CHAPTER XXII. CHINA AS A FIGHTING POWER. - THE KACHINS. - AND THE LAST STAGE INTO BHAMO.

We now left the low land and the open country, the pastures and meadows, and climbed up the jungle-clad spurs which form the triangular dividing range that separates the broad and open valley of the Taiping, where Manyuen is situated, from the confined and tropical valley of the Hongmuho, which lies at the foot of the English frontier fort of Nampoung, the present boundary of Burma. Two miles below Nampoung the two rivers join, and the combined stream flows on to enter the Irrawaddy a mile or two above Bhamo.

No change could be greater or more sudden. We toiled upwards in the blazing sun, and in two hours we were deep in the thickest jungle, in the exuberant vegetation of a tropical forest. We had left the valley of the peaceful Shans and were in the forest inhabited by other "protected barbarians" of China - the wild tribes of Kachins, who even in Burma are slow to recognise the beneficent influences of British frontier administration. Nature serenely sleeps in the valley; nature is throbbing with life in the forest, and the humming and buzzing of all insect life was strange to our unaccustomed ears.

A well-cut path has been made through the forest, and caravans of mules laden with bales of cotton were in the early stages of the long overland journey to Yunnan. Their bells tinkled through the forest, while the herd boy filled the air with the sweet tones of his bamboo flute, breathing out his soul in music more beautiful than any bagpipes. Cotton is the chief article of import entering China by this highway. From Talifu to the frontier a traveller could trace his way by the fluffs of cotton torn by the bushes from the mule-packs.

The road through the forest reaches the highest points, because it is at the highest points that the Chinese forts are situated, either on the road or on some elevated clearing near it.

The forts are stockades inclosed in wooden palisades, and guarded by chevaux de frise of sharp-cut bamboo. The barracks are a few native straw-thatched wooden huts. Perhaps a score or two of men form the garrison of each fort; they are badly armed, if armed at all. There are no guns and no store supplies. Water is trained into the stockades down open conduits of split bamboo. To anyone who has seen the Chinese soldiers at home in Western China, it is diverting to observe the credence which is given to Chinese statements of the armed strength of Western China. How much longer are we to persist in regarding the Chinese, as they now are, as a warlike power? In numbers, capacity for physical endurance, calm courage when well officered, and powers unequalled by any other race of mankind of doing the greatest amount of labour on the smallest allowance of food, their potential strength is stupendous. But they are not advancing, they are stationary; they look backwards, not forwards; they live in the past. Weapons with which their ancestors subdued the greater part of Asia they are loath to believe are unfitted for conducting the warfare of to-day Should Japan bring China to terms, she can impose no terms that will not tend towards the advancement of China. Victories such as Japan has won over China might affect any other nation but China; but they are trifling and insignificant in their effect upon the gigantic mass of China. Suppose China has lost 20,000 men in this war, in one day there are 20,000 births in the Empire, and I am perfectly sure that, outside the immediate neighbourhood of the seat of operations, the Chinese as a nation, apart from the officials, are profoundly ignorant that there is even a war, or, as they would term it, a rebellion, in progress. Trouble, serious trouble, will begin in China in the near future, for the time must be fast approaching when the effete and alien dynasty now reigning in China - the Manchu dynasty - shall be overthrown, and a Chinese Emperor shall rule on the throne of China.

At a native village called Schehleh there is a likin-barrier. The yellow flag was drooping over the roadway in the hot sun. The customs officer, an amiable Chinese Shan, invited me in to tea, and brought his pukai for me to lie down upon. Like thousands of his countrymen, he had played for fortune in the Manila lottery. Two old lottery tickets and the prize list in Chinese were on one wall of his room, on the other were a number of Chinese visiting cards, to which I graciously permitted him to add mine.

Soldiers accompanied me from camp to camp, Chinese soldiers from districts many hundreds of miles distant in China. Some were armed, some were unarmed, and there was equal confidence to be reposed in the one as in the other; but all were civil, and watched me with a care that was embarrassing.

At the first camp beyond Schehleh the gateway was ornamented with trophies of valour. From two bare tree-trunks baskets of heads were hanging, putrefying in the heat. They were the heads of Kachin dacoits. And thus shall it be done with all taken in rebellion against the Son of Heaven, whose mighty clemency alone permits the sun to shine on any kingdom beyond his borders. Kachin villages are scattered through the forest, among the hills. You see their native houses, long bamboo structures raised on piles and thatched with grass, with low eaves sloping nearly to the ground. In sylvan glades sacred to the nats you pass wooden pillars erected by the roadside, rudely cut, and rudely painted with lines and squares and rough figures of knives, and close beside them conical grass structures with coloured weathercocks. Split bamboos support narrow shelves, whereon are placed the various food-offerings with which is sought the goodwill of the evil spirits.

The Kachin men we met were all armed with the formidable dah or native sword, whose widened blade they protect in a univalvular sheath of wood. They wore Shan jackets and dark knickerbockers; their hair was gathered under a turban. They all carried the characteristic embroidered Kachin bag over the left shoulder.

The Kachin women are as stunted as the Japanese, and are disfigured with the same disproportionate shortness of legs. They wear Shan jackets and petticoats of dark-blue; their ornaments are chiefly cowries; their legs are bare. Unmarried, they wear no head-dress, but have their hair cut in a black mop with a deep fringe to the eyebrows. If married, their headdress is the same as that of the Shan women - a huge dark-blue conical turban. Morality among the Kachin maidens, a missionary tells me, is not, as we understand the term believed to exist. There is a tradition in the neighbourhood concerning a virtuous maiden; but little reliance can be placed on such legendary tales. Among the Kachins each clan is ruled by a Sawbwa, whose office "is hereditary, not to the eldest son, but to the youngest, or, failing sons, to the youngest surviving brother." (Anderson.) All Kachins chew betel-nut and nearly all smoke opium - men, women and children. Goitre is very prevalent among them; in some villages Major Couchman believes that as many as 25 per cent, of the inhabitants are afflicted with the disease. They have no written language, but their spoken language has been romanised by the American missionaries in Burma.

We camped within five miles of the British border at the Chinese fortlet of Settee, a palisaded camp whose gateway also was hung with heads of dacoits. A Chinese Shan was in command, a smart young officer with a Burmese wife. He was active, alert, and intelligent, and gave me the best room in the series of sheds which formed the barracks. I was made very comfortable. There were between forty and fifty soldiers stationed in the barracks - harmless warriors - who were very attentive. At nightfall the tattoo was beaten. The gong sounded; its notes died away in a distant murmur, then brayed forth with a stentorian clangour that might wake the dead. At the same time a tattoo was beaten on the drum, then a gun was fired and the noise ceased, to be repeated again during the night at the change of guard. All foes, visible and invisible, were in this way scared away from the fort.

Hearing that I was a doctor, the commandant asked me to see several of his men who were on the sick list. Among them was one poor young fellow dying, in the next room to mine, of remittent fever. When I went to the bedside the patient was lying down deadly ill, weak, and emaciated; but two of his companions took him by the arms, and, telling him to sit up, would have pulled him into what they considered a more respectful attitude. In the morning I again went to see the poor fellow. He was lying on his side undergoing treatment. An opium-pipe was held to his lips by one comrade, while another rolled the pellet of opium and placed it heated in the pipe-bowl, so that he might inhale its fumes.

In the morning the officer accompanied me to the gate of the stockade and bade me good-bye, with many unintelligible expressions of good will. His eight best soldiers were told off to escort me to the frontier, distant only fifteen li. It was a splendid walk through the jungle across the mountains to the Hongmuho. We passed the outlying stockade of the Chinese, and, winding along the spur, came full in view of the British camp across the valley, half-way up the opposite slope. By a very steep path we descended through the forest to the frontier fort of the Chinese, and emerged upon the grassy slope that shelves below it to the river.

There are a few bamboo huts on the sward, and here the Chinese guard left me; for armed guards are allowed no further. I was led to the ford, my pony plunged into the swift stream, and a moment or two later I was on British soil and passing the Sepoy outpost, where the guard, to my great alarm, for I feared being shot, turned out and saluted me. Then I climbed up the steep hill to the British encampment, Where the English officer commanding, Captain R. G. Iremonger, of the 3rd Burma Regiment, gave me a kind reception, and congratulated me upon my successful journey.

He telegraphed to headquarters the news of my arrival. It was of no earthly interest to anybody that I, an unknown wanderer, should pass through safely; but it was of interest to know that anyone could pass through so easily. Reports had only recently reached the Government that Western China was in a state of disaffection; that a feeling strongly anti-foreign had arisen in Yunnan; and that now, of all times, would it be inexpedient to despatch a commission for the delimitation of the boundary. My quiet and uninterrupted journey was in direct conflict with all such reports.

The encampment of Nampoung is at an elevation of 1500 feet above the river. It is well exposed on all sides, and has been condemned by military experts. But the law of fortifications which applies to any ordinary frontier does not apply to the frontier of China, where there is no danger whatsoever. The palisade is irregularly made, and is not superior, of course, to any round the Chinese stockades.

The houses are built of bamboo, are raised on piles, and thatched with grass. A company of the 3rd Burma Regiment is permanently stationed here under an English officer, and consists of 100 men, who are either Sikhs or Punjabis, all of splendid stature and military bearing. A picket of six men under a non-commissioned native officer guards the ford, and permits no armed Chinese to cross the border.

There are numbers of transport mules and ponies. In the creek there are plenty of fish; the rod, indeed, is the chief amusement of the officers who are exiled on duty to this lonely spot to pass three months in turn in almost uninterrupted solitude. There is a telegraph line into Bhamo, and it is at this point that connection will be made with the Imperial Chinese Telegraphs.

At the ford from fifty to one hundred loaded pack-animals, mostly carrying cotton, cross into China daily. A toll of six annas is levied upon each pack-animal, the money so collected being distributed by the Government among those Kachin Sawbwas who have an hereditary right to levy this tribute. The money is collected by two Burmese officials, and handed daily to the officer commanding. No duty is paid on entering Burma. Chinese likin-barriers begin to harass the caravans at Schehleh.

Beautiful views of the surrounding hills, all covered with "lofty forest trees, tangled with magnificent creepers, and festooned with orchids," are obtained from the camp. All the country round is extremely fertile, yielding with but little labour three crops a year. Cultivation of the soil there is none. Fire clears the jungle, and the ashes manure the soil; the ground is then superficially scratched, and rice is sown. Nothing more is done. Every seed germinates; the paddy ripens, and, where one basketful is sown, five hundred basketfuls are gathered. And the field lies untouched till again covered with jungle. Thus is the heathen rewarded five-hundred-fold in accordance with the law of Nature which gives blessing to the labour of the husbandman inversely as he deserves it.

In the evening the officer walked down with me to the creek, where I bathed in the shadow of the bank, in a favourite pool for fishing. As we crossed the field on our return, we met the two Burmese tribute-gatherers. They had occasion to speak to the officer, when, instead of standing upright like a stalwart and independent Chinaman, they squatted humbly on their heels, and, resting their elbows on their knees in an attitude of servility, conversed with their superior. How different the Chinaman, who confesses few people his superior, and none of any race beyond the borders of China!

From Nampoung to Bhamo is an easy walk of thirty-three miles. This is usually done in two stages, the halting place being the military station of Myothit, which is fourteen miles from Nampoung. On leaving Nampoung, an escort of a lance-corporal and two soldiers was detailed to accompany me. They were Punjabis, men of great stature and warlike aspect; but they were presumably out of training, for they arrived at Myothit, limp and haggard, an hour or more after we did. There is an admirable road through the jungle, maintained in that excellent order characteristic of military roads under British supervision. My Chinese from time to time questioned me as to the distance. We had gone fifteen li when Laotseng asked me how much farther it was to Santien (Myothit). "Three li," I said. We walked ten li further. "How far is it now?" he asked. "Only five li further," I replied, gravely. We went on another six li, when again he asked me: "Teacher Mo, how many li to Santien?" "Only eight more li," I said, and he did not ask me again. I was endeavouring to give him information in the fashion that prevails in his own country.

At Myothit we camped in the dak bungalow, an unfurnished cottage kept for the use of travellers. The encampment is on the outskirts of a perfectly flat plain, skirted with jungle-clad hills and covered with elephant grass. Through the plain the broad river Taiping flows on its muddy way to the Irrawaddy. One hundred sepoys are stationed here under a native officer, a Sirdar, Jemadar, or Subadar (I am not certain which), who called upon me, and stood by me as I ate my tiffin, and, to my great embarrassment, saluted me in the most alarming way every time my eye unexpectedly caught his. I confess that I did not know the gentleman from Adam. I mistook him for an ornamental head-waiter, and, as I regarded him as a superfluous nuisance, I told him not to stand upon the order of his going but go. I pointed to the steps; and he went, sidling off backwards as if from the presence of royalty. Drawing his heels together, he saluted me at the stair-top and again at the bottom, murmuring words which were more unintelligible to me even than Chinese.

During the night our exposed bungalow was assailed by a fearful storm of wind and rain, and for a time I expected it to be bodily lifted off the piles and carried to the lee-side of the settlement. The roof leaked in a thousand places, rain was driven under the walls, and everything I had was soaked with warm water.

Next day we had a pleasant walk into Bhamo, that important military station on the left bank of the Irrawaddy. We crossed the Taiping at Myothit by a bridge, a temporary and very shaky structure, which is every year carried away when the river rises, and every year renewed when the caravans take the road after the rains.

Bhamo is 1520 miles by land from Chungking; and it is an equal distance further from Chungking to Shanghai. The entire distance I traversed in exactly one hundred days, for I purposely waited till the hundredth day to complete it. And it surely speaks well of the sense of responsibility innate in the Chinese that, during all this time, I never had in my employ a Chinese coolie who did not fulfil, with something to spare, all that he undertook to do. I paid off my men in Bhamo. To Laotseng I gave 400 cash too many, and asked him for the change. At once with much readiness he ranged some cash on the table in the form of an abacus, and, setting down some hieroglyphics on a sheet of paper, he worked out a calculation, by which he proved that I owed him 400 cash and, therefore, the accounts were now exactly balanced. For my own expenses I gave him 1175 cash in Tengyueh and 400 more in Bhamo, so that my entire personal expenses between two points nine days distant from each other were rather more than 3s. My entire journey from Shanghai to Bhamo cost less than £20 sterling, including my Chinese outfit. Had I travelled economically, I estimate that the journey need not have cost me more than £14. Had I carried more silver with me, I would still further have reduced the total cost of my tour. The gold I bought in Yunnan with my surplus silver, I sold in Burma for 20 per cent. profit; the rupees which I purchased in Tengyueh for 11 d. were worth 13d. in Bhamo. For some curios which I purchased in the interior for £2 5s. I was offered when I reached civilisation £14. Without doubt the journey across China is the cheapest that can be done in all the world.

I was sorry to say good-bye to my men, who had served me so faithfully. And I cannot speak more highly of the pleasure of my journey than to declare that I felt greater regret when it was finished than I ever felt on leaving any other country. The men all through had behaved admirably, and it is only fair to add that mine was the common experience of travellers in far Western China. Thus a very great traveller in China and Thibet (W. W. Rockhill), writing in the Century, April, 1894, on the discomforts of his recent journey, says :

"But never a word of complaint from either the Thibetans or my Chinese. They were always alert, always good-tempered, always attentive to me, and anxious to contribute to my comfort in every way in their power. And so I have ever found these peoples, with whom I am glad to say, after travelling over 20,000 miles in their countries, I have never exchanged a rough word, and among whom I think I have left not one enemy and not a few friends."

Two days after their arrival in Bhamo my three men started on their return journey to Talifu. They were laden with medicines, stores, newspapers, and letters for the mission in Tali, which for months had been accumulating in the premises of the American Mission in Bhamo, the missionary in charge, amid the multifarious avocations pertaining to his post, having found no time to forward them to their destination to his lonely Christian brother in the far interior. And, had I not arrived when I did, they could not have been sent till after the rains. A coolie will carry eighty pounds weight from Bhamo to Tali for 12s ; and I need hardly point out that a very small transaction in teak would cover the cost of many coolies. Besides, any expenditure incurred would have been reimbursed by the Inland Mission. My three men were pursued by cruel fate on their return; they all were taken ill at Pupiao. Poor "Bones" and the pock-marked coolie died, and Laotseng lay ill in the hotel there for weeks, and, when he recovered sufficiently to go on to Tali, he had to go without the three loads, which the landlord of the inn detained, pending the payment of his board and lodging and the burial expenses of his two companions.