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When the announcement of the Expedition was made by the American Museum of Natural History it received wide publicity in America and other parts of the world. Immediately we began to discover how many strange persons make up the great cities of the United States, and we received letters and telegrams from hundreds of people who wished to take part in the Expedition. Men and boys were the principal applicants, but there was no lack of women, many of whom came to the Museum for personal interviews.
Most of the letters were laughable in the extreme. One was from a butcher who thought he might be of great assistance in preparing our specimens, or defending us from savage natives; another young man offered himself to my wife as a personal bodyguard; a third was sure his twenty years’ experience as a waiter would fit him for an important position on the Expedition, and numerous women, young and old, wished to become “companions” for my wife in those “drear wastes.”
Applicants continued to besiege us wherever we stopped on our way across the continent and in San Francisco until we embarked on the afternoon of March 28 on the S.S. Tenyo Maru for Japan.
Our way across the Pacific was uneventful and as the great vessel drew in toward the wharf in Yokohama she was boarded by the usual crowd of natives. We were standing at the rail when three Japanese approached and, bowing in unison, said, “We are report for leading Japanese newspaper. We wish to know all thing about Chinese animal.” Evidently the speech had been rehearsed, for with it their English ended abruptly, and the interview proceeded rather lamely, on my part, in Japanese.
Japan was reveling in the cherry blossom season when we arrived and for a person interested in color photography it was a veritable paradise. We stayed three weeks and regretfully left for Peking by way of Korea. But before we continue with the story of our further travels, we would like briefly to review the political situation in China as a background for our early work in the province of Fukien.
CHINA IN TURMOIL
During the time the Expedition was preparing to leave New York, China was in turmoil. Yuan Shi-kai was president of the Republic, but the hope of his heart was to be emperor of China. For twenty years he had plotted for the throne; he had been emperor for one hundred miserable days; and now he was watching, impotently, his dream-castles crumble beneath his feet. Yuan was the strong man of his day, with more power, brains, and personality than any Chinese since Li-Hung Chang. He always had been a factor in his political world. His monarchial dream first took definite form as early as 1901 when he became viceroy of Chi-li, the province in which Peking is situated.
It was then that he began to modernize and get control of the army which is the great basis of political power in China. Properly speaking, there was not, and is not now, a Chinese national army. It is rather a collection of armies, each giving loyalty to a certain general, and he who secures the support of the various commanders controls the destiny of China’s four hundred millions of people regardless of his official title.