( Originally Published 1910 )
Manchuria—Mongolia—Turkestan—Tibet, the Roof of the World—Journey of Huc and Gabet
BEYOND the eastern extremity of the Great Wall, bounded on the west by Mongolia, on the north by the Amur, on the east by the Russian seaboard, and on the south by Korea and the Gulf of Pechili, lies the home of the Manchus—the race now dominant in the Chinese Empire. China claims it, just as Great Britain claimed Normandy, because her conquerors came from that region; and now that two of her neighbours have exhausted themselves in fighting for it, she will take good care that neither of them shall filch the jewel from her crown.
That remarkable achievement, the conquest of China by a few thousand semi-civilised Tartars, is treated in the second part of this work.
Manchuria consists of three regions now denominated provinces, Shengking, Kairin, and Helungkiang. They are all under one governor-general whose seat is at Mukden, a city sacred in the eyes of every Manchu, because there are the tombs of the fathers of the dynasty.
The native population of Manchuria having been drafted off to garrison and colonise the conquered country, their deserted districts were thrown open to Chinese settlers. The population of the three provinces is mainly Chinese, and, assimilated in government to those of China, they are reckoned as completing the number of twenty-one. Opulent in grain-fields, forests, and minerals, with every facility for commerce, no part of the empire has a brighter future. So thinly peopled is its northern portion that it continues to be a vast hunting-ground which supplies the Chinese market with sables and tiger-skins besides other peltries. The tiger-skins are particularly valuable as having longer and richer fur than those of Bengal.
Of the Manchus as a people, I shall speak later on. Those remaining in their original habitat are extremely rude and ignorant; yet even these hitherto neglected regions are now coming under the enlightening influence of a system of government schools.
Mongolia, the largest division of Tartary, if not of the Empire, is scarcely better known than the mountain regions of Tibet, a large portion of its area being covered with deserts as uninviting and as seldom visited as the African Sahara. One route, however, has been well trodden by Russian travellers, namely, that lying between Kiachta and Peking.
In the reign of Kanghi the Russians were granted the privilege of establishing an ecclesiastical mission to minister to a Cossack garrison which the Emperor had captured at Albazin trespassing on his grounds. Like another Nebuchadnezzar, he transplanted them to the soil of China. He also permitted the Russians to bring tribute to the " Son of Heaven" once in ten years. That implied a right to trade, so that the Russians, like other envoys, in Chinese phrase " came lean and went away fat." But they were not allowed to leave the beaten track: they were merchants, not travellers. Not till the removal of the taboo within the last half-century have these outlying dependencies been explored by men like Richthofen and Sven Hedin. Formerly the makers of maps garnished those unknown regions
"With caravans for want of towns."
Sooth to say, there are no towns, except Urga, a shrine for pilgrimage, the residence of a living Buddha, and Kiachta and Kalgan, terminal points of the caravan route already referred to.
Kiachta is a double town—one-half of it on each side of the Russo-Chinese boundary—presenting in striking contrast the magnificence of a Russian city and the poverty and filth of a Tartar encampment. The whole country is called in Chinese " the land of grass." Its inhabitants have sheepfolds and cattle ranches, but neither fields nor houses; unless tents and temporary huts may be so designated. To this day, nomadic in their habits, they migrate from place to place with their flocks and herds as the exigencies of water and pasturage may require.
Lines of demarcation exist for large tracts belonging to a tribe, but no minor divisions such as individual holdings. The members of a clan all enjoy their grazing range in common, and hold themselves ready to fight for the rights of their chieftain. Bloody feuds lasting for generations, such as would rival those of the Scottish clans, are not of infrequent occurrence. Their Manchu overlord treats these tribal conflicts with sublime indifference, as he does the village wars in China.
The Mongolian chiefs, or "princes" as they are called, are forty-eight in number. The "forty-eight princes " is a phrase as familiar to the Chinese ear as the " eighteen provinces " is to ours. Like the Manchus they are arranged in groups under eight banners. Some of them took part in the conquest, but the Manchus are too suspicious to permit them to do garrison duty in the Middle Kingdom, lest the memories of Kublai Khan and his glory should be awakened. They are, however, held liable to military service. Seng Ko Lin Sin (" Sam Collinson" as the British dubbed him), a Lama prince, headed the north-ern armies against the Tai-ping rebels and afterwards suffered defeat at the hands of the British and French before the gates of Peking.
In the winter the Mongol princes come with their clansmen to revel in the delights of Cambalu, the city of the great Khan, as they have continued to call Peking ever since the days of Kublai, whose magnificence has been celebrated by Marco Polo. Their camping-ground is the Mongolian Square which is crowded with tabernacles built of bamboo and covered with felt. In a sort of bazaar may be seen pyramids of butter and cheese, two commodities that are abominations to the Chinese of the south, but are much appreciated by Chinese in Peking as well as by the Manchus. One may see also mountains of venison perfectly fresh; the frozen carcasses of "yellow sheep" (really not sheep, but antelopes) ; then come wild boars in profusion, along with badgers, hares, and troops of live dogs—the latter only needing to be wild to make them edible. This will give some faint idea of Mongolia's contribution to the luxuries of the metropolis. Devout Buddhist as he is, the average Mongol deems abstinence from animal food a degree of sanctity unattainable by him.
Mongols of the common classes are clad in dirty sheepskins. Their gentry and priesthood dress themselves in the spoils of wolf or fox—more costly but not more clean. Furs, felt, and woollen fabrics of the coarsest texture may also be noticed. Raiment of camel's hair, strapped with a leathern girdle after the manner of John the Baptist, may be seen any day, and the wearers are not regarded as objects of commiseration.
Their camel, too, is wonderfully adapted to its habitat. Provided with two humps, it carries a natural saddle; and, clothed in long wool, yellow, brown or black, it looks in winter a lordly beast. Its fleece is never shorn, but is shed in summer. At that season the poor naked animal is the most pitiable of creatures. In the absence of railways and carriage roads, it fills the place of the ship of the desert and performs the heaviest tasks, such as the transporting of coals and salt. Most docile of slaves, at a word from its master it kneels down and quietly accepts its burden.
At Peking there is a lamasary where four hundred Mongol monks are maintained in idleness at the expense of the Emperor. Their manners are those of highwaymen. They have been known to lay rough hands on visitors in order to extort a charitable dole; and, if rumour may be trusted, their morals are far from exemplary.
My knowledge of the Mongols is derived chiefly from what I have seen of them in Peking. I have also had a glimpse of their country at Kalgan, beyond the Great Wall. A few lines from a caravan song by the Rev. Mark Williams give a picture of a long journey by those slow coaches :
"Inching along, we are inching along,
"The things that are common, all men will despise ;
—A Flight for Life, Pilgrim Press, Boston.
Politically Turkestan is not Mongolia, but Tamer-lane, though born there, was a Mongol. His descend-ants were the Moguls of India. At different epochs peoples called Turks and Huns have wandered over the Mongolian plateau, and Mongols have swept over Turkestan. To draw a line of demarcation is neither easy nor important. In the Turkestan of to-day the majority of the people follow the prophet of Mecca. Russia has absorbed most of the khanates, and has tried more than once to encroach on portions belonging to China. In one instance she was foiled and compelled to disgorge by the courage of Viceroy Chang, a story which I reserve for the sequel. The coveted region was Ili, and Russia's pretext for crossing the boundary was the chronic state of warfare in which the inhabitants existed.
Tibet is the land of the Grand Lama. Is it merely tributary or is it a portion of the Chinese Empire? This is a question that has been warmly agitated during the last two years—brought to the front by Colonel Younghusband's expedition and by a treaty made in Lhasa. Instead of laying their complaints before the court of Peking, the Indian Government chose to settle matters on the spot, ignoring the authority of China. Naturally China has been provoked to instruct her resident at Lhasa to maintain her rights.
A presumptive claim might be based on the fact that the Grand Lama took refuge at Urga, where he remained until the Empress Dowager ordered him to return to his abandoned post. China has always had a representative at his court; but his function would appear to be that of a political spy rather than an over-seer, governor, or even adviser. Chinese influence in Tibet is nearly nil. For China to assert authority by interference and to make herself responsible for Tibet's shortcomings would be a questionable policy, against which two wars ought to be a sufficient warning. She was involved with France by her interference in Tongking and with japan by interference in Korea. Too much intermeddling in Tibet might easily embroil her with Great Britain.
In one sense the Buddhist pope may justly claim to be the highest of earthly potentates. No other sits on a throne at an equal elevation above the level of the sea. Like Melchizedeck, he is without father or mother—each occupant of the throne being a fresh incarnation of Buddha. The signs of Buddhaship are known only to the initiated ; but they are supposed to consist in the recognition of places, persons, and apparel. These lamas never die of old age.
While in other parts of the Empire polygamy prevails for those who can afford it, in Tibet polyandry crops up. Which is the more offensive to good morals we need not decide; but is it not evident that Confucianism shows its weakness on one side as Buddhism does on the other? A people that tolerates either or both hardly deserves to be regarded as civilised.
The Chinese call Tibet the " roof of the world," and most of it is as barren as the roof of a house. Still the roof, though producing nothing, collects water to irrigate a garden. Tibet is the mother of great rivers, and she feeds them from her eternal snows. On her high-lands is a lake or cluster of lakes which the Chinese describe as Sing Su Hai, the "sea of stars." From this the Yellow River takes its rise and perhaps the Yangtse Kiang. A Chinese legend says that Chang Chien poled a raft up to the source of the Yellow River and found himself in the Milky Way, Tienho, the " River of Heaven."
Fifty years ago two intrepid French missionaries, Huc and Gabet, made their way to Lhasa, but they were not allowed to remain there. The Chinese residents made them prisoners, under pretext of giving them protection, and sent them to the seacoast through the heart of the empire. They were thus enabled to see the vast interior at a time when it was barred alike to traveller and missionary. Of this adventurous journey Hue's published "Travels" is the immortal monument.
We have thus gone over China and glanced at most of her outlying dependencies. The further exploration of Tibet we may postpone until she has made good her claims to dominion in that mountain region. The -vastness of the Chinese Empire and the immensity of its population awaken in the mind a multitude of questions to which nothing but history can give an adequate reply. We come therefore to the oracle whose responses may perhaps be less dubious than those of Delphi.