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.