CHAPTER III. UP THE MIN RIVER

Y.B.A.

Three days after leaving Shanghai we arrived at Pagoda Anchorage at the mouth of the Min River, twelve miles from Foochow.

We boarded a launch which threaded its way through a fleet of picturesque fishing vessels, each one of which had a round black and white eye painted on its crescent-shaped bow. When asked the reason for this decoration a Chinese on the launch looked at us rather pityingly for a moment and then said: "No have eye. No can see." How simple and how entirely satisfactory!

The instant the launch touched the shore dozens of coolies swarmed like flies over it, fighting madly for our luggage. One seized a trunk, the other end of which had been appropriated by another man and, in the argument which ensued, each endeavored to deafen the other by his screams. The habit of yelling to enforce command is inherent with the Chinese and appears to be ineradicable. To expostulate in an ordinary tone of voice, pausing to listen to his opponent's reply, seems a psychological impossibility.

There had been a mistake about the date of our arrival at Foochow, and we were two days earlier than we had been expected, so that Mr. C.R. Kellogg, of the Anglo-Chinese College, with whom we were to stay, was not on the jetty to meet us. We were at a loss to know where to turn amidst the chaos and confusion until a customs officer took us in charge and, judiciously selecting a competent looking woman from among the screaming multitude, told her to get two sedan chairs and coolies to carry our luggage. She disappeared and ten minutes later the chairs arrived. Dashing about among the crowd in front of us, she chose the baggage for such men as met with her approval and after the usual amount of argument the loads were taken.

We mounted our chairs and started off with apparently all Foochow following us. As far as we could see down the narrow street were the heads and shoulders of our porters. We felt as if we were heading an invading army as, with our thirty-three coolies and sixteen hundred pounds of luggage, we descended upon the homes of people whom we did not know and who were not expecting us. But our sudden arrival did not disturb the Kelloggs and our welcome was typical of the warm hospitality one always finds in the Far East.

No matter how long one has lived in China one remains in a condition of mental suspense unable to decide which is the filthiest city of the Republic. The residents of Foochow boast that for offensiveness to the senses no town can compare with theirs, and although Amoy and several other places dispute this questionable title, we were inclined to grant it unreservedly to Foochow. It is like a medieval city with its narrow, ill-paved streets wandering aimlessly in a hopeless maze. They are usually roofed over so that by no accident can a ray of purifying sun penetrate their dark corners. With no ventilation whatsoever the oppressive air reeks with the odors that rise from the streets and the steaming houses.

In Foochow, as in other cities of China, the narrow alleys are literally choked with every form of industrial obstruction. Countless workmen plant themselves in the tiny passageways with the pigs, children, and dogs, and women bring their quilts to spread upon the stones. There is a common saying that the Chinese do little which is not at some time done on the street.

The foreign residents, including consuls of all nationalities, missionaries, and merchants, live well out of the city on a hilltop. Their houses are built with very high ceilings and bare interiors, and as the occupants seldom go into the city except in a sedan chair and have "punkahs" waving day and night, life is made possible during the intense heat of summer.

A telegram was awaiting us from the Reverend Harry Caldwell, with whom we were to hunt, asking us to come to his station two hundred miles up the river, and we passed two sweltering days repacking our outfit while Mr. Kellogg scoured the country for an English-speaking cook.

One middle-aged gentleman presented himself, but when he learned that we were going "up country," he shook his head with an assumption of great filial devotion and said that he did not think his mother would let him go. Another was afraid the sun might be too hot. Finally on the eve of our departure we engaged a stuttering Chinese who assured us that he was a remarkable cook and exceptionally honest.

If you have never heard a Chinaman stutter you have something to live for, and although we discovered that our cook was a shameless rascal he was worth all he extracted in "squeeze," for whenever he attempted to utter a word we became almost hysterical. He sounded exactly like a worn-out phonograph record buzzing on a single note, and when he finally did manage to articulate, his "pidgin" English in itself was screamingly funny.

One day he came to the sampan proudly displaying a piece of beef and, after a series of vocal gymnastics, eventually succeeded in shouting: "Missie, this meat no belong die-cow. Die-cow not so handsome." Which meant that this particular piece of beef was not from an animal which had died from disease.

The first stage of our trip began before daylight. We rode in four-man sedan chairs, followed by a long procession of heavily laden coolies with our cameras, duffle-sacks, and pack baskets. The road lay through green rice fields between terraced mountains, and we jogged along first on the crest of a hill, then in the valley, passing dilapidated temples with the paint flaking off and picturesque little huts half hidden in the reeds of the winding river. It was a relief to get into the country again after passing down the narrow village streets and to breathe fresh air perfumed with honeysuckle.

A passenger launch makes the trip to Cui-kau at the beginning of the rapids, but it leaves at two o'clock in the morning and is literally crowded to overflowing with evil-smelling Chinese who sprawl over every available inch of deck space, so that even the missionaries strongly advised us against taking it. The passengers not infrequently are pushed off into the water. One of the missionaries witnessed an incident which illustrates in a typical way the total lack of sympathy of the average Chinese.

A coolie on the Cui-kau launch accidentally fell overboard, and although a friend was able to grasp his hand and hold him above the surface, no one offered to help him; the launch continued at full speed, and finally weakening, the poor man loosed his hold and sank. This is by no means an isolated case. Some years ago a foreign steamer was burned on the Yangtze River, and the crowds of watching Chinese did little or nothing to rescue the passengers and crew. Indeed, as fast as they made their way to shore many of them were robbed even of their clothing and some were murdered outright.

Our first day on the Min River was the most luxurious of the entire Expedition, for we were fortunate in obtaining the Standard Oil Company's launch through the kindness of Mr. Livingston, their agent. It was large and roomy, and the trip, which would have been worse than disagreeable on the public boat, was most delightful. The Min is one of the most beautiful rivers of all China with its velvet green mountains rising a thousand feet or more straight up from the water and often terraced to the summits.

Perched on the bow of our boat was a wizened little gentleman with a pigtail wrapped around his head, who said he was a pilot, but as he inquired the channel of everyone who passed and ran us aground a dozen times or more to the tremendous agitation of our captain, we felt that his claim was not entirely justified.

The river life was a fascinating, ever-changing picture. One moment we would pass a sampan so loaded with branches that it seemed like a small island floating down the stream. Next a huge junk with bamboo-ribbed sails projecting at impossible angles drifted by, followed by innumerable smaller crafts, the monotonous chant of the boatmen coming faintly over the water to us as they passed.

When evening came we had reached Cui-kau. The sampans in which we were to spend eight days were drawn up on the beach with twenty or thirty others. Right above us was the straggling town looking very much like the rear view of tenement houses at home. Darkness blotted out the filth of our surroundings but could do nothing to lessen the odors that poured down from the village, and we ate our dinner with little relish.

Our beds were spread in the sampans which we shared in common with the four river men who formed the crew. There was only a mosquito net to screen the end of the boat, but all our surroundings were so strange that this was but a minor detail. As we lay in our cots we could look up at the stars framed in the half oval of the sampan's roof and listen to the sounds of the water life grow fainter and fainter as one by one the river men beached their boats for the night. It seemed only a few minutes later when we were roused by a rush of water, but it was daylight, and the boats had reached the first of the rapids which separated us from Yen-ping, one hundred and twenty miles away.

In the late afternoon we arrived at Chang-hu-fan where Mr. Caldwell stood on the shore waving his hat to us amidst scores of dirty little children and the explosion of countless firecrackers. Wherever we went crackers preceded and followed us - for when a Chinese wishes to register extreme emotion, either of joy or sorrow, its expression always takes the form of firecrackers.

There had been a good deal of persecution of the native Christians in the district, and only recently a band of soldiers had strung up the native pastor by the thumbs and beaten him senseless. He was our host that night and seemed to be a bright, vivacious, little man but quite deaf as a result of his cruel treatment. He never recovered and died a few weeks later. Mr. Caldwell had come to investigate the affair, for the missionaries are invested by the people themselves with a good deal of authority.

We spent that night in the parish house just behind the little church, a bare schoolroom being turned over to us for our use, and it seemed very luxurious after we had set up our cots, tables, chairs, and bath tub; but the house was in the center of the town and the high walls shut out every breath of pure air. The barred windows opened on a street hardly six feet wide, and while we were preparing for bed there was a buzz of subdued whispers outside. We switched on a powerful electric flashlight and there stood at least forty men, women and children gazing at us with rapt attention, but they melted away before the blinding glare like snow in a June sun.

That night was not a pleasant one. The heat was intense, the mosquitoes worse, and every dog and cat in the village seemed to choose our court yard as a dueling ground in which to settle old scores. The climax was reached at four o'clock in the morning, when directly under our windows there came a series of ear-splitting squeals followed by a horrible gurgle. The neighbors had chosen that particular spot and hour to kill the family pig, and the entire process which followed of sousing it in hot water and scraping off the hair was accompanied by unceasing chatter. Boiling with rage we dressed and went for a walk, vowing not to spend another night in the place but to sleep in the sampans.

On the whole our river men were nice fellows but they had the love of companionship characteristic of all Chinese and the inherent desire to huddle together as closely as possible wherever they were. On the way up the river to Yuchi every evening they insisted on stopping at some foul-smelling village, and it was difficult to induce them to spend the night away from a town. Moreover, at our stops for luncheon they would invariably ignore a shady spot and choose a sand bank where the sun beat down like a blast furnace.

The Chinese never appear to be affected by the sun and go bareheaded at all seasons of the year, shading their eyes with one hand or a partly opened fan. A fan is the prime requisite, and it is not uncommon to see coolies almost devoid of clothing, dragging a heavy load and with the perspiration streaming from their naked bodies, energetically fanning themselves meanwhile.

Mr. Caldwell was en route to Yuchi, one of his mission stations far up a branch of the Min River, and as there was a vague report of tiger in that vicinity we joined him instead of proceeding directly to Yen-ping. The tiger story was found to be merely a myth, but our trip was made interesting by meeting Miss Mabel Hartford, the only foreign resident of the place. She has lived in Yuchi for two years and at one time did not see a white person for eight months with the exception of Mr. Caldwell who was in the vicinity for three days. It requires four weeks to obtain supplies from Foochow, there is no telegraph, and mails are very irregular, but she enjoys the isolation and is passionately fond of her work.

She has had an interesting life and one not devoid of danger. In 1895 she was wounded and barely escaped death in the Hwa Shan (Flower Mountain) massacre in which ten women and one man were brutally murdered by a mob of fanatic natives known as "Vegetarians." The Chinese Government was required to pay a considerable indemnity to Miss Hartford, which she accepted only under protest and characteristically devoted to missionary work in Kucheng where the massacre occurred.

Conditions at Yuchi when we arrived were most unsettled and for some months there had been a veritable "reign of terror." A large band of brigands was established in the hills not far from the city, and we were warned by the mandarin not to attempt to go farther up the river. A few months earlier several companies of soldiers had been sent from Foochow, and the result of turning loose these ruffians upon the town was to make "the remedy worse than the disease."

The soldiers were continually arresting innocent peasants, accusing them of being brigands or aiding the bandits, and shooting them without a hearing. At one time accurate information concerning the camp of the robbers was received and the soldiers set bravely off, but when within a short distance of the brigands the commanders began to quarrel among themselves, guns were fired, and the bandits escaped. A Chinaman must always "save his face," however, and when they returned to Yuchi they arrested dozens of people on mere suspicion and executed them without the vestige of a trial. Finally conditions became so intolerable that no one was safe, and after repeated complaints by the missionaries, a new mandarin of a somewhat better type was sent to Yuchi.

As it was impossible to do any collecting farther up the river because of the bandits, we left for Yen-ping two days after arriving at Yuchi. Yen-ping is a wonderfully picturesque old city, situated on a hill at a fork of the river and surrounded by high stone walls pierced and loopholed for rifle fire. Such walls, while of little use against artillery, nevertheless offer a formidable obstacle to anything less than field guns as we ourselves were destined to discover.

The Methodist mission compound encloses a considerable area on the very summit of the hill, backed by the city wall, and besides the four dwelling houses, comprises two large schools for boys and girls. Mr. Caldwell's residence commands a wonderful view down the river and in the late afternoon sunlight when the hills are bathed in pink and lavender and purple a more beautiful spot can hardly be imagined.

But the delights of Yen-ping are somewhat tempered by the abominable weather. In summer the heat is almost unbearable and the air is so nearly saturated from continual rain that it is impossible to dry anything except over a fire. From all reports winter must be almost as bad in the opposite extreme for the cold is damp and penetrating; but the early fall is said to be delightful.

The larger part of Fukien, like many other provinces in China, has been denuded of forests, and the groves of pine which remain have all been planted. This deforestation consequently has driven out the game, and except for tigers, leopards, wolves, wild pigs, serows and gorals, none of the large species is left. However, the dense growth of sword grass and the thorny bushes which clothe the hills and choke the ravines give cover to muntjac, or barking deer, and many species of small cats, civets, and other Viverines. These animals come to the rice paddys, which fill every valley, to hunt for frogs and fish, but it is difficult to catch them because of the Chinese who are continually at work in the fields.

We spent a week trapping about Yen-ping and although we caught a good many animals they were almost always stolen together with the traps. We had this same difficulty in Yuen-nan as well as in Fukien. None of us had ever seen natives in any part of the world who were such unmitigated thieves as the Chinese of these two provinces. The small mammals are hardly more abundant than the larger ones for the natives wage an unceasing war on those about the rice paddys and have exterminated nearly all but a few widely distributed forms.