7 JULY 1883, Page 20


Ma. Come:noun publishes in these volumes his experiences during a journey in the early part of last year across China from Canton to the Burmese frontier, and the first lines of his preface are an apology for the style and character of his narrative,

.en the plea that it was written on the ground, and that it is no

more than a collection of daily notes. We fear that the apology will be considered necessary by his readers, and that some charity will be needed to admit that "the want of literary finish is compensated for by the freshness and realism of the descrip- tions." Mr. Colquhoun tells a story of some friend of his at a club who thought Marco Polo was " the man who crossed Africa

two years ago," and he seems to draw from the unfathomed -stupidity of club conversation the inference that the state of know- ledge concerning South-west China is exceedingly limited and -often contradictory. Full of this idea he proceeds to place before the world as matters beyond cavil or dispute his opinions on the -subjects that come under his notice, or that suggest themselves to his imagination. The question of land communication between India and China has, no doubt, its important as well as its interesting features ; but it shows a total inability to appreciate the relative importance of things to declare, as Mr. Colquhoun does, that "if we are to hold our place in the international commercial contest," we must solve the problem speedily. We have dwelt upon the contents .of the preface, for the reason that Mr. Colquhoun shows in it a more correct sense of the shortcomings of his volumes than be does in the course of the work itself. But it does not seem to have occurred to him at any time that the best way to obtain the fullest recognition for his own efforts was to rewrite his narrative from his notes, instead of publishing them in their crude state, and then making the best arrangements he could in the way of corrections with the printer. If he had done this, -or obtained the services of some literary friend of experience to .do it for him, his Across Chrysi; would have obtained the favour- able reception its author counted on, and which nothing but the sympathy naturally felt towards an adventurous, traveller in a strange land has prevented being turned into a distinct literary failure.

The first part of Mr. Colquhoun's journey lay through the region which was the home of the Taepings and the scene of their first outbreak. The traveller's comment on the beginning of what was the most formidable internal revolt from which China has suffered in our time, and which nearly resulted in the disintegration of the Celestial Empire, reads as follows :—

"The mark made by the Taeping rebellion in this region, close to Its birthplace, where it effected such a firm hold, is to be found in the lawless spirit of the people, as well as in the material injury to be witnessed in its ruined cities, villages, and temples. The revolt first took rise [sic] in the north-east of Kwangsi ; but the whole of the Province was the heart and soul of the insurrection. The people here say (one of our boatmen had relations killed by the rebels, and narrowly escaped himself) that close by Nanning was the locality where Taeping Wang first gained a following, though this I think must be incorrect. His pony is said to have been able to lie down and kneel when ordered, and other wonderful stories are told of it ; ic fact, he has almost developed into a deity."

This passage is no unfair sample of Mr. Colquhoun's method of writing, and his descriptions are seldom of a more interesting or exciting character than "the wonderful story "of the Taeping chief's pony, which could lie down, and which made either itself or its master—which, is not clear from the wording—appear as a deity in the minds of a superstitious people. What struck Mr. Colquhoun greatly during this part of his journey were the poverty of the country and the scantiness of the people. The region watered by the Sikiang seems to possess, neither in its present state nor in its immediate prospects, the necessary wealth and resources to make it an advantageous avenue for trade. Mr. Colquhoun's experience unconsciously con- firms what both M. Dupuis and M. Rocher have said, on the authority of Chinese informants, as to the trade of Yunnan having been temporarily diverted by successive civil wars from the Songcoi route to that by the Sikiang. If this be a correct

• Across Chrerl. Being the Narrative of a Journey of Exploration through the South•China Border Lands, from Canton to Idanda'av. By Archibald It. Colquhoun, Executive Engineer, Indian Public Works. With apecially prepa ed Maps. Fee-similes of Native Drawings, and 300 IErtetrations. 2 rob. London : Sampson Low and Co. 1883. supposition as to cause and effect, the commercial outlook for the French in Tonqnin must not be deemed altogether unpro- mising; and Chinese cpposition to their plans may arise in a great measure from the knowledge of what advantages might accrue to a foreign Power from the possession of a short and convenient approach to Yunnan, with its turbulent population and its numerous savage and semi-conquered tribes.

The most interesting passages in Mr. Colquhoun's volumes are unquestionably those relating to national habits and to the peculiar customs of some of the inferior races, who differ

from the Chinese in appearance and manners, while they are very backward in respect of civilisation. It may not be generally known that the Chinese, having a due respect for

their persons, pay great attention to, and spend a great deal of their money on, their clothes. The dresses of the officials,

even the petty ones, are handsome and costly-lookina ; the wardrobe of many an official is worth 2,000 dollars (about £400),

an enormous sum. I have been told that a witty Chinaman has said, in regard to this subject, Englishmen live in their houses ; Chinamen in their clothes." Mr. Colquhoun confirms the general opinion as to the popular antipathy towards Mission- aries, and he furnishes farther testimony to the practical prud- ence of the Chinese, by the true explanation of their always drinking hot water or tea, instead of cold, on account of the impurity of the water. In more than one large town, the friendly demeanour of the people formed a pleasing contrast to the excitement and hostile demeanour shown elsewhere. His experience at Dungan, a town on the Sikiang, was very gratifying in this respect :—

" In our wanderings through the town, down the main street, and on the ramparts at the back of the town, where we strolled in order to obtain a view of the plain and surrounding country, we met with no scowling looks nor angry cries of Fan-qai lo.' What seemed still more strange, was that we were nut subjected to that trying curiosity which knows no restraints. We were courteously treated by all whom we met, and engaging in conversation with a few young men who were loiterers at the southern gate, we were offared not only such information as they had at their command, bat also their guidance to a large cave lying in a hill to the south, close to a temple."

Nothing did more to force a favourable opinion of the Chinese character on Mr. Colquhoun and his companion, Mr. Wahab, than the excellent behaviour of the Crew of the river boat in which they travelled for several weeks. They were always civil in their demeanour, if there was no fawning subserviency about them, stuck to their work with extraordinary vigour and tenacity, and never gave any trouble on the score of ill-health or exhaustion.

They proved themselves to be machines of an enduring and not unamiable kind. Mr. Colquhoun's farewell to the Sikiang may be quoted on this point of his subject :—" It was not without some feeling of emotion that we bade farewell to the West River, with its most beautiful and noble scenery and its rained

cities. We also parted with regret from the boatmen of the hotau, with whom we had learned to sympathise, fortheir simple

childish ways, and to like for their pleasant good-will."

Mr. Colquhoun gives some 'interesting sketches of the aboriginal races with whom he came into contact, and some of the Lobos attracted his admiration by their remarkably fine appearance, and by their resemblance to Europeans. He shows in support of this an illustration—taken, it should be stated, from Garnier's great work—of a scene in a Yunnan valley, where the figures in the foreground bear a strong resemblance to the Incas of Peru. But although some of their characteristics give them a claim on our sympathy, they do not, on the whole, convey the impression that they will ever be very useful as agents of commerce. Mr. Colquhoun, while leaving himself open to the charge of optimism in respect of his own project, deserves the credit of stating many facts which tell very forcibly against his own opinions. The point on which all his contentions turn is the assumed superiority in natural resources of western over eastern Yunnan. It is the part

nearest India which is, according to Mr. Colquhoun, the region that holds out such a promising opening for our trade, and that contains the indigenous vi ealth that will well repay the mer- chants of Rangoon and the producers of Lancashire. But it will

be asked with some degree of cariosity, and it is Mr. Colquhoun's special function as:a traveller to reply to it, what is the present condition of this "land of promise " ? The answer furnished by this most sanguine of explorers is, to our mind, extremely dis- couraging, and quite destructive of the theory which he attempts to build upon it. One of the most promising spots, the very centre of this new El Dorado, is the district of Paerh and Ssnmao. Well, what has Mr. Colquhonn to say about it ? Let him speak in his own words :—

" Pnerh is a large walled town with one main street, and shops sad houses running along either side, and a few straggling by-streets, with houses scattered behind. Large waste areas are seen on every side, and at first it is hard to believe, notwithstanding the ruins here and there still apparent, that at one time, before the devastation of the civil war took place, they were covered, as report says they were, by a large and prosperous population. We saw no signs of a large trade or great commercial activity ; but the trade is gradually recovering here, as elsewhere throughout Yunnan. The shops are

mean Few symptoms of European merchandise were visible All these towns, of the importance of which one has heard so much, bear an unmistakable air of decay, and do not at first favour the idea that any large trade is to be effected with them."

This is candid enough, but Mr. Colquhoun cannot have a very

high opinion of the effect of his own words, if he supposes that such facts as these will induce English capitalists to provide the means of laying down a line of railway having as its goal

the region he describes in these gloomy colours. Nor is this an isolated passage. There are many other statements to the same effect, and we may particularly refer to that concerning the deserted valley of Chingtnng, abandoned by its inhabitants in consequence of the ravages of the plague. We can just afford the space to give, as a final quotation, his description of this valley :—

"Our first impression of the beauty and richness of the Ching. tang plain, which had been such a surprise to us—for we had never heard it mentioned by any of the people whom we had met—was more than borne out by what we saw later. It is the finest plain which we had seen, and, both in regard to fertility and beauty surpassed all those in the south of Yunnan, and probably, from what one could learn, any in the whole province. We marched for more than two days up the winding causeway, which skirts the plain at the base of the hill-spurs, and the ever-varying beauty constantly forced exclama- tions of surprise from us. The deserted villages continued and be- came more frequent, while razed sites were common, and in parts of the valley might be said to make for miles a continuous line. In one village of forty houses, we found only one inhabited ; in another, of a hundred and twenty, there were only twenty-two left. Such was the story we heard everywhere. Fine, solidly-built temples, ',amens, psi-fangs, and village dwellings, all with tiled roofs, brick walls, and sandstone-block foundations, were deserted and left to fall into ruin. When we did not see these, we saw the razed remains of whole villages,— sometimes hamlets of some half-dozen farm-steadings, sometimes a village of large area, where the ruin begun by war, and followed by pestilence, had been completed by time. This scene of ruin in such a beautiful valley, bespeaking peaceful prosperfly if ever scene did, culminated at Chingtung.

Such is the present condition of that western portion of Yunnan which, according to Mr. Colquhoun, is the richer and more productive half of the province. It is here that the merchants of this country are to find a great opportunity. Mr. Colquhoun, of course, believes in the possibility of restoring prosperity to this region, and of supplying the people with the means and the courage of facing the pestilence that has devastated their homes, and of checking its ravages. But it is obvious that this will have to be done, and with the most emphatic success, if there is ever to be that flourishing trade intercourse that it is very desirable should exist between India and China, if it can be brought about in a natural way. The present condition of this region is undoubtedly

discouraging, and shows that the progress towards recovery has been slower here than in the other parts of C hina where the Imperial authority had been set on one side by rebels. But it is not a question of the Governments of British India and China alone in this particular quarter. The problem is rendered far more

intricate by the presence of the kingdom of Burmah, and of those Shan tribes whom it is Mr. Colquhoun's pleasure to call independ- ent. It looks very well on the map accompanying these volumes to show a most important region beyond our Burmese frontier as being independent, but the independence of the Shan tribes is an elastic phrase, and not likely to receive more than scant respect at the hands of the Chinese or the officers of King Theebaw. Of course, these Shans might be subsidised, and those under the authority of Siam would, no doubt, present no ob- stacles to the laying-down of a railway, which they would be employed in constructing. But the question would be of how this railway could be preserved from the attacks of these " inde- pendent " tribes, whose independence is synonymous with their being marauders and outside the pale of a regular government, except by the advance of the British frontier or by the strengthen- ing of the authority of Siam. To neither of these measures is any Chinese Government likely to be well disposed. English influence will strengthen and give consistency to those hostile elements among the races and creeds of Yunnan which have given Pekin trouble in the past; and the governing classes are

not likely to regard with a favourable eye the introduction within their jurisdiction of that pronounced sympathy towards Mahommedans, and of that beneficent disposition towards the Lobos and other non-Chinese races, which Mr. Colquhoun and other English officials 'before hint have betrayed. Mr. Coign- houn's suggestions as to the line for a railway may, from an engineering point of view, represent the best route, and the one that may in course of time be finally adopted. But the political objections to it at the present time are very strong, and we cannot believe that in face of them the Indian Government will venture on any decided step towards carrying-out Mr. Colquhoun's project. In this matter, private enterprise can do little without State initiation, and before the Government of India can move it will have to secure the co-operation of China, as well as to ascertain much more clearly than we have any means of knowing at present what are the true Chinese views in their frontier policy with regard to India.