CHAPTER XVII. THE CITY OF TALI - PRISONS - POISONING - PLAGUES AND MISSIONS.
I went to two opium-poisoning cases in Tali, both being cases of attempted suicide. The first was that of an old man living not at the South Gate as the messenger assured us, who feared to discourage us if he told the truth, but more than a mile beyond it. On our way we bought in the street some sulphate of copper, and a large dose made the old man so sick that he said he would never take opium again, and, if he did, he would not send for the foreign gentleman.
The other was that of a young bride, a girl of unusual personal attraction, only ten days married, who thus early had become weary of the pock-marked husband her parents had sold her to. She was dressed still in her bridal attire, which had not been removed since marriage; she was dressed in red - the colour of happiness. "She was dressed in her best, all ready for the journey," and was determined to die, because dead she could repay fourfold the injuries which she had received while living. In this case many neighbours were present, and, as all were anxious to prevent the liberation of the girl's evil spirit, I proved to them how skilful are the barbarian doctors. The bride was induced to drink hot water till it was, she declared, on a level with her neck, then I gave her a hypodermic injection of that wonderful emetic apomorphia. The effect was very gratifying to all but the patient.
Small-pox, or, as the Chinese respectfully term it, "Heavenly Flowers," is a terrible scourge in Western China. It is estimated that two thousand deaths - there is a charming vagueness about all Chinese figures - from this disease alone occur in the course of a year in the valley of Tali. Inoculation is practised, as it has been for many centuries, by the primitive method of introducing a dried pock-scab, on a lucky day, into one of the nostrils. The people have heard of the results of Western methods of inoculation, and immense benefit could be conferred upon a very large community by sending to the Inland Mission in Talifu a few hundred tubes of vaccine lymph. Vaccination introduced into Western China would be a means, the most effective that could be imagined, to check the death rate over that large area of country which was ravaged by the civil war, and whose reduced population is only a small percentage of the population which so fertile a country needs for its development. Infanticide is hardly known in that section of Yunnan of which Tali may be considered the capital. Small-pox kills the children. There is no need for a mother to sacrifice her superfluous children, for she has none.
Another disease endemic in Yunnan is the bubonic plague, which is, no doubt, identical with the plague that has lately played havoc in Hong Kong and Canton. Cantonese peddlers returning to the coast probably carried the germs with them.
The China Inland Mission in Tali was the last of the mission stations which I was to see on my journey. This is the furthest inland of the stations of the Inland Mission in China. It was opened in 1881 by Mr. George W. Clarke, the most widely-travelled, with the single exception of the late Dr. Cameron, of all the pioneer missionaries of this brave society; I think Mr. Clarke told me that he has been in fourteen out of the eighteen provinces. His work here was not encouraging; he was treated with kindness by the Chinese, but they refused to accept the truth when he placed it before them.
"For the Bible and the Light of Truth," says Miss Guinness, in her charming but hysterical "Letters from the Far East" - a book that has deluded many poor girls to China - "For the Bible and the Light of Truth the Chinese cry with outstretched, empty, longing hands" (p. 173). But this allegation unhappily conflicts with facts when applied to Tali.
For the first eleven years the mission laboured here without any success whatever; but now a happier time seems coming, and no less than three converts have been baptised in the last two years.
There are now three missionaries in Tali - there are usually four; they are universally respected by the Chinese; they have made their little mission home one of the most charming in China. Mr. John Smith, who succeeded Mr. Clarke, has been ten years in Tali. He is welcomed everywhere, and in every case of serious sickness or opium-poisoning he is sent for. During all the time he has been in Tali he has never refused to attend a summons to the sick, whether by day or night. In the course of the year he attends, on an average, between fifty and sixty cases of attempted suicide by opium in the town or its environs, and, if called in time, he is rarely unsuccessful. Should he be called to a case outside the city wall and be detained after dark, the city gate will be kept open for him till he returns. The city magistrate has himself publicly praised the benevolence of this missionary, and said, "there is no man in Tali like Mr. Smith - would that there were others!" He is a Christian in word and deed, brave and simple, unaffected and sympathetic - the type of missionary needed in China - an honour to his mission. I saw the courageous man working here almost alone, far distant from all Western comforts, cut off from the world, and almost unknown, and I contrasted him with those other missionaries - the majority - who live in luxurious mission-houses in absolute safety in the treaty ports, yet whose courage and self-denial we have accustomed ourselves to praise in England and America, when with humble voices they parade the dangers they undergo and the hardships they endure in preaching, dear friends, to the "perishing heathen in China, God's lost ones!"