All posts by yigudui


The Tibetan population of Likiang was considerable. Although they were at liberty to reside in any quarter of the city, the Tibetans always preferred the houses near Double Stone Bridge which spanned the Likiang River not far from the park. The meadows along the lonely road, which connected my village with this part of the town, were used for the encampment of arriving caravans. The Tibetan community in Likiang enjoyed an importance and standing quite out of proportion to its numbers. Tibetan merchants and dignitaries occupied the best houses and there was no service too great or too small which the Nakhi would not perform to make them comfortable and contented. This preferential attention and affectionate relationship was due, of course, to the racial affinity between the Tibetans and Nakhi; the latter always referred to the Tibetans as ‘our elder brothers’. The fact that at least one people of their own race still remained completely independent and possessed a civilization and culture of widely recognized standing had a strong appeal to the Nakhi’s amour-propre. However, brotherly affection was not the only reason and, I strongly suspect, not the main reason for such a felicitous reception.

When all coastal China was in Japanese hands and Burma was going fast, there remained only two ‘ports of entry’ for China for commerce with the outside world: Likiang in Yunnan and Tachienlu in Sikang. At the other end was Kalimpong to which the goods were shipped from Calcutta and Bombay by rail. Lhasa was the clearing centre and, being born merchants, members of the Tibetan government, great and small lamas, abbots of lamaseries and lesser lights did not hesitate a moment when the golden opportunity so auspiciously presented itself. All available financial resources had been speedily mobilized and even, I was told, a sizeable portion of the Dalai Lama’s private fortune had been invested in the great and lucrative venture. Letters of credit, remittances or plain cash-on-delivery poured into India. Armies of Tibetan merchants, small traders and mere hawkers descended from the icy altitudes of Phari Dzong and Jelap-La and invaded the steamy bazaars and inns of Calcutta. Everything was indented, contracted or bought outright that could be conveniently carried by yak or mule. Sewing-machines, textiles, cases of the best cigarettes, both British and American, whiskies and gins of famous brands, dyes and chemicals, kerosene oil in tins, toilet and canned goods and a thousand and one varieties of small articles started flowing in an unending stream by rail and truck to Kalimpong, to be hastily repacked and dispatched by caravan to Lhasa. There the flood of merchandise was crammed into the halls and courtyards of the palaces and lamaseries and turned over to an army of sorters and professional packers. The least fragile goods were set aside for the northern route to Tachienlu, to be transported by yaks: other articles were packed for delivery at Likiang, especially the liquors and cigarettes which were worth their weight in gold in Kunming, crowded with thirsty American and British troops. To survive the three months’ haulage over the rocky paths, across the highest mountains on earth, in rain or under the scorching sun, the merchandise had to be packed expertly and with infinite care. And so it was. The uniform weight of each package was of particular concern. No horse or mule could carry more than 60 catties (1 catty = 1 1/3lb.) and no yak more than 50 on the long trek. At first the merchandise had been arranged in compact piles, then the piles were wrapped up in wool mats and some even in rugs and carefully sewn up in wet hides. The hides, drying up, shrank and squeezed the contents into one monolithic mass, which could be dropped, thrown about, shaken or sat upon without injury to the goods inside. It was impervious to the scraping of rocks or bushes and quite weatherproof. The cases with cigarettes or crates with sewing-machines were similarly strengthened with a network of wet strips of hides, sewn together.

Transportation by yaks was more hazardous than by mules and horses and, therefore, the merchants always tried to avoid sending fragile goods by these animals. Although some people refer to ‘yak caravans’, I would hesitate to use such a definition. A caravan, to my mind, has always meant an orderly progression of loaded animals or vehicles in a single file. And that is how the horses and mule caravans, descending on Likiang, appeared. But there was nothing orderly about the yaks, and they never proceeded in single file. They were nothing but silly, primitive cows, and they behaved like cows, progressing as a widespread herd in an erratic manner. Sometimes they slowed down, sometimes they rushed ahead, jostling and pushing each other. They did not seem to know or care where they were going, trying to squeeze between two rocks or between two trees, although there might be plenty of space around. I remember how a friend of mine lost a valuable cast-iron cooking range he was expecting from India. Just before reaching Tachienlu the yak which was carrying it had a mind to pass between two rocks. He did it with great speed, much energy and an obvious determination. Afterwards they could find only some chunks of iron, the plates and its legs. The yaks were not the gentle animals one might think. They were suspicious and truculent and always went after horses or strangers in a most threatening manner. I had many close shaves when encountering a herd of yaks unexpectedly. Yaks cannot stand warm weather at all, and therefore their operation is confined to altitudes over 10,000 feet, and they are at their best when they graze on the alpine meadows above 12,000 feet.

It was estimated that some 8,000 mules and horses, and probably 20,000 yaks, were used during Operation Caravan, when all other routes into China had been blocked during the war. Almost every week long caravans arrived in Likiang. So good and profitable was the business that even the rainy seasons failed to stop some adventurous merchants. This was a considerable risk and, in their avarice, they took it. The rainy season is much dreaded in Tibet and on the border, and all caravan and pilgrim traffic usually stops for the duration. The trails become muddy and swampy, rivers and streams swell to incredible proportions, mountains are wrapped in mists and avalanches and landslides become the rule rather than the exception. Many a traveller has been buried for ever under tons of rocks or swept to his death by a raging torrent.

Few people have realized how vast and unprecedented this sudden expansion of caravan traffic between India and China was, or how important. It was a unique and spectacular phenomenon. No complete story has yet been written about it, but it will always live in my memory as one of the great adventures of mankind. Moreover, it demonstrated to the world very convincingly that, should all modern means of communication and transportation be destroyed by some atomic cataclysm, the humble horse, man’s oldest friend, is ever ready to forge again a link between scattered peoples and nations.

The dangers of the rainy season, sickness and other unexpected and unforeseen calamities were not the only hazards which threatened a caravan during its slow progress from Lhasa to Likiang. There were the powerful bands of robbers operating in eastern Tibet which constituted the vast third province, known as Kham, of the holy land. Kham is so remote from the Central Government in Lhasa, so little known and explored that, even to an average Tibetan in the Holy City, it is still a land of mystery and enchantment. To the dwellers of the remaining two provinces, U and Tsang, where Lhasa is located, with their dry gaunt mountains, arid plateaux, dust and howling winds, Kham is an embodiment of the beauty and charm of nature the like of which cannot be found elsewhere in the world. There the world’s greatest rivers, crystal clear and unsullied, flow through marble gorges side by side, amidst the vast and stately forests which cover mountain slopes. Sparkling snow peaks, virgin and unattainable, soar into the blue sky. Even the gods love these paradisical vistas as almost every peak is the throne of a popular deity or yidam, of which the Yidam Demchuk is the best known. Much gold is reputed to be found in Kham, and its lamaseries are said to be particularly wealthy and beautiful. The Khamba (the people of Kham) never fail to excite the awe and admiration of other Tibetans. The men are, as a rule, of gigantic stature and very good-looking and the women are fair to look at and very white.

A goodly portion of this immense province had been detached by the Chinese at the beginning of the present century and placed under the Szechuan Provincial Government, later becoming a part of the newly created Sikang Province. However, in the olden days, when Tibet had not yet been converted to Buddhism, even Likiang was under the sway of the powerful Tibetan conquerors. It was the advent and dissemination of Buddhism that had emasculated the proud country and brought it to its knees.

Kham was infested with robbers and other lawless elements. The dual control, under which it had been placed, was certainly propitious to such an unhappy development. The bands, which had committed crimes in the Tibetan section of the province, could cross into the Chinese territory, and vice versa. The wild character of the country, with its high mountains, impenetrable primeval forests and turbulent rivers made it an ideal hiding-place. However, not all Khamba were robbers; there were many of them who were of sterling character. Banditry in Tibet was a time-honoured profession and was usually confined to the members of certain tribes or clans. The usual concept of Tibet, owing to the lack of precise information, is that the country has a homogeneous population, all speaking alike, dressed alike, with the same customs and religion, and all owing an undivided allegiance to the Dalai Lama and his government. Actually it is not so. Tibet is divided and subdivided into many tribes and clans, little kingdoms, duchies and baronies, all on a feudal system, whose heads owe allegiance to the Central Government and prove it by sending levies of soldiers, tribute and rich gifts to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Kham is no exception and includes many such principalities both on the Tibetan and Chinese side of the frontier. The most notable of these little states, which have been visited by explorers, are the Kingdom of Muli, Principality of Litang, Grand Duchy of Kanze, Duchy of Tsoso, Duchy of Yungning, Principality of Bongdzera, not to speak of innumerable Black Lolo, Black Lissu and other tribal marquisates and baronies. In Muli, Bongdzera and Litang not all the people are of the Tibetan race but they are ardent lamaists just the same, and a steady stream of gold used to flow from their rulers into the Dalai Lama’s treasury. Incidentally the King of Muli was a Mongol. His first ancestor was a general in Kublai Khan’s army which invaded Likiang and Tali via Muli, and in recognition of his services the Great Khan appointed him the King of Muli in perpetuity.

North-west of Likiang and to the west of the Muli Kingdom there is an isolated mountain range called Konkkaling. It consists of three peaks, about 23,000 feet high. It had been discovered and photographed by Dr Joseph Rock, who used to make expeditions to Muli where the king was a great friend of his. These mountains are a veritable breeding place of the most ruthless brigands the world has ever known. To the west of these mountains there are two vast territories known as Hsiangchen and Tongwa. They are peopled with two Tibetan tribes whose members are professional robbers and cut-throats. So wild, untamable and treacherous are they that not even other Tibetans dare to venture into these areas. Although of an enormous size, rivalling some of the large European states, none of these areas has ever been visited by a European and probably will not be for a long time to come. There is no doubt that much of interest to explorers and scientists is concealed in these inaccessible and unmapped regions. There is, for instance, a great snow peak in the bend of the Yalung River in Hsiangchen, called Neito Cavalori. Those tew privileged explorers who have been lucky enough to contemplate it from a distance, compute its height at something like 28,000 feet, and it may yet prove a rival to Mount Everest.

It was these Tongwa and Hsiangchen brigands who always lay in wait for the rich caravans coming from Lhasa. Of course all Tibetan caravan men were heavily armed, and when the caravan was big enough these rascals did not dare to attack them. It was when the caravan was small or poorly armed that their chance came. Madame Alexandra David Neel nevertheless describes the Tibetan bandits as ‘Les Brigands-Gentilhommes’ in her book. I have known this great lady since 1939, when I met her in Tachienlu, and have a profound respect for her. She is certainly one of the greatest travellers the world has known, and I am glad she received such fortunate mercy from these robbers, who even showed a certain gallantry towards her because she was a helpless woman and a detsuma (Reverend Abbess) to boot. Personally I would rather deal with a Chinese or a Nakhi robber than a Tibetan one. A Chinese or a Nakhi robber seldom kills his victim. He robs you but he does it with a degree of finesse and delicacy, and at least leaves you your underwear to enable you to reach the nearest village with a modicum of decency. He usually forbears to search a lady, and may even listen to her protests about taking away certain items of her toilette. Not so with the Tibetan robbers. Their motto is ‘Dead men tell no tales’. They shoot first and then look for anything of value on the dead man’s person or in his baggage. I once heard an interesting story of how one of these Tongwa shot a man walking in the distance, only to discover afterwards that it was his own father.

I am prepared to admit that the Tibetan brigands of some other tribes may be ‘gentlemen’ to some degree but, from what I heard from reliable Tibetan and Nakhi friends, the Tongwa and Hsiangchen cannot be idealized by any stretch of imagination. They are so avaricious and unprincipled that even the bonds of friendship mean nothing to them, and there have been cases when a man has killed a bosom friend for the sake of a couple of rupees in his belt. Everybody in Tongwa and Hsiangchen robs, steals and kills — lamas and trapas, merchants and serfs, men and women: even children learn the trade at a tender age. It is not a question of whether this Tongwa or that Hsiangchen is a robber, but whether the man is a Tongwa or Hsiangchen.

When the caravan has been plundered and witnesses eliminated or scattered, the goods, arms and animals are taken to the robbers’ lair. There the merchandise is carefully repacked and reloaded and, lo and behold, the robber chief, resplendently dressed, enters Likiang as a peaceful and affluent merchant, at the head of a sizable caravan. No questions are asked and no explanations are vouchsafed. Of course rumours do travel, and travel fast; but rumours are rumours and proofs are proofs. The bogus merchant knows that the people know and the people know that he knows what they know, but everything proceeds according to form. The merchant sells his goods, gives generous parties right and left and acquires merit by rich donations to the local lamaseries.

I was very curious to find out what these Tongwa and Hsiangchen men looked like, and was surprised to find that quite a number of them came to Likiang, some accompanied by their wives, for the peaceful purposes of commerce. The men looked, and were dressed, like any other Tibetan. They appeared a little dirtier and more savage looking. The women were dressed after the fashion of the nomads’ wives, but with a difference. The nomadic women carry a large number of metal disks attached to their hair, braided in small queues and spread evenly down the back: the disks of the wealthy are all of solid gold or silver and those of the poor are of brass or copper. This is their way of carrying about with them their fortunes, which may weigh anything from thirty to sixty pounds or even more. Thus even these simple women were willing to endure suffering for the sake of fashion like their sophisticated sisters in civilized China and the West who had endured smilingly the tortures of bound feet and corsets. But the Hsiangchen and Tongwa women, probably to ensure mobility, were content to wear earrings made of large bunches of small cubes woven of multi-coloured bark. These earrings looked unusual, attractive and very chic.

I met a group of Tongwa youths at Madame Ho’s wineshop. One of them, named Dorje (Thunderbolt), became very attached to me and called on me daily. Soon his friends went back but he remained. One evening I found him waiting at my door with a bundle. He said that he had to stay behind to complete a business transaction. He found the inns of Likiang very expensive and wondered whether I would permit him to stay at my house for a few days. My cook and neighbours were horrified at the idea and clearly indicated with the palms of their hands across their throats what kind of fate I was courting. I decided to take a risk, so much did I want to know something about these mysterious people.

Dorje was only seventeen, but looked too tall and big for his age. He was slim and supple. His face was classically Grecian in profile with a high nose, bold outline, finely chiselled mouth and expressive eyes. His hair was brownish, long, and held in place with a red scarf wound around his head. In his left ear he wore a silver ring. He wore an ancient grey jacket with breast-pockets which clearly had belonged once to a Chinese officer. Perhaps this jacket could tell a story of its own; of how it got into the possession of a Tibetan boy in so distant a place. Tied around his waist was an ordinary tunic of unbleached wool, affected by some Tibetan tribes in Kham. Quite unlike the usual run of the Tibetans, who all wore long trousers tucked into their boots, this boy wore very short skin pants. So short were they that, overlapped by his jacket, he appeared to have no pants at all. He certainly excited a great deal of merriment among the brazen Nakhi females when he appeared in the street. To complete his costume he wore a pair of tall soft boots tied at the knees, the tops being of red wool cloth and the bottoms of uncured soft leather. He carried several silver and brass charm boxes suspended from the neck by leather thongs, a short Tibetan sword thrust through the belt and a curved dagger in a leather sheath. Such was Dorje — an unexpected Ganymede from the Tongwa Olympus. So light was his complexion that, dressed in Western clothes, nobody would have guessed that he was a Tibetan, or an Asiatic at all for that matter.

Contrary to all expectations, he was well mannered, modest and unobtrusive. After supper, when I retired to my apartment to read a book by the light of a carbide lamp — a luxury reserved only to myself — he usually came up. The wine we always drank in the evening loosened his tongue and we talked intimately. One evening he unrolled his tunic and showed me a number of musk-pods.

‘This is my merchandise,’ he explained, ‘but the dealers here are trying to beat me down. This is the reason I am staying longer than expected; I am biding my time.’

Next evening he leaned towards me and pulled out a small leather pouch tied to his neck. He opened it and I saw several gold nuggets and a quantity of gold dust.

‘Please keep it secret,’ he pleaded, ‘but with these I hope to buy some merchandise to take back.’

He was very pious and superstitious and constantly touched his amulets to assure himself that they were still there, murmuring the classical mantram, ‘Aum, mani padme hum.’ It was clear that he developed great confidence in me and accepted me as a friend, perhaps a more intimate friend than it would be possible or prudent to have in his own country.

Gathering my courage I began asking him questions about Tongwa, its people and robbers. I did not have to be tactful, or approach the subject in a roundabout manner. He was not a Chinese and my use of Chinese etiquette would have been wasted on him. The Tibetans, if they wish to conceal something, remain silent or, if they wish to talk, they talk frankly and directly and expect a similar attitude from others.

Although I had expected an interesting confession, I was shocked when he calmly confirmed, in all frankness, that all the Tongwa were robbers, thieves and, on occasion, murderers. He admitted, though rather shamefacedly, that he was a robber himself, paraphrasing the old adage, ‘When in Rome do as the Romans do’. But he hotly denied that he had been a party to any killing. ‘I believe in Buddha too much for that,’ he tried to comfort me, seeing my distress. Had then these musk-pods, this gold, been obtained by robbery ? I inquired. But he would neither confirm nor deny. I stared in wonderment at this handsome youth, so calm, so self-possessed and seemingly so pure. By now I was accustomed to robbers and brigands. I had stayed for months among the Black Lolos in the Taliangshan mountains in Sikang, whose profession it was to rob and plunder. I had been a guest of a Chinese robber baron in Helluva, also in Sikang. But all those men looked their part at the first glance; there was no mistake about it. But I could not reconcile myself to the fact that this gentle and dignified boy was a brigand too. I decided to lay my cards on the table.

‘Look, my friend Dorje!’ I said. ‘Does it mean then that, before you leave, you will clean up my house and, perhaps, stab me for good measure?’

Ma re, Ma re! (No, no!)’ he cried out, brightening up perceptibly.

Then he assured me that never, never would such a thing be possible. First of all, he regarded me as his best, most valued friend. I had shown him too much kindness, he added, and even the Tongwa are not insensible to true friendships. But the main reason, he explained, was his and his tribe’s standing in the great and free market of Likiang. No Tongwa or Hsiangchen would dare to commit a crime in Likiang. It would be a flagrant admission and material evidence of the fact that both tribes are indeed brigands and thieves. The authorities and people of Likiang of course knew their unsavoury reputation and did not discount the rumours of their depredations. But bad reputation and rumours were one thing and deeds were another. No robber was a robber and no thief was a thief in these border regions until he was caught red-handed. Whatever robberies or bloodshed happened in remote Tongwa and Hsiangchen were no concern of the Likiang authorities. That was a matter for the Tibetan Government to attend to. But to have such acts committed in peaceful Likiang was a totally different thing. The whole weight of militia, police and outraged public opinion would fall not only on the individual culprit but also on the whole tribe. To lose one’s life by being shot was nothing, but to have all the members of the tribe, living and doing business in Likiang, expelled perhaps after a little dose of third degree, and the whole tribe debarred from future visits and business in this great market, the only market in fact, would be no laughing matter. The whole economic life of Tongwa and Hsiangchen, as the case might be, would collapse on account of a paltry robbery or theft. Where could the people of Tongwa take their plunder, after successful raids, for disposal? Certainly not to Lhasa where they were well known and where the goods would surely be identified by the injured merchants. They would be arrested and tortured before they could even open their mouths. Try to prove to the haughty and ruthless Tibetan police that you did not do it, without a ruinous outlay in bribes? No, Likiang was priceless, indispensable. That was the underlying motive for the exemplary behaviour and sterling honesty of these ferocious tribesmen in Likiang. They knew their economics only too well.

After these talks Dorje and I became closer friends and he pressed me all the time to go with him to Tongwa for a visit. I thought this was like an invitation to the biblical lions’ den. I told him that he was clearly playing the role of a decoy to lure me to my destruction. He laughed it off, but became pensive. Finally he confessed that he might not be powerful enough to protect me from other people in Tongwa who were not so friendly to him. It was rather a wrench for me when he announced his departure, as I had become very fond of his company. He gave me a small silver shrine and his dagger as a memento and offered a little gold dust to pay for board and lodging, which I did not accept. He promised to come back again in a year or so with Lhasa rugs and other goods. Perhaps he did keep his promise but I was not there.

My experience with the Hsiangchen tribe was on different lines. A Nakhi friend had informed me that a very rich and powerful Hsiangchen lama had arrived in Likiang and was staying in great state at one of the palatial mansions near King Mu’s compound. He thought that it would be very interesting for me to meet him and that I should call on him to pay my respects. Lowering his voice, he added that the lama was the head of a large lamasery in the heart of Hsiangchen country whose monks were notorious brigands. What is more to the point, he said, was the fact that this very lama and his monks had waylaid and plundered a caravan of one hundred and fifty horses just a few months ago, and that now he had brought the repacked stolen goods for sale in Likiang. It was rumoured that some merchants in the town had received a message from Lhasa to be on the look-out for such goods as could be identified as belonging to certain Lhasa shippers. If this could be done, a great and extremely pungent scandal was inevitable. It was in such an electrified atmosphere that, with my friend, I called on the lama merchant. Passing through a labyrinth of corridors and verandas we were ushered into a spacious room where the great man sat cross-legged on the rich rugs spread over a raised platform. A brazier was burning in front and a huge inlaid copper pot of butter tea was simmering on the fire. Contrary to my expectation, he did not rise to receive me, but motioned to me to sit down on the rug next to him, evidently not considering me of sufficient importance to be worthy of a display of good manners. If I had been sensitive I would have walked out there and then, but it would have caused an unnecessary ‘storm in a teacup’. I always tried to avoid such contretemps even if it involved a slight dent in my dignity. The man was huge and extremely strong. He looked at me with searching and penetrating eyes. He wore a silk jacket of golden-yellow colour, signifying that he was indeed a lama, and the wine-red lama robe was wrapped around his waist. His head was shaven. With an air of boredom he offered me some butter tea in a new silver-inlaid wooden bowl and sipped some himself. We offered the traditional khata — white gauze scarf — as a mark of goodwill and respect, and greeted him. My friend told him who I was and what was my work in Likiang. Seeing that I was not a missionary or local government official, his manner changed; his eyes became friendly, and he talked in a jovial manner about this and that. Finally he exploded in a sharp command to one of the attendant monks and the man rushed out of the room.

‘I like you both,’ he roared. ‘Ara tung! (Let us drink wine!)’

The monk returned with a jar full of white wine, cups were produced and we started toasting each other, munching kanbarr — dried yak meat. We must have stayed at least one hour, having a really jolly time with this unconventional lama.

After a week or so we heard that his sales were going very well indeed under the able direction of Madame Ho in her capacity as a shrewd and well-connected merchandise broker. She made thousands on the deal as she had skilfully beaten down the lama with discreet innuendoes as to the origin of his goods. I and my friend were quite surprised when one day we received invitations to dinner from the lama, and before he left I was invited again to his house for an intimate drink. It appeared that he liked me and wanted me to come with him on a visit to his lamasery. I thought the best policy would be frankness again. I said that I appreciated very much his invitation and, for my part, I always wanted to see his mysterious country, but I could not go to my doom with open eyes, for I still hoped to live a little longer. He said he thought he could protect me but his voice did not carry enough assurance.

One day I was intrigued by the appearance on a street near Double Stone Bridge of a gorgeously attired Tibetan woman, accompanied at a respectful distance by two more modestly dressed women who obviously were her suite. She wore a gold-embroidered semi-conical hat, jacket of gold brocade and a petunia-shaped skirt of some kind of cloth-of-gold. She was of average height and appeared to be in her thirties. Her face was neither beautiful nor ugly, her eyes were cold and commanding and she walked with great dignity. I bowed to her respectfully and she just nodded in return. I met her several times later and once she was accompanied by a giant of a Tibetan who was also magnificently dressed. He wore a similar gold-embroidered hat, rich silk jacket of purple colour, with gold and silver-studded belt, a silver-sheathed short sword and black corduroy trousers. His hair had not been braided in the usual Tibetan style and his black curls fell freely on his shoulders. His face was rounded, with apple-red cheeks and big eyes. His teeth were dazzling. Several times in my childhood I had seen a life-size painting of Peter the Great and it had left a deep impression on me. When I saw the towering, athletic figure of this magnificent man, the same rounded face with red cheeks, the eyes and the black curls falling on the shoulders, the resemblance to the long-dead czar staggered me. Even the dress conformed to that period. The same evening, after dinner, I rushed to Madame Ho’s wine-shop and described to her the woman and the man. She laughed.

‘She is a ruling duchess from Hsiangchen and he is her latest acquisition.’

‘Don’t you think she is a rather hard-looking woman?’ I asked. Madame Ho poured herself and me another cup of yintsieu before replying.

‘Yes, she is. They say that they are fighting already like cat and dog.’

‘That’s funny. He is such a powerful man,’ I ventured.

‘Well, it’s not all gold that glitters,’ was Madame Ho’s cryptic remark, and she started putting up the shutters.

Next day I met my Nakhi friend — the same who had introduced me to the robber lama. I described to him the Hsiangchen princess.

‘Oh, I know her quite well,’ he said. ‘She is rich and powerful and she came to Likiang to enjoy herself,’ he continued. ‘Let us go and I will introduce you to her,’ he proposed. ‘By the way, people say she is divorcing her present husband. Perhaps you will be eligible as the next one,’ he teased me with a sly wink.

The duchess received me graciously. She was seated on a pile of gem-like rugs, surrounded by her ladies. She ordered wine and we chatted for a while. I addressed her from time to time as Wang Mo (Powerful Woman), which is an official title meaning princess or duchess. She was very pleased.

‘O Powerful Woman,’ I said at last, ‘you have acquired such a wonderful husband.’ Even before I completed the sentence I realized that I had committed a dreadful faux pas. She became very angry and her cheeks suffused with red.

‘Are you coming here to insult me?’ she demanded severely. I did not know what to say, so embarrassed was I.

‘You have probably picked up some scandal about me,’ she raged. ‘Wonderful husband indeed!’ she mocked me. ‘He looks good but he is nothing,’ she continued in a loud voice. ‘I have given him another fortnight to regain his virility,’ she almost screamed. ‘Otherwise out he goes!’

I could feel that she was near hysteria. I apologized profusely and we had another drink. I reminded her that Likiang had a foreign-style doctor and several drug stores, so that the happiness of her conjugal life might yet be restored by a clever doctor and the judicious use of certain restoratives. She shook her head sceptically.

In about three weeks I chanced in the street to bump into the poor ‘Peter the Great’. He looked sheepish and dishevelled and his eyes were listless. He did not stop to talk to me and disappeared into an inn. I called on my Nakhi friend.

‘Haven’t you heard the news yet?’ he asked me. ‘She did kick him out. Now she is gone and the poor fellow has been left high and dry to shift for himself.’

I liked the Khamba Tibetans who came on legitimate business. It was always easy to spot these giants walking through crowds in the streets or on the market. Their fluffy caps of fox fur made them appear even taller than they were. They were friendly, cheerful and generous to a fault. They looked very manly indeed with their hats on, but without hats their appearance was peculiar. The hair was braided in many pigtails which were coiled around the head with the aid of red ribbons, and in this way they strongly reminded me of some heroic Wagnerian women of the Brunhilde or Kriemhilde type, dressed in men’s clothes. Several stayed at my house as guests. Their faces, burnt by the fierce sun of high altitudes and coarsened by biting winds, were usually quite dark; but I had occasion to observe that their bodies were always wonderfully white and the skin was like velvet. They never took a bath but rubbed themselves with butter every night. This, of course, made their skin soft, but after their sojourn in my house, the bedsheets were quite black and so impregnated with rancid butter that they could never be washed or used again, and for weeks the whole house smelled like burnt butter.

The highly placed Tibetans of Lhasa liked to come to Likiang for both business and holidays in spite of the great distance. All Tibetans are great travellers, and caravan travel in that vast country, if properly organized, is extremely enjoyable. But one high-class Tibetan family from Lhasa had settled in Likiang. It consisted of two men, a woman and a child, and a retinue of servants. They were mild and gentle people, extremely courteous and thoughtful. One of the gentlemen was a shortish plump man with a beard. He usually wore a purple tunic over his shoulders, tied with a sash at the waist, and a yellow silk shirt which hinted at a connection with a religious organization. His companion was a short man also. His hair was short-cropped, he had a beard too, and his face was somewhat ascetic and extremely intelligent. His attire was openly lamaistic, but he did not often wear the usual lama cloak. The woman was tall, very white and beautiful. She was dressed as a Lhasa lady of high rank, wearing the traditional apron of multi-coloured silk strips. The child was about five years old and was the best-looking Tibetan boy I have ever seen. He was dressed like a little Tibetan gentleman, with high boots, tiny sword and all. They lived by Double Stone Bridge. In due course I was introduced to them and we became great friends. I learned in a roundabout way from friends and Madame Ho, who had become a confidante of the woman, that the elderly man was indeed a lama. He was the Steward of the Royal Household of Reting, the Incarnation of the Sakya (White) Sect and one of the four titulary kings of Tibet. His friend, the man in the lama dress, was the Chaplain of the Incarnation. I was beginning to piece the story together.

It must have been quite a few years before the arrival of these men, that there was some kind of plot in Lhasa, the figure-head of which was Reting. He was arrested by the Government and put in jail. Some people told me that he was tortured slowly and died of his injuries; others insisted with equal vehemence that it was not true and that he died in jail from a disease. Anyway, the Steward and the Chaplain had time to slip away from Lhasa with a considerable fortune in gold and valuable merchandise. Whether they did it after Reting had died or whether Reting, as a precaution, had sent them away with his fortune earlier I could not find out. It was such an unhappy and tragic episode, and it would have been in the worst possible taste for me to broach the subject to the two men direct. It appears that they had travelled to Likiang in a long detour via Kokonor, where they had adherents and friends. On the way the Steward met an attractive Khamba girl of good family and, throwing to the winds his vows of celibacy, married her and had a son. It seems they had wanted to stay in the Tibetan Kham, but the slow-moving tentacles of the Lhasa Government were reaching for them even in that remote province. Thus they settled in the safety of Likiang, selling their goods and gold as needed.

Naturally the old man’s marriage caused a scandal in Lhasa. The ruling Church in Tibet is the Gelugkpa, that is, the Yellow or Reformed Sect, of which the lamas and trapas are strict celibates. But the Tibetans are a warm-blooded and passionate people, and many of them become monks not so much out of religious fervour but because it is practically the only way to security and a career in the theocratic society. Every family with two or more sons sends one to a lamasery the same hopes and motives as a poor family in Europe or America would send its boy to a university. In this respect Tibet is a very democratic country. The Government is essentially theocratic, and there is no limit or obstacle placed in the way of a poor but clever and ambitious monk to reach one of the highest posts in the realm. He may even become a Regent if he is brilliant enough. As a matter of fact the late Reting came from a lowly origin. Hard learning, sagacity and drive are the only ingredients needed for success.

An exemplary life and restraint are also required. A monk may have peccadilloes but he must be very careful to keep them hidden. Open bravado is not tolerated and the punishment is swift and just. It was a courageous step, therefore, for my friend, the Lama Steward, to have married openly, but also it was a folly and an outrage. I always had a suspicion of how declasse he felt in his heart. Naturally he could feel more at ease in Likiang. Likiang’s Lamaism was entirely the old Unreformed Red Sect (Karamapa), which with the Skaya and Bon (Black) sects had been the original Tibetan Church before its reformation. The Red Sect lamas are much more indulgent in their life. They eat and drink what they like and they can have a wife and children so long as they do not bring their wives into a lamasery for cohabitation. But any lama could have his aged father or widowed mother to live with him in his well-appointed apartment, and they helped by cooking, sweeping and washing clothes whilst the lama son was immersed in his devotions or studies.

The two lamas liked my calls and I enjoyed immensely the company of this aristocratic family. I spoke to them in my halting Tibetan. They were always delighted and the lady clapped her hands in glee whenever I turned out a particularly long sentence, mostly with the use of a dictionary I always carried about with me. I was wondering whether this approbation was only a delicate mockery, but they assured me that it was not. They said it tickled them not because a foreigner spoke their language — that was no novelty as they had met explorers and missionaries who spoke Tibetan — but because I spoke the few words I knew in the real Lhasa dialect and used the correct forms and expressions of the honorific language which is the language that should be used when conversing with the lamas and members of Tibetan society. I explained that I had been taught the Tibetan language by a refined Lhasa gentleman during my stay in Tachienlu, and that I had a little practice conversing with the Prince Grand Lama of Litang and with the Grand Lama of Dranggo. They liked me all the more on hearing that I knew such great lamas.

The older man seldom went out. He suffered from an itch, which I thought was a form of eczema, and rheumatism. I tried to help him with the medicines at my disposal and he was always very grateful. I usually came in the morning and stayed for an hour or two enjoying the atmosphere of an elegant Tibetan household. They lived very well and the servants waited on them hand and foot. The drawing-room was expensively decorated in very good taste. There was a profusion of rare and beautiful rugs on couches and chairs, inlaid copper pots, with butter tea, and braziers had been burnished with such zeal that they glowed with red fire in the diffused rays of the sun which filtered through carved windows and doors. Only jade teacups were used by the family, with delicate filigree covers of silver and gold. On the wall above the altar there was a large photograph of their dead master, when he was young, festooned with silk khatas. Below on the altar stood a massive gold shrine with a photograph of the young Dalai Lama. Whatever differences and intrigues there may exist between the different churches of Tibet or between a church and the Government, the Dalai Lama, God King, is above politics, doctrines and favouritism. He always remains the Supreme Head of all the churches, sects and of the Government. He is loved and revered by all and everyone is loyal to him.

The little boy Aja Pentso (Prince Aja) played with his nurse or the other servants. He was an affectionate child. During some of my afternoon ‘cocktail’ sessions with Madame Ho, he used to come with his nurse to buy sweets. He liked to sit on my knee and always asked for a sip or two of the sweet yintsieu I was drinking. As all little children in Likiang drink like little fishes, I did not mind giving him half a cup. Later on, however, his mother asked me not to do it any more, for it appeared that he got drunk every time and created a lot of trouble in the house trying to beat up his mother, father and the nurse.

To the Nakhi and other Tibetans, the presence in their midst of a high-class Tibetan family was very flattering. The Steward and his lama were constantly invited and feted. To repay this hospitality these two gentlemen had arranged one day a truly royal party to which I also received a formal invitation. The invitation was, as is the custom, for three o’clock in the afternoon. But who would be idiotic enough to go at three? Three times the servants called on the invited guests, and at last we presented ourselves at about six. The whole house had been transformed. The walls had been concealed behind red silk tapestries and red woollen mats had been laid on the floor. Benches and chairs had been covered with priceless rugs. On the seven or eight round tables, reserved for the most honoured guests, there had been placed jade teacups with gold stands and covers. The small wine-cups were of chiselled gold, spoons of silver and chopsticks of ivory. Water-melon seeds, almonds and pumpkin seeds, to munch before the meal, were arranged in the centre of each table on gold and silver dishes. The lady of the house came out in full court dress, weighted heavily with gold jewellery. Her husband and the lama wore jackets of gold brocade. Quite unexpectedly several other elegant Tibetan ladies and gentlemen appeared. It was like a scene from the Arabian Nights. The feast itself was of course Chinese, and had been ordered from a famous local caterer, also called Madame Ho. Several kinds of potent wine had been ordered in plenty and were served out of gold and silver pots.

There is no such thing as a Tibetan cuisine. Owing to the limitations imposed by their religion, the purely Tibetan food is extremely monotonous and, as a rule, it is badly cooked. Tibetan women, attractive as they may be and clever in trade and finance, are not good cooks, and anything they cook is uneatable. It may seem too sweeping an accusation, but nevertheless it is true. I had many occasions to sample the efforts of Tibetan ladies and, though extremely hungry, I could not assimilate a single dish. The yak steaks could not be tackled with knives — only with sharp axes; fried potatoes were raw, and the soup was plainly a dirty dish-water with something indescribable floating in it. In Gardar, in Sikang Province, I had to exist for two months on a diet prepared by the Tibetan women of the Morowa tribe and, at the end, nearly gave up the ghost. They used to make a daily soup with almost unwashed pig’s intestines, dried peas and rutabaga. I had to eat it as there was nothing else, and it was only by frequent forays into the neighbouring lamasery that saved me from utter starvation.

Like the rich Englishmen, who solved their culinary problems by the employment of French chefs, Tibetan society solved theirs by the use of Chinese cooks. It was only natural therefore that the Reting’s Steward had ordered a Chinese feast on this occasion. Evidently he had given carte blanche to Madame Ho because there seemed to be no end to the courses. We sat down at seven and I do not think we got up before eleven. Every expensive and elegant dish that could be prepared in Likiang was there, although actually there was not much variety in the ingredients. There was chicken in clear soup, chicken fried and chicken roasted, and the same was true about duck and pig and fish. There was so much food left that it must have lasted a couple of days for the servants’ meals. Wine flowed freely and, perhaps, not too wisely, as many people were ready to go under the table. They were solicitously assisted by their servants, who led them home. All in all, the feast was quite the event of the season. If the guests had not been surprised by the food itself, at least they commented favourably on the quantity. What had impressed them most was the display of wealth by a member of the Tibetan aristocracy.

The Steward and the Lama always spoke nostalgically about Lhasa. They admitted they were terribly homesick. No Tibetan is really happy unless he has at least occasional glimpses of the Holy City and of the God King. And they had been separated from all this by space and time. They admitted, of course, that Likiang’s life was pleasant and free and easy. The men of high standing in Lhasa do not have an easy time. There, they have to present themselves every day before dawn to the State Council chamber for an audience with the Regent and other ministers. Business or no business, they have to sit there ceremoniously sipping cups of butter tea. The whole idea of this strict institution, they said, was really to keep an eye on the activities and movements of the powerful and influential persons. Without such supervision some powerful lord might slip out into a province, where he had influence, and engineer an uprising, not so much against the Dalai Lama, who was loved and revered, but against the Regent who was not liked by certain factions. The situation in Tibet was analogous to the pre-war situation in Japan when that country was ruled not by the Emperor, but by the men who had access to the person of the Emperor, and did all sorts of things in his name.

However, the Steward and the Lama were not sitting idly waiting for things to happen. I could not fail to notice that they were busy with messages and telegrams; there were arrivals and departures of messengers from Chiamdo and Kokonor and, probably, even from Lhasa. Evidently they were scheming and intriguing to have themselves restored and rehabilitated in the eyes of the Dalai Lama and his Government. I did not stay long enough to see what happened to them, but before I left a cruel blow fell upon this gentle family. The little Prince Aja fell ill. I saw the boy and, in my opinion, it was a case of a simple cold, for which I gave him some aspirins. At the end of the week he appeared to be much better. However, listening to ignorant neighbours, the poor boy’s parents decided to accelerate the recovery by a series of the injections recommended by a certain quack doctor from Hoking. This bogus doctor made it known to all Likiang people that all and every sickness could be cured almost at once by his injections. Without telling me anything, the father had invited this scoundrel who administered to the poor child sixteen injections, of what I never found out, between morning and evening. By nightfall the poor little prince had died.

I think it was at the end of 1946, when the war had already become a thing of the past, that a debonair young Tibetan arrived in Likiang. He travelled in style, taking a plane from Calcutta to Kunming and a private car from Kunming to Hsiakwan. He stopped at the house of a friend of mine, who was half-Nakhi and half-Tibetan. I was duly introduced to this cultured Tibetan, who wore European clothes and spoke good English. His name was Neema. It turned out that he was the private secretary to Kusho Kashopa, who was a member of the Tibetan Cabinet. Neema said that he came to Likiang on business, but it was only later that I had found out the nature of this business.

The landlord of the house where Neema stayed had a very pretty daughter. A romance developed between the handsome Tibetan and this Nakhi girl and, in due course, she was ‘sold’ to Neema for a considerable sum of money or, in other words, they got married. They stayed for a couple of months in Likiang and then went to Lhasa. In about a year they returned and then I knew what Neema’s business was.

As I have already described, an unprecedented caravan trade had developed during the war between Lhasa and Likiang which enriched immensely many Likiang merchants and their counterparts in Lhasa. But peace came unexpectedly with the capitulation of Japan, and with the reopening of the ports of Shanghai, Hongkong and Canton no one in the interior of China wanted any more expensive goods brought by caravan. But the great caravans, that had started from Lhasa a month or two before the armistice, began to arrive in Likiang. Most of the goods had been sent on a consignment basis by the profit-hungry Tibetan merchant houses. Dutifully the Likiang merchants were sending the merchandise as soon as it arrived to Kunming, where it was selling at a huge loss or remaining in warehouses. The frantic Tibetans in Lhasa sent telegrams daily asking for the remittances, but no remittances were sent. With a capital of nearly 500,000 Indian rupees sunk in the merchandise already in Likiang, the merchants and the Government in Lhasa found themselves in a tight fix. In addition to the capital of the commercial houses, there was a good deal of money invested in the caravan traffic by the Blue Treasury, other Government people and the minister Kashopa himself.

There had probably been some premonitions in Lhasa about this fantastically expanded caravan traffic to China and some wise people had probably felt that this golden shower could not last for ever. It was due to these considerations, I believe, that Neema had been sent in the first place to assess the capacity of the Likiang and Kunming markets and to probe into the integrity of certain Nakhi and Hoking merchants. It seems probable that the young man had done his work conscientiously and reported to his superiors favourably. Otherwise the caravans would have stopped. But poor Neema could not have foreseen the sudden collapse of the mighty Japanese Empire and the quick peace. After all, he was only a capable secretary and a business man and not the Nechung Oracle, and it is clear that neither his reputation nor his position suffered when the crisis came.

The Tibetans are reasonable people and are true merchant princes when it comes to taking a legitimate risk. The magnitude of the business disaster that had overtaken them was treated as an Act of God, as it should have been. Who could have foreseen the atomic bomb and the sudden armistice when the war seemed to continue year after year without an end in sight? However, they were not a gullible people and the cabled protestations from Likiang and Hoking that not a cent could be remitted had not been accepted at its face value. The Government had decided to conduct an investigation into the failure to pay for the goods duly received at their destination.

Armed with proper credentials and a power of attorney from Kusho Kashopa and the chief minister, Neema flew to Likiang again, bringing his wife. At the same time Nakhi and Hoking merchants in Lhasa had to submit to a mild investigation of their transactions and a restraint on further remittances to India and China was imposed. As a matter of fact, they were looked upon as the hostages.

It was a greatly changed atmosphere that Neema found on his second visit to Likiang. The traditional sweetness and welcome of the principal Nakhi and Hoking merchants for their Tibetan brothers had gone. The cunning foxes had been quick in scenting the true meaning of Neema’s visit. Instead of the sumptuous feasts, a game of hide and seek began. A call on one firm elicited the fact that its owner was at death’s door and could not be seen. At another place Neema was told that the master had gone to Kunming a few days ago. At a third he was informed that an interview could not be arranged as all the directors were still in Hsiakwan. There were similar excuses elsewhere by the dozen. In a truly Oriental tradition, the polished Neema neither flew into a rage nor threatened anybody with the full weight of the law. He merely announced that he was in Likiang on a visit to his father-in-law principally on account of his wife’s health and his business was merely accidental. He said that he would stay indefinitely and possibly make occasional trips to Hoking and Kunming to call on the old merchant friends who had so unfortunately dispersed from Likiang. In the meantime he called on the local Government and began to make his own investigations. Finally the ‘sick’ merchants had to recover and others to return. Then the fun started. Clad in their oldest gowns, these millionaires piteously cried how poor they were on account of their immense losses; they hardly had anything left to eat at home. Accounts were produced to substantiate the crushing losses, and many tricks were used to frustrate Neema’s mission and avoid paying even a cent. Almost every week Neema wired long reports to Lhasa. He swore me to secrecy and asked me to assist him in rendering these messages into English to make them less understandable to his opponents, who had bribed the telegraph clerk to give them copies. He certainly used some pungent expressions to describe these crooks.

A few payments were extracted with extreme difficulty, some unsold goods were located, stored by the crooks with their friends or in secret places. One or two houses were offered in compensation as evidence of bankruptcy of the firm’s owner. This immovable property was not of the least interest to the remote Lhasa Government, and with the end of the trade boom, houses in Likiang had declined sharply in value. With the war’s end the city had rapidly lost its importance as a trade centre and was reverting to its original status of a peaceful little capital of a forgotten tribal kingdom, off the main trail of the world’s events. Finally, with the arrival of the Red regime in Likiang, Neema was prudent enough to interrupt his futile collecting of outstanding debts and left Likiang, together with his wife, on the same plane as myself.

Sitting in my office upstairs one morning, I heard the tinkling of a silver bell and rushed to the window to see who was coming. It was perhaps a bad habit of mine, but I could never refrain from dashing to the window whenever I heard the sound of bells, hooves on the stone path or some unusually loud or unfamiliar noise in the street below. This was from my desire to see everything worth seeing and not to miss anything going on in this magical city. I was so grateful to the Fates who placed me in this house so strategically situated on the main road which led to many tribal villages, to Hsiakwan and to Lhasa itself. From the early morning till late at night it was crowded with a procession of unique people and sights — colourful and enchanting and not to be missed at any cost.

Seated in a silver saddle on a magnificent black mule, led by a soldier in black woollen cloak and carrying a gun, there was a pretty young woman in dark blue pleated skirt and red jacket, wearing an enormous cartwheel turban of scarlet silk.  Two women in light blue dresses, barefooted but weighted with silver ornaments, ran behind her. To my surprise the mule stopped at our gate and the soldier entered. I descended just in time to meet the lady as she crossed the threshold. She smiled at me and introduced herself.

‘I am the Queen Awouchin of Lotien,’ she said with an easy grace. ‘I always wanted to see your house,’ she added in a lovely, silvery voice.

She was petite, extremely pretty and vivacious. I bowed and showed her upstairs. She ran up, accompanied by the two ladies-in-waiting and the soldier. She went straight to my desk and seated herself in the chair. The barefooted ladies with the dark-blue turbans sat on the floor together with the soldier. I asked the queen whether she would take tea. She wrinkled her nose and said ‘No.’ Would she drink some boiled water? I inquired again. She laughed outright.

‘Don’t you have anything better than that?’ she said, looking at me challengingly.

I understood. Cups were brought and I produced a jar of best yintsieu. She drank her cup very quickly and I poured her another. She pressed me to keep her company and gave a cup to the soldier herself, explaining that he was really her knight-at-arms. The two ladies-in-waiting drank their cups greedily. We all became merry. Very soon we began asking each other very personal questions. I told her about myself, my work and how old I was. She said that she was only eighteen and had just divorced her sixth husband. She had come to Likiang for shopping and to look up some relatives who lived near the village of Shwowo.

At last she got up and went to my gramophone.

‘Can you play some dance music?’ she asked. I put on a slow foxtrot.

‘Can you dance?’ she asked. I said that I could.

I do not remember how long we danced, probably more than an hour. Like all the Tibetans and Nakhi, who come from remote mountain regions, she was a wonderful dancer. Not once did she miss a step or a movement. Since the music and dances of the Nakhi, Tibetans and Black Lissu along the Yangtze River are essentially Western in rhythm and execution, there was no need for any preliminary explanation or demonstration. She particularly enjoyed my boogie-woogie records and we jitterbugged until I was ready to collapse.

Finally she sat down and we had a few more cups of wine.

‘You ought to come down to Lotien,’ she said. ‘Perhaps we could even be married,’ she added nonchalantly. I pretended to be shocked.

‘At my age!’ I exclaimed. ‘And with you so young!’

She brushed that aside.

‘A foreign husband would give me a lot of prestige,’ she continued. ‘You would have a comfortable life and much money.’

I glanced instinctively at her good-looking knight and he gave me a dirty look.

‘What about your knight?’ I whispered, winking at her.

She laughed. ‘It’s nothing. He is only a friend,’ and she rose to go.

‘Well, I will think it over,’ I said, not wishing to disappoint royalty. I escorted her downstairs.

‘I shall drop in again.’ She waved to me as the two ladies were helping her into the saddle.

I entered my general office. Prince Mu and Wuhsien, my interpreter and organizer, were smiling broadly.

‘That was Her Majesty the Queen Awouchin of Lotien,’ I announced proudly.

‘I know her well,’ said Prince Mu. ‘She is a distant relative of ours.’

‘Is it true that she is only eighteen?’ I inquired. Both men laughed outright.

‘At least twenty-six if a day,’ they cried in unison.

‘What about her husband?’ I continued.

‘She has just divorced her fifth or sixth one,’ they said.

‘And the soldier?’ I asked again.

‘He is clearly a candidate,’ said Wuhsien, ‘otherwise why should she drag him along.’

The next day I was surprised by a visit from the handsome soldier. He went straight up to my room, sat down and unwrapped a small leather pouch. Then he took two small moon-shaped silver sycees and laid them before me.

‘What is that?’ I asked uneasily.

‘This is my present to you if you will lay off the queen,’ he said simply. I felt I was becoming red.

‘What do you mean?’ I gasped, trying to control a burst of laughter.

‘I love her,’ he continued, looking me straight in the eye, ‘and I hope she will choose me for a new husband.’

‘But where do I come in?’ I tried my best to get it clear.

‘Well, she is serious about marrying you. She thinks a foreign husband would be an experience and it would add to her power.’ He said it with conviction.

Now I was laughing so much that the people downstairs thought I had gone mad. I took the sycees and replaced them in the pouch. Then I handed it back to the knight and filled two cups with wine. I told him solemnly:

‘My dear friend, I am not Adonis, and please do not consider me to be your rival for royal favours.’ We took a sip, then I continued: ‘I shall never marry your queen, not because she is not beautiful but because I do not want to spend my life in Lotien.’

He brightened up considerably, but still persisted in trying to give me the silver.

I conducted him gently downstairs. He came back yet once more in the evening and presented me with a jar of my favourite wine; but the Queen of Lotien never came back.


The Nakhi had strange convictions that some localities were bad and others good. At first I did not believe in such sweeping opinions. Nevertheless, with the passage of time, I learned that their assertions were essentially true. For example, Shwowo was a ‘good’ village and Boashi was ‘bad’. Both these villages were in the northern valley and Lashiba, the village with the lake which I passed on my way to Likiang, was definitely ‘bad’. But all the villages down the main valley were ‘good’. I asked my Nakhi friends how it was possible that the people in the whole village could all be uniformly bad. Wolves run to wolves and dogs to dogs, they told me, and bad men do not feel comfortable to stay with good ones: a paraphrase, in fact, of ‘Birds of a feather flock together.’ Collectively, Likiang was known as a ‘good’ town and Hoking and Chienchwang as ‘bad’ towns.

Somehow the bad reputation of Boashi village always distressed me. After all, the northern valley saw much of the Nakhi history and the great temple to the patron god of Likiang, Saddok, was in Boashi. The name itself, Boashi -Dead Boa — was heroic. It was here that the invaders from Yungning were defeated and annihilated. They were led by a renegade sister of a Nakhi king, who had been given in marriage to a prince of Yungning. The woman had been captured and interned in an iron cage on a tiny island in the neighbouring lake. She was permitted to eat all kinds of solid food to her heart’s content, but was not given a drop of water to drink, although there was water all around her. She died of thirst, suffering horribly. Such was her brother’s revenge.

It was probably through the passes near Shwowo and Boashi that the Nakhi invaded the Likiang plain from the north many centuries ago. There is a reference to them and to Likiang in the Han dynasty and even earlier chronicles, but they were not known then as the Nakhi and the name and site of the present Likiang was changed several times. Dr Joseph Rock dealt with these ancient records in his monumental work on Likiang and surrounding territories called The Ancient Nakhi Kingdom of South-west China, but they are too long and complicated to be quoted here even in part. One fact emerges clearly, the Nakhi did come down from Tibet. Their sacred literature, written in pictographs, refers to Lake Manasarowar, Mount Kailas, to the yaks and living in tents on alpine meadows. They call the Tibetans their elder brothers and the Minkia their younger brothers. Their ancestors are curiously linked with all the gods of the Indian pantheon and their claim that the majority of their ancestors and heroes came out of the eggs magically produced as a result of a series of copulations between the mountains and lakes, pines and stones, Nagarajas and human females.

The Nakhi, Burmese and Black Lolos, along with the Tibetans, belong to a racial subdivision called the Burmo-Tibetan stock. They do resemble each other to a degree, their languages and dialects have a common root and it is only in the manner of their dress and food that the difference becomes pronounced. The Nakhi, since the Tang dynasty, had begun the adoption of the Chinese civilization and culture of their own free will and the process is not yet over. In the matter of masculine dress it is practically impossible to distinguish between a Nakhi and a Chinese, but fortunately women have stuck to their picturesque Nakhi clothes and head-dress. The absorption of the Chinese etiquette and ceremonial was completed long ago and to advantage. With a correct approach, it is difficult to find a more polite and restrained people than the Nakhi. Secure in their knowledge of correct conduct, they judge strangers by their behaviour and judge very severely. Even during the visits to poorest homes in the village it is not meet for a person, however high his rank may be, to forget his good manners.

Of course, the Confucian ethics superseded and modified the original Nakhi customs, but a few of the latter still persist. Women may not sit in the presence of men or eat together with them. Also women never sleep in the upper rooms or remain there long. They are considered traditionally unclean creatures and it is not right for them to walk above men’s heads. Local laws did little to protect women. Wives could be bought and sold by hundreds, and widows could be disposed of by the eldest son, although the latter practice occurred very rarely and was condemned as depravity. Continuous manual work was the women’s lot. They did not revolt; they did not even protest. Instead, silently and persistently like the roots of growing trees, they slowly evolved themselves into a powerful race until they utterly enslaved their men. They learned all the intricacies of commerce and became merchants, land and exchange brokers, shopkeepers and traders. They encouraged their men to loaf, lounge and to look after the babies. It is they who reaped the golden harvest of their enterprise, and their husbands and sons had to beg them for money, even if only a few pennies to buy cigarettes. It was the women who started courting men and they held them fast by the power of their money. It was the girls who gave their lovers presents of clothes and cigarettes and paid for their drinks and meals. Nothing could be obtained or bought in Likiang without women’s intervention and assistance. Men knew nothing about the stocks in their own shops or of the price at which their goods should be sold. To rent a house or buy land one had to go to those women brokers who knew about it. The owners would not negotiate direct for fear of losing money without the women brokers’ expert advice. To change money you had to go to the rosy-cheeked girls — the pangchinmei. Tibetan caravans, on arrival, surrendered their merchandise to the women for disposal, otherwise they ran a risk of heavy losses.

Because of their manifold activities and of the heavy loads of merchandise they transported on their backs from house to shop or from one market to another, the race of Likiang women had developed superior physical characteristics. The women became tall and husky, with great bosoms and strong arms. They were self-assured, assertive and bold. They were the brains of the family and the only foundation of prosperity in the household. To marry a Nakhi woman was to acquire a life insurance, and the ability to be idle for the rest of one’s days. Therefore, the market value of a Nakhi bride was very high, and as the Nakhi men outnumbered women by five to four, a man was lucky to find a wife at all. A single woman of almost any age would do; there were youngsters of eighteen married to women of thirty-five. What did it matter, the boy was secure for life? She was his wife and mother and, moreover, she kept him in clover. What more could a man want? There was not a single woman or girl in Likiang who was idle. They were all in business from early morning till night. No family could possibly have a female servant. It was utterly unthinkable. Why should a woman slave for somebody at a few dollars a month when every day of her time was worth so much more? The wives and daughters of the Nakhi magistrates and other high officials, of the wealthy merchants and landowners, worked as hard as any humble village woman. Either they specialized in selling the Tibetans’ merchandise at the local market or went down to weekly markets in Hoking, carrying the goods in baskets on their backs. Or, perhaps, they heard that some villages had cheaper potatoes or pigs, and off they would go, bringing the loads back and making a tidy little profit. Many a time I met Madame Hsi, the magistrate’s wife, carrying on her back a heavy basket of potatoes or a sack of grain. Among the ‘society’ leaders of the West this concept of work would provoke a sensation perhaps greater than an invasion of the Martians. Imagine a Mrs Astor or a Mrs Vanderbilt lugging a sack of potatoes on her back through Fifth Avenue! Yet it is a fair comparison; for, in Likiang, the following day you might meet Madame Hsi at a wedding reception at some general’s house, gorgeously bedecked in brocades and silks and festooned with costly jewels.

Thus the women in the little Nakhi world were despised creatures in theory but powerful and respected in practice. Men were the privileged beings, but weak and of little account in the economic life. Even in physique they seldom appeared the equals of their husky mates. When young, they sponged on their mothers and sisters and spent the time in picnicking, gambling and dalliance. When old, they stayed at home, looking after the children, talking to cronies and smoking opium. Like drones, they would have quickly died of starvation had their wives stopped the money-making.

In extolling the physical strength and business acumen of Nakhi women I do not wish to imply that Nakhi men were effeminate or cowardly. Since the earliest days of their history they have been renowned for their bravery, courage and loyalty. It certainly needed pluck and resource to come down all the way from Tibet and defeat the aboriginal tribes which dwelt at the time in the Likiang plain. The contingents of Nakhi soldiers have always been the mainstay of the Yunnan Provincial Army, and when called upon they fought to the death. It was through the participation of the Nakhi troops that the famous Taierhchwang victory over the Japanese was won. They never turned their back on the enemy and .very few survivors were left. They are intrepid horsemen, tireless walkers, and can exist for months on a meagre and monotonous diet.

In appearance the Nakhi men are as a rule handsome and well built. Many are of average height and a few are quite tall, although they seldom approached the gigantic stature of the Kham Tibetans. The complexion of both men and women on the whole is somewhat darker than that of the Chinese, but there are many exceptions. In some cases they may be as white as South Europeans. Other characteristics destroy any illusion that they have connections with the Chinese racial stock. Although the cheek-bones may be high, the face is essentially European in its contour. The nose is long, well shaped and has a prominent ridge. Unlike the Chinese, a Nakhi gentleman could wear a pince-nez if he wanted to. The eyes are light brown and only in rare cases greenish; they are not almond-shaped, but wide and liquid. The hair may be dark but it always has a reddish sheen; in most cases it is chatain fonce and it is soft and curly. All in all, a Nakhi reminds one strongly of a farmer from South Italy or Spain.

The Nakhi are passionate, frank almost to a fault and choleric. The latter characteristic was undoubtedly due to high altitudes. All the people staying above 8,000 feet, I observed, were irritable. This irritability was ever present and it was utterly unreasonable. The rarefied atmosphere was not conducive to good sleep and probably this factor was, to some extent, responsible for hot tempers. Otherwise the Nakhi, like the Tibetans, were one of the most cheerful people on earth. They smiled, laughed and joked all day long, talked and shouted, and, at every opportunity, danced in the evening.

They were born gossips, both men and women. They simply could not keep their mouths shut. There was not a secret, whether a family one or political, that would not be known to the whole town within a matter of days or even hours. Especially enjoyable were the family scandals, and they were frequent. The more piquant a scandal the more it was discussed, with gusto and delight, in all wine-shops and on the market. Likiang was not, after all, such a small town and it always astonished me to observe how intimately its inhabitants knew each other. In time, I and my household came to be included in this happy community. Everybody called me by my first name, stopped to chat or greeted me with a smile; and, strangely enough, I seemed to know everybody too. Even the people from nearby villages seemed to be known to everyone in the town and were affectionately greeted when coming to the market.

The Nakhi, like the Tibetans, were the despair of missionaries. Like the proverbial bad pennies, they were inconvertible. For years the Roman Catholics and other denominations have vainly tried to establish themselves in the district, although one of the British sectarian missions managed to retain a precarious foothold in the city for a short while. It was in the charge of an English couple. They had a comfortable house and a small church with a corner-stone bearing the legend ‘Lot No. 1 until He cometh.’ They wrote communications on special letterheads overprinted with the title: ‘President — Lord God Sabaoth; Vice President — Lord Jesus Christ; Treasurer — Mr X (the missionary).’ Business was poor and they had only a few converts among the Chinese emigrants from Szechuan. However, they used to make trips into the mountains up the Yangtze River, where they were compensated with some success among the primitive White Lissu tribes.

The failure to convert the Nakhi, one of whose religions was Lamaism, to Christianity, is inextricably bound up with the failure to evangelize the Tibetans. The reason for this lack of success in the spreading of the Gospel, undertaken by the missionaries from the western and eastern borders of Tibet, becomes clear if properly assessed. The Tibetan Church is just as well organized and powerful as the Roman Catholic Church. Its tenets are rooted in Buddhism — a great and highly philosophical religion. It is controlled by the lamas and is headed by the Dalai Lama who, like the Pope, is both spiritual and temporal ruler. In the West the word lama is applied indiscriminately to all Tibetan monks. In Tibet and among the Nakhi it is an honorary title when addressing an ecclesiastic, but actually it takes an ordinary monk (commonly called trapa) diligence, learning and much of his lifetime to reach the status of a lama, if he ever does. All the real lamas are thus highly educated men, profoundly versed in Buddhistic philosophy and theology. They may or may not be saintly, but certainly they are always shrewd and, as a rule, they are good administrators and organizers. For comparison, it would not be inappropriate to liken the lower ranks of the lamas to the deacons and archdeacons, and higher ranks to the bishops, archbishops, patriarchs and cardinals. The lamas may or may not be the Incarnations or Living Buddhas (trulkus, also called hutuktus), but every Incarnation is a lama and the Church sees to it that he is properly educated to live up to the title. Each lamasery of note must have at least a few real lamas to give it direction and prestige and to train the novices who, later on, may go to the great monastic colleges near Lhasa where they have a chance to pass the examinations and become lamas.

It was with this type of opposition that missionaries had to deal. It was easy to declare to the people that the statues of the Buddhas and saints in the lamaseries were idols and that the lamas led men into superstition and to perdition with the bright fires of hell as the ultimate destination, but it was very difficult to prove that it was so. The type of missionary who went to the Tibetan borders to show the true light of salvation to the ignorant ‘savages’ was, with a few exceptions, a poor sort. They all claimed the ‘call of the spirit’, but had little education or knowledge with which to give it practical effect, and as often as not they were members of the less educated strata of European society. Not even knowing their own language well enough, they had great difficulty in learning Tibetan or local dialects, and it was seldom that they acquired enough fluency in the language to preach clearly and coherently. Perhaps unconsciously they did everything to maintain that superiority which was so resented on the border. They lived comfortably in European style and went forth only once in a while to distribute tracts and talk to the people. They invited to their meals the local elite, leaving the other people to gape at the gate. There was a widespread joke among the natives on the border that the missionaries reserved the first-class heaven to themselves and promised only the third-class paradise to the heathens. Theological contests between the lamas and missionaries tended only to enhance the prestige of the lamas with their greater knowledge of the theological and metaphysical aspects of both religions. Also it must be admitted the Tibetan Church was no more willing to permit the conversion of its adherents to Christianity than the Roman Catholic Church was willing to permit the Protestant missionaries in Spain and Colombia to seduce people from Catholicism. Any Tibetan who embraced Christianity became automatically an outcast, was driven away from his home and his very life was in jeopardy. The only possible Tibetan converts were the bastard children of Tibetan mothers and itinerant Chinese fathers whom nobody wanted and who could be picked up and reared in the missions.

With the Nakhi the matter of adherence to the Christian religion was somewhat different. They were in many ways similar to the Chinese who are not a religious people per se, in the Western sense of the word. The Chinese believe simultaneously and sincerely in Buddhism, Taoism, Ancestral Worship (Confucianism), Animism and willingly accept Christianity if need be. The Nakhi, likewise, had accepted Lamaism (Tantric Buddhism), Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism in addition to their ancient religion of Animism and Shamanism. To coin a phrase, they had a departmentalized belief, with each religion serving some particular need. Buddhism was useful in connection with the funerals and prayers for the repose of the dead. Taoism satisfied mystic and aesthetic cravings. Ancestor worship was proper and necessary to keep up the contact with the departed. Animism was the recognition and definition of the unseen powers and intelligences in Nature and provided a method of dealing with them. Shamanism was indispensable for the protection of the living and dead from the evil spirits. On top of these religious beliefs they had inherited from their ancestors a deep-rooted and eminently practical Epicurean philosophy. It taught them that this was, indeed, a transient plane of existence but nevertheless very material and substantial. It was not perfect or free from sorrows but, on the whole, it was not a bad place and, while life lasted, it was the bounden duty of every Nakhi to make the best of it. Although the tradition and scriptures asserted that the next world was a blissful and restful place, there were certain doubts about it, and there was little enlightenment about the conditions there from the few people who returned for a brief while through mediums. It was best not to take chances on future joys but to enjoy oneself to the hilt whilst on this plane. The happiness, which every Nakhi should strive after, was described as the possession of plenty of good fields and fruit orchards, cattle and horses, a spacious house, an attractive wife, lots of male and female children, barns chock full of grain, yak butter and other edibles, multitudes of jars with wine, abundant sexual strength and good health and a succession of picnics and dances with congenial companions on flower-strewn alpine meadows.

We must remember that the Nakhi were simple people and to them these rustic pleasures have always been the acme of existence. Looking at it from this angle, it must be admitted that the tribe, as a whole, has indeed attained the objectives charted in their philosophy. There was no area for hundreds of miles around which attained such prosperity and well-being as the Likiang valley or where the people enjoyed life more. What could the missionaries, of the sect which had established itself in Likiang, give these people? They insisted on the abandonment of all that was near and dear to the heart of a Nakhi; wine and tobacco were prohibited: so were the dances and dalliance with pretty girls during interminable picnics. All the seances and intercourse with the dear and helpful spirits were taboo. Ancestor worship was under interdict and so were all relations with the beautiful lamaseries and temples. ‘What is left to us then?’ the Nakhi asked. This is nothing but a living death, argued these fun-loving and life-loving people. Thus no Nakhi has become a Christian.


Likiang had no hospital. There was a French-trained Nakhi doctor who, evil tongues said, assumed the title after a couple of years’ work as a male nurse at a Kunming hospital. However, he belonged to a prominent local family, and that distinction alone opened the door for him into local ‘society’. He was a nice, polite man, and we became friends. His younger brother, an army officer, was a devil incarnate, and also a bandit. He shot several villagers in cold blood, robbed an official escort of their guns and all but caused my own death. Once his brother invited me to an official dinner at his house. There were many guests and I was assigned a seat at the table opposite him. As was the custom, we all toasted each other from time to time. Although I had drunk in moderation, the fellow taunted me by saying that I could not take much more than another cup. I told him that I was quite all right for at least three more. He toasted me and offered me a cup which I emptied. I remembered no more. It was only late next afternoon that I regained consciousness. I felt like dying and was in bed for three days. Since there were no secrets in town that were not known sooner or later, I learned that the wretch had put chloroform into my wine. I was fortunate to have recovered at all, and never went to that house again.

As the Nakhi doctor was always busy with his wealthy clients and did not care anyway for the villagers’ patronage, the poor people had nowhere to go to for medical attention except to some quack medicine shops. Having previously qualified as a doctor’s assistant myself, I obtained from the American Red Cross in Kunming a small supply of drugs and medicines and my private office upstairs became also my clinic.

I had made it known far and wide that I was ready to treat all simple and easily recognizable afflictions and diseases, but nothing complicated or requiring surgical intervention. The treatment would be entirely free of charge as the medicines had been donated by the American Red Cross, and the clinical work was encouraged by my headquarters as a useful adjunct to the promotion of the co-operative movement. If I had expected a rush of patients, I was sorely mistaken. Nobody would come even if asked. The very fact that the treatment and medicine were free was a serious deterrent. Who would give something for nothing? people reasoned. They assumed that any free drugs were useless or, what is more, probably poisonous. However, I had already made a start with my friend Wuhan’s cousin. His eyes had recovered and he was trumpeting my fame all over his village.

After a few days several women came with children. Some had eye diseases and the children had worms. They were all duly treated and supplied with medicine. In a week’s time the market-place was shaken with stories of miraculous cures, and long ascarides, wrapped in leaves, were exhibited to those who wanted to see for themselves. My reputation was made: and soon, from early morning till nightfall, the patients came, on the average about fifty a day, with no regard for hours or holidays. Most of my patients were poor village women afflicted with eye troubles of all sorts, caused by dirt and acrid wood smoke. Very soon, however, they began to complain.

‘It is true,’ they said, ‘our eyes are much better, but this black medicine you put in does not seem to be good, for we do not even feel it. A really good medicine must be strong and painful — then we really know that we are being cured.’

Of course I used mostly argyrol, which was very efficacious in these cases, but it was not painful. To appease my wavering clientele, I mixed some chinosol with argyrol. Chinosol may also be used as an eye medicine, but it hurts terribly for a few minutes. When they came next time I put this desirable medicine in their eyes. They collapsed on the floor, writhing in their agony. I awaited their reactions with some trepidation after they had recovered. Wiping their streaming eyes with their aprons, they sang in unison.

Lah-da han! Hao da han! (How peppery! How good!)’

They were absolutely delighted: it was a wonderful experience, they all said. ‘This is the drug! It is precious!’ And then they came in droves, bringing their friends with them and asking for that same medicine or nothing. In long rows they sat in the courtyard and fell, as if struck by lightning, as soon as I had put in the drops. Afterwards they always laughed and chattered in their delight.

Whilst the sore eyes formed almost a women’s monopoly, men came in an endless procession with their thighs and buttocks covered with scabies. They were so thick that they looked like fish scales. I had a big stock of sulphur ointment for this affliction, and at first I used to give them small pots of it, telling them to rub it in at night. In a week or two they used to come back complaining that the ointment was no good at all. Indeed, the awful scabs were still there. I had to change my tactics. With their pants down, I threw them on a low broad bench, face down, and rubbed them with all my might with powdered sulphur and vaseline, adding a pinch here and there as required. I rubbed until all the scabs were on the floor in little heaps, and the raw and bleeding flesh was clear. Then I rubbed some more sulphur in. The victims screamed and groaned,and staggered home hardly able to walk. After two or three such treatments their skin was as clear as that of a new-born babe. Of course, they were overjoyed and did not know how to thank me. It was hard and dirty work and I could not handle more than five such patients a day, so exhausting was it.

These skin diseases were, of course, a result of dirt and lack of personal hygiene. The Nakhi, both men and women, never took a bath. They washed only three times in their lives — when they were born, when they were about to be married, and when they were dead. In any other climate but Tibet and Likiang such a state of affairs would be intolerable. The people would smell like putrid corpses and would die of infections. But it was not really so bad in the dry mountain air of these high altitudes. The dirt simply dried and fell off in tiny scales. There was never any offensive odour from the people in the town and the villagers smelled like pinewood smoke. As for myself, I had a wooden tub made and took a hot bath in it in our little garden behind the house. I was partially visible over the wall and the women, passing along the crest of the hill, always laughed and shouted rude remarks. My cook took the bath after me in the same water, being too lazy to boil another lot. After him about ten of his Nakhi friends took turns until the water looked like pea-soup. Perhaps it was better than no bath at all.

Nakhi men also liked pain as a proof that the medicine or treatment was good. The men whom I cured of scabies were ecstatic in the description to their friends of the exquisite tortures they had endured at my hands and strongly advised them to come to my clinic with their sores. Some had deep ulcers on their legs. They said how much they suffered from these sores and hoped that I would cure them. Of course, they added, it must be awfully painful if the right treatment was applied, but they did not mind. I knew exactly what they meant. With big tweezers I tore off their scabs and dug out the wounds almost to the bone with cotton dipped in alcohol. They yelled and twisted. I filled the cavities with sulphathiazole, bandaged and sealed with elastoplast. Shaken but smiling, they always said what a marvellous experience it was. In three weeks or a month they were healed and I was invaded by others with still more horrible sores.

Goitre was a prevalent disease. However, it did not affect the Nakhi so much as the various tribes living along the Yangtze River and the Chinese emigrants from Szechuan who had settled in the forests and, of all places, in the great 11,000 feet deep Atsanko Gorge which the mighty Yangtze had cut for its passage through the Snow Range. Some goitres were of great size, pendant on both sides of the throat, creating an obscene resemblance to a backside. Of course, the best treatment for the goitre is its removal by surgical means. To do this these poor people would have to travel to Kunming and pay high fees at a hospital there. It would be useless to suggest such a trip to a man whose whole fortune perhaps amounted to only a couple of dollars. Even a trip to Likiang, without a reason, was an expensive undertaking for them. They could not remain in town for the length of the treatment. So something quick had to be devised. I gave them as large doses of potassium iodide as I thought possible, short of killing them. I confess I had some very close shaves. A Lissu witch-doctor lay for two days in semi-coma after the treatment; others had attacks of iodism. However, all survived and I saw them again a month later. The goitres were half the size and, after a few more treatments, became very small and hardly noticeable, but, I must admit, they were still there, and I never succeeded in removing them altogether.

Leprosy, now genteelly called Hansen’s disease not to offend the sensibilities of those who believe that a change in the name makes the disease less virulent and frightening, was not common among the Nakhi. If there was any, it had been brought from outside, and about this the people were very watchful. I remember a case when a Nakhi, who had been residing for years somewhere beyond Hsiakwan, came back to his village to rejoin his family. He was seen to be in an advanced stage of leprosy, and the villagers came to him en bloc and asked him either to go back or to commit the ceremonial suicide. He chose the latter. He was given a bowl of the dread black aconite boiled in oil. Afterwards they had his body cremated.

The Minkia, White Lissu and Szechuanese settlers had a few cases of leprosy: the Tibetans too. But it was not so common as the missionaries’ reports would lead us to believe. There was a small leprosarium near Erhyuen, 150 miles south, in the Minkia country, but it was only half filled. I am not a scientist and have not conducted any systematic research or read much about the causes that produce leprosy. However, during my many years of residence and travel in China and along the Tibetan border I had time to observe and compare the conditions under which the people who had the greatest incidence of leprosy, and those who had the least, lived and worked. There were some verdant and rich valleys, which looked a veritable paradise to the eye, and yet the people there had leprosy. Why? There were other places, seemingly less fertile and fortunate, where the inhabitants were quite healthy. Why? I visited and stayed often in the Moshimien valley in the Sikang province, where a great Roman Catholic leprosarium, housing 500 inmates, was situated. This hidden valley was surely one of the most beautiful places in the world. At least 8,000 feet up it was hemmed in by great snow mountains and the climate was a perpetual spring. Two roaring torrents of pure glacier water cascaded down both sides of the valley. There were vast forests on the foothills: carpets of flowers covered alpine meadows and clearings in the forest: some 6f the rarest lilies in the world grew wild along the ridges: the air was heavy with the fragrance of so many flowers, myriads of bees buzzed around and the soil was black and rich. The Catholic mission had all kinds of fruit-bearing trees in its orchards and the vegetables of all descriptions in the well-laid-out and watered gardens. There were luscious tomatoes and big pimentos along the rows of cabbages and French beans.

And yet the valley was accursed. It had probably about 300 households or more of Szechuanese settlers and there was at least one leper in every house. So bad was Moshimien’s reputation for leprosy that the people of Tachienlu, the provincial capital just across the Yajagkan Range, would not buy a chicken or egg, not at any price, if they knew it came from the Moshimien valley.

I decided to make a close observation of the people’s habits and food in order to form, at least, a hypothesis of the cause of the dread disease in this happy corner. The inhabitants were dirty, in fact dirtier than usual, and the houses were dingy and filthy. Why? I asked. The water was too cold for bathing, they told me. As to their diet, they ate twice a day, late in the morning and soon after sunset, on beancurd, powdered chillies to make it palatable and soup made of sliced potatoes; and of course there was rice. Day after day and night after night they ate the same poor food. Sometimes it was a turnip soup, instead of a potato one, or boiled horse-beans were added to the menu. Once a week a slice or two of old salt pork might be added to the potatoes in the soup. I asked about eating chickens, eggs and fresh pork and vegetables, like those grown in the mission garden, which they could plant likewise. No, they said, it would be too luxurious to eat chickens, eggs and fresh pork — that was all for sale and they needed money. Yes, I thought, they certainly needed the money to buy opium which they smoked all day long. As for the new-fangled vegetables in the missionaries’ gardens, their ancestors had lived well enough without them, and what was good for them is good enough for us, they said. Besides, they added, certain vegetables, especially the tomatoes, were reputed to be poisonous as they had originated as a fruit of the sin between dogs. What about the missionaries? I retorted. None of them has died from eating these vegetables. ‘Ah,’ men replied knowingly, ‘you foreigners have different bodies, and what is good for you is death for us.’

They all looked weak, emaciated, with parchment-like skin, their eyes feverish with opium. What could one do to help them, to persuade them? The kindly Catholics certainly tried everything they could, but all was in vain against the dullness and obduracy of these people fanatically entrenched in their ignorance.

At the invitation of some Black Lolos I went from Moshi-mien to a village called Helluva further down the wonderful Tatu River. Then I had to climb to the mysterious Yehsaping plateau, 11,000 feet high, where these Lolos lived. Their houses were poor but very clean and they looked hale and hearty. I stayed with them several days. Even apart from the special feasts arranged for me, they ate well. They used pork, chickens and beef constantly — roasted, fried or boiled. They ate potatoes and buckwheat cakes and drank buckwheat and honey wine, called zhiwoo, with every meal. They did not smoke opium. They were dirty too, but very healthy. Not one of them had leprosy and the very mention of it made them shudder.

The Minkia around Likiang existed on a monotonous diet of rice with a little of beancurd or its equivalent, or rice and chillies only. And they had leprosy. The Szechuanese and White Lissu were also mean about their food and also had leprosy. It was only among the Nakhi, of the tribes in and around Likiang, who had such a varied and rich diet, both poor and wealthy, that there was no leprosy.

Whatever other factors cause leprosy, the disease seems to find fertile ground among the people who exist on a poor and monotonous diet. Dirt may or may not be a contributing factor: malnutrition, due to unvaried food, certainly is. The Tibetans of lower classes also have an unvaried diet, consisting of the eternal tsamba — parched barley or wheat flour — and butter tea, and they too have leprosy.

The treatment of leprosy, even with the present-day revolutionary sulpha drugs, which had not yet appeared there in those days, was at best very slow and uncertain. I felt I was not qualified to handle such cases and passed them on to the missionaries in the south to their infinite delight.

I thought the real plague of Tibet and border regions was not leprosy but the venereal diseases. Judging from all reports and travellers’ accounts, Tibet and Yungning region had at least 90 per cent of their population afflicted with one form or another of these souvenirs d’amour. Such a widespread prevalence was due, of course, to the practice of free love still prevailing in those parts. Likiang was comparatively free from this blight, thanks to the strictness of its marriage institution and the injunction that all Nakhi men should confine their amorous attentions strictly to the female members of their own tribe. If there were any Nakhi afflicted with these unmentionable diseases, they certainly had picked them up outside Likiang. Returning soldiers were the most likely suspects in such cases.

The Tibetans, and to some extent the Liukhi, the matriarchic tribe living in Yungning territory, had during decades or perhaps even centuries developed very considerable immunity to syphilis. With most of them it now has a very mild form and even the third stage is not so destructive as it could be among other races. However, this benignity of the syphilis of the Tibetan variety does not extend to other races, particularly in the case of Europeans. In a European the virulence of the disease, contracted from a Tibetan, is so great that, without prompt treatment, a fatal ending ensues in about three months.

The prevalence of syphilis and gonorrhoea in Tibet and Yungning has a marked effect on the birth-rate. The population in Tibet is definitely shrinking, and the children in Yungning suffer from keratitis which is a result of congenital syphilis. The Tibetan Government has been greatly concerned and had plans for a wholesale treatment of venereal diseases, but nothing much has been accomplished because of the magnitude of the undertaking. This immense and heartrending problem is further aggravated by the light-hearted carelessness and utter unconcern of the afflicted parties. They never think, for instance, that syphilis is anything more serious than a common cold and, since its first stage does indeed resemble the onset of a cold or flu, the ignorant man thinks that his own diagnosis is correct. Therefore, when they came for treatment they always said that it was just a cold and there was really nothing to worry about. They always got a shock when I told them that it was something else, and I remember a well-to-do Tibetan who came to see me with well-defined symptoms of this confidential disease. He was horrified when I told him the truth.

‘No, no!’ he cried. ‘It is only a cold.’

‘How did you get it ?’ I asked.

‘I caught it when riding a horse,’ he replied.

‘Well,’ I said, ‘it was the wrong kind of horse.’

In a long procession they came — the Tibetans, Liukhi and occasionally other tribesmen. But I do not remember really that I had any Nakhi with syphilis or gonorrhoea. As I have said, the Tibetan syphilis was benign, and after two or three shots they usually recovered, but in most cases it was an ungrateful and hopeless task. In two or three weeks they returned with a fresh infection. It was a Sisyphean work for the most part, and I must admit I got tired of it.

Such was my clinic. Sick people came all the time, day in and day out, year after year. There were other diseases too. I tried my best to diagnose them and help. There were even attempts to make me attend difficult childbirths, but I drew a line at that as I had not had any experience at all in such matters. All the time I was extremely careful, and I would have been murdered if one of my patients had died.

The clinic made me acquaintances far and wide, and a number of pleasant and enduring friendships developed. I never took a cent for my attendance and medicines, but sometimes the people did bring a few eggs or a pot of honey, and it was not easy to decline these simple gifts. I remember I tried to refuse some eggs an old lady brought me, and she was quite indignant.

‘Why do you refuse?’ she asked in a shrill voice. ‘These eggs are fresh and good. I am not offering you anything dirty.’ What could I say?

However, to run this clinic was not all plain sailing, for the cunning merchants and shopkeepers of Likiang were always after my medicines. Some were disarmingly frank. Said they: ‘You get your supplies from the American Red Cross’—later it was the International Red Cross—’free of charge and you give the medicine away also free of charge. These are good valuable medicines and cost a lot on the black market. Why not sell us at least a half? Nobody would know. We are prepared to pay well and a goodly amount of hard cash will not harm you’; and they rubbed their hands in anticipation. I was neither angry nor did I show them to the door. My Chinese etiquette was as near perfect as is possible for a foreigner. I do not remember exactly what I said, but it was something infinitely polite and completely satisfying as to why I was unable to part with the medicines.

Then unsuspected attacks came from other quarters. Women started dropping in daily asking for ten tablets of santonin for a child at home, twenty aspirins for an ailing husband, ten or twenty sulphadiazines for somebody else also confined to bed, and so on in infinite variety. At first I did not hesitate, admiring them for walking so far over the hill to help their relatives or friends. It was when my cook had reported that he saw our santonins, sulphadiazines and aspirins being sold on the market at fifty cents a tablet, that I sat up and took notice. Immediately a notification was posted on the door, requiring all patients to present themselves to my clinic in person if they wanted any medicines. This helped, and afterwards I was careful not to give much medicine for follow-up treatment except when I knew for certain that the patient could be trusted: but there were wild scenes and much reviling whenever I refused point-blank some grand lady’s request for packets of medicine.

Another favourite trick to the same end were the notes from very highly placed officials demanding that so much of a particular drug should be sent to him by bearer, usually an orderly. I always did send a few grains, profusely apologizing that momentarily that particular drug was almost out of stock. Even my charming Nakhi doctor friend quickly learned the way to my door to borrow this or that drug, promising to return its equivalent in a few days, though, of course, nothing was ever returned. Very soon I had to invent all sorts of excuses to stop the drain on my stocks of medicaments which were intended solely for use among poor villagers.


A huge signboard, beautifully written by a local gentleman-calligraphist, adorned our gate. We were open for business. Such quick action on our part impressed the town. But I imagine our Kunming Headquarters experienced a shock at the receipt of our telegram announcing that the shop was open.

Now I was free to devote myself entirely to the promotion of industrial co-operative societies. Of course, everybody thought that, henceforward, we should be sitting grandly behind our desks all day long expecting the prospective co-operators to call. Had we followed this line of action, or rather inaction, we might have been sitting with crossed arms for years. Instead, every morning, accompanied by one of the office clerks, I tramped to all the wool-weaving factories we could find. Slowly and with infinite pains I tried to explain to these simple people what co-operation meant and how they could enlarge their tiny factories, improve their products and become prosperous. At first they did not understand a word, although everything was explained in Nakhi. Their minds could not grasp or digest all these technicalities. Day after day I persisted. When I mentioned that the loans could be given to assist in the improvement of their looms and in getting more stocks of yarn and dyes, this information seemed at last to touch a chord in the eminently practical heart of the Nakhi women.

We saw at once where our advantage lay and next time we concentrated our attention not on the men but on their wives and sisters. It worked brilliantly. It was the women who were the first to understand the idea of co-operatives and appreciate the benefits they promised. They became our most active protagonists. We did not know what they said or did to their husbands after our visits but when we came again the men seemed less obdurate and talked much more sense. We knew that if we could break the ice and establish one co-operative successfully, the results would be swift in this city where gossip was more effective than any advertising in the papers or radio broadcasts in the West.

I knew a Nakhi student by the name of Hochiatso. His father and two uncles jointly ran a wool-weaving factory on the hill just a couple of hundred yards from our office. Working through him and independently we at last succeeded in converting the factory into a co-operative enterprise, with others joining in on a share basis. Afterwards I sent Hochiatso to our Bailie Training School at Shandan, Kansu, where he learned how to make serges and good, woolly blankets.

The greatest event in the industrial life of Likiang was my introduction of the wool-spinning wheel of which, prior to my arrival, the Nakhi had no idea. I had brought with me a model of the type of wheel which was used for ages in Europe before the introduction of mechanization. Even this simple machine puzzled them and it was only after many trials and errors that a really serviceable wheel was evolved. It caused a furore, probably as great as when the first chariot-wheel was constructed. It was copied and re-copied and constructed, with and without variations, by the hundred. In a very few months the whole town was in a frenzy of wool spinning. Every shop had two or three whirring wheels at which the lady of the house and her daughters or sisters sat spinning whilst waiting for customers. Spinning-wheels lined the streets and could be found by the dozen in the larger houses. Everybody, men, women and children, began to spin. Varieties of wool yarn, hitherto hardly seen on the market, and then only good for sackcloth, were carried from one end of the town to another in women’s baskets. There was the yarn for weaving and the yarn for knitting. All the pangchinmei now sat knitting the most fantastic and elaborate sweaters and pullovers I have ever seen for their sweethearts and for sale. Shops groaned with piles of these sweaters, socks and stockings, some so fine and fluffy that they could be compared with the best from abroad. The importation of wool from Tibet now jumped from the hundred bales a year, before my arrival, to two thousand bales a year, and more. Orders for woollen knitted goods were pouring in from Kunming, Lhasa and even Chungking. Likiang had now become a great centre of the wool industry in Yunnan.

There was no question any longer of my running after the prospective co-operatives in wool spinning or weaving. I was besieged with applications. But it was important to create spinning and weaving societies of quality, which would be genuine and strong, and this was not so easy as it might seem. I had to watch very carefully and not allow the formation of a society of members of the same family. Such co-operatives were not true co-operatives, for the loan from the bank to which co-operatives were entitled was, in the case of a family co-operative, negotiated and used entirely by the eldest male of the family, more often than not, for opium and other business in no way connected with the purchase of wool yarn or looms.

As the Chinese co-operative law prescribed a minimum of seven persons to form an industrial co-operative society, I required at the least seven separate families to join together. Each family nominated, as a member of the co-operative, a representative who could be a man or woman but who had to work with his or her own hands. I was very strict about this and never permitted anybody to act as a sort of honorary member, simply lending the use of his name to fill the list of members. The formation of co-operatives by the members of well-known local rich families was not permitted. They already had plenty of money of their own. Why should they get from the bank at a low interest the loan which was intended for the really poor? They would use this loan to lend money to somebody else at ten times the usual interest. I may say that I was not a great favourite with these avaricious merchant families who were without any pride. No matter how many times I snubbed their attempts to muscle in on the co-operative movement, always of course with the quintessence of politeness and decorum as befits a Chinese official, they always came back again and again, trying some other subterfuge or trick.

I can never forget one glaring example of such manoeuvrings. One day I was approached by a great local gentleman who styled himself a general in retirement. He had an elegant house by the Likiang River across the bridge from Madame Lee’s shop. He said that he heard much about my ‘sublime and incomparable’ work. He desired very much to assist me to extend it. Some of his friends wanted to form an Oil-pressing Co-operative Society. What they needed was just a small loan to put it into effect. As a refusal was, according to all the rules of etiquette, impossible, I had to agree. He informed me that the prospective members would wait for me at his house on the morrow at noon. I cordially assured him that I would be enchanted to attend this auspicious meeting.

I went with my trusted assistant Wuhsien at the appointed time. On arrival I was adversely impressed by the sight of food and wine prepared for me, as I had requested beforehand that no entertainment should be offered me during business conversations. Eight old gentlemen, very well dressed, sat around the room smoking their long pipes. They were refined and fragile-looking, with long, stained finger-nails. ‘I have never seen a better collection of old opium smokers,’ I managed to whisper to Wuhsien. I bowed and they rose and bowed. I had to take a sip of wine and a cake. Then we got down to business. In refined accents and high-flown terms the elders officially proposed to me to form an Oil-pressing Co-operative Society at a village near Likiang. Everything was almost ready — the presses, stocks of rape seed, etc. The only thing lacking, to start the operations, was money. They thought thirty or forty thousand silver pangkais would be a very modest sum to ask for as a loan. I looked round and composed myself.

‘Do you mean to say, gentlemen, that you yourselves are prepared to press the oil?’ I exclaimed dubiously.

They were terribly offended, and were shaking with indignation.

‘The very idea of it, sir!’ exclaimed their spokesman. ‘Of course not! We have enough workmen to do that for us.’

I made a very long pause, slowly sipping my wine. Then I spoke slowly and with infinite politeness.

‘Gentlemen, the idea of this worthy co-operative society is beyond praise.’ Again I paused, and then continued, ‘I am rather worried about the amount you require. We never recommend to the bank to grant such large loans without referring the matter to our headquarters in Chungking, possibly to Dr Kung himself.’ They listened respectfully. They were greatly impressed by the exalted name.

‘I will report the matter to my headquarters at once. As soon as I have a reply I shall be glad to inform you,’ I said, bowing. We slowly filed out of the room.

Of course, I never bothered Chungking with such matters. But that was one of the correct ways of saying ‘No.’ I do not think these elders really expected any reply. They knew that I saw through their game, but there was no harm in trying. I do not think they were even angry with me: it was a legitimate gamble, a trial of wits. They had lost the first round, but hoped they might win the next.

When I first came to Likiang there was but one bank there and a very modest one at that. It was the Provincial Cooperative Treasury. As there were no co-operatives of any kind prior to my arrival, it had nothing to finance and, therefore, it seldom had any funds in its coffers. The cost of a remittance from Kunming to Likiang was, at least, 10 per cent; and to lose ten dollars on a hundred was a lot of money. Moreover, as Likiang used nothing but silver dollars, the problem of transporting and storing funds was acute. People either brought the money in their baggage by caravan or, if they had the connections, made transfers through the local merchants who had plenty of silver dollars (Whenever I refer to transactions in dollars it means silver half-dollars or pangkais, not paper currency.) both at Kunming and Likiang, and so a loan of thirty thousand dollars, for instance, as the clever elders had desired, would have required quite a sizable caravan, as thirty horses would have been needed to carry the money, quite apart from the small army that would have been necessary as an escort from Hsiakwan. The bandits were no fools, and they had their own sources of information. They would mobilize all their friends and connections to make a concerted bid for so rich a prize.

Keeping such a precious cargo in the living-rooms of a wooden house, with no safes available, was another problem. Likiang had been plundered several times before by large groups of bandits, and a few hundred local militiamen provided doubtful protection. It was for this reason that the Co-operative Treasury held little capital and the local merchants tried to keep their hoards of silver coin down to a minimum. So there was always a shortage of ready money in Likiang and the purchase value of the dollar was, therefore, abnormally high. The interest on loans was fantastic: 10 per cent per month was considered a reasonable interest, and the 4.5 or 5 per cent charged by the treasury was regarded as extremely low and were much sought after.

As I had brought with me only a small sum of silver dollars, and as there were no other government banks but the Cooperative Treasury, our Kunming Headquarters probably thought that this shortage of dollars would be a major stumbling-block in the development of my industrial co-operatives, even if I did manage to get a foothold in Likiang. They did not reckon on my powerful connections with the headquarters of the Provincial Co-operative Treasury and with certain Yunnan provincial banks. My first Wool Spinning and Weaving Society, for instance, received a loan from the Provincial Co-operative Treasury in about a fortnight after their first constitutional meeting. As soon as other societies had been formed, they also obtained loans, though they were very small compared with the standards not only of European countries but even of such places as Kunming and Chungking, where values were inflated. The first loan was only for 300 dollars and the subsequent loans ranged from 200 to 500 dollars and they were all granted for a period of one year only. The loans were not needed for salaries or wages or any such unproductive purposes, for the co-operators lived in their own houses, ate their own products and carried on their duties without salaries or wages. They received their remuneration, according to the work done, when the profits were divided at the end of the year. With a few hundred dollars they could buy a lot of raw wool and make a number of looms and spinning-wheels. Their products were sold like hot cakes and there was no difficulty in making enough profit during the year to pay off the loan. I never had any trouble about loan repayments from the Nakhi people. The poorer they were, the more conscientious and particular they were about their financial obligations. Nor did I ever lose any personal loan I made to friends.

Luck was clearly with me. Something else soon happened which greatly stabilized and strengthened my position, and gave my work additional prestige. I received a telegram from the Bank of China in Kunming requesting me to meet and render assistance to their people who were proceeding to Likiang by chartered plane to open a branch of the bank there. This was great news indeed. I must mention in this connection that the bank’s general manager in Kunming was a friend of mine and I also knew very well the secretary-general of the bank’s headquarters in Chungking. I found at once a small temple for accommodating the bank’s staff on their arrival. Then I assisted them in securing a good house for the exclusive use of the bank, which was so difficult in Likiang. The Kunming and Chungking branches were very grateful and gave a free hand in negotiating loans for my co-operatives at the incredibly low rate of interest of only 3.5 per cent per month. Unfortunately for the bank, however, all the loans made by them were in paper currency, which the recipients were at liberty to convert into materials or silver dollars. As the paper dollar was depreciating month by month, the societies had not the slightest difficulty in repaying even large loans when they matured. They made huge profits, as what they were repaying at the end of the year was in many cases less than a half of what they had originally received. It did not affect the individual branch bank itself as it was doing only its duty within the law. It was an overall disaster of a national magnitude with which even the Government was unable to cope. Only the silver dollar remained steady and, with this in circulation, life in Likiang remained stable and cheap.

The Bank of China stayed in Likiang only until VJ-Day and then the branch was withdrawn. But by that time all my co-operatives had become the favourite children of the Cooperative Treasury and of several other provincial commercial banks which had hastily opened branches in Likiang, attracted by the rich caravan trade with Lhasa. Also, by that time, we had begun to receive some capital direct from our headquarters in Chungking.

In about two years my position had become so consolidated, and there were then so many first-class co-operatives, that there was no question of any withdrawal from Likiang. Dr Kung was so pleased with my work that he honoured me with the title of commissioner and sent me a certificate to that effect. During my subsequent visits to Kunming I was received at our Yunnan Headquarters almost obsequiously, and it seemed that I was considered a power in the Chinese industrial co-operative movement.

I must pay my unstinted tribute to the National Government of China for its interest in, and sympathy with, the cooperative movement. Its laws and rules were wise and uncomplicated. Simplicity in the organization, the accounts and m the supervision of the industrial co-operative societies was the rule. The disposition of the earnings was very sensible and it left a considerable latitude in their distribution. A reserve fund was insisted upon, but it was not retained by the Government at its pleasure. Upon the dissolution of any society, if a loan had been repaid and all claims satisfied, the reserve fund was returned for payment to members in accordance with the number of their shares and the length of their association with the society. The underlying principle was not to coerce the industrial co-operative society to continue for ever but to help poor craftsmen who had nothing with which to start to become prosperous and to regain their footing in society through co-operative enterprise. When they had reached the highest point of prosperity and security, it was up to them to continue their profitable association or, if they so wished, to dissolve, and enjoy the fruits of their labour individually and perhaps in other capacities, thus making way for another group of less fortunate people to repeat the process. It was a constant movement which slowly but surely was transforming Likiang and its district into a uniform community of prosperous and contented people. The results and proofs were there for all to see.

It was not difficult to start an industrial co-operative society if there were a number of people who knew the same line of industry. There were no great expenses involved in the preparation of account books. They were made of soft Chinese paper and the whole set cost no more than two or three dollars. The law did not require a set of printed and bound ledgers, or minute books made of expensive paper. Anyway, they would not have been procurable in Likiang. Whilst, under the uniform strictness of Western laws, a co-operative society is treated on the same level as a bank or a great limited company, and has to watch and comply with innumerable legal requirements, necessitating the employment of a highly qualified secretary and manager, an industrial co-operative in China was regarded for what it really was — an association of very poor people, often ignorant and illiterate, of whom not much could be asked. What trial balances or balance sheets could be demanded from a society whose members calculated the cost of materials and products with pebbles or beans and had never written a word in their life, as was the case of many co-operative societies in Likiang and elsewhere? They ran their affairs as well, if not better, than the societies with more educated members, though, naturally, a measure of supervision was necessary.

Whilst carefully avoiding the creation of the rich men’s and family co-operatives, I had to be equally vigilant in not giving my sanction to the master and apprentice co-operative societies. There were several small workshops, especially in the padlock-making line, where the proprietor ran the show with a few young apprentices some of whom were his relatives. They were not loath to proclaim their little factories as industrial co-operatives in order to secure a loan from the bank, and were remarkably persistent in their efforts, inviting me for frequent inspections of their proposed societies, shuffling and reshuffling their apprentices and neighbours as prospective members. I never said ‘No’ to them, but merely mentioned that the banks had no money for loans at present.

Actually I was very fortunate with the material I had in Likiang for my co-operatives. The Nakhi were very independent and themselves never favoured the idea of a master and apprentice relationship. They had brains, though perhaps not very good ones by Western standards, but nevertheless capable of independent thinking and judgment. It was for this reason that large factories were impossible in Likiang, for no Nakhi would stand the peremptory orders of a manager or overseer for long, and when my co-operative movement had spread, many apprentices left their bosses and formed their own co-operatives.

The number of members in each of my co-operatives was not large. It was difficult to reach the necessary harmony of opinion and co-operation among a large number of people. Moreover, the Nakhi were so clannish that they could never work together with other people whom they did not know well. A successful co-operative could only be formed out of the people living in the same village or street. The plan of forming a combined co-operative of the Nakhi and the Minkia or some other tribes succeeded only in one case.


Having entrenched ourselves in our own village, I was now determined to overcome the suspicions of the other Nakhi and also other tribes, to make them see the value of my mission and my work, and to win their friendship. It was not the Likiang society of rich merchants and shopkeepers that I needed, but the hearts of villagers and ordinary folk who eked out their living by small industries and trade. It was only through their friendship and goodwill, I thought, that I could build up my work and carry out my duty to the Government which had sent me. I was right; looking back now at the years I spent in Likiang I can say that I succeeded, and succeeded gloriously beyond my fondest dreams. From Hsiakwan to the Kingdom of Muli far in the north, and from Lhasa in the west, to Yuenpei in the east, I gained hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of friends and well-wishers.

One thing I learned well: a Nakhi’s friendship was not given freely or haphazardly, it had to be earned. Neither could it be bought with gifts, because gifts were reciprocated and the more expensive the present the more burden it brought to the Nakhi in his efforts to match the value by his return gift. And yet, giving and receiving gifts was an important ingredient in friendship and social intercourse in Likiang; but the gifts come later, when friendly relations have become firmly established. A Nakhi peasant especially rejoices when he has gathered a good crop, slaughtered a fat animal or when the wine he has made is of superior bouquet. In his joy and contentment he always remembers his friends. So he brings a small basket of potatoes or a joint of pork or venison or a small jar of wine. He does not expect an immediate and rich return; but in friendship, being a partnership, an opportunity always presents itself to give in return something that he appreciates.

In courting friendship with a Nakhi a good deal of sincerity, sympathy and genuine affection was necessary, and also patience. They were very sensitive people. The Nakhi possessed no inferiority complex but neither did they suffer a show of superiority in anybody. They were not obsequious and did not cringe even in the presence of high-ranking officials or wealthy merchants. Unlike the Chinese in certain parts of China, they were not discomforted or disturbed by strangers of other races. A European did not awe them or excite feelings of antagonism or hatred. He was not regarded as a white devil or a Western barbarian, he was just another person like themselves, and was treated accordingly without any particular consideration or curiosity. Whether he was good or bad, mean or generous, rich or poor, he was judged by his subsequent actions and attitudes and the people behaved towards him accordingly. Perhaps this indifference to racial characteristics was due to the extremely diversified population of this huge territory. The Nakhi were accustomed to the strange tribes constantly mingling with them. That a European might not speak Nakhi or Chinese did not make him an object of ridicule but rather of sympathy, for many other tribesmen did not speak either language. If a European, and for that matter anyone else, adopted a superior or patronizing attitude, nothing towards him changed visibly in the attitude of the Nakhi. He was treated civilly but with a greater formality, and soon found himself alone and isolated with only his servants to keep him company, except for an official invitation to attend a party once in a blue moon. He surveyed the lovely valley and the crowded city like a panorama, but he did not belong. The colourful life passed him by.

The Nakhi did not tolerate harsh orders or abusive language from anyone, much less from strangers. A particularly venomous word might lead at once to retaliation in kind, or by a thrust of the dagger kept handily at the belt, or a well-aimed stone. I had warned my cook, who was prone to fly into a rage, to be very careful about using his choice Shanghai invectives, especially to our native servants. Later on, when he had grown more opulent and arrogant, he was to suffer a lot on account of his loose tongue.

The servant problem in Likiang was very acute. Free and independent Nakhi did not want any menial jobs. There was no unemployment in the sense in which it is known in China proper or in the West. All the Nakhi, whether in the town or countryside, were small-holders first and merchants, traders or workers afterwards: all were devoted to their ancestral lands and farms. Those in the town who could not or would not attend to their fields and orchards in person, had farmed out the land to distant relatives or friends. However, poor farmer boys from infertile mountain districts were sometimes willing to undertake off-season jobs in the town, or when their families needed additional money for a particular purpose such as building a new house, buying extra horses or cattle, a wedding or a Shamanist ceremony. It was from a cadre of such youths that we used to get assistants for my cook.

At first we made our need of a servant known to some friends, then we were notified that a boy from one of the villages was willing to come out, and then the terms were discussed with the main condition that the boy should be treated with consideration and courtesy. Then the boy himself appeared accompanied by his father or uncle. They were good, hard-working boys, sometimes not too honest in small things, but that was overlooked for the sake of domestic harmony. Sometimes they left when they felt homesick, and sometimes they walked out when my cook could not refrain from saying something derogatory about them. ‘We are as good as you are,’ they would cry out. ‘We are not your slaves and we have a home,’ and off they would go. They were not poor in a conventional sense, for they had their farmhouse, a place to eat, a bed to sleep on and their friends to dance with when the sun had gone down beyond the mountains.

One sunny morning, a couple of months after my arrival, I was passing along a street and came to a little square with an old shady tree. Enormous pink roses cascaded from its branches, around which an old vine was entwined. The scent was overpowering. A group of Nakhi young men stood around admiring the blooms. They all stared at me smiling.

‘What beautiful flowers!’ I commented in Chinese. At once they started talking to me. I noticed that one of them had red and swollen eyes.

‘Come and I will give you medicine for your eyes,’ I said at last.

‘But we have not brought any money,’ they protested.

‘Who says I want money?’

‘Where is your house?’ they asked hesitatingly.

‘Oh, just over the hill in Wuto. Quite near,’ I reassured them, and we walked over. I administered argyrol and gave them a small bottle to take home. They were overwhelmed.

‘No money and such kindness!’ they commented. One of them was a tall, athletic youth with great liquid eyes and wavy chestnut hair. He looked intelligent and was particularly friendly. I gave him my card inscribed in Chinese. He said his name was Wuhan and the boy with the sore eyes was his cousin Wuyaoli. They lived in a village down the valley at the foot of the eastern range. They were students at the Provincial School, he added. With profuse thanks they went away.

A week later Wuhan appeared bringing a small pot of honey and a few fresh eggs.

‘I cannot accept payment for my medicine,’ I protested.

‘It is not a payment,’ he smiled warmly. ‘My mother sent these trifles as a present. She says you are very kind,’ he added. He said he liked me and wanted to be friends with me. Although he protested violently, I prevailed on him to stay for lunch. The reason for his protest, I learned later, was his tear that he would have to eat a European meal with knives and forks which he did not know how to use. When we sat own to an informal Chinese meal with chopsticks, he relaxed and, as the meal progressed, he began to use, haltingly at first, English which was taught at his school. Actually he spoke it quite well. In the end it was agreed that I should visit his home one Sunday.

I was very excited over the projected trip. It was to be my first visit to a Nakhi village as a guest. Everybody told me how difficult it was to gain an entree to a farmer’s home.

On the Sunday Wuhan came early to fetch me. We started at once and stopped only once at Madame Lee’s shop to pick up a jar of yintsieu for our lunch. Then we marched out of town and along the main road to Hoking, due south. Soon the road branched off to the left and we were walking between green fields and along fragrant hedges of roses and wild flowers. We met peasants with baskets of firewood on their backs, leading heavily laden horses to the market. They all knew Wuhan and greeted him. His village was fifteen li from the city and we reached it in a couple of hours, stopping on the way to chat with the monks of a Buddhist temple situated on a nearby hill. The village consisted of only a few houses, built like those in the town, but with tall racks in the courtyard for drying grain crops before threshing.

Wuhan’s mother was a sweet old woman and she was all smiles when I entered. She apologized profusely for not being able to talk Chinese. Wuhan led me into the central hall and seated me on a bench. He was an only son, his father having died long ago. They ran the farm, just the two of them, assisted by relatives and neighbours when needed. They had a couple of buffaloes, three horses, and pigs and chickens. A fierce little dog was tied in the corner. I was led upstairs where golden wheat was piled on the floor and lentils and peas heaped in little mounds in the corner. There were huge clay jars with rice, flour and oil, and pots of home-made white wine or zhi. Slabs of rock salt, like cartwheels, leaned against walls. From the rafters hung hams and chunks of salt pork. There were baskets with eggs by the window. They had everything in plenty for themselves and for sale. Soon Wuhan left me sitting alone and joined his mother in the kitchen. Other guests began drifting in — Wuyaoli and Wuhan’s other cousin Wukia, Wukia’s father and elder brother and a couple of schoolmates.

The meal, which took a long time to prepare, was served in the courtyard which was scrupulously clean. Nakhi villagers preferred to use low tables for family meals and the guests sat on narrow benches a few inches high. It was only on more formal occasions that the standard square tables of normal height were used. We started with small fried fish, like sprats, and beautifully browned potato slices. Everything was served in saucers. There followed pieces of roast chicken, then fried walnuts, salted duck eggs, stewed eggplant, sauerkraut, sliced ham and many other delicious things. Every time a new dish was brought by the mother I thought it was the end. But no, as soon as one dish was finished, something else was placed on the table. And all the time we were drinking, toasting each other and laughing. I drank the sweet yintsieu, accompanied by Wuhan. Others preferred zhi — the strong white liquor made of wheat. It looked and tasted like gin and was just as potent. I felt well filled and slightly tipsy. I asked the mother to stop bringing in more dishes, saying it was a right royal meal. She only smiled; in the kitchen something sizzled and more things followed. Finally the meal was concluded with stewed pork and chicken soup, accompanied by a big copper basin of red rice which the Nakhi eat as well as bread. The polished white rice is used only for feasts by the well-to-do town people, but the red rice has the better flavour; it is highly nourishing and not conducive to beri-beri.

After the luncheon some of the elderly people retired and Wuhan suggested to the others of the party a walk in the mountains. A few steps behind the house we entered into a dense pine forest interspersed with all sorts of flowering bushes, mainly rhododendrons of several varieties. There were also other curious and beautiful flowers. One plant we met was called lamalazakand it was like a miniature Christmas-tree studded with red and blue bells. Slowly we climbed higher and higher among the trees until Wukia proclaimed that this was a mushroom zone. Indeed, all kinds of mushrooms could be seen pushing out of the short grass and between the bushes. The boys taught me which mushrooms were edible and which poisonous. There were some short and fat and branching into clumps that looked exactly like pink coral. These were the akamus — the most-sought-after mushrooms. Some looked like hard-boiled eggs stuck into the ground, the cracked shell showing a glimpse of orange yolk inside: these were the alawous — highly edible. Burdened with the loads of mushrooms and bunches of flowers we sat down to rest or lay upon the Tibetan rugs we had brought. It was wonderfully peaceful in these lonely mountains. There were no sounds but the whispering of pines and singing of birds. I was assured that there were many Nagas and fairies living in this endless forest. Afterwards we descended to a little spring of water gurgling out of a huge rock. Pointing to a pleasant meadow above the rock, the boys told me how a neighbour of theirs went once to this spring at night. Drinking the water, he saw three dignified and resplendently dressed ancients with long flowing beards. They were sitting in the meadow evidently discussing something. The old men, however, noticed his presence. They beckoned him to come to them and said that it was not well for him, a mortal, to see them. Much distressed, the man returned to his village and told the neighbours what he had seen. Shortly afterwards he sickened and died.

We returned home as the sun was setting. Oil lamps were lit when darkness fell. Not the kerosene oil lamps but little brass shells filled with walnut oil, cotton wicks protruding from the lip. These were supported on the brass stands like candlesticks. In the kitchen smoky mingtze burned on stone stands. The dinner was served in Wukia’s home and was good too, although not nearly so elaborate as Wuhan’s luncheon. Afterwards a bed was prepared for me at Wuhan’s house. Tibetan rugs were laid on the bedsteads, sheets spread and a pukai (cotton quilt) provided. When the Nakhi retire for the night, they always shut tightly all windows and doors and place a charcoal-filled brazier near the bed. I admit that the nights in Likiang were cold, but to have a blazing brazier in a small, tightly sealed room was intolerable, and there was considerable danger of monoxide poisoning. I always horrified my Nakhi friends by removing the brazier and opening the door or window, risking, as they said, catching a mortal cold or the intrusion of evil spirits. Next morning there was a breakfast of sliced ham, fried eggs, babas and Tibetan butter tea. Then I walked home.

Afterwards I visited Wuhan’s home many times just for rest and relaxation or to attend some ceremonies which he had to perform as the head of the house. I was also present at his wedding a few years later. Soon his relatives, scattered in the villages further down the valley, began inviting me too. Thus my friendships grew, and I began to be received into homes across the length and breadth of the main valley down to the south, almost as far down as the border between the Kingdom of Mu and the Hoking country.


Starting in distant villages early in the morning, the streams of farmers began to converge on Likiang soon after ten o’clock, along the five main roads. The streets were jammed with horses loaded with firewood; people bringing charcoal in baskets on their backs and others carrying vegetables, eggs and poultry. Pigs were either carried, tied up, on poles by two men, or led by women, who held the leash in one hand and gently prodded the animal with a switch in the other. Many other kinds of merchandise were carried either on the backs of the people themselves or on their animals. There was the noise of hooves on hard stone, loud talk, shouting and much laughter. In the market itself there was great tumult with all these crowds trying to pass each other and jockeying for the best positions on the square. On the previous night sturdy stalls had already been pulled out of the common pile, or dragged from surrounding shops and set in rows in the centre. Women and girls brought heavy bales of textiles and spread bolts of cloth on the stalls. Haberdashery, spices and vegetables were displayed in separate rows. Shortly after noon the market was in full swing and was a boiling cauldron of humanity and animals.

Towering Tibetans elbowed their way through the struggling masses. Boa villagers in their mushroom-shaped cloaks waved bunches of turnips. Chungchia tribesmen in their coarse hempen shirts and trousers, with peculiar little queues falling from their shaven heads, listlessly promenaded with lengths of narrow and rough hemp fabrics. Nakhi women ran frantically after some wayward customers. Many strange tribesmen and their women simply stood and gaped at so many attractive goods and at the elegant people of Likiang.

At about three o’clock the market session reached its climax and then began to decline. Towards four o’clock the ‘cocktail’ session was in full swing.

Main Street was lined with dozens of ‘exclusive bars’ and thither thirsty villagers, men and women, turned their steps. Normally in China such a thing is unknown. Not that the Chinese do not drink, but wine in China is associated more with eating and the best time for drinking is considered to be at dinner with friends. The women in China do not sit down with men to drink, and therefore such meals are entirely male affairs. Generally, for propriety’s sake, Chinese women do not drink much in public, preferring to have a sip or two in the privacy of their rooms. The usual refreshment in China, when concluding protracted transactions, is tea without sugar or milk. After a tiring day in the market the numerous tea-shops in Chinese towns and villages are crowded with congenial parties of men and women relaxing over pots of tea. In this respect, the customs of Likiang were quite distinct. There were no tea-shops, and if anyone drank tea at all during the day it was brewed in miniature earthen jugs on the brazier concealed somewhere in the back room. Everyone, men, women and children, drank wine, white or sweet yintsieu. No self-respecting child above two years would go to sleep without a cup of yintsieu.

The ‘exclusive bars’ were neither bars nor were they exclusive. They were general stores where, in addition to salt, sugar, salted vegetables and haberdashery, wine was kept for sale, both to be taken away in customers’ own jars or to be consumed on the premises. The shops were uniformly small in Likiang and, in addition to the counter facing the street, there was a longer counter at a right angle to it, leaving a narrow passage from the door to the inner rooms of the shop. A couple of narrow benches were put before this counter and there the people sat sipping their wine. That the inmates of the house, including dogs, had to use this passage, sometimes. spilling the customers’ wine, was of no account. No one really’ minded such minor inconveniences in Likiang.

Anyone could have a drink at any shop, but some villagers acquired preferences for particular shops. These regular and faithful customers grew intimate with the lady owner, and always gave her the first option on whatever they were bring, ing to the market for sale. Similarly the lady favoured them with special discounts on whatever they wanted to buy from her. Actually such relations between the established clients and the shop owner were not so simple. The lady also acted as their broker, banker, postmaster and confidante. Baskets with purchases were left in her keeping whilst the customers went out for more shopping. Small loans were negotiated with her on the security of the next deliveries of whatever they usually brought to the market or against growing chickens or pigs. When clients could not pay for their drinks or pur-chases, credit transactions were permitted by the lady, who got her husband or son to record them in simple Chinese. Wallets with cash were sometimes deposited at the shop for safe-keeping by the farmers whose villages were not safe from robbers. As there was no postal service to remote villages, the wine-shop was a favourite accommodation address. Letters were duly forwarded to the recipients by safe hands. Confidential advice was sought by clients from the lady on the problems of engagement and marriage, childbirth and funerals. And, of course, every lady wine-shop owner was a Bureau of Information par excellence. She knew the curricula vitae of everybody within a radius of a hundred miles, and I doubt whether there ever existed a secret in Likiang that was not known to her.

I had humbly attached myself to three wine-shops. One was Madame Lee’s in the smartest section of Main Street, another was Madame Yang’s in the market-place, and the third belonged to Madame Ho in the Tibetan quarter of the city near Double Stone Bridge. I faithfully visited all of them almost every day, when I was in town. About five in the afternoon I descended to Madame Yang’s and stayed for an hour. At six I was at Madame Lee’s, and went to Madame Ho’s usually after dinner. However, I was not received into the inner circle of these ladies’ clients until a much later date, when they had become sure of my respectability and integrity. My debt to these clever and charming ladies is very great and it pains me that perhaps I shall never be able to repay it. The success of my integration into the life of Likiang and of work is largely due to the sensible advice and infallible information supplied to me by these women. Had it not been for their vigilance and timely warnings, I would have made many blunders which might have led to my downfall. Every day at their shops added a valuable page to my experience and knowledge of this difficult region and its people.

The wine supplied by the wine-shops in Likiang was not imported or bottled in glass bottles. It was made entirely by the home method at each particular shop and according to an age-old formula which was kept secret. There were three kinds. The clear white wine, called zhi, was made from wheat and it was equivalent in potency and taste to gin. The sweet yintsieu was made of sugar, honey, wheat and something else, and was amber yellow, clear, and tasted rather like Tokay or sweet sherry. The older it was, the better was the bouquet. Then there was the plum wine, reddish and rather thick, which reminded me of Balkan sliwowitz. It was quite potent and I could not stand much of it. I preferred the yintsieu of a special old vintage which was best at Madame Lee’s and cost a little extra, though the highest price per cup was only five cents. Anyone who wanted to take wine home had to bring his own jar or bottle. Bottles were very precious in Likiang, and an empty one might cost as much as two dollars.

Madame Lee was an old woman, very erect, stately and handsome, with aquiline features and large lustrous eyes. She belonged to the cream of Likiang society and was much respected both in the town and in the villages. Everybody knew her and she knew everybody. Her husband was a big, handsome old man with a long grey beard. He was purely ornamental and never interfered with the affairs of the shop; whenever she went out and he had to take over he felt utterly lost and was as helpless as a child. He could not even find the right jar of yintsieu and I and my boon companions had to help ourselves. The couple had a son who was a school-teacher: he was married and had a daughter and an infant son. The daughter-in-law was a husky, simple soul and dutifully stayed at the back of the house, working hard. It was the old man who looked after the little girl and nursed the baby, which was always in his arms and yelled when his mother took him away for feeding. Old Mr Lee also lent a hand in cooking, as was the custom with all Likiang husbands. He was always to be found in the back room, lolling on the bed or brewing tiny pots of tea, which he liked very much. Perhaps he did a little opium smoking too, but it was mostly for the sake of sociability.

Madame Lee was one of the most efficient and hard-working women I have ever seen. Besides presiding from morning till night over the shop, she also supervised the preparation of the stock-in-trade which consisted of a great battery of large jars with sauerkraut, pickled cucumbers, plums, peach, orange and quince marmalade, not to speak of wine. Everything was made at home with the help of the daughter-in-law. It was no surprise at all to meet Madame Lee carrying, early in the morning, a heavy sack of wheat or a basket of plums from a nearby village. Besides all these chores, there was the seasonal slaughter of pigs and the salting of hams, pigs’ heads and pieces of pork for home use and for sale. She sometimes complained that she was tired, but at the same time she said that she was glad still to be able to work at the age of sixty-three.

Everything Madame Lee made was first-class, clean and tasty. We could not live without her pickles, marmalades and jams, her succulent hams, Rocquefort-like beancurd cheese and palate-titillating sweet and sour garlic.

Likiang was a wonderfully free place, especially in commerce and industry. There were no excise taxes to be paid on home-made liquor or anything else manufactured either at home or at the factory, and no licences or permits to be taken out for selling it. People were entirely free to make what they liked, sell whatever they liked and wherever they liked, in the market, in the street or on the premises.

Although Madame Lee’s shop opened at nine or ten in the morning she was too busy to appear until later. The shop remained unattended and anyone could come in, help himself to whatever he needed and leave the purchase money on the inner counter. This was true of the other shops in Likiang, and I never heard of this privilege being abused by the people or of this money being stolen.

It was not easy to get a seat at Madame Lee’s shop in the late afternoon. In an emergency she permitted me to sit behind the counter on a small stool, facing the other customers. Men and women came to have a drink or two before starting on their trek back to the village: but in accordance with Nakhi customs, no woman sat down in company with a man. Women usually took their drinks standing in front of the shop and chatting meanwhile with Madame Lee. It was quite common for a woman to treat men to drinks; nobody tried to prevent her from paying the bill. As soon as his drink was finished, a man would go and somebody else would drop into his place. It was wonderful to sit at the back of the shop in comparative gloom, and watch through the wide window the movement in the narrow street, as though seeing on a screen a colour film of surpassing beauty. Sooner or later everybody who had attended the market session had to pass through Main Street at least once or twice. Old friends could be seen and invited for a drink or new acquaintances made. Any stranger could be waved to and asked to share a pot of wine, without any ceremony of introduction, and I was sometimes stopped in the street by total strangers and offered a cigarette or a drink. No such liberties were allowed for women, but now and then one of them, who knew me well, would slap me on the shoulder and say, ‘Come and let us have a drink!’ and she would have to take her drink standing up so as to avoid a local scandal.

With the deep blue sky and brilliant sunshine, the street was a blaze of colour, and as we sat and sipped our wine from Madame Lee’s porcelain cups, mountain youths, in the sheer joy of life, would dance through the street playing flutes like the pipes of Pan. They looked wild woodland creatures in their sleeveless skin jerkins and short skin pants. A woman would slowly lead on a leash a couple of truculent pigs whose progress was slow and erratic. They would get tangled with passing horses or try to push between somebody’s legs, and there would be screams, laughter and imprecations from the outraged passers-by. A caravan would appear suddenly from behind a bend and women shopkeepers would rush to collect and protect their wares. The horses, heavily loaded with firewood, jostled men and women with baskets and stopped now and then before the shops whilst their owners tried to strike a bargain.

The company I met at Madame Lee’s wine-shop was extremely diverse and interesting. Sometimes I sat in the company of a rich lama, a poor Boa, an even poorer Chungchia, men from Lotien, well-to-do Nakhi landowners from a nearby village and a Minkia caravan driver. At other times it might have been rich Tibetans, White Lolos, and other tribesmen similarly mixed up. There was no snobbery on the part of the wealthy or influential men and no subservience or cringing on the part of the poor. They all drank their fill quietly, smoked and talked, if they could understand each other. More often than not they invited me to a round of drinks and then I had to do the same. At the beginning I made some faux pas with those who looked very poor, by trying to pay both for my own orders and for the drinks they had stood me. The reaction in each case was swift and devastating.

‘Do you mean that I am not worthy to stand a drink to a friend?’ one man exclaimed indignantly.

‘Do you take me for a beggar?’ another fumed.

‘I am as good as you are, and if I stand the drink, I mean it!’ was the retort from a third.

Thereafter I was very careful not to offend the amour-propre of these proud and independent people. Nothing enraged them so much as an implication of superiority.

I must however, admit that Madame Lee was a little snobbish, and did not encourage drinking at her shop by primitive tribesmen or by men whom she considered to be notoriously bad or thievish. She had her own marvellous intelligence system and knew exactly who was who. Sometimes I brought some new village acquaintance for a drink, only to be reproved later on and admonished not to have any connection with ‘that crook’. At first I was sceptical of her judgment, but later on I learned to value her opinion very highly. If she said a man was bad, I invariably had proof at a later date to that effect. Gradually she pointed out to me all the more undesirable characters of Likiang and the countryside. Some of them were sons of rich parents who had become notorious rakes, opium smokers, gamblers and even thieves. Others were village bullies who also smoked opium, gambled and were not above burglary or theft when opportunity offered, and I sometimes lost articles at my house when these rogues called on the pretext of wanting treatment for some ailment. But she sometimes became quite enthusiastic about some exotic tribesman sitting at her shop. I owe many friendships to her introduction.

I never saw any brawling in Likiang wine-shops and certainly never at Madame Lee’s bar. But this is not to say that there were no quarrels in the town, for the people of Likiang were very sensitive and easily offended. Now and then a passionate quarrel would arise between two women or men in which their neighbours would take part. The women would shout dreadful things at each other and then burst out crying bitterly. Then the neighbours would step in and the parties would be speedily pacified and parted. Some quarrels, however, lasted throughout the day and night, with constant screaming, swearing and fighting. So many obscenities and insults were heaped on each other that it was beyond my understanding how the parties could ever look each other in the face again.

Occasionally something would happen to shock or amuse the town. Once, I remember, a stark-naked man appeared in the market and proceeded leisurely up Main Street. I was sitting at Madame Lee’s. He went from shop to shop, asking for a drink or a cigarette. Women spat and turned away their faces but nothing was done to stop him. The truth was that the brazen Likiang women could hardly be shocked by anything, but they had to put on some show of modesty and embarrassment in order to avoid acid and biting gibes from the men. A policeman was never to be seen in the streets, and it was only at the end of the day, when somebody bothered to rout one out from the police station, that the demented man was led away. He was not jailed, for there were no laws or statutes in Likiang about indecency in public. Such matters were largely decided by public opinion. One could always go a few hundred yards towards the park and see dozens of naked Tibetans and Nakhi swimming in the river or lying on the grass in the sun in full view of the passers-by and in front of the houses. There was a lot of giggling and whispering amongst the passing women and girls, but there were no complaints. A line, however, had to be drawn against nakedness in the public market.

Another embarrassing case happened at Madame Lee’s shop one afternoon when I had retired there after a busy day. I was sitting with friends, sipping wine, and Madame Lee was busy with her chores. A poor mountain man came and stood at the door. Madame Lee asked him what he wanted. He said that he wanted me to examine him and give him medicine, as I had already earned a reputation for medical knowledge and was known to keep a cabinet of essential medicines in my office. This I always refused to do when I was at the wineshops, as I did not want to turn them into clinics, thereby interfering with legitimate business. Madame Lee told him to come and see me on the following day at my office.

‘What is wrong with you?’ she asked casually. Before we could realize what was happening, the man let his trousers down to exhibit an intimate part of his anatomy. Madame Lee’s face reddened. Quickly she snatched a feather duster and struck the man.

‘Get out of here, you fool!’ she ordered peremptorily. But the damage had already been done. Madame Ho, who had a confectionery shop opposite, hooted with laughter. Madame Lee pretended to be very angry and reviled the stupid man. The story spread all over the town, and I was asked for full details about the incident at Madame Yang’s rival wine-shop and at Madame Ho’s.

Madame Yang’s bar was definitely of a lower order compared with Madame Lee’s. It was not even a shop at all, but rather a small space in the arched gateway of a new house that was being built. It was by a small stone bridge which crossed the clear stream of the upper canal, and the market square opened just below the steps of the bridge. Right in front was the busy street which led up and across our hill in one direction and to Double Stone Bridge in another. It was a very busy and highly strategic corner. A small low table stood near the wall just by the bridge and there were a few low benches. The rest of the space was occupied by stocks of new baskets, wooden buckets and tubs in which Madame Yang dealt. Behind was a courtyard and the house itself, partly finished. I used to sit at the table while Madame Yang sat on the stone step, sewing a garment or sorting out something. At first she had been very embarrassed to let me drink at her place. She thought it was very undignified for me, and bad business for her, as my presence might scare away her shy clientele. After a couple of weeks, however, everybody got used to me and I became a feature of the place.

Madame Yang was a shy, middle-aged woman. She was a widow and worked very hard to support her large family. But, by the very nature of her business, her profits were not big and she always complained of the shortage of capital. Once she had to ask me for a loan of fifty dollars, which I lent her. She specialized in catering to the poorest and most primitive tribes who lived in far mountain villages and hamlets, in Lotien and along the little-known Yangtze tributaries. She knew all the Boa, Chungchia and Miao, White Lolos and Lissu, and was friendly with the gnome-like Szechuanese squatters who lived in the forests of the Snow Range and in the strange village of Ngyiperla, in the awesome Atsanko Gorge, 11,000 feet deep, through which the great river roars in perpetual semi-darkness. The Minkia girls from Chiuho and Chienchwang were also numbered among her clients. She was very kind and had not the heart to beat down too much the semi-naked, shivering little men and women, who came sometimes from some far-off place, hardly known even by name to the local people, and whose only stock-in-trade was a small bagful of strange roots or a couple of crudely made little benches. I liked Madame Yang’s bar more than any other wine-shop in Likiang, because here I was in the very midst of the drama of the helpless and declining tribes, and could watch their hopes and disappointments, and, perhaps, help a little in an unobtrusive way.

It was a hard existence for these slow-witted and incompetent people. They had lost their grip on life long ago and now did not know how to recover it. They were hungry, unclad and cold, and nothing they did helped to fit them again into the world. Their efforts to survive were pitiful and futile, because nothing they made or produced was vital any more to the changing economy of the world. Likiang was their world and Likiang was no longer primitive. Who wanted their crude benches or herbs? And, if somebody did, it was for almost nothing. What could they buy for their home with a few pennies earned after days of marching through drizzling rain or in biting wind? Of course, these unfortunates were not the only people who came to Madame Yang’s. There were others, much more alive and dynamic in spite of their primitive dress and appearance, such as the mysterious Attolays from the Nanshan, who although clad only in skins, were tall, handsome, energetic and with a sparkle in their eyes. They looked like forest gods who had descended from their green glades for a spree among the mortals, and who could hardly restrain themselves from playing flutes and pipes, and dancing all the time.

At first the Attolays ignored me completely. They were very sensitive and as proud as the Black Lolos. I always wached them arrive for the market session. The men came first on splendid mules. The women followed afterwards, loaded with new baskets and wooden buckets for sale. They wore turbans and thick sheepskin capes with red woollen tippets on the shoulders, which the men sometimes wore too. This, I learned later, meant that they intended to stay overnight either at Likiang or at some midway village, using the capes as sleeping-bags. The women deposited their wares at Madame Yang’s and returned from time to time with likely customers. When they failed to sell all their goods in one day, they left the remainder in Madame Yang’s hands. Late in the afternoon both the men and women returned and enjoyed a drink. Afterwards the men rode off and the women started their weary trek on foot, their baskets loaded with purchases, topped by a heavy jar of the white wine, filled up by Madame Yang. They seldom reached their villages the same day and stayed overnight at Lashiba near the big lake.

One evening I was shyly offered a cup of wine by an Attolay, and as we talked I discovered that his name was Wuking and that he came from the furthest village in the Nanshan. His family was very large and one of his uncles was a colonel in the Provincial Army who sometimes sent them money and gifts. I soon came to know many of the Attolays through him, and he and his friends, sometimes accompanied by their womenfolk, used to stay at my house. My clinical facilities were a great attraction to them and were widely used. Wuking and his friends loved music and often danced to Western records, adding their flutes and pipes to the music of the gramophone. I always sympathized with the Attolay women carrying those heavy baskets full of provisions and wine whilst their men went swaggering on horseback. One day I asked one of their women, who had just lifted a heavy basket on to her back:

‘Madame, why do you have to carry all these heavy loads while your men always go home on horseback almost empty-handed?’

She turned to me. ‘What woman,’ she said, ‘would like a tired husband at night?’

I was always surprised to see the vast amount of wine carried by the women each evening to their villages. I pointed this out to a woman one day.

‘Ah,’ she sighed, ‘husbands must be pleased. Without a husband a woman is nothing, however rich and powerful she may be.’

The stone slabs of the market-place and the blocks of Main Street had been worn down and polished by centuries of walking. Poor Tibetans, in their top-boots with soft soles of uncured leather, walked like cows on ice. If a man tried to walk fast, he landed on the ground with his feet high in the air. The whole market shook with laughter and applause at such a misadventure. If a man fell off his horse, or was pushed into a canal, or a woman spilled her basket of eggs on the stones, the first impulse of everyone was to break into laughter. I was always surprised by this mirth over the misfortunes of others, but the people were not really cruel at heart and soon went to the assistance of the victim.

Nor, indeed, were all the incidents comical. Going to buy a box of matches once from Madame Yang’s neighbour, I saw in the corner of that shop what I thought was a Tibetan from some remote country, perhaps Hsiangchen. The man cowered and shivered, looking at me with terrified eyes. Some girls shouted a warning. As I leaned over the counter to take the matches, he gave a piercing yell and sprang at me with a dagger. It was due to the lightning action of the girls, who grabbed him, that I was not seriously stabbed. He had never seen a European in his life and thought I was the incarnation of a malignant yidam.

The shops around Madame Yang’s were filled with merry girls, who assisted their mothers or married sisters in running the shops and at the same time acted as exchange brokers in their own right. Between spells of business they sat on the doorsteps, knitting loud-coloured woollen sweaters or embroidering, in multi-coloured silks, the seven stars which every Nakhi woman, married or unmarried, wears on the back of her traditional sheepskin jacket — the small pelerine — which protects her back from the eternal basket she carries. The fur is inside and a woollen tippet of dark blue colour covers the shoulders on the outside. These pretty circlets are about two inches in diameter. Formerly there were two larger circles, representing the sun and moon, but they were now no longer worn.

These girls were carefree, impudent and eternally gay; and sometimes they were naughty. But at heart they were kind and their business acumen was prodigious. There was one group of about eight who formed a sort of club, always sitting and gossiping together. The youngest was Atsousya, about sixteen years old. She was pretty, very fair and puckish. Her cousin Anisya was about twenty. Her face was rounded and very white, with golden hair and green eyes. She was extremely sophisticated, and there was nothing that she did not know about the town and people. Another was dark-haired and bosomy, called Aszeha, with great smouldering eyes; then there was the heavy-featured and husky Ahouha and the gentle Lydya.

I did not know the others well, but always admired the beautiful Fedosya who presided over a spice stall in the market. She was already married and, with her black round mitre, which is the distinctive headdress of the married women, she looked exactly like Queen Nefertiti. I showed her the photograph of the bust of the famous and long-dead Egyptian queen and she herself admitted that the resemblance was remarkable. Madame Yang’s own marriageable daughter Afousya was in league with these girls. But Afousya was very busy, assisting her mother, and had little time to participate in the gossip or pranks of the other girls. She was a sallow-faced, unfriendly girl and always screamed at her mother’s clients at the top of her voice. I do not think she liked my presence at the shop and we always maintained a polite feud. Whenever she became too obstreperous I used to remind her that no husband would like a girl of her temper, which usually subdued her for a while.

Atsousya and Anisya always watched for my arrival at Madame Yang’s and begged me for a cup of the sweet yintsieu. Afterwards the other girls would come up and it was difficult to refuse them a drink too. Finally I found the drain on my finances too heavy.

‘Look, Atsousya!’ I said one day, ‘I cannot really stand drinks to all of you every day.’

‘But you are rich,’ she pouted.

‘I am not rich,’ I said, ‘and I do not think I can afford coming here.’

Anisya came up.

‘Let us make a compact,’ she said, ‘that one day you treat us and the next day we treat you.’ So we agreed. But it did not work out like that; so I promised to give them drinks on Saturdays only. Even this arrangement was not strictly observed and, when I was happy over some good news, I invited them to an extra cup or two. Ahouha’s grandmother, who passed in the evening from the market, was much flattered when I offered her also a cup of wine. She was eighty-five but still hale and hearty, and would give me a peach or an apple in exchange.

Like all Nakhi women and girls, Atsousya and Anisya were absolutely uninhibited and frank to a point of brutality. They were steeped in local scandals and related them to me with such gusto and enthusiasm that I, hardened as I was, could not suppress a blush. Soon they seized upon my sessions at Madame Lee’s shop.

‘You are in love with her, that’s what it is,’ they announced triumphantly one day. ‘Be careful! Her husband is very jealous,’ they warned. Silly as the joke was, the whole town picked it up, and some people winked at me knowingly when I said that I was going to Madame Lee’s for a drink.

Both Atsousya and Anisya could not believe that I was unmarried.

‘I am still looking for a wife,’ I jokingly assured them.

‘Atsousya, why not marry me?’ I asked her one day.

‘Phew!’ she spat. ‘It’s better to be a young man’s slave than an old man’s darling,’ she said.

‘Am I really so old and ugly?’ I insisted.

‘Of course, with your bald head and eye-glasses you look like eighty,’ she replied brutally.

‘What about Anisya?’ I continued.

‘Anisya has a husband already and the marriage will take place soon,’ she confided to me.

Indeed, in a few weeks’ time Anisya disappeared, and only much later I caught a glimpse of her in her married woman’s attire. She looked unhappy and was much thinner. In a month’s time she resumed her old place by the bridge.

‘What happened?’ I asked Atsousya.

‘I’ll tell you,’ she said, ‘but don’t tell her I let you know.’ Then she whispered, ‘Anisya is being divorced.’ I was surprised.

In a week or two one of my friends, Wuhan, who also knew the girls, told me that there had been a court case about the divorce. ‘Why do you want to separate from your husband?’ the judge asked. Anisya boldly stepped out and said, ‘Your Honour, my husband is only a small boy and I shall be an old woman by the time he grows up. I cannot wait.’ As this was more or less the truth, the judge granted the petition at once. Then, stepping down from the dais, he approached Anisya, and according to Wuhan said, ‘Anisya, all my life I have been waiting for a woman like you. I am a widower and I want to marry you.’ The marriage took place in a fortnight and this time Anisya abandoned our little circle for ever. But sometimes we saw her, as a richly dressed young woman, the wife of a judge, passing through the market and greeting her old friends.

After six o’clock the market gradually emptied, and at seven the shops put up their shutters. The market stalls were gathered into a pile again. The streets became deserted, and it was time for dinner.

It was only after eight o’clock in the evening that Main Street began to fill up with people again, and the shops reopened. Some had ordinary oil lamps flickering with reddish light; others were lighted with pressure lanterns or carbide lamps. Pine torches were put up at intervals, while crowds of people promenaded to and fro, cracking sunflower or pumpkin seeds. On bright moonlit nights the street was jammed. Unmarried girls, locally called pangchinmei, in their best dresses and adornments, walked arm in arm in rows of four or five girls, just wide enough to block the street. In this way they charged up and down the street, giggling, singing and cracking their sunflower seeds. The unwary young man was soon engulfed by these Amazons and led away to an unknown fate. The more sophisticated boys lined the walls and doors of the shops and made comments on the marching beauties. From time to time a group of girls paused before one of them, there was a scuffle, a brief and ineffectual struggle, and off he was led, imprisoned in the ring of giggling and screaming furies. The destination of these prisoners, probably only too willing, was the park where dancing continued till midnight on the meadows by the river around the brightly burning bonfires.

Madame Lee’s shop was usually open at night, but with a different clientele, made up mostly of the local blue-bloods, who refreshed themselves with wine before venturing into the perils of promenading, unescorted, on the street. The ordinary villagers and Tibetans, awed by these elegant, love-making crowds, walked slowly, also in rows and with arms linked. They usually scattered when the girls’ brigades crashed purposely into them. There was some screaming and laughter, but no one really minded. The silvery moon smiled down from above, and fragrant smoke floated up to it from the pine torches. Later the market square was slowly transformed into an encampment by the erection of several large tents. Stoves were set up and benches and tables spread out on the stone floor. Delicious odours began to rise from a mass of pots and pans.

I would sit in one of these tents sometimes till midnight, browsing over a bowl of dumplings or noodles and watching heavily armed Tibetan caravan drivers or tribesmen. Eating in these tents was considered by the more sedate townspeople as a little dangerous. Sometimes bandits were present in exotic disguises, and brawls between drunken men were not unusual. On a very dark night, one of the girls near Madame Yang’s shop would give me a bunch of the brightly burning mingtze to help me to find my way across the hill.

Down in the Tibetan quarter was Madame Ho’s bar, high-class and exclusive in the sense that she catered mostly for the Tibetan trade. Her house was one of the most palatial mansions in the Tibetan section. Two of her sons were in Lhasa where they had a prosperous import and export firm. The youngest son, who was at school, was a silly and cheeky youth and always teased me with tactless questions. Her husband was a podgy, middle-aged man, who smoked opium most of the day and was seldom seen in the shop. Her greatest help came from her grown-up, apple-cheeked daughter, also called Anisya.

Madame Ho was a plump and motherly middle-aged woman, full of gaiety and risque jokes. Her shop was a replica of Madame Lee’s and she kept it really as a retreat from ennui, in addition to her legitimate business. Her house was one of the largest in the town and it had three separate courtyards, neatly paved with stone slabs and decorated with flowers and shrubs in huge porcelain pots standing on carved pedestals. The whole house was exquisitely carved inside, spotlessly clean and beautifully appointed, and there were spacious stables attached to the main building. She had taken me early under her wing and afterwards assisted me to solve many of my problems. Her information was in no way less reliable man Madame Lee’s but, unlike that prim old lady, she loved to discuss scandals, and punctuated her lurid recitals with pithy comments on the parties involved. The result was that I always left her shop with my sides aching from laughter. She showered me with gifts, sometimes a cut of ham or a pot of specially brewed wine or some new cabbages she had received from Atuntze. I repaid her with free medical advice for her children or with seedlings of American flowers or vegetables especially beetroot, though the Nakhi did not like them to eat saying that they were too sweet for a vegetable. One evening Anisya appeared with flaming red cheeks, and I remarked that she used too much rouge. It was not the rouge, Madame Ho explained, but the juice of beetroots which Anisya had applied to advantage. The crazy fashion spread, and afterwards the beetroots were cultivated by Anisya and her friends not for eating but for the sake of the cosmetic value of their juice.

The best time to go to Madame Ho’s bar was after dinner. It was then crowded with the Tibetan merchants who stayed at her house. She always made a point of introducing me to them. These were very pleasant encounters and we always talked late into the night. Obsequious Tibetan servants appeared from time to time bringing some delicacies to go with the wine. Once there appeared a lama from Tongwa, with a big caravan and many trapa servants. He was as gross as he was powerful, and was, in addition, a great flirt. He scandalized even free and easy-going Likiang and the pangchinmei scattered, screaming and laughing in mock fear, when he tried to charge into their groups in the park. He even made eyes at Madame Ho, while drinking wine with me, and this reduced her to loud laughter. I teased Anisya afterwards. ‘Why don’t you marry him, you would be an abbess?’ I suggested.

‘Why don’t you marry Madame Lee?’ she came back at me like lightning.

Many rich caravans arrived at Madame Ho’s house with introductions from her son in Lhasa. The caravan owners were courteously and cordially welcomed by Madame Ho and allocated spacious and comfortable quarters. Their horses and personal servants were also comfortably disposed of in the same building. The rest of the caravan drivers and horses either stayed with neighbours, if there was room, or camped along the road leading to my village. Further arrivals were treated in the same manner until the house was filled. But no merchant was permitted to feel cramped. The Tibetans like ample space, and several rooms for the exclusive use of two or three merchants was the rule. A profusion of expensive ornaments in silver and brass, burnished braziers and plenty of costly rugs were necessary to keep up the dignity of a Tibetan merchant and ensure his comfort. Good food was essential too, and it was served to each company separately in their apartments. The  servants were left to their own devices in the matter of board.

Once in a while Madame Ho would give a regular feast for her merchant guests, to which I was usually invited. The food was ordered from a caterer and was stereotyped. But soon after the meal had ended the caravan men came, accompanied by their women friends. A small bonfire was lit in the courtyard and little tables were placed in the corners with jars of white wine and cups. Singing and clapping their hands, the men and women, confronting each other, went into lively dances. From time to time they refreshed themselves with a cup or two of wine. Faster and faster went the dancers the more they drank, until the dance became confused and changed into open flirtation. Similar dances went on in all encampments, and all through the night snatches of rhythmic singing floated into my windows.

Besides this spontaneous dancing by caravan men, there appeared from time to time small troupes of the Khamba vaudeville actors. They consisted of two or three women and about the same number of men. They had, as a distinctive mark, strings of beads suspended from their belts and they carried one-string violins, pipas (mandolins), flutes, tambourines and small drums. They went from house to house, and for a small fee, fifty cents or a dollar, they gave a lively performance, lasting about half an hour, of singing and whirlwind dancing. For a larger fee, they could drum and dance tor a whole day if required. They stayed at Likiang a month or two, depending on business, and then moved on elsewhere, here was real artistry in their performances. The Tibetan merchants who stayed at Madame Ho’s did not pay for accommodation or food, although they remained usually for a month or two in Likiang. But Madame Ho earned a commission on the sale of their goods, probably from both sides, and that took care of the expenses of her hospitality. Once or twice a year one of her sons came himself from Lhasa with a caravan. The goods, if not sold at Likiang, were dispatched by caravan to Hsiakwan. But Madame Ho did not accompany them there herself, for no Likiang business woman ever cared to extend her operations or travel so far.

The arrival of the members of a certain matriarchic tribe, living about seven days by caravan north of Likiang, always created a furore in Likiang. Whenever these men and women passed through the market or Main Street on their shopping expeditions, there was indignant whispering, giggling and squeals of outraged modesty on the part of Likiang women and girls, and salacious remarks from men. They were the inhabitants of the Yungning duchies across the Yangtze at the apex of the great bend. The Nakhi called them Liukhi and they called themselves Hlihin. The structure of their society was entirely matriarchal. The property passed from mother to daughter. Each woman had several husbands and the children always cried, ‘We have mama but no papa.’ The mother’s husbands were addressed as uncles and a husband was allowed to stay on only as long as he pleased the woman, and if he didn’t, could be thrown out without much ceremony. The Yungning country was a land of free love, and all efforts of the Liukhi women were concentrated on enticing more lovers in addition to their husbands. Whenever a Tibetan caravan or other strangers were passing Yungning, these ladies went into a huddle and secretly decided where each man should stay. The lady then commanded her husbands to disappear and not to reappear until called. She and her daughters prepared a feast and danced for the guest. Afterwards the older lady bade him to make a choice between ripe experience and foolish youth.

They were a handsome race, tall and stately, with finely formed bodies and attractive faces. They were not unlike the Noble Lolos but, whilst the Lolos resembled more the classical Romans with their stern and aquiline features, the Liukhi were more of a classical Grecian type, warmer and softer and much less harsh in appearance and deportment. Like the Lolo women, their women wore long, full skirts of blue colour, red sash and a black fur jacket or a peplos, and hats or turbans. Sometimes they went uncovered, their hair done in Roman style, held in place by hair-nets. With their lips heavily rouged and eyes painted, they walked slowly, or rather undulated, through the streets, swaying their hips, smiling and casting an amorous eye on this man or that. That alone was enough to incense the less sophisticated Nakhi women. But when they walked slowly along hanging on the neck of a husband or a lover, and being held by the waist, this was too much for even the brazen Nakhi women, who spat or giggled nervously.

The Liukhi men appeared to be vain creatures, always preening and examining themselves in the mirror. They put rouge on their lips and powdered their cheeks and sometimes called at my place not so often for medical treatment as to inquire if I could give them some perfume, powder or cheap ornament. Turning around in front of me they would inquire whether they looked attractive enough. This was not so much a sign of effeminacy as of vanity and a desire to keep themselves spruce and smart-looking in a luxurious way that appealed to their womenfolk.

The Nakhi men were on the whole impervious to the charms of the Liukhi women. They were not insensitive to their wiles or beauty, but they knew well enough that most of the Liukhi tribe was infected with venereal disease, and it was only this dread of almost certain infection that made the Nakhi and other sensible men give a wide berth to the Liukhi enchantresses.

Only twice was my path crossed by Liukhi women and in both cases it resulted in a mild scandal. Once, passing Madame Yang’s shop during the day, I was called by a well-dressed Liukhi woman who was sitting there drinking. She invited me to have a cup. I sat down. She said that she was from Yungning and that her name was Kwaisha. She was in Likiang on business, selling some gold and musk. She paid for my drink, for which I thanked her and then went away, not thinking much more of the encounter. In a few days she came to my general office and, in the presence of all my staff, told me that she thought she had syphilis. I explained to her that if that was the case, she must have an intramuscular injection in the small of her back. Before we realized what she was doing, she had lifted her skirts and lay prone, naked on our large office table.

‘Madame,’ I said to her, ‘please get up and cover yourself,’ and then I explained to her that the injections had to be made in a special room and only if she came escorted by some female companions.

She came back later and was duly treated. Some time afterwards Madame Lee told me that Kwaisha came to her shop and got so drunk that she collapsed, and with great difficulty was removed with the aid of two Tibetans. I never saw her again but heard from Madame Lee that she had got entangled with a group of Tibetans, and was killed by a stone thrown by one of them during a quarrel for the possession of her charms.

On the second occasion two Liukhi women came into my office leading an old man. The elder one said, ‘Please cure him. He is our uncle.’ I examined the old man, who was very repulsive. He had ichthyosis — a rare and very difficult disease about which I knew little and for which I had no adequate medicines. I explained the situation to the women through my chief clerk, Prince Mu. The elder one stepped forward and said, ‘You must cure him! You must! As a reward, I will pass the night with you.’

‘Madame, I assure you that I can do nothing in that case,’ I said, ignoring her offer. She appeared exasperated.

‘Look!’ she said again. ‘Both I and my sister will spend the night with you.’

I began to feel like St Anthony of Padua. The neighbours, who had drifted in, and my office staff could hardly contain themselves.

‘Madame,’ I said firmly, ‘I am sorry I can neither cure the old man nor accept your generous offer,’ and walked out of the office, leaving it to my people to get the disappointed women out.

For weeks afterwards I was teased in the market and in the wine-shops, for it was a scandal after the Nakhi’s own heart.


Descending from the pass, the loveliness of the valley hit me with staggering force, as it always did when I made this journey to Likiang in spring-time. I had to dismount and contemplate this scene of paradise. The air was like champagne; the weather, warm but with a tinge of freshness that came from the great Snow Range dominating the valley. Mount Satseto sparkled in the setting sun, a dazzling white plume waving from its top. Storms were raging high up there and the powdered snow was whirling up into the air like feathers on a cap. Below, everything was serene. Pink and white groves of blossoming peach- and pear-trees, interspersed with feathery bamboos, all but concealed white and orange houses of scattered hamlets. Roses were everywhere. The hedges were a mass of clusters of small double white ones: big white, pink and yellow climbing roses hung from trees and roofs: dwarf single roses spread themselves on meadows and clearings. The scent was overpowering and exciting. The fields were green with winter wheat, and between them ran deep, crystal-clear streams of icy water. Dark water plants waved in them like strands of hair. The water from glaciers divided and subdivided into innumerable streams and canals, and made the Likiang plain one of the best irrigated areas in the world. The gurgling of these swift brooks, the singing of larks and other birds was like the music of gods. The road twisted in and out of hamlets.

Likiang itself could not be seen: it was hidden behind a small hill, on the top of which a red and white temple was clearly visible. Crowds of peasants of the Nakhi tribe that predominated in Likiang were returning from the market: smiling men and women led horses, and we could hear their chattering and singing well ahead. Many of them knew me and their greetings were spontaneous and joyous, their faces red from the customary drink they had taken before returning home. Wine in clay jars was carried on horses and by women in their baskets, to be consumed during the cold evenings in the mountains. A group of young men, clad in short pants and jerkins of deerskin, appeared from behind a bend, playing on reed pipes and singing. They were the Attolays -a mysterious tribe living deep in the heart of the Nanshan range — who greeted me affectionately. There was a jumble of sounds ahead — tinkling of bells, clanging of iron, shouts, and tramping of animals. It was a Tibetan caravan coming from the city. Soon its owners came up on their broad, shaggy ponies. They were two Tibetan gentlemen, resplendently clad in red silk shirts and heavy coats tied at the waist by sashes, and wearing gold-embroidered hats.

Aro, konan ndro? (Where are you going ?)’ I greeted them in Tibetan.

Lhasa la (to Lhasa),’ they grinned. Then, in perfect English one of them said, ‘Have a cigarette, sir!’ and offered me a packet of Philip Morris.

They went on slowly and soon the caravan came up. We pulled to the side of the road to let it pass. Unlike the Minkia caravans between Hsiakwan and Likiang, Tibetan caravans proceed unhurriedly and there is little danger of violent collisions. The horses and mules do not carry the heavy loads, of 140 to 180 lb., into Tibet, but only 80 to 100 lb.; unlike those in a Minkia caravan, the animals are unshod to prevent them from slipping on stone trails. The distance covered by a Tibetan caravan in a day is very short, twenty miles being the limit. The animals are looked after with loving care and always appear sleek and well fed. Light loads, short stages and plenty of fodder are imperative if the animals are to survive the trek of three months between Likiang and Kalimpong via Lhasa. There is no road, only a trail climbing and twisting up and down the steep mountains through dark rocky gorges, fording roaring glacier streams, sometimes wading in mud in tricky mountain bogs. Even with this care, mules and horses arrive at their destination exhausted and with hooves cut to pieces, and it takes a long time for them to recuperate.

The caravan we met was like any other typical Tibetan caravan. The leading horse wore a mask profusely studded with turquoise, corals, amethysts and small mirrors; red ribbons were arranged around its ears; and it carried a triangular orange flag, with green serrated border bearing a legend in Tibetan meaning ‘Likiang-Kalimpong direct transit.’ Each unit of twenty animals was accompanied by a walking Tibetan with a rifle, and a huge mastiff with a red woollen lei around his neck.

As we passed through the villages on the outskirts of the town the women in the wine-shops waved and called us to have a drink. We had a cup of wine in each not to offend them. Greeted by neighbours, we slowly climbed half way up the hill and passed through the gate into a flower-filled courtyard. We were at home.

Our house was old but still in good condition, and spacious. All houses in Likiang had two storeys and were built with three or four wings, or more. Big or small, the architecture never varied. The lower part was of sunbaked bricks, whitewashed on the outside or coloured in orange, yellow or even light blue, according to the owner’s fancy, with elegant borders traced in black or blue. In the centre there was a stone-flagged courtyard with three stone-lined raised flowerbeds. The lower rooms in the middle of each wing had four or six doors all beautifully carved in filigree. Other rooms had either carved or latticed windows. The back of the rooms was wainscoted in wood to conceal the ugly bricks. The upper storey was one vast room, sometimes quite low, and it could be partitioned into as many small rooms as one wished. Since few Nakhi liked to stay upstairs, it was usually used as storage for provisions, crops and goods. There was no ceiling and, as the wooden walls never quite reached the roof, breezes circulated freely. It had a few windows in the outer wall and a continuous series of windows facing the courtyard which could be opened by tilting them upwards. As there was no glass but thin rice paper pasted on the lattice-work, like windows in Japanese houses, there was little protection in the evening, when the blasts of cold wind roared down from the Snow Mountain. The roof consisted of heavy clay tiles and the corners slightly curved upwards in the usual Chinese style. All tiles were of grey colour, but sometimes the monotony was broken by white lines along the border.

It was extremely difficult for a newcomer to Likiang to get a house to himself. At best, the offer was to share the house with the owner by taking one or two wings. This was very inconvenient on account of kitchen arrangements, children and prying eyes.

When I first came to Likiang I made it known that I must have a whole house for my office and myself. Weeks passed and then, by accident, I heard of one; but there was a fly in the ointment. The owner was adamant on one point — her distant relatives, an old couple, who acted as caretakers, and their only son must continue living at the house. I had to accept. I was gratified to find it so speedily but, knowing the housing situation in Likiang, I became suspicious both of the hasty offer and the very low rental. It was true the house was far from the centre, but it was a large house conspicuously located on the main road from Lhasa and would have been very convenient for an inn; yet it had remained empty for a very long time. Discreet inquiries amongst my newly made Nakhi friends and those of my Chinese cook from Shanghai, elicited the fact that the house was haunted. And more sinister particulars were whispered into my ear.

It appeared that the house had been a prosperous inn owned by an elderly widower. He married the present owner who, it was related to me, was pretty, vivacious and a notorious flirt. Evidently she had other ideas about married life as, in a couple of years’ time, the elderly man died in convulsions at night in one of the rooms on the ground floor. Bitterly weeping, the young widow assured people that he died of overeating. But, as he could not speak at all before he died, neighbours had a different notion. They were sure that his death was due to the classic Nakhi poison, the deadly black aconite boiled in oil. The onset of this merciless poison was characterized by a paralysis of the larynx. In convulsions the victim could only stare frantically at his helpless friends without being able to utter a word. There was no known antidote. The young widow, with a small son, was left alone to enjoy her gain. The inn continued to do its business, but its popularity declined. The Nakhi are superstitious people and few local travellers, hearing the tale, wanted to stay at so inauspicious a place.

One night a weary military officer from Kunming stumbled into the inn. The enchantress cooked him a delicious meal and poured out for him many a bowl of strong clear zhi. Flushed with wine, the man talked, and continued talking far into the night. He was retiring from his business, he said, and he had money; as a matter of fact, big money in his saddlebags. On the morrow he would continue the journey to his village, which he had not seen for many years, and where he would settle down, buy land and build a nice big house -perhaps as big as Madame’s; yes, and perhaps marry. The lady was very interested. It was late and there were no other guests. He drank more and more. He became amorous and she suggested a supper before retiring. She went into the kitchen and returned with a large bowl of delicious stewed pork, heavily seasoned with chillies, warm baba and appetizing titbits. After the meal she escorted him to his room. Late next morning she appeared very agitated. She explained to neighbours that one of her guests was still in the room and, in spite of her repeated calls for breakfast, there was no answer. They entered the room. The man was dead. There was an investigation, but nothing came out of it. Who cares much about a lonely stranger dying on the way, perhaps of a heart disease?

As no Nakhi would take the house, my arrival was God-sent. My cook implored me not to take it, saying we should all be dead in a year’s time. I only laughed and went to see the lady in her famous noodle-shop. She was presiding over a stove with two enormous cast-iron Chinese boilers out of which she ladled greyish noodles into bowls for the customers sitting inside the shop. She was middle-aged and her face was of an unhealthy greenish-grey colour. Her dress was filthy and the shop itself fully matched her sloppiness. But her eyes were remarkable — bold, roguish and full of cunning. Although willing to get rid of the house almost at any cost, her inborn greed overcame her. She named an exorbitant rental and for one year only. Next year it would be double, and so on; certain rooms were to be reserved for her use; the old couple had to stay; the house could be used for her receptions on certain festive and ceremonial occasions and any additions I might make would become her property at the expiration of the lease. I launched my counter-attack. I said I was a high government official and that, if I wanted to, I could apply for a requisition order; then she would get nothing. Besides, I continued, the house was haunted and, therefore, useless to anyone else. But I did not mind staying there because I was a Taoist initiate, had much experience in dealing with the spirits, and, through a series of seances, could rid the house of its ghosts and evil influences. However, it would be a slow business, and I intended to stay a long time. I was surprised to see how quickly she climbed down. She was beaming. She told me that the idea of cleansing the house of ghosts and influences through my intervention was the best news she had heard for years. She herself proposed a very low rental, only forty dollars a year, much less than I had expected, and a contract for six years, renewable for another like period. On my part I agreed to the old couple’s staying and to her use of the house for ceremonial occasions. Thus the deal was concluded and celebrated with a long drink of zhi on both sides.

I had the house cleaned, scrubbed and washed. The central room, where the unfortunates had expired, I made my general office. I partitioned the upper storey, facing the street, and made it my bedroom and my private office. The upper storey in the adjoining wing was made a guest-room.

A short climb along the stone-paved road led to the red temple on the top of the hill and to a wonderful view of the town and plains. Likiang lay snuggling between this hill and the foothills of the northern range opposite. It continued around the hill, spreading into the eastern valley and the main plain which sloped gently southwards. It was a sea of slate-grey roofs, with glimpses of orange, white and red walls of houses and official buildings. The square market-place below was packed with people and a babel of voices could be heard clearly. Trees and gardens were visible among the roofs and here and there a stream glistened in the sun.

The name Likiang means in Chinese the Beautiful River. This refers to the great River of the Golden Sand, more popularly known as the Yangtze, which flows to the west and east of the town and forms the vast loop in which Likiang is situated. The river is only twenty-five miles from the city in either direction, but it takes days to reach the apex of the loop in the north. The Nakhi call the town Ggubby. The epithet Beautiful River was more than deserved by both the river and town. Unlike most Chinese cities, Likiang had no wall. It was a large place as towns go in the sparsely populated Yunnan province. There has never been any census, but I reckoned that some 50,000 people lived in the town area. It was really a federation of closely knit villages and each street was called by the name of the village; for example, Main Street was Wobo village and the road on which I lived was Wuto village. The officious Chinese affixed to some streets such appellations as Chung Shan (Sun Yat Sen) Road and Chung Cheng (Chiang Kai Shek) Road, but no one paid attention to such innovations. Every town in China had streets with such names now probably changed into Mao Tse Tung and Stalin Streets.

Likiang was the seat of the Northwest Pacification Commissioner and the Magistrate, and enjoyed, therefore, a considerable standing in the Chinese officialdom. There was an efficient Police force, but policemen were seldom visible in the streets. If there was a brawl, it could always be settled by the intervention of the interested bystanders or neighbours. If it was a case of theft from a shop or house, it could always be reported direct to the police station at one’s convenience. If it was a pilferage from a food or sweetmeat stall, the culprit could always be chastised by the injured party, usually a woman, with a screaming barrage of most obscene words. Likiang was not civilized enough to have professional pickpockets or bank-robbers. Thousands of dollars in bank-notes or hundreds in silver were casually piled into open baskets by traders at one end of the town, the basket was hoisted on to the backs of women, slowly paraded through Main Street and the market and safely delivered at the other end of the town. Naturally everyone looked enviously and admiringly at the progress of this untold wealth within arm’s reach, but that was all. Only when a wife was stabbed by her husband, or vice versa, did the police run to the scene of the crime.

The descent from our hill down to the market below was gradual, along a cobbled street with a stone-flagged path in the centre. The street was lined by dilapidated shops in which beautiful brass padlocks, in native style, were made; or those of Tibetan boot-makers, and the sellers of food. The mean exteriors concealed handsome, carved living-quarters behind.

Further down, the road descended in steep curves, which I used to tell my friends was the ‘danger point’ on my walk to or from town. Here, on the steps of their houses, sat sturdy Nakhi matrons spinning wool, knitting, selling fruit or just gossiping. I have always addressed the ladies, of whatever race they might be, as Madame. It has always worked in China and, I thought, why should not I continue the practice in Likiang? A few days after we had settled in our new house and my walks to town became a daily occurrence, some of these women began greeting me every time I passed with ‘Zegkv bleu? (Where are you going?)’ I always smiled in return and said, ‘Madame.’ A few days later I addressed one of these women again as Madame. She rose and advanced towards me threateningly.

‘Every time you pass here you call us Manda! (fool),’ she exploded. ‘If you call us Manda again, I am going to give you a good beating,’ she raged. The others roared with laughter. I gathered my dignity and tried to explain.

‘Madame,’ I said, ‘I address you thus out of politeness. In Italian it is Ma Jama, which is the same as in Chinese Ma Ta Ma (Mother Big Mother). Even among the Nakhi, elderly ladies are addressed as Dama.’

Whether they understood or not, I continued to call them Madame and every time some of them pretended to be angry with me. ‘Again he called me Manda,’ one of them would scream. ‘Wait, we’ll get at you!” they chuckled. Indeed they kept their word. Sometimes they would snatch my walking-stick or pull me by the seat of my trousers. But whenever this happened, they were repentent at once and consoled me with an orange, a couple of walnuts or a drunken plum (plums soaked for months in strong wine). On dark nights they escorted me half the way up the hill with burning mingtze (pine torches).

At the foot of the hill the road divided. One branch continued along the canal, skirting the hill, and the other crossed a small stone bridge and entered the market-place. The market was a large square paved with cobble-stones in the centre and great stone slabs along the sides. It was probably the only market-place in the whole of China which was thoroughly washed every day, but this was done with the help of nature. Early in the morning the sluices of the canal which flanked the hill and was, therefore, slightly higher than other streams flowing through the city, were opened and about a foot of water was allowed to rush through the place for an hour or so. All rubbish was swept away by the water into a lower stream of the Likiang River at the other end of the market.

Likiang was covered by a network of these swiftly running streams which flowed at the backs of houses and, with the bridges, created an illusion of a miniature Venice. They were shallow and too swift for any navigation and, anyway, there were no boats in Likiang, but they served the town well, providing fresh water for all purposes. The streets of Likiang were paved with stone slabs or stone bricks and were scrupulously clean. Sweeping was frequent and thorough and the refuse was swept into the streams, which also received the rubbish from the houses. One might think that these streams and canals would get clogged and polluted in no time, but the water rushed unceasingly, crystal clear, and nothing but pebbles were seen on the bottom. The force of the current was so great that all and everything was immediately swept down the stream out of the town. It was only further down the valley, where the current became slow and opaque, that one noticed how unclean the river was. Whilst the people were indifferent to the dumping of rubbish into the water in the city, they were careful about upper reaches of the river and tried to prevent pollution by all available means. This was not difficult as the river originated in a beautiful park, a quarter of a mile away, at the foot of the Elephant Mountain — a name derived from its resemblance to a sleeping elephant. Here, out of the mouths of subterranean caverns, rushed sweet, ice-cold water from the glaciers of the Snow Range.

From the market-place one street branched off to the left and led to the houses of prominent merchants and to the yamen with its vermilion walls and red pillars. It was a long street and it merged gradually into the road leading to the Yangtze River. The street to the right was Main Street. Like all the streets in Likiang it was narrow and was paved with stone bricks closely fitted together. It was lined by a continuous row of shops, some bending backwards, some forwards, others leaning sideways on one another, as though frozen in an undulating and swaying movement of a ballet des boutiques. There were no pavements. Tibetan and Minkia caravans, going and coming from the busy market town of Hoking, thirty miles to the south, had to pass through this street and were a terror both to pedestrians and shopkeepers. Swinging loads scraped the shelves in front of the shops, sweeping the wares into the road, and scattering the baskets and pottery on sale by the roadside. The polished surface of the street was like ice, and the animals, with legs spreading, would sometimes crash to the ground, causing injury to some unlucky passer-by.

The shops were rather dark and mean. They had no plate-glass windows but only wooden counters, facing the street, with shelves below for the display of goods. Yet, considering that it was war-time, they were well stocked with all kinds of merchandise. Tibetan caravans were pouring in the goods from Calcutta, both for local consumption and for re-export to Kunming, at a prodigious rate. Best makes of British and American cigarettes were available and all kinds of textiles. Even new Singer sewing-machines could be bought. Of course, the prices were very high as the caravan is the most expensive mode of transport in the world. One shop had a small stock of imported beer at twenty-five dollars a bottle; few could aspire to buy such nectar. Matches cost fifty cents a box and were used only in emergencies. Some households always had a few live embers left in the stove from the previous day and neighbours would call in the morning to borrow a burning piece of charcoal. All the shops burned incense-sticks all day long at which smokers could light their pipes or cigarettes. Mountain people disdained matches even if offered. They always carried flint-locks and a supply of fluffy moss of which a tiny bit was placed on the tip of a cigarette or on to a pipe to catch the spark. Once I was trying to build a fire in rain and wind and had spent nearly two boxes of precious matches when a sympathetic mountain dweller came along and had the fire burning in no time at all.

The shops opened towards noon and the market-place began to function only in the afternoon. In the morning both the market-place and streets were deserted. Very few people had watches and there were few clocks. Even wealthy houses kept clocks more for decoration than for ascertaining the correct time. Indeed, there was no correct time. At the magistrate’s yamen the clock might show nine o’clock, at another place it might be eight or ten. Who cared? People judged the time by the sun. When the sun was well above the eastern mountains it was time to get up and cook breakfast. When it was high in the heavens it was the time to go to market. It was quite impossible to make exact appointments, and if you had told a man to come at eight he might turn up at ten or eleven, or even at noon.

The shops were run, with very few exceptions, by women. They knew exactly what you wanted, where to find it, and what last ditch discount could be granted after a vociferous bargaining. They were shrewd and aggressive and knew how to clinch a bargain. When the woman had to go away, she asked her husband to take over. He was usually to be found at the back of the shop nursing a child and his emergence was a calamity to the business and a trouble to himself. He did not know where matches were kept or where to find the pickles or in which jar was the required wine. In most cases he gave up and requested the customer to call again later when his wife had returned. Even professional male assistants in some big shops lacked ability and salesmanship, for they were inattentive and rude and, when an important deal seemed on the verge of being lost, they rushed and called their master’s wife to arbitrate.

The payment for merchandise was made in pangkais — Chinese silver half-dollars which were minted in Kunming specially for this region. Their value in the terms of American money was about eight pangkais to a dollar, but everybody had to look twice at the pangkais, for some of the newer vintage had more copper in them than silver and they were either rejected or accepted at a ruinous discount. During the last few years, preceding the fall of the Nationalist regime, Chinese paper money found its way into Likiang. It was brought by Hoking traders and government banks. These bank-notes were accepted reluctantly and not by everybody. Comparatively few people could read Chinese characters and one bank-note looked to them as good as another, and to simple mountain tribesmen some cigarette wrappers appeared like bank-notes. Many country folk were victimized by unscrupulous pedlars from Hoking and Tali. Ten-dollar notes were passed as hundred-dollar ones and hundred-dollar ones as thousands. I was constantly stopped in the street by peasants asking me to tell them whether it was a ten-dollar or a hundred-dollar note they had. Anyhow, the silver dollar always remained the basic currency and prices were calculated accordingly, and anyone with paper money always tried to convert it immediately into silver dollars. Exchange brokers flourished and they were invariably women.

The Tibetans, Lolos and other remote mountain tribesmen preferred to settle for their purchases in gold-dust, nuggets or the silver ingots they always carried with them. This procedure was most convenient and nobody suffered. The merchant, a woman of course, and the buyer would go to a goldsmith’s shop near by; the gold would be analysed and the required portion weighed or a quarter or a half of the crescent-shaped silver ingot sawn off. Gold, silver and coins were not kept in a bank, as there were no banks in Likiang worthy of the name. They were kept in strong wooden chests, padlocked with heavy native locks, in the inner rooms of the house or, particularly in the villages, buried in clay jars in a secret place under the floor.

One of the streets off Main Street led to the Copperware Square. It was lined entirely with coppersmithies and the din was terrific, with every smith in his shop beating on a vessel with all his might. Likiang copperware was beautiful, heavy and extremely durable. It was all hand-beaten and hand-burnished and it possessed a wonderful lustre. The square was literally ablaze with the vessels. The gold content was high, for the copper was mined in the rich gold-producing area along the River of the Golden Sand, a day’s journey from Likiang. There were classical Likiang water buckets of rounded form with stands; jugs and tea-kettles of all sizes; and fluted trays with brass inlays and borders, which were used for sending as ceremonial presents. The samovars, of which each household must have at least one to provide the eternal boiling water for interminable tea sessions, were different from Russian models, having only one big handle and a long spout instead of a tap. There were also innumerable houkous, large and small, of which, like the samovar, each house, rich or poor, must have at least one.

The houkou and, to a lesser degree, the samovar were the symbols of Nakhi happiness and enjoyment of life. Without them no social function, wedding or funeral, or picnic, could be complete. The meals, during the cold days of winter, would be cheerless indeed without the warm companionship of the houkou and samovar. The houkou is a Chinese-style stove, like a large bowl with a lid and on a stand, and with a chimney through the centre. Water is poured into the bowl, charcoal burns in the chimney, and raw vegetables, meat and etceteras are put into the water and soon a delicious stew is ready. As the people eat, more water and ingredients are added, as well as more charcoal, so it can supply hot food for as long as is needed. The houkou, under different names but basically the same, is most popular from Lhasa to Shanghai and from Harbin to Djakarta: the Japanese version of it is the sukiyaki.

An elegant street not far from the Copper Square led to the palace of the Mu kings. A triumphal gate across the street marked the beginning of this aristocratic quarter. The palace itself was a rambling structure in Chinese style and was used as the District Primary School. Adjoining it there was a series of walled houses where the ex-king, his family and other royal relatives lived. A great stone arch, elaborately carved, was in front of the royal compound and bore two Chinese characters, ‘Loyal and Righteous’, bestowed on a king by a Ming emperor in the seventeenth century. The title of king or chief, still used by the people in reference to the head of the Mu family, was really an honorary one. During the Manchu dynasty the feudal status of the king had been abolished and Likiang became a fu magistracy. For a period the Mu kings continued to rule as hereditary fu (senior) magistrates, but even that was taken away from them and a succession of Chinese magistrates began. The Mu dynasty traced its origin as far back as the glorious Tang dynasty and produced many heroic and just rulers, interspersed with a few bad ones. Towards the close of the Manchu dynasty the royal family of Mu was well on the road of degeneration. They had absorbed the then new-fangled fashion of smoking opium and other elegant vices of the Chinese court and their downfall was acid. Deprived of the revenue from their vast estates, the members of the royal family resorted to selling, one by one, their accumulated art treasures and the precious mementoes of their ancestors, to satisfy their insatiable craving for opium, and it was alleged that some princes had sold even their furniture and wives’ wedding dresses. All the prestige and standing of this illustrious family had gone with the wind.

The king whom I met occasionally was a sorry-looking individual, pale, emaciated and dull, and was considered a nincompoop. He was seldom invited to big social functions, and even then was allocated a secondary place at the festive table. Other members of the family hardly presented a better appearance, although some of them were brilliant Chinese scholars. I had engaged a Mu king’s cousin as the chief clerk at our office and he remained with us until my departure from Likiang. Sometimes he was absent for days and he never appeared at the office before the afternoon: but he was continually asking me for advances on his salary and trying to collect secretly, for himself, interest from our co-operative societies. He even stole an office clock and other articles and did everything in his power to squeeze a dollar or two from any source by hook or by crook. Yet I could not dismiss him: I tried, but found it impossible, for he was indispensable. His presentation of the accounts and his reports in Chinese for my head office were perfect, for he was a brilliant writer of Chinese official documents and knew all official usages and approaches.

It was only after I had opened our office in Likiang that I realized how few Nakhi or Minkia knew Chinese really well. Several men had been recommended for the post of the chief at my office. They had the highest credentials as teachers in high schools, secretaries in local government and so on. Each was given a fair trial, but their letters and reports were returned by my headquarters as incomprehensible gibberish, hardly worthy of comparison with a Chinese schoolboy’s essays; and neither head nor tail could be made of the accounts. I was sternly ordered to find the right man. If they only knew how difficult it was! Finally I got hold of Prince Mu and everything went well. But what a smoker he was! Opium was the essence of his life and he was ready to do anything, and he did, to get it. His wife used to come secretly to get what salary remained and she always complained that she and her children were starving. Everything that could be sold at the house had already been sold. When he came in the afternoon, after his long morning smoke, Prince Mu would plunge into work with gusto. There were no problems that he could not solve. He was one of the most educated and intellectual Nakhi I have ever met. He knew Likiang’s history and affairs as few people did. He was an expert on Chinese history and official life, and a brilliant conversationalist. He was polished, urbane and charming, yet he was lost to all decencies when the craving came.

In the vicinity of the Mu royal grounds there were many mansions of the local rich, with streams gurgling in front or between the buildings and roses spilling over the walls. The houses were two-storeyed, with six or eight wings. All the woodwork was lacquered in sang-de-boeuf or maroon colours, and the beautiful carving was gilded or silvered. The stone-flagged patios were full of flowers and blossoming bushes. The Nakhi were passionate lovers of flowers and always carried a blossom or a bouquet in the street. They planted roses, dahlias and cannas by the side of their homes and along the edges of the road and were always on the look-out for new varieties of flowers. I used to receive from America flower and vegetable seeds and my courtyard was a blaze of colour. Many were the requests for a seedling or a blossom. Sometimes my little garden was simply pillaged by the crowds of visitors: I did not mind that but I was really annoyed one day when they dug up and carried away my incarvilia and black aconite which I had brought from the Snow Range. They were native flowers, and all that they had to do was to take a walk to the mountain and get them there by the thousand. I wondered afterwards whether the black aconite was stolen for a hurried murder or suicide. Potted plants such as cineraria and calceolaria were much admired and coveted. Once I presented a pot of calceolarias to my friend, Madame Lee, who owned the best wine-shop in Main Street. She exhibited it on her counter and crowds of admirers viewed the flowers every day; women promptly christened the blossoms ‘Testicle Flowers’. Particularly venerated were the peonies. There were certain exclusive gardens where they could be seen at their best: the enormous blooms were shaded by paper wrappers and, when enough had opened, a drinking party was usually organized by the owner in their honour.

Beyond the big houses the town terminated abruptly in a series of green fields, divided and subdivided by flowing streams. Likiang had no slums. There were no special quarters of the town where the poor predominated. There were no ramshackle one-storey buildings, no hovels made of kerosene tins, straw or packing-cases, and no mean, dirty and unpaved lanes. There was no West End and no East End, one part of the city was as good and aristocratic as another. Pigs were kept by each self-respecting household, but their pens were a convenient distance from the house: true they were permitted to wander all over the town, but they were well-mannered and respectful animals. They took care not to hinder traffic too much and slept mostly along the kerbs of the street where the sun was warmest. Pig manure was eagerly collected and sold at a good price as fertilizer for the fields: the pigs seemed to know this and the streets were seldom soiled. These highly intelligent animals left the houses, including mine, early in the morning and went to neighbouring meadows to forage for additional food, or to sleep in the sun. They returned late in the afternoon, grunting, and tried to poke the door open with their snouts. Whenever they were needed earlier, they could always be recalled by the owner shouting ‘Nonna!‘ at the top of her (or, on rare occasions, his) voice. As in China, the pig was the mainstay and pride of the Nakhi economy and an acceptable companion to the housewife in the country when all the others were out. It always grunted so appreciatively, its little eyes twinkling, and punctuated its sympathy for the hard-working woman by gentle prods with its snout.

Thus Likiang, well paved and well watered, had no dust and no bad smells. Cooking and heating was done by means of charcoal and pine firewood. These two products were the greatest items of commerce on the market and a considerable source of income to the villagers. Mingtze — the rosin-impregnated pine splinters — were another important item, always necessary for illumination, and for lighting the home fires. As there were endless pine forests all around it was easy enough for any villager to gather them and to bring them to town for sale, either on horses or on his, or his wife’s, back. In the morning there was always a column of fragrant pine-wood smoke rising above the city.

Likiang had no cars, carriages or rickshas. Everyone walked, rich and poor, generals and soldiers, without distinction of caste or class. No millionaire had a chance to show off his Cadillac or Rolls-Royce and no Chinese general could roar in his armoured limousine through the peaceful streets of Likiang. The uniformity of locomotion had a wonderfully levelling effect on all classes of the population and promoted true democracy in relationships. A walking governor or general did not look nearly so formidable and inaccessible and could be greeted informally and intimately even by the humblest farmer.

Outside the town there was the outline of a motor highway to Hsiakwan, built years ago, but it had never been finished: there were no bridges, and torrential rains had washed away many sections in the mountains. The road had been initiated by the Provincial Government at the instigation of the Central Government, but the plan was successfully blocked by the Nakhi themselves through their powerful representatives in Kunming. The Nakhi did not want too much of Western civilization just yet. They said that the highway would bring much more trouble than benefit into their peaceful land. The little town would be swamped by hordes of Chinese crooks and loafers, in the guise of small traders, drivers and mechanics just as Hsiakwan was. Native business and industry would be ruined by keen competition and home life disrupted by evil influences. There would be greater interference by the Chinese military authorities and other government departments with their peaceful and free existence. A form of regimentation might be imposed on them and, of course, the worthless paper currency. Alas, they were right, as future events have shown. The people of Likiang were not ignorant of the West. Many of them had been to India and Burma as traders. They had powerful commercial connections with Kunming and many Nakhi units were serving in the Chinese army. They were definitely in favour of building a powerful hydro-electric station for the town and nearby villages as Likiang had no electricity, and they welcomed aeroplane connections with Kunming, but not the ruinous effects of a new road.

There were no big factories in Likiang, but there was gratifying industrial development in a small way in later years through the advent of the Chinese Industrial Co-operatives. There were scattered all over the town many small factories where wool spinning, weaving and knitting was done by hand. Elegant European-style footwear and sports goods, all made from local materials, were displayed in many stores. The Minkia furniture shops could turn out anything from mahjong tables to ultra-modern wardrobes. Tibetan boots and saddle-bags were made by the thousand; in fact, the really fine Tibetan boots were not produced in Tibet but exported there from Likiang. In addition to these there were the copperware and brassware and the lovely hand-chased brass padlocks. By its huge trade through Tibet during the war and its newly developed industries, Likiang became very prosperous, and new buildings began to spring up overnight everywhere.

During my preliminary survey trip to Likiang I had found the people to whom I was introduced charming and hospitable, and there had been feasts and a picnic meeting organized in my honour. Thus, upon my appointment, I proceeded to the City of the Beautiful River with my head in the clouds. I chafed at every delay on the road, and even the fast caravan appeared to move too slowly, so anxious was I to plunge again into the atmosphere of welcome and geniality I had experienced. I was absolutely sure that, upon arrival, I should be surrounded again with friendliness and helping hands and my work be child’s play, but alas, I realized only too quickly that my first impressions were wrong. The Nakhi proved to be truculent, unfriendly, mildly hostile and extremely suspicious, at the first arrival of all outsiders who were to take up permanent residence, whether they were of high or low rank. I found that to be received as a passing guest was one matter, but to settle and work among them was a totally different proposition. They especially distrusted all government officials coming from the capital, Chungking, as I did. They always thought that such men came — and came only for one purpose — to investigate their resources and wealth and make secret recommendations for additional taxation or the introduction of reforms curtailing their privileges or liberty. Every official, they thought, comes to take something. That there should be one who was ready to give something and help them, without expecting a rich return, was unthinkable and absurd. This new official, they said, intends to stay. He is a high officer, outranking the magistrate, so we must be civil to him but no more. Let us stand together and unobtrusively block his work, whatever it may be, and when he finds himself in difficulties, he will go away of his own will. Such was their reasoning.

It was only some considerable time afterwards that I fully understood how cunning the Nakhi were. By no means were they the simple, innocent and child-like tribesmen which, some writers aver, still exist in some remote corners of the world. There may indeed be such tribes in existence but, in the light of my own long residence in this area, which more than qualifies for remoteness, and my subsequent travels in south-east Asia I have come to the conclusion that nowhere can there be found the sweet and innocent natives of the romantic travelogues. An explorer or traveller who has stayed among such people only for a few weeks or months cannot assess accurately the character of such ‘children of nature’. It is only by living among them for a long time, and associating closely with their mode of thinking, understanding their joys and sorrows and following their customs, that one may finally arrive at a glimpse of the truth.

My disenchantment had started soon after our arrival. We were lucky to be permitted to stay, for a while, in a room at the house of Dr Rock, a resident of long-standing and much respected, and it was only by a fluke that I found my haunted house, after all other accommodation had been determinedly, though politely, refused me. Afterwards we had immense trouble in obtaining office furniture. There was nothing in local carpenter shops, and when we asked the carpenters to make us desks and other office furniture of the simplest design, they turned their backs on us. But with the greatest difficulty and much expense we had the furniture made by the Minkia carpenters in Chienchwang.

The next step was to win over and establish friendly relations with our immediate neighbours. The credit for this auspicious development went largely to my Shanghai cook, Lao Wong, whom I had brought with me. He was a tall, burly fellow, heavily pock-marked. Like all illiterate people, he was sagacious and, what is more, he was a born diplomat. But he spoke only that peculiar dialect which is used in Shanghai by the Chinese who come from the northern bank of the Yangtze. He had been frightened and dazed by the caravan travel and by his arrival among the ‘barbaric savages’ of the Western Regions of whom he knew only through that classic and interminable Chinese opera ‘Hsi Yu Chi’ (Travel to the Western Regions). He was much upset when we established ourselves in the haunted house and trembled at the least noise, expecting to be seized and strangled by two horrible ghosts. He planted burning incense sticks in every room and corner of the house before retiring for the night. Fierce-looking, skin-clad mountain men, with long daggers at the belt, who passed to and from the market, threw him into a cold sweat. However, seeing that neither he nor I had been stabbed or clubbed, he soon gathered courage and started going out.

Most of the Nakhi spoke a little Chinese, but to the end of my days in Likiang they never ceased to assure me that they could never understand what my cook was talking about. Undismayed he talked and talked. He was so voluble and his voice was so shrill, I could hear him from the top of the hill as I returned from the town. His constant visits to one and every neighbour, his talks and little gifts to children soon melted the atmosphere. Neighbours began to drop in for a light for their kitchens in the morning, to borrow this and that or simply out of curiosity. Afterwards they would bring some peaches from their gardens or a few potatoes, a bunch of wild flowers or a rose. Soon we knew all about them and they about us and our doings. At last we felt we belonged, at least, in Wuto village.

Down the street, just before the gate which marked the boundary of the city, there was a great, richly ornamented mansion. It belonged to a Mr Yang, a very rich Minkia merchant who considered himself a Nakhi by virtue of his lifelong residence in Likiang. He had many sons and daughters. He himself had retired long ago, but two of his sons had separate shops in Main Street and were doing well in textiles. They had branches in Hsiakwan, Kunming and Lhasa. The two younger boys, by his second wife, were at school. My cook made fast friends with the two merchant sons, and soon I was informed that Mr Yang desired to make my acquaintance. I presented myself one morning. He was a handsome old man, stately and dignified, with an aristocratic face and long white beard and was immaculately dressed as a Chinese gentleman, in long gown and black silk makwa jacket, and he wore a black cap with a red button. He rose to greet me from a chaise-longue in which he was resting. It was on the patio; the air was filled with the scent of flowers, and there were rows upon rows of rare orchids and primulas and petunias in pots on marble stands. Roses and other flowering shrubs were everywhere, and there were brilliant goldfish in the marble-lined pond and in glass bowls. I was offered tea and wine of rare vintage. The old man was smoking a long silver-tipped pipe and sipped tea; slowly and unobtrusively he was looking me over. We chatted lightly and then I related the purpose of my mission to Likiang. He listened but said nothing. In a short while I rose to take leave; Mr Yang rose too and, gently taking my elbow, led me into one of the halls. A splendid repast was laid out on a round marble table, with ivory chopsticks, silver pots of wine and silver cups. His sons and grandsons came in. I protested that it was too great an honour to be invited to a meal on my first visit, but I was gently pushed on to a chair and we all began to eat. The room was tastefully decorated with old Chinese paintings and scrolls. All the furniture was of blackwood; there was rare porcelain on stands and Tibetan copper jugs inlaid with turquoise, and a burnished brass censer out of which fragrant smoke curled in a spiral to the painted ceiling.

Mr Yang liked me and invited me again many times. Sometimes it was a formal dinner at which one or two passing dignitaries were present, at others it was a festival meal, and once it was the wedding of one of his sons. Often we would just talk together of Likiang and its people, of local customs and of the war which still raged far away; and often he would send me a gift of some fruits or a rare delicacy, or a joint from a newly killed pig. It was a gentle and enduring friendship, We understood each other even without speaking, and could be content to sit back and enjoy the peace of the little garden. He had early perceived that I was a Taoist and he himself had attained that mellow state through the lessons of his long life.

During one of my visits a few years later he led me to the back of his house and showed me a small pig in a separate pen.

‘This pig is being specially reared for my funeral,’ he said, chuckling. Then he led me to a disused corner room, opened the door and showed me a stout coffin, newly painted. I felt very sad, but he was smiling.

More than a year passed. I had gone to Kunming and returned after a month away. My cook was very excited when I stepped into the house.

‘Mr Yang has been asking all the time on which day you will return,’ he informed me. ‘He will invite you to lunch tomorrow,’ he added.

I entered the old man’s house next day with foreboding. He was very glad to see me, but I noticed how frail he looked. His face had a strange luminosity. His two elder sons were with him, ‘I was ill after you had left,’ he greeted me. He invited me to see the pig. ‘But I am too weak to walk,’ he said. ‘My son will show it to you.’ The pig had grown enormously. It was now an exceptionally fat animal.

‘My sons are now with me day and night,’ said Mr Yang lightly, but I knew how ominous this was. The old man was propped on the pillows and we had luncheon en famille, though he hardly ate anything. The leave-taking was emotional.

‘I am glad to have seen you again,’ said the old man. ‘Good-bye! We may not perhaps see each other again,’ and he feebly squeezed my hand. Next day at noon my cook rushed upstairs into my room.

‘Old Mr Yang is dead,’ he announced with a show of emotion. I was shocked. Unloosing his tongue, Lao Wong flooded me with the details of his passing. It appears that the old man felt suddenly that he was going. His family gathered around him and dressed him in ceremonial robes. Then he spoke to all of them calmly. After that he lay down his head on the pillow and motioned to his son. As he breathed his last the son placed a small silver coin on his tongue. Immediately he was put into the coffin.

According to Nakhi custom, when a man is about to expire small silver coin must be quickly laid on his tongue. If this is not done, the man will never gain admission into the paradise where his ancestors dwell. Therefore, when a person is ill weak or very old, there is always one of the family watching by the bedside day and night. Turns are taken by the members of the family, and woe to the son or daughter who does not perceive in time the moment of passing. Because of this belief, it is considered a calamity to die suddenly in an accident or a fight. The lost souls of such unfortunates are doomed to perpetual wandering in purgatory, until their entrance into the paradise is secured by special — and expensive — Shamanist ceremonies.


The road to Likiang begins at Kunming, the busy capital of the Yunnan Province. From Kunming to Hsiakwan, a distance of some 250 miles, runs the famous Burma Road. From Hsiakwan to Likiang it is at least another 160 miles by caravan trail.

The prospect of travelling on the Burma Road used to fill me with dread. This great highway, although marvellously constructed, well kept and extremely picturesque, has been a notorious killer. It climbs several mountain ranges of about 10,000 feet by a series of hairpin bends and runs along the edge of giddy precipices. I traversed it for the first time shortly after it had been completed, and I can never forget the sight of countless heavy trucks lying at the bottom of deep ravines, smashed beyond salvage. This was during the war, when the road was the life-line for the supply of war materials and goods to China. Most of the drivers were Chinese and the majority of them from the coastal areas of China where the land is flat. The demand for drivers was urgent and insatiable. Licence or no licence, everybody was snapped up, either by the military or the commercial concerns, if he could demonstrate his ability to drive. Salaries were high and thousands of dollars could be made on the side. Unaccustomed to driving in these tremendous mountains, with their tricky weather conditions, steep gradients and breath-taking hairpin bends, hundreds of such drivers went to their death on their first attempt. Before my very eyes some of them went over the edge, a sickening crash echoing from below. Many, disregarding the warning of seasoned drivers, insisted on going on through certain dangerous defiles in heavy rain and were crushed by landslides. Almost all trucks were overloaded, many of them unchecked, with defective brakes which on steep climbs failed, letting the trucks roll backwards to their doom. Countless were the hazards that this road held for the traveller, quite apart from the ever-present menace of bandits.

I learnt the wisdom of making my round of old commercial firms in Kunming, before paying my fare, asking about the trucks to Hsiakwan with the most reliable drivers. To escape Japanese bombing raids, the start was usually made before dawn from some inconspicuous place in the countryside. On top of the merchandise, baggage was piled, and high on top of that we took our seats, usually twenty to thirty passengers — men, women and children. Whenever we came to a very steep climb and the truck could not take it, we jumped down and helped to push it up bit by bit, its radiator issuing a jet of steam like a locomotive. On the way down the hairpin bends we could only pray as the truck coasted, the driver saving petrol. This trip of 160 miles normally took from three to four days, and the nights were spent in roadside inns.

Hsiakwan was an unattractive, draughty place dominated by bare, forbidding mountains. Like Kunming, it was a beehive of activity, with the military — Chinese, American and British — dashing here and there in trucks and jeeps; merchants busily loading and unloading their cargoes from trucks and boats, and hordes of coolies, drivers and plain loafers idly sauntering about. Hsiakwan was notorious for its bedbugs — a specially hardy and big variety.

From Hsiakwan one could go to Likiang either by caravan or on foot. I have done both on several occasions, but I remember especially a return journey that I made by caravan after I had been in Likiang for some time. It was spring, the dry season, and before the excessive heat of summer.

Arriving in Hsaikwan, I had my baggage carried to a friend’s house. Caravan men were called, who counted the pieces and decided how many loads they would make. Then the haggling started and continued for about two hours; the crafty men, apparently refusing my offer, would depart only to return at regular intervals, reducing each time their charge by fifty cents or a dollar a load. Finally we settled, gave them a deposit of one dollar and relaxed. Shortly afterwards, sturdy Minkia women appeared and carried the cases and trunks to the boats. In the evening, after a good meal, we went to check the baggage which was neatly stacked in a big boat, and when the moon appeared a huge sail was hoisted. Men and women produced native mandolins and guitars, a platter of cheese and a big pot of wine. While they played and sang, we had a drink. Then the ropes were cast off and we watched the boat glide off into the silvery vastness of the beautiful Tali Lake, accompanied by other cargo boats, leaving the passengers to proceed by bus.

I got up early in the morning and breakfasted on native ham and cream cheese with baba (flat round bread enriched with butter and ham shavings), washed down with Tibetan butter tea. My Nakhi servant Hozuchi appeared, and we took our hand baggage and pukai (bedding) and boarded a creaky, overloaded bus which brought us to Tali in an hour. Although considered by some to be one of the most beautiful places in the world, I have never liked Tali. Destroyed by an earthquake, it has never recovered and there was an air of desolation and death. Quickly we entered the south gate and passed through to the north gate. An array of ‘chariots’, with one or with two horses, was waiting. We agreed on the price, piled our baggage the best we could, and squeezed in among other passengers. I call them ‘chariots’ because I doubt that such vehicles could be found elsewhere in the world. Mounted on two wheels with old rubber tyres, they were oblong wooden boxes with the front open and two rows of planks to sit on, and shaded by a kind of blue tent. They were so primitive that I always thought of them as something that Pharaoh must have sent to fetch old Jacob to Egypt. The road was not a road at all but a trail of boulders, crossed by unbridged mountain streams, and along this the conveyance, creaking and swaying violently from side to side, was pulled by two sturdy horses at full speed. I prudently sat in front. Sometimes the bumps were so hard that passengers were thrown up against the ceiling and one man had his head nearly split open. Badly shaken and bruised, we reached our destination, Tamakai, at the other end of the Tali Lake, late in the afternoon. The only pleasure I had was to watch the marvellous lake, like a great emerald set in blue mountains.

As soon as we reached Tamakai we were met by the caravan man and conducted to his house. Other passengers were already there. We were made comfortable and informed that the cargo and our baggage were due presently as the boats had already been sighted in the distance. The house was new and beautiful. Doors, posts and furniture were of wood, exquisitely carved in filigree. Soon a splendid feast was served and many pots of excellent wine were produced. Our beds were covered with gem-like Tibetan rugs on which we spread our own bedding.

We were roused at four o’clock in the morning. There was a quick breakfast, followed by much shouting and sounding of the gong. The loads, securely tied to wooden frames, were spread in the courtyard. Struggling mules and horses were presently led in with many unprintable curses. Each load was lifted by two men, speedily clamped on the wooden saddle and the horse was permitted to trot out into the street. My hand baggage was quickly tied to a similar frame, the bedding spread in the form of a cushion, and the whole contraption hoisted on to a horse. I was then lifted bodily on to the top and the animal was shooed outside, the man shouting to me to mind my head when passing through the gate. Outside, other contingents of the caravan were also pouring out of neighbouring houses. To the sounding of the gong, the leading horse, gaily bedecked in red ribbons, pompons and small mirrors on its forehead, was led out. The caravan’s leading horse moved forward and, having looked back to see that everything was ready, started walking down the road at a brisk pace. At once he was followed by the assistant leader, less gaudily decorated, but also full of authority. Immediately the whole caravan sprang after them, forming a file as they went along. The caravan men, in vivid blue jackets and broad pants, rushed after the horses. They wore picturesque broad-brimmed hats of translucent rain-proof silk with a bunch of multi-coloured ribbons.

It was a source of endless wonder to me to watch the speed with which the caravan proceeded. On the level ground or downhill it was very considerable, and the men saw to it that it was not slackened without reason. All the time the animals were exhorted onwards with the most obscene curses imaginable and encouraged by small stones and cakes of dry mud which were thrown at them. After three hours of such intensive march we came to a placid stream and a gentle meadow. The caravan was stopped, loads lifted and set in a row, great copper cauldrons were set up and the men started cooking luncheon. The animals were relieved of their saddles and given fodder and water. Neighing and screaming, they all started rolling on their backs. As the caravan fare included board and lodging, we all were given bowls and chopsticks and asked to join the men in the meal. We sat in a long row facing each other, taking food and rice out of large dishes placed between. Nobody was permitted to sit at either end of the row, for caravan men are extremely superstitious, and they say that anyone sitting at the end stops the way and a disaster may follow later.

In the late afternoon we arrived at Niukai and the caravan was split into three sections, each going into a separate caravanserai. We were lodged upstairs and a meal was served again. Afterwards we wanted to take a bath at the big hot spring for which the village was renowned, but the pool was filled with lepers. I tried to sleep, but could not. The grinding noise of feeding animals below was like the sound of a large flour mill, big rats ran over my face and the chattering of the caravan men round the fire continued unceasingly until it was time to get up.

Next day we crossed high forested mountains, the pass infested with robbers. This was the first robber ring before Likiang. In the evening we reached Tienwei and next morning we passed Chienchwang. All this land between Tali and Chienchwang was the site of ancient Minkia kingdoms, whose glory culminated in the establishment of the great Nanchiao Kingdom which was conquered and destroyed by Kublai Khan. Nobody really knows where the Minkia came from originally. The only work of note on the Minkia, Fitzgerald’s Tower of Five Glories, gives some account of their customs and beliefs but does not reveal the secret of their origin. Perhaps, as some of them claim, they are indeed the refugees from Angkor Thorn, but much research is needed to substantiate this claim.

Chienchwang was a small walled town, its streets drab and colourless. There was nothing to eat in its two restaurants except on market-day. The meanness of the Chienchwang Minkia was proverbial. Men and women dressed in black and they lacked the usual Minkia gaiety and insouciance.

The route followed the course of a river and, from one point on the road, it was already possible to see, through the gap in the mountains, the Likiang Snow Range, still fifty miles away, its peaks and glaciers glittering in the sun. The broad valley, planted with winter wheat, was narrowing. Soon we climbed a small hill, crowned with a white pagoda, and then descended to a picturesque gate. This was the frontier between the ancient Minkia kingdoms and the Nakhi Kingdom of Mu or Likiang.

Very soon we arrived at the village of Chiuho, where a market was in progress. The street was crowded with the Minkia from Chienchwang and from the Upper Valley, and with Nakhi and other tribal people. We met many friends who had come to the market, among them lamas, Nakhi students and several women from Likiang who had come to trade their wares. While lunching on fried eggs and some dried beef, washed down by Chienchwang mint wine, we saw Akounya’s father with one of his sons. He was an old friend and his family treated me almost as one of themselves. They were the first of the Minkia I had befriended after my arrival in Likiang. I had gone one day to a furniture shop to order some benches and there I met a young Minkia carpenter, named Tzekuan, and his sister Akounya, who had brought some goods to Likiang for sale. Tzekuan and Akounya began to visit my house and I used to stay with them whenever I passed that way to or from Tali. Akounya was an energetic and bossy girl and I always thought of her as the head of the house in contrast to her mild, unassuming father and her quiet, self-effacing mother.

Akounya’s father, who was awaiting our arrival, told us to go straight to his house at the top of the valley, where my horse was already waiting for me, saying that he would come back later in the evening. Again our caravan was swaying through the green fields towards the high forested mountains. The road became narrow and crowded. We were climbing imperceptibly but steadily, the air getting cooler and sweeter. The caravan leader began to beat his gong and deep sounds echoed throughout the valley.

The caravan gong was indispensable on the narrow, twisting mountain trail. It warned the approaching peasants with their heavy baskets and prevented collisions with other caravans. Because of the speed with which caravans moved it could be disastrous for two caravans to meet without warning. The crash that followed was worse than a collision between two trains. The proud and jealous leading horses, unwilling to give way an inch, would head straight for each other and try to push each other into the deep irrigation canal by the roadside or against the rocks of a defile. Nor would the rest of the caravan stop. The animals would charge each other, screaming, pushing, throwing their loads off, and spilling the passengers in the melee. By the time they were disentangled by cursing caravan men, the scene looked like a battlefield. Bales were scattered about; fragile goods, like pottery, were shattered to pieces and dazed passengers hobbled into clearmgs to examine their wounds. For ordinary travellers on foot the only salvation, when they heard the ominous gong, was to dart to safety in some clearing by the roadside lest they be violently thrown into a ditch or have their legs crushed.

At last we arrived at the head of the valley, hemmed in by precipitous mountains. Again the caravan split into several sections and went into the appointed caravanserais. We bade the leader good-bye, giving him instructions for the delivery of our baggage in Likiang. The caravan fare was never paid in advance: that would have been a great insult. Only a small deposit, a dollar or so, was given and the balance was paid the day after arrival. The goods and baggage were not delivered to any central station or depot, but were distributed to patrons’ houses or stores by the caravan men, who also guaranteed the integrity of the cargo, subject only to force majeure and the bandits’ whim. This last lap before Likiang was the most dreaded, because the wild mountains ahead concealed the most powerful of the bandit rings.

Akounya’s house was situated on the mountainside, overlooking the caravan road. She was there waiting for us, a husky girl, about twenty-two years of age, with a round face and rosy cheeks. Like all Minkia women in this part of the valley, she was dressed in a blue tunic down to her ankles, with a sash, and blue trousers. On her head she wore cunningly tied kerchiefs — blue, red and white. The ends were tied near the temples to form perfect cat’s ears. This feline appearance of Minkia girls never failed to delight me and I used to tell them that they looked like cats dressed in the Dutch national colours. Akounya disappeared into the kitchen, where her mother was already busy.

Her father and brother Ahtseng returned from the market late. The old man apologized, saying that he called on the home guard trying to arrange for an escort of ten for me on the following morning.

‘There is a large band of robbers now and only last week a caravan was plundered,’ he told me.

‘Well, if it is a large band, ten boys are useless,’ I said. ‘It would be less conspicuous, surely, if I go just with Hozuchi and, perhaps, Ahtseng, who could come too.’

We talked and talked and finally agreed on taking five home guards just for the sake of ‘face’.

Dinner was served by the light of mingtze — pine splinters — burning on special clay stands. A number of Minkia friends drifted in. A large jar of wine was produced for the crowd and a smaller one for me.

‘This is your favourite yintsieu — the honey wine,’ the father said. ‘I bought it in Likiang last week specially for you.’

Typical Minkia dishes were put on the table, all in small saucers, according to local custom. There was home-cured ham, fried chicken, fried water plant, small fish, roasted eels, fried potatoes and salted pork. There was much joking and laughter and some mandolins were produced. How I enjoyed their sweet, slightly monotonous music and plaintive singing! It was very romantic — all about love, beautiful women and brave men. Every time a new dish was placed on the table by Akounya, one of the young men blushed.

‘I think he must be Akounya’s future husband.’ I nudged Ahtseng. There was a roar of laughter, the young man turned crimson and others nodded knowingly.

The early morning was very cold and hoar frost covered the grass. We breakfasted heavily. I mounted my wild Tibetan horse; Hozuchi strapped on a basket with food and hand baggage, and we started. Almost at once we came to the sheer face of the mountain. There was a cobbled road, extremely steep, zigzagging upwards through the scrub. I dismounted and, parting from Hozuchi, I took a small path which was a short cut. It was a very long climb through rhododendrons and pines. Brightly plumed pheasants crossed the path now and then and hid in nearby bushes: distant trumpeting of deer and calls of mountain birds were the only sounds. The higher I went the colder it became and the more difficult to breathe. Whistles and catcalls came from above. Somebody was there. The view was magnificent: high mountains and dark green forests surrounded me, and on both sides of the path there were deep, rocky ravines. Far below there was an emerald lake and the yellow thread of the caravan trail to Taku. At last, panting, I reached the top of the pass where a dark, sinister gap led to the plateau beyond. Five shivering youths with old-fashioned guns were waiting for me. ‘Are you the escort?’ I inquired, and they nodded. We sat for a while waiting for the horse and Hozuchi.

Then we started to walk along a narrow trail clinging precariously to the side of a breath-taking ravine. Soon we emerged on vast highlands pitted here and there with the devil’s sinkholes. These were typical of the countryside around Likiang and were huge funnels with clusters of trees which camouflaged bottomless holes into the bowels of the earth. There was not a soul to be seen, nothing but a sea of pine forests and mountains around us. It was agreed that the escort would return home when we had passed the notorious ‘Robbers’ Temple’, where the trail begins to slope gently towards Likiang. It marked the highest point on this plateau of 11,000 feet. Plodding hour after hour in the oppressive silence and utter loneliness, we stopped talking.

At last we came to a turn, after which the dreaded temple should have been visible. A band of ten men, poorly clad but each carrying an old gun, appeared as if from nowhere. We did not stop and they fell in with us. At last one of them spoke.

Zeh gkv bbeu? (Where are you going?)’ he asked me in Nakhi.

Ggubbv bleu (Going to Likiang),’ I answered brightly. He pondered.

Nakhi kou chi kv (You understand Nakhi),’ he smiled.

A flood of conversation followed with my boy, the guards keeping discreetly silent. Hozuchi explained who I was, where I lived and where we were travelling from. I guessed at once who the strangers were, but kept my own counsel. I was not afraid of being killed, but I hated the idea of appearing in Likiang in only my underwear. We came to a pretty little clearing among the pines, where I dismounted and asked everybody to sit down. From Hozuchi’s basket I extracted a jar and a bowl, filled it to the brim and said, ‘Zhi teh (Drink wine).’ Round and round went the bowl and everyone became warm and mellow. The interest in my baggage and inquiries of how much money I had with me gradually abated. I prudently slipped in a word that I had no money with me at all as my funds had gone ahead with the caravan.

‘We are poor people,’ said one of the strangers, ‘and have to live by our wits.’ He took another draught of wine. ‘However, you are a good man. We know much about your work. I have not met you before. But once you saved my life and that of my friend. Do you remember an old woman who came to you last year to ask for medicine for the men who had been burned by gunpowder explosion?” Saying this, he let his trousers fall down, exposing his scarred legs and abdomen. I remembered at once.

‘So that was you!’ I cried.

‘Yes,’ he said, slowly tying up his trousers.

The whole picture came back to me clearly. Once I came home late in the evening and found an old woman from a mountain village in my courtyard, crying bitterly. Between sobs she explained that her son and two friends had been making gunpowder, for hunting purposes, in a large cauldron that very afternoon. A man, absent-mindedly, had thrown a lighted cigarette into the cauldron….

They are still breathing,’ she informed me, ‘but all the skin on the thighs and abdomen is burnt off.’

As Likiang had no hospital, she could only think of me and walked forty li (thirteen miles) to get medicine. This was an extremely grave case, I thought, and the men must surely die with so much skin destroyed. What could I do? If I gave them medicine and the men died, I would be considered a murderer and my life would not be worth a penny at the hands of an enraged family and clansmen. Such was the custom here. And yet, I must do my best. I made the old woman swear, before my servants and neighbours, that the family should not hold me responsible for the death of these men and, I told her frankly, die they must if the injuries were so great. She understood and swore by the great god Saddok of the Snow Mountain, all other gods, and the spirits of the mighty Nagarajas dwell in the mountains, lakes and trees. I gave her a generous supply of powdered sulphanilamide and cottonwool, and told her to powder the men gently every day.

‘But’, I insisted, ‘you must see that they drink water by the bucket all the time.’

She grabbed the drug and left. A week afterwards she appeared with a few eggs.

‘They are still breathing and drinking the water,’ she said.

I marvelled. Another week passed and she came again with a few eggs.

‘Now they can eat a little,’ she informed me.

A fortnight later she brought a small pot of honey and more eggs —

‘Now they can walk a little. Thank you! Oh, thank you!’ Weeks later she came yet once more, carrying a chicken. She beamed.

‘Now they can sleep with their wives,’ she said exultantly.

So these were the men. They helped me gently to mount, wished us all a pleasant journey, and disappeared among the pines.

At the Robbers’ Temple near by — a small half-burned shrine — we said good-bye to our escort, thanked them and gave them a small tip as is the custom. Meaning glances were exchanged, but nobody spoke about the encounter.

Again we travelled in utter solitude through a rolling country with nothing but forests and great mountains in the distance. Soon, however, the majestic Mount Satseto moved into view, with its glittering glaciers reflected in the beautiful blue lake of Lashiba. The village of Lashiba with its white, orange and red houses could be seen in the distance. When we reached it we stopped for a quick meal, and then followed up the shallow valley that holds the lake hemmed in by green mountains. Slowly we climbed up to the gap that led to Likiang.




My grateful acknowledgment is due to Dr Heinz Breitkreuz for his kind permission in allowing me to reproduce the photographs contained in this book.


  1. The author leaving on a tour of inspection
  2. Hokuoto: a typical mountain Nakhi peasant
  3. Akounya. A Minkia girl
  4. Likiang. Author’s house
  5. View of Mount Satseto
  6. Mme Lee at her shop
  7. Caravan from Hsiakwan to Likiang
  8. A Tibetan buying pottery
  9. Likiang street scene
  10. A Tibetan at Likiang Market
  11. A Hsiangchen Tibetan woman shopping
  12. Ahouha—one of the pangchinmei (girls) of Likiang
  13. Likiang market square
  14. Likiang Park
  15. The Yangtze River at the Copper Mining Cooperative
  16. The Yangtze River entering Atsanko gorge
  17. Yuenfoungsze Lamasery. Lama dance
  18. The Yuenfoungsze. Lamasery sacred orchestra
  19. Yuenfoungsze Lamasery
  20. Yuenfoungsze Lamasery. The venerable lama
  21. Shangri Moupo Lamasery. Senior lamas with the lama Manager
  22. Wuhan with his first-born son, old mother, and wife —all formally dressed
  23. Mme Lee’s husband and grandson
  24. Old Nakhi villagers, formally attired
  25. The main street of Likiang with some Khamba Tibetans
  26. Leather-tanning and Shoe-making Co-operative
  27. Wool-spinning Co-operative
  28. Path inside Atsanko gorge where the Yangtze River flows
  29. A view of Likiang plain and Shwowo village


I was born in Russia more than fifty years ago. The upheavals, which have swept the world since the beginning of this century, caught me at an early age, and so sudden and violent were the changes that I can never think of my life as one connected and orderly process but only as a series of lives with little to connect them. Yet the years have not dimmed the recollections of my boyhood. My father died when I was two years old, and as the only child I became the centre of my mother’s devotion. She was a wonderfully intelligent and sensitive woman, deeply interested in literature, music and the beauty of nature. I always felt that she was somewhat isolated from her many relatives, because none of them could equal her in intelligence, understanding or the breadth of her views. She wrote poetry and painted: she was psychic, and all this drew her and, eventually, myself away from the other members of the family. Among her circle of friends were many of the outstanding scientists and philosophers of her time, and this may have had something to do with the method of my education which others considered peculiar and which was undertaken by a series of private tutors, including a philosopher and a theosophist. I remember clearly the vibrant life of Moscow and the sophisticated quieter refinements of Paris, although I was still quite young at the time.

I developed early an interest in the Orient, particularly in China, Mongolia, Turkistan and Tibet. It must have been in my blood and it undoubtedly came from my mother’s side. Her father and grandfather were great and famous merchants during the past century, and their caravans went to Kobdo and Kiahta, and even as far as Hankow, to pick up China teas and silks. They ranged through Mongolia, trading in cattle, and dealt with Tibet in herbs, musk and saffron. All that was over when I appeared in the world and the only relic of the glorious past was my grandmother Pelagie, my mother’s mother, who lived to the ripe age of ninety-seven. During the long winter evenings she used to tell me long stories of how her husband and his father made their journeys into Cathay and Mongolia and other fabulous lands where once Prester John and Ghenghiz Khan ruled. I listened starry-eyed; and all round her were old tea-chests painted with beautiful Chinese ladies proffering delicate teacups to bearded mandarins with fans and elaborate headdresses. There was lettering on the chests, like ‘Hung Men Aromatic Tea’, and there was still a faint fragrance of these brands floating in the heated air of her room. There were strange robes from Mongolia and Tibet in the long coffers against the walls, and Mongolian samovars, used by caravans, stood in the corner. I can still see the Shamanist drums and flutes hanging on the walls. This was all that remained of unrecorded travels: the men themselves were dead long ago.

I am glad that grandmother Pelagic died just before the Revolution — she was already half blind and was unable to walk, but her mind was still brilliant when she talked of her beloved past. Then the Revolution came. The subject is still painful to me, and there is no need to relate it here as it has been described so often. My mother and I were determined to get out of Russia. We rushed by train to Turkistan, only to find terror and bloodshed in Samarkand and Bokhara. The roads from there to Central Asia were blocked. We returned to Moscow to find the situation still worse. We fled to Vladivostok where we stayed for a year. On the way we were caught in the famous Czech uprising and it took us months to get through. The dangers and horrors we passed through best remain unrelated. At last we reached Shanghai.

In 1924 my mother died and I thought I could not survive her passing. In my grief I went to the famed West Lake near Hangchow and there, quite by chance, I met a Taoist monk. Our friendship was spontaneous, for I was already familiar with the Chinese language, and he took me to his monastery situated on a peak a few miles from town. There my friend ministered to me as if I were his dearest brother, and the Grand Abbot received me with wonderful understanding. “With their guidance I found peace, as though by magic, and my heart seemed to heal.

I continued to visit the monastery for several years, escaping whenever possible from Shanghai, where at first I maintained myself by working for commercial firms as an expert in Chinese antiques, jade and rare teas. Then in 1931 I joined the American Express and acted as a tour conductor, escort-in0′ a wide variety of clients throughout China, Japan and Indo-China.

It may seem strange for a young man, working for a famous travel firm, to relax in Taoistic monasteries away from the brilliant lights of the ‘Paris of the Orient’; but it was just because of the extreme gaiety of Shanghai night-life, which was an important feature of any tour, that I had to retire to such a refuge to restore my equilibrium and to regain my composure and strength.

I had only been at the American Express office a few days when an American millionaire, his wife and sister-in-law, booked me to take them to Peking. As a first step the millionaire instructed me to buy enough wines and food to last during the trip and to my embarrassment handed me ten thousand dollars in Chinese currency. This I had great difficulty in stuffing into my pockets. I stocked one of the cabins with two dozen cases of champagne and all kinds of fruit and canned delicacies. Unfortunately, as we put out to sea, a gale developed and the steamer rolled heavily. Several of the cases were smashed, and when the cabin door burst open bottles spun in all directions over the saloon and down the passages, crashing into the walls and exploding with deafening blasts. The good-humoured millionaire was highly amused, and this first excursion helped, oddly enough, to establish my reputation as a congenial courier and companion.

Then there was an eccentric American aviator of seventy-five, with a long white beard hanging almost to his knees. Whisking an aeroplane propeller out of his pocket he would shout, ‘I am an aviator.’ He was a true eccentric bent on his quest for an earthly paradise somewhere in the Far East. We flew to Lanchow, carried as cargo in a small Junker cargo plane, for in those days the Chinese airways system was still in its infancy. Then we went to Peking and the old man rushed round amongst the other sightseers, twirling his little propeller in their faces and shouting, ‘I fly, I fly, you see, like that!’ He chartered an aeroplane for a flight to the Great Wall, took several reporters and gave secret instructions to the German pilot. The plane twisted and dived and sometimes the Great Wall appeared below us, sometimes on top of us and sometimes we seemed to scrape its very battlements. It was an unusual way of seeing the Great Wall and the reporters sat with faces as green as water-melons.

I travelled extensively at this time, for there were the routine tours and summer cruises as well as the more unusual journeys. China was a wonderful place to live in before the second Japanese war. I travelled also on my own and always stayed in Taoist monasteries through the introduction of my West Lake friend. I spent some time at Sian, the capital of the glorious Tang dynasty, and at Tungkwan, an old fortress of those days. I often spoke to my guru, the abbot, of my longings to go to West China, to live in that remote Tibetan country so little known to the Chinese and foreigners; but he always said the time had not yet come. Later, when the Japanese occupied Peking again and part of Shanghai, the guru told me that the moment had arrived. But how? I could not go there during war-time on my own. Then suddenly came the offer to join the Chinese Industrial Co-operatives. I consulted the old abbot again and he made a detailed prediction of what would happen to me during the next seven years. Everything happened as he foretold.

Thus, as a member of the Co-operatives, I set out in September 1939 from Shanghai to Chungking, on what was to be the first stage of a long journey.

To get to Chungking, when the war between China and Japan was in full swing, was a very complicated and dangerous business. I took a Dutch boat to Hongkong and thence a small French steamer to Haiphong. I was burdened with much baggage; and at Haiphong I met some missionaries who, with the University of Nanking, had been evacuated to Chengtu. They had scores of heavy cases, containing scientific instruments and other technical supplies, which they were taking to the university. Haiphong was a madhouse. American and British missionaries and business men were rushing along the streets and quays trying to identify their baggage piled like mountains everywhere. Public squares and parks were clogged with the trucks and cars of every description awaiting transportation. There was no highway to China. Everything had to go by the narrow-gauge train which took two days to get up to Kunming. Few of these people knew French and few French officials knew English. The poor missionaries were still sitting at Haiphong, although they had left Shanghai a fortnight before me. They could not explain to the Customs what they had, where it had to go and, what was worse, they could not fill in the forms in French. The French customs officials, crazed by the crowds, mountains of cases and bales, and the sea of documents, simply pushed out those people whom they could not understand. I filled their forms for them and led them to the Customs Commissioner. With a torrent of French, I pulled the commissioner outside and to a bar. I ordered all the aperitifs I could think of, whilst my friends glared at me, and in about half an hour the whole business was resolved and my baggage and their goods were on board the train in the afternoon. My poor friends were on the verge of collapse and I persuaded them to come with me to Hanoi to await the train there. In Hanoi I took them to the wonderful Hotel Metropole and made them relax with bottles of champagne which, I assured them, was a non-alcoholic beverage. In the morning we duly caught the train, and in the afternoon of the next day we arrived at Kunming, the beautiful capital of Yunnan.

All our baggage was piled into an ancient bus and I took the whole shipment to Chengtu. The troubles and breakdowns we had on the road were such that it was more than two weeks before I glimpsed Chengtu. I stopped off for a couple of days in Chungking to pick up my instrument of appointment as the Depot Master of Kangting, capital of Sikang. At Chengtu I caught a missionary truck for Yaan -the terminus of the motor highway to Sikang. We travelled by night, and at full speed the truck crashed through a rotten bridge. I was somersaulted and landed on my head and was fortunate not to break my neck; although I suffered from headaches for months afterwards. From Yaan we walked for eight days through the terrifying gorges of Sikang.

My two-year stay in Kangting or, as it was called in olden days, Tachienlu, was on the whole unhappy, though not without its moments of adventure and humour while on travel to the furthest parts of the province. The newly created Sikang Province had undoubtedly the rottenist provincial government and it was practically independent of Chungking. What they did to block my work and to embarrass me would fill a book. I was accused, in turn, of being a Japanese spy, Stalin’s spy, Hitler’s agent and, at last, a secret inspector of the Central Government. They tried to do away with me on several occasions, but each time I was miraculously saved. Finally I was put under house arrest. Luckily Dr H. H. Kung, Finance Minister and President of the Chinese Industrial Cooperatives, intervened directly by telegraph and instructed me to return to Chungking. I was bitter, but I had to admit that this disagreeable experience had given me an unprecedented insight into the workings of Chinese officialdom at its worst. When I arrived in Chungking again I was no longer a simple and innocent foreign greenhorn, burning with the pure flame of idealism, but a real Chinese official with all the know-how to combat the machinations of the crooks with which the government teemed. I had not been without friends among the officials of Sikang, and they had certainly imparted to me confidentially a very useful knowledge of how the wheels within wheels worked in government circles.

I was received by Dr H. H. Kung in Chungking and told him the truth. I knew he would be annoyed and he was. It was not the custom for a government official in China to embarrass his superiors by seeking redress from them. He had to work out his own salvation by becoming as wise as the proverbial serpent. In other words, he must become clever enough to outcrook the crooks. In Dr Kung’s eyes I was another stupid European who added to the friction, between the powerful Sikang Provincial Government and the weak Central Government, which the latter was trying to avoid at the critical period through which the whole country was passing.

‘I would like to go to Likiang to work/ I added timidly at the end of the interview, for although I had never been there, I had heard enough about the place to make me feel I would like it. The great man glared at me through his glasses.

‘Is it I or you who makes the appointments? You shall go where I tell you to go!’

Somehow I could not suppress the feeling that there was a hidden kindliness in his seemingly gruff manner. I was temporarily attached to the Co-operative Headquarters in the beautiful summer resort of Koloshan, about twenty miles from Chungking, where we were safe from the terrible bombing which was going on. At last an order came for me to join the Yunnan Headquarters at Kunming. This was a good sign, as the atmosphere in Kunming was much better than in intrigue-ridden Koloshan.

The days in Yunnan were comparatively peaceful as our headquarters were situated at a beautiful temple fifteen miles out of Kunming, not far from the Kunming lake. Then came a survey trip which I had to make to Paoshan and Tengyueh. Not saying a word to anybody in advance, I made a detour to Likiang and saw at once that this was the place for promoting co-operatives and not Paoshan or Tengyueh, both of which had no materials or workers, being merely military and transshipment points. I made my report accordingly, suggesting to Central Headquarters that they should send me to Likiang. There was a curt refusal to my request. I persisted gently but without result.

Then, quite suddenly, it happened. An order came from Dr Kung appointing me the Depot Master of Likiang. I was packed off in a hurry and without the least ceremony. I was given only a little money, no stationery and not even the traditional seal of office. And no one was designated to accompany me. In the light of my Sikang experiences this appeared ominous. It looked more like an exile than an appointment. Usually there was a great fuss when depot masters were appointed to provincial towns. A seal and stocks of stationery were prepared for them, funds remitted and competent secretaries chosen to accompany them. I was willing to bet that somebody higher up was trying to get rid of me. The only man who was permitted to accompany me was my old cook Lao Wong, but he was no substitute for a secretary.

Later I found out that no Chinese candidate had been willing to take up a post in Likiang. They gave many reasons for their reluctance to work there. The place was too remote. It was, so to speak, outside China, the ‘Outer Darkness’, a no man’s land lost in the sea of barbarous tribes who did not even speak Chinese. By all reports, the food problem there was impossible for a refined Chinese. The natives consumed things which to the Chinese were almost uneatable — mutton and beef, sauerkraut, yak butter and cheese. What was worse, everything was cooked in yak butter. Many Chinese there had been stabbed or otherwise disposed of, and it was dangerous to walk through the streets filled with fierce and animalistic savages who carried swords and daggers at the belt ready to be used at any moment. Why not send that crazy foreigner there? If he survives, it is all right; if not, it is his business as he asked for it. There were other, deeper considerations also. My immediate superior was not over-fond of me. He could not very well push me out of my job without a reason — that would have been a subtle insult to Dr Kung. He knew better than to do anything so crude. But, if I could be sent up to Likiang all alone, without assistance or guidance, with only a small sum of money, what could I do in that strange, inhospitable and dangerous country? I should be terrified out of my wits and only too glad to return in a month or two humbly confessing my failure and praying for an asylum at the peaceful and safe headquarters. But then my fate would be sealed. A failure in Sikang and a failure in Likiang!

Yet I was rilled with a sense of triumph, for it was in Likiang that I wanted to live, and I knew I could make my work a success in spite of what they said or thought. I was now armed with some experience, and to this I resolved to add the practice of all the precepts and advice I had imbibed during my long stay at the great Taoistic monastery near West Lake. I was now one of the last of a small group of foreigners who tried to work in an executive capacity in the field with the Chinese Industrial Co-operatives. All of them but myself had left of their own free will or had been outmanoeuvred into giving up. They were honest, idealistic, energetic and genuinely devoted to their work. They all spoke good Chinese: but they had not learned enough of the nature and mentality of the Chinese to adapt their methods. The novelty of their energy had kindled great enthusiasm among the Chinese interested in co-operation, but they were unable to sustain it for long because of the very qualities they possessed. They did not recognize the moments when it was more advantageous to slow down rather than to push; to keep quiet rather than to talk. Instead of adjusting certain irregularities adroitly, they ploughed straight through them, causing both their friends and enemies a severe loss of ‘face’ which, in China, has to be avoided at all costs, as it arouses an unreasoning, uncontrollable, destructive hatred. But the most important thing of all was their lack of that intuitive ability to separate wheat from chaff in their relations with the Chinese of all classes. A foreigner who did not possess this sixth sense had a hard time in China. Life and relationships between the people in China are not what they appear to be. It is only the man who knows the hidden meaning of such a life and its relationships who can make his stay in the country a success.

Thus I was now one of the ‘Last of the Mohicans’ and, as Taoism had taught me, it would be important to practise Inaction. Contrary to the ideas of some people in the West, who are unable to grasp the Taoist doctrine, this does not mean passivity and absence of all action and initiative. It actually means an active participation in life, but going along with its stream rather than battling against it foolishly, lest one be engulfed and destroyed. Many an obstruction which might cause a casualty can be circumvented. It is no good being too clever and pushing. The Chinese have a vast dislike of a smart busybody and always try to undermine him in a subtle way. Quarrelsome people are not tolerated. One could win a point and lose a friend. Taoism teaches that a man who does not quarrel has no one to quarrel with him. Another useful maxim, ‘A man who does not climb does not fall,’ does not really discourage advancement but implies that one should proceed carefully and circumspectly, step by step. My guru taught me that it is no good climbing a shaky ladder in a hurry; a man’s position must be built thoughtfully and slowly to ensure permanency, success and respect.

Even with the right qualifications, the path of a foreigner in the employment of the Chinese Government was a hard one. Despite his credentials from Chungking and Kunming, he had to prove to the local authorities’ and everyone else’s satisfaction that he was the right person in the right place, especially as far as politics were concerned.

Thus I set out for Likiang realizing that the local people, not at first understanding the purpose of my arrival or of my work, would expect me to leave again shortly with empty hands, and that my Kunming headquarters were equally confident of the same outcome.



Peter Goullart

with 16 pages of plates

London 1957


Peter Goullart was brought up in the Orient and spent most of his life there. This book describes his years in the ancient forgotten Chinese kingdom of Nakhi in Yunnan, by the Tibetan border, where, as a representative of the Chinese Industrial Co-operatives, he really mixed with the people. ‘This is a book about paradise by a man who lived there for nine years. It is not easy to write a good book about paradise, but people are Mr Goullart’s forte, and when he mixes us up with the Nakhis he delivers us up to his idyll. Likiang itself, fits sunlight and its flowers and its rushing waters, its wine shops and caravans, its glints of danger, its swagger and its happy laughter, is really here’ (The Times Literary Supplement).
Wrapper design by Walter B. Cook

For sale to READERS UNION members only

This book is dedicated to

This RU edition was produced in 1957 for sale to its members only by Readers Union Ltd at 38 William IV Street, Charing Cross, London W.C.2, and at Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire, Full details of membership may be obtained from our London address. This edition has been reset in 11 point Fournier type, leaded, printed and bound at the Aldine Press, Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire. The book was first published by John Murray (Publishers) Ltd.