CHAPTER XVI. THE JOURNEY FROM YUNNAN CITY TO TALIFU.
On the evening of the 24th, at a ruined town thirty li from Luho, we received our first check. It was at a walled town, with gateways and a pagoda that gave some indication of its former prosperity, prettily situated among the trees on the confines of a plain of remarkable fertility. Near sundown we passed down the one long street, all battered and dismantled, which is all that is left of the old town. News of the foreigner quickly spread, and the people gathered into the street to see me - no reception could be more flattering. We did not wait, but, pushing on, we passed out by the west gate and hastened on across the plain. But I noticed that Laohwan kept looking back at the impoverished town, shaking his head and stuttering "pu-pu-pu-pu-hao! pu-pu-pu-hao!" (bad! bad !) We had thus gone half a mile or so, when we were arrested by cries behind us, and our last chairen was seen running, panting, after us. We waited for him; he was absurdly excited, and could hardly speak. He made an address to me, speaking with great energy and gesticulation; but what was its purport, Dios sabe. When he had finished, not to be outdone in politeness, I thanked him in English for the kindly phrases in which he had spoken to me, assured him of my continued sympathy, and undertook to say that, if ever he came to Geelong, he would find there a house at his disposition, and a friend who would be ever ready to do him a service. He seemed completely mystified, and began to speak again, more excitedly than before. It was getting late, and a crowd was collecting, so I checked him by waving my left hand before my face and bawling at him with all my voice: "Putung, you stupid ass, putung (I don't understand)! Can't you see I don't understand a word you say, you benighted heathen you? Putung, man, putung! Advance Australia, dzo (go)!" And, swinging open my umbrella, I walked on. His excitement increased - we must go back to the town; he seized me by the wrists, and urged me to go back. We had a slight discussion; his feet gave from under him and he fell down, and I was going on cheerfully when he burst out crying. This I interpreted to mean that he would get into trouble if I did not return, so, of course, I turned back at once, for the tears of a Chinaman are sadly affecting. Back, then, we were taken to an excellent inn in the main street, where a respectful levee of the townsfolk had assembled to welcome me. A polite official called upon me, to whom I showed, with simulated indignation, my official card and my Chinese passport, and I hinted to him in English that this interference with my rights as a traveller from England, protected by the favour of the Emperor, would - let him mark my word - be made an international question. While saying this, I inadvertently left on my box, so that all might see it, the letter of introduction to the Brigadier-General in Tengyueh, which was calculated to give the natives an indication of the class of Chinese who had the privilege to be admitted to my friendship. The official was very polite and apologetic. I freely forgave him, and we had tea together.
He had done it all for the best. A moneyed foreigner was passing through his town near sundown without stopping to spend a single cash there. Was it not his duty, as a public-spirited man, to interfere and avert this loss, and compel the stranger to spend at least one night within his gates?
This was what I wrote at the time. I subsequently found that I had been sent for to come back because the road was believed to be dangerous, there was no secure resting-place, and the authorities could not guarantee my safety. Imagine a Chinese in a Western country acting with the bluster that I did, although in good humour; I wonder whether he would be treated with the courtesy that those Chinamen showed to me!
On the 25th an elderly chairen was ready to accompany us in the morning, and he remained with us all day. All day he was engrossed in deep thought. He spoke to no one, but he kept a watchful eye over his charge, never leaving me a moment, but dogging my very footsteps all the hundred li we travelled together. Poorly clad, he was better provided than his brother of yesterday in that he wore sandals, whereas the chairen of yesterday was in rags and barefoot He was, of course, unprovided with weapon of any kind - it was moral force that he relied on. Over his shoulder was slung a bag from which projected his opium-pipe; a tobacco pipe and tobacco box hung at his girdle; a green glass bottle of crude opium he carried round his neck.
The chairen is the policeman of China, the lictor of the magistrate, the satellite of the official; the soldier is the representative of military authority. Now, China, in the person of her greatest statesman, Li Hung Chang, has, through the secretary of the Anti-Opium Society, called upon England "to aid her in the efforts she is now making to suppress opium." If, then, China is sincere in her alleged efforts to abolish opium, it is the chairen and the soldier who must be employed by the authorities to suppress the evil; yet I have never been accompanied by either a chairen or a soldier who did not smoke opium, nor have I to my knowledge ever met a chairen or a soldier who was not an opium-smoker. Through all districts of Yunnan, wherever the soil permits it, the poppy is grown for miles, as far as the sight can reach, on every available acre, on both sides of the road.