CHAPTER XI. TA-LI FU
On Friday, September 23, we were at Chou Chou and camped in a picturesque little temple on the outskirts of the town. As the last stage was only six hours we spent half the morning in taking moving pictures of the caravan and left for Ta-li at eleven-thirty after an early tiffin.
About two o'clock in the afternoon we reached Hsia-kuan, a large commercial town at the lower end of the lake. Its population largely consists of merchants and it is by all means the most important business place of interior Yuen-nan; Ta-li, eight miles away, is the residence and official city.
At Hsia-kuan we called upon the salt commissioner, Mr. Lui, to whom Mr. Bode, the salt inspector at Yuen-nan Fu, had very kindly telegraphed money for my account, and after the usual tea and cigarettes we went on to Ta-li Fu over a perfectly level paved road, which was so slippery that it was well-nigh impossible for either horse or man to move over it faster than a walk.
This was the hottest day of our experience in Northern Yuen-nan, the thermometer registering 85 deg.+ in the shade, which is the usual mid-summer temperature, but the moment the sun dropped behind the mountains it was cool enough for one to enjoy a fire. Even in the winter it is never very cold and its delightful summer should make Northern Yuen-nan a wonderful health resort for the residents of fever-stricken Burma and Tonking.
We rode toward Ta-li with the beautiful lake on our right hand and on the other the Ts'ang Shan mountains which rise to a height of fourteen thousand feet. As we approached the city we could see dimly outlined against the foothills the slender shafts of three ancient pagodas. They were erected to the feng-shui, the spirits of the "earth, wind, and water," and for fifteen hundred years have stood guard over the stone graves which, in countless thousands, are spread along the foot of the mountains like a vast gray blanket. In the late afternoon sunlight the walls of the city seemed to recede before us and the picturesque gate loomed shadowy and unreal even when we passed through its gloomy arch and clattered up the stone-paved street.
We soon discovered the residence of Mr. H.G. Evans, agent of the British American Tobacco Company, to whose care our first caravan had been consigned, and he very hospitably invited us to remain with him while we were in Ta-li Fu. This was only the beginning of Mr. Evans' assistance to the Expedition, for he acted as its banker throughout our stay in Yuen-nan, cashing checks and transferring money for us whenever we needed funds.
The British American Tobacco Company and the Standard Oil Company of New York are veritable "oases in the desert" for travelers because their agencies are found in the most out-of-the-way spots in Asia and their employees are always ready to extend the cordial hospitality of the East to wandering foreigners.
Besides Mr. Evans the white residents of Ta-li Fu include the Reverend William J. Hanna, his wife and two other ladies, all of the China Inland Mission. Mr. Hanna is doing a really splendid work, especially along educational and medical lines. He has built a beautiful little chapel, a large school, and a dispensary in connection with his house, where he and his wife are occupied every morning treating the minor ills of the natives, Christian and heathen alike.
Ta-li Fu was the scene of tremendous slaughter at the time of the Mohammedan war, when the Chinese captured the city through the treachery of its commander and turned the streets to rivers of blood. The Mohammedans were almost exterminated, and the ruined stone walls testify to the completeness of the Chinese devastation.
The mandarin at Ta-li Fu was good-natured but dissipated and corrupt. He called upon us the evening of our arrival and almost immediately asked if we had any shotgun cartridges. He remarked that he had a gun but no shells, and as we did not offer to give him any he continued to hint broadly at every opportunity.
The mandarins of lower rank often buy their posts and depend upon what they can make in "squeeze" from the natives of their district for reimbursement and a profit on their investment. In almost every case which is brought to them for adjustment the decision is withheld until the magistrate has learned which of the parties is prepared to offer the highest price for a settlement in his favor. The Chinese peasant, accepting this as the established custom, pays the bribe without a murmur if it is not too exorbitant and, in fact, would be exceedingly surprised if "justice" were dispensed in any other way.
My personal relations with the various mandarins whom I was constantly required to visit officially were always of the pleasantest and I was treated with great courtesy. It was apparent wherever we were in China that there was a total lack of antiforeign feeling in both the peasant and official classes and except for the brigands, who are beyond the law, undoubtedly white men can travel in perfect safety anywhere in the republic. Before my first official visit Wu gave me a lesson in etiquette. The Chinese are exceedingly punctilious and it is necessary to conform to their standards of politeness for they do not realize, or accept in excuse, the fact that Western customs differ from their own.