CHAPTER XVI. THE JOURNEY FROM YUNNAN CITY TO TALIFU.
I sold the mule in Yunnan City, and bought instead a little white pony at a cost, including saddle, bridle, and bells, of £3 6s. In doing this I reversed the exchange that would have been made by a Chinaman. A mule is a more aristocratic animal than a pony; it thrives better on a journey, and is more sure-footed. If a pony, the Chinese tell you, lets slip one foot, the other three follow; whereas a mule, if three feet slip from under him, will hold on with the fourth.
My men, who had come with me from Chaotong, were paid off in Yunnan; but it was pleasant to find all three accept an offer to go on with me to Talifu. Coolies to do this journey are usually supplied by the coolie agents for the wage of two chien a day each (7d.), each man to carry seventy catties (93lbs.), find himself by the way, and spend thirteen days on the journey. But no coolies, owing to the increase in the price of food, were now willing to go for so little. Accordingly I offered my two coolies three taels each (9s.), instead of the hong price of 7s. 9d., and loads of fifty catties instead of seventy catties. I offered to refund them 100 cash each (2.5d.) a day for every day that they had been delayed in Yunnan and, in addition, I promised them a reward of five mace each (1 s. 6d.) if they would take me to Tali in nine days, instead of thirteen, the first evening not to count. To Laohwan, who had no load to carry, but had to attend to me and the pony and pay away the cash, I made a similar offer. These terms, involving me in an outlay of 365. for hiring three men to go with me on foot 915 li, and return empty-handed, were considered liberal, and were agreed to at once.
The afternoon, then, of the 19th April saw us again en route, bound to the west to Talifu, the most famous city in western China, the headquarters of the Mohammedan "Sultan" during the great rebellion of 1857-1873.
By the courtesy of the Mandarin Li, two men were detailed to "sung" me - to accompany me, that is - and take the responsibility for my safe delivery at the next hsien. One was a "wen," a chairen, or yamen runner; the other was a "wu," a soldier, with a sightless right eye, who was dressed in the ragged vestiges of a uniform that reflected both the poverty of his environment and, inversely, the richness of his commanding officer. For in China the officer enriches himself by the twofold expedient of drawing pay for soldiers who have no existence, except in his statement of claim, and by diverting the pay of his soldiers who do exist from their pockets into his own.
As I was leaving, a colossal Chinaman, sent by the Fantai to speed the foreign gentleman on his way, strode into the court. He was dressed in military jacket and official hat and foxtails. He was the Yunnan giant, Chang Yan Miun, a kindly-featured monster, whom it is a pity to see buried in China when he might be holding levees of thousands in a Western side-show. For the information of those in search of novelties, I may say that the giant is thirty years of age, a native of Tong-chuan, born of parents of ordinary stature; he is 7ft. 1in. in his bare feet, and weighs, when in condition, 27st. 6lb. With that ingenious arrangement for increasing height known to all showmen, this giant might be worth investing in as a possible successor to his unrivalled namesake. There is surely money in it. Chang's present earnings are rather less than 7s. a month, without board and lodging; he is unmarried, and has no incumbrance; and he is slightly taller and much more massively built than a well-known American giant whom I once had permission to measure, who has been shown half over the world as the "tallest man on earth," his height being attested as 7ft. 11in. in his stockings' soles," and who commands the salary of an English admiral.
We made only a short march the first evening, but after that we travelled by long stages. The country was very pretty, open glades with clumps of pine, and here and there a magnificent sacred tree like the banyan, under whose far-reaching branches small villages are often half concealed. Despite the fertility of the country, poverty and starvation met us at every step; the poor were lingering miserably through the year. Goitre, too, was increasing in frequency. It was rarely that a group gathered to see us some of whose members were not suffering from this horrible deformity. And everywhere in the pretty country were signs of the ruthless devastation of religious war. That was a war of extermination. "A storm of universal fire blasted every field, consumed every house, destroyed every temple."
Crumbling walls are at long distances from the towns they used to guard; there are pastures and waste lands where there were streets of buildings; walls of houses have returned whence they came to the mother earth; others are roofless.