Wednesday, June 12th, 1935 sitting beneath a tree in Yale, Changsha,
Hunan, Gareth wrote to his family:
I am safe and sound after an adventurous journey of over 400 miles from
Canton on to the interior of China. It was a journey. So I
shall describe to you in my letter."
Saturday morning at 6 o’clock the Chinese boy woke me at the New Asia
Hotel, Canton and I reluctantly got up. I had packed my rucksack
and small bag. I had tea and settled the bill (very high for
thanks to Roosevelt and his policy of buying silver, the money has gone
up terribly) tipped the boys who looked after me, got into a rickety
taxi and rattled off to the Wongsha Station. I had a second-class
ticket to Lokchong, as there was no 1st class on the train. It is
on the Canton - Hankow Railway that will be finished in 1936-37 and will
have a great affect on the unification of China. Two villainous
looking coolies carried my bags from the taxi to the station and also 2
parcels filled with bread, ham, butter, cheese and chocolate.
train was awful - all wooden and the 2nd class was packed, so I made
myself at home in the very primitive dining car. The train left at
7.45. There were dozens of officers of General Chen Chi-tang’s
army (he is a great man in Canton) and lots of soldiers in blue
uniforms. We went pass the lotus and the fishponds and past the
rice-fields. We crawled along. It was pouring with rain.
Soon I realised that the floods around were terrific. There were
vast areas covered with yellow water, trees peeping out of the floods
and the big wide river was lashing down full speed with thousands of
eddies and whirlpools. I got rather alarmed, because I knew that
most of the journey would have to be made by river and bus and I was
afraid that the roads would be covered with water and that the force of
the river would be too great for any sampan to go upstream.
stopped at lots of stations. I got wet because the roof of the
coach was leaking and the water dripped down upon me until I changed my
seat. The soldiers, armed with revolvers or rifles, stared at me.
We entered the mountains and the scenery was not unlike Devonshire, only
it was more barren. There were rice fields and there were graves
on the mountainside. In one place I saw an anti-Japanese poster
representing a Japanese soldier with a bayonet at the throat of a
Chinese. People stared at me everywhere. In one station a
Chinese General, looking very funny, strutted up and down accompanied by
his officers. Coolies carried terrific weights on bamboo sticks.
long the train climbed slowly into the mountains, until at 5 o’clock
after 9 and half-hours the train stopped at Lokchong. I had been
told that the railway had not been built beyond that point and that I
had to find a sampan as far as a town called Pingshek that is upstream.
I descended from the train. Two boys carried my bags and we walked
a mile into the town. There were armed soldiers everywhere, but I
have never seen such a hopeless or funny lot. As I walked through
the town lots of people came to look at me with amusement or amazement.
taken to hotel in the dirty, main street, very primitive, but fine red
silk designs at the entrance with pictures of dragons on it. The
Chinese Hotel is like a barracks; one big room and the sleeping quarters
are divided by wooden partitions, but you can padlock your sleeping
room. A boy of about 11or 12 who seemed to dominate the hotel,
gave orders to all, gave me boiling water to wash and a little cup of
tea. He was surprised that I wanted a dry towel. They always
give wet towels in Chinese inns and it took him along time to
understand. I had a little balcony from which I looked out at a
pond and a decrepit temple.
I had a
look at the flooded river and thought it would be impossible to take a
sampan to Pingshek, my next destination. I showed my bit of paper
with: “ I want a sampan to Pingshek” written in Chinese.
The boy and two other men made gestures to imply “no good - Flood too
high” by waving their hands to imitate the river and making noises
like a flooded river.
showed the written sentence: “ I want a chair to Pingshek”.
They made gestures of a chair and seemed delighted. Yes, they
gestured you can get a chair to Pingshek at 9 dollars. It will
take two days. I did not like the idea of being bumped in a chair
carried on the shoulders of two coolies for two whole days.
decided to go for a walk. I wandered through the narrowest arcades
you can imagine; saw Chen Chi-tangs soldiers with fixed bayonets at the
entrance of each temple. I suppose the troops were quartered at
I should explain that
the part between Pingshek and Lokchong was up to recently, infested by
bandits. Gerald Yorke had given me letters written by his Chinese
servant Li (see Peter Fleming’s One’s Company for a description of
Li and of Gerald and also of the journey I did, except that Fleming and
Gerald came with his Chinese servant Li from Changsha to Canton while I
did it from Canton to Changsha). The letters were to magistrates
on route asking for 2 soldiers to accompany me should there be bandits.
In Canton I was assured that there were no bandits left.
Lokchong I went for a walk and saw a church with a cross. I made
my way past some soldiers who were jumping (long jump) and across some
rice-fields, until I came to the Church. There was an Italian
Dominican priest there and he welcomed me and we spoke a mixture of
French, Latin and Italian. He came from Sicily. It was
most lucky I called to see him, because he told me that the railways had
been built many miles into the mountains along the gorges.
“You need not go by chair. You take the railway as far as
it can go, but be careful between the railway and Pingshek. Molto
bandits! In Hunan (beyond Pingshek) there are no bandits”
rogues at the Hotel had not told me about the railway going on, because
they would have had a share of the 9 dollars for carrying me in the
chair (The Chinese are most dishonest like that). The missionary
told me that 9/10 of the conversation he overheard in the streets was
about money and the bargains they had made.
back to the Hotel, had Chinese food and orangeade. The Chinese
food was a dish of mushrooms, a few pieces of chicken, macaroni and soup
all mixed up.
the boy and his cronies, the coolies I did not want the chair, that I
was going on by train and they were most disappointed, but smiled as if
to say that they had nearly succeeded in deceiving me.
at 8 o’clock, but people were singing Chinese songs, shouting,
stamping most of the night and marching up and down. You could
here the sound of Mah Jong pieces. Outside the temple two girls
were singing monotonously, so it was hard to sleep.
next morning there was a banging at the door, hot water was brought in
and soon the boy was carrying my luggage on a bamboo pole for the mile
to the station. He took me to a big coach crammed with people.
There were 120 (so I counted) of us in one big coach, a number of them
were soldiers of about 15 or 16 years old I was, of course, the only
non-Chinese. Next to me was a little man with glasses (but I do
not think they were any use. They did not magnify. I looked
through them. He was just wearing them to look studious and
important). He had a tiny straw hat perched on the side of his
head. I grinned at him and he grinned at me. We were to be
travelling companions for two days, although he did not understand a
word of English.
little man quarrelled with a coolie. They shouted and yelled at
each other. Chinese seem to quarrel a great deal, but rarely come
to blows, although yesterday I saw a fight and one Chinese nearly pushed
the other into a stream.
the train started, then stopped, then went backwards, onward again,
stopped. At last we puffed on the new railway track, where
hundreds of coolies were still working. It was a fine ride along
the river, through the gorges where formerly bandits had a great time
descending upon the sampans. The train went for about 1 hour 1/2
to a station called Kimma. There my neighbour told me to follow
the others out. We went into a railway wagon and off we went
started eating bread. The people were amazed. They had never
seen bread before. I gave some for them to taste and they put tiny
crumbs into their mouths as if it were caviar. Then I ate the
chocolate and the passengers were amused. They tried to taste it
and they kept the red and silver paper (nestles 1d bar) as a momento.
wagon jerked along the track, along the river and came to a stop.
My companion indicated that we had to walk to Pingshek. We got a
coolie for my bags and we started walking.
won’t forget that walk. I had a 15-mile walk to get here. It
lasted from 10.45 till 4 o’clock almost without stopping in boiling
heat. My tongue was cracked with thirst and heat. In one
village I got some boiling water to drink in an opium den, where a
coolie was rolling his piece of opium just before smoking it, stretched
out on a mat. In one place I got lemonade, but no sooner had I
drank, then I got thirsty again.
number of soldiers with small semi-rifles, semi-revolvers were marching
along the track. We walked through unfinished tunnels, watched
hundreds of coolies build up embankments. We saw sampans trying to
go up stream, being tugged by about 10 coolies on the bank and moving
about 1 foot a minute. Had I taken a sampan it would have lasted
6-7 days to get to Pingshek?
companion gave me his umbrella against the sun. Visions of iced
drinks floated before me all the time until they almost became an
obsession. We scrambled over embankments across hills, got carried
by a ferry across a river. Then suddenly the sun disappeared and
it poured. Sun came out again and we boiled.
It was a pleasant
Sunday afternoon when we saw Pingshek, a small town on the river.
We found a primitive inn where my room was like a prison cell with bars
instead of windows. I swallowed 2 bottles of orangeade at once.
At 8.15 I went to bed.
There were noises all night, people tramping up and down in wooden
shoes, shouting playing Mah Jong games and singing Chinese songs.
Monday at 4.50 a.m. my companion woke me, told me to hurry, the hotel
boy carried out luggage through dim streets till we came to a mob of
people fighting for bus tickets. It was on the Kwangtung - Hunan
Then I found my money
was no good! I had Canton money and I had Hong Kong dollars, but
they were worthless and I was stranded and penniless. People would
not look at my valuable money!
my travelling companion came to my rescue. He was willing to
exchange my Canton dollars for Hunan or Shanghai dollars. Saved
again! He bought my ticket and we were pushed into a lorry, just
like a prison lorry, no windows, but some windows with iron bars.
There were 21 of us inside. At 6 o’clock off we went across the
frontier into Hunan province. We changed bus again, another lorry,
we changed bus at Ichang. The bus had ledges along the side less
than a foot wide. You have no idea how luxurious White’s buses are.
We do not realise our advantages in Britain.
destination was Chenchow. We rattled along all day. Three
times our bus was stoned. It was lucky there were no glass
windows. One big stone came right near me, but no one was hit.
There were boys throwing them. Then the pouring rain came. 3
o’clock in the afternoon we stopped after 9 hours bus! We were
in Chenchow so I thought.
pour. A coolie got my luggage and my bespectacled companion and I
got into a sampan and crossed a very wide river to a most miserable town
I have ever seen. We almost slipped on the landing place.
Rickshaw coolies bombarded us. I paid off my coolie (carrier) and
gave him lots of copper coins thinking I was most generous. He
yelled and shrieked and cried and I could not understand and the rain
was dripping down my neck and everywhere. I discovered later that
I had given him Canton copper coins instead of Hunan copper coins.
I got a
ride in a terribly old rickshaw. I wanted to go the Presbyterian
Mission where Dick Weigle had told me to spend the night with Rev. and
Mrs. Johnston. I said to the rickshaw coolie. “Meriko
“ (American) and I made the sign of the cross (i.e. Church). He
nodded and said “Yay-su” (Jesus). I said “yes” and off we went.
terrible. I had my legs perched over my luggage. The rain
was pouring through the hide covering over the rickshaw. The
streets were so narrow that 2 rickshaws could hardly pass each other,
about as broad as the drawing room at home. Then the roofs were so
near each other that the streets were dark. Worse than that the
roofs gathered all the rain and poured threefold onto the rickshaw and
upon myself. The stones of the road were bad and I was bumped and
bumped. He went on and on and on, never stopping. The rain
never stopped either and I was getting wetter and wetter. At last
he came to a river. He pointed and I saw a church. I was
never so delighted to see a cross, for we had gone about 3 miles.
We took a ferry across an angry flooded river. Then we had to walk
through flooded streets up to my ankles and got to the church.
“Now for a lovely bath and a welcome from Americans” I thought.
seemed funny. A Chinese man came and glared at me. Then
another came and scowled - a rotten welcome in the pouring rain. I
realised that it was a Chinese Roman Catholic Church and later I heard
that they probably mistook me for a White Russian tramp. The
rickshaw coolie had made a quite understandable mistake. No white
we went into the drenching rain. “Yay-su?” (Jesus) said the
coolie. I said “Yes, Yay-su!” and he nodded, so we walked
splashing in the mud and water past blind beggars and diseased people.
We crossed the ferry and returned to where we had left the rickshaw.
Rain, rain, rain, bumped over bad stones, narrow streets, nearly knocked
over a few blind, beggars, bashed into umbrellas. We came to a
place full of debris. It was a road being widened by order of
Chang Kai Shek. Then my rickshaw coolie stumbled in the street and
fell just like a horse in shafts. I got out. He stood up,
tried to arrange my bags for me and by accident pushed my rucksack into
a pool of mud.
city seemed huge and we went on and on past miserable houses. At
last he stopped by a grey wall, opened a door and I went in. It
looked like a Mission. Dripping wet, I went in, paid the coolie,
but he refused to take the money, because it was Canton money.
a rather sad looking missionary lady came in. I learned after that
she had every right to be said, because a big American Bank had smashed
in Shanghai and that she had lost all her savings and the Mission had
lost a lot of money.
do you do Mrs Johnson “ I said. “Dick Weigle suggested I
should stay here in Chenchow and has given me this letter of
introduction to you”.
this is not Chenchow. This Henchow and I am not Mrs Johnson.
You have come 100 miles to far!” It just shows the
difficulty of travelling in a country where one doesn’t know the
American Presbyterian missionaries were most kind. A Mr and Mrs
Birkle gave me a much-needed hot bath and a room. A Dr and Mrs
Brody gave me dinner and music.
said that there was a famine in the area I had come through. I had
not noticed a single thing, as all seemed well fed. The rice crops
failed last year and some of the peasants were eating grass. I
should never have known it. They also said that robbers who took
all the money from the passengers often stopped the buses.
Therefore I had been sensible to take only a little money.
morning, which was Tuesday at 4.45, Mr Birkle called me. I had a
good breakfast. A rickshaw coolie took me for miles into the
country until I thought he was misleading me on purpose, but it was a
fine morning and the lotus ponds looked beautiful. At last we
reached the bus station.
began the last day of the journey, the 4th day, a 6-hour journey by bus
from Henchow (or Hengyang, its new name). By the way, it was near
here that the village folk fearing that the railway builders were
disturbing the spirits of the mountains by making a tunnel, descended
upon them and killed 16. They are very afraid of the new railway
here. They believe that a newborn baby is buried in each pillar of
the bridges built. They also believe that for each pillar a local
man must die.
o’clock the bus left. It was a luxury bus, because it had
windows (green ones) and seats facing the front! Next to me sat a
German Missionary. He pointed out that the lines dividing the
rice-paddies and paths were never straight”. It is because the
villagers believe that the dragons or dragon spirits cannot go straight,
but wriggle along in a curving line”.
noticed that some of the women had tiny deformed bound feet and that
they wore white flowers in the back of the head. There were
soldiers everywhere, some of whom had curved swords and that that there
was a large tower or blockhouse on the top of every hill. These
were built against the Communists who ravaged the country in 1931 and
among other things destroyed the mission where I was invited to dine
last night Wednesday night, taking out 8 pianos and smashing them all to
pieces. Just before 3 o’clock we came to the gates of Changsha
(a city of 1/2 million). Soldiers came out of the towers and
searched the bus for firearms.
way one of the men on the bus could speak English. He was a keen
anti-Japanese Nationalist. “We must have machines everywhere in
China. We are building roads and railways. We will have
railway right to Szechuan. The Canton-Hankow railway that will be
finished next year will unify China. Chiang Kai Shek is a
is he is friendly with the Japanese” I asked.
That’s a trick. He is pretending to be friendly to mark time
until he is strong enough to have revenge and regain Manchuria!”
drove to the middle of Changsha. I took a rickshaw that brought me
to this great place, a big public school run by Yale University.
Dick Weigle whom I met on the President Monroe gave me a warm welcome.
I had done the journey of 420 miles by railway, by wagon, by sampan, by
walking, by bus and by rickshaw and I was glad to have arrived with
nothing more than a slight cold that is now disappearing. I had a
hot bath, rest, met a number of Yale graduates who are most kind and
jolly. I like the Americans very much.
This is a most excellent place. I shall stay here a few days, write some
articles and then go on to Hankow, Nanking and Shanghai.