Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

summarily beheaded. And after this tale, we passed out into the dark night of utter newslessness; no sound or syllable ever since has reached us, either of Great China, or of the pale feigned storms of Europe that have so quaint an air of unreality when considered in this land of real life and death where we now circulate. For some weeks, indeed, all news of any kind ceased wholly ; even local rumour slept or dozed; and we continued a mild career along roads that, in defiance of all warnings from the Yamen, seemed perfectly peaceful for our passing. Yet, even as we passed, there was a sensation on the road that this sunlit calm was but the lull of a brewing storm. An ominous quiet, indeed, it seemed, along this, the main artery of East and West, that carries all the northern trade between Asia and Europe, China, Russia and Thibet. Less august, though, is the roadway, than its importance; and many a stony upland lane of Westmoreland might sneer at this, one of the great highways of the world. Through flat and fertile lands it winds towards the West, through placid little villages, and walled towns comfortably asleep in snug hollow or open plain. But a sultriness lay over everything as we went; it seemed as if at any moment the crash of thunder might break the perilous calm. Watchers with anxious or evil faces lined the streets at our passing; no word was spoken anywhere of war; but every evening we were glad to have left a day and its cities behind us, to be yet one day nearer the Kansu border, beyond which I

was assured that peace had her everlasting and inviolable home. Feng Hsiang was a point to be rapidly passed; here the Elder Brother League is strong, and rascality runs high. A slatternly city, with rows of streets half blind and dead, but thronged with dense mobs of sightseers, in whose eyes a heavy and greedy malignance brooded. And here, indeed, we heard that the ulcer was felt and known to be near breaking-point, and the resident Europeans had been warned to be on the watch for their lives. So we passed through and crossed the border, and came to Tsinchow, here leaving the Nanchow road, and striking away southward towards the arid valleys of the Black Water River.

The air at once was changed. In place of brewing sedition and brigandage the land was full of calm.

[graphic]

Frank Mahomedans and kindly simple Chinese peasants occupied the fields and towns in peace. There was no thought of danger from within or without. The Wolf was very far away now; he would never want or dare to trouble Kansu. And thus, with divers adventures by the way, we saw many men and many cities, and at last, blocking the vault of Heaven, the vast white wall of Thibet. And now, if before we lacked information, we plunged here into the deepest abysses of silence. Our own affairs soon occupied us completely, and not a whisper arrived of even the little places we had left but a few days since. Yet the change from China to Thibet was not one from stress to peace.

My name, in Chinese character, is Law-and-OrderGreat-Lord. I and my name alike are complete strangers to this borderland; and Law and Order are unfortunately things with which the inhabitants deserve to be drilled into a salubrious intimacy. All along the dividing line of China and Thibet, there stretches a series of independent or semi-independent principalities. The rulers of these often live far away, and in no case are in a position to exercise any effective authority, oppressed as they are between the claims of China on one hand and those of the monks on the other. The result of this is that the border is a lawless no-man's-land, where the monks have everything their own way, deriding the temporal powers of their lords, and owning but the most shadowy allegiance to the vast and vague pontificate of Lhasa. In many places, accordingly, they are, for the most part, an evil crew, intolerant, autocratic and uncultivated, ruling the peasants with a rod of iron, and with all the harshness of masters elevated from the class they govern, seeing that a son of every family is claimed for monastic orders. At the same time, it is not from missionaries, nor from travellers fed entirely from missionary sources, that a fair appreciation of Lamaism can reasonably be expected. No professor of one faith, however candid in intention, can possibly be really ingenuous and impartial in his criticism of another; a Buddhist evangelist would find unexpected and unpalatable things to say of Roman monasticism or Orthodox Iconodules. In one respect, especially, English condemnation of Lamaism seems unfair. Worshipping as we do, above all, material success

6

in this world, the capacity for slaughter, and that merciless Moloch, Efficiency, we fall foul of Lamaist monasticism in Mongolia because 'emollit mores, nec sinit esse feros,' reclaiming a wild and bloodthirsty people into a meekness and mildness that we ourselves despise as enthusiastically as our Gospels praise it. And yet, when we meet the same monasticism producing exactly the contrary effects in Thibet, and hardening a hard mountain race into yet further courage, audacity and fire, we have no better word than obstinate fanaticism' for our angry verdict on a frame of temper that may not suit our own purposes so well as the contemptible meekness or lethargy of the Mongolian.

For my own part, deploring altogether the wide divergence of Mahayana Buddhism in all its branches from the pure traditions of the South, I could yet wish that Mongolian effects were more evident in Thibetan Lamaism. While China just behind us was in agonies we never guessed, we ourselves found our hands sufficiently full in fending off the unfriendliness of the monks. On our arrival at a border village, subject in name to the far-off Prince of Jo-ni (Choni in the maps) we were confronted with an initial difficulty in obtaining lodgment. The men of the village-tall, handsome, burly figures in Isabella-coloured homespun-met us with hostile looks ; and their wives were even more overt in their enmity, preventing their husbands from returning any civil answer, wherever one might seem inclined. Finally, however, we secured a house, and were promptly invaded by a deputation of monks from the abbey on the promontory. They came, headed by the Business Manager or Almoner or Chancellor, filled with curiosity and unfriendly questions. It came out that we had already nearly occasioned a grave scandal in the community. For our road, winding over the shoulder of the hill, had suddenly, just as it came in sight of the village, offered us two alternatives, between a low road, convenient and smooth across the cornfields, straight to the houses, and another steep and stony, toiling upwards, right round the encircling slopes, and so down. I, never noting a barrier of brushwood

I in my path, was at once for taking the obviously easy road; and an instant eruption of dismal howls from the village taught me nothing, for my innocence took none

a

[graphic]

6

of the noise to my own account. However, I was soon called back, and the error rectified. Not only in the sphere of morals is the high and stony way more recommendable than the short and smooth. It appears that, before the harvest, the monks impose all sorts of mystic taboos and magic rites, on pain of the most fearful dangers to the crops and cattle, from murrain and hail. Among other prescriptions for a good yield, certain paths must not be trodden by foot of beast until the corn is in. On such a forbidden track had I begun to set hoof. Our peace was made at last, but with difficulty, the monks exhausting themselves in their inquisitory catechism, and, though slightly conciliated by news of my creed, could not overcome their suspicions as to the causes of our coming. They are convinced that we come only for their gold and silver-a grim but hardly unjust comment on European zeal for the spread of civilisation.' They are further convinced that our eyes have a miraculous power of penetrating the bowels of the earth and there discovering the sole objects of our search. This is clearly a glorified misconception of the telescope and field-glass; these being products of the West that even these remote monks were aware of, and eagerly clamoured to possess.

At last the holy assemblage was got rid of, and the night spent, as best might be, in avoiding the lively relics of their visitation. Next day brought fresh illustration of the perils that environ unwary feet on the Thibetan border. For my companion went out for a short stroll, along a path as open as Piccadilly; while I lay quiet,

' studying unwillingly the ways of the little white Thibetan flea. As I lay, I became aware of cries, increasing steadily in number and volume, till finally they lured me to the threshold of our hayloft, whence, about a quarter of a mile away, I perceived with innocent ethnological curiosity, the male inhabitants of the village all gathered in a disorderly mob, and apparently celebrating the Spring or the crops in some quaint primeval rite that consisted in leapings and gesticulation and a dissonant choir of howls irregularly but constantly emitted. For a few minutes I pleasantly pondered over this picture, and was only waked to the true situation by pale and shaking voices that summoned me below. On descending I learned that that howling mob had in reality gathered together with swords and guns by the pathside, to murder my companion as he returned. For that one occasion it so happened that he was armed only with a a smile; this, however, he brandished with energy and perseverance, advancing resolutely down a lane of crowded figures on the banks above him that gnashed upon him with faces so devilish as he went, that the noise and the sight of them will be long before they leave him. Nevertheless, in precarious safety he came through, further protected, as I like to hope, by the dissuasions of a young monk, who now came hurrying along to claim praise for averting the murder. At the same time, the situation was far from solved ; an attack from the peasants might be apprehended at any moment. Guns and revolvers were primed and prepared accordingly, and we held ourselves ready for a decisive stand, when in an instant a crowd of monks flowed vehemently into the room, all talking loudly, and all at once, of their, and our, innocence and goodness, and of the wicked obstinate hearts of the people, who were in no wise to be persuaded that we were as excellent and harmless as the monks for their part well knew us to be. The sum of it all was that we should be best advised to make off as soon as possible, and utterly avoid the mountains and their peoples thenceforward. In plainer words, these holy men desired our absence, indeed, but not quite yet our death. This time they even brought the Lord Abbot to add his word; but he made no impressive figure in the scene, being a small-pocked, shock-headed Peter of a man, young but frowsy, stockish and stupid in the face, squat in figure, and of toad-like conformation generally. There was evidently nothing for it, however, but to take these sufficiently plain hints and go. Go we did, accordingly, at dawn, with no further word or look of ill; and with torn hearts began turning away from the great snowy Alps, across to the cultivated lower country which was once more China, the prudent Empire occupying sedulously all profitable land, and leaving the wild hills to Jo-ni and Thibet.

[graphic]

And here, again, what a change! After this interlude of barbarism back into the company of friendly, cordial, simple people, ready to welcome and help, and laugh

a

« VorigeDoorgaan »