose the ailments of their human patients of the same great family, he examined the poor mule with the inscrutable air of one to whom are unveiled the mysteries of futurity, and he retired with his fee. The medicine came later in a large basket, and consisted of an assortment of herbs so varied that one at least might be expected to hit the mark. My Laohwan paid the mule doctor, so he said, for advice and medicine 360 cash (ninepence), an exorbitant charge as prices are in China.

On Friday, April 13th, we had another pleasant day in open country, leading to the low rim of hills that border the plain and lake of Yunnan city. Ruins everywhere testify to the march of the rebellion of thirty years ago - triumphal arches in fragments, broken temples, battered idols destroyed by Mohammedan iconoclasts. Districts destitute of habitations, where a thriving population once lived, attest that suppression of a rebellion in China spells extermination to the rebels.

On the road I met a case of goitre, and by-and-by others, till I counted twenty or more, and then remembered that I was now entering on a district of Asia extending over Western Yunnan into Thibet, Burma, the Shan States, and Siam, the prevailing deformity of whose people is goitre.

Ten miles before Yunnan my men led me off the road to a fine building among the poplars, which a large monogram on the gateway told me was the Catholic College of the Missions Etrangeres de Paris, known throughout the Province as Jinmaasuh. Situated on rising ground, the plain of Yunnan widening before it, the College commands a distant view of the walls and turretted gateways, the pagodas and lofty temples of the famous city. Chinese students are trained here for the priesthood. At the time of my visit there were thirty students in residence, who, after their ordination, will be scattered as evangelists throughout the Province. Pere Excoffier was at home, and received me with characteristic courtesy. His news was many weeks later than mine. M. Gladstone had retired from the Premiership, and M. Rosebery was his successor. England had determined to renew the payment of the tribute which China formerly exacted by right of suzerainty from Burma. The Chinese were daily expecting the arrival of two white elephants from Burma, which were coming in charge of the British Resident in Singai (Bhamo), M. Warry, as a present to the Emperor, and were the official recognition by England that Burma is still a tributary of the Middle Kingdom. I may here say that I often heard of this tribute in Western China. The Chinese had been long waiting for the arrival of the elephants, with their yellow flags floating from the howdahs, announcing, as did the flags of Lord Macartney's Mission to Peking, "Tribute from the English to the Emperor of China," and I suppose that there are governments idiotic enough to thus pander to Chinese arrogance. No doubt what has given rise to the report is the knowledge that the Government of India is bound, under the Convention of 1886, to send, every ten years, a complimentary mission from the Chief Commissioner of Burma to the Viceroy of Yunnan.

It was late when I left Jinmaasuh, and long after sundown before I reached the city. The flagged causeway across the plain was slippery to walk on, and my mule would not agree with me that there was any need to hurry. He knew the Chinese character better than I did. Gunfire, the signal for the closing of the gates, had sounded when we were two miles from the wall; but sentries are negligent in China and the gates were still open. Had we been earlier we should have entered by the south gate, which is always the most important of the gates of a Chinese city, and the one through which all officials make their official entry; but, unable to do this, we entered by the big east gate. Turning sharply to the right along the city wall we were conducted in a few minutes to the Telegraph Offices, where I received a cordial welcome from Mr. Christian Jensen, the superintendent of telegraphs in the two great provinces of Yunnan and Kweichow. These are his headquarters, and here I was to rest a delightful week. It was a pleasant change from silence to speech, from Chinese discomfort to European civilisation. Chinese fare one evening, pork, rice, tea, and beans; and the next, chicken and the famed Shuenwei ham, mutton and green peas and red currant jelly, pancakes and aboriginal Yunnan cheese, claret, champagne, port, and cordial Medoc.