MoboReader > Literature > Across Mongolian Plains A Naturalist's Account of China's 'Great Northwest'


Across Mongolian Plains A Naturalist's Account of China's 'Great Northwest' By Roy Chapman Andrews Characters: 29073

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

The sunshine of an early spring day was flooding the flower-filled courtyards of Duke Tsai Tse's palace in Peking when Dr. G. D. Wilder, Everett Smith, and I alighted from our car at the huge brass-bound gate. We came by motor instead of rickshaw, for we were on an official visit which had been arranged by the American Minister. We would have suffered much loss of "face" had we come in any lesser vehicle than an automobile, for we were to be received by a "Royal Highness," an Imperial Duke and a man in whose veins flowed the bluest of Manchu blood. Although living in retirement, Duke Tsai Tse is still a powerful and a respected man.

We were ushered through court after court into a large reception hall furnished in semi-foreign style but in excellent taste. A few moments later the duke entered, dressed in a simple gown of dark blue silk. Had I met him casually on the street I should have known he was a "personality." His high-bred features were those of a maker of history, of a man who has faced the ruin of his own ambitions; who has seen his emperor deposed and his dynasty shattered; but who has lost not one whit of his poise or self-esteem. He carried himself with a quiet dignity, and there was a royal courtesy in his greeting which inspired profound respect. Had he been marked for death in the revolution I am sure that he would have received his executioners in the same calm way that he met us in the reception hall. He listened with a courteous interest while we explained the object of our visit. We had come, we told him, to ask permission to collect natural history specimens in the great hunting park at the Tung Ling, Eastern Tombs. Here, and at the Hsi Ling, or Western Tombs, the Manchu emperors and their royal consorts sleep in splendid mausoleums among the fragrant pines.

The emperors are buried at the lower end of a vast, walled park, more than one hundred miles in length. True to their reverence for the dead, the Chinese conquerors have never touched these sacred spots, and doubtless will never do so. They belong unquestionably to the Manchus, even if their dynasty has been overthrown by force of arms. According to custom, some member of the royal court is always in residence at the Eastern Tombs. This fact Tsai Tse gravely explained, and said that he would commend us in a letter to Duke Chou, who would be glad to grant us the privileges we asked. Then, by touching his teacup to his lips, he indicated that our interview was ended. With the same courtesy he would have shown to a visiting diplomat he ushered us through the courtyards, while at each doorway we begged him to return. Such is the custom in China. That same afternoon a messenger from the duke arrived at my house in Wu Liang Tajen Hutung bearing a letter beautifully written in Chinese characters.

Everett Smith and I left next morning for the Eastern Tombs. We went by brain to Tung-cho, twelve miles away, where a mafu was waiting with our ponies and a cart for baggage. The way to the Tung Ling is a delight, for along it north China country life passes before one in panoramic completeness. For centuries this road has been an imperial highway. I could imagine the gorgeous processions that had passed over it and the pomp and ceremony of the visits of the living emperors to the resting places of the dead.

Most vivid of all was the picture in my mind of the last great funeral only nine years ago. I could see the imperial yellow bier slowly, solemnly, borne over the gray Peking hills. In it lay the dead body of the Dowager Empress, Tz'u-hsi-most dreaded yet most beloved-the greatest empress of the last century, the woman who tasted of life and power through the sweetest joys to their bitter core.

We spent the first night at an inn on the outskirts of a tiny village. It was a clean inn, too-very different from those in south China. The great courtyard was crowded with arriving carts. In the kitchen dozens of tired mafus were noisily gulping huge bowls of macaroni, and others, stretched upon the kang, had already become mere, shapeless bundles of dirty rags. After dinner Smith and I wandered outside the court. An open-air theater was in full operation a few yards from the inn, and all the village had gathered in the street. But we were of more interest to the audience than the drama itself, and in an instant a score of men and women had surrounded us. They were all good-natured but frankly curious. Finally an old man joined the crowd. "Why," said he, "there are two foreigners!" Immediately the hum of voices ceased, for Age was speaking. "They've got foreign clothes," he exclaimed; "and what funny hats! It is true that foreign hats are much bigger than Chinese caps, and they cost a lot more, too! See that gun the tall one is carrying! He could shoot those pigeons over there as easily as not-all of them with one shot-probably he will in a minute."

The old man continued the lecture until we strolled back to the inn. Undoubtedly he is still discussing us, for there is little to talk about in a Chinese village, except crops and weather and local gossip.

We reached the Eastern Tombs in the late afternoon of the same day. Emerging from a rocky gateway on the summit of a hill, we had the whole panorama of the Tung Ling spread out before us. It was like a vast green sea where wave after wave of splendid forests rolled away to the blue haze of distant mountains.

The islands in this forest-ocean were the yellow-roofed tombs, which gave back the sun in a thousand points of golden light. After the monotonous brown of the bare north China hills, the vivid green of the trees was as refreshing as finding an unknown oasis in a sandy desert. To the right was the picturesque village of Ma-lin-yu, the residence of Duke Chou.

From the wide veranda of the charming temple which we were invited to occupy we could look across the brown village to the splendid park and the glistening yellow roofs of the imperial tombs. We found next day that it is a veritable paradise, a spot of exquisite beauty where profound artistic sentiment has been magnificently expressed. Broad, paved avenues, bordered by colossal animals sculptured in snow-white marble, lead through the trees to imposing gates of red and gold. There is, too, a delightful appreciation of climax. As one walks up a spacious avenue, passing through gate after gate, each more magnificent than the last, one is being prepared by this cumulative splendor for the tomb itself. One feels everywhere the dignity of space. There is no smallness, no crowding. One feels the greatness of the people that has done these things: a race that looks at life and death with a vision as broad as the skies themselves.

At the Tung Ling Nature has worked hand in hand with man to produce a harmonious whole. Most of the trees about the tombs have been planted, but the work has been cleverly done. There is nothing, glaringly artificial, and you feel as though you were in a well-groomed forest where every tree has grown just where, in Nature's scheme of things, it ought to be.

Although the tombs are alike in general plan, they are, at the same time, as individual as were the emperors themselves. Each is a subtle expression of the character of the one who sleeps beneath the yellow roof. The tomb of Ch'ien-Lung, the artist emperor, lies not far away from that of the Empress Dowager. Stately, beautiful in its simplicity, it is an indication of his life and deeds. In striking contrast is the palace built by the Empress for her eternal dwelling. A woman of iron will, holding her place by force and intrigue, a lover of lavish display-she has expressed it all in her gorgeous tomb. The extravagance of its decoration and the wealth of gold and silver seem to declare to all the world her desire to be known even in death as the greatest of the great. It is said that her tomb cost ten million dollars, and I can well believe it. But a hundred years from now, when Ch'ien-Lung's mausoleum, like the painting of an old master, has grown even more beautiful by the touch of age, that of the Empress will be worn and tarnished.

Charmed with the calm, the peace, the exquisite beauty of the spot, we spent a delightful day wandering among the red and gold pavilions. But fascinating as were the tombs, we were really concerned with the "hinterland," the hunting park itself. Sixty miles to the north, but still within the walls, are towering mountains and glorious forests; these were what we had come to see.

All day, behind three tiny donkeys, we followed a tortuous, foaming stream in the bottom of a splendid valley, ever going upward. At night we slept in the open, and next day crossed the mountain into a forest of oak and pine sprinkled with silver birches. Hundreds of wood-cutters passed us on the trail, each carrying a single log upon his back. Before we reached the village of Shing Lung-shan we came into an area of desolation. Thousands of splendid trees were lying in a chaos of charred and blackened trunks. It was the wantonness of it all that depressed and horrified me.

The reason was perfectly apparent. On every bit of open ground Manchu farmers were at work with plow and hoe. The land was being cleared for cultivation, regardless of all else. North China has very little timber-so little, in fact, that one longs passionately to get away from the bare hills. Yet in this forest-paradise the trees were being sacrificed relentlessly simply to obtain a few more acres on which the farmer could grow his crops. If it had to be done-and Heaven knows it need not have been-the trees might have been utilized for timber. Many have been cut, of course, but thousands upon thousands have been burned simply to clear the hillside.

At Shing Lung-shan we met our hunters and continued up the valley for three hours. With every mile there were fewer open spaces; we had come to a region of vast mountains, gloomy valleys, and heavy forests. The scenery was superb! It thrilled me as did the mountains of Yün-nan and the gorges of the Yangtze. Yet all this grandeur is less than one hundred miles from Peking!

On a little ridge between two foaming streams we made our camp in the forest. From the door of the tent we could look over the tops of the trees into the blue distance of the valley; behind us was a wall of forests broken only by the winding corridor of the mountain torrent.

We had come to the Tung Ling especially to obtain specimens of the sika deer (Cervus hortulorum) and the Reeves's pheasant (Syrmaticus reevesi). The former, a noble animal about the size of our Virginia deer in America, has become exceedingly rare in north China. The latter, one of the most beautiful of living birds, is found now in only two localities-near Ichang on the Yangtze River, and at the Tung Ling. When the forests of the Eastern Tombs have been cleared this species will be extinct in all north China.

Early in the morning we left with six hunters. Our way led up the bottom of the valley toward a mountain ridge north of camp. As we walked along the trail, suddenly one of the hunters caught me by the arm and whispered, "Sang-chi" (wild chicken). There was a whir of wings, a flash of gold-and I registered a clean miss! The bird alighted on the mountain side, and in the bliss of ignorance Smith and I dashed after it. Ten minutes later we were exhausted from the climb and the pheasant had disappeared. We learned soon that it is useless to chase a Reeves's pheasant when it has once been flushed, for it will invariably make for a mountain side, run rapidly to the top, and, once over the summit, fly to another ridge.

On the way home I got my first pheasant, and an hour later put up half a dozen. I should have had two more, but instead of shooting I only stared, fascinated by the beauty of the thing I saw. It was late in the afternoon and the sun was drawing oblique paths of shimmering golden light among the trees. In a clearing near the summit of a wooded shoulder I saw six pheasants feeding and I realized that, by skirting the base of the ridge, I could slip up from behind and force them to fly across the open valley. The stalk progressed according to schedule. When I crossed the ridge there was a whir of wings and six birds shot into the air not thirty feet away. The sun, glancing on their yellow backs and streaming plumes, transformed them into golden balls, each one with a comet-trail of living fire.

The picture was so indescribably beautiful that I watched them sail across the valley with the gun idle in my hands. Not for worlds would I have turned one of those glorious birds into a crumpled mass of flesh and feathers. For centuries the barred tail plumes, which sometimes are six feet long, have been worn by Chinese actors, and the bird is famous in their literature. It will be a real tragedy when this species has passed out of the fauna of north China, as it will do inevitably if the wanton destruction of the Tung Ling forests is continued unchecked.

The next afternoon four sika deer gave me a hard chase up and down three mountain ridges. Finally, we located the animals in a deep valley, and I had an opportunity to examine them through my glasses. Much to my disgust I saw that the velvet was not yet off the antlers and that their winter coats were only partly shed. They were valueless as specimens and forthwith I abandoned the hunt. Before leaving Peking I had visited the zo?logical garden to make sure that the captive sika had assumed their summer dress and antlers. But at the Tung Ling, spring had not yet arrived, and the animals were late in losing their winter hair.

In summer the sika is the most beautiful of all deer. Its bright red body, spotted with white, is, when seen among the green leaves of the forest, one of the loveliest things in nature. We wished to obtain a group of these splendid animals for the new Hall of Asiatic Life in the American Museum of Natural History, but the specimens had to be in perfect summer dress.

My hunter was disgusted beyond expression when I refused to shoot the deer. The antlers of the sika when in the velvet are of greater value to the natives than those of any other species. A good pair of horns in full velvet sometimes sells for as much as $450. The growing antlers are called shueh-chiao (blood horns) by the Chinese, who consider them of the highest efficacy as a remedy for certain diseases: Therefore, the animals are persecuted relentlessly and very few

remain even in the Tung Ling.

The antlers of the wapiti are also of great value to the native druggists, but strangely enough they care little for those of the moose and the roebuck. Hundreds of thousand of deerhorns are sent from the interior provinces of China to be sold in the large cities, and the complete extermination of certain species is only a matter of a few decades. Moreover, the female elk, just before the calving season, receive unmerciful persecution, for it is believed that the unborn fawns have great medicinal properties.

Since the roebuck at the Tung Ling were in the same condition as the sika, they were useless for our purposes. The goral, however, which live high up on the rocky peaks, had not begun to shed their hair, and they gave us good shooting. One beautiful morning Smith killed a splendid ram just above our camp. We had often looked at a ragged, granite outcrop, sparsely covered with spruce and pine trees, which towered a thousand feet above us. We were sure there must be goral somewhere on the ridge, and the hunters told us that they had sometimes killed them there. It was a stiff climb, and we were glad to rest when we reached the summit. The old hunter placed Smith opposite an almost perpendicular face of rock and stationed me beyond him on the other side. Three beaters had climbed the mountain a mile below us and were driving up the ridge.

For half an hour I lay stretched out in the sun luxuriating in the warmth and breathing in the fragrant odor of the pines. While I was lazily watching a Chinese green woodpecker searching for grubs in a tree near by, there came the faintest sound of a loosened pebble on the cliff above my head. Instantly I was alert and tense. A second later Smith's rifle banged once. Then all was still.

In a few moments he shouted to me that he had fired at a big goral, but that it had disappeared behind the ridge and he was afraid it had not been hit. The old hunter, however, had seen the animal scramble into a tiny grove of pine trees. As it had not emerged, I was sure the goral was wounded, and when the men climbed up the cliff they found it dead, bored neatly through the center of the chest.

Gorals, sika, and roebuck are by no means the only big game animals in the Tung Ling. Bears and leopards are not uncommon, and occasionally a tiger is killed by the natives. Among other species is a huge flying squirrel, nearly three feet long, badgers, and chipmunks, a beautiful squirrel with tufted ears which is almost black in summer and now is very rare, and dozens of small animals. But perhaps most interesting of all the creatures of these noble forests are the only wild monkeys to be found in northeastern China.

The birds are remarkable in variety and numbers. Besides the Reeves's pheasant, of which I have spoken, there are two other species of this most beautiful family. One, the common ring-necked pheasant, is very abundant; the other is the rare Pucrasia, a gray bird with a dark-red breast, and a yellow striped head surmounted by a conspicuous crest. It is purely a mountain form requiring a mixed forest of pine and oak and, although more widely distributed than the Reeves's pheasant, it occurs in comparatively few localities of north China.

One morning as Smith and I were coming back from hunting we saw our three boys perched upon a ledge above the stream peering into the water. They called to us, "Would you like some fish?" "Of course," we answered, "but how can you get them?"

In a second they had slipped from the rock and were stripping off their clothes. Then one went to the shallows at the lower end of the pool and began to beat the surface with a leafy branch, while the other two crouched on the bowlders in midstream. Suddenly, one of the boys plunged his head and arms into the water and emerged with a beautiful speckled trout clutched tightly in both hands. He had seen the fish swim beneath the rock where it was cornered and had caught it before it could escape.

For an hour the two boys sat like kingfishers, absolutely motionless except when they dived into the water. Of course, they often missed; but when we were ready to go home they had eight beautiful trout, several of them weighing as much as two pounds. The stream was full of fish, and we would have given worlds for a rod and flies.

Lu baked a loaf of corn bread in his curious little oven made from a Standard Oil tin, and we found a jar of honey in our stores. Brook trout fried in deep bacon fat, regular "southern style" corn bread and honey, apple pie, coffee, and cigarettes-the "hardships of camping in the Orient!"

When we had been in camp a week we awoke one morning to find a heavy cloud of smoke drifting up the valley. Evidently a tremendous fire was raging, and Smith and I set out at once on a tour of investigation. A mile down the valley we saw the whole mountain side ablaze. It was a beautiful sight, I admit, but the destruction of that magnificent forest appalled us. Fortunately, the wind was blowing strongly from the east, and there was no danger that the fire might sweep northward in the direction of our camp. As we emerged into a tiny clearing, occupied by a single log hut, we saw two Chinese sitting on their heels, placidly watching the roaring furnace across the valley.

With a good deal of excitement we asked them how the fire possibly could have originated.

"Oh," said one, "we started it ourselves." "In the name of the five gods why did you do it?" Smith asked. "Well, you see," returned the Chinese, "there was quite a lot of brush here in our clearing and we had to get rid of it. To-day the wind was right, so we set it on fire."

"But don't you see that you have burned up that whole mountain's side, destroyed thousands of trees, and absolutely ruined this end of the valley?"

"Oh, yes, but never mind; it can't be helped," the native answered. Then I exploded. I frankly confess that I cursed that Chinese and all his ancestors; which is the only proper way to curse in China. I assured him that he was an "old rabbit" and that his father and his grandfather and his great-grandfather were rabbits. To tell a man that he is even remotely connected with a rabbit is decidedly uncomplimentary in China.

But when it was all said I had accomplished nothing. The man looked at me in blank amazement as though I had suddenly lost my mind. He had not the faintest idea that burning up that beautiful forest was reprehensible in the slightest degree. To him and all his kind, the only thing worth while was to clear that bit of land in the valley. If every tree on the mountain was destroyed in the process, what difference did it make? It would be done eventually, anyway. Land, whether it be on a hill or in a valley, was made to grow crops and to be cultivated by Chinese farmers.

The wanton destruction which is being wrought at the Tung Ling makes me sick at heart. Here is one of the most beautiful spots in all China, within less than one hundred miles of Peking, which is being ruined utterly as fast as ax and fire can do the work. One can travel the length and breadth of the whole Republic and not find elsewhere so much glorious scenery in so small a space. Moreover, it is the last sanctuary of much of north China's wild life. When the forests of the Tung Ling are gone, half a dozen species of birds and mammals will become extinct. How much of the original flora of north China exists to-day only in these forests I would not dare say, for I am not a botanist, but it can be hardly less than the fauna of which I know.

If China could but realize before it is too late how priceless a treasure is being hewed and burned to nothingness and take the first step in conservation by making a National Park of the Eastern Tombs!

Politically there are difficulties, it is true. The Tung Ling, and all the surroundings, as I have said, belong unquestionably to the Manchus, and they can do as they wish with their own. But it is largely a question of money, and were the Republic to pay the price for the forests and mountains beyond the Tombs it would not be difficult to do the rest. No country on earth ever had a more splendid opportunity to create for the generations of the present and the future a living memorial to its glorious past.


INDEX [Topics only, page numbers not reproduced]


Altai Mountains

American Museum of Natural History, Asiatic Explorations of; trustees of

Anderson, Dr. J. G., Mining Adviser to Chinese Republic

Anderson, Meyer and Co., assistance rendered to expedition by

Andrews, Yvette B., extract from "Journal" of

Antelope, description of hunt for; speed of

Anthropoides virgo


Argul, desert fuel


Asia Magazine

Asian plateau

Asiatic mammals

Asiatic zo?logical explorations

Asses, wild (Equus Hemionus)



Baikal Lake

Barker, Major Austin

Beach, Rex, quoted


Bennett, C. R.

Bernheimer, Mr. and Mrs. Charles L.

Bighorn sheep (Argali)


Bogdo-ol (God's Mountain)






Caldwell, Rev. Harry R.

Canadian Pacific Ocean Service, transportation to America of collections by

Capreolus bedfordi

Caravans, camel

Casarca casarca

Castle, Rev. H.


Cervus hortulorum


Che-kiang, Province of

Chen, Chinese taxidermist


Chinese Turkestan

Chou, Duke

Citellus mongolicus umbratus

Coltman, Charles L., Mr. and Mrs.

Cranes; demoiselle


Cunningham, Hon. E. S., American Consul General

Cygnopsis cygnoides


Dane, Sir Richard

Da Wat Mountain, camped at foot of

Delco Electric lighting plant

De Tarascon, Tartarin


Dorchy, Tserin

Ducks, mallard; ducks, shoveler



Equus hemionus

Equus prejevalski

Eulabeia indica

Fabalis anser

Fauna, Mongolian

Faxon, H. C.



Gazella gutturosa

Gazella prejevalski

Gazella subgutturosa


Genghis Khan

Gillis, I. V.

Gobi Desert

God's Mountain (Bogdo-ol)

Goose, bar-headed; bean

Gophers (Citellus mongolicus umbratus)


Great Wall of China,

Grouse, sand

Guptil, A. M.


Hamster, desert (Cricetulus)


Harper's Magazine


Holcomb, Captain Thomas


Horses, wild (Equus prejevalski)


Hsi Ling

Hsu Shu-tseng, General


Hutchins, C. T., Naval Attache, American Legation

Hutukhtu, the Living Buddha



Jackson, G. M., General Passenger Agent, Canadian Pacific Ocean Service, appreciation for assistance in transportation of collections by

Jardine, Matheson and Co., of Shanghai


Kang, Chinese taxidermist

Kang Hsi, Emperor


Kendrick, J.




Korostovetz, M.

Kublai Khan


Lake Baikal

Lama church

Lama City


Lamas; monastery of

Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)


Larsen, F. A.

"Little Hsu"

Loo-choo Islands

Lucander, Mr. and Mrs.

Lucas, Dr. F. A., acknowledgment to

Lu, cook for expedition

Lung Chi'en, Emperor, tomb of

MacCallie, Mr. and Mrs. E. L.




Ma-lin-yu, residence of Duke Chou


Mamen, Mr. and Mrs. Oscar

Mammals, Asiatic

Manchu; dynasty of



Marmota robusta

Marmot; Mongols' method of capturing


Meadow mice (Microtus)

Memorial addressed to President of Chinese Republic


Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Mongolia, fauna of; religion of

Mongolian Trading Company

Mongols, dislike for the body of the dead; dress of; food of; manner of riding of; manner of catching trout by; morals of; Southern

Motion picture photography

Motor cars; Ford; hunting from; troubles with

Musk deer



Na-mon-gin, Mongol hunter

Nankou Pass

Natural History

Nemorhaedus caudatus

Nemorhaedus griseus

Olufsen, E. V.


Orlow, A., Russian Diplomatic Agent

Osborn, Henry Fairfield

Outer Mongolia

Ovis comosa

Ovis jubata


Panj-kiang, telegraph station at

Pan-yang wild sheep

Peck, Willys


Peking-Hankow Railroad

Peking Press, quoted from

Peking-Suiyuan Railway; motor service of

Perry, Commodore

Pheasant, Reeves's (Syrmaticus reevesi)

Photography, motion picture



Pluvialis dominicus fulvus

Polecat (Mustela)

Polo, Marco

Prayer wheels

President, Chinese Republic, Memorial addressed to, xiii

Price, Ernest B.

Prisons, description of


Rat, kangaroo (Alactaga mongolica?)


Red Army


Reinsch, Paul S.

Rifles used on expedition; Mannlicher; Savage

Rockefeller Foundation




Russian Consulate



Sain Noin Khan

Savage rifle



Shansi Mountains


Sheep, bighorn

Sheldrake (Casarca casarca)


Sherwood, George H., assistance rendered to expedition by

Shing Lung-shan

Shuri, Palace


Siberian frontier

Sika deer (Cervus hortulorum)


Smith, E. G.


Swan geese (Cygnopsis cygnoides)

Syrmaticus reevesi


Tai Hai

Tai yuan-fu


Tanu Ulianghai

Tao Kwang, Emperor


Telegraph poles, method of protection of

Tenney, Dr. C. D.

Tent, American wall; Mongol

Terelche region

Terelche River

Terelche Valley

Tibet, vii


Tola River

Tola Valley


Trans-Pacific Magazine

Trans-Siberian Railroad

Trout, manner of catching by Mongols

Tsai Tse, Duke, visit to palace of


Tung-Ling; pheasants and deer found at

Turin; lamasery at

Tziloa, pigs found at

Tz'u-hsi, Dowager Empress, funeral of

Ude, telegraph station


Urga, important fur market


Verkin Udinsk

Vole, meadow (Microtus)

Wai Chiao Pu, (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)


Warner, Langdon

Weatherall, M. E.

Weinz, Father, Belgian priest

Wells, description of

White Army

Wilder, Dr. George D.

Wireless station in course of erection


Wu Liang Tajen Hutung



Yangsen, Loobitsan, Duke

Yero mines, gold found at


Yurt, Mongol house, description of

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top