CHAPTER XIII. AT YUNNAN CITY.

Yunnan city is one of the great cities of China, not so much in size as in importance. It is within easy access at all seasons of the year of the French colony of Tonquin, whereas the trade route from here to British Burma is long, arduous, and mountainous, and in its Western portions is closed to traffic during the rains. From Yunnan City to Mungtze on the borders of Tonquin, where there is a branch of the Imperial Maritime Customs of China, is a journey of eight days over an easy road. Four days from Mungtze is Laokai on the Red River, a river which is navigable by boat or steamer to Hanoi, the chief river port of Tonquin. In the middle of 1889 the French river steamer, Le Laokai, made the voyage from Hanoi to Laokai in sixty hours.

From Yunnan City to Bhamo on the Irrawaddy, in British Burma, is a difficult journey of thirty-three stages over a mountainous road which can never by any human possibility be made available for other traffic than caravans of horses or coolies on foot. The natural highway of Central and Southern Yunnan is by Tonquin, and no artificial means can ever alter it. At present Eastern Yunnan sends her trade through the provinces of Kweichow and Hunan to the Yangtse above Hankow, or via the two Kuangs to Canton. Shortness of distance, combined with facility of transport, must soon tap this trade or divert it into the highways of Tonquin. Northern Yunnan must send her produce and receive her imports, via Szechuen and the Yangtse. As for the trade of Szechuen, the richest of the provinces of China, no man can venture to assert that any other trade route exists, or can ever be made to exist, than the River Yangtse; and all the French Commissioners in the world can no more alter the natural course of this trade than they can change the channel of the Yangtse itself.

I am not, of course, the first distinguished visitor who has been in Yunnan City. Marco Polo was here in 1283, and has left on record a description of the city, which, in his time, was known by the name of Yachi. Jesuit missionaries have been propagating the faith in the province since the seventeenth century. But the distinction of being the first European traveller, not a missionary priest, to visit the city since the time of Marco Polo rests with Captain Doudart de la Gree of the French Navy, who was here in 1867.

Margary, the British Consul, who met a cruel death at Manwyne, passed through Yunnan in 1875 on his famous journey from Hankow; and two years later the tardy mission under Grosvenor, with the brilliant Baber as interpreter, and Li Han Chang, the brother of Li Hung Chang, as delegate for the Chinese, arrived here in the barren hope of bringing his murderers to justice.

Hosie, formerly H.B.M. Consul in Chung-king, and well known as a traveller in Western China, was in Yunnan City in 1882.

In September, 1890, Bonvalot and Prince Henri d'Orleans stopped here at the French Mission on their way to Mungtze in Tonquin. It was on the completion of their journey along the eastern edge of Tibet Inconnu - "Unknown Thibet!" as they term it, although the whole route had been traversed time and again by missionary priests, a journey whose success was due - though few have ever heard his name - to its true leader, interpreter, and guide, the brave Dutch priest from Kuldja, Pere Dedeken.

Another famous missionary traveller, Pere Vial, who led Colquhoun out of his difficulty in that journey "Across Chryse," which Colquhoun describes as a "Journey of Exploration" (though it was through a country that had been explored and accurately mapped a century and a half before by Jesuit missionaries), and conducted him in safety to Bhamo in Burma, has often been in Yunnan City, and is a possible successor to the Bishopric.

M. Boell, who left the Secretaryship of the French Legation in Peking to become the special correspondent of Le Temps, was here in 1892 on his way from Kweiyang, in Kweichow, to Tonquin, and a few months later Captain d'Amade, the Military Secretary of the French Legation, completed a similar journey from Chungking. In May, 1892, the Commissioner from the French Government opium farm in Hanoi, M. Tomme, arrived in Yunnan City from Mungtze, sent by his Government in search of improved methods of poppy cultivation - the Yunnan opium, with the exception of the Shansi opium, being probably the finest in China. Finally, in May, 1893, Lenz, the American bicyclist, to the profound amazement of the populace, rode on his "living wheel" to the Yesutang. This was the most remarkable journey of all. Lenz practically walked across China, surmounting hardships and dangers that few men would venture to face. I often heard of him. He stayed at the mission stations. All the missionaries praise his courage and endurance, and the admirable good humour with which he endured every discomfort. But one missionary lamented to me that Lenz did not possess that close acquaintance with the Bible which was to be expected of a man of his hardihood. It seems that at family prayers at this good missionary's, the chapter for reading was given out when poor Lenz was discovered feverishly seeking the Epistle to the Galatians in the Old Testament. When his mistake was gently pointed out to him he was not discouraged, far from it; it was the missionary who was dismayed to hear that in the United States this particular Epistle is always reckoned a part of the Pentateuch.

I paid an early visit of courtesy to my nominal host, Li Pi Chang, the Chinese manager of the Telegraphs. He received me in his private office, gave me the best seat on the left, and handed me tea with his own fat hands. A mandarin whose rank is above that of an expectant Taotai, Li is to be the next Taotai of Mungtze, where, from an official salary of 400 taels per annum, he hopes to save from 10,000 to 20,000 taels per annum.

"Squeezing," as this method of enrichment is termed, is, you see, not confined to America. Few arts, indeed, seem to be more widely distributed than the art of squeezing. "Dives, the tax-dodger," is as common in China as he is in the United States. Compare, however, any city in China, in the midst of the most ancient civilisation in the world, with a city like Chicago, which claims to have reached the highest development of modern civilisation, and it would be difficult to assert that the condition of public morals in the heathen city was even comparable with the corruption and sin of the American city, a city "nominally Christian, which is studded with churches and littered with Bibles," but still a city "where perjury is a protected industry." No community is more ardent in its evangelisation of the "perishing Chinese" than Chicago, but where in all China is there "such a supreme embodiment of fraud, falsehood, and injustice," as prevails in Chicago? An alderman in Chicago, Mr. Stead tells us (p. 172 et seq.) receives only 156 dollars a year salary; but, in addition to his salary, he enjoys "practically unrestricted liberty to fill his pockets by bartering away the property of the city." "It is expected of the alderman, as a fundamental principle, that he will steal," and, in a fruitful year, says the Record, the average crooked alderman makes 15,000 to 20,000 dollars. An assessorship in Chicago is worth nominally 1500 dollars per annum, but "everyone knows that in Chicago an assessorship is the shortest cut to fortune."

Squeezing in China may be common, but it is a humble industry compared with the monumental swindling which Mr-Stead describes as existing in Chicago.

Besides being manager in Yunnan City, Li is the chief telegraph director of the two provinces of Yunnan and Kweichow. That he is entirely innocent of all knowledge of telegraphy, or of the management of telegraphs, is no bar to such an appointment. He is a mandarin, and is, therefore, presumably fitted to take any position whatever, whether it be that of Magistrate or Admiral of the Fleet, Collector of Customs, or General commanding in the field. Of the mandarin in China it is truly said that "there is nothing he isn't."

Li is also Chief Secretary of the Shan-hao-Tsung-Kuh, "The Supreme Board of Reorganisation" of the province, the members of which are the four highest provincial officials next below the Governor (Futai) - viz., the Treasurer (Fantai), Provincial Judge ( Niehtai), the Salt Comptroller, and the Grain Intendant.

Li, it may be said at once, is a man of no common virtue. He is the father of seven sons and four daughters; he can die in peace; in his family there is no fear of the early extinction of male descendants, for the succession is as well provided against as it is in the most fertile Royal family in Europe. His family is far spreading, and it is worth noting as an instance of the patriarchal nature of the family in China, that Li is regarded as the father of a family, whose members dependent upon him for entire or partial support number eighty persons. He has had three wives. His number one wife still lives at the family seat in Changsha; another secondary wife is dead; his present number two wife lives with him in Yunnan. This is his favourite wife, and her story is worth a passing note. She was not a "funded houri," but a pooryatow, a "forked head" or slave girl, whom he purchased on a lucky day, and, smitten with her charms, made her his wife. It was a case of love at first sight. Her conduct since marriage has more than justified the choice of her master. Still a young woman, she has already presented her lord with nine children, on the last occasion surpassing herself by giving birth to twins. She has a most pleasant face, and really charming children; but the chief attraction of a Chinese lady is absent in her case. Her feet are of natural size, and not even in the exaggerated murmurings of love could her husband describe them as "three-inch gold lilies."

That this was a marriage of inclination there can be no doubt whatever. It is idle to argue that the Chinese are an unemotional people, incapable of feeling the same passions that move us. We ridicule the image of a Chinaman languishing in love, just as the Chinaman derides the possibility of experiencing the feelings of love for the average foreign woman he has seen in China. Their poetry abounds in love episodes. Students of Chinese civilisation seem to agree that a mariage de convenance in China is more likely even than on the Continent to become instantly a marriage of affection. The pleasures of female society are almost denied the Chinaman; he cannot fall in love before marriage because of the absence of an object for his love. "The faculty of love produces a subjective ideal; and craves for a corresponding objective reality. And the longer the absence of the objective reality, the higher the ideal becomes; as in the mind of the hungry man ideal foods get more and more exquisite."

In Meadows' "Essay on Civilisation in China," there is a charming story, translated from the Chinese, of love at first sight, given in illustration of the author's contention that "it is the men to whom women's society is almost unknown that are most apt to fall violently in love at first sight. Violent love at first sight is a general characteristic of nations where the sexes have no intercourse before marriage. . . .  The starved cravings of love devour the first object" : -

"A Chinese who had suffered bitter disenchantments in marriage retired with his infant son to the solitude of a mountain inaccessible for little-footed Chinese women. He trained up the youth to worship the gods and stand in awe and abhorrence of devils, but he never mentioned even the name of woman to him. He always descended to market alone, but when he grew old and feeble he was at length compelled to take the young man with him to carry the heavy bag of rice. He very reasonably argued, "I shall always accompany my son, and take care that if he does see a woman by chance, he shall never speak to one; he is very obedient; he has never heard of woman; he does not know what they are; and as he has lived in that way for twenty years already, he is, of course, now pretty safe.

"As they were on the first occasion leaving the market town together, the son suddenly stopped short, and, pointing to three approaching objects, inquired : "Father, what are these things? Look! look! what are they?" The father hastily answered: "Turn away your head. They are devils." The son, in some alarm, instantly turned away from things so bad, and which were gazing at his motions with surprise from under their fans. He walked to the mountain top in silence, ate no supper, and from that day lost his appetite and was afflicted with melancholy. For some time his anxious and puzzled parent could get no satisfactory answer to his inquiries; but at length the poor young man burst out, almost crying from an inexplicable pain : 'Oh, father, that tallest devil! that tallest devil, father!'"

Girls for Yunnan City are bought at two chief centres - at Chaotong, as we have seen, and at Bichih. They are carried to the city in baskets. They are rarely sold into prostitution, but are bought as slave girls for domestic service, as concubines, and occasionally as wives. Their great merit is the absence of the "thick-neck," goitre.

The morning after my visit, Li sent me his card, together with a leg of mutton and a pile of sweet cakes. I returned my card, and gave the bearer 200 cash (fivepence), not as a return gift to the mandarin, but as a private act of generosity to his servant - all this being in accordance with Chinese etiquette.

My host in Yunnan, and the actual manager and super-intendent of the telegraphs of the two provinces, is a clever Danish gentleman, Mr. Christian Jensen, an accomplished linguist, to whom every European resident and traveller in the province is indebted for a thousand acts of kindness and attention. He has a rare knowledge of travel in China. Mr. Jensen arrived in China in 1880 in the service of the Great Northern Telegraph Company - a Danish company. From December, 1881, when the first Chinese telegraph line was opened (that from Shanghai to Tientsin), till the spring of 1883, he was one of eight operatives and engineers lent by the Company to the Chinese Government. In December, 1883, having returned in the meantime to the Great Northern, he accepted an engagement under the Imperial Government, and he has been in their employ ever since. During this time he has superintended the construction of 7000 li (2350 miles) of telegraph lines, and it was he who, on the 20th May, 1890, effected the junction of the Chinese system with the French lines at Laokai. Among the more important lines constructed by him are those joining the two capital cities of the provinces of Yunnan and Kweichow; that from Yunnan City to Mungtze, on the frontier of Tonquin; that from Canton to the boundary of Fuhkien province; and that from Yunnan City through Tali to Tengyueh (Momein), this last line being the one which will eventually unite with the marvellous Indian telegraph system at the Burmese frontier. In the course of his many journeys through China, Mr. Jensen has been invariably well treated by the Chinese, and it is pleasant to hear one who has seen so much of the inner life of the country speak as he does of the universal courtesy and hospitality, attention, and kindness that has been shown him by all classes of Chinese from the highest officials to the humblest coolies.

Many interesting episodes have marked his stay in China. Once, when repairing the line from Pase, in Kwangsi, to Mungtze, during the rainy season of 1889, fifty-six out of sixty men employed by him died of what there can be little doubt was the same plague that has lately devastated Hong Kong. On this occasion of twelve men who at different times were employed as his chair-bearers, all died.

In October, 1886, he came to Yunnan City, and made this his headquarters. He has always enjoyed good health.

One of the chief difficulties that formerly impeded the extension of the telegraph in China was the belief that the telegraph poles spoil the "fungshui" - in other words, that they divert good luck from the districts they pass through. This objection has been everywhere overcome. It last revealed itself in the extreme west of the line from Yunnan. Villagers who saw in the telegraph a menace to the good fortune of their district would cut down the poles - and sell the wire in compensation for their trouble. The annoyance had to be put a stop to. An energetic magistrate took the matter in hand. He issued a warning to the villagers, but his warning was unheeded. Then he took more vigorous measures. The very next case that occurred he had two men arrested, and charged with the offence. They were probably innocent, but under the persuasion of the bamboo they were induced to acquiesce in the magistrate's opinion as to their guilt. They were sentenced to be deprived of their ears, and then they were sent on foot, that all might see them, under escort along the line from Yunnan City to Tengyueh and back again. No poles have been cut down since.