Page images
PDF
EPUB
[graphic]

FREIGHT CARTS AND A CAMEL TRAIN IN THE STREETS OF PAOTOW

[graphic]

STILT DANCERS DURING A CHINESE NEW YEAR FESTIVAL IN THE COURTYARD OF AN INN AT PAOTOW

[graphic][merged small]

The merchandise is from the far interior and is bound for Paotow (see page 197), the present terminus of the Peking-Süiyuan Railway, near the southern edge of the Mongolian Desert. The halt is three days' march outside the city, which is a great center for overland freight from Mongolia, northwest China, and Turkestan.

A CAMP OF CAMEL DRIVERS They boil flour paste in a copper pot to make a crude sort of macaroni, to be washed down

[ocr errors][merged small]
[graphic]

An Account of the Work of the National Geographic Society's Central-China Expedition in the Mongol Kingdom of Ala Shan

I

BY FREDERICK R. WULSIN

With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author

T was at Paotow, near the southern edge of the Mongolian Desert and the present terminus of the railroad which points in a northwesterly direction. from Peking across Asia, that the National Geographic Society's Central-China Expedition made its final arrangements for an eight months' inland journey through the Province of Kansu,* in the extreme northwest corner of China proper, where Mongolia, China, and Tibet come together.

Our mission was to gather from these little-known regions botanical and zoological specimens, which were subsequently presented by The Society to the U. S. National Museum, in Washington. In addition, I hoped to make a study of the people of northwestern China.

Our caravan consisted of 27 camels, besides horses, which were purchased at Paotow, and the retinue included 15 Chinese employés, among whom were four camel-drivers, who were to accompany us as far as Wang Ye Fu (Tingyüanying), in Ala Shan, a Mongolian kingdom which we estimated to be 23. days' march to the west. Here we were to find other transport for the remainder of our journey (see map, page 199).

Those 23 days grew to 39, for the way was longer and the going worse than anyone had expected.

The route from Paotow lay to the northwest, over dry, open country, dotted with the homesteads of a few Chinese settlers, who take up the land in Mongolia wherever there is enough water for farming.

The straight trail to our destination was far south of our actual route, but we had to avoid it, for at two points it

*See, also, "Where the Mountains Walked," by Upton Close and Elsie McCormick, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE for May.

1922.

crossed the Hwang (Yellow) River. Advancing spring had rotted the ice on the river until it was too soft to bear the weight of men and animals, and for a stretch of 1,200 miles there are no bridges.

THE CHINESE CAMEL MUST BE HUMORED

We kept to the northern bank, far enough from the river to avoid irrigation ditches, since a camel dreads mud more than cold, thirst, or hardship. His big, padded feet slip on wet ground, his long legs get tangled, and a fall may result in permanent injury.

The Chinese make their camels work all winter, leaving them no opportunity to put on fat and build up resistance to hardship. Camels owned by Mongols, on the contrary, usually make only two trips a season, and can, therefore, start out in the best condition, march fast, and keep going for long hours. They are the beasts which have made the camel's reputation in Asia (see page 206).

Ours were the inferior Chinese animals and had other peculiarities which we had to humor. For one thing, they fed best in the morning, after resting; so we traveled in the afternoon and evening.

Our short, fat Chinese cook found this arrangement deplorable and we shared his opinion. Breakfast and lunch were telescoped into one meal, called "brunch," taken about 10 o'clock in the morning. The next, except for hard-tack munched in the saddle, came late in the evening, sometimes at II o'clock.

We often finished a march in the dark, blundering into holes or leading our horses and looking for the trail with a lantern; but with a full or waxing moon, which lit up the still desert brightly and made mud-walled farms look like Arabian palaces, night marching was glorious.

I remember one evening in particular, when we ended our march by the dim

[graphic]

A CHINESE STREET MERCHANT OF PAOTOW

He packs up his wares when the day is over and carries them off in two boxes slung on a pole over his shoulder. Note the column in the background. Similar columns stand thick along the main street. On one night of the month which follows Chinese New Year, all are packed with fuel and lighted. turning the whole city into an inferno of flame.

light of the stars. My wife had been riding with me all afternoon, far in advance of the camels. Long after sunset we saw two trees dimly outlined over a hill against the sky, and after crossing a brook, we came suddenly upon the camp of a caravan of traders-dung fires shining through tent doors and black masses of grunting camels on their knees by the roadside, while dogs barked everywhere.

nese assistant, leading his horse by the bridle, his rifle over his arm, was chatting with a Chinese who had sprung up from nowhere. Soon a guide appeared and led us off to the south, over uneven fields, to a small farmhouse hardly discernible in the darkness.

THE EXPEDITION CAMPS IN A BARNYARD

A single low building stood on one

[graphic][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed]

!

Drawn by A. H. Bumstead

A SKETCH MAP OF A PORTION OF THE ROUTE OF THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
SOCIETY'S CENTRAL-CHINA EXPEDITION

The Expedition's caravan was organized at Paotow. After a march of 39 days, headquarters
were established at Wang Ye Fu, capital of the Mongol kingdom of Ala Shan.

Inside was one long, low-ceilinged room, in the middle of which was a stove made of earth. On the sides were long brick platforms for sleeping accommodations. A clay dish of oil held a floating wick, whose flickering flame could hardly pierce the mixed fumes of frying food, opium, tobacco, and steaming humanity. Both sleeping platforms were crowded with camel-drivers, peasants, and travelers.

One glance at this squalor, and we set up our tent in the courtyard, among pigs, donkeys, and oxen. Our cook had elbowed his way to the fire. Soon he sent us canned soup, boiled millet, and the ubiquitous, underfed chicken of the Orient. We ate all we could-boiled millet is more filling than nourishing-and soon sank into oblivion.

At 3 a. m. a gale sprang up, whirling on high all the dry débris of the courtyard. For the rest of the night I kept my head under a blanket to avoid the flying dust and straw, emerging at intervals to lash down some part of the tent which threatened to blow away.

Each lull in the gale was punctuated by unearthly shrieks from a demented woman, a member of the farmer's family, who sought to outhowl the storm from her corner in the main building.

Dawn brought better weather and took

us out to study the surroundings. There were a few fields, some sand dunes, and a brook which soon lost itself in the desert-a very desolate scene.

Four or five farmhouses stood close together. One was in ruins, having been looted by robbers a few months before. The thieves had been caught by soldiers from the nearest garrison and executed at the scene of the robbery. West of the ruin, on a sand dune, one robber's blackened head swung in a cage and a second broken cage lay on the ground with another head in it (see page 201).

Beyond, to the horizon, stretched the bare, brown plain of Mongolia, hazy in the pale light of morning.

MONGOL WEALTH CONSISTS OF ANIMALS

As we advanced, the farms became fewer, and after a week we turned due west over stony plains, empty and unfit for tillage. Soon we saw the tents of our first pastoral Mongols, which were small, round buildings of felt stretched on wooden framework-warm, snug houses for the bitter cold winter, capable of being taken down or set up in a few hours (see page 202).

The Mongols live on their sheep, goats, camels and horses. They eat the flesh, drink the milk, and sell the hair and the

« PreviousContinue »