In standard works on Chinese armaments no mention is ever made of the Yuen-nan army, and statistics are hard to get. But it is evident that the cult of the military stands paramount, and it has to be conceded, even by the most pessimistic critics of this backward province, that the new troops are sufficiently numerous and sufficiently well-organized to crush any rebellion. This must be counted a very fair result, since it has been attained in about two years. A couple of years ago Yuen-nan had practically no army—none more than the military ragtags of the old school, whose chief weapon of war was the opium pipe. But now there are ten thousand troops—not units on paper, but men in uniform—well-drilled for the most part and of excellent physique, who could take the field at once. The question of the Yuen-nan army is one of international interest: the French are on the south, Great Britain on the west.
On June 2nd, 1909, I rode out to the magnificent training ground, then being completed, and on that date wrote the following in my diary:—
“I watched for an hour or two some thousand or so men undergoing their daily drill—typical tin soldiery and a military sham.
“Only with the merest notion of matters military were most of the men conversant, and alike in ordinary marching—when it was most difficult for them even to maintain regularity of step—or in more complicated drilling, there was a lack of the right spirit, no go, no gusto—scores and scores of them running round doing something, going through a routine, with the knowledge that when it was finished they would get their rice and be happy. Everyone who possesses but a rudimentary knowledge of the Chinese knows that he troubles most about the two meals every day should bring him, and this seems to be the pervading line of thought of seven-eighths of the men I saw on the padang at drill. Officers strutting about in peacock fashion, with a sword dangling at their side, showed no inclination to enforce order, and the rank and file knew their methods, so that the disorder and haphazardness of the whole thing was absolutely mutual.
“Whilst I was on the field gazing in anything but admiration on the scene, I was ordered out by one of the khaki-clad officers in a most unceremonious manner. Seeing me, he shouted at the top of his thick voice, ‘Ch’u-k’ue, ch’u-k’ue’ (an expression meaning ’Go out!’—commonly used to drive away dogs), and simultaneously waved his sword in the air as if to say, ‘Another step, and I’ll have your head.’ And, of course, there being nothing else to do, I ‘ch’u-k’ued,’ but in a fashion befitting the dignity of an English traveler.
“The reorganization of the army, with the acceleration of warlike preparedness, has the advantage that it appeals to the embryonic feeling of national patriotism, and affords a tangible expression of the desire to be on terms of equality with the foreigner. That officer never had a prouder moment in his life than when he ordered a distinguished foreigner from the drilling ground, of which he was for the time the lordly comptroller. And it may be added that the foreigner can remember no occasion when he felt ‘smaller,’ or more completely shrivelled.