Access to Yuen-nan-fu. Concentrated reform. Tribute to Hsi Liang. Conservatism and progress. The Tonkin-Yuen-nan Railway. The Yuen-nan army. Author’s views in 1909 and 1910 contrasted. Phenomenal forward march, and what it means. Danger of too much drill. International aspect on the frontier. The police. Street improvements. Visit to the gaol, and a description. The Young Pretender to the Chinese throne. How the prison is conducted. The schools. Visit to the university, and a description. Riot among the students. Visit to the Agricultural School, and a description. Silk industry of Yuen-nan.
Yuen-nan-fu to-day is as accessible as Peking. After many weary years the Tonkin-Yuen-nan railway is now an accomplished fact, and links this capital city with Haiphong in three days.
Reform concentrates at the capital. The man who visited Yuen-nan-fu twenty, or even ten years ago, would be astounded, were he to go there now, at the improvements visible, on every hand. A building on foreign lines was then a thing unknown, and the conservative Viceroy, Tseng Kong Pao, the decapitator in his time of thousands upon thousands of human beings, would turn in his grave if he could behold the utter annihilation of his pet “feng shui,” which has followed in the wake of the good works done by the late loved Viceroy, Hsi Liang.
The name of Hsi Liang is revered in the province of Yuen-nan as the most able man who has ever ruled the two provinces of Yuen-nan and Kwei-chow, a man of keen intellectuality and courtly manner, and notorious as being the only Mongolian in the service of China’s Government. I lived in Yuen-nan-fu for several weeks at a stretch, and since then have made frequent visits, and knowing the enormous strides being made towards acquiring Occidental methods, I now find it difficult to write with absolute accuracy upon things in general. But I have found this to be the case in all my travels. What is, or seems to be, accurate to-day of any given thing in a given place is wrong tomorrow under seemingly the same conditions; and although no theme could be more tempting, and no subject offer wider scope for ingenious hypothesis and profound generalization, one has to forego much temptation to “color” if he would be accurate of anything he writes of the Chinese. Eminent sinologues agree as to the impossibility of the conception of the Chinese mind and character as a whole, so glaring are the inconsistencies of the Chinese nature. And as one sees for himself in this great city, particularly in official life, the businesslike practicability on the one hand and the utter absurdity of administration on the other, in all modes and methods, one is almost inclined to drop his pen in disgust at being unable to come to any concrete conclusions.
Of no province in China more than of Yuen-nan is this true.