CHAPTER XIX. ACROSS THE YANGTZE GORGE
In mid-November we left the White Water with a caravan of twenty-six mules and horses. Following the road from Li-chiang to the Yangtze, we crossed the "Black Water" and climbed steadily upward over several tremendous wooded ridges, each higher than the last, to the summit of the divide.
The descent was gradual through a magnificent pine and spruce forest. Some of the trees were at least one hundred and fifty feet high, and were draped with beautiful gray moss which had looped itself from branch to branch and hung suspended in delicate streamers yards in length. The forest was choked with underbrush and a dense growth of dwarf bamboo, and the hundreds of fallen logs, carpeted with bronze moss, made ideal conditions for small mammal collecting. However, as all the species would probably be similar to those we had obtained on the Snow Mountain, we did not feel that it was worth while stopping to trap.
At four-thirty in the afternoon we camped upon a beautiful hill in a pine forest which was absolutely devoid of underbrush, and where the floor was thinly overlaid with brown pine needles. Although the Moso hunter, who acted as our guide, assured us that the river was only three miles away, it proved to be more than fifteen, and we did not reach the ferry until half past one the next afternoon.
We were continually annoyed, as every traveler in China is, by the inaccuracy of the natives, and especially of the Chinese. Their ideas of distance are most extraordinary. One may ask a Chinaman how far it is to a certain village and he will blandly reply, "Fifteen li to go, but thirty li when you come back." After a short experience one learns how to interpret such an answer, for it means that when going the road is down hill and that the return uphill will require double the time.
Caravans are supposed to travel ten li an hour, although they seldom do more than eight, and all calculations of distance are based upon time so far as the mafus are concerned. If the day's march is eight hours you invariably will be informed that the distance is eighty li, although in reality it may not be half as great.
In "Chinese Characteristics," Dr. Arthur H. Smith gives many illuminating observations on the inaccuracy of the Chinese. In regard to distance he says:
It is always necessary in land travel to ascertain, when the distance
is given in "miles" (li), whether the "miles" are "large" or not!
That there is some basis for estimates of distances we do not deny,
but what we do deny is that these estimates or measurements are either
accurate or uniform.
It is, so far as we know, a universal experience that the moment one
leaves a great imperial highway the "miles" become "long." If 120 li
constitute a fair day's journey on the main road, then on country roads
it will take fully as long to go 100 li, and in the mountains the
whole day will be spent in getting over 80 li (p. 51).
In like manner, a farmer who is asked the weight of one of his oxen
gives a figure which seems much too low, until he explains that he has
omitted to estimate the bones! A servant who was asked his height
mentioned a measure which was ridiculously inadequate to cover his
length, and upon being questioned admitted that he had left out of
account all above his shoulders! He had once been a soldier, where the
height of the men's clavicle is important in assigning the carrying of
burdens. And since a Chinese soldier is to all practical purposes
complete without his head, this was omitted.
Of a different sort was the measurement of a rustic who affirmed that
he lived "ninety li from the city," but upon cross-examination he
consented to an abatement, as this was reckoning both to the city and
back, the real distance being as he admitted, only "forty-five li one
way!" (p. 49) ...
The habit of reckoning by "tens" is deep-seated, and leads to much
vagueness. A few people are "ten or twenty," a "few tens," or perhaps
"ever so many tens," and a strictly accurate enumeration is one of the
rarest of experiences in China.... An acquaintance told the writer that
two men had spent "200 strings of cash" on a theatrical exhibition,
adding a moment later, "It was 173 strings, but that is the same as
200 - is it not?" (p. 54).