Some Wonders of Yunnan

MRS. ARCHIBALD LITTLE IN CORNHILL May 1 1906

Some Wonders of Yunnan

MRS. ARCHIBALD LITTLE IN CORNHILL May 1 1906

Some Wonders of Yunnan

BY MRS. ARCHIBALD LITTLE IN CORNHILL.

The following extract from Mrs. Little's narrative of her journey from the Yangtse River in China, through the province of Yunnan, gives the reader some idea of the wonders of that strange oriental country. The egg-carriers and the coffins in the cliffs are two extraordinary features to which Mrs. Little refers.

THAT first climb into Yunnan will ever remain impressed upon my memory as one of the very sensational experiences of my life. But before that there had been other wonders. Before ever I had thought of coming out to China I had heard of the transit of the wax insects— which are born as eggs on one tree in one province, and have to be carried by men to be placed on another kind of tree in another province—as one of its wonders, and there for days we had been nearly crowded off the road by these carriers. For twelve days men carry the eggs from Chaotungfu to near Kiating, carefully laid in little paper bags on trays, a layer of air, if possible, between the trays, in very lightly-made baskets, so as again to give free passage to the air, and well covered over with blue cotton to shield them from the sun, or, in the case of rain, with oil paper. Every night they all have to be spread out in the inns, such a work for the poor tired coolies, who have been carrying them rather an extra distance all day! For it is most important to get the eggs on to the other trees before they are hatched, and for the same reason they have to be cooled down each night. Sixty packages go to a load of eighty catties, and its value is estimated at thirty taels (£4 10s.), a great ^um to be trusted to a struggling coolie, so a responsible man, armed with a sword, goes in charge of each little company.

The other great wonder of the road is the Coffins on the Cliffs! The road

as far as Chaotungfu, twelve days, was habitually so bad that it was enough to make any one cry getting a pony over it—to ride one was an impossibility very often—but I see in my diary I have marked the road on our sixth day out as specially bad. It was a bright, sunshiny day, with the thermometer at 77, but with a pleasant breeze, when we came upon a cliff on the left or distant bank of the river. There was a little cleft in its perpendicular surface, and, fixed into this, in a place perfectly inaccessible now, a coffin! I heard the men talking about it, and I saw it. Presently afterwards we came upon a river rushing out of a lofty yellow cavern with pendant stalactites, caves in the rock above it, a mountain over it. Then we came to a cliff with square holes in the face of the rock, like those of the celebrated ladder by which Mengliang led his army up the end of the Yangtse Gorges. And there again there were coffins, this time several coffins. At Lao Wa Tan, where we stopped for the night, the centre of the cliff-coffin district, there was a suspension bridge, a fine one, and towers of defence also against the Mantze. Next day I saw limestone cliffs with caves in what seemed like inaccessible places, but with walls in front of them, and the whole cliff surface so honeycombed as to suggest subterranean passages, but the cliffs were always on the other side of the river, so that we could not get at them to examine them. But then came the wonder of wonders, the huge

limestone precipice of Tou Sha Kwari, where we slept the next night, 1,500 feet, I should say, but people who know it better say 2,000 feet high, and quite sheer from the swift, rushing river below. And there, fully one-third of the way up the face of the cliff, the only place where it would be possible, a ledge with at least eight or nine coffins. I could distinctly see with an opera-glass the square holes in the rock into which beams had been fixed to support them, and the beams that had fallen thence, and how the coffins now lay slanting, one on the top of the other, and how one, which had lost its lid, was apparently a tree hollowed out, presenting, I thought, a very narrow space for the corpse to lie in. But the marvel of marvels is, how were they ever got there. How did man ever get there ? That, in itself, would be difficult enough ; but how would it be possible even now to get coffins there? What was the idea in so doing? What was the forgotten race that had this strange fancy for burying its dead in inaccessible places? Strangely enough, I could never discern any of those ancient cave dwellings, carefully squared, with inner room and shelves, and simple but effective arrangement for u sporting your oak,77 of which there are such numbers in Szechuan. But it immediately recurred to my mind that once the boatmen had pointed out to me what they called a coffin on the face of the cliff on the left bank of the Yangtse in the Witches7 Gorge. I had thought then it could only be a bit of limestone that had taken the shape, because the place seemed quite inaccessible, and only looked at it to please the boatmen, but now it occurred to me could this also be a coffin? Then in the Bellows Gorge, the bellows that give their name to

it are very like these Yunnan rock coffins, and I remembered a boatman saying: “Of course it really is a coffin.77 Could this unknown race have extended so far in old days? And what had been the thoughts in their hearts as with incredible ingenuity and exertion they placed their dead in these inexpugnable rock sanctuaries? It seemed a place to sit down and think. Deep down below us the river we had followed for so many days was flowing, still swelling in the middle with excess of water, and swift but not rusjhing quite so much as its wont, and with a dull, mysterious air, preparing us already for its underground journey— Where Alph the sacred river ran, Through caverns measureless to man.

Then high up a!bove soared the cliff, towards the top already catching some gleams of sunshine from the sun now emerging from behind the mountains, while in the distance we caught glimpses of the wild defile we were about to descend into—a temple to the goddess of Mercy, in a cave to our right, high up in it. There is an extraordinary variety of different races in Yunnan, and everywhere traces of hard fighting in the past, old and new watch-towers, ruins, fields thrown out of cultivation: but which of these races was it that had at one time dominated and thought out these grand sepulchres for its great men? For, of course, it can only have been the leaders who were so honored. In Mongolia last summer I remembered the great hillocks just upon the border, raised to the memory of forgotten kings, and recalled those grand lines—

My name is Ozymandias, king of

kings ;

Look on my works, ye mighty, and

despair,

written at the base of a monument in Egypt, where all trace of his works and of his life personality seem alike to have disappeared.

.Here, at least, remain these coffins, with, it is to be supposed, the bones inside, though I have since heard that, in one case at leasf, a party of Chinese did last year succeed in reaching one set of coffins, and opening one, being afterwards very much rebuked therefor by the authorities. They, or rather some one, mounted,

I have been told, upon a series of bamboos one upon the other with sticks fixed into them much like a steeplejack. Of course, the Chinese have a very easy way of accounting for the position of these coffins; they say that in old days men had wing's, adding that many wonderful things exisft to this day in Yunnan. “Are not these very cliffs full of monkeys?” Of that last, though, I am doubtful, not having seen any.

Ail the way along the vegetation was wonderfully varied, great Hoangko-shu (Ficus infectoria), the magnificent shade trees of Szechuan, changing their leaves, as I had never seen them do, sometimes all a most beautiful yellow, flashing golden in the sunshine, sometimes already in bright spring green livery, sometimes half and half, or, in part, still retaining last year ’s leaves, and wreathing “their old fantastic roots so high” as to be scarcely credible; then ash trees, tallow trees, innumerable fine walnut trees, Spanish chestnuts, and suddenly; a great congregation of tall candelabra cactuses, presently formed into hedges by the wayside. Directly one comes into Yunnan one perceives a disposition to plant on either side of the way. Thus at times there are exquisite green lanes between overarching willows, or banksia or rambler roses, some double, and all

alike sweet. Then, after a while, we came upon exuberant wistaria, with miserable little flowers, though, and blue mimosa trees, and numbers of trees and flowers to which I could give no name.

But for days the road chiefly impressed itself upon me by the long procession of sufferers we passed on the way. They were bound for the same destination as ourselves, but so heavily weighted for getting up those awful hills. With their burdens attached to their backs by back-carriers they would pause, relieving themselves for a moment of the weight by means of the double-headed, iron-loaded crutch they carry with them for the purpose. With knitted brows, the mouth fallen open through suffering, the lower part of the body panting violently, they would gaze upon us as we passed, apparently unseeing, so much were they absorbed by their own exertions and consequent suffering. Carried past them, in a comfortable, open sedan chair, propped upon cushions, with a cloak to draw round me against the wind, and all manner of conveniences in different bags hung round the chair, it was impossible not to wonder, as so often in life, why some people from the outset, and by no fault of their own, seem set apart to groan under heavy burdens. Some of these burden-carriers were, alas! so young, and being as1 yet undeveloped, must thereby become misshapen. Those returning, and approaching the end of their—at the quickest—twenty-six days’ journey, often five weeks, in many cases walked bent double. But, I think, what struck me the most was the wav they went by us as unseeing, no speculation in their eyes on being confronted with what must have appeared to them such strange-looking barbarians.

Year in year out this long train of heavily-laden ones toils up the steep hills, sometimes at an angle of fortyfive degrees, a rise of a foot to each step, down steep descents, slippery after a rain shower, round abrupt corners, past which it is quite a feat to get a load without scraping it against the rock; and, after seeing this sad procession and thinking about it all for ten days on end, one feels as if any nation that could start a railway would be a benefactor to the human race, elevating man to being the tender upon a machine instead of, as now, doing all the brute, rough

work himself. Thinking of the jollylooking porters at most English railway stations, and contrasting them with the quivering frames, the parted lips, and anguished expressions of these Chinese porters, one could not help feeling as if there must be a blessing upon whoever would undo the heavy burdens. How often is this forced home upon one in China, while one forgets the rivalry among European nations, the competition for the unopened markets, and thinks only of the immense, unspeakable benefits to be conferred upon the poor, suffering toilers of China!