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Full text of "The Land Of The Camel Tents And Temples Of Inner Mongolia"

951. 7 C18L cop i 

Cairanann. 

The land of the camel. 



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lEhSION EKYtLOPE CORR. 




THE LAND OF 
THE CAMEL 

Tents and Temples 
of Inner Mongolia 



By 
SCHUYLER CAMMANN 



THE RONALD PRESS COMPANY f NEW YORK 



Copyright, 1951, by 
THE RONALD PRESS COMPANY 



All Rights Reserved 

The text of this publication or any part 

thereof may not be reproduced in any 

manner "whatsoever without permission in 

writing 1 from the publisher. 



PRINTED IN THE XJNITED STATES OF AMERICA 



To Marcia 
WHO WAITED 



FOREWORD 

This book describes western Inner Mongolia in 1945. For almost 
nine years this region had been cut off by hostilities with the Japa- 
nese, which began there in 1936, and it will probably be a very long 
time before any American can get there again. Even before the war 
it was little known, as the distance from the China coast had prevented 
foreign contacts, except for a handful of missionaries. The war years 
had brought marked changes to Inner Mongolia, accelerating the 
exploitation, terrorization, and dispossession of the Mongols which 
the Chinese had begun some forty years before. Enough Mongols 
were still living there, however, to enable us to see and share their 
life in tents and temples, after the end of the war brought us leisure 
from other activities. It seemed important to write down what we 
saw of their strange customs and complex religion, as well as to 
describe the forces that were undermining their old traditions and 
their way of life. Thus this is primarily an account of the Mongols we 
met, and their opponents among the immigrant settlers and border 
officials. But it would not present a complete picture of the region 
if it did not also describe the semifeudal realm of the Belgian mission- 
ary fathers,. which has now passed into history. 

Most of Chapter 10 has previously been published in the Bulletin 
of the University Museum, Philadelphia, while some of the passages 
dealing with Mongolian chess have appeared in an article for Natural 
History. The writer is especially grateful to Walter Hill and to Dr. 
William LaSor for their kindness in allowing him to use their 
photographs. 

SCHUYLER CAMMANN 
University of Pennsylvania 

September, 1950 



CONTENTS 

CHAPTER PAGE 

1 First Impressions of Mongolia 3 

2 Crossing the Ordos 9 

3 The Great Plain IS 

4 Camp Life and Recreation 21 

5 Farmers of the Great Plain 28 

6 The Victory in Shanpa 41 

7 Our First Lamasery 48 

8 The Mongols at Home 57 

9 Meeting Dunguerbo 66 

10 The Living Buddha of Shandagu 73 

11 Ch'ien-li Temple, Pride of the Oirats 85 

12 More Lama Personalities 96 

13 Mongol Festival 101 

14 Down the Range to Dabatu Pass 106 

1 5 Temple in the Gobi 1 14 

16 Dunguerbo and His Family 121 

17 The Journey to Ago-in Sume 130 

18 Temple of the Antelope Cave 137 

19 Last Days in Shanpa 143 

20 Lo-pei Chao 152 

21 South by Camel 163 

22 Ninghsia Interlude 173 

23 The Second Camel Trip 183 

24 Leaving the Ordos 193 
Index 199 

vii 



ILLUSTRATIONS 

PAGE 

Getting the truck aboard the Yellow River ferry 12 

Ordos camels in summer, with sagging humps 12 
Chinese immigrant farmer ploughing up old Mongol grazing land on 

Hou-t'ao Plain 13 

Farmers harvesting soy beans on Hou-t'ao Plain 13 

The camp well 24 

A Chinese mother rides into Shanpa to market 24 

A Provincial army caravan enters Shanpa 24 

Typical Chinese tenant farmers' homes on Hou-t'ao Plain 25 
Tsong Kapa, founder of the Reformed Sect, with episodes from his 

life 52 
Tara, the Green Goddess. Gilded bronze image from a Mongol 

lamasery 53 

Mongol woman milking goats 64 

Yurts in the wasteland, Beilighe Pass 64 

Dunguerbo turning a giant prayer wheel in a lamasery 65 

Shandagu Miao at the base of the mountains. Author in foreground 80 

Chortens at Shandagu Miao 80 

Yamantaka and other demon-gods 80 

The Golden Image at Shandagu Miao 81 

Main pieces from two Mongolian chess sets 88 

Playing Mongolian Chess 89 

Peacock pawns and rabbit pawns from two Mongolian chess sets 89 

The Abbot, Lopon Dorje, receives some guests 104 

Two Oirat matrons in festival finery 105 

A Mongol woman brings her child to the Festival 105 

A Temple in the Gobi. Approaching Bayan Shanda-in Sunie 116 

The Great Chorten at Bayan Shanda-in Sume 116 

Camels bringing in sticks for temple fuel 117 

The temple butchers killing a goat by the "humane" method 117 

Lamas bringing in water for the temple 117 

The main temple at Ago-in Sume 140 

Oiruk, the host monk, at the door of our yurt 141 

Dunguerbo J s courtesy-aunt, the Shoibwonsh, with her grandson 141 



x ILLUSTRATIONS 

PAGE 

Border farmers taking in the autumn harvest 156 

Threshing grain with stone rollers 156 

The writer hires a camel 157 

Camel Caravan in the Ordos Region 157 

A Village Temple in Northern Ninghsia 180 

Ninghsia City, the North Gate 180 

A< Village gate in P'ing-lo, Northern Ninghsia 181 
When his modern bicycle breaks down, a Ninghsia official takes to a 

cart 181 



The Land of the Camel 



FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF MONGOLIA 

ON a hot, clear day in August 1945, several members of the 
U.S. Navy found themselves aboard a clumsy river scow, 
hundreds of miles from the sea, at the entrance to Mongolia. We 
felt somewhat out of place, but were thoroughly enjoying our new 
experiences. An hour or so before, we had driven by truck through 
the northwestern arm of the Great Wall of China, and finding this 
ferry at the town of Shih-chieh-shan, we were crossing the swirling 
brown flood of the Yellow River to enter the Ordos Desert of Inner 
Mongolia. 

The ferry boat was crudely built of logs split lengthwise to form 
rough planks. Our heavy six-by-six truck, straddling her amidships, 
made her very top-heavy. The truck had blocks under its wheels so 
it would not roll overboard, but it lurched dangerously as the scow 
wallowed in the crosscurrents of mid-river. The sweating coolies 
at the bow sweep strained to make headway, and the steersman in the 
stern had a fatalistic expression as though he were sure we would 
not make the other shore. I tried not to think about what would 
happen if the blocks slipped, or if the boat turned turtle. In addition 
to all our own equipment, the truck had a valuable cargo of supplies 
for an American outpost, and I was responsible for getting it there. 

Thinking back, I had little realized that I was getting in for any- 
thing like this when, three months before, my commanding officer in 
Chungking had first broached the idea of a trip to Suiyuan Province 
in Inner Mongolia. After describing to me the objectives of his mis- 
sion, he said that since I knew Chinese and had once traveled in 
Suiyuan before the War, he wanted me to come along as his inter- 
preter. 

I was surprised and delighted. For once I was to have a job that 
would have some relation to past experiences. Best of all, it would 
offer an opportunity to learn more of the life of the Mongols, which 
I had barely glimpsed in that brief summer's trip nine years before. 

3 



4 FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF MONGOLIA 

The commander had hoped to leave almost immediately, but one 
obstacle after another turned up to delay our departure. Finally on 
the first of July, we left Chungking in a small convoy, on the first leg 
of a long and interesting journey up through back-country China. 
About two weeks later we reached Sian, our halfway point, and while 
we waited there to conduct some business and check over our motors, 
the commander received orders to remain in Sian for special duty. 
As I was next in rank, he put me in charge of what was left of the 
convoy, a single heavy truck with nine Americans, including a doctor, 
a magician, and a motor mechanic he had believed in being pre- 
pared for any eventuality and ordered me to continue on to our 
original destination, a small weather station near Shanpa in Sui- 
yuan. 

By now, Sian itself was already some five hundred miles behind 
us, and the truck had come three times that distance with only the 
usual minor troubles to be expected while traveling in China off the 
beaten track. Our luck seemed too good to last, and if it should fail 
us now, in this god-forsaken place, far beyond the borders of China 
proper, we would have no way of salvaging either truck or cargo. 
But there was no point in worrying over what might happen ; I kept 
my fingers crossed and tried to concentrate on the scenery. 

This stretch of the Yellow River separated the fertile, reclaimed 
farmlands of central Ninghsia Province that had long been cultivated 
by the Chinese, from the Ordos Desert portion of Suiyuan Province. 
The latter was still largely Mongol territory, part of the real Inner 
Mongolia. Even from mid-river, we could see strong contrasts be- 
tween the two regions and their differing ways of life. 

Although the town we had just left was itself at the edge of a 
semidesert, stretching away to the north, it had enough willow trees 
and surrounding garden plots to give an impression of lush greenness 
in contrast to the bare sand and rock on the far shore. 

There, a low, rocky ridge rose fairly sharply from the beach, mak- 
ing a natural wall that shut off the desert. The ridge was broken at 
one point, above a small cluster of adobe inn-buildings that marked 
the ferry landing, but the pass had been partially closed by a wall of 
mud and stone with crenellations. This was pierced by a round gate 
literally the old Gate to Inner Mongolia. 

The un-Chinese character of the wall was emphasized by a tall, 
white chorten, a Mongolian religious monument, which towered above 



FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF MONGOLIA 5 

it from over the archway of the gate. The simple lines and clean 
whiteness of the chorten made a marked contrast to the very drab, yet 
overdecorated Chinese pagoda of baked mud on the shore behind us. 
Upriver, a high mountain projected from the range that extended 
along the northeastern horizon. About halfway up its almost vertical 
face, we could just make out a horizontal line of one-story, boxlike 
buildings, with a massive, equally square structure in the center. All 
were white, with a strip of red painted around the upper portion, 
looking clean and severely plain at this distance. 

Even before the steersman told me what it was, I recognized it as 
a lama temple. Both the buildings and their choice of location looked 
very Tibetan, as indeed they were ; for the Mongols, when they bor- 
rowed the Lama religion from the Tibetans, three centuries ago, had 
absorbed a lot of foreign cultural elements along with it. Without 
having visited this particular temple, I knew from previous travels in 
eastern Inner Mongolia and along the borders of Tibet that the 
interior of this lama shrine would have gilded images, vividly colored 
paintings, and fine, brocaded hangings. 

"Any chance of stopping for some pictures"? asked Walter Hill, 
an amateur photographer. His question echoed my own thoughts. 
I was eager to see the place, and have the others see it, as an intro- 
duction to Mongolia. Unfortunately, the steersmen said it was some 
distance off the main road, down a dubious ox-track where we might 
get stuck in the sand, and we had already been delayed long enough 
in the long journey from Chungking. For the time being, we had 
to be content with this distant view. 

When the ferry grounded on the far bank, and the doctor who 
doubled as alternate truck driver got the six-by-six safely ashore, 
we had a long wait. It would be some time before the other scow 
arrived with our trailer and the extra crates of gear, unloaded to 
lighten the truck. Meanwhile, leaving two men to guard the truck, 
the rest of us who had come over on this trip walked up past the 
small inn-buildings that made up the "village" of Shang-tu-k'ou, to 
see the chorten and the gate. 

We found the chorten ruined. Chinese soldier-bandits had torn 
off the gold-plated finial atop its slender spire, and had smashed in 
the front of it to steal the small handful of offerings included with 
its holy relics. This was a foretaste of what we were to find all too 
often in Inner Mongolia, where border Chinese with guns have taken 



6 FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF MONGOLIA 

advantage of the relative helplessness of the Mongol lamas to despoil 
their temples and shrines. 

Beyond the gate, the desert stretched off into the distance. Soft 
gray and tan sand dunes undulated toward the southern horizon, but 
the hills stretching away toward the mountains to the north were 
more gravelly and covered with sagebrush. In either direction it 
was absolutely barren. 

On each side of the chorten-gate, we noticed a rather crude cairn 
or obo, on which generations of travelers had tossed small stones to 
thank the gods for helping them to cross the little pass in safety. 
Above the gate to the north, on the highest point of the ridge-crest, 
we could see an even older monument, the ruins of a centuries-old 
watchtower. It might have been built by the Huns and destroyed by 
Jenghis Khan, for this region was rich in the history of vast empires 
that had risen to defy China. 

On our way back to the landing we passed a trio of colorful figures 
who stood talking in the doorway of an inn, and stopped to look at 
them. Two were Mongolian lamas in shabby robes of saffron and 
crimson, bound at the waist by twisted sashes of faded purple cloth. 
One lama had a crushed felt hat on his shaven head, the other was 
bare-headed, and both wore high, leather Mongol boots. The one 
with the hat was tall and rather gaunt, with a long nose, and sunken 
cheeks below high cheekbones. The other was shorter and more 
thickset, with a broader face. Both might have been taken for 
American Indians. As we came up, they were in the act of replacing 
their carved snuff-bottles in their belt-purses, having taken them out 
to exchange them with the third man, who had just joined them. 

The newcomer was a layman, a much finer looking man, with a 
frank, pleasant expression in contrast to the somewhat furtive looks 
of the lamas. He too would have resembled an American Indian 
except for the long, drooping moustache under his small, finely 
chiseled nose. Unlike the lamas, he was wearing a dark blue summer 
robe of heavy serge, with a red sash, a brown felt hat, and cloth 
boots. The latter were more ornate than the lama's leather ones, and 
were beautifully worked with lucky symbols applied in patches of 
dark leather. 

Though the features and dress of all three were so typically Mon- 
gol, and unlike anything we had seen in China, I thought I would try 
the experiment of greeting them in Chinese. The taller monk an- 



FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF MONGOLIA 7 

swered, with quite a strong accent, explaining that he, like many 
other lamas of the border regions I had visited, often had occasion to 
deal with Chinese merchants in buying things for his temple, and had 
learned their language in that way. 

He told me that all three of them belonged to the Ottok Banner, 
one of the seven divisions of the Ordos Tribe that lives in this desert. 
He and his fellow-lama had come down from the temple on the cliff, 
which he called Lo-shan Miao in Chinese. The layman, he said, had* 
a tent in the desert to the southeast. 

As we talked, I noticed a faded-looking Mongol woman sitting in 
the doorway of the next hut. The tall lama said that she was also of 
their Banner. She had on a dirty, dark green robe, scuffed boots 
that had once been as fancy as the layman's, and a soiled piece of 
toweling bound around her head over a very distinctive-looking head- 
dress. 

From under the cloth her hair hung in many small braids, all join- 
ing together to form two large ones that framed her face. Each of 
the large braids was encased in a tapering cylinder of dark leather, 
ending in flat, diamond-shaped corals set in silver. At the top of 
each cylinder was a large leather knob covered by a silver plate, 
rounded at the front and square in back, where it rested against her 
shoulder. These plates were also coral-studded. The contrast of 
the bright jewels with her otherwise very bedraggled appearance gave 
a strange impression of wealth in squalor, an impression that we 
were to feel again and again during our stay in Inner Mongolia. 

When I asked the tall lama about her headdress, he seemed sur- 
prised at my question, but explained that it was the basic type worn 
by all married women in the Ottok Banner. When we came to know 
people of some of the other Ordos Banners, though, we found that 
their women also wore the two braids encased in leather. Apparently 
only the shape and decoration of the silver plates in the upper portion 
marked the distinctions between each Ordos Banner. 

A number of Chinese, young and old, ferry workers and inn ser- 
vants, had followed us up from the riverbank, showing the invariable 
rude curiosity about foreigners that we always found in the back- 
country, but could never entirely get used to. When we stopped to 
look at the Mongols, a few of the youngsters laughed, and some of 
the adults walked off with expressions of disgust. One old man spat 
in contempt. 



8 FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF MONGOLIA 

"Mongol dogs !" he exclaimed. His attitude of disdain, and that 
of those around him, seemed to express more than the usual bad 
feeling of uneducated Chinese toward other peoples in the remote 
frontier regions. The four Mongols, in turn, were pointedly ig- 
noring the Chinese who stood behind us, making it plain that no love 
was lost on their side, either. 

I supposed that their mutual ill-feeling was probably due to the 
intolerance of two very different peoples thrown together in a sparse 
frontier region. The struggle for livelihood between the inpushmg 
Chinese immigrants and the native Mongolians would inevitably 
bring them into constant competition, while their very different ways 
of life, as settled farmers and nomadic herdsmen, would make for 
constant misunderstandings. 

I admitted to myself, though, that this explanation was probably 
oversimplified. In any case, I decided on the way back to the river 
that I would take every opportunity, in the spare time permitted by 
my job, to study the life of the Mongols and notice its differences 
from Chinese ways. Perhaps by doing this, I could find out the 
various elements that made for the misunderstanding and mutual 
hatred. This added a personal objective to the military one, for my 
travels in Inner Mongolia. 



2 

CROSSING THE ORDOS 

BY the time we got back to the river the other scow had arrived. 
The ferry coolies soon finished reloading the truck, and we 
hitched on the trailer with extra drums of gas and water for cross- 
ing the desert. Then we climbed aboard and got under way again. 
We could not pass through the chorten-gate ; that had been built just 
high enough for a camel, still the principal means of transport in this 
region. Instead, we drove north on another trail that ran for a short 
distance along the base of the ridge, then cut east through a newly 
made cleft to enter the desert. 

We were surprised to find how good the road was at first. It was 
only single track, but in this region of gravel hills, it had a firm base, 
and we scarcely sank at all. We passed a unit of the Suiyuan Pro- 
vincial Army working on one section, and they all stood up to" gape 
at the size of our truck. Finally we reached a well, where we stopped 
to camp for the night. 

A 4 'well" in the Ordos, or anywhere in Mongolia, for that matter, 
has none of the romantic associations of a desert oasis in literature. 
This was a typical one ; merely a deep hole sunk in the sand. Around 
it were no palm trees, no trees at all. In fact, nothing whatever was 
growing for some distance around the stone trough beside the 
boulder-lined shaft. The hoofs of sheep and goats, brought there to 
drink, had completely uprooted the little grass that might have man- 
aged to spring up in such a place. 

After setting up our cots for the night and unrolling our bedding, 
we ate a few cans of C-rations, then climbed a low rise behind the 
well, to see what the country beyond looked like. The view in all 
directions seemed bleak and unprepossessing. We were not yet used 
to the desert and could not appreciate the natural beauty of its dif- 
ferent aspects. 

Sagebrush-covered sand and gravel rising to low hills, occasion- 
ally crowned with jagged outer oppings of colored sandstone, 

9 



io CROSSING THE ORDOS 

stretched on endlessly to the north, east, and south. To the west 
rose the mountains we had seen when looking northward from the 
ferry. Now they loomed dark against the setting sun. Only the 
deep shadows cast by the last rays of sunlight gave any character to 
the landscape. Otherwise it had a uniformly drab aspect that seemed 
repellent to us. 

We sighted several large herds of black and white sheep and goats 
grazing oh distant slopes, a sign that the country was fairly well set- 
tled ; but one of the fellows spoke the thoughts of all of us when he 
exclaimed, 

"Why should people want to live in this dreary place at all !" 
As we returned to camp we were followed by a small herd of 
mangy, summer-thin camels, who appeared as if from nowhere. 
They seemed equally obsessed by curiosity about us, and a desire to 
drink from the well-trough. The camels were followed in turn by a 
herd of sheep driven by a scared-looking Mongol herdboy in a heavy 
sheepskin coat with the wool inside. When we stopped there, we had 
not seen any sign of life for miles. Now, with camels, sheep, and 
finally a herd of goats from the other direction, the place was 
crowded. 

In time the animals drifted off and, as it was fast getting dark, 
we began to think about turning in. Now we could see the reason 
for the boy's sheepskin coat. As soon as the sun went down an icy 
breeze sprang up from the north. It pierced right through our light 
summer khakis. When we left subtropical Chungking in sweltering- 
heat, we had not expected to find such extremes in climate, and had 
not brought enough bedding for sleeping out in such a place. We 
finally solved the problem by turning in fully dressed and pulling the 
blankets over our heads, thus shutting out the cold, and the beauty of 
the stars. 

Next morning we were wakened at dawn by the loud braying of 
an indignant she-camel being led to the well by a Chinese home- 
steader who must have lived nearby. Her protests seemed uncalled 
for, as she was only carrying two empty wooden water-buckets hung 
from the usual camel's pack-saddle. The latter was made of two long, 
burr-filled bags of coarsely woven goat hair, pressed firmly against 
either side of the sagging humps by a pair of stout poles, the ends of 
which were lashed together by hair ropes where they projected be- 
yond the humps, fore and aft The driver was leading her by a 



CROSSING THE ORDOS ir 

softer, more flexible rope of braided camel's hair, fastened to a long 
wooden peg that pierced her muzzle behind the nostrils. 

The angry animal got more and more annoyed as she neared the 
well, and when the man tugged lightly at the lead-rope to get her to 
kneel beside the trough, she lost all patience. Curving her neck up 
and back, she looked skyward, and let out a trumpet blast that woke 
the last sleepers. 

Our surprise and amusement at this desert alarm clock was 
quickly forgotten when Fred Johansen, the magician, rolled up his 
bedding. For lack of a cot, he had been sleeping on the ground. 
"What's this?"Jie asked, nudging with his toe at something under 
the edge of his lower blanket. It was a large scorpion that must have 
been attracted by the warmth of his body as he slept. After this, we 
were more careful where we walked and where we sat down. 

After a breakfast of rations, we continued on across the desert. 
The scenery seemed even more monotonous. Rise succeeded rise, 
with the same bleak vistas of sand and sagebrush from each hilltop, 
and countless dried-up riverbeds cutting down the intervening val- 
leys. Only the grazing herds of half-wild Mongol ponies, and the 
small flocks of wild antelopes that we scared up now and then, 
helped to liven the dreary landscape. 

I kept looking for the Mongol tents, wondering why I did not see 
any. We frequently sighted horsemen and herdsmen in the distance, 
but saw no sign of their dwellings. Later, when I came to know the 
Ordos more intimately, I found out why this was. Actually the 
whole region is quite well populated, but the Mongols are not 
anxious to have their tents seen from the road, where they might 
tempt passing Chinese. We must have been driving past numerous 
encampments all 'the time, hidden beyond rises, or set on the slopes 
of river gullies, below the level of the plain. 

Meanwhile, the "road" we were following became worse and 
worse. It had only recently been built as a supply route to Shanpa, 
the temporary capital of Suiyuan. 

As far back as 1926, I was told in Ninghsia, a bus road had been 
built linking Paotou, the terminus of a railway running west from 
Peking, with Ninghsia City. This road led along the north and west 
side of the Yellow River loop, without any crossings. The bus serv- 
ice had begun with much ceremony, and the provincial officials 
publicly heralded it as a new era in the opening of Inner Mongolia. 



12 CROSSING THE ORDOS 

But unfortunately, they spoke too soon. Within a few weeks all 
traffic had to be suspended because bandits were looting the busses. 
It was never reopened, and before long erosion and drifting sands 
had ruined it 

By 1937, when Governor Fu Tso-yi was driven west by the Japs, 
that road had long since been impassable. For several years there- 
after all war supplies had to come from the south by caravan, and 
only a trickle got through. As soon as he could spare some troops, 
Fu had them make the road we were on. 

We wondered why he had had it built- across the Ordos. The 
drifting sands south of San-sheng-kung had caused trouble on the 
old road, but the obstacles on this route even aside from the clumsy 
river crossings made it all the more impractical We suspected 
that in view of the bad relations between him and Governor Ma of 
Ninghsia, the rival warlord, Fu had deliberately made this road be- 
tween their domains difficult of access. 

Be that as it may, the road got steadily worse as we went further 
north. Yesterday we had seen soldiers improving the southern 
stretch, but along here, little had ever been done except a certain 
amount of leveling and removal of boulders. For the most part it 
was only a single track, but in places it branched to make several 
parallel ones, for no apparent reason. 

In most cases, the main track was marked by small cairns of peb- 
bles piled to stand out above the snow or drifting sands, or by the 
bleached bones of horses and camels that had died on the winter 
caravans. Several times, where the way was not marked, we got off 
into soft places while trying to find it again, and only the powerful 
ten-wheel drive pulled us out 

Meanwhile, the air was unbelievably dry, and it grew hotter and 
hotter as the sun rose higher, even though it was only shining dimly 
through the clouds. Our throats were parched from the heat and 
dust, and we were constantly tantalized by mirages. I knew from 
the map that there were several large salt lakes in the Western Ordos, 
but I was sure that our road kept well to the west of them. Still we 
kept seeing what looked like broad tracts of water to the east and 
west, and even directly ahead. The latter always vanished as we ap- 
proached, leaving the same gravelly sand.- 

The mirages to the west were especially spectacular because that 
high range, the Arbus Ula, jutted out of the desert on this side of the 




',_,; ,;</ . , , ; . [ .,,'..,.,. , , n* .,A , ,, '"'iv,' 1 , *,'ait J'.'-.j 

Getting the truck aboard the Yellow River ferry. 




Ordos camels in 'summer, with sagging humps. 
(Photos by W. E. Hill.) 




Chinese immigrant farmer ploughing up old Mongol grazing land on 

Hou-t'ao Plain. 




Farmers harvesting soy beans on Hou-t'ao Plain. 

(Photos by W. E. Hill.) 



CROSSING THE ORDOS 13 

Yellow River, with a strange, flat-topped mountain towering high 
above the rest. At times the lower mountains would be hidden by 
heat waves, and then the lofty one looked like an island rising from 
a silvery sea. 

To slake our thirst and stretch our legs, we broke our journey 
twice. We stopped first at a posthouse below a red sandstone mesa, 
standing alone on the rolling plain, and again at a small lama temple 
called Lo-pei Chao. I tried to get us admitted to the shrines, as I 
wanted the rest of the group to see what a Mongol temple was like, 
but the lamas refused. They made the excuse that the monk with the 
keys was away. We were disappointed, but this was a small loss as 
it turned out. Some of us were to see much larger and better lama- 
series before many weeks had passed. And the day was to come 
when several of us would be seeing all too much of Lo-pei Chao. 

One of the lamas, a tall old man, invited me into his private quar- 
ters, a small room opening out on a private courtyard. Half of the 
room was raised to make a dais, or k'ang, under which was a stove 
for winter. This had several small rugs to sit on, and a roll of 
sheepskin for bedding was pushed back against the rear wall. A 
shrine-box stood on a chest in the corner, its painted door blackened 
from the smoke of the butter lamps set out before it, and a sacred 
picture hung on the wall above. Otherwise the room was plain. 

The old lama brewed some tea in a large brass pot, making it with 
milk, a hunk of butter and a chip from a block of salt. He served it 
to me in a wooden bowl with much ceremony, and helped himself to 
some, but in spite of this show of friendship he still refused to open 
the temples. Either his Chinese was very limited, or he did not care 
to speak it, and I as yet knew no Mongolian, so conversationally the 
party was a failure. 

We spent most of the afternoon waiting for the ferry to get our 
truck back across the Yellow River. This was our third, and last, 
dangerous crossing, and we knew more or less what to expect. But 
when the scow finally got across to us, the boatmen seemed unpar- 
donably clumsy and inefficient. They were Mohammedan Mongols 
from a small community upriver, more used to handling oxcarts than 
trucks. Tempers were lost on both sides. 

The only really patient individual there was a temporary boatman, 
a stocky, well-built, but rather surly-looking lama. First he calmly 
helped to lighten the weight of the truck. Then he peeled off his 



I 4 CROSSING THE ORDOS 

Mongol boots and hiked up his scarlet robes around his waist to help 
shove off. Finally he stripped altogether, and joined the towmen 
wading against the current, until the ferry got far enough upstream 
to swing across. 

It looked strange to see a monk working like this, as the lamas 
generally form a privileged class, and usually only destitute peasants 
are expected to pay their way across by helping generally at the 
sweeps. I finally asked the head boatman about him, and learned 
that he was a lama wrestler from Lo-pei Chao, who wanted to get 
into trim for the annual temple games, soon to be held at Wojer 
Sume, a larger monastery nearby. His name, the boatman said, was 
Dansing. 

When the old scow finally swung out into the current to cross the 
river, we grounded twice on sandbars. The second time a strong 
eddy slammed us hard aground, and the steersman warned us that we 
might have to sit and wait for the river to rise before we could get off. 
The prospect annoyed two of the Americans, who were already im- 
patient with the boatmen. They stripped and jumped overboard, 
and by exerting pressure at the right places soon had us off the bar. 

We were all glad when we finally made the other bank, and got 
the truck ashore. It was now only a short distance to the Belgian 
Mission at San-sheng-kung, and as far south as Sian, people had be.en 
telling us of the priests' famous hospitality. 



3 

THE GREAT PLAIN 

WHEN WE crossed the river, leaving the Ordos Desert behind 
us, we were once more in Ninghsia. But this territory was 
vastly different from the lush farming land we had passed through in 
the southern part of the province. The broad stretches of coarse 
marsh grass and reeds, that extended for a mile or two back from 
the river, gave way to small farming plots reclaimed from the desert 
by irrigation trenches. Though here and there the desert had re- 
conquered them with slowly moving, wind-blown dunes. 

The mud houses of the farmers who tilled them were for the most 
part clustered in small villages inside heavy walls, for protection 
against bandits, though a few families that were too poor to have 
anything to lose had their huts out beside their fields. Most of the 
villages had grown up around the missions or outstations of the 
Belgian fathers, but some had been formed by clans or groups of 
friends who had migrated together from some district south of the 
Great Wall, banding together for mutual protection against border 
raiders. 

We spent that night at San-sheng-kung, the headquarters of the 
Belgian Mission, a sizable town about two miles back from the 
river. Here the priests gave us some much needed water to wash off 
the dust of desert travel, and fed us a large European-style dinner 
with plenty of wine and homemade cheese. It amused us, and at the 
same time impressed us, to see the varying types around the supper 
table : Dutch peasant-types, intellectual-looking Flemings, and even 
an aristocratic old German. In Europe at this time they would 
have been on bad terms, if not open enemies. Here they were chat- 
ting together with plenty of good-natured banter, apparently the best 
of friends. After supper, small, jolly Father van Hoist served us 
some homemade liqueur. Then he sat down beside me and told how 
their mission, the Congregation de Scheut, of Brussels, had started 
its work in that region. 

15 



16 THE GREAT PLAIN 

In the late 1870's, he said, when the terrible Mohammedan Re- 
bellion had ended and it was safe for missionaries to travel, the first 
Belgian father arrived from the East to set up a small chapel in the 
neighboring town of Tung-t'ang. This was then all Mongol land. 
From the Ordos to the mountains that rim the plain on the West, and 
even beyond, it all belonged to the Prince of the Alashan Oelot Ban- 
ner. A few families of Chinese pioneers had moved in during the 
past hundred years, but they had all been driven off or massacred by 
the fanatic Moslems in the 60's. The father and his colleagues, who 
came shortly after, agreed to lease a large tract from the prince in 
return for a nominal yearly tribute. 

"We still keep the contract with his descendant, the present Prince 
of Alashan/' Father van Hoist added. "His messengers will come to 
collect the annual sum at the end of this month. They are always 
very tall for Mongols; so tall! And what beautiful horses! You 
would like to see them." 

I assured him that I certainly would like to see them, but explained 
that this trip of ours was only a very brief one just an interlude in 
our China duty. We expected to be returning South within a week 
or two. 

He went on to tell me how the newcomers wanted to encourage 
settlers who would be converts, and how they immediately saw that 
the principal thing needed to turn this uncertain grazing land into a 
rich farming region was a controlled water supply. The rains were 
rare, and torrential when they came, but a canal would solve the 
problem. In fact, the ruins of ancient ditches some twenty centuries 
old showed that someone had had the idea before. What had been 
done once could be done again. 

As soon as the first converts began to dig ditches and irrigate the 
land, small groups of Chinese farmers, poor refugees from famine- 
stricken Shansi and Shensi the neighboring provinces to the south 
and east had moved in. As word got back to their former homes, 
more immigrants came. These were of poorer stock, some of them fu- 
gitives from justice, but they all helped to reclaim the land. In the 
short space of about forty years the Chinese settlers had dispossessed 
most of the Mongols, sometimes by fair means but usually not. 
They had driven the original owners back into the barren mountain 
range that rimmed the horizon to the north and west, enclosing the 
Great Plain. 



THE GREAT PLAIN 17 

Father van Hoist and his fellow missionaries deplored the effect 
of this on the Mongols. In fact, those who had worked with the 
Mongols at their Ordos station liked them far better than the immi- 
grant Chinese. However, they felt that the change was bound to 
come eventually anyhow, with the recent Chinese tendency to thrust 
beyond the frontiers. There was no doubt in their minds that their 
work had been predominantly for the good ; much land had been re- 
claimed, and many souls saved. 

Later that evening we partially repaid the mission hospitality 
with a show by our magician. Before the War, Fred Johansen had 
been an amateur magician of considerable talent. He had been sent 
to China because of other more technical qualifications, but in Chung- 
king his magic ability became known through a few public shows for 
Chinese and American friends. The officer originally in charge of 
the convoy had seen him perform there, and had brought him along 
as a sort of court jester, to create good will when we were feasted by 
Chinese officials. Our commander's foresight in providing himself 
with an entertainer and a doctor, as well as a private mechanic and 
an American interpreter, had provoked the chuckles of other officers, 
but we were extremely grateful to him. Not only were the four of 
us glad for the opportunity to make the trip, but with our respective 
specialties, the expedition was prepared for almost anything. 

They were having a conference at the mission, and had only one 
or two vacant rooms, so most of us slept out in the parklike garden. 
The spreading shade trees and European flowers brought nostalgic 
memories of shaded lawns and gardens at home. It was hard for us 
to realize that just over the wall was a semidesert, where crops were 
only kept up at great cost. It was a most peaceful and relaxing spot 
for the fathers when they came in from their out-stations. But even 
San-sheng-kung, restful as it seemed, had had its share of border 
violence. That evening and on later occasions, the priests told us of 
harrowing experiences during bandit raids and local wars. They had 
even felt the effect of this War, when a Japanese bomb, aimed at a 
company of local militia in the village outside their wall, had badly 
damaged the beautiful mission church. 

Next morning, we drove for an hour or more over the same flat 
country. Now and then we passed a farm or two, or a cluster of 
them around a mission chapel ; but a lot of the land lay waste. The 
missionaries said that fear of bandits had discouraged some of the 



i8 THE GREAT PLAIN 

settlers and driven them away, but many of the latter had been a 
shiftless lot and were discouraged by the sheer work of pioneer farm- 
ing. The irrigation ponds had silted up, and marshes had sprung 
up around them. In several places large dunes had formed where 
bad farming methods had removed the topsoil and released the drift- 
ing sands. Apparently it did not take long to ruin this reclaimed 
land. A small lamasery here, and a crumbling chorten there, on an 
older trail parallel to the main road, showed that the district had 
only recently been taken from the Mongols. 

Then we came to a small creek, with a guardhouse beside the 
bridge. A soldier signaled to us to stop, and a sullen-looking officer 
strolled out to examine our Chinese passports. This was the pro- 
vincial border, and now we were back in Suiyuan. 

The country on the other side of the creek was exactly the same. 
A completely flat plain reached almost to the horizon northwest of 
us, ending abruptly against the towering wall of the Khara Narin 
Ula, or Lang Shan Range. The mountains were a soft lavender 
color through the morning haze. They seemed very far away, but we 
could not judge their distance. 

This Hou-t'ao Plain was vast. It looked as though it extended 
indefinitely to the south and to the northeast, but our map showed 
that it had limits. Apparently it stretched in a broad arc from a little 
below San-sheng-kung to the town of Sarachi (Sa-hsien), east of 
Paotou, extending from the present course of the Yellow River to 
its old bed at the base of the Lang Shan Range. 

The priests had said that this whole area had been rich grazing 
land, divided up between several Mongol Banners. The Alashan 
Banner had owned only the western section. Until the latter part of 
the last century, Inner Mongolia like Manchuria was closed to 
the Chinese by orders of the Manchu Emperors of China. These or- 
ders had been relaxed, without being formally repealed, during 
the 1870's. 

The first Chinese colonists had been merchants from Tatung, 
Kalgan, and Peking, who imported manufactured goods in exchange 
for furs and hides. Then came artisans and small traders, followed 
by farmers, who were often destitute and desperate men, sometimes 
even fugitive criminals. These had gradually moved into the eastern 
section of the plain, around Sarachi, and at the turn of the century 
they began to spread westward toward this region, until they met 



THE GREAT PLAIN 19 

the colonists from the south, brought in by the irrigation projects of 
the San-sheng-kung Mission. 

This Chinese population was still rather scant and very scattered, 
especially in this western area, until 1914, when Inner Mongolia was 
incorporated into China proper. In that year, it was divided up into 
four administrative districts and opened officially to colonists, in 
order to form a buffer region to protect the northern provinces from 
Russian influences, which were already strong in Outer Mongolia. 
In 1928, after the Russians had 'taken over Outer Mongolia alto- 
gether and had begun to organize it in their own fashion, the four 
districts of Inner Mongolia were reorganized. They were made into 
definite provinces Jehol, Chahar, Suiyuan, and Ninghsia and 
colonists were given special encouragement. The railroad from 
Peking, which had been extended as far as Paotou in 1923, made 
traveling easier, and many families came. Now, the whole Hou-t'ao 
Plain was predominantly Chinese. Aside from an occasional small 
settlement where the Mongols had turned to farming for self-preser- 
vation, it was necessary to ride to the mountains which bordered 
the great plain on the northwest and the north to find Mongols in any 
number. 

Unfortunately for the newcomers, however, this territory did not 
offer them opportunities for an independent life and personal enrich- 
ment, such as our own pioneers found in the American West. For 
in Inner Mongolia, the officials had staked out claims to all the rich 
areas for themselves, before opening the land to colonization. Thus 
a settler could not own his own land, but had to become a tenant of a 
semifeudal landlord, either a Chinese official or the Belgian Mission. 
Many preferred to take their chances with the foreigners, since the 
Belgians had shown their initiative in developing the land by irriga- 
tion systems, especially in the western portion of the Hou-t'ao. 

Our rough map showed that Shanpa was near the center of the 
western farming region. Long before we reached it, we began to 
expect a town of some size, as the area seemed very rich. We passed 
broad fields of wheat, millet, and ripening melon plants, with glimpses 
of large castles of wealthy landlords set back in willow groves. The 
fathers at San-sheng-kung, however, had warned us not to expect 
too much. They told us that before the War, the new capital of 
Suiyuan had been only a small farming village, called T'ai-an-Chen, 
built around one of their mission stations. Its rise in rank, they said 



20 THE GREAT PLAIN 

had only brought a change in size, without any radical change in its 
nature. 

This was almost true. As we drove down the unpaved main 
street of Shanpa, all the shops were very low, only one story high. 
Two or three brick buildings of modified foreign style, had high 
fronts with characters that proclaimed them as branches of national 
banks. One or two other, modern-looking structures, faced in grey 
brick with fancy trimmings in white, were apparently food shops run 
by refugees from the East. Otherwise the shops were very simply 
built, of whitewashed adobe, with open fronts. On the long black 
counters, we caught glimpses of wooden saddles from Sian and Lan- 
chow to the south, handsome saddle rugs from Ninghsia and Paotou 
for those who could afford them, and a lot of harness and other 
leather goods, made from hides sold by the Mongols. 

Glancing down the main cross street, we caught sight of some 
wooden hoops with colored cloth streamers that marked eating shops 
red streamers for the pork-selling Chinese restaurants, and blue or 
black ior the mutton and beef shops of the Moslems. On the out- 
skirts of town we passed several large inns or caravanserais. These 
had large open courtyards surrounded on two or three sides by sheds 
for the pack bales, with hitching posts to tether horses or camels, and 
in a rear courtyard small shacks for the men to sleep. The inns, like 
the private dwellings on the side streets, were of plain adobe mud. 
Only the doors, door frames, and window lattices were made of the 
ultra-scarce wood, 

Shanpa did not strike us as being a very colorful town, but as we 
only had time for a quick glance, we reserved judgment. We drove 
on beyond it for about five miles, past isolated farms, and finally 
reached the American camp, our destination. 



CAMP LIFE AND RECREATION 

A SHORT distance beyond the last adobe shack, the newly made 
JL\. road led to the gate of a large fortress-like structure, with a few 
small barracks off to the left. The plain mud walls had several cir- 
cular insets of white plaster painted with foot-high characters to 
make a trite Nationalist slogan. It looked like any modern Chinese 
garrison. 

Two Chinese soldiers with American automatic rifles stood by 
the mud sentry boxes that flanked the gate. When they saw we were 
Americans they waved us through into a narrow lane. Most of the 
permanent staff came crowding out to meet us, through doors open- 
ing out of courtyards at each side. About eight officers and a dozen 
enlisted men were regularly assigned to the post, and since it was 
Sunday, only two were on duty. They took us right into the chow- 
hall for lunch; asking us a thousand questions about their buddies 
down in China, and what things were like at headquarters in Chung- 
king since they had left there. 

When we had finished answering their questions, we asked some 
of our own, about the camp itself and the surrounding country. We 
were surprised to find that it was a Belgian mission station, fortified 
by a reinforced mud wall. Some of the original buildings had been 
taken over for a weather station, and the rest had been turned into 
barracks for the weather boys and for the Americans sent up to in- 
struct Chinese guerillas for border warfare. The barracks we had 
seen outside the walls were for the latter s' students. 

It seemed that when the first party of Americans had arrived in 
the winter of 1944, and asked the Governor to find them a place to 
stay, he had given them this mission station, formally called Ta- 
shun-chen. At first they did not realize that it was a question of 
confiscation, though they had wondered at the sullenness and appar- 
ent resentment of the outgoing priests. As soon as the first camp 
commander, who was incidentally a Protestant, discovered the facts 

21 



22 CAMP LIFE AND RECREATION 

of the case, he arranged to pay the Belgian Mission for its use, as 
though he were merely renting it from them. This had established 
cordial relations between the Americans and the missionaries, to 
their mutual advantage. 

After lunch that day, they found temporary bunks for the doctor 
and me in the officers' quarters, while the rest of the party were tem- 
porarily housed in the small chapel, now deconsecrated. All but 
three of the group, including myself, expected to be returning south 
in a week or two. I had just finished stowing my gear when one of 
the camp's officers walked in and suggested "a swim in the Gobi/' 
explaining that this meant a ride out to a desert swimming hole. 

He led the doctor and me out to the corral and helped us find 
horses. Governor Fu had kindly lent to the camp enough Mongol 
ponies so that each of the permanent staff had one, with a few left 
over, along with three Chinese "horse boys" (ma-ju) to take care of 
them. The head ma-fu caught and saddled two of the extra ones for 
us, and we rode off with a group of men from the camp. 

It was wonderful to get exercise again, and we came to like the 
country even better from this closer, more intimate view of it. As 
we headed west toward the tall mountains, the peaks seen through the 
hot afternoon haze were a soft reddish purple. The path itself was 
rather narrow, with an irrigation ditch on our left, and a tall stand 
of reeds to our right. One of the leading horses flushed a pheasant 
out of a thicket and it scurried across the path. 

Soon the irrigation ditch turned off toward the south, and the 
land began to get drier. Patches of sand among the grass and reeds 
soon gave way to a stretch of real desert. Tall dunes rose on all 
sides, gleaming white in the sunlight and casting deep blue shadows. 
We scrambled up one to see the view, amid clouds of sand dislodged 
by the slipping hoofs, and I was surprised to see that this desert tract 
was only about a mile long and half a mile wide, with more meadow- 
land beyond. So this was what the boys at camp called the Gobi ! I 
wondered whether the real Gobi, lying beyond those mountains to the 
west, looked like this on a larger scale. I supposed I would never 
know, as they had told us at lunch that the Japanese still had outposts 
just over the passes. 

Beyond the third line of dunes we came to the pool. It was a 
natural pond several hundred yards long, and lay in a stretch of flat- 
ter prairie where grasses grew again. As we rode up in a dust cloud, 



CAMP LIFE AND RECREATION 23 

two Mongol herdboys who had been tending some fat cattle at the 
far end, moved nearer in curiosity. When we plunged in, the water 
which came from deep springs was ice cold with a faint taste of salt 
and alkali. It felt wonderful after months of no swimming in China. 
All the dust of travel washed off rapidly, and with it I lost the sense 
of responsibility for truck and men that had been weighing on me 
since we had left Sian. 

For the next week and a half, I was fairly busy seeing Chinese of- 
ficials, including Governor Fu himself, and my only recreation was 
an occasional after-supper canter out to the swimming pond. How- 
ever, the trips themselves into Shanpa made a pleasant change from 
camp life. I gradually came to know the town quite well. Our first 
impressions of its provinciality had not been far wrong, though there 
were signs of attempted improvement. I noticed that further down 
the main street a row of shops had new fronts, and that workmen 
were beginning to dismantle other shops to remodel them in more 
elaborate fashion. When I asked a Chinese friend whether this was 
being done by the merchants themselves, he replied, "Of course not. 
Governor Fu is doing it. It makes his headquarters town look bet- 
ter, and thus gives him more 'face.' The money came from your 
country, through the United China Relief." I was taken aback as, 
before we entered the war, I had given this "charity" some money I 
had made from lecturing on China, and this example of the way its 
funds were used was very disillusioning. 

The actual official buildings were very plain, looking much like 
the adobe houses and barracks that surrounded them. Probably they 
were intentionally left that way, to be inconspicuous in cases of possi- 
ble bombing. The only exception was the Provincial Guest House. 
But that had to be imposing for reasons of "face," since high Govern- 
ment officers were housed there on official visits ; even General Wede- 
meyer had stayed there. It was a very large building in foreign style, 
set in an elaborate formal garden, and would have made an excellent 
bombing target. And yet, although the Japanese airbase at Paotou 
was less than an hour away by plane, Shanpa had not been attacked 
since it had been built up as a capital after the repulse of the great 
Japanese cavalry raid into southwestern Suiyuan in 1940. In fact, it 
was rumored locally that the higher Chinese officials had "made ar- 
rangements" with the enemy that neither side would be too aggres- 
sive, in the interests of wartime trade. 



24 CAMP LIFE AND RECREATION 

We were all too ready to believe such rumors of corruption, hav- 
ing just come from Sian, where the city's shops were full of Japanese 
luxury goods, particularly textiles, indicating a large-scale collabora- 
tion in trade. None of us had any sympathy with the Communists, 
but from what we had already seen of the ruling clique through- 
out China, the overnumerous generals, and the war profiteers, we felt 
that there was ample room for a general governmental and social 
overhauling. 

In spite of the widespread suspicion of General Fu's relations 
with our enemy, and his more easily substantiated reputation for 
hating and exploiting the Mongols, on first impressions I liked him 
as a person. He had lost a great deal of his former, excessive weight, 
so apparent in his earlier photographs, but had retained the good 
nature that people associate with fat men, and he was a most cordial 
host. He seemed to lack completely the patronizing conceit, the 
greedy love of display, and the authoritarian airs that characterized 
Governor Ma of Ninghsia and other warlords I had met. Perhaps 
this was due to the fact that he had so long held a subordinate posi- 
tion, ruling Suiyuan as a lieutenant of Yen Hsi-shan, the notorious 
warlord-dictator of Shansi, rather than on his own. During the war 
he had full power, however, and even though he had recently been 
officially relieved of the governorship, he still ruled in all but name, 
as the chief military leader in Suiyuan. 

These interviews did not take very long, and I usually had some 
time to stroll around town before returning to camp. There was not 
a great deal to see. The Mission, still partly occupied by Fu's troops, 
a small, unimpressive mosque, and a few silver shops where the 
artisans hammered out some very intricate jewelry, were the only 
"sights" of the town. I was pretty discouraged about Shanpa until 
I discovered the market. 

This was an important feature of the town that we had not seen 
when we passed through by truck, because it was located down a side 
street. The town officials had taken a large, open yard, with the 
backwalls of houses on two sides, and had walled in the other two, 
leaving a gate in each. Down the center they had built three rows of 
mud counters, about waist-high, extending the length of the yard. 
On these the dealers spread their wares. 

One section had metal goods of every description ; anything from 
cheap knives and locks to ploughshares. Another had smuggled 



The camp well. 




A Chinese mother rides 
into Shanpa to market. 





A Provincial army caravan enters Shanpa. 
(Photos by W. E. Hill.} 





jiflrt^?^r,:vj^;-, , 7:;3v^^ 



Typical Chinese tenant farmers' homes on Hou-t'ao Plain. 
(Photos by W. E. Hill.) 



CAMP LIFE AND RECREATION 25 

Japanese textiles: coarse cotton prints, plain silk fabrics in bright 
colors, and even rich satins for those who could afford them. Other 
sections seemed less specialized, displaying assorted trinkets and 
knickknacks to appeal to the farmers who came in to trade. We 
noted fancy buttons, spools of thread (Japanese), foreign soap, and 
primary school readers with a pronounced Nationalist bias. 

On repeated visits, we noticed that one counter was usually bare. 
A dealer told me that this was not from lack of merchants. Many 
were simply unwilling to pay the rather high taxes for the privilege 
of selling in the market. In fact, a considerable number of people 
just spread their wares on the ground outside, along the sides of the 
adjoining alleys. In wet weather, when the alleys became creeks, 
they raised their things on planks. Here, outside the market proper, 
the farmers sold their meats and vegetables. On very hot days we 
would buy melons from them to quench our thirst. But what inter- 
ested us more were the junk dealers, who spread their secondhand 
goods here, in a sort of flea market. We rarely visited town without 
a glance in at the junk section. One of us usually managed to pick 
up something fairly interesting a handsome, hand-woven saddle 
rug, a brocaded Mongol vest, a Buddha looted from a lama temple, 
or a Mongol knife or snuff bottle. 

When we were in town near mealtime, we generally stayed in, as 
the camp cook had no imagination, and his meals were pretty terrible. 
Sometimes four or five of us would ride in for supper, just for a 
change of diet. A late afternoon canter always improved the ap- 
petite. Occasionally we dropped in on three Army boys who had 
recently come to Shanpa for AGAS. Their cook was as good as 
ours was bad, and they were fine hosts. More often we went to 
some Chinese inn. 

We would tether our horses in the public stable yard, and after a 
short prowl through the market place, come back to eat at one of the 
restaurants on the main cross street of town. They never had a 
menu. The boy .would bring me an ink slab with a brush and a slip 
of rice paper, and would then stand behind me, whisking away the 
flies with a cow's-tail switch while I wrote down the order in 
Chinese. 

The specialties of the house were fried chicken livers with pun- 
gent "flower pepper" to dip them in, and a "sweet dish" of tart 
peaches or crisp-textured pears, in casings of melted sugar that 



26 CAMP LIFE AND RECREATION 

hardened to a consistency of brittle glass when we plunged the sec- 
tions into bowls of cold water. We usually chose both of these, 
along with three or four other dishes to round out a meal. 

The liquor situation was not a happy one. Shanpa's alcoholic 
beverages could not match her food in either quality or variety. 
With our meals we generally could get nothing but some rather 
sickly sweet "yellow wine/ 5 huang chin, even more cloying because it 
was warmed before serving, and a clear "white wine," pal chin, that 
was distilled from a kind of sorghum called kao-liang. The latter 
was sometimes warmed too, but it did not need it. It already had 
its own inner fire and the wallop of liquid dynamite. The effect of 
even a small quantity of pai chiu was rapid, and not unpleasant in it- 
self, but it all but paralyzed the taste buds and prevented full appre- 
ciation of the food. When we came with Chinese friends, such as 
Bob Kim, an English-speaking official in the Border Customs, we 
noticed that they urged us to drink a lot but seldom took very much 
themselves, preferring to enjoy the good eating. Rarely, this "rot 
gut" was replaced by a jug of "rose-petal dew," mei-kuci lu, im- 
ported from Ninghsia, where its making was a state monopoly. 
This luxury drink was a clear, amber-colored liquid, with a decep- 
tively soft, sweetish taste, almost as cloying as huang chin, but its 
ultimate effect was not far from that of the pai chiu, and it gave a 
worse hangover. 

As we rode back through the town in the moonlight, I could never 
shake off the illusion that we were back in a frontier village of our 
own West in the 1870's. The one-story adobe shops were closed for 
the night, but beams of candlelight rayed out from chinks in the shut- 
ters. An occasional shop was taller because it had a false front. For 
some reason, these seemed to loom higher at night. 

Small knots of people talked in darkened doorways or sat on the 
thresholds gossiping, their voices lost in the hoofbeats of our horses. 
Now and then a light would flare up as a man puffed on his water 
pipe, the sudden glow highlighting bronzed faces with prominent 
cheekbones that might have been those of American Indians. When 
the moon was full; its light shone soft on the dust of the streets and 
on the roughened surfaces of the adobe walls, but gleamed brightly 
on our bits and stirrups. 

Aside from the barking of an occasional dog as we approached, 
everything would be rather still, until some urchin screamed ff hao 



CAMP LIFE AND RECREATION 27 

pn-hao"? the national greeting of Chinese children to all GIs. Some- 
times the silence would be so deep that we would feel strongly 
tempted to shatter it. Once or twice a fellow whipped out his re- 
volver and did. 

The ride back along the country road was always something of a 
thrill because of the element of the unexpected. If strong alcohol 
and too-rich food dulled the riders' perceptions and sense of timing, 
the moonlight played tricks on the eyes of horses who were prone to 
shy even in daylight. Our animals always balked at the three 
bridges over the irrigation ditches. They fidgeted at the sight of the 
dark water that flowed away with flashing glints of silver. And near 
the place where the old melon-seller sat by day somehow he always 
threw them into a panic was a tall signpost that had almost as bad 
an effect on them at night. 

If the horses were skittish to start with, they would be finished 
by the old dog that lived about a mile down the road from camp. He 
would skulk in the shadows until we were just passing. Then he 
would lunge out into the road with a deep-throated roar. We 
usually rode the last stretch at a breakneck gallop, whether we 
wanted to or not. 

The Chinese guards at the compound gate seldom bothered to 
challenge us as we returned, though we usually announced ourselves 
by force of habit. They knew us from afar because only Americans 
would ride like that. 



5 

FARMERS OF THE GREAT PLAIN 

ON SUNDAYS, when the weather was good, at least one party 
usually left camp on a long riding trip. These rides across 
country gave a fine opportunity to see the life of the Chinese immi- 
grant farmers, though of course we usually went with some other 
objective. 

The Catholic members of the camp including the C.O. and 
about half the personnel always went to Mass first, and when I was 
in camp on Sunday I usually went with them. That, too, was sec- 
ondarily a social study, for when the mission station of Ta-shun- 
chen was confiscated by General Fu for the use of the Americans, 
the religious activities of the district had been shifted to the nearby 
"castle." This was the home of a wealthy landlord who had been 
converted many years ago, and was typical of the strongholds of the 
landlord class. 

It was actually a large farm, with the farmhouse and all its out- 
buildings enclosed by a strong mud wall. The wall was crenellated 
and pierced with loopholes for rifles. A high watchtower inside pro- 
vided a vantage point for sighting bandits, and the main gate lacked 
only a drawbridge to look medieval European. Two towers flanked 
it, also with loopholes, and the doors were of heavy wood reinforced 
with iron. 

As we entered, the living quarters were at the rear, the sheds for 
the servants and the animals were at the left, and the chapel was at 
the right. Actually, the chapel had been built as a storage building, 
and through the loose floor boards we could see countless bags of 
grain. This seemed quite symbolic, since the Church in that region 
was entirely supported by the grain tribute from its tenants. The 
floor boards were rough, so most of the congregation made up 
largely of the landlord's family and tenants, with a few Chinese sol- 
diers from camp knelt on empty grain sacks. But Father Fan al- 
ways gave us his handsome saddle rugs to kneel on. 

28 



FARMERS OF THE GREAT PLAIN 29 

When he began the service with the traditional words, "Introibo 
ad altare Dei" recited in clear Latin, I could not help thinking that 
it was the strangest altar to our God that I had ever seen. The altar 
itself was a long lacquered table with projecting ends, such as the 
Chinese in more civilized regions place in the shrines to their an- 
cestors. At the back of this was a small box for the Sacrament 
which, in turn, supported a small brass crucifix imported from Bel- 
gium. The table for the cruets and candlesticks against the side 
wall was a brass-studded chest, lacquered red, with mythological 
Chinese monsters romping across its doors. The altar boy had a 
lama temple bell that he rang for the Sanctus and the Consecration. 

Almost immediately the Chinese congregation began a dismal, 
droning chant, led by an old woman with a cracked voice. They 
kept this up with only an occasional pause throughout the service. 
From what little I could understand, it seemed to consist of inter- 
minable prayers that did not have any bearing on the actual cere- 
mony. No doubt it helped to keep up the interest of the Chinese, 
since most of them had no idea what was going on at the altar, but 
to us it was disagreeably distracting. Only the calm sincerity of 
Father Fan gave the service its proper dignity. 

After Mass, on our second Sunday at camp, the week after we 
arrived, the C.O. suggested a visit to Father Schram, who lived some 
three hours' ride to the north of us. There was no direct road to 
Manhui, the small town where he had his mission station, so we took 
Lao Tsai, the head ma-fu, to help us find the way. 

Old Tsai was not a local man, but he knew this border country 
well and could always be depended on to get us where we wanted to 
go. He was an old border cavalryman, and had served under the 
great Northern warlord Wu P'ei-fu, beside whom General Fu and 
his old boss, Yen Hsi-shan, were smalltimers. When Wu "got re- 
ligion/' Tsai accompanied him to his retreat in a Buddhist monas- 
tery. But life there was too quiet for an old cavalryman. His nar- 
row, weather-beaten face cracked into a wry grin when he told me 
about it. After a year of temple life, he left to join General Fu's 
army in Suiyuan. Now that he was getting old, he could no longer 
be as active, and he had been lent to the camp, along with the horses, 
to see that they were well cared for. 

It was wonderful to see him with the horses; he was so under- 
standing. It was a great blow to us all and to the animals, too, 



To Turkistan 



I ^.JTo Outer Mongolia 

M O ! i N G O L 1 

R 



Manhui 

(Camp) 
- *" 
Shanpa (Tai-an chin) 




Old Ro ufe ' Tristan 



N 



W- 



Kueihua(Kuei-sui}I 



Lo-pei Chao ^^ -~ 



V)jer Sume 



r 



5 \\ San-sheng-kung 

1\V / 

\/" 



Po-yjiycro 



Shih-chieh-shan Shang-tu-k'ou 
"^ ^^<^ B 




O 




O 




Urga 
OUTER MONGOLIA 



X ^->~ v^. r'Scale of Miles 

*.- ""' ? L? 2 ? I*? 



j 



r-/ 

^- x _.. ^ / 

'INNER MONGOLIA 



Shanpa Kuefhua (Kuei-sui) Kalgar> 

*^-^^ * (Chanc-chfa-k'ou 




f 



32 FARMERS OF THE GREAT PLAIN 

no doubt when, later in the summer, General Fu recalled him to 
Paotou. From then on, the horses deteriorated under bad care. The 
man appointed to replace Lao Tsai would try vainly to catch one by 
pursuing him around the corral for ten or fifteen minutes, uttering 
catcalls and brandishing a wooden shovel, until the animal was over- 
heated and frightened. How different this was from Lao Tsai, who 
would approach a nervous horse with a low-voiced "d-r-r-r-t" and, 
running his fingers lightly across its withers and up the neck, would 
have him bridled in an instant. Lao Tsai was an exception, and his 
successor, a local man, was all too common a type. 

Lao Tsai led us north as directly as he could, through the broad 
area of farmland between the camp and Manhui. We rode along 
irrigation ditches, on paths between the fields, or sometimes just 
through the fields, when no paths offered. The larger fields had crops 
of millet or soybeans, the smaller ones, cabbages or greens, and 
melon plots were quite common. 

The heavy green heads of the millet were always a great tempta- 
tion to our underfed horses. But we restrained them as much as 
possible, for the grain when ripened makes a valuable crop, highly 
prized by the Chinese and Mongols alike. The horses also enjoyed 
the bean plants with their small green pods, which in a few weeks 
would produce the beans for the soy sauce and bean curd, so familiar 
to us from Chinese cooking. We riders preferred the melons, es- 
pecially the short, stubby watermelons with their juicy red or yellow 
interiors. The muskmelons here were very small, and rather 'flat 
tasting. 

When our mouths were parched from the dust raised by our 
horses' hoofs, we would seek out a melon patch. Then, when the 
watchman came out of his shelter, the size and shape of a pup tent, 
made of sticks -and straw, we would point out likely melons with our 
riding switches. If his tapping proved them ripe, he would slash 
them in two with one sweep of his broad knife, and pass them up to 
us. This ordering of melons from horseback seemed very feudal ex- 
cept that, unlike manor lords, we always paid for what we ate. 

It was a dark day, and the wind was rather raw as it blew across 
the open fields, so some of the farmers had put on their spring and 
fall suits of home-knitted white wool. These were very long, almost 
skin-tight, and reminded us of old-fashioned winter underwear. One 
or two of the very old men, more susceptible to cold, even had on 



FARMERS OF THE GREAT PLAIN 33 

their winter pants of sheepskin, with the wool inside, and the whit- 
ened leather out. A few of the hardier ones had kept on their regular 
summer ones of white cloth. As a matter of fact, all these garments, 
although they had started by being white, were now various shades 
of gray. In contrast to the sun-blackened torsos of their wearers, 
however, they still looked quite light. 

The farmers' wives and mothers, sitting on the doorsteps of the 
small adobe shacks, all had dark trousers. The grandmothers had 
tight dark jackets, while the young unmarried girls wore brighter 
jackets of some light color, or even red, and fuller pants. The 
nursing mothers, which means all women with young children, did 
not wear jackets. Instead, they had a remarkable upper garment 
that amused us very much, though it was no doubt quite practical. 
This was a very narrow bib which extended from the neck to the 
trousers, between the breasts, leaving the latter exposed. They 
nursed the children until they were two or three ; and sometimes the 
older children, youngsters of six or seven, would also step up for 
a drink. 

Many of the older women waddled around on bound feet, and 
even some of the younger girls had had their feet bound by con- 
servative-minded mothers "to make them more desirable brides." 
Luckily even here this detestable custom is dying out. I had noticed 
on my previous trips that such traits are kept longer in frontier 
regions ; not necessarily because the Chinese there are more conserva- 
tive, but because they like to cling to customs that set them apart 
from the alien group. Mongol women do not bind their feet. 

The adolescent sons of the farmers wore smaller editions of their 
fathers' white cloth pants, and adolescent daughters dressed like 
their older, unmarried sisters in light-colored jackets and dark pants. 
The younger children both boys and girls did not wear anything 
at all. Apparently they were impervious to the cold wind. 

The children of the farmers were generally very likable. They 
seemed quick and active and full of fun, and had not taken on the 
shiftlessness and cruelty of their fathers or the stolid stupidity of 
their mothers. Unfortunately, though, they could not look forward 
to an education that would give them better understanding and more 
inner resources to cope with their hard life. The schools were only 
for the children of the landlords and village elders. It would not be 
long before they would have to take on their full share in the family 



34 FARMERS OF THE GREAT PLAIN 

toil, and the never-ending struggle to make ends meet in this bare- 
subsistence farming would soon reduce most of them to cynical 
callousness or fatalistic resignation. 

The younger children no doubt heard fantastic stories about us 
from their elders, and believed them. It annoyed us very much to 
see mothers even in Shanpa trying to frighten young children 
into doing something by pointing at us and saying, "the foreigners 
will get you if you don't !" Probably it was because of threats like 
this that sometimes, when we rode past youngsters alone in the 
fields, they would either run screaming in the opposite direction, 
or else stand blubbering, rooted in fright. No attempted words of 
kindness would quiet such children ; they were too scared to listen. 

About halfway to Manhui, we came to the first of two large 
villages built around mission chapels, and from here our way was 
easier. We were able to take advantage of the "road" that con- 
nected the two villages and led on to the main highway from Shanpa 
to Manhui. Like the roads that connected the castles near camp 
with the Shanpa highway, they were mere tracks made by the solid- 
wheeled oxcarts in which most of the produce was carried to market. 
We hated to meet these carts in the narrow lanes, especially the 
ones that were piled high with hay or beanstalks, as their bulk 
looming up ahead was the last thing needed to make a skittish horse 
want to bolt. 

The two large villages we passed through, like all the others on 
the plain, had until recently had heavy walls raised to keep out 
bandits. However, when General Fu had moved to Shanpa he 
discovered that some of these walled towns had themselves become 
bandit strongholds. Accordingly, he ordered that all except a few 
that he kept for barracks towns should demolish their walls. 

The houses in the villages were for the most part like the homes 
of the farmers in the open country, mere mud huts of two small 
rooms with a flat roof. In fact, most of them were owned by farmers 
who had moved into the denser settlement for protection. 

The clumsy wooden door had, at one side, projections at the top 
and bottom which fitted into sockets there were no hinges. This 
opened into the first room, which was a combination storehouse, tool 
shed, and kitchen. The stove at the side was made of pounded mud 
like the walls, with a hole at the top big enough to hold the single 
utensil, a flaring pot called a ko. Everything to eat and drink was 



FARMERS OF THE GREAT PLAIN 35 

prepared in this. Few families could even afford a kettle to boil 
water. Against the back wall was a wooden chest or two, holding 
the winter clothing and a sack of millet. This was their staple diet, 
since even the farmers who raised wheat or soybeans could not afford 
to eat any. All such crops went to the landlord. The tools seldom 
consisted of more than primitive rakes, wooden mattocks, and flails. 

The second room, beside the first, was reached through a door 
in the partition that divided the house in half. It was mostly occu- 
pied by the k j ang, a raised mud platform that served as the bed for 
the entire family. An outlet from the stove ran through it to keep 
it warm in winter. This dais was usually covered with dirty felt 
pads, and the bedding consisted of ragged quilts or filthy sheepskins, 
swarming with fleas and lice. 

The roofs were flat and simply made. The builders merely laid 
the trunks of small willow trees, three or four inches in diameter, 
across the tops of the walls, and piled on these a mattress of twigs 
and brush until it was strong enough to support the weight of a 
thick layer of mud. These surfaces sloped slightly for drainage, but 
were still flat enough so that the owners could spread grain or peppers 
on them to dry. 

The shops in these towns were built much like the houses. How- 
ever, instead of standing alone in a little yard, they were ranked side 
by side, with the two rooms of each arranged one behind the other. 

Our chief impressions of the dwellings in the towns, as well as 
those of the tenant farmers along the way to Manhui, were their 
distinctive flying buttresses, and decoration of cowdung patties. The 
buttresses of irregular lengths and different angles, helped to prop 
up the walls of the one-story adobe houses and the low compound 
walls around them, while the patties were plastered in rows against 
the same walls to dry for fuel. 

Even in the towns most families kept a few chickens and a pig 
or two in their yards. They were useful as scavengers and could 
provide meat on feast days. For all but the Mohammedans, pork is 
the principal meat eaten (the Moslems eat mutton, and beef when 
they can get it), and a dish of chicken and hot peppers was the ac- 
cepted thing to serve sudden guests. These pigs were a particularly 
ugly variety, completely devoid of personality. Predominantly black, 
they had flopping ears and straight, dangling tails. Most of the 
weight was concentrated in the stomach, which swept the ground, 



36 FARMERS OF THE GREAT PLAIN 

while their hams were pitifully thin. The chickens were poor and 
scrawny, forever being chased by the huge farm dogs. But they 
were aggressive too, and sometimes got their revenge in pecking 
the old dogs or harmless puppies. 

On the edge of the villages and in the country most farmers kept 
a little stock, though the Chinese were seldom exclusively herdsmen ; 
just as we later found that the Mongols who have turned farmer 
usually kept herds on the side. The Chinese farmers generally had 
one or two heavy oxen to draw carts and plows, and ultimately to 
be sold for beef, which they themselves could not afford to eat. The 
cows used for such heavy work seldom gave milk for more than 
their calves who trotted along beside them, but the Chinese do not 
drink cows' milk anyway. All of these cattle were rather shaggy, 
even in summer, while deep rings on their sweeping horns told of 
underfeeding in most winters, and near-starvation in some. 

Most of the farmers had a couple of donkeys or small mules for 
pack animals. Sometimes we saw one of these donkeys yoked up 
with an ox to pull a plow. The donkey provided speed and nervous 
energy to make up for his lack of strength, but generally looked very 
offended at being used this way. When the donkeys and mules were 
not in use, they were herded by the farm children, who sometimes 
raced along beside us as we passed their fields. It always amused 
us to see how they rode them. They sat well aft, over the hind- 
quarters of the little animals, tapping their necks with long switches, 
and shouting back and forth to each other. 

Many of the more portable commodities such as melons were 
carried to market on the backs of these little animals, usually in 
saddlebags of dark brown burlap with vertical white stripes. In 
the back alleys of Shanpa we used to see the fabric for these being 
woven in thirty-yard lengths, from a coarse weavable cord which had 
been spun from goat hair. 

Most of the goat hair came from the herds of the Mongols, as the 
Chinese more commonly kept sheep. These were all of the fat-tailed 
variety, which store their surplus food in their broad tails. At this 
season they looked rather scrawny in body, even allowing for the 
recent summer shearing, and the wool that was now beginning to 
grow out again looked rather poor and coarse. In spite of their ap- 
pearance, the farmers assured me that these sheep were very valuable 
because their food-storage system makes them capable of living 



FARMERS OF THE GREAT PLAIN 37 

through hard winters that would kill other varieties. The rams had 
a certain grandeur with their heavy, spiralling horns, carried rather 
proudly to balance the weight. But the ewes, with their prominent 
Roman noses, recalling overbred dowagers, were distinctly ugly. 

Spinning wool was the great preoccupation of the farmers when 
they were not working in the fields or squatting on their doorsteps 
to smoke their pipes and gossip. We would often see young and 
old strolling back from the fields, or on their way over for a chat 
with the neighbors, automatically spinning a length of coarse yarn. 
They had a stick piercing a round stone weight, and would set this 
twirling to twist the wool into cord, winding the finished product 
around the stick. 

Many of the men could knit, for knitting is considered a man's 
job in most parts of Asia. The farmers generally worked at the 
somewhat shapeless sweaters and long trousers that made up their 
winter garb, and commonly worked with sheep's wool. Our soldiers 
at camp were more ambitious. One of our hard-boiled sentries 
knitted on a camel's hair sweater when he was not on duty, and 
several others were doing socks of the same material. They were 
very clever at knitting fancy patterns and sections in cable stitch, etc., 
but the finished product seldom looked well, due to their carelessness 
in selecting the wool. Camels come in a variety of colors, from 
creamy white to dark brown. Some have more than one color, a 
common type being light tan with dark brown fur on their manes, 
shoulders, and ankles. So, unless the wool had come from one 
camel of fairly uniform coloring which it seldom did the sweater 
or pair of socks would be oddly striped and streaked. 

We did not see many of the camels themselves on this trip. Lao 
Tsai explained that although many of the farmers and some of the 
wealthier villagers owned them for winter transport, they generally 
sent them out in herds to the base of the mountains for summer 
grazing, collecting them again in the fall. Just before we came out 
on the main road from Shanpa to Manhui, we saw one small herd set 
out to graze in a patch of wasteland. They were horrible to see, 
looking even worse than the mangy ones that had come down to the 
well that evening in the Ordos. 

Almost totally humpless, their razor-sharp backs sloped upward to 
high withers and down again to snakelike necks, on which swung 
heavy, reptilian heads. If they had any humps at all, these sagged 



38 FARMERS OF THE GREAT PLAIN 

flabbily, sometimes both on one side, more often, one on each. 
Clouds of flies clung to the almost hairless grey leather of their hides. 
They were the most pathetic animals we had ever seen. Yet their run- 
down condition did not affect their pride. They stared at us with 
haughty glares until we passed. 

It was a relief to get out of their sight and find ourselves on a 
good highway. We galloped on into Manhui, about a mile beyond. 
It was a typical frontier town, built along a single street leading to 
the mission compound. The shops on both sides were crowded and 
wares were spread in the street, as it was some sort of market day; 
so we dismounted, and led our horses. No one seemed particularly 
surprised to see galloping horsemen ride into town, but as soon as 
we dismounted, they saw we were foreigners, and we drew a lot 
of attention. I caught the word "Russian" from one knot of men 
by a saddle store. Other parties from camp had ridden over now 
and then to see Father Schram, but apparently Americans were still 
not well known here. 

Father Schram was walking in the compound when we entered, 
and was delighted to see us. He was a tall, distinguished-looking 
Belgian with a ruddy complexion, blue eyes, and white hair, mus- 
tache, and goatee. Although he was wearing a dark Chinese skull- 
cap and a Chinese-style robe, he looked very out of place in China. 
He greeted us with great enthusiasm and, after showing Lao Tsai 
where to leave the horses, led us inside. His comfortable parlor and 
adjoining study were very simply furnished, but were as European 
as his own appearance. 

Our host's range of interests was enormous, and we could not 
bring up any topic of border lore that he was not able to discuss at 
length. One of my companions had a morbid interest in bandits, 
and Father Schram had plenty to tell him. 

"The most notorious bands in western Suiyuan are the farmers 
of Ta-shun-chen arotmd your camp ," he said, between puffs 
on his long Dutch pipe. "They had the country terrorized before Fu 
came; traveling far to raid other villages. They are so poor that 
very little seems much to them, and they are so cruel." 

He explained the situation by saying that the winters were long 
and hard. Not that there was much snow, but the temperature gets 

very low and the land is frozen solid. Meanwhile home industries 

aside from knitting have never been, developed to any extent, due 



FARMERS OF THE GREAT PLAIN 39 

partly to the general shiftlessness of these border immigrants, and 
partly to the lack of raw materials such as wood; so time hangs 
heavy. Thus, the men become restless, and find a natural outlet in 
bandit raids. 

Some of Father Schram's bandit stories were quite grisly, but 
others had a touch of humor. One of the more entertaining involved 
a fine old priest who lived in a village south of Shanpa, He was 
the sort of man who could never believe ill of anybody. One day 
one of the young Chinese farmers of his parish came and asked him 
to say a mass for success in business ; to be paid for later. The farmer 
did not mention what the undertaking was, and the priest neglected 
to ask him. The mass was said, and the farmer left town. 

He returned some days later, looking very content and prosperous 
in new clothes, and gave a substantial donation to the church in 
thanks for prayers granted. It was not until several years had 
passed that the trusting old priest discovered the nature of the "busi- 
ness trip." It had been a raid on the storehouses and granary of 
the head mission at San-sheng-kung 1 

When the conversation wandered on to the Mongols and Lama- 
ism, it turned out that he once had had a parish at Kumbum, in 
Kokonor, the holy city of the Mongols, second only to Lhasa in 
Tibet. He never complained of his present post among the bor- 
der Chinese, but when he spoke of Kumbum, his eyes lit up and I 
knew that his heart was still among the Mongols and Tibetans out 
there. 

He urged me to try to see something of the Mongols while I was 
up here. He told me about a number of lama temples at the mouths 
of the principal passes along the base of the range, and suggested 
that though they had now deteriorated, they were still centers of 
Mongol culture, and the best introduction to Mongol life. 

He said with regret that he had not been out to see the Mongols 
and their temples for years ; and that of late his only outside interest 
was in his books, from which he was completing studies begun at 
Kumbum, as well as writing a local history of this region. When he 
was younger, though, he had explored the whole range, he said, 
and had even come upon the tombs of the Tangut kings, who had 
ruled this land before Jenghis came. He described to us the broken 
tablets, in a forgotten language, that he had recovered from the royal 
burial places, but he would not even hint where the tombs were* 



4 o FARMERS OF THE GREAT PLAIN 

When we returned to camp in the late afternoon, all the way home 
my eyes were not for the Chinese farmers, nor for their crops and 
their herds. I was looking beyond, to the mountains on the western 
horizon, trying to guess where the passes were, where the Tangut 
kings were buried, and where the Mongols had built their temples. 
But the biggest question in my mind was, what lay over the moun- 
tains in the Gobi ? Even Father Schram had been unable to answer 
that. 



THE VICTORY IN SHANPA 

ON THE EVENING of August 13th, the camp doctor and I 
went out for one of our cross-country rides after supper. We 
came back at dusk feeling very exhilarated, and dropped in to see a 
magic show that Fred was giving for a company of Chinese soldiers 
in the next compound. I had seen these particular acts before, but 
he was always good, and a clever Chinese interpreter was giving 
some novel twists to his explanations. He was in the middle of the 
silver-hoop trick, and the audience was very attentive. Suddenly 
someone shouted in through the window in Chinese, Wo-vnen sheng- 
lil "We are victorious !" 

Forgetting all about the performance, we all ran over to the 
radio room in time to hear the end of the first releases from Chung- 
king. The American reporters there were testing the programs they 
wanted to have relayed to the States. They sounded a little artificial, 
as though they had been prepared too long in advance, but the news 
was good and we were not feeling too critical. 

When the broadcasts were over, we wandered around from room 
to room in a half daze, discussing what we would do when we got 
home. I went back and started a letter to my wife, to tell her how 
glad I was to hear that the war was over and that we would soon be 
together again. I expected we would all be recalled to Chungking 
immediately, and once there it would only be a matter of waiting 
for priorities to get home for discharge from the Navy. Later that 
night, after extended celebration, we heard a rebroadcast of Presi- 
dent Truman's impressive speech on the effects of the first atom 
bomb and the responsibilities its discovery had imposed on our 
civilization. 

The next day the camp was more than usually disorganized. 
Most of us spent our time in the radio shack, trying to get more 
details. Now and then some Chinese officer would come in to ask 
about the new atom bomb, yuan-tzu tan, they called it. Was it really 

41 



42 THE VICTORY IN SHANPA 

true about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they would ask? Could the 
thing actually flatten a city ? We had to admit that we did not know 
any more than they did, as all we knew was what we had heard over 
the radio, relayed by Chinese stations. 

"If we could only use one of them on Yenan, and wipe out the 
Communists !" said one high-ranking Chinese, with a hopeful leer. 

All the Chinese around camp were bitter about the late entrance 
of the Russians into the Far Eastern War. "They were only waiting 
until they were sure they couldn't lose anything!" was the usual 
comment. 

"They're just after our Northeastern Provinces (Manchuria); 
hoping to get in before we can !" 

" and what about Jehol, Chahar, even Suiyuan?" someone would 
add. 

The mood of last night was passing. They were speaking as 
realists, not as enthusiastic victors. 

These were outsiders, however, Chinese from the southern prov- 
inces and more cosmopolitan in their outlook. The local people were 
still very happy when we rode into town that afternoon. Suiyuan 
had suffered much from the long war, and they were relieved that it 
was over. 

In fact the War in Suiyuan had lasted longer continuously than 
in any other province. Fighting broke out in northern Suiyuan in 
1936, a year before the incident at Marco Polo Bridge. Though 
never declared, it was a full-scale war, with the Japanese using all 
their strength against the armies of General Fu. 

I was in Kueihua that summer, on my way to Paotou, when the 
first rumors of the opening battles trickled down from the Northeast. 
The local Chinese were inclined to discount them at first, saying that 
the Japanese were only trying to impress Prince Te of the West 
Sunit Banner, and other influential Mongols, whom they hoped to 
get as allies. Only Torgny Oberg, a Swedish trader and Mongol 
expert living in Kueihua, seemed to take a serious view of the situa- 
tion. He told me he was convinced that this news meant that the 
Japanese were beginning an all-out offensive. Realizing their failure 
to win over the leaders of the Mongols, they were now using force 
to drive a wedge between the northern provinces of China, which were 
their next objective, and Outer Mongolia, from which the Chinese 
might possibly get Russian aid. 



THE VICTORY IN SHANPA 43 

After returning to South China, and ultimately to America, I 
followed the course of the war in Suiyuan in the papers. It grew 
more and more intense as the Japanese, with puppets from Man- 
chukuo and from among the Chahar Mongols, pushed on to the 
great lamasery town of Belling Miao, which ultimately became the 
capital of their "Autonomous" Mongolian State. The Chinese with 
loyal Mongol cavalry fought hard to oppose them, but the invaders 
had mechanized equipment. It was a losing struggle. 

Soon after the larger war broke out in 1937, the Japs seized 
control of the railway from Peking. Kueihua, the provincial capi- 
tal, fell on October 14th, and Paotou was taken three days later. 

Governor Fu fled southwest and in time set up his headquarters 
at Wuyuan, the only town still left to him. However, even this was 
not safe. Father Schram told me how a Japanese column had in- 
vaded this western part of the Hou-t'ao Plain on their great raid in 
January 1940, pursuing Governor Fu who had just attempted an 
attack on Paotou. The Chinese troops fled south, and the Japanese 
overran the district Father Schram claimed to have saved Shanpa 
from destruction. The Japanese commander who had taken over 
his house announced that he was planning to burn that village, but 
the old priest had succeeded in persuading him that it was not worth 
the effort, since all Chinese soldiers had long since fled and only poor 
peasants were left to suffer from it. After a short occupation, the 
Japanese fell back on the ruins of Wuyuan, where they set up a 
garrison. Not long afterwards the Chinese gave them a crushing 
defeat in a surprise attack. Most of the Japanese were massacred. 

After that, the war in the Northwest had settled down to a stale- 
mate. The garrison at Paotou did not venture south of there. In 
fact, guerilla action kept them pretty well confined within the city. 
Even though the railroad from Peking was never permanently cut, 
so that the Japanese continued to receive supplies, all the stations 
along the line had to be transformed into individual forts. Mean- 
while, General Fu had returned and made his headquarters in the 
small village of Shanpa, practically the only place that remained to 
him. But he was unable to do much more than supply the guerillas, 
and send out small raiding parties. 

Our camp had originally been set up to train more efficient gueril- 
las, teaching them demolition, etc., as well as tp serve as a weather 
station. In the last year of the war several Americans from there 



44 THE VICTORY IN SHANPA 

went out with guerilla columns to "the front." This was the area 
at the base of the mountains from Wuyuan to Sarachi (Sa-hsien), 
where Suiyuan provincial troops, Mongol puppets, and Japanese 
agents mingled quite freely, especially for smuggling purposes. In 
effect, it was a sort of No-Man's Land around the islands of Japa- 
nese occupation at Paotou and Sarachi. 

It would seem that little military activity went on there in the 
last years of the war except when small American-led sorties went out 
and stirred up the hornet's nest. Most of the Americans came back 
very disillusioned with the situation out there. They claimed that 
they saw more of smuggling, and traffic in opium, between various 
highly questionable characters of the frontier and the Chinese with 
them, including their own interpreters, than they did of fighting. 
Rarely did they see action, although several times they found them- 
selves under fire from armored trains along the Peking-Paotou 
Railroad. 

That evening General Fu invited the American officers to a Vic- 
tory Banquet, and the rest of the camp to a Victory Celebration at 
the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in town. At the evening's feast, we 
Americans were elated at the thought of the War being over and the 
prospects of our getting home. By and large the Chinese officials 
and military officers were happy for the same reasons. However, for 
some, the end of the War meant the termination of vast revenues 
from illicit opium and Japanese goods. For others from the south, 
it meant the threat of civil war, when they would be called upon to 
fight their own people instead of the invaders. For everyone it 
meant great changes. 

General Fu himself looked extremely worried when we first sat 
down to table, and his face drooped in the moments between the 
ceremonial toasts when he was able to relax and be himself. Perhaps 
he was already thinking of the problems he would have in handling 
the Communists. 

When the food came on, everyone seemed to forget their private 
thoughts in the sheer pleasure of eating. First we had four dishes of 
cold hors d'oeuvres, including the "thousand-year-old eggs," spiced 
meats, and pickled vegetables. Then came a series of large platters 
in succession, each greeted with ample toasts of "rose-petal dew" 
from Ninghsia. Cantonese sharks 5 fins in a rich seafood gravy were 
followed by crisp bamboo shoots from Szechuan, garnished with a 



THE VICTORY IN SHANPA 45 

kind of fungus. Then came pieces of chicken fried in deep fat, with 
spiced salt to dip them in. Then they brought on a deeper bowl of 
sea slugs, more bamboo shoots, and tender greens. These were fol- 
lowed by a huge carp in sweet and sour sauce, a whole chicken swim- 
ming in thin gravy, and a local specialty of whipped eggs and bacon. 

When the last of these was cleared away, we had another round 
of toasts, a little longer than the previous ones, and a chance to com- 
pliment our host on the wonderful food he was giving us. Mean- 
while the servants cleared the table, and brought us each clean bowls 
and porcelain scoops. These were for the dessert: a high, round 
pudding called "Eight Precious Jewels Rice" (pa-pao fan). Its basis 
was a very sweet and rather firm rice pudding, cooked in sugar 
syrup ; in it were slices of sweet melon, candied fruits, and other con- 
fections, making up eight kinds of "precious things." 

A Chinese meal never ends with dessert. We were only at the 
middle of the banquet. The servants brought us yet another set of 
bowls and scoops, and water to rinse our chopsticks, and we began 
again. This was the post-wine part of the feast, when the drinking 
of the last toasts made it possible to go on to the rice. We each had a 
large bowl of rice, imported from South China, and platters of 
steamed bread the usual North China substitute for rice with 
some more center dishes. These consisted of diced chicken fried 
with very hot red peppers, steamed cabbage garnished with small 
dried shrimps, croquettes of pork and eggplant, and shredded cu- 
cumber soup. 

The night's celebration at Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall was made 
up partly of some magic acts given by Fred, and partly of theatricals 
by General Fu's private troupe. The actors were mostly young boys, 
some of them taking the parts of women, and the few adult actors 
looked ridiculously large by comparison. Luckily they gave some 
traditional battle scenes with plenty of acrobatics, so the American 
half of the audience was less restless than usual. Only one act was 
given to the nerve-rasping falsetto "singing" that we all found so 
hard to bear. 

All through the performance the General's face looked almost 
haggard, and every time I looked in that direction, he was deep in 
conversation with his chief general. The result of their consultation 
was apparent next day, when a friend rode out from town to say that 
General Fu had suddenly left for Paotou, taking his crack troops. 



46 THE VICTORY IN SHANPA 

From then on, events in the province moved fast. The next news 
we heard was that General Fu had pushed on to Kueihua, his old 
capital, and that before leaving Paotou, he had hurriedly ordered a 
general conscription of all males between fifteen and fifty. 

We heard various explanations of this. One rumor said that Fu 
had called them up to fill the gaps created by a mass desertion of his 
cavalrymen. The latter were supposed to have skipped out with 
their rifles and horses to resume banditry, or to join the Commu- 
nists. I might add that in the minds of the Belgian priests and the 
local gentry there was no distinction between the two actions. An- 
other explanation said that the conscription was a forced measure to 
fill out the army rolls. Officers in China draw their salaries accord- 
ing to the number of men under them, and the number of soldiers in 
the Suiyuan Army had to be rapidly increased to conform to the 
figures listed in Chungking before the Government inspectors came 
around. Whatever the reason for it, this conscription left the farms 
depleted of all able hands just before the harvests, and the prospects 
for getting the crops in safely were black. 

Meanwhile, our own situation was very uncertain. My mission 
ended with the end of the War, and all nine of us were anxious to 
start back to Chungking as soon as we could get orders to do so. I 
sent several dispatches to the original leader of the convoy, who was 
technically still in charge of us, asking him what to do with the 
personnel and equipment I had brought north. All these went un- 
answered. I learned much later that he had been transferred to 
another part of China about that time, and had other things to 
worry about. Meanwhile, it was not at all reassuring to know that 
we were forgotten, in remote Inner Mongolia. 

Not only the lack of orders, but several other matters that I had 
overlooked in the optimism of victory night left us stranded for fair. 
The new clutch plate I had requested, to replace the one burned out 
on the last day of our trip north, had not yet arrived. Furthermore, 
we heard that the Yellow River was swollen high with the late sum- 
mer floods, making the crossings virtually impossible for a heavy 
truck. It looked as though, orders or no orders, we would be stuck 
for some time. 

Things were no better for the rest of the Americans there. Most 
of them had nothing to do either, and were just as anxious to leave, 
but they were forced to stay until the CO. got word to close the 



THE VICTORY IN SHANPA 47 

camp. After a few days, three or four men did get individual orders, 
and among them was our doctor, who was no longer needed since the 
camp had its permanent physician. No more dispatches came 
through, and the rest of us seemed doomed to weeks of waiting. 
How many weeks no one knew. 

The sense of great relief that had swept over us when we heard 
the news of victory was succeeded by an equally deep depression. 
Occasional wild rides across country and evening feasts in town were 
not enough to combat the overwhelming feeling of disgust at the 
monotony in camp. The men most affected by it were the two or 
three who could not ride or did not want to, and the few who had 
made up their minds not to like Chinese food. But we all felt it. Day 
followed dismal day, stomachs rebelled at the local Chinese gin, and 
poker palled. 



7 

OUR FIRST LAMASERY 

A FEW DAYS after the victory, in the course of a conversation 
with some of the men who had come with me, I broached the 
idea of a trip toward the mountains. It seemed that as long as we 
were in Mongolia, with nothing to do until orders and the new 
clutch plate arrived, we might as well make the best of our situation 
and try to see something of the Mongols. 

Since Father Schram had suggested that the lamaseries at the 
edge of the range were centers of Mongol life, I thought we might 
begin by visiting one of them. According to our Chinese sketch 
map of the locality, Beilighe Temple was the nearest one and Lao 
Tsai knew the way there, so that seemed the logical place to see 
first. 

Next morning, Fred the magician, the camp doctor, another fel- 
low, and I got together some blankets, in case we found it was too 
far away to get back the same night, and some small gifts for the 
abbot. Then we collected Lao Tsai and, mounting our horses, 
headed west for the mountains. About an hour's hard riding 
beyond our swimming pond, we came to a small river. This was 
the Wu-chia Ho, a branch of the Yellow River. Not long ago, 
the Yellow River itself had flowed through here, for it was only 
comparatively recently that it had changed its course further to 
the south, to pass by modern San-sheng-kung. 

We dismounted and climbed aboard a small ferry-scow over a 
narrow plank. Then Lao Tsai led the horses alongside through the 
water, and made them jump in over the side. The first two were 
very calm about it, but the rest were extremely frightened. They 
heaved backward against the pull on the reins, rolling their eyes 
wildly. When they finally lunged aboard, we thought their hoofs 
would go right through the planking. 

On the far bank, Lao Tsai turned off the main trail and led us to 
a cluster of farm buildings in a grove of willows. An old man came 

48 



OUR FIRST LAMASERY 49 

out to meet us, and Lao Tsai introduced him as Li Wen-ta. I gath- 
ered that this must be the "Farmer Li" we had heard so much about 
in camp. He was a wealthy landowner and local magistrate, and be- 
cause the territory under his jurisdiction extended into the moun- 
tains where the Mongols lived, he had had considerable dealings with 
them. He had even learned Mongolian, and was a kind of honorary 
member of the Oirat Banner from which he had obtained his land. 
The year before he had taken small groups from camp to Beilighe 
Temple to see festivals, and had helped some of the Americans to 
buy Mongol knives, buddhas, and other curios at great profit to 
himself. 

When he heard where we were going, he assured me that the 
Mongols at Beilighe Temple did not speak any Chinese, so we would 
have to have him as interpreter. He said that he was just starting 
for the mountains anyhow on an official errand, and would have to 
pass by there on the way. For some strange reason he preferred to 
walk, although anyone of any means in that part of the world al- 
ways traveled by horse or donkey. He surprised us by his fast pace. 
Though he claimed to be over sixty, he kept up with the horses 
easily, as long as they did not trot. 

He and I had a long talk on the way, about the Mongols and their 
customs. According to him, they lived in forest parks "in the mid- 
dle of the mountains." The mountains looked very bare from here, 
but it was always possible that there might be hidden forests up some 
of the gorges. The idea of seeing the Mongols in their almost inac- 
cessible homes appealed to us, as he no doubt figured it would. He 
offered to take us there sometime, and the look he gave me com- 
pleted his thought for a consideration. Meanwhile he tried to im- 
press on me that it would be impossible for us ever to get to see any 
Mongols without his help. Finally, he must have realized that he 
was overplaying his part, for he switched back to the subject of the 
mountains. 

"The rocks have many metals," he said, "such things as iron and 
silver, and even gold. But the Mongols will not let us take any out." 
He went on to blame this obstacle to progress on the reactionary 
lamas, but I knew from speaking to others that the objection to 
mining was not confined to the priests. They were only maintaining 
an old Mongol policy. Like many other nomad rulers elsewhere, the 
Mongol chieftains had always objected to anything such as large- 



50 OUR FIRST LAMASERY 

scale mining, that would give a tribe property interests holding them 
to a given district. For this would make it impossible for them to 
wander any distance in search of better hunting or grazing, and 
would destroy their greatest asset in warfare, mobility. 

While we were talking, I caught sight of the monastery in the 
distance. A deep gorge cutting down through the range left a dark 
slash against the lighter color of the reddish cliffs. Outlined against 
this, at the mouth of the gorge, was a high, natural terrace. On this 
I could just make out a number of large, square, pink and white 
buildings. Drawing nearer, we could even catch the glint of gilded 
roof ornaments. Then we lost sight of it again as we crossed the hot, 
dry sand in the original course of the Yellow River, at the base of the 
mountains. On the far side of this strip of desert, Farmer Li led us 
up a narrow boulder-strewn path, and at the top we found ourselves 
on the terrace, which spread in a flat, fan-shaped plain before the 
temple buildings. 

We first came to a row of plain adobe dwellings. Originally they 
must have been red a favorite color with the lamas but they had 
now faded into a pink that blended well with the pinkish clay of the 
terrace. Once these buildings had served as a residence for some of 
the monks, but a vertical blue signboard with white characters an- 
nounced in Chinese that they were now occupied by a Government 
primary school for the West Wing of the Oirat Banner. Several 
young pupils, from about seven to fourteen years of age, ran out to 
greet us. They seemed to be likable lads, but were obviously pov- 
erty stricken. One or two had on torn Mongol robes ; the rest were 
dressed in patched and faded Chinese uniforms. 

Farmer Li announced that the school had been set up by agree- 
ment between the "Princess of the Western Oirats" and Governor 
Fu. It was one of several such schools, he told me, that were in- 
tended to teach the Chinese language and Chinese Nationalist aims to 
the young Mongols so they could take their places in the New China. 
I wondered why the "Princess" actually a Duchess by title had 
agreed to this movement to destroy the native culture of her people. 
Later, I learned, however, that like most of the other decadent rulers 
of the present-day Mongols, she was little more than a tool in the 
hands of Chinese border politicians. 

The only man from camp who got to meet her was the doctor, 
who had had her for a short while as a patient. Soon after Fu re- 



OUR FIRST LAMASERY 51 

occupied Paotou, she and her young son an honorary Colonel at 
the age of nine together with the Prince of the Dalat Banner and 
several other Mongol nobles who had been spending the war years in 
Shanpa, moved east to their old homes. They must have been glad 
to go. During the war, we heard, these Mongol rulers were, prac- 
tically speaking, mere hostages for the good behavior of their people 
and had had no real freedom under the watchful eyes of General Fu. 

Behind the Mongol school stood the monastery buildings proper. 
The square mass of the main temple rose prominently in the fore- 
ground on an artificial terrace. It was painted white, with a hori- 
zontal band of dark red encircling the top. On its roof we saw a 
golden, eight-spoked wheel, flanked by two gazelles. I explained to 
the others that this was the equivalent of a cross on a Christian 
church, the symbol of the religion, and that it was intended to recall 
Buddha's first sermon, when he "turned the Wheel of the Law" in 
the deer park outside Benares. 

Below the wheel, over the main door which was set back in a 
recessed porch, was the temple nameboard. A blue tablet with gold 
lettering, in a frame of writhing dragons, it gave the name of the 
temple in three languages : Mongolian, Chinese, and Tibetan. At 
first I was a little surprised to see the Tibetan, but it was not inap- 
propriate, since Mongolian Lamaism is essentially the Tibetan form 
of Buddhism, with only a very few local innovations. The Mongols 
first adopted Lamaism as their state religion under Khubilai Khan 
in the 13th century. They lost it again when they were driven out 
of China less than a hundred years later, but were reconverted by 
Tibetan missionaries at the end of the 16th century. In the mean- 
time, most of them had gone back to their primitive religion, Shaman- 
ism, though some remained faithful to Nestorian Christianity, a 
faith very popular in China during the Mongol Dynasty. Even now, 
while most Mongols are ardent followers of Lamaism, a few of the 
Mongols of Inner Mongolia are Mohammedans, like those we had 
met at the third Yellow River crossing. 

As we stood looking at the front of this large temple, Farmer Li 
came out of a side building with an intelligent-looking youth of about 
sixteen. He told us that this was the abbot's chief disciple. The 
abbot himself had gone with most of his monks to visit Shandagu 
Temple, another monastery further up the range, but his disciple 
would act as host and make us welcome. 



52 OUR FIRST LAMASERY 

The boy took us into a small, dark guest room, and poured us 
cups of tea, then he went out to look for the keys to the temple build- 
ings. While he was gone, I talked in Chinese to the old lama who 
had prepared the tea. He had twinkling eyes, a perpetual smile, and 
a droopy moustache of only a few hairs that made an amusing con- 
trast with Farmer Li's well-trimmed, but rather heavy one. He told 
me that he had traveled to Peking and even as far as Shanghai in the 
retinue of the late Panchen Lama, when the latter was an exile from 
Tibet. He liked traveling, he said, but he was getting old and the 
Panchen was dead. Being an Oirat he had come home to pass his 
last days in this temple of his Banner. 

We talked about Peking and its temples, and famous lama shrines 
elsewhere. He told me that there were several larger temples, well 
worth seeing, not far from here, and that we would no doubt be wel- 
comed if we wanted to visit them. 

Farmer Li had been looking rather grim, as though he were an- 
noyed to have me find that he was not indispensable after all. At this 
remark about our being welcome at other temples, his eyes narrowed 
and his jaws clamped firmly. He soon said goodbye, and strode 
away, up the trail that entered the gorge. 

The abbot's disciple then came back with a heavy cluster of iron 
keys, and a retinue composed of young lama novices and pupils from 
the Oirat school. 

The youngsters looked at us with such wide-eyed awe, mixed 
with a certain amount of amusement at our appearances, that Fred 
felt they should have something to be awed about. He leaned over 
and plucked a Chinese silver dollar from the old lama's boot. The 
latter started in surprise. Fred smothered a smile and drew out an- 
other and another. The young Mongols looked amazed, even fright- 
ened. One laughed nervously, as though he felt that it must all be a 
joke, but he could not be sure. It was obvious that none of them had 
ever seen anything like it 

The abbot's disciple seemed to be the most nervous of the lot. He 
realized that this magic was something beyond his experience, pos- 
sibly something connected with evil powers, and seemed to be trying 
to decide whether he should permit such goings-on in sacred pre- 
cincts. He finally handled the situation very diplomatically by sug- 
gesting that we might want to see the main temple. 




Tsong Kapa, founder of the Reformed Sect, with episodes from his life. 
(Courtesy of the "Newark, Museum.) 




Tara, the Green Goddess. Gilded bronze image from a Mongol lamasery. 
(Photo by Reuben Goldberg.} 



OUR FIRST LAMASERY 53 

From the building's exterior we did not know what to expect, as 
it was severely plain except for the wheel and gazelles, and the name- 
board. But we were not disappointed. The rather low ceiling inside 
was supported by slender red columns, between which ran vertical 
rows of prayer benches made of planks raised a few inches off the 
floor. There were two rows of these on either side of the main aisle. 
They extended the length of the main hall, and seemed to emphasize 
its depth. The two nearest the aisle on each side were covered with 
long, brightly colored prayer rugs, patterned in large squares of de- 
sign to mark the seat for each monk at the services. 

On the side walls were painted a succession of equally bright pic- 
tures of Tsong Kapa, the founder of the Reformed Sect, to which the 
Mongols belonged, surrounded by a vivid mosaic of lesser Buddhist 
figures. The hall terminated in a wall hung with temple banners, 
mounted in rich brocades, and against it stood the abbot's throne of 
lacquered and gilded wood. 

Low doors on either side of the throne led into the sanctuary 
proper, which in Mongol temples is usually shut off from view. Here 
were massive images of Tsong Kapa and his two chief disciples, and 
the Buddha with his two attendants, together with an odd assort- 
ment of saints and demons. The demons were horrible to behold, 
wearing crowns of skulls and necklaces of severed heads, and tram- 
pling corpses underfoot. 

On the roof of an adjoining temple we found a shrine dedicated 
to the chief demons of this group. Most of them were Tibetan gods 
of the pre-Buddhist (Bon) faith, who had been assimilated into 
Lamaism, and had nothing to do with Buddhism, as such. The ab- 
bot's disciple showed us how they were worshiped to the braying of 
thigh-bone trumpets and the rattling of small drums. The latter 
were made by riveting the tops of two human skulls back-to-back, 
and stretching skin tightly over the openings. The young lama 
seemed very nervous to be there, and looked quite frightened when I 
peered behind a heavy curtain at the rear of the room, In back of it 
were massive images of the demons, including the dreaded Erlik 
Khan, Lord of Death, with his hideous bull's head, its huge jaws 
dripping blood. 

In front of the curtain hung a set of paintings depicting these 
demons as invisible spirits. The crowns of skulls were there, and the 



54 OUR FIRST LAMASERY 

necklaces of heads; so were the swords and other weapons they 
usually brandished, and the trodden corpses, lying prostrate. But 
where the figures should have been were blank spaces, through which 
blazed the wall of flames in the background. Our guide explained 
that the deities were considered too terrible for the worshipers to 
look upon, and the latter were expected to fill the spaces by their own 
imagination. Also, one form of prayer to the demons was to concen- 
trate on the paintings until the demons seemed to come and take their 
places in them. 

As we wandered around the lamasery, we saw several simplified 
methods of saying prayers, all of which showed considerable me- 
chanical skill. On one small altar, for example, we saw a hand 
prayer wheel. This was a copper cylinder about four inches high 
and three in diameter, closed at both ends, with a thin metal rod 
projecting up through the lid. The old lama opened it and showed 
us that the rod was a movable axle around which was wound a very 
long strip of paper, inscribed in Tibetan with the ancient Buddhist 
prayer, Om mani padme hum, "Hail, O Jewel in the Lotus, amen," 
repeated hundreds of times. By simply twirling the rod and setting 
it spinning, the lamas felt that they gained as much merit by each 
revolution as they would have by repeating the prayer as many times 
as it was written on the roll of paper. 

Our lama guide then took us into a small square building in the 
court in front of the main temple. It was about fourteen feet high, 
we estimated, and eight feet on a side. Inside was a huge six-sided 
barrel that almost filled it. It was painted red, with the six syllables 
Om ma-ni pad-me hum, in Sanskrit letters, one on each panel along 
with a sacred picture. He said that inside it the lamas had put all the 
hundred and eight volumes of the Buddhist holy scripture, and that 
a single revolution was the equivalent of reading them all, something 
it would take several monks many months to do by actual reading. 

Finally, on the roof of the principal temple we saw wind wheels 
that seemed to us the greatest refinement of this labor-saving quest 
for spiritual merit. These consisted of a large roll of prayer papers, 
about five times as thick as that in the hand prayer wheel, inscribed 
with the same prayer, Om mani padme hum. The roll was encased 
in a leather cylinder, built around a metal axle, the lower end of 
which fitted into a deep socket in the edge of the roof, and at the top 
of each axle were soldered four metal cups that caught the wind like a 



OUR FIRST LAMASERY 55 

child's pin wheel. At first glance they looked to us like crude ver- 
sions of the wind gauge at the camp's weather station. 

I gathered from all this that Lamaism in Mongolia had sunk to 
the condition I had found in the Tibetan border regions. The 
Lama religion originally had a great heritage from the high philoso- 
phy of Indian Buddhism, though this had been tainted during the 
Middle Ages by baser elements from the more depraved forms of 
Hinduism and from some of the primitive Tibetan cults. Nowadays, 
however, its philosophy seems to have been largely forgotten. The 
Tibetan monks spend their time thinking up new ways to gain money, 
or trying to devise better means to obtain merit with the minimum of 
effort. The lamas here in Mongolia seemed to have succeeded quite 
well with the latter, and judging by the apparent wealth of Beilighe 
Temple even though we later learned that it had already been 
looted by the Chinese they must also be good at gaining money 
from the other Mongols. 

Recollections of former travels in West Tibet came back to me in 
force as we strolled up beyond the last temple and found a magnifi- 
cent chorten, silhouetted against the dark mouth of the gorge. It 
seemed unusually white, with an almost supernatural glow that con- 
trasted sharply with the background and with the thunder clouds 
gathering over the peaks above. The scene inevitably recalled a view 
in another pass, through the Himalayas, on the ancient road to Leh. 

The chorten is an essentially Tibetan adaptation of an ancient 
Buddhist monument called a stupa, but it has been so extensively 
borrowed by the Mongols that it seems equally typical of Mongolia. 
This one, like all stupas, had both a symbolic and a practical pur- 
pose; though the first has been forgotten by most present-day 
lamas. Symbolically, the monument represented an ancient concep- 
tion of the Universe in miniature. Its rectangular base represented 
the Earth, which most Asiatic peoples consider as flat, and square. 
The bulbous part, that rose above this, represented the dome of the 
sky. Its slender spire had thirteen rings to recall the Thirteen 
Heavens, and the disc in the crescent at the top were the Sun and 
Moon. Highest of all was a leaf-shaped projection representing a 
wisp of flame that symbolized Divine Knowledge. 

More practically, the chorten was a reliquary to house the remains 
of a former abbot. I could not imagine a more fitting tomb than this 
particular monument. With the mountains towering behind it, it 



56 OUR FIRST LAMASERY 

looked down on the temple the abbot had once ruled, and on out over 
the plain. The latter was now beginning to darken with the shadows 
of the storm clouds, but the setting sun in the distance picked out the 
willow groves around the larger farms. The whole world of the 
Chinese immigrants seemed so remote up here. 

My revery was broken by the abbot's disciple, who came up to 
invite us to supper. In the guest room the monks offered us their 
usual fare, which consisted mainly of bowls of coarse wheaten 
noodles with lumps of boiled mutton, served in a cloudy soup. They 
gave us bitter pickles to garnish it with, and buttered tea thickened 
with flour to wash it down. I was the only one able to eat a full 
share. The doctor was almost sick at the sight of it, and urged that, 
in spite of the coming storm, we should return to camp where we 
could sleep better and get a good breakfast. 

As we rode back through the twilight, lightning began to flash in 
the dark clouds above the peaks. We did not think much about it, 
as these evening storms were usually confined to the mountain range. 
We got as far as the ferry, barely halfway home, without incident. 
Then suddenly the storm broke right overhead. Constant lightning 
lit up the whole plain. It transformed one particularly dreary stretch 
of sagebrush and desert near the swimming pond into a wild and 
eerie scene, reminding me of the witches 7 heath in Macbeth. 

Our horses were frantic. They wanted to bolt down every side 
path. Luckily Lao Tsai knew the way well and led us by the most 
direct trail. The fourth member of the party was a very poor rider, 
and his horse was especially skittish as a result. He had a hard time 
keeping up with the group, so I dropped back to be near him in case 
of trouble. Several times we could not see the leaders, and I have 
seldom felt more lost. Once Lao Tsai rode back to find us. If it had 
not been for his calmness and knowledge of the way, it might have 
been very dangerous. The doctor suggested that the lama demons 
had been trying to punish us for invading their sanctuary. 

As a result of this jaunt, I resolved to resume my study of border 
peoples and lama temples which I had begun nine years before in 
Jehol. I decided that on every trip I would take some of the other 
restless men along with me. Even if they did not share my immedi- 
ate interest in the Mongols and their temples and I did not expect 
them to they could work off their excess energy in riding and 
climbing. Meanwhile, they would be good company. 



8 

THE MONGOLS AT HOME 

A FEW DAYS after the trip to Beilighe Temple, I thought it 
might be interesting to see if there was any truth in the story 
of many Mongols living in forest parks "in the middle of the moun- 
tains." Even if it should turn out to be false, we would surely meet 
some Mongols along the way, and I was curious to see how they 
lived. I had seen some of their tents on a trip north of Paotou in 
1936, but only from the outside. I had never actually been in one. 

When I told Fred the magician that I planned to enter the moun- 
tains by one of the passes, he and his roommate, Walter Hill, both 
said they would be glad to come along. Fred Webster, the pharma- 
cist's mate, had been eager to get to the mountains after the camp 
doctor told him about his visit to Beilighe Temple, so he came too. 

These three were the most congenial companions I had on any of 
these trips. Each of them was interested in photography, and there- 
fore very observant. Each had a good sense of humor and could 
accept bad conditions without complaining. In addition, each had 
individual talents that were useful on a trip. Fred's skill at magic 
almost always impressed the Mongols, and gained their good will; 
Hill had been in the Forestry Service in Minnesota, and knew a lot 
about outdoor life; while Webster, as an agricultural student, was a 
mine of information about the plants and animals we saw. 

Lao Tsai was away that day, so we took young Hui as ma-fu. 
We headed straight for Beilighe Temple, since the pass behind it was 
the principal one visible from the camp, and it seemed the best way to 
enter the mountains. Moreover, the glimpse I had had of the gorge 
behind the chorten made me eager to explore it further. 

We stopped at the temple for about an hour. I wanted to meet 
the abbot, who had just returned from Shandagu, and Hill and Web- 
ster wanted to see the temple, as it was their first visit. The abbot, 
Lopon Dorje by name, was a remarkable-looking old man. He had 
a rather coarse face pitted with smallpox scars, what the Russians 

57 



58 THE MONGOLS AT HOME 

call a "potato nose," broad and shapeless, and an unusually heavy 
moustache and beard, white at the ends. His most striking features 
were his eyes. They were dark and calm, but when he looked at you, 
it seemed that his gaze which was not rude enough to be called a 
stare, but was very penetrating could see through to your inmost 
thoughts. He talked rather good Chinese in a deep, quiet voice, and 
was very cordial. He began by saying that he had heard about me 
from the old lama, and was impressed that I should be interested in 
his religion. 

I asked him about Mongol settlements in the mountains, and he 
said there were no real settlements. I asked about forests, and he 
laughed. I now knew that Farmer Li had been telling us tall tales. 
Nonetheless, I was determined to climb the pass and try to find some 
Mongol homes. We drank the abbot's tea, gave him some small 
presents, and went down into the river bed that led into the gorge. 
It was almost dry, but littered with huge boulders that made walking 
difficult. 

Almost immediately we came upon two of the dome-shaped tents 
that I had been looking for the typical dwelling of the Mongol no- 
mads. They are usually called "yurts" in books by Western writers, 
but are known to the Mongols themselves as ger. These were 
made of sheets of heavy felt, laid over collapsible wooden frames, and 
lashed down by hair ropes. We could see they were obviously con- 
trived to provide a sturdy shelter, and yet be easily taken down to 
move from place to place. The things we especially noticed as we 
glanced inside were a round fire hole in the center of the floor, and a 
plain wooden box at the back, with offering bowls in front of it. I 
gathered that this must be some sort of household shrine. Both 
tents were empty, so we did not waste time there, but pushed on up 
the gorge. 

We found a rough path that avoided most of the boulders, yet 
even here we encountered large stones that were hard on the horses' 
hoofs. They were shod only on the front feet, and two of them cast 
even these shoes before we had gone very far. It was clearly no 
place for horses, even though they were led; but hoofprints in the 
sand told of others that had passed there before us. For a distance 
there was even a cart track, then that disappeared up a side gorge, 
through which we could see a green meadow with some half-wilcl 
ponies grazing upon it. 



THE MONGOLS AT HOME 59 

As we walked up the river bed, leading our horses, the rock walls 
at each side were at first fairly low. This seemed to be merely a shelf 
or terrace at the foot of the range proper. Then, after about half a 
mile, the walls began to rise sharply as we came to the outer moun- 
tains of the range. These were weirdly eroded, with gaping tunnels 
and caves and oddly shaped projections. They seemed predomi- 
nantly of reddish-brown sandstone, with long strata of other colors 
at irregular intervals. Some of these strata were black, where seams 
of coal came to the surface. Near them were patches of darker 
brown rock with rusty streaks that looked like iron ore. I could see 
what Farmer Li meant when he said that this region was rich in 
minerals. 

The more resistant strata near the tops of the mountains were 
particularly dark, almost a chocolate brown, and black in the shadows. 
This no doubt accounts for the Mongol name of the range, Khara 
Narin Ula, "the black-pointed mountains." 

Beyond a particularly high mountain with steeply eroded sides, 
the gorge forked sharply to the north, and the few hoof tracks that 
still remained also divided. We continued on straight ahead to the 
west, though the gorge seemed slightly narrower, because it looked 
like the most direct route through the mountains. 

Almost immediately the dark, forbidding walls began to close in 
more and more, but inscriptions cut into the rock above the trail made 
us think that this was still the main pass. They were all in Tibetan 
script, common prayers like Om mani padme hum, and had probably 
been carved there by lamas, to acquire merit. These, I felt, were no 
doubt the "ancient inscriptions" that one of the officers from camp 
had spoken of seeing at the entrance to one of the passes as he was 
riding along the range on a hunting trip. I was very disappointed. 
From what he had said, I had hoped to find some really old inscrip- 
tions by the Tangut kings who had ruled here before Jenghis Khan, 
the ones whose tombs Father Schram had found. 

Though the inscriptions kept on, the gorge itself became so nar- 
row that the stream finally filled it completely, blocking further travel. 
It was too late to go back to the other fork, so we decided to camp 
there for the night. 

We unsaddled and hobbled our horses, and built a fire on a 
crescent of sandy beach above the flowing stream. Then, after a 
light supper of rations we rolled up in our blankets beside the embers. 



6o THE MONGOLS AT HOME 

Between the rock walls above us the stars were very large and very 
bright through the clear atmosphere. Somewhere in the distance a 
wolf howled ; otherwise, the only sound was that of the water run- 
ning over pebbles, or the occasional click of a hoof against stone, as 
the horses grazed among the boulders. 

Next morning we went back to the place where the gorge divided. 
On the projecting triangle of rock at the junction, we now saw a 
partially ruined stone watchtower that must once have guarded the 
pass. We had missed it the night before in the twilight. Looking 
up the fork, we saw several more ruins in the distance, so we as- 
sumed that this must be the main pass, and decided to explore it 

First I sent back the horses, since it seemed both useless and 
cruel to make them walk over this broken ground with loose or 
missing shoes. The ma-fu led them back to the temple while we 
continued along on foot with our blankets slung across our backs. 

The other ruins mostly turned out to be neglected stone dwellings, 
rather than watchtowers like the first we saw. Most of them were 
roofless and very dilapidated. Whoever had lived in them had taken 
out all the precious wood when they moved on. The roof beams, 
doors, and window frames were too valuable to leave behind. This 
convinced me that Farmer Li's "forests" were a myth. As a matter 
of fact, the only trees we saw were occasional stunted ones scarcely 
larger than shrubs. 

These huts seldom consisted of more than one large room, with 
the interior planned like a Mongol tent. They had a round fire pit in 
the center of the floor, and a deep niche in the rear wall that we as- 
sumed must be for the household shrine. Later we found that the 
huts had been built years before by seminomadic Mongol hunters 
and trappers, and that they were still used as temporary shelters by 
Mongol families traveling up and down the pass, when they were 
stormbound. 

One of these stone houses, some distance above the trail, was still 
occupied. An old Chinese renegade came out to welcome us. He 
was wearing the traditional frontier farmer's tight-fitting woolen 
suit, that looked like old-fashioned long underwear. His Mongol 
wife and daughter both stood shyly in the doorway as we ap- 
proached. The wife wore a simple dark robe, with a blue scarf 
around her hair. Elaborate jeweled pendants of silver set with coral 
hung from beneath the scarf, on each side of her head. Noticing our 



THE MONGOLS AT HOME 61 

curiosity about them, the old man said the Mongols called them 
szviks. His daughter wore the same kind of scarf and robe, but she 
only had small earrings for jewelry. 

The man, looking about sixty but still very spry, turned out to be 
a hunter. He was very friendly and showed us his Mongol-style 
traps which were cleverly fashioned. When the smooth jaws were 
set open, the entire trap was covered by a piece of cloth like a shallow 
inverted bag, so arranged that if it were barely touched the jaws 
would snap together. He claimed that he caught anything from hares 
and pheasants to wolves and mountain sheep. He also showed us 
some pairs of large horns with a peculiar reverse curve to them. 
They must have belonged to the burhel, or "blue sheep/ 5 actually a 
form of mountain goat, that we had heard were quite common in 
these mountains. 

When we told him we wanted to climb the pass to find some Mon- 
gols at home, he was not very encouraging. He warned us that they 
were shy people and afraid of foreigners. Many of them, he said, had 
never seen people like us and would probably run at our approach. 
( He illustrated the running motion very graphically with his hands. ) 
He shook his head and said he doubted if we would see much of their 
home life. 

Disregarding his discouraging remarks, we continued on, and 
after several miles of grueling walking, began to climb more steeply. 
Suddenly we came across two more yurts, in somewhat better condi- 
tion than those we had seen on the river bed near the temple. Before 
the tents, two long lines of hair rope were pegged down to form a V, 
to which several she-goats were tethered for milking. An old 
woman came out of one of the tents to look at us. At first she 
seemed frightened, then she grinned. She could not understand any 
of my questions in Chinese, but offered us some goat's milk to drink, 
for which I gave her a packet of American needles. 

From here we passed through an especially wild ravine, where 
the steeply-climbing trail was in places almost nonexistent. It led up 
a stream bed, where the water flowed in considerable quantity for 
short distances and then disappeared again into the ground. In 
places we could hear water flowing without being able to see it. 
Probably it was passing through underground caverns. Along here 
we flushed several flocks of greyish-purple partridges and some sand 
grouse, which, together with occasional skulls of mountain sheep and 



62 THE MONGOLS AT HOME 

some wolf tracks, indicated good hunting. Unfortunately, we were 
not equipped for it, having nothing better than side arms. There 
were still no trees ; only rarely a gnarled shrub. 

Then we began to come upon occasional tents again. We could 
usually anticipate them by the barking of the fierce dogs who warned 
of our coming before we even saw them. By the time we came past 
the tents, the animals would be secured by the children of the family 
sitting on their heads. Some of the children looked almost smaller 
than the huge dogs. They seemed very shy, but had bright expres- 
sions. Most of them wore small homespun robes, belted around the 
waist with a twisted cloth. We seldom saw their parents. 

The first really respectable-looking yurt we came to was situated 
on the edge of a grassy meadow near the stream, which here emerged 
from its bed to flow a couple of hundred feet, only to disappear again 
into the sand. The number of goats on the hillside above us sug- 
gested considerable wealth as the Mongols reckon wealth and the 
owner, who came out to see why his dogs were barking, looked fairly 
prosperous. He had a white Chinese-style shirt, with relatively clean 
trousers of fine blue serge, tucked into a handsome pair of Mongol 
boots. His face looked proud and rather surly. 

I asked in Chinese if we might enter the tent, and he consented 
with a curt nod. Under the decorated felt flap which hung down over 
the entrance were two small door panels, set in a wooden frame that 
made a high threshold. I remembered from reading Marco Polo's 
Travels that the Mongols of his day considered it very bad luck, as 
well as bad manners, to touch the threshold, and tried to avoid it. 
But in trying to get through the small doorway barely four feet high 
with my excessively long frame and a clumsy pack on my back, I 
kicked it twice. A deeper frown came over the handsome face of our 
host 

Inside, the first thing we noticed was the fire pit, set in a square 
hearth about three feet wide. A large, flaring pot of boiled milk 
stood on an iron spider grate over the coals. Our host, coming in 
behind me, took this off the fire and set in its place a heavy brass 
teapot, poking up the coals and putting more sticks on the fire. The 
smoke rose fairly straight through a round hole in the roof, that was 
partially covered by a movable felt outside, to give a better draft. 
This was obviously not always very efficient, as the wooden frame 
and the inside of the felts were black with soot. 



THE MONGOLS AT HOME 63 

The floor, of pounded earth, was covered with three sheets of felt 
matting. Behind the hearth, and on each side of it, lay finely woven 
saddle rugs of blue with tan and white patterns. As our host made 
no effort to offer the place of honor at the rear of the tent, we seated 
ourselves on the side rugs, and looked curiously around us. 

At the back of the yurt, slightly to the left, stood the brightly 
painted wooden chests. The upper one had its sliding front panel 
partially raised to show some religious images, an icon in a figured 
silver case or "charmbox," and some small brass butter lamps and 
offering bowls. The lower chest was much larger and we assumed 
(correctly, as it turned out) that this was for storing clothing and 
grain. On a wooden rack at the right side hung metal cooking uten- 
sils, brass dippers, ladles, etc., and beside the rack stood a crude 
churn made of a narrow, hollowed log, about a foot in diameter and 
three feet high, bound around with metal hoops. From the rafters 
on the left, opposite us, dangled strips of dried mutton ; below these, 
rolls of felt and skins for bedding had been pushed back against the 
wall. 

All these things, we were to find, were typical of every tent. Only 
the quality of the furnishings differed according to the owners' 
means. Some, for example, would have plain chests, fewer images 
in the "god box," and perhaps no rugs. 

On the floor at the rear, beside the chests, we also noticed several 
miniature, painted tables which resembled small stools. On these the 
wife had piled her jewelry before climbing the mountain to tend 
their goats. In addition to the two heavy swik pendants, made of 
silver set with turquoise and coral, we saw a pair of large turquoise- 
studded earrings, from which dangled three long chains of coral 
beads, ending in pendants of onyx. There was also a wide band of 
corals with a pendant fringe to fit around the back of the head, and 
a skullcap of solid silver plates. 

I gathered that the Mongols, like the Tibetans I had known, must 
have the custom of using wedding jewelry in the form of a headdress 
for the bride either as part of her dowry or a gift from the groom 
to be worn throughout the rest of her life ; and that these pieces be- 
longed to a typical trousseau. That would also explain why the un- 
married daughter of the old trapper had only the small earrings, and 
lacked the swik and other trimmings. All this jewelry, plus our 
host's silver-mounted sheath knife, and two or three silver-lined eat- 



64 THE MONGOLS AT HOME 

ing bowls of dark wood, lying together on another table, completed 
our first impression that this was a well-to-do Mongol family. 

Our host knelt beside me on his right knee, with the other knee 
up. We tried to copy the pose but it was impossible for our weary 
legs after all that climbing, so we merely sat cross-legged. As a first 
gesture of hospitality, he pulled out his snuff bottle, a handsome one 
carved of tawny onyx, and offered it to me with both hands. 

Knowing nothing about Mongol customs, I did not yet realize 
that I should have had one of my own to exchange for his, and that 
we should each have paused for a moment to admire the other's 
bottle, and then returned them with a bow. In my ignorance, I 
thought I was supposed to help myself to snuff. I took a pinch be- 
tween my fingers and inhaled it, in the old European fashion. This, 
my first attempt at the art, was disastrous. I had taken just enough 
to make my nose itch, without producing the desired sneeze. 

This additional jaux pas of mine did not make our host any hap- 
pier. He looked very surly and countered each polite remark that I 
made in Chinese with a torrent of Mongolian. It seemed a very 
guttural-sounding language as he spoke it, with r's that rolled like 
thunder in the mountains. 

I was about to give up any attempts at conversation, when his 
fourteen-year-old son came in and sat down near the entrance. He 
stared at us curiously for a minute, then pulled out of his robe a small 
leather sack, the scrotum of a newly killed goat. He blew it up like 
a balloon, then put it behind him and stared innocently at the fire. 
Suddenly a terrific sound cut the air from his direction like a giant 
breaking wind and splitting his leathern breeches. 

Five pairs of eyes swiveled toward the boy, who was now gazing 
upward with a beatific expression, a smile twitching at the corners of 
his mouth. His father looked very angry, but we laughed with the 
son, and he half-heartedly joined in. 

This broke the ice, and our host became somewhat more cordial. 
He spoke a little Chinese, rather haltingly, and asked hopefully if I 
knew any Mongol or Manchu. He looked disappointed when I ad- 
mitted that I did not know either, but he asked in Chinese if we would 
like some tea. I thanked him, and when he poured us some In the 
silver-lined bowls, I handed him some American cigarettes. 

While he smoked, Fred casually began to do a few sleight-of-hand 
tricks, producing a series of silken scarfs from all over his body, and 




Mongol woman milking goats. 




Yurts in the wasteland, Beilighe Pass. 
(Photos by W. E. Hill) 




Dunguerbo turning a giant prayer wheel in a lamasery. 
(Photo by W. E. H/7/.) 



THE MONGOLS AT HOME 65 

making them appear to change colors. Our host just stared at him 
with a dull, sullen expression ; the performance appeared to leave him 
cold. Only his son seemed to be enjoying the magic, but his smile 
was a strange mixture of delight and scepticism and he made no com- 
ments. 

Fred finally gave up trying to amuse them, and as I was not mak- 
ing any headway at conversation and we had seen all we wanted to 
of the yurt, we decided to push on. 

As we rose to leave, the boy made the same disgusting noise with 
his little sack, and the father raised his hand to strike him. With an 
impish grin, the boy hopped over the threshold, but unluckily he 
landed with one foot in a tray of millet grain, set out to dry in the 
sun. This was apparently an especially grave sin, and his father was 
furious. Even while he bowed goodbye to us, he turned and glared 
at his son with a thunder-cloud expression. The latter just grinned 
back, from a safe distance across the brook. 

I, for one, was rather disturbed by this first visit to a Mongol 
home. We had learned what the inside of a yurt looked like, but we 
had hardly been social successes. At this rate, I began to wonder if 
we could ever really get to know any Mongols, to find out how they 
lived, and what they thought. 



9 



MEETING DUNGUERBO 

A~ WE CLIMBED higher up the pass, I began to wonder if we 
had been wise in rejecting Farmer Li as an interpreter. Of 
course, in addition to his mercenary character, the fact that he was 
Chinese and not a Mongol counted against him. The Mongols 
probably would never feel entirely at their ease with him, and seeing 
them through his eyes, we might easily get a distorted picture of 
Mongol life. In spite of these obvious drawbacks, our first attempt 
to meet a Mongol family on our own had been rather futile, and at 
this rate it did not look as though we would make much headway. 
Before making any arrangements with him, however, I decided to 
see how we fared with one more family. 

After a particularly steep stretch of trail we came to another al- 
pine meadow, larger than the last, with three yurts and a one-room 
stone house making a small settlement. As we approached the first 
tent, a young Mongol in the khaki uniform of a Chinese student 
came out to meet us. When I introduced myself in Chinese, he an- 
swered in the same language, telling me his name was Dunguerbo. 
He was a quick and active-looking youngster and we immediately 
took a liking to him. 

He said that he was a student from the Oirat School at Beilighe 
Temple, and had heard from a fellow classmate that we had been 
there recently while he was away. He was especially anxious to 
know if I had brought the "Master of the Secret Arts," and was de- 
lighted to meet Fred in person. 

As we were talking, a much older man, also in khaki, came out of 
the same yurt followed by a large family of Mongols : two men, three 
women, and four or five children. The tent was a large one, yet it 
seemed impossible that it could have held so many people. 

Dunguerbo introduced the older man as his father, Renchin Sum- 
bur. He explained that their wartime home was near Shanpa, but 
his father was fond of hunting, and they had come up here to visit 

66 



MEETING DUNGUERBO 67 

this family, their relatives, and hunt mountain sheep. The father 
was a distinguished-looking man of about sixty four times as old 
as his son with a well-tanned face, iron grey hair, and a grizzled 
moustache. Although he was wearing the khaki uniform of a minor 
Chinese official, his broad features, like those of his son, left no doubt 
that he was Mongolian and not Chinese. In fact, he could not speak 
Chinese as well as Dunguerbo did. 

The khaki garb of the two hunters looked very drab compared to 
the colorful costumes of their cousins. The three adult women were 
particularly well dressed. They were all wearing most of their head 
ornaments under bright-colored scarfs, and over their long, dark 
robes they had short sleeveless vests of brighter colored satin rather 
old but still impressive. 

After a rapid consultation in Mongolian with his father and one 
of the other men, Dunguerbo invited us to come into the largest yurt 
for tea. He seated us at the rear of the tent, in the place of honor, 
and sat next to us to act as our interpreter. 

He was very much interested in our olive-drab caps, our G.I. 
shoes, and our woolen blankets. After inspecting everything in de- 
tail, he passed on the information to his relatives, who were taking 
no particular pains to curb their own curiosity. He explained that 
no foreigners had ever been up here, and although one or two of 
the men like his father and himself had seen Americans in the 
market place in Shanpa, this was their first opportunity to examine 
people of our race at close range. I replied, as tactfully as possible, 
that we felt the same way about the Mongols, and were anxious to 
know more about their customs. 

For a moment Dunguerbo seemed slightly at a loss, as though he 
had not understood me correctly. Apparently he could not quite 
comprehend how we could take an interest in people and things he 
had always taken for granted. But he quickly entered into the spirit 
of the thing, and offered to take us on up the pass to another group of 
yurts near the top of the divide, so we could meet some other Mongol 
families. 

He led us to the tent of an old metalsmith, who was repairing the 
handle of a lama bell over a tiny forge. As we came in, the smith 
dropped his work to stare at us. Dunguerbo explained that he was 
over seventy a great age for a Mongol and not having been spry 
enough to leave this mountain home for some years, had never seen 



68 MEETING DUNGUERBO 

such strange people as us. We did not doubt his age. His face was 
shrunken into deep wrinkles and his hair was snow white, though his 
sharp eyes still gave him the alert expression of a younger man. 

He was very friendly and asked us many questions, by way of 
Dunguerbo, while his wife heated some tea. Like most of the Mon- 
gols we met then and later, he had never even heard of America. 
Even Dunguerbo, who was rather well-educated by Mongol stand- 
ards, did not seem to have any idea where it was. Later, when I 
found a secondhand Chinese atlas of the world, in Shanpa market, 
and presented it to him, he seemed very surprised to find that we 
lived across so much water. It seems that he had taken literally the 
expression Barren Gross, or "West Russians," that the Mongols 
use for all people of European stock, and had taken for granted that 
we came from the western end of the same continent. 

In glancing around the metalsmith's yurt, I noticed a couple of 
antiquated muskets leaning against the back wall of the yurt, next to 
the shrine box. They were crude flintlocks, with most of the springs 
and other mechanism on the outside of the locks. Each gun had an 
attached prop made of two long, curved sticks, fastened near the end 
of the barrel, to serve as a rest when firing. I thought they were 
probably even older than their owner. The latter, noticing my 
curiosity about them, reached over and picked up one that he said 
was unloaded, and snapped the lock to show us the sparks. 

Then, lest we of the other world still did not understand its mech- 
anism, the old smith took out his flint-and-steel set and lighted some 
tinder to demonstrate that the guns operated on the same principle. 
The flint-and-steel set consisted of a small leather pouch containing 
chips of flint and dried shredded bark for tinder, with a strip of steel 
attached to its lower edge. He held a chip of flint with a piece of 
tinder pressed against it, in his left hand, and struck it a glancing 
blow with the steel edge of the case, held in his right. At the second 
strike a spark caught on the tinder, causing it to smoulder. He blew 
it until it flared up into a flame, and used it to light his pipe. 

The flint-and-steel hung from the old man's tobacco bag along 
with a small bell-shaped object of white brass. I asked what the 
latter was for, and he patiently showed how it was used to knock the 
ashes from a pipe. Dunguerbo added that the Mongols did not like 
to knock out their pipes on the grate, as Chinese would do, because 
they considered the hearth, grate, and fire as sacred. I think the old 



MEETING DUNGUERBO 69 

man must have felt we were pretty ignorant about the simpler things 
of life. But he seemed amused rather than disturbed, and when we 
rose to go, asked us to come back sometime. 

We returned with Dunguerbo to his host's yurt. After some more 
conversation, and a few tricks by Fred, they gave us a substantial 
supper. This consisted of boiled dried mutton, which had been taken 
down from the rafters, to be eaten with the fingers, followed by a dish 
of mutton and noodles, to be eaten more elegantly with homemade 
chopsticks. Our host's brother rolled out the noodles before our 
eyes, and we saw why they almost invariably contain goat hairs. 
The board on which they are customarily prepared is very small, so 
some of the dough always slops over onto the felt flooring, where it 
picks up hairs and other foreign matter before it is retrieved. 

Indeed, it requires a strong stomach to eat Mongol food, especially 
after you have seen your hosts use their tongues to clean the bowls 
you have just used, in preparation for the next guests. On this oc- 
casion we saw them do this to their own bowls, but we were still 
happily ignorant of the fact that they did it to the guest bowls as 
well. As soon as I found that out, I bought my own "grape-root" 
bowl, beautifully marked with a graining like bird's-eye maple, and 
carried it inside my shirt as the Mongols do, ready to produce it on 
any tea-drinking occasion. 

While we were eating, Dunguerbo, on his own initiative, asked 
the family if we could sleep there, and the head of the family immedi- 
ately agreed without question. We were very grateful, as we had 
only brought up one blanket apiece, for the sake of lightening our 
packs, and that would have been very inadequate covering for sleep- 
ing out at this altitude. 

I could not help mentally contrasting the jovial friendliness and 
hospitality of this family with the surliness of the man in the first 
yurt we had visited. I casually asked who he was. Dunguerbo did 
not know, but asked the others. Somewhat coldly, our host told him 
that he was a man of the Hanggin Banner and they did not know or 
care what his name was; although he said that the man had mar- 
ried a Western Oirat woman, from their Banner, and had been a near 
neighbor for some time. Dunguerbo explained that the traditional 
lands of the Hanggin Banner were in the northern part of the Ordos, 
south of the River from here, and that his Banner and theirs had 
nothing in common. As for the man's Western Oirat wife, she had 



70 MEETING DUNGUERBO 

automatically joined his Banner on marrying him, so they had no 
further interest in her. 

We had many other occasions to note this lack of sympathy, even 
hostility, between people of the different Banners ; though we found 
the feeling of antipathy strongest between the larger units, the tribes 
or leagues. Later, I discovered why this was. 

It seems that the banners, tribes, and leagues were artificial divi- 
sions made during the last dynasty, when the Manchus ruled China. 
The Manchus gave their Mongol cousins many rights and privileges 
that they never permitted to their Chinese subjects, such as the right 
to intermarry with them. At the same time, they were anxious that 
the Mongols should never again become powerful enough to invade 
China. They remembered all too well that a comparatively small 
number of Mongols under Jenghis Khan, and his grandson Khubilai, 
had conquered and ruled China, and they did not want that to be re- 
peated. 

As a first move to restrain the Mongols, the Manchu emperors 
prevented them from wandering at will as they formerly had done, 
traveling around looking for better grazing lands. This was done 
by organizing them into banners under hereditary chieftains, usually 
given the title of "prince/' and by giving each banner certain definite 
lands for grazing. If they left these to wander into the territory of 
another banner, they were severely punished. 

Then, to keep the Mongols under firmer control, they organized 
them still further. First they grouped the banners into tribes, and 
later united the various tribes in areas with natural geographic 
boundaries into leagues. Each league was ruled by one of the tribal 
princes under the supervision of a Chinese (Manchu) military gov- 
ernor, who could crush any sign of revolt. 

The two great divisions in Western Mongolia were the Ikh-chao 
League in the Ordos Desert, and the Ulan-chap League, north of the 
Hou-t'ao Plain. The Ikh-chao League was made up of only one 
tribe, consisting of seven banners, among which were the Ottok, 
Dalat, and Hanggin Banners ; while the Ulan-chap League was com- 
posed of four tribes, one of which was the Oirat, further divided into 
three banners the Eastern, Western, and Rear Oirat Banners, The 
Western Oirat Banner was hereditary ruler of the mountains north 
of Shanpa, as far as Paotou, and of that part of the Gobi immedi- 
ately beyond. It was this banner that we came to know better 



MEETING DUNGUERBO 71 

than the others, largely through our continuing friendship with Dun- 
guerbo. 

In view of this, the Hanggin neighbor not only belonged to another 
banner, but to a different tribe and league as well; and the distinc- 
tions were not wholly artificial ones. The different types of country, 
and the comparative isolation of the Ordos tribes, shut off by the 
Yellow River, had led to separate customs and traditions. It was not 
strange then that he was not accepted by the Oirats. But the fact 
that he was living in Oirat land at all showed how the old system 
had broken down as the Chinese immigrants drove independent- 
minded Mongols beyond their traditional banner lands. 

I now realize that the man of Hanggin felt unsure of his position 
in spite of his wealth, and that he was expressing this in his open 
contempt at our ignorance of Mongol customs. These Oirats, on the 
other hand, were sure of themselves on their own lands and knew 
they had nothing to fear from us. So they felt free to be hospitable 
and to enjoy the novelty of our strangeness. 

Their hospitality was almost embarrassing. After they had fed 
us, the family ate their own meals ; the men eating first, then the 
women and children. After this, they took up their bedding, rolls of 
felt or heavy coats of fleece, and went outside to curl up on the 
ground. The head of the family stayed behind to light a butter lamp 
before the household shrine: a brass cup with a wick floating in 
half-melted butter. Then he too went out, and after pulling a loose 
felt across the smokehole to keep the heat in the yurt, left us to our- 
selves. 

We were wakened shortly before dawn by the family kitten. He 
had scrambled in through a gap in the framework under a loose felt, 
and proceeded to snuggle up against each of us in turn, looking for 
warmth. Already we heard sounds of activity outside the tent, as 
two of the women rounded up the goats for the early morning milk- 
ing. They had been brought down from the hill above while we were 
eating, the night before, but some had already managed to straggle 
away. We were surprised at the size of the herd and the differences 
in coat and in coloring. Some of the goats were short-haired, many 
were Angora, and some had fine curling wool almost like a sheep's. 
They ranged in color from black and white to a handsome blue-grey. 

The leader of the herd especially amused us. An old buck with 
massive horns, and a long Angora coat, he strode primly around with 



72 MEETING DUNGUERBO 

a felt apron hanging from his belly. We found that this was a form 
of birth control, to keep him from wasting his energies and to space 
the kids so that they would not all be born at one time, making too 
much work for the herdsmen. 

The family gave us a hearty breakfast of buttered tea and goat 
cheese, and asked us more questions. After we had eaten our fill, 
we held a council of war, to decide whether to keep on through the 
pass to see the Gobi on the other side, or to return to camp. If we 
had known then what we discovered later that the Gobi formed a 
high plateau, just a little below the peaks on the far side we would 
have pushed on. As it was, we assumed that the mountains formed a 
wall between our plain and the desert, and we did not relish a long 
descent and another back-breaking climb like yesterday's ; we were in 
no condition for it. Gathering storm clouds at the head of the pass 
and a raw, cold wind made our decision to return an easier one. 

We passed out presents : needles and silk thread to the women, 
a jackknife and an unused can of Sterno to our host and, thanking 
Dunguerbo for his help in giving us such a good time, left for camp. 
The descent was much faster. We reached Beilighe Temple soon 
after noon, in the first of a series of rain squalls. Rather relieved to 
be facing the storm down here instead of up in the mountains, we 
mounted our horses for the return trip and reached camp before 
dark. 



10 

THE LIVING BUDDHA OF SHANDAGU 

FOR THE TIME being, the climb up the pass had satisfied my 
curiosity about Mongol tent life, so I decided on another temple 
trip. I thought I would head for Shandagu Temple, having had it 
recommended to me by General Fu the first time I met him. After 
discussing the business that had brought me, we had had a personal 
chat and I happened to mention my interest in Lamaism. A flicker of 
disgust passed over his face he is known for his hatred of the Mon- 
gols and their religion, but I had momentarily forgotten that then 
he smiled, and as a model host made an effort to be helpful. 

"In that case," he said, "you should certainly visit Shandagu 
Miao. Not only is it the largest of the lamaseries in this region, but 
they have a great Living Buddha there, the reincarnation of a lama 
saint, and spiritual ruler of all the local Mongols." 

Up till now I had been unable to make so long a trip, but there was 
no longer any special reason for staying in camp. I decided to take 
with me a Protestant chaplain who was visiting the camp on a tour of 
U.S. outposts and, like us, was stranded while waiting for further 
orders. He had been wanting to see a lama temple because of his 
interest in comparative religions. 

After lunch on Sunday, we left camp on horseback, with Hui as 
our ma-fu, and rode across country to Manhui. It had been raining 
heavily for several days a rare thing in that arid land and the 
irrigation ditches were flooding over into the fields. It was hard 
going for our little Mongol ponies, and we ourselves got badly 
splashed in fording the swollen creeks. To make matters worse, 
the change of wind that had cleared the weather blew out of the 
Northwest, from Outer Mongolia and Siberia, bringing icy gusts 
that might as. well have come direct from the Arctic. It seemed 
hard to remember that it was still August. 

At Manhui, Father Schram cordially welcomed us to spend 
the night. He was much interested to hear that we were bound 

73 



74 THE LIVING BUDDHA OF SHANDAGU 

for Shandagu to see the Living Buddha, and when we sat down to 
a fine European dinner, he told us about other lama dignitaries he 
had known while he was stationed at Kumbum, in Kokonor. 

During dessert, the chaplain asked him, "Just w ^at is a 'Living 
Buddha'?" 

"That's quite a question!" exclaimed Father Schram. 

"When the Tibetans converted the Mongols to Lamaism, about 
three centuries ago," he began, "the Mongols wanted some holy 
men to match the Dalai Lama and the other great Reincarnations of 
Tibet. To oblige them, their Tibetan teachers 'discovered' that the 
souls of several Tibetan saints, long since dead, had found new homes 
in the bodies of various Mongol lamas. The other lamas told 
everyone that these newly revived saints had great powers of fore- 
knowledge and healing. Their princes paid them special honors, 
and whole lamaseries grew up around them. The common people 
had such awe of them that they began to call them 'Living Buddhas'. 

"Whenever one of these 'Living Buddhas' died, the lamas of his 
temple began looking for children who had been born on the day of 
his death. If they found one who could recognize some of the 
things that had belonged to the dead saint, they announced that 
he was the new bodily home of the saint's soul, and brought him 
back in pomp to fill the empty throne. 

"You understand while still so young the boy would be in the 
care of a tutor and a regent. But meanwhile, he would be no less 
holy, 

"The present Living Buddha of Shandagu is still in this stage," 
Father Schram continued. "He was only 'discovered' about ten years 
ago, when he was already a child of two or three years. Then, it 
was a tremendous honor to be the Living Buddha of Shandagu, but 
now the monastery has seen evil days." 

"What's happened to the place?" asked the chaplain. 

"You will see," said our host, and he stopped talking to light his 
long Dutch pipe. 

We went on to discuss the implications of the Japanese surrender 
for the Chinese, and the confused state of local politics. Later 
in the evening, our host recalled our reason for being there, and sent 
for a Mongolian-Chinese neighbor named Ho, who knew the way to 
Shandagu Miao. Father Schram told us that Ho had formerly 
been a trader with the Outer Mongolians and knew the local Mongols 



THE LIVING BUDDHA OF SHANDAGU 75 

well. I was very pleased when he agreed to come along as our guide 
and interpreter. 

We set out again next morning at dawn, riding toward the north. 
First we passed through a marginal farming area recently reclaimed 
by Chinese settlers. Then we struck out across wasteland which 
had been returned to grazing, after greedy farming methods had 
exhausted the soil for anything but coarse grass. 

After two hours of rough riding we came to an upper loop of the 
Wu-chia Ho. The Chinese ferrymen were casually sitting in plain 
sight on the far bank. They stayed there for half an hour, eating a 
late breakfast and smoking their mutton-bone pipes. The chaplain, 
who was rather short-tempered, fumed at the delay. He had not 
been long in the Orient. 

Soon after crossing the river we entered a section of true desert. 
Low dunes, covered with clumps of sagebrush, gave way to stretches 
of bare gravel and soft sand as we neared the mountains, until the 
vegetation vanished altogether in the ancient bed of the Yellow 
River. Hot winds as from a blast furnace rose from the sun-baked 
ground, as we skirted along the base of the range. It was certainly 
a contrast to the cold of yesterday. We felt oppressed by the heat and 
the sense of desolation. 

Then suddenly we caught sight of a cluster of great white build- 
ings, looming in the distance against the reddish mountains. They 
shimmered in the haze above the hot sand and seemed to be changing 
in shape. The nearer we got, the larger they became, though their 
outlines still wavered through the hot air. The haze seemed to 
move across our path of vision in waves driven by the hot breeze, so 
at moments we could almost see the buildings clearly ; then their lines 
would dissolve, and once again they would be shapeless wavering 
masses. It seemed like the mirage of an enchanted city certainly a 
fitting home for a great saint and a Prince of the Church. 

We rode up a gradual slope of sand and gravel to the main 
buildings, which stood on a terrace at the base of the cliffs, and 
were met at the gate by the host monk, a stout, jovial Mongol in 
scarlet robes. He welcomed us, through Ho, then he led us into the 
guest courtyard and helped tether our horses before ushering us into 
a square building of Tibetan architecture at the rear. 

Here, the host monk announced impressively, we were to be re- 
ceived in audience by the present Living Buddha of Shandagu, Tob- 



76 THE LIVING BUDDHA OF SHANDAGU 

dung Wanchuk, the Hambu Gegen, tenth reincarnation of the Tibetan 
poet-saint Milaraspa. 

While digesting these high-sounding titles, relayed to us by Ho, 
we seated ourselves cross-legged on silken rugs, on a side dais 
below the empty throne. A lama attendant placed before each of us 
a small individual table of carved and gilded wood. Others brought 
us large wooden boxes of parched millet and cups of clarified butter. 
We were supposed to mix these with our tea, which they served us in 
silver-lined bowls of some richly-grained dark wood. The tea already 
had been made with milk or butter, but some Mongols like more; 
while the addition of parched millet makes it a fairly substantial 
food more of a cereal than a drink. When we had each mixed a 
brew to our taste, we sat back and looked around us, admiring the 
magnificent furnishings of the room. 

The throne itself was richly carved and gilded, and had the three 
cushions of yellow silk appropriate to Mongolian royalty. Above 
it hung a temple banner mounted in heavy brocade. This showed 
Tsong Kapa, the Reformer, surrounded by the nine former rein- 
carnations that had preceded the present Living Buddha. The artist 
had so idealized them that it was impossible to guess what sort of 
men they had been. He had concentrated on painting the golden- 
yellow hats and capes that indicated their exalted position, and had 
made no attempt at actual portraiture. 

On each side of the central banner hung six more Tibetan-style 
paintings, showing Milaraspa, the "first existence" of the Shandagu 
incarnations back in the llth century. Each one had a central por- 
trait of the poet-saint in a nonchalant pose as he invited inspiration. 
This was set against a mosaic of brightly colored scenes illustrating 
his life and poems. By means of all these paintings, the spirits of the 
Living Buddha's predecessors dominated the room. We could not 
help being impressed with the long tradition. 

On a ledge below the large painting, I noticed several fading 
photos of the late Panchen Lama of Tibet, known to the Mongols, 
whom he visited in exile, as the "Banchin Bogdo." They still look 
upon him as the Living God, though his reincarnation has not yet 
been officially acknowledged by the Tibetans. The host monk was 
delighted when I recognized the subject, and asked if I had ever 
met him. Even though I admitted that I had not, he became even 
more friendly. 



THE LIVING BUDDHA OF SHANDAGU 77 

On both sides of the photographs, the monks had set out some 
of the gifts presented by previous visitors to the spiritual lords of 
Shandagu. Among them we saw foreign clocks, rare vases full of 
fading artificial flowers (the Mongols seldom saw real ones), a 
jade-studded scepter in a glass case, and some teacups and bowls of 
delicate china. 

At sight of all these, we hesitated to offer our own meager gifts ; 
a roll of silk (Japanese, from Shanpa market), a small porcelain 
figure of the Buddha of Wisdom that I had brought from Chung- 
king, and some hard candies wrapped in cellophane. We had included 
the latter at the last minute, when Father Schram told us that the 
Living Buddha was still just a boy. Knowing the mercenary repu- 
tation of the lamas, I wondered if they had deliberately set out the 
former offerings in order to shame guests into giving more. 

Our random gazing was suddenly interrupted by a flurry of 
maroon and crimson robes, as a new group of inquisitive monks 
arrived. They gathered around us, firing questions at us through 
Ho. Some of these newcomers could speak a little Chinese, and 
when they found I could too, they spoke to me directly. Everyone 
seemed to be talking at once ; we must have sounded like a flock of 
magpies. Many of the monks could never have seen a foreigner, as 
they were very curious about us. Our cameras puzzled them, and our 
strange clothes interested them, but our features amused them very 
much. 

Suddenly the chattering stopped, and the monks stepped reverently 
aside. Tobdung Wanchuk, the Living Buddha, carrying a black 
and white Pekinese under his arm, was entering with his guardian. 

He was a short, slender, rather vapid-looking boy, of about twelve. 
He was bareheaded, but wore a splendid vest of scarlet and gold 
brocade, with an outer shawl and skirt of crimson serge, and a pair 
of handsomely worked Tartar boots with upturned toes. His dress 
rather than his manner marked him as a prince of the Church. 

When he had seated himself informally on a cushion below the 
throne, with his little dog lying beside him, we presented our gifts, 
asking Ho to tell him in Mongolian how pleased we were to meet 
him. The Living Buddha just stared at us with an empty expres- 
sion and made no reply. 

While his guardian and the other monks politely praised the small 
Buddha figure, that to them was particularly valuable because of the 



78 THE LIVING BUDDHA OF SHANDAGU 

rarity of porcelain in Mongolia, the boy picked up some of the 
candies. With a half smile on his dull face, he held them up to the 
light to examine their bright colors. The crackle of the cellophane 
wrappings seemed to delight him especially. We felt sorry for him. 
Even if he were more intelligent than he looked, he was still little 
more than a child. We hated to think of him being doomed to spend 
a life of ceremonial, and ritual appearances, without any opportunity 
for games or normal companionship with children of his own age. 

When the audience such as it was was done, the Living 
Buddha came down from his dais, and was escorted out by several 
attendants to prepare for services in the main temple. We followed 
more leisurely, with some of the Chinese-speaking monks. Mean- 
while Ho, having duly introduced us, felt that his job was done and 
went to visit a friend in another building. 

The main temple had the same general appearance from the out- 
side as the one at Beilighe Miao, but was much larger, and more 
elaborately decorated. The walls were whitewashed, and severely 
plain except for the dark red strip around the top, which in this case 
was set with circular ornaments of real gold. The building stood on 
a terrace, faced in stone, with stone steps leading up to the recessed 
porch. At each side of the porch, small doors opened out into the 
"drum room" corresponding to the belfry of a Christian church 
and the stairway leading to the roof. 

Flanking the great central doorway, huge frescoes of the Four 
Heavenly Kings were brilliantly painted in red and yellow, blue and 
green, with details in gold, making a fitting transition to the color- 
rich interior. 

We entered the building to find a large main hall, lined with pillars 
of bright red lacquer. The four central columns were larger than 
the rest and had gilded dragons, with protruding red tongues, coiled 
around them. They rose to the four corners of a well in the roof that 
admitted light to the windowless interior. From the ceiling between 
two of these central columns hung the temple's nameboard. Its 
Chinese name Ch'eng-hua Ssu, "Monastery of the Completed Rein- 
carnation/' referred to its Living Buddhas; but the Tibetan name, 
Gundul Ling, was by far the richest-sounding. Pronounced in a deep 
bass voice by Tobdung Wanchuk's aged tutor, it sounded like the 
rumble of distant thunder. 



THE LIVING BUDDHA OF SHANDAGU 79 

As we strolled around, examining the fine brocade-mounted paint- 
ings on the walls, the Living Buddha entered with his attendants. 
He walked rather proudly under an enormously tall, broad hat of 
yellow silk, like those worn by his predecessors in the painting on 
the wall in the throne room. For the first time, he had an almost 
regal look. Ascending another gilded throne, at the far end of the 
hall, where we might have expected to see an altar, he seated him- 
self cross-legged on the yellow cushions and nonchalantly picked up 
his bell and dorje scepter, to preside over the service in the double 
role of officiant and chief god. 

Meanwhile the other lamas filed in, taking their seats on the 
long prayer benches that extended the length of the hall. As they 
sat, they faced each other across the center aisle. Each had his tea 
bowl, which was constantly being refilled by boy attendants who 
walked up and down the aisle carrying huge jugs, as well as a sheaf 
of pages from their holy scriptures, in Tibetan. One of the monks 
confided to me that they could only read the sounds of this foreign 
writing, and could not understand the- words. But they still thought 
they got merit by reading them. 

The older monks chanted while the younger ones kept up a weird 
and at first not unpleasing, din with several types of musical instru- 
ments. Some brayed on conch shells or on small trumpets of brass 
shaped like dragons. Others burst their lungs over two much larger 
telescopic horns of copper trimmed in silver, that extended fully 
twelve feet in length. Still others piped on whining flageolets, or 
blew shrill wooden whistles, while an undercurrent clashing of cymbals 
and the booming of heavy drums maintained the rhythm, accented 
by sharper sounds from the skull rattles and hand bells. As a master- 
piece of ingenuity, one young lama had rigged up seven of the hand 
bells on a wooden frame suspended from the rafters, so that he could 
ring them all simultaneously, producing a sharp clash with every tug 
on the long cord. Altogether, the noise was deafening and we won- 
dered how the boy-god's ears could stand it. 

Before the concentrated noise drove us out, we went on into the 
sanctuary, behind the Living Buddha's throne, through a door at the 
end of the hall. Here we found a great altar with a large gilded 
Buddha and a slightly smaller figure of Tsong Kapa, with their 
respective disciples. Behind these two sets of images stood lesser 



8o THE LIVING BUDDHA OF SHANDAGU 

ones, placed in niches of artificial rockery, forming a sort of reredos. 
The rich gilding on the figures of saints and goddesses gleamed im- 
pressively from the shadows of the blue-painted grottoes ; while the 
dark figures of the demon-gods at the sides blended with the back- 
ground. We scarcely saw more than their crowns of skulls and 
blood-dripping tongues. The chaplain, never having seen a lama 
temple before, was amazed at the way the sublime and the horrible 
were so grotesquely blended. 

Coming out of the sanctuary, we noticed a low table at one side of 
the main hall, which was set for the Lamaist "communion service." 
In the middle of this improvised altar stood a vase full of some sort 
of wine, with a sacred image lashed to the top of it. The other end of 
the cord used to bind the image was attached to a dorje scepter, to 
be held by the chief priest, and in front of the vase were several bowls 
of dough cakes that he would pass out to the communicants. Un- 
fortunately, we were not able to see the actual ceremony rarely, if 
ever, seen by foreigners. It would have been especially interesting for 
the chaplain, since it had obviously been copied from some earlier 
Christian rite, probably of the Nestorian Church. 

We returned to the front of the building and climbed the steep 
flight of rickety stairs to the second story, which consisted of a 
hollow square of structures around an open court. A line of small, 
shedlike meditation rooms extended down each side. In the middle 
of the court a small, square structure that looked like a pagoda stood 
over the well in the ceiling of the prayer hall The lattice windows 
on its four sides were now swung open to let in light below. 

We glanced down on the service. From here it was slightly easier 
on our eardrums. The little Living Buddha still dominated the scene 
in his brilliant robes, which stood out from the shadows in the rear 
of the hall. But he looked rather pathetic, smaller than ever under 
his great ceremonial hat. He was idly leafing through the book set 
before him, with a dazed and unhappy look. At the moment he was 
taking no real part, except as an object of adoration. 

Resuming our explorations, we examined a tall structure across 
the back of the court. It was in two stories. The lower section was 
an upward extension of the sanctuary, and was faced with lattice 
windows to let in light on the images. Our guide said that the room 
above it, was a chapel for the Living Buddha, apparently a "holy 
of holies," as he refused to open it for us. 








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Yamantaka and other demon-gods. 

(Courtesy of the Newark Museum.) 




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THE LIVING BUDDHA OF SHANDAGU 81 

Opposite this, at the front of the building, was another sanctuary, 
which we entered by a side doorway. It was rather dark inside, but 
our eyes gradually got accustomed to the lack of light. In the heavy, 
carved shrine cabinet over its altar we dimly glimpsed a large image 
of the temple's guardian, Yamantaka, "The Conqueror of Death." 
This demoniac figure, with his huge bull's head and thirty-six arms 
silhouetted against an aura of flames, was clasping his screaming 
consort to him in an embrace of rage and ecstasy. The chaplain 
shuddered. 

I tried to explain that the physical union of god and goddess (or 
demon and demoness), so commonly shown in lama images, is 
intended to express an ancient Asiatic concept of the intimate rela- 
tionship between the spiritual and material forces in the universe. 
As this interaction of forces is considered to be a very dynamic proc- 
ess, the lama artists usually represent the sacred couple, who sym- 
bolize it, in a state of ecstatic fury. But my companion was very 
literal-minded. He seemed unwilling to believe that the image could 
have any significance beyond what immediately met the eye, and 
was still disgusted. 

From here we returned to quieter aspects of Lamaism in the 
smaller halls on the hillside above the main temple. These were 
dedicated to calm, resigned-looking Buddhas, and lush, full-breasted 
goddesses. Handsome Tibetan-style temple banners, set in rich 
borders of Chinese silks and brocades lined their walls. But I was 
struck by the lack of small bronze images, such as we could buy in 
Shanpa's market place. These are usually so common in lama 
shrines. 

I remarked about this to one of the Chinese-speaking lamas, who 
was acting as opener of temples. He pointed down to the plain 
below the monastery, where an abandoned campsite of a hundred or 
more Quonset-hut-shaped adobe shacks straddled the road. 

"Chinese soldiers/' he said simply. Then he went on to explain, 
in a resigned but faintly bitter voice, how the provincial troops re- 
cently quartered there had looted almost everything that could be 
carried from most of the temples. He showed us how even their 
officers, living in some of the outer buildings of the monastery in 
shrine halls as well as in dormitories had defaced the clean com- 
pound walls with fine-sounding Nationalist slogans, and had reduced 
the buildings themselves to empty shells. 



82 THE LIVING BUDDHA OF SHANDAGU 

Now we understood what Father Schram had meant when he 
said that Shandagu had greatly changed. 

Quartering troops in temples has been an accepted practice in 
modern China, where religion is taken lightly, and temples are con- 
sidered as public property. But I had noticed in my travels that the 
inevitable destruction is always much worse in the Mongol and 
Tibetan temples of the frontier regions. 

The border Chinese, despising the alien peoples they have so often 
dispossessed, seem to take pleasure in wanton breakage and looting 
at these temples. The very fact that the shrines are reverenced to an 
extent they fail to understand, and still play an important part in the 
life of the "barbarians," seems to bring out their worst instincts. 

Later we passed a gutted temple building as we were walking 
with one of the lamasery officials on the way to visit his private 
quarters. "Chinese soldiers !" he muttered, with a shrug of his 
shoulders. This time the words had a deeper emphasis. He ex- 
plained, however, that in spite of these depredations by the border 
troops, and in spite of a Japanese attempt to win them over by the 
present of a fine German police dog to the Living Buddha, the monks 
of Shandagu had remained loyal to Governor Fu and the Chinese 
Government, throughout the War. They felt that the only hope 
for the Mongols was to stay on good terms with the Chinese, though 
that often meant humiliations. They had no real choice. 

The hospitable monks tried to persuade us to stay a day or two, 
but I had given my word that I would bring the chaplain back that 
day, and he had seen enough. We returned to Manhui for a very 
late lunch with Father Schram, and by hard riding, reached camp 
at sunset. 

* * # 

Some weeks later I stopped again at Shandagu on a trip up the 
range further north. This time I had with me two young radiomen 
from the camp, Don Lund and Roswell Hull. 

We started early, and made the trip in one day, but we delayed 
too long at Father Schram's, over a good lunch. The sun was setting 
behind the mountains as we crossed the desert beyond the Wu-chia 
River, and it was pitch-dark when we rode through the temple gate. 

We saw no lights and the place seemed deserted. But as we 
entered the courtyard of the guest compound, an unshaven lama in 



THE LIVING BUDDHA OF SHANDAGU 83 

a ragged robe came out of the kitchen at the side. He eyed us sus- 
piciously, as though to say, respectable people don't travel at night in 
this region where every Chinese farmer is a potential bandit. With 
rather bad grace he led us into a rather shabby guest room appar- 
ently all that he felt we deserved. 

He told us that the Living Buddha, and the Second Grand Lama 
were away, along with most of the rest of the monks, and that the 
abbot had not yet returned from Kumbum. The monastery was al- 
most deserted. Later he brought in an equally shabby, equally 
shifty-looking old lama, whom he introduced as the "Assistant Second 
Grand Lama/' to receive the presents I had brought for the chief 
dignitary there. Neither was at all cordial either then or next morn- 
ing and before leaving, my companions only got in to see the main 
hall. Instead of the large number of monks the chaplain and I had 
seen, there were only four or five, mournfully intoning the scriptures 
(without music!). They seemed lost in the vastness of the place. 

While we were heating some cans of rations to supplement our 
temple breakfast, a young Mongol drifted in to watch the strange 
doings of the foreigners. He knew Chinese rather well and we got 
talking. He said that he belonged to the Dalat Banner, and I was 
surprised to find that Shandagu was a Dalat temple, though built 
on the edge of the Oirat territory. He said that the Living Buddha 
was not far away, staying at his mother's camp in a nearby valley. 
I asked the young Dalat if he would guide us there and he said he 
would be glad to. He was still curious about these "foreign devils" 
and wanted to see more of us. 

Riding back along the range for about a mile, we came to a deep, 
narrow gorge and turned up it. Around the second bend, we found 
a small strip of raised ground, above the bed of the stream, which 
was now dry. On this were three small and rather dirty Mongol 
tents, with a flock of goats grazing on the slope above them. It 
looked like any other Mongol camp, but our guide insisted it was 
the Living Buddha's. We were rather disappointed, to say the least, 
having imagined that the tent of a Living Buddha would be some- 
thing of a spectacle. 

We dismounted, tethered our horses to a forked stick, and while 
some children sat on the fierce dogs to silence them, we entered the 
central tent. At the back sat the Living Buddha's old tutor, with a 
sheaf of scripture pages on his lap, while his exalted pupil sat below 



84 THE LIVING BUDDHA OF SHANDAGU 

him. We seemed to have interrupted some long-winded theological 
explanation. Both looked up curiously as we entered. The old man, 
setting down his book, half rose to offer me the seat of honor beside 
him. Meanwhile a small attendant scurried out for some tea and 
cheese. 

I bowed to each, presenting them with a blue silk scarf, called 
katagh, which I had just belatedly learned from Dunguerbo was the 
Mongolian equivalent of a calling card, and had to be presented on 
every visit. Then I gave a small package of gifts from the three of 
us to the Living Buddha. 

I was agreeably surprised to find that our first impression of the 
latter had been false. The little Living Buddha proved quick and 
intelligent. He took special interest in the possibilities of a magnet 
we had given him among our presents, and quickly learned all that 
could be done with it. In his plain gray robe with a twisted purple 
cloth for a belt, and well-worn boots, he looked like any ordinary 
Mongol youth from a family of moderate means. 

He spoke freely to me in rather good Chinese, though he had not 
even admitted knowing that language on my previous visit. He was 
always very respectful to his tutor, and to us as his guests, when I 
was speaking to him directly. But when we three Americans talked 
together, or took time out to drink tea, he laughed and joked at our 
expense with his little brothers, who ran in and out of the tent, 
giggling shyly. 

We were amused to see his expression when he smiled. His very 
natural grin seemed to accentuate the sharp angle of his chin, and 
this, with his pointed ears, made him look like an elf or imp of 
mischief. I concluded that his apparent dullness on the previous 
visit had been largely due to shyness. Perhaps he felt ridiculous at 
dressing with such pomp to preside over a half-looted monastery, 
or else he was just bored at having to dress up formally to receive a 
couple of stupid foreigners. At any rate, he was a very human 
person. 

As we rode away again, after receiving farewell katagh scarfs and 
a present of cheese for our journey, we decided that this interlude 
away from the temple must have been like a summer vacation for the 
boy-god, even if he had to spend part of it at his books. We hoped 
for his sake that he could enjoy it as long as possible, before returning 
to the soul-crushing pomp of Shandagu Temple. 



11 

CH'IEN-LI TEMPLE, PRIDE OF THE OIRATS 

FROM the Living Buddha's camp we rode north again, follow- 
ing the range. Our goal was Ch'ien-li Miao, thirty miles further 
up the range, northwest of the town of Wuyuan. Father Schram 
had said that this was one of the great temples of the Oirat Banner 
and well worth seeing. It would have been more logical to go there 
with an Oirat like Dunguerbo, but the intervening territory was 
mostly Dalat, and the Dalat youth who had led us to the Living 
Buddha's camp said he knew it well, so we decided to keep him as 
our guide. 

All day long we rode; sometimes along cart tracks, sometimes 
across bleak patches of desert where the trail was so faint we fre- 
quently lost it. In the afternoon we wasted a lot of time in a wide 
detour around a long stretch of swampland that skirted a narrow 
lagoon, a northern arm of the Wu-chia River. 

On the edge of the swamp, where the land was drier, we passed 
a few farms. We also passed a number of bare, dust-bowl patches, 
with all the topsoil gone, beside abandoned huts of crumbling adobe. 
Many people must have tried, and failed, to make a living by frontier 
farming. Agriculture here is a precarious experiment, at best. 

At one farm, belonging to an aunt of our guide, we saw two 
Mongol women, wives of his cousins, helping to thresh grain with 
long, primitive flails. We were surprised to see them wearing the 
characteristic Ordos headdress of the Dalats with coral-studded 
braids, instead of the Oirat swiks. In fact, we came across several 
homesteads of Dalats, where the Mongols were growing millet as a 
sideline to raising their herds of sheep and goats. It seemed strange 
to see a people we had always thought of as nomad herdsmen settling 
down as farmers. Our guide said it was a recent development of the 
last few years. After the Chinese had taken away all their best 
grazing land for farming, these Mongols had to settle down in order 
to make a living. 



86 CH'IEN-LI TEMPLE, PRIDE OF THE OIRATS 

In spite of what he said, I concluded that even in the past, when 
they had vast grazing lands, there were always a few Mongols who 
preferred to settle down and farm, at least during the summer season. 
About half a mile west of Shandagu Temple, at the base of the 
mountains, we had passed the ruins of a small settlement consisting 
of three or four stone houses, and the foundations of several yurts, 
almost obliterated by drifting sand. Around these were scattered 
fourteen large stone rollers of a type formerly used for grinding 
grain. The houses were all arranged like yurts, with hearth holes 
in the center of the single, large room, and flat floors. Chinese 
farmers would have had a raised dais or k'ang at one end, for 
sleeping, and modern Mongols probably would also. This was ob- 
viously an old Mongol community, yet the fact that the houses were 
of stone suggested a settled life, while the grinding stones indicated 
a farming economy. It must have been very old, as the desert has 
long since swallowed up all the fertile land nearby, and the nearest 
tract under cultivation was some miles away, across the Wu-chia 
River. 

The people in the farms we passed had absolutely no idea of dis- 
tance. They always made some answer to our questions about how 
far we had still to ride to reach the temple, but the distance would 
shrink or increase by tens of li, depending on the imagination of 
farmers, none of whom seemed ever to have been there. The ride 
was long and the sandy trail reflected the glare of the sun to tire 
our eyes. 

The swampland seemed refreshingly cool after the open desert, 
but it, too, seemed endless. When we finally passed beyond it, we 
saw in the distance a sizable town at the mouth of a pass, and as the 
sun was setting, we looked forward to finding a place to spend the 
night there. We urged our tiring horses on to make it before dark, 
in order to be received as respectable travelers, and not be suspected 
of being potential bandits. 

Our haste was futile. When we reached it, we found the town in 
ruins. It had obviously borne the full brunt of a battle between the 
local people and the Japanese, in one of the invaders' efforts to cap- 
ture the Hou-t'ao region from the north. Scarcely a house was left 
standing, and the walls of what had been large compounds were 
breached as if by artillery. Small blockhouses stood on all the sur- 
rounding hills, but these had apparently been ineffective against a 



CH'IEN-LI TEMPLE, PRIDE OF THE OIRATS 87 

surprise attack in force. It was a terrible sight in the twilight, and 
for the first time we were impressed with the nearness of the war. 
Though the Japanese had even conquered Shanpa once, all the damage 
had long since been repaired, and this was our first sight of large- 
scale ruins in this region. 

Beyond the shattered town, the country got even bleaker. We did 
not even see the fire of a yurt, and it was getting dark rapidly. 
Furthermore, the Mongol boy could not remember which gorge led 
up to the lamasery, and they all looked alike in the deepening dusk. 
We finally decided to stop for the night on the slope at the foot of 
the mountains, even though we could not find water, or shelter from 
the wind, or any of the other requirements for a good campsite. 

The Mongol boy and our Chinese ma-fu unsaddled the horses 
while we spread our blankets and got the cooking fire started. It 
was a completely god-forsaken spot, with a cold wind roaring down 
the mountain side and no trace of life in any direction. 

In the middle of the night I suddenly woke out of a sound sleep. 
A blood-curdling scream cut the air from the mountainside above us. 
It sounded as though all the malignant banshees in the Ould Coun- 
try were crying out at once in one agonized shriek of despair. I sat 
bolt upright and felt the hair on my scalp tingle. One more shriek 
ended in a death gargle, and a dull sound of heavy wings striking 
the ground as some huge bird of prey renewed its grip on a victim. 
Then silence as before, and the chill air was now colder with the 
presence of Death. I shuddered, and crawled deeper into my blankets, 
wondering what sort of animal had died on the mountain. 

When next I woke, the mountainside behind us was bathed in 
the glow of a gold and crimson dawn, and though the landscape was 
as bleak as ever, we all felt our spirits much refreshed. After a light 
breakfast, we saddled up again, and continued on, only to find a 
sizable river emerging from a gorge about a quarter of a mile beyond. 
Several yurts were set out beside the river bed, around a turn in the 
gorge, and once again I was impressed by the fact that no matter 
how bleak and uninhabited this Mongolian country appeared, there 
were always people somewhere nearby, living in the most unlikely 
places. 

Not far beyond, on the cliff tops, stood the piles of stones known 
as obos, which mark the sites of the larger monasteries. We knew we 
must have reached our goal. 



88 CH'IEN-LI TEMPLE, PRIDE OF THE OIRATS 

In a mood of eager anticipation, we rode up the twisting gorge 
below the obos, and climbed a steep side path to the plateau atop the 
cliffs. Would the pride of the Western Oirats be all that we had 
heard it was? Our first view of the lamasery, with its huge main 
temple, and seven others only a little smaller, was anything but a 
disappointment The buildings were probably not much larger than 
those at Shandagu, but the sudden approach seemed to give them 
an added grandeur. The main temple seemed particularly striking, 
with its ornate Chinese-style roofs spreading in graceful sweeps over 
the two-story, fortress-like structure of severely plain Tibetan archi- 
tecture. 

When we had stopped for lunch at Father Schram's on our way 
to Shandagu, two days ago, Ho had told us that this was one lama- 
sery that had never been looted by the Chinese, and from such an 
impressive exterior, we expected much inside. But our hopes were 
dashed as we passed the first large compound and looking in, saw 
on the rear wall, the bold signboard-type characters which are painted 
up wherever the Chinese soldiers establish their barracks. These 
well-written injunctions to Loyalty and Benevolence and Respect, 
together with the other Nationalist virtues, always seemed ironic to 
us in this region. They were especially so on lamasery walls where 
the unrestrained actions of the border soldiery, and their inevitable 
looting, were scarcely calculated to inspire loyalty toward the Chinese. 
We dismounted in a clearing, and tied our reins to some forked 
tree trunks, the usual form of Mongol hitching post. No one seemed 
to have the curiosity to come out to see us. We wandered around 
looking at the outsides of the buildings, until the Dalat youth found a 
lama and explained to him that we were foreigners from Shanpa 
who wanted to visit the temple. 

The latter called out some other lamas, and they took us into a 
beautifully appointed small guest room. It was lavishly painted with 
Chinese motives, and yet so completely overdecorated that it obvi- 
ously had never been built for Chinese. Here they seated us on three 
cushioned thrones while waiting for the abbot, and brought us tea and 
cheese and millet. 

When the abbot finally came in, we were much impressed by him. 
He was a very old man, with white hair which increased the dark 
complexion of his deeply wrinkled face so that it seemed like old 
leather. His eyes were shrewd, and his large aquiline nose reminded 








I 



I 




ii 



I 




Playing Mongolian Chess. 
(Photo by W, E. Hill) 





Peacock pawns and rabbit pawns from two Mongolian chess sets. 
(Photos by Carl Schuster.) 



CH'IEN-LI TEMPLE, PRIDE OF THE OIRATS 89 

us of an American Indian's. At first he was reserved, as are most 
Mongols until they know who you are, or why you have come to 
see them. But he thawed completely when I talked to one of his 
attendants who spoke Chinese, and was able to supplement what had 
apparently been a most inadequate introduction on the part of the 
young Dalat. 

The abbot's attendant made himself responsible for us all day, 
acting as guide to the temples and as host in our rooms, serving us 
the meals and seeing that we were well fed. He was something of a 
mystery. It was a surprise to find a Mongol who was literate in his 
own language and in Chinese as well he could read and write both 
and who could speak Chinese without that rather thick accent which 
tends to carry over from Mongolian. Furthermore, he was dressed 
in yellow satin, a fabric more appropriate to a royal layman than to 
a lama. Our Mongol interpreter spoke of him as "Min' Wang," 
"Prince Ming/' until the man in question took him aside and said 
something to him privately. He called himself "Jimba," a Tibetan 
name appropriate for a lama, and as though to prove that he really 
was a monk, he appeared next morning in lama robes. However, 
they were of somewhat richer material and finer cut than those of the 
others, so we were not entirely convinced. 

Some of the lesser Mongol princes had dealt with the Japs at the 
beginning of the War, preferring to risk trusting the Japanese prom- 
ises of autonomy rather than continue to suffer impositions and even 
robbery at the hands of the border Chinese. However, they later 
found themselves in an impossible situation, when the Japanese eco- 
nomic exploitation proved equally intolerable, without providing any 
compensations. Such people had to hide from both sides, and what 
would be a better sanctuary than a remote monastery ? 

Probably the true explanation for Jimba and his presence here 
was a more matter-of-fact one. He could have been both a prince 
by blood and a lama. Every Mongol family regardless of rank 
must give at least one son to the Church, and in the division of labor 
within a monastery a noble youth would be likely to be chosen as 
host monk because his early training would have given him greater 
courtesy. 

When the abbot had left, Jimba took us out to show tts the various 
temple buildings. The rich magnificence of the main hall showed 
little evidence of looting, and the pride of the sanctuary, a large golden 



90 CH'IEN-LI TEMPLE, PRIDE OF THE OIRATS 

plan of the Universe, or mandala, had somehow managed to escape 
the keen eyes of the soldiers, probably because it was partly hidden 
under a screen of faded parchment. 

Two of the lesser halls, and a giant prayer-wheel in a building 
of its own, had a series of paintings showing the life of Marpa, one 
of the greatest Tibetan teachers before Tsong Kapa. The reason for 
this emphasis was apparently that the Living Buddha of Ch'ien-li, 
the Boyin Hutukhtu, was considered as his reincarnation. The pic- 
tures emphasized the saint's miraculous life and his strange visions. 
The climax seemed to be the time when he chopped off his own head 
with a sword, and from the hole in his neck there spurted out a pyro- 
technic display of Buddhist deities. It must be a difficult thing for a 
Living Buddha to maintain the tradition of this human Roman 
candle ! 

In the course of the day we met the current Living Buddha, a 
determined-looking little boy of seven, with a firm mouth and set 
chin, and a self-assured look in his dark eyes. The other monks were 
very proud of him, pointing out that he was a Great Incarnation, 
instead of a minor one, like the Living Buddha of Shandagu. We 
could see that though the monks moved back and forth freely between 
the two monasteries, there was considerable rivalry between the two 
places. No doubt it sprang partly from tribal politics, since these 
monks belonged to the West Banner of the Oirats, and were rather 
contemptuous of the Dalats, who had gone so far in abandoning their 
old ways of life as to conform to the customs of the Chinese. 

Ho had told us that Ch'ien-li Temple formerly had had two Living 
Buddhas, both important incarnations. The jealousy between them 
was intense, and each had ultimately retired to one half of the monas- 
tery, which was divided into two sections by a small gully. Not only 
was the whole monastery torn by their intrigues, but it was an ex- 
pensive proposition maintaining two princes of the Church in the 
style to which they were accustomed. The problem was finally 
settled many years ago by a wise abbot. One of the incarnations died, 
and the abbot saw to it that they could never locate the body into 
which his soul had been reborn, so he was quietly forgotten. His 
half of the monastery decreased in importance and was ultimately 
abandoned to crumble into ruins ruins much older than those made 
by the Chinese provincial troops in the outbuildings of the part still 
standing. 



CH'IEN-LI TEMPLE, PRIDE OF THE OIRATS 91 

This is a good instance to show the actual status of the Living 
Buddhas in Mongol social and religious life. While the sanctity of 
the Living Buddhas is constantly emphasized by the lamas, to 
heighten the prestige of individual lamaseries, or of the Church as a 
whole, the reverence for them is not enough to prevent the removal 
of a Living Buddha when political expediency requires it. In short, 
the political importance of a Living Buddha seems to far outweigh 
the spiritual, in the eyes of the material-minded leaders of the Church, 
although they are canny enough not to let the laymen become too 
aware of this. Thus, the average Mongol received in audience by a 
Living Buddha still feels a sense of awe, as though he were in the 
presence of a god himself. 

That night we were served a royal feast. The main course con- 
sisted of a whole sheep, a present from the Living Buddha. This 
was an especially great honor, considering that, for these people, 
a sheep represents portable wealth, more valuable as a constant source 
of wool than for its meat. Luckily, one of the attendants stepped 
up to do the carving for me, so that I did not have to stumble 
through the elaborate ritual of dismemberment, which I had only 
heard described and had never been forced to attempt. We ate the 
rich, well-cooked meat with our ringers, cutting off pieces with 
silver-mounted sheath-knives they had provided for us, until we were 
gorged. Then our hosts brought on bowls and chopsticks, and set 
before us a huge plate of well-seasoned noodles, made with the 
delicacies of the sheep. 

As we sat, soddenly full, on the k'ang after dinner, I fell into 
a long conversation with the host monk about Mongol customs. In 
the course of it, I asked him if the Mongols had any games, mean- 
ing indoor ones, as opposed to their ceremonial horse races and 
wrestling matches. 

"We have shatara. That is to say, 'horse-chess/ JJ he explained 
to me in Chinese. 

"Is that anything like what the Chinese call 'elephant chess'?" 
I continued. 

"No," he replied. "The Chinese have nothing like it" 

I felt much relieved. Chinese chess has always looked to me like 
a very dull game. It is played with inscribed counters on a maplike 
board, according to complicated rules which make it entirely differ- 
ent from chess as we know it. 



92 CH'IEN-LI TEMPLE, PRIDE OF THE OIRATS 

Our host tried to change the subject it seemed to embarrass him 
but I persisted, and asked to see a set. 

He turned and mumbled something in Mongolian to one of the 
young lamas who was clearing away the remains of our evening 
feast, and the latter hurried out. While we waited, Jimba explained 
to me that the Chinese merchants and settlers in Inner Mongolia 
laughed at the Mongols for playing a foreign and barbaric game, 
that is, different from anything they had; so they only played it 
among themselves, and did not usually let visitors see it. However, 
since we were his guests and had come from a far country, he felt 
obliged to humor my request. 

In a few minutes the young lama came back with a red-lacquered 
box, and a large wooden board. He placed them between us on the 
k'ang, where we were sitting cross-legged in Mongol fashion on a 
felt rug. Then he brought over a couple of butter lamps from the 
row before the shrine box in the corner, to light up the board, for it 
was already getting dark. 

The board was about three feet square, painted white, with a raised 
edge in red. In the center, narrow black lines marked off the sixty- 
four squares. They were not checkered like those on our own chess 
boards, but were left white. While I was examining it, my host 
slid the top off the red box and removed a folded square of coarse 
native paper, ruled in lines like those on the wooden board. 

"This is what we play on when we go traveling," he explained. 
"The large board would never fit well in a camel pack." Then he 
shook out the gaily painted chessmen, and began to arrange them 
at the ends of the board. 

I was delighted at their appearance. They were carved from 
willow wood, then painted and varnished. The two sides were dis- 
tinguished by the colors of the bases, one side red, the other green, 
colors which to the Mongols represent Good and Evil, Spiritual 
and Material, but there were also differences in the form of the 
pieces on each side. 

The red "king" was a Mongol prince and the green one an old- 
time Chinese viceroy. Both were wearing colored robes and hats 
with peacock feather plumes, and were seated on cushioned thrones. 
Instead of queens, the Mongol had the sacred white lion of Tibetan 
Buddhist folklore beside him, while the Chinese had an evil tiger. 
Where we would have had bishops, this set had brown camels on 



CH'IEN-LI TEMPLE, PRIDE OF THE OIRATS 93 

one side, and cream-colored ones on the other ; where we would have 
had simply horses' heads to indicate the knights, it had the whole 
animals, fat mongol ponies ; and in place of our castles or "rooks" 
it had the baggage carts of the two opposed rulers, complete with 
horses and grooms. In short, with horses, camels, and carts, as well 
as the supernatural animals to assist them, the armies of the two 
rulers were complete. In addition, the red side had a row of small 
Buddhist peacocks (celestial birds) as pawns, while the green side 
had a row of earthbound hens. 

I had long since known of the old Asiatic idea of the great division 
of all things into two original elements; one of which was good, 
strong, and spiritual, the other, evil, weak, and material But I did 
not expect to see it illustrated so graphically in a game. I did not 
have much time to think about it, though, for when I made the 
obvious remark that their game looked in principle very much like 
our European one, as opposed to Chinese "chess," our host imme- 
diately invited me to play with him. 

His usually friendly face looked shrewd and sly in the glimmering 
light of the butter lamps, and I hesitated for a moment, thinking I 
would probably find him too sharp an opponent. One of the young 
lamas, who knew enough Chinese to understand the host's invitation 
to play, began to snicker. I gathered he was amused at the prospect 
of seeing a foreigner lose face while trying to play their ancient 
national game, so I decided to take the dare. 

My opponent showed me how they made the moves for the 
most part as we do and we began to play. In addition to being 
unfamiliar with the uncheckered board and unusual pieces, I had 
another handicap. My host had two or three monks behind him 
who increased his natural ability by warning him of my likely plans 
and suggested stratagems to him. Sometimes they would even lean 
over and make a move for him, or retract a stupid one he had made. 
In a surprisingly short time my opponent said ff shat!" and then 
"mat!", meaning, as they sounded, the same as our "check" and 
"mate." 

My host sat back with a rather smug expression on his face and 
asked if I would like to play again. 

We switched sides, and by this time, having gotten more used to 
the set, I did better, but eventually found myself with my viceroy 
standing alone against his prince and several other men. 



94 CH'IEN-LI TEMPLE, PRIDE OF THE OIRATS 

My opponent sat back as before, when the first game was done. 
Once again he asked me if I would care to play some more. My 
face must have shown my bewilderment. He smiled and explained 
that, according to their custom, when a "king" stands alone no one 
has won the game. 

"We do not take advantage of a lonely man," he said. What a 
fine gesture, I thought. Frankly, it surprised me. After having had 
several opponents ganging up on me, and after having seen my chief 
opponent retract poor moves after he had made them, I was not 
prepared for such sportsmanship. 

Finally, in a third game, the unfamiliarity had largely worn off and 
I managed to beat him. When he started to leave, so we could 
turn in, he remarked how happy he was to find that our two civiliza- 
tions had something in common. 

"Everything else you 'West Russians' have seems so different!" 
he exclaimed. 

Next morning, after a huge breakfast of dumplings made of the 
remains of the mutton chopped up with wild onion stalks, we decided 
to take some pictures of the Living Buddha. The lamas got out 
his robes, and the over-large "incarnation-hat." Apparently this boy 
was "discovered" fairly recently, and they had no small-sized hat for 
him. He sat upon his gilded throne, brought out of the throne-hall 
on to the temple porch for the occasion, with an expression of solemn 
dignity, very impressive but rather unnatural in a child so young. 
But as they lifted him down from the throne, he showed that he had 
a human side, too. His lama attendants had taken off his high 
leather boots so that they would not soil the rich, yellow silk cushions, 
and as his toes touched the cold stone of the porch floor he let out a 
shrill cry, and whined like any other spoiled seven-year-old until 
they put on his boots again. 

Unlike the lad at Shandagu, he had his playmates, a couple of 
children his own age, who accompanied him everywhere, and romped 
around full of mischief. We remembered the shrewd, calculating 
look on the face of the old abbot, however, and knowing how much 
it would be to his interest to have a young, or at least a weak, 
"Living God," we feared for the boy's future. 

Whatever the abbot's attitude in regard to the Living Buddha, 
he was very kind to me. As we prepared to leave the monastery, the 
host lama presented me with the box of chessmen, wrapped in a 



CH'IEN-LI TEMPLE, PRIDE OF THE OIRATS 95 

ceremonial scarf. It was a gift from the abbot, he explained, in 
return for the presents I had given on arrival. There was nothing I 
would rather have had. Not only was the set interesting in itself, but 
I foresaw that knowledge of the game would give us even more 
prestige among the Mongols, especially if I could practice up on my 
own set between trips. 



12 

MORE LAMA PERSONALITIES 

OUR return trip from Ch'ien-li Temple to Shandagu was much 
quicker, as we found a short cut along the lagoon, which 
took us through the middle of the swamp, avoiding the long detour. 
The small, flat-roofed huts rising from the marsh grasses on the 
far bank, silhouetted against a sea of moving reeds, struck chords 
in my memory. They reminded me immediately of the baymen's 
shacks along the creeks at home; but the birds we saw feeding on 
the mudbars or wading in the shallow water were vastly different 
from anything I had ever seen on Long Island. They were mostly 
reddish Asiatic geese and very tall Manchurian cranes, blue-grey 
with black heads and black-trimmed wings. Only a species of mallard 
looked at all familiar. 

The huts along the water's edge seemed to belong primarily to 
fishermen, a surprising thing in this semidesert country. Some were 
dragging their nets in the main lagoon, while a number of them had 
walled off a side pond and, having drained it to get what fish it had, 
were letting in water from the main stream through a sluiceway 
filled with standing nets. A large colony of wild cormorants and 
a couple of graceful fish eagles were competing with the men, but 
there seemed to be a considerable number of dead fish that neither 
man nor bird cared about. The stench was frightful one more thing 
to disturb our finicky horses. They were as glad as we were to 
leave that eerie swamp. 

This time we arrived at Shandagu Temple just as the sun was 
setting, to be greeted by the same shifty-looking monk in rags. He 
had apparently heard of our visit to the Living Buddha, where we 
must have made quite an impression. At any rate he was obviously 
determined to make amends for our unceremonious reception that 
other evening. 

He showed us first to the royal guest room for visiting princes, 
then, changing his mind, led us into the Living Buddha's own bed- 



MORE LAMA PERSONALITIES 97 

room. It was small, but exquisitely decorated, with rich rugs and 
finely-carved k'ang-tables in red and gold. On the walls were 
stretched long horizontal scrolls showing officials of the last dynasty 
in vivid blue robes and scarlet-tufted hats with peacock feathers, 
officiating at an imperial birthday party in the palace at Peking. 

This time, when I asked for the Grand Lama, our ragamuffin 
host brought in a slightly more respectable figure. The latter ac- 
cepted my gifts with a little too much eagerness, and presently made 
a return donation of a cup of butter and some crisp goat-cheese. The 
dinner that night was better than usual, though of course it could 
not compare with the feast at Ch'ien-li. 

The next morning, as we were about to leave, the host monk pre- 
sented me with a magnificent gilt-bronze image of Tara, the Tibetan 
goddess of Mercy, and produced a couple of other fine images to sell 
to my companions. Seeing that he was in a selling mood, I men- 
tioned an old temple banner I had seen in a side hall on my first 
visit, and asked if it would be possible to buy that. 

Our rascally-looking host said no, the Grand Lama was absent, 
and only he had the key to that hall. I started to ask who the "Grand 
Lama" was who had been brought to meet us last night, but the host 
monk sensed my question before I asked it. He looked down at his 
boots for a moment with a ridiculous expression of shy embarrass- 
ment. Then, to change the subject, he walked over to the Living 
Buddha's "god-box" in the corner and offered to sell us the images 
from this private shrine. Of course we refused. 

We concluded then that the decay of Shandagu monastery was 
not entirely due to looting from without ; but I am still surprised that 
all the responsible monks should have gone away and left the place 
in the hands of such a character. 

The horses of my companions had both developed saddle sores, 
so they rode back with the ma-fu by the more direct way, via Manhui, 
while I took the slightly longer route down the range to Beilighe 
Temple, as we had originally intended. I wanted to see the inter- 
vening stretch of range with its passes, and particularly Dungsher 
Temple, which until a few weeks ago had been the residence of one 
of the Mongol princes, a refugee from the Japanese in the east of 
the province. 

It was a beautiful morning, with light dew sparkling on the marsh 
grasses as I passed the ferry and turned on down the range. There 



98 MORE LAMA PERSONALITIES 

was no real trail, but a collection of vague tracks that led between 
Mongol settlements, and I could always follow the range. The Mon- 
gols along here were also living in semipermanent houses with plots 
of millet, and appeared to be mostly Dalats, judging by the women's 
headdresses. Once or twice I stopped and tried to talk to them, but 
they did not seem to know Chinese and just gaped at me. They 
looked as though the spectacle of a foreigner riding alone off the 
beaten track was too much for them. Perhaps it was that that had 
tied their tongues. 

As I rode along the foot of the mountains, dark clouds gathered 
around the peaks high above me, and before long I heard the low 
roll of thunder reverberating in the summits. Just as the storm 
was about to break, I sighted the white buildings of a lamasery, on 
a terrace above a dry river bed. It was Dungsher Temple, and by 
the time the clouds broke I was under cover, drinking tea with an 
old lama. 

This temple, too, had had its share of bad treatment. The border- 
Chinese soldiers of the prince's guard had been there for a consider- 
able time, and had done plenty of damage. But by some miracle the 
lamas seemed to have succeeded in keeping them out of the sanctuary, 
which was still intact. Possibly they had managed to do this be- 
cause, unlike the other temples of the region, this had an altar 
at the end of the main hall, instead of the more usual throne for an 
abbot or Living Buddha. By keeping the sanctuary proper locked, 
with its doors hidden by paintings, the monks might have convinced 
the soldiers that this altar was their only shrine. 

They had no compunctions about letting me in, though, after I 
had expressed my interest in Lamaism. Judging by the very old 
paintings and finer images, this must have been one of the oldest of 
the temples in this region. It was amply worth the long side trip. 

Only two of the lamas were at the temple, including the one that 
had invited me in to tea. They struck me as being particularly fine 
and reverent men, of a more religious type than one usually finds 
among the lamas nowadays. Perhaps this remote location, off the 
usual routes of travel, had kept them free from contamination. At 
any rate, it was refreshing to meet men like this after the conduct 
of the scoundrels at Shandagu. 

The land around the monastery was bare, as usual. Probably 
most of these sites originally had grass around them, until the herds 



MORE LAMA PERSONALITIES 99 

of sheep and goats belonging to the temples had removed the cover 
by close-cropping and digging with their sharp hoofs, releasing the 
topsoil to blow away as dust. For some reason, though, this terrace 
looked unusually bleak and forsaken, and before I left I decided it 
was downright sinister. As we approached the prayer-barrel house, 
a deadly pit viper lying on the steps snapped into a tight coil and 
raised its diamond-shaped head to strike. Then, as I was mounting 
my horse to leave, I looked down to see two good-sized scorpions 
jockeying for combat, while from above a great vulture stared down 
from a crag. 

If the lamas here were finer than usual, the same could not be said 
of the wild life. I was glad to get away. 

All the way down to Beilighe Temple, tracks of horses' hoofs, and 
of the carts on which the dismantled yurts are carried from place 
to place, led in toward the gorges which opened out into inner 
valleys and passes. Though the Mongols lived quite far apart, there 
must have been plenty of them in the vicinity. I only passed one 
group of people, a family coming back from a visit to relatives. I 
could tell by the womens' headdresses that they were Oirats. 

At one place, near a river mouth, I caught sight of a small terrace 
that seemed to have more regular lines than most. Coming nearer 
I noticed courses of round boulders laid down as a retaining wall, 
among the coarse grass on its sides. Then when I climbed it, the 
upper surface was covered with roof tiles of a type no longer used 
in the local architecture. It must have been quite an old site, per- 
haps going back to Tangut times. The base of this range should be 
a paradise for properly trained archeologists. 

After a short visit with the monks at Beilighe I started home, 
hoping to make camp by dinner time. All hopes for this went by the 
board when I reached the river near Farmer Li's. The ferry scow 
was tied up on the far side of the badly swollen stream with no one 
in it. I called over to a small village near the landing to say that I 
wanted to cross, and a soldier sitting on one of the flat roofs shouted 
the obvious reply, that the ferryman was not" there. 

In desperation I stripped, and tied my clothes, shoes, and gun- 
belt atop the saddle with the stirrup leathers, then plunged in beside 
the horse. He nearly drowned me when we first hit deep water, by 
trying to climb on my back in his panic. Luckily I managed to keep 
hold of the half-submerged ferry rope, and the swift current forced 



ioo MORE LAMA PERSONALITIES 

him downstream from me, though we were still connected by the 
reins. It was something of a nightmare for both of us. 

As I was dressing, outwardly frozen, but inwardly hot with anger 
at the ferryman who was not there, an old farmer appeared on the 
far bank with his melon-laden donkey, and he too shouted across for 
the ferry. This time there was an answering hail as the ferry- 
man sauntered out of one of the huts in the nearby settlement, wiping 
food off his moustache. 

He quickly found himself taking an unexpected bath in shallow 
water. For a moment he was as wet and angry as I. Then a country 
boy who had come up to see the foreigner, and was holding my horse 
for me as I dressed, broke out laughing. I began to feel very foolish 
at my un- Asiatic display of temper, and laughed too. The ferryman 
joined in, as he splashed ashore, and we all went our respective ways 
feeling much better. 



13 

MONGOL FESTIVAL 

EVER SINCE we had come to Shanpa, we had been hearing 
about the Autumn Festival of the Mongols, held at their principal 
temples on the first of the Eighth Month (of the old Chinese calen- 
dar), and the "Devil Dances" they had on that occasion. I had seen 
the huge masks, with faces of animals and demons several times life- 
size, hanging in the inner shrines of the temples, and was naturally 
eager to see them in use. 

Then, one Sunday evening when three of us were in town for a 
Chinese dinner, we met Dunguerbo and a lama from Beilighe. They 
brought me an invitation from the abbot, asking me to visit his 
temple for the festival. They had tried to reach me at camp, but 
the Mongol-hating guards had not even permitted them to leave a 
message. The lama said he thought they would not be giving a 
Devil Dance this year, but there would be a big celebration, and 
Dunguerbo added that Mongol families would be coming from a 
great distance, so we shouldn't miss it. 

The only problem was that they could not tell me the exact date 
in the modern calendar, but a Chinese friend calculated that it would 
be the following Friday. Meanwhile I found three other fellows who 
wanted to go, being interested in the festival from a photographic 
point of view : Fred the magician, Walter Hill, and Don Lund. We 
planned to start at dawn on Friday morning, so we would not miss 
anything. 

On Thursday morning I happened to be visiting one of the Chinese 
officers, and noticed that his calendar had both sets of dates. The old- 
style one said that this was the first day of the eighth month 1 It was 
then about eleven o'clock, and we had over "twenty miles to ride, in- 
cluding the river crossing. 

I quickly collected the other three men. We rolled up our blankets 
and a few rations, loading them on a pack horse so we could ride light 
and fast. Then we started ahead, leaving Hui, the ma-fu, to follow 



102 MONGOL FESTIVAL 

with the gear. We kept up a fast clip, and got to the temple about 
2:30. 

We found that there was no dance, and that we had missed the 
principal ceremony in the morning. Dunguerbo, who came out to 
meet us, said that the main thing we had missed was the worship 
of an enormous painting let down from the roof of the main temple 
to hang over the front of the building. Still we were glad we had 
come. A large assembly of Mongols was milling around, and we had 
never seen so much fine jewelry. 

In the course of the afternoon we met again all the people we had 
seen on our trip up the pass, but we recognized them with difficulty. 
We had seen them living in what seemed to be very humble circum- 
stances, and now they were decked out like peacocks. The women 
had long robes of fine serge in rather bright colors, with the same 
type of short, sleeveless vests they had worn in the mountains. But 
this time the vests were of heavy satin with wide ornamental borders 
worked in gold. They had pounds of silver on their heads, having 
added long pendant chains to their earrings, swiks, and bridal 
crowns, and each had several coral necklaces. In most cases the 
finery atop their heads was partly hidden by their head scarfs, which 
today were of silk instead of coarse cloth, and were more revealing. 
A number of the older women had on unshaped fedora hats over 
their silver crowns. Apparently the wearers of these hats considered 
them the height of fashion, and no doubt they lent much "face" as 
expensive importations, but they gave a rather ridiculous, foreign 
note to the otherwise splendid costumes. 

Most of the women and even a few of the children wore around 
their necks the silver charm boxes that usually reposed in the "god- 
box/' or on the altar-rack at the back of the yurts. These had wide 
borders of hammered silver showing various holy symbols, setting 
off a small glass panel through which we could see paintings of their 
patron gods or goddesses. A favorite subject seemed to be Lhamo, 
"the Terrible Goddess/' riding over the sea of blood, with the flayed 
skin of her son as a saddle rug. I wondered how many of the 
wearers had ever really looked at her, and what effect the picture 
had on their imaginations, if they had. 

The men were dressed more conservatively in long dark robes 
or odds and ends of Chinese uniforms. Some, however, had new 
boots of fancy leatherwork, and a few were wearing the silver- 



MONGOL FESTIVAL ' 103 

mounted ceremonial knife-sets that seem to be passing out of use 
as the Mongols gradually become poorer. 

Dunguerbo's father was there, more handsomely dressed than 
most, in a blue serge robe, with a sleeveless jacket of purple silk edged 
in gold brocade. One of the lamas explained that he was an official 
in his Banner, and therefore sometimes wore a Chinese official uni- 
form, as he had when we first saw him, but he was also a Taiji, 
a second-degree noble, entitled to a blue hat-jewel. This accounted 
for his rich robes but not for his hat. Instead of the Mongolian 
official hat of white straw sloping up to a sapphire-studded spike, and 
a pendant peacock feather, to which he was entitled by his rank, he 
just had an unshaped felt like those of the women. 

Dunguerbo's father welcomed us and led us to the old abbot, 
Lopon Dorje, who was presiding over the guest hall. He greeted us 
warmly and seated us on rug cushions at the far end of the hall. 
Beside us sat the only other non-Mongols : an old landlord who lived 
nearby on the plain and two Chinese traders. I learned later that 
they were all honorary Oirats, adopted into the Banner, but I noticed 
at the time how they seemed genuinely to like the Mongols, in con- 
trast to most of the other border Chinese we had met 

As we talked to the abbot and the other guests, some lamas set 
small wooden tables before us with gold-lacquered wooden bowls 
containing pretzel-shaped bread sticks and crisp sections of creamy 
"milk-skin/' together with smaller porcelain bowls of millet, hard, 
brown goat cheese, and clarified butter, to "improve" the tea to 
follow. 

After eating and presenting our gifts, which consisted principally 
of a roll of fine green satin from Shanpa market, and a package of 
American cigarettes, a couple of lamas took us over to see the 
preparations in the main temple. More pictures had been hung, 
more rugs laid along the seats, and large trays of mutton and other 
foods were set before the principal altar in the inner sanctuary. 

For an hour or so we wandered around, talking with people and 
snapping pictures. Then they brought us back to the temple, and a 
lama ushered me to a carved throne-dais against the left wall, near 
the altar, with my companions on a bench to my right. Beyond them 
sat the three Mongol-Chinese guests ; and across from us, against the 
right wall, sat the Mongol women and children. Most of the lamas 
filed in and took their seats on the two middle rows of prayer benches, 



io 4 MONGOL FESTIVAL 

facing each other across the central aisle. Then the Mongol laymen 
trooped in to occupy the other two rows. Young novices quickly 
ran up and filled the tea bowls on the low tables before each guest. 
Then the ceremony began. 

As the cymbals clashed and the trumpets brayed, two of the senior 
lamas began a deep-voiced chant. Two accolytes then came out of 
the sanctuary and passed out magic arrows hung with silken streamers 
and filmy blue katagh scarfs to the chief guests. They gave me one of 
the scarfs and asked me to hold it with outstretched hands, thumbs 
up, throughout the service. Luckily it did not last very long. 

Two lamas, dressed as secular princes of an earlier day, in red 
and purple, and orange and yellow satin, respectively, then came 
forward and knelt on rugs marked with swastika patterns in grain, 
before the sanctuary door. Attendants within the sanctuary passed 
out the sacrifices to them, while the seated lamas prayed in chorus. 
The two "princes" knocked their heads on the floor before the offer- 
ings. Then one of them picked up a joint of mutton on a stick and 
smeared the top of the outer doorway and some of the outer columns 
with the grease, after which both proceeded to distribute the food to 
other lamas, who placed the bowls before the guests. The two then 
stood to one side, with considerable dignity, while everybody else 
fell to. It looked as though they were re-enacting some earlier pre- 
lama rite of the Mongols, at which the rulers made an autumn 
sacrifice and distributed food to the people. 

We were honored with a whole sheep, and the lamas who came 
around to collect the scarfs and arrows brought us long sheath 
knives to cut off pieces with. Much as I enjoyed the tender, juicy 
morsels of mutton which we excavated from under the layer of fat 
on the saddle, I felt rather strange to be eating meat in a Buddhist 
temple. One of the Buddha's strictest rules had been against the 
eating of living things, and I was surprised that the monks not only 
permitted it, but ate some too. 

This feast, generous as it was, was only a preliminary one, to be 
followed by another of mutton noodles in the guest house. This time 
the guests were fed by rank ; first the Mongol heads of families, and 
the honorary Oirats and us, then the lesser Mongol males, and finally 
the women and very young children. 

After the last people had eaten, Fred offered to give a magic show, 
which was interpreted by Dunguerbo. The enthusiastic animation of. 




s 



I s 



M 



o 

-Q 




Two Oirat matrons in festival finery. 




A Mongol woman brings her child to the Festival. 
(Photos by W. E. Hill.) 



MONGOL FESTIVAL - 105 

the Mongols was a great contrast to the greater reserve of a Chinese 
audience. The men laughed and nudged each other, and most of the 
women giggled until their headdresses tinkled. The only quiet ones 
were two mothers who sat more stolidly in the back of the room while 
their chubby babies fed contentedly at their breasts. 

The next day we rose early, in time to see a beautiful sunrise 
over the misty plain. The gorge behind us was still black with 
shadows, but the mountain tops and prominent crags were a rosy 
pink in the first shafts of morning light. Some of the Mongols had 
already left in the night, and most of the rest had risen early and 
were preparing their horses or camels to leave. Dunguerbo and his 
father were among the few still there. 

The night before I had talked with Dunguerbo and his father, and 
some of the local hunters, about passes across the mountains. I 
had seen a large temple called Bayan Shanda-in Sume marked on 
the crude, local sketch maps of the Gobi, and was very anxious to 
see it, and satisfy my curiosity about the great desert, if that could be 
possible. It seemed important to use a pass that would permit our 
taking horses, for the temple was some distance out in the desert, 
so this ruled out Beilighe Pass. The Mongols could not agree which 
of the others would be best, and we had turned in without coming 
to any decision. This morning Dunguerbo's father suggested Dabatu 
Pass, and offered us his son to be our guide. 

I was delighted. Several times before we had thought it would 
be fine to have someone like Dunguerbo with us, to tell us what we 
should or should not do, and help us in our relations with strange 
Mongols. We had never thought of asking him outright, though, 
knowing that he had a special position among the Oirats, and feeling 
that his pride might be hurt. Now that the offer had come from his 
father, we had no hesitation in accepting. He could ride the pack 
horse, we assured him. I think he was as excited as we were at the 
prospect of an exploration trip, whether or not we succeeded in get- 
ting across the mountains. 

' We stayed at the temple for breakfast, and as we took our leave, 
Lopon Dorje presented us with blue kataghs, and held our horses as 
we mounted. He was the perfect host 



14 

DOWN THE RANGE TO DABATU PASS 

ROM BEILIGHE Temple we rode south along the range for a 
ew miles, to a camp of three yurts belonging to Dunguerbo J s sis- 
ter and some cousins. Here Dunguerbo borrowed a heavy fleece coat 
to serve as a combination saddle pad, cold-weather garment, and sleep- 
ing bag. His aunt was busy milking the goats, and some of his 
cousins were making preparations to move away, as it had been 
only a temporary camp while they attended the festival. We talked 
to his sister for a short while, then set out again. 

We rode on down to another pass and turned up a gorge to see 
a temple that Dunguerbo said we should not miss. This river was 
still running out onto the plain and had wiped out any tracks there 
might have been. The water was only a few inches deep, but we had 
to pick our way among tumbled boulders. The walls of the gorge 
were steep and trackless. It seemed impossible that anyone could 
live in such a forbidding setting. Then suddenly we rounded a curve 
and came upon a grassy bank with two white Tibetan-style buildings, 
one of which had the red stripe of a lamasery. They seemed especially 
white with the green below, and the reddish rock of the main range 
rising steeply behind them. The whole site, in the womb of the 
mountains, brought back keen memories of Tibetan-border temples, 
and the illusion was almost complete when I saw that the temple 
nameboard was written solely in Tibetan script. The only specifi- 
cally Mongol elements were a yurt in the foreground, and the lama- 
sery's name, Meirin Sume. 

The temple porch was brightly painted with frescoes of the Four 
Kings, and the interior was a vision of real splendor, an example of 
what a Mongol temple could be when it escaped occupation and 
looting by the Chinese. The red lacquer columns were wrapped in 
pillar rugs of imperial yellow rugs that had an apparently incom- 
plete pattern until they were wrapped around a column, when the 
ends met to form a continuous design. On the side walls hung 

1 06 



DOWN THE RANGE TO DABATU PASS 107 

relatively new paintings, done in the traditional manner with the old 
colors established by long custom, and mounted in frames of Chinese 
brocade. The hanging silken banners and the prayer rugs on the 
benches were quite new and very clean. The images, ritual vessels, 
hand bells, and even the cups of human skulls were all highly pol- 
ished. In every way this temple presented a contrast to the rather 
filthy by our standards and neglected appearance of most lama 
shrines, whether in Tibet or Mongolia. 

The explanation was, no doubt, that it was very new ; but I was 
still surprised at its remoteness and seclusion. For, while many 
lamaseries are partially hidden, so that the approaching traveler will 
be more awed by coming on them suddenly, most of the ones we had 
seen were located on often-used passes or trade routes, where they 
could be accessible to wayfarers as inns and places of refuge. Per- 
haps this had been set apart to allow the monks uninterrupted medi- 
tation but that did not seem likely. These lamas looked more 
embittered than holy, though they were very hospitable to us. 
Dunguerbo could not tell me why the temple had been built here, 
and the lamas would not. 

The real reason was only too clear when, some weeks later, we 
saw the wreck the local Chinese had made of Old Meirm Temple, 
the monastery from which these monks had come. It had been con- 
fiscated and turned first into a barracks, then into a military high 
school. Unfortunately, that had been too accessible down on the 
plain. The handful of monks that remained from the once great 
temple, in rebuilding with what they had salvaged, were determined 
to be as inaccessible as possible. They seemed to have succeeded. 

After a short visit, and some tea with the lamas, we returned to 
the desert in the old course of the Yellow River, near a tall and 
narrow detached mountain. From a distance it seemed to be 
crowned with the ruins of a fortress, and certainly no bandit chief- 
tain could have asked for a more commanding site. As we neared 
it, the "ruins" turned out to be an enormous cairn or oibo, flanked by 
lesser piles of rocks built out along the knife-edge of the ridge in 
both directions. Dunguerbo, calling my attention to the redness 
of the mountain and of the stones from which the cairn was built, 
said it was known as the Ulan Obo, or "Red Cairn/' and had been 
built to protect the region against evil spirits and to insure luck in 
hunting. He considered it very sacred. 



io8 DOWN THE RANGE TO DABATU PASS 

We rode on past this, in the face of a strong southwest wind. It 
blew harder and harder and began to whip up a considerable sand- 
storm. Within an hour or two the air was a greyish purple haze 
and the sun faded into a dim orange-red ball. Our throats felt hot 
and dry, and our canteens were almost empty. Just as we began to 
wonder how we could keep on, half-blinded by the wind-blown sand, 
another very large pass opened out on our right. Dunguerbo led us 
up this to another monastery called Borin Temple. 

Though its principal hall, or dogan, was almost empty after a 
recent, rather thorough looting, the external appearance of the 
monastery as a whole was superb. The long, low white buildings 
rose in tiers up the steep face of the chocolate-brown cliff, at the junc- 
ture of two valleys. 

We were received in a small courtyard behind the main temple and 
led into a guest room, where we immediately became the center of a 
throng of curious Mongols who had stayed on after the ceremonies 
of the day before. These seemed to be much wealthier than those 
at Beilighe, and were even more finely dressed. They had especially 
handsome horses and camels, and some had saddles edged in brass, 
figured with cloisonne enamel, and stirrups of the same. Like the 
Mongols of Beilighe Pass at our first meeting, they were very eager 
to know about our clothes and shoes and cameras. Dunguerbo was 
kept busy answering their questions. 

Some lamas brought us tea and millet, and soon the abbot strode 
in. He was a serious-looking man of about thirty-five, in robes of 
blue serge with a yellow sash. We presented him with a roll of blue 
satin, and a few small trinkets, including a magnet and some steel 
needles. He was very surprised to see what the magnet could do to 
the needles, but he seemed to be making a special effort not to show 
his astonishment too openly. 

Then the host lama, who had done most of the talking, asked us 
if we would like to take tea with the "Living Buddha." When we 
said we would be glad to, he escorted us uphill to a yurt set up beside 
one of the larger residence buildings. We seated ourselves expect- 
antly on either side of the abbot in blue, who presided silently over 
another banquet of buttered tea and cheese, and mutton noodles. 

We kept waiting for the "Living Buddha" to arrive. I thought 
there was only one of these incarnations in the immediate district, 
and was expecting the Living Buddha of Shandagu, who gra- 



DOWN THE RANGE TO DABATU PASS 109 

ciously presented himself at other monasteries on special occasions, 
now and then. Finally I asked Dunguerbo when the Living Buddha 
was coming, and much to my embarrassment was told that he already 
was here. Gampe Dorje, abbot and Living Buddha, was the silent 
one in blue ! 

Returning to the guest house in the twilight, Fred prepared a 
magic show at the request of Dunguerbo and the host lama. He was 
giving it by the feeble light of butter lamps, but for one trick he 
thought he should have a spotlight. I innocently picked up his 
flashlight and focused it in his direction. The reaction was imme- 
diate. Already mystified and somewhat frightened by the display of 
the "black arts," the Mongols must have thought this was another 
manifestation of our occult powers. They pushed back toward the 
walls, away from the beam, and when I inadvertently turned the light 
so it fell on a group of them, they quickly scattered like frightened 
chickens. 

Aside from this, the show was a great success. Because of it, I 
was surprised to see that Fred was looking a little glum. He ad- 
mitted that the show had gone over well, but he said he was also 
somewhat disappointed. He had hoped that his tricks would draw 
out corresponding efforts on the part of lama conjurers, who had 
been famous in legend since the days of Marco Polo. He recalled 
the Venetian's account of state banquets at the court of Khubilai 
Khan, when lama sorcerers caused flagons of milk and wine to fill 
the drinking cups spontaneously; then caused the cups to move 
through the air for a distance of ten paces to the hand of the Great 
Khan ; and brought them back again when he had emptied them. If 
any lama conjurers still exist, we never found one. But the fact that 
the lamas were so awed at the simplest of tricks made it fairly obvious 
that they did not have even the rudiments of this kind of magic. 

We had plenty of evidence of this next morning. After breakfast 
I casually picked up a thin slab of wood outside, and taking out a 
reading glass, proceeded to burn on the prayer Om mani padme hum 
in Tibetan script, along with the crossed thunderbolts usually found 
on lama charms. As the watching monks saw the thin plume of 
smoke rising from the wood, they stared in gaping astonishment 
When I had finished and set the slab on the shrine-box in the corner 
of the guest room, they gathered around it rather squeamishly to 
read the words, but they were afraid to touch it. 



no DOWN THE RANGE TO DABATU PASS 

I think they were glad when we left without doing any actual 
damage by our "powers." 

We returned to the plain and pushed on toward Dabatu Pass. 
As we rode the mountain wall seemed unbroken as far as we could 
see, but when we were still at some distance, Dunguerbo pointed out 
the ruins of a massive stone fortress on a terrace, which he said 
marked the mouth of the pass. Even at a distance, its square shape 
reminded me, on a much larger scale, of the watchtower near the pass 
that marked the entrance to the Ordos. That was supposed to date 
from before the days of Jenghis Khan, and I imagined that this was 
equally old. 

With my sense of history aroused by the sight of the fortress, I 
asked Dunguerbo what the present-day Mongols thought of Marco 
Polo's patron, Khubilai Khan. He said he had never heard of him, 
despite the fact that his father's title of Taiji is supposed to be con- 
fined to the descendants of Jenghis Khan, who had founded Khubilai's 
line. He seemed greatly surprised when I told him the part his 
people had played in world history, and the great extent of their 
empire in the thirteenth century of our era. Evidently General Fu's 
"Western Oirat School" at Beilighe Temple had carefully avoided 
teaching anything that might arouse the boys' interest in their na- 
tional culture. They had never even had anything as practical as 
history or geography ; just some Chinese Nationalist songs and a few 
characters. 

He deserved a better education, being very quick and sharp. He 
picked up quite a number of English words from us, during that 
week's trip, asking us to pronounce them slowly, and transcribing 
them in Mongolian script on the inside of a matchbox cover we had 
given him. I was surprised to see him writing in Mongolian, since 
that was certainly not taught in the Oirat School. I asked him 
about it. 

"I learned it from my lama teacher so I could read scriptures," 
he replied. I still did not grasp the full significance of this remark, 
until some days later when we were talking about his family. I 
could not understand why none of his brothers was living in a 
monastery. 

"I thought every family had to give a son to a temple," I ex- 
claimed. 

"That is true," he replied, "I am the lama." 



DOWN THE RANGE TO DABATU PASS in 

We had never suspected this, having grown accustomed to seeing 
him in his khaki uniform, but probably his being a lama was the only 
reason he had ever been given an education, in spite of his father's 
noble rank. 

When we reached the pass, we went up to visit an insignificant 
lamasery, Tomei Temple, and I strolled over to see the ruins of the 
old fortress, hoping to pick up something of interest. Dunguerbo 
had told me that in such places as these the Mongols of the present 
day still find small bronzes, knives, and arrowheads. The latter 
were no doubt those shot by their ancestors under Jenghis Khan, 
but now they do not even know what they once were used for. We 
saw several being carried by lamas as amulets. They simply called 
them "Little Thunderbolts" or "Gifts from Heaven." Sometimes 
they also find the bronze crosses left by Nestorian Christians, who 
once chanted praises to our God in cities and villages where now is 
wasteland. But not knowing their meaning, either, the present-day 
Mongols treat these, too, simply as lucky pieces to protect them 
against misfortune. 

My search was useless. The local people who lived around Tomei 
Temple had used the walled area as a winter goat paddock for years, 
and animal droppings covered the original surface everywhere. 

We remounted and said goodbye to the monks of Tomei, then 
rode down into the gorge. This also had a small river flowing in it, 
but we kept to the drier trails along the bank as much as possible, to 
prevent the horses' hoofs from getting too wet and soft. After a 
mile or so, the gorge was abruptly terminated by a mountain of sand, 
from the base of which gushed the source of the river. 

This was only the first of several gigantic dunes, that now 
clogged what must once have been an important thoroughfare, judg- 
ing by the size of the fort at its entrance. The people at Tomei told 
us that on windy days it is practically impossible to get through the 
pass. Heavy clouds of wind-blown sand sweep down off the Gobi, and 
are carried out to add to the desert that has already begun to over- 
whelm the grazing land at the foot of the pass. It was lucky we had 
not reached there a day earlier, or we would have been caught in 
the midst of the storm that we had felt the effects of, several miles 
away. 

As we toiled up the successive dunes toward the majestic red- 
brown peaks, leading our horses, Dunguerbo felt stimulated by the 



ii2 DOWN THE RANGE TO DABATU PASS 

surroundings and broke into a series of Mongol songs. He told us 
they were the ones usually sung by mountain hunters or camel riders. 
They were rather plaintive, with a pronounced yodeling quality such 
as I had noticed in the songs of the Tibetan shepherds some years ago. 
They sounded very refreshing after the high-pitched yowling of the 
Chinese soldiers and servants around camp. 

After what seemed like interminable climbing, we came out onto 
a high upland saddle, where dark, bare peaks thrust upward bleakly 
out of coarse scrub and sagebrush. From here the trail sloped gradu- 
ally downward onto the plain. We did not have to ride far to reach 
the level. The land on the far side of the pass was much higher 
than the Hou-T'ao Plain. It formed part of the great Mongolian 
Plateau. What had seemed to us, on our side, as very high moun- 
tains, were only low hills from here. What we had always thought 
of as the "range" was only the outer edge of the plateau. The valleys 
between the projecting western spurs of the hills were carpeted with 
lush meadowland, where sleek herds of Mongol ponies and fat beef 
cattle were set out to graze. 

Our objective was an "inn" that we had heard about from the 
lamas of Tomei. This turned out to be a smoke-blackened yurt on 
the edge of the meadowland, kept by an outcast Chinese. Dunguerbo 
distrusted him, without explaining why, so we kept on, looking for 
a Mongol settlement. Seeing those herds, we knew the owners could 
not be too far away. 

The sun was getting lower, and it was very cold at this height 
so we began to gallop. We only halted when Dunguerbo sighted a 
herd of sheep up a side valley, with a woman tending them. We 
started to ride in that direction, when Fred discovered that he had 
lost his gun belt in the gallop. He immediately wanted to go back 
and look for the pistol, as he could not afford to lose it permanently. 
And because it would not be safe for a man to get caught by darkness 
alone in this wild country, I went back with him. I rode up on a 
spur to keep the others in sight, while he tried to retrace our trail 
below. 

I was letting my horse pick his own way, and he led me to a 
"blowout" between the dunes, where the top sand had been blown 
off to disclose base gravel. The slanting rays of the setting sun threw 
odd shadows from what looked like pieces of grey stone. I dis- 
mounted and found they were pieces of prehistoric pottery, and look- 



DOWN THE RANGE TO DABATU PASS 113 

ing further, found a fine, red flint knife. These were undoubtedly 
relics of the "Dune-dwellers' " civilization, first reported by the men 
who went with Roy Chapman Andrews on his Gobi expeditions. I 
felt very excited. 

When it grew too dark to look further for the gun belt, we re- 
turned to the side valley where we had seen the sheep. On the way, 
we met Dunguerbo who had ridden back to look for us, and he led us 
to the yurt he had found. In addition to the woman we had seen, 
and her one-eyed husband, who was a hunter, we found an old lama 
visiting them. There were already too many people in the yurt 
for us to think of spending the night there, but they invited us to use 
the hearth for cooking, and gave us water to make coffee. 

Before we had finished dinner, still another guest came, a Mongol 
woman with her two-year old child strapped papoose-wise to her 
back. She was returning on foot from the festival at Borin Temple. 
This particular yurt seemed as crowded as Grand Central Station, 
even though it was off the beaten track. 

After eating a few rations, we left the warm fire with reluctance 
and went down to the dry river bed below, where we rolled up in 
our blankets on the soft sand. It was freezing cold at that high 
altitude and an arctic wind was sweeping down the shallow gorge. 
We managed to get out of the direct blast, but we still froze. 

We slept badly, and woke in the early dawn to see the white forms 
of mountain sheep silhouetted against the skyline, looking curiously 
down at us from the crags above. Later when I went over to get 
Dunguerbo, who was having breakfast with the Mongol family, I 
found a discarded pair of horns from one of these sheep outside the 
yurt. The old ram who had worn them must have resembled our 
Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, though he belonged to another 
species, ovis argali. Although broken at the tips, each horn meas- 
ured forty and one half inches around the outer curve, and sixteen 
inches around the base. 

We were strongly tempted to stop and hunt. If we had had any- 
thing except pistols with us, we would not have hesitated. As it 
was, we could scarcely hope to get within range of a sheep on those 
crags, so we gave up the idea. We rode back to the main valley, made 
a quick and successful search for the gun belt, then rode on down 
the stream bed into the Gobi Desert 



15 

TEMPLE IN THE GOBI 

IT was a strange feeling to ride out into the Gobi. Although 
our camp was popularly known as "the Gobi Weather Station" 
by the few Americans in China who had ever heard of it, in the year 
and a half since it had been set up, none of its personnel had ever 
seen the Gobi Desert. Until now, we had scarcely expected to, either. 

Beyond the protection of the mountain spurs, large, bare sand 
dunes were encroaching on the rich pasture land at the base of the 
hills, but the Gobi proper was anything but barren. Sizable clumps 
of desert vegetation sagebrush and thorn bushes especially grew 
everywhere in the gravel between the shifting dunes. Here and there 
all the surface sand and plant-supporting gravel had blown away, ex- 
posing the bare ground. Scattered among the pebbles were bits of 
petrified bone, flint razors, and chips of jasper left by neolithic tool- 
makers. This land must have had a considerable population before 
the soil grew too dry to support human life. At intervals we came 
across twisting creek beds cutting deep into the desert floor, but all 
were dry. If it ever did rain here, the soft sand of their channels 
would not hold water long before absorbing it. 

After riding about ten miles, we mounted a dune and saw our 
objective, Bayan Shanda-in Sume (Shantan Miao, in Chinese). It 
was a vast monastery of white buildings stretched out against the 
yellow sand of a hillside, with an enormous chorten, a great stupa 
temple, looming above them near the top of the hill. The shimmering 
heat waves through which we first saw the buildings made it look 
like a mirage, and we could not believe that we would find such a 
large temple in this barren waste. 

We lost sight of it again as we descended into a sloping plain. 
The desert seemed bleaker than ever. Two antelopes ambled out 
from behind a dune. Then they saw us and were off with bobbing 
white tails. Ahead of us we saw several herds of grazing camels, 
fine, well-fed animals with plenty of fur. Dunguerbo said they must 

114 



TEMPLE IN THE GOBI 115 

be temple property. Sure enough, as we mounted the rise, among 
them, we saw the monastery spread out on the other slope of a 
transverse valley. It was more impressive than ever. 

In addition to twelve main temples of Tibetan architecture, with 
one or two Chinese roofs looming above the predominantly flat ones, 
it had several lesser shrines, along with extensive dormitories for the 
monks and lodgings for travelers. As we rode up to the buildings, 
however, we saw that many of them had been gutted and the 
Chinese slogans told us by whom. We later found that the Chinese 
troops had come "in the year of the Tiger" (1938), to forestall a 
Japanese column hoping to cut off Shanpa. But they had stayed six 
years, to prevent further forays. Meanwhile they had used some of 
the worship halls as barracks, carving up the walls, looting every- 
thing portable that was of value, and otherwise desecrating the holy 
places. 

We tethered our horses to a hitching line between two posts, 
alongside some Mongol ponies. Not only were they much finer than 
our own good mounts, but they were decked out with silver-mounted 
saddles and fine blue saddle rugs that put our scuffed English saddles 
and drab army blankets to shame. 

Dunguerbo led us into one of the guest compounds, where a stout 
and jovial host monk met us and opened up the main reception room 
for us. It was a long hall with columns, and at the end was a dais with 
five thrones. The center one was elevated on cushions for a prince 
or a Living Buddha, so we carefully chose the lower ones, leaving 
that vacant. The back and seat of each throne was faced with ex- 
pensive rugs, figured with five-clawed imperial dragons in blue and 
gold, and before each seat was the customary low table, but of un- 
usual quality, with thick red lacquer and heavy gilding to set off 
finely carved designs. 

Twenty or thirty lamas and monastery attendants came in to 
stare at us as we drank buttered tea with tsamba meal the national 
food of the Tibetans. We sensed a strong atmosphere of hostile 
suspicion mixed with their curiosity, and the expression on the 
faces of one or two bruisers of the monastery "strong-arm squad" 
was anything but pleasant. These were the biggest Mongols I had 
ever seen, and they looked like fighters. 

We tried to look unconcerned and keep our dignity, but this was 
not easy to do, as we were already being attacked from another direc- 



n6 TEMPLE IN THE GOBI 

tion. The lice in the rugs had discovered us, and were beginning to 
explore inside our clothing. 

The tension relaxed a little when a very old lama with a grey, 
wispy beard came in, attended by two of the senior lamas. He 
stopped to say something to Dunguerbo, who was sitting nearer the 
door, and the latter announced to me that he was the acting head of 
the monastery, taking the place of the abbot who was on a pilgrimage 
to Kumbum. 

The three then continued on up to our dais, and with low bows 
presented their onyx snuff bottles to each of us in turn. Not having 
our own to return the compliment, we just bowed and handed them 
back, and I gave them a gift. Then they bowed once more, and 
walked over to a side bench, where they seated themselves and stared 
at us in solemn silence. 

In an effort to break the ice, I blunderingly asked how many 
monks they had in the monastery. This was apparently just the 
wrong remark. As we were already under suspicion as spies or pos- 
sible raiders, it must have seemed to them that we were trying to 
feel out the potential strength of the place. No one answered as 
Dunguerbo translated my question. He flushed. The atmosphere 
was frigid. 

Dunguerbo explained their attitude in part by telling us that the 
lamas had previously told him that no foreigners that is, white men 
had been there since before the War, and they did not know what to 
make of us. He did not say, though I found out later, that the only 
white men that most of them had ever known were the Russians who 
had driven them out of Outer Mongolia. That in itself would have 
accounted for their attitude. 

To ease a rather intolerable situation, I asked Dunguerbo to ar- 
range for us to see the temples, suggesting that he explain to the 
lamas that I had come there because of my interest in Buddhism. 
They did not seem particularly convinced. In cold silence one monk 
went out to get the keys, and one of the attendants to the acting head 
lama escorted us to the first great temple. 

Much to my surprise, in spite of their obvious hostility, they 
showed us everything, including sacred inner shrines usually closed" 
even to Mongol laymen. Most of these consisted of dark cabinets 
with blood-bespattered demon figures, grimacing horribly and 
crowned with skulls. 




A Temple in the Gobi. Approaching Bayan Shanda-in Sume. 




The Great Chorten at Bayan Shanda-in Sume. 
(Photos by W. . Hill.) 




Camels bringing in sticks for temple fuel. 




The temple butchers killing a goat by the "humane" method. 




Lamas bringing in water for the temple. 
(Photos by W. E. HiU.) 



TEMPLE IN THE GOBI 117 

Several of the halls were very splendid, with elaborately carved 
and gilded woodwork, and many of their paintings were done in 
"Lhasa-style" with a great deal of gold, suggesting that they may 
have come directly from the holy city in Tibet. The most outstand- 
ing thing was a twenty-foot image of Maitreya, "the Coming 
Buddha," made of heavy plates of silver riveted together so cleverly 
that it seemed, at first glance, to be made in one piece. Unfortunate- 
ly, its imposing and glittering appearance was completely marred by 
two equally large but tawdry-looking images of other bodhisattvas in 
cheap plaster, on either side of it. 

When the lamas saw that I knew the names of the gods in Sanskrit 
and Tibetan (the official church languages), and was able to tell 
my companions something about them, they began to be more friend- 
ly. They were more cordial at supper, and the atmosphere thawed 
completely after the meal when I told the host monk that I could 
play Mongolian chess. 

He got out a portable traveling set, consisting of a box that opened 
to make the board and some very large wooden chessmen. As he 
set them out, the usual crowd gathered around to help him. By now 
I did not mind this mass opposition, for I had meanwhile learned the 
Mongol names for the pieces. Now the conferences among my op- 
ponents were more help than annoyance. When I overheard them dis- 
cussing a plot against one of my men, I was forewarned and could 
immediately take steps to get him out of danger. We were fairly 
evenly matched, and the good will of the lamas was assured when I 
lost a closely-contested game to their champion, after beating him 
in a previous one. 

After we had finished playing, I took advantage of the newly estab- 
lished friendly spirit of the lamas to ask them some questions about 
the monastery. Now they were very agreeable and had no objec- 
tions to telling me how many monks belonged there. Before the 
Chinese soldiers came, there were a hundred and fifty permanent 
residents. Now the temple had only room for about fifty or sixty, 
including the bad or chin or begging monks, who traveled about the 
country collecting alms for the upkeep of the temples. 

The next morning I woke drowsily on hearing hoofbeats, as 
someone galloped up to the outer gate. The sound started a series 
of associations, and I began to think how much this rolling, sage- 
brush-grown desert outside resembled our own American West. 



TEMPLE IN THE GOBI 



Then I opened my eyes, and the illusion was almost complete when 
I saw hanging from the rafters, among some old bridles, a pair of 
branding irons with the monastery seal, two interlocking rings. The 
effect was soon shattered by the entrance of our host in his crimson 
robes, bearing a brass pot full of steaming noodles. Once more we 
were back in the Middle Ages. 

After breakfast we met the man I had heard riding in. Like the 
other Mongol laymen we had seen around the monastery the evening 
before, he was dressed differently from the Mongols we had met on 
our side of the mountains. Not only did their boots have a much 
more pronounced upcurve, but their hats were also very distinctive. 
These had high-peaked fluted crowns of purplish cloth ending in a 
knob, and upturned brims which were faced with lamb's wool. 
Dunguerbo said that the Mongols here were all Khalkhas, Northern 
Mongols, from Outer Mongolia. He was a little ill at ease with them, 
but as one of the Khalka Banners belonged to the same League as 
the Oirats, he did not feel a complete stranger, and he seemed to 
have no trouble understanding them. 

Later in the day, we rode up to see an enormous obo atop a 
prominent hill nearby. From that vantage point we looked out over 
the plains to some low blue mountains. A lama with us said that 
they were in Outer Mongolia, only a day's ride from here by fast 
horse. I was all for riding to the border, but the lama sensibly dis- 
suaded me. The land between, he said, was barren and waterless, 
no place to get lost in ; while, border patrols, both Chinese and Rus- 
sian, were inclined to shoot strangers on sight. ' 

To visit the obo, I rode one of the monastery camels, a she-camel 
with a vile disposition and worse manners. In fact, she had such a 
bad reputation that one of the lamas wanted to come along and lead 
her. But I preferred to ride alone, guiding her with the hair rope 
fastened to the wooden peg through her nose. 

She would turn back to look at me now and then with a particu- 
larly supercilious expression, drooling acid, green cud, already partly 
digested. At intervals she would belch with hot, acrid breath. Her 
stomach rumbled constantly, and when I prodded her with my heels, 
she would whine, groan, or mutter, quickening her pace only when 
she felt like it. When we reached the obo she resolutely refused to 
kneel, even for Dunguerbo, who had a way with animals. I was 
forced to slide off her back in very undignified fashion. It was 



TEMPLE IN THE GOBI 119 

beneath her dignity to notice it, but I am sure a horse would have 
laughed. 

The obo was a sort of rustic chorten formed of loose stones 
around a central core. It was on top of a high hill over which passed 
one of the main caravan routes to Turkestan. For centuries passing 
travelers had thrown rocks or coins on it, in gratitude for having 
reached there in safety. Many coins had overshot the mark, and 
while resting after eating we amused ourselves by gathering them 
and collecting a complete set from the reigns of the last dynasty. 

I took a very roundabout route back, to explore the hills behind 
the temple, from which there was an even more superb view of the 
plain stretching northward to Outer Mongolia. On the way back to 
our quarters, I passed a small detached shrine building. I recognized 
it as the monastery depository for holy things no longer usable, but 
too sacred to be destroyed or to be allowed to fall into profane hands. 

I investigated it, and found a great number of sheafs of pages from 
holy books, some paintings in fair to bad condition, and a great num- 
ber of pressed-clay images. On returning to the lamasery, I asked 
the host monk if it would be all right for us to take some of the 
pages and a painting or two. He replied that the building in ques- 
tion contained all that was left of the temple libraries, which had been 
sacked and desecrated by the Chinese soldiers, and that he would be 
glad to feel that some of the things were in the hands of people who 
could appreciate them. With this permission we went and helped 
ourselves. 

Every time the monks mentioned Chinese, or soldiers, we noticed 
a wild gleam of anger in the eyes of the younger ones, and a look 
of sad resignation in the faces of the older. The wanton pillaging 
that began in the year of the Tiger would not soon be forgotten. 

While I was taking a roundabout way back on the camel, the other 
three Americans had come back more directly on horseback. They 
reached the temple in time to see an interesting sight. The monastery 
needed meat, so a sturdy Mongol layman in dark robes, with two 
young lay attendants, had led out three goats. Taking them around 
the corner, out of sight from the temples, they had knelt on the 
animal's throats so as to partially smother them. Then they made a 
quick incision down the underside and reached in to pull out the 
hearts, which they squeezed until the animals were dead. In this 
way they shed a minimum amount of blood. After this, they carried 



120 TEMPLE IN THE GOBI 

the carcasses into one of the kitchen buildings to dress them. Buddha 
commanded his followers not to eat meat, but the lamas rationalize 
their disobedience of his teachings by saying that meat is needed in 
this cold climate, and that it is not wrong for them to eat it if they 
do not see the killing. 

The climax of this trip, for both us and the lamas, was the magic 
show held that afternoon in the courtyard of the guest house. The 
lamas were expecting a lot, having already been mystified by Fred's 
tricks with a magnetized needle and a disappearing cigarette. 

The audience at the show consisted of about fifteen monks, a 
couple of Chinese-Moslem merchants passing through the district, 
and a very handsome Khalka woman, whose presence there alone cast 
some doubts on the seriousness of the monk's vows of celibacy. As 
Fred pulled brightly colored silks from empty boxes and snatched 
coins out of the air, they responded with exclamations of wild delight. 
No one in the audience had seen anything like it, and in broad day- 
light they had no sense of fear of the unknown. Their enthusiasm 
was intense. Dunguerbo was one reason for the great success. He 
outdid himself as an interpreter, enhancing the effect of each trick 
by being sure that the audience missed nothing. I wished I could 
understand everything he said; it would have been interesting to 
see how much he really grasped himself. 

If any trace of suspicion or hostility still remained, the show 
banished it, and when we left next morning, the lamas of Shanda-in 
Sume seemed genuinely sorry to see us go. As a farewell present 
they gave us a large package of dried grapes which they said had 
come all the way from Turkestan, over the Old Silk Road. 



16 

DUNGUERBO AND HIS FAMILY 

"V\7 TE LEFT BAYAN SHANDA-IN Temple with the good will 
W of all the lamas. The host monk and several others came out 
to hold our horses as we mounted, and stood there watching us until 
we had rounded the turn past the first hill. 

It was a cloudy morning with a threat of rain. The desert looked 
greyer and bleaker than ever, without the shadows of the dunes to 
give some contrast. As we entered Dabatu Pass, heavy storm clouds 
clung around the peaks, and a swirling cloud of grey sand filled the 
notch above us. 

As we passed the blow-out on the terrace, near the place where 
Fred had lost his gun, Don and I turned aside to explore it once 
again. Walking back and forth in fairly straight lines, we combed 
the surface. In less than half an hour we had found countless pottery 
fragments, including some pieces of neolithic painted pottery, to- 
gether with some more flints. We had enough to fill a sack, but 
space in my saddle bag was limited, so we kept only the best pieces 
and left the rest. 

When we had finished our search, I picked up an argali horn, 
from a pair we had found nearby, and thought I would take it back 
to camp with us. I started to mount with it under my arm, but my 
horse saw it out of the corner of his eye. Unfamiliar things always 
bothered him, and he shied violently. For a moment I hung on, 
with one leg over the saddle. Then I fell heavily. The horse ran 
off in a panic, down the slope and out onto the valley floor. 

Don tried to catch him, but could not do anything alone, so he 
rode ahead to the "inn-yurt," where the others had stopped to make 
lunch, .to get the ma-fu and Dunguerbo. Meanwhile I hobbled on 
to join them. I had a trampled foot, a sore back, and a rotten 
disposition as a result of the accident. Still, it's an ill wind, etc., 
because the two hours we wasted gave time for the sandstorm to 
blow itself out. When we started on' again after eating, the clouds 

121 



122 DUNGUERBO AND HIS FAMILY 

were giving way to a deep blue sky, and sunshine bathed the peaks 
on either side of the notch. 

The dunes on the eastern side of the divide were much easier 
going down. We stayed aboard our horses on all but the steepest 
slopes, and slid down. We made such good time that we reached 
Tomei Temple well before sunset. 

We wanted to stay there and take the shortest route back across 
the desert and the plain, which would mean an easy day's ride. But 
Dunguerbo objected. There might be water, a swollen branch of 
the Wu-chia River, or an overfull irrigation ditch across our path. 
He had an almost irrational fear of water in any form. I shall never 
forget his amazed expression the next day, when we stopped at our 
swimming hole on the way back to camp, and plunged in to wash 
off the dust and grime of travel. He had never seen people swim, 
and apparently did not know it was possible. 

The idea of crossing the plain at an unaccustomed place troubled 
him as much as the idea of going through the mountains at all had 
disturbed the ma-fu. The latter was always^ offering excuses, or even 
fables, to explain why the passes were impassable, and if it had not 
been for Dunguerbo we could never have gotten across into the 
Gobi. 

The contrast between Dunguerbo and Hui was always a source of 
interest to us. Both were young, but their backgrounds and tem- 
peraments were entirely different. Dunguerbo was quick and in- 
telligent, and typically Mongol, while Hui was slow and stupid and 
rather shiftless, a typical border Chinese. The former was fairly 
well educated, at least by local standards, but the latter could barely 
scratch the character of his family name, which was in itself an 
achievement since he had had no schooling at all. They had no 
common meeting ground except the fact that they were thrown to- 
gather on our trips, and had a mutual interest in seeing our quaint 
ways of doing things. They would discuss us delightedly for hours 
after any exhibition of our customs, such as a meal out of ration 
tins. 

Dunguerbo always looked as though he felt uncomfortable eating 
Chinese food, especially the overrich feast fare, when we took him 
to dine with us in Shanpa, but he generally enjoyed our rations. 
The only things he took exception to were grapefruit juice and 
canned tomatoes, both of which, he commented wryly, were "too 



DUNGUERBO AND HIS FAMILY 123 

bitter to take." Hui, on the other hand, was at first sceptical of our 
rations, but managed to eat them when he could not get anything 
else. In time he grew to accept them, without ever really liking 
them. But he always made a face when he was expected to drink 
the Mongols' tea with its varied contents, and he scorned their 
cheeses. 

Although Hui's job was to care for our horses, he had no feeling 
for them, sharing the general Chinese contempt for animals as beings 
of a lower order. He was very casual in caring for our mounts, 
neglecting to loosen their girths or remove the saddles when we 
stopped for any length of time, and was even careless about feeding 
them. Dunguerbo, on the other hand, had a natural fondness for 
animals and enjoyed caring for them, especially horses and camels. 
He extended his good nature to animals as to people, and our 
horses seemed to sense this. He never had any trouble catching 
and bridling them, as all the Chinese except Lao Tsai did. 

When Dunguerbo discouraged us from our plan of returning 
directly from the pass, we continued on to Borin Temple, where we 
spent the night. Next day, as we were traveling by way of Beilighe 
Temple, I decided to push on ahead with Dunguerbo, so I could stop 
and -have a short visit with the abbot, without delaying the others. 

On the way we stopped ofY to see his relatives. Only one yurt was 
left. His sister had returned to her home outside Shanpa, and his 
cousins had gone back into the mountains. The only ones still here 
were his aunt and his eighty-year old maternal grandmother. (His 
mother was dead). 

Dunguerbo' s grandmother was a fine old woman, with close- 
cropped white hair and a creased, leathern face, recalling portraits 
of Gertrude Stein. When we first saw her, she was sitting on the 
floor of her yurt beside the hearth, dressed only in goatskin pants 
and a pair of Mongol boots. She acknowledged my greeting, as 
Dunguerbo introduced us, with a friendly smile. Then she told her 
daughter, a middle-aged woman, to get us some food, while she 
got up to pull on an outer robe. 

Dunguerbo talked with her for a while, without translating, 
probably about us and the trip. Then when she went out for a 
moment, he explained to me that she was a shoibwonsh, a sort of 
woman-lama. I had heard of these, but never met one. While sanc- 
tioned by the Lama Church as witches or seeresses, the elderly 



124 DUNGUERBO AND HIS FAMILY 

widows who bore this title were, I had been told, actually transmitters 
of the old folk traditions. They were said to be successors to the 
shamans, who before the introduction of Lamaism were the spiritual 
leaders of the Mongol people. 

This suggested something; perhaps she could answer a question 
I had been wondering about. 

That night last week, while we were cooking our supper in the 
herdsman's yurt in Dabatu Pass, I had sat beside the hearth staring 
absent-mindedly up at the bracing of the smoke hole. The light, 
circular frame with its eight braces gleamed dully through the smoke 
in the reflected glare from the fire. Could this, I wondered, have any 
connection with the eight-spoked Wheel of the Law which we saw 
so often on the roofs of the temples not as a symbol of Buddha's 
teachings, but in its earlier form as the primitive Asiatic symbol of 
the Sun Wheel? Some modern Mongols, I knew, still explain the 
wheel flanked by gazelles as a picture of the animals saluting the 
rising sun. If the smoke-hole bracing in the dome of the tent was 
thought of as a solar wheel, it was no doubt intended to recall the 
Sun in the dome of the sky. 

I felt sure that this idea must originally have been in the minds 
of the Nature-worshiping yurt-builders, but the owners of that par- 
ticular tent had not been able to tell me anything about it. Neither 
could the lamas I asked. In fact, the latter always acted very 
superior whenever I brought up the subject of folk beliefs, as though 
they felt above such superstitions, which did not happen to coincide 
with their own. 

"Only the elders of the black people (the laymen) know that 
sort of thing," they would say. Here was my opportunity, for Dun- 
guerbo's grandmother was both elderly and a priestess of the old 
traditions. When she came back, I asked her, through Dunguerbo, 
about the meaning of the form of the yurt and its smoke hole. 

"The tent is the Sky," she said, making a gesture to indicate a 
covering dome. "The hole in the roof is the Sun in the Sky, the Eye 
of Heaven, through which comes light/' she continued, "and when, 
in the morning, we use the chuchilur (a carved wooden dipper) to 
pour the tea offering on the hearth iron, the vapor goes up with the 
smoke to Burkhan (God)." 

I realized, of course, that this did not explain why the Mongol 
yurts are shaped as they are. The early Mongols, or their ancestors, 



DUNGUERBO AND HIS FAMILY 125 

had no doubt discovered that the domed structure was eminently 
practical for the tents of plain- or valley-dwellers, as high winds 
blowing against them would slip harmlessly around the curved sides, 
whereas a flat-sided tent would be blown in, if not tumbled over. 
The point is that, having such tents, the Mongols of an earlier age 
had seen a resemblance to the sky which appears to them as a dome, 
and thought of their tents as being the Universe in miniature. 

This was not all. According to Dunguerbo's grandmother, even 
the floor under the smokehole carried out the plan of the universe 
as the Mongols knew it. The small square area marked off by narrow 
boards around the central hearth she explained as the "square of 
Earth." She went on to point out how the Mongols have also ar- 
ranged this floor diagram so that it contains the five elements of old 
Asiatic tradition : Fire, Metal, Wood, Earth, and Water. The fire 
burns almost perpetually in the metal grate, and a wooden frame 
encloses the area of tamped earth around the hearth, while water (or 
liquid) is present in the kettle or cauldron, either of which is con- 
stantly resting on the grate. 

This explained why the old metalsmith in Beilighe Pass had a 
special gadget to knock out his pipe, so he would not have to strike 
the grate that forms part of the sacred diagram. After this, I noticed 
that even though most of the modern Mongols seem to have for- 
gotten these old religious associations, they all considered the space 
enclosed by the wood as strictly taboo, and never set anything inside 
it, even pots of spare fuel, or wet boots after a storm. The four 
posts of the grate seem particularly sacred, and nothing can be hung 
on them or leaned against them. 

Whether or not they remembered the meaning of the square 
around the hearth, all the Mongols we met had the firm conviction 
that the world is square. When we tried to tell them where America 
was, we had a hard time explaining how it was not necessarily east 
or west, but that we could reach home by traveling in either direction. 
Even Dunguerbo never quite grasped the idea, so he was not much 
help when we were trying to get it across to others. 

I would not dream of challenging his grandmother's belief that her 
tea sacrifice went up to God in Heaven probably it does. But I 
thought that Dunguerbo, as an enlightened youth of the 20th century, 
should be taught that the world is round and revolves around the 
sun. Such truths should not interfere with religion, and are basic. 



126 DUNGUERBO AND HIS FAMILY 

I hoped that I at least planted seeds so that his inquiring mind will 
not be dulled and stultified by the endless repetition of meaningless 
phrases that will make up his chief duties as a lama. Perhaps he, 
and other young Mongols of the present day with their awakening- 
minds, will be the means of reforming the Lama Church, and make 
it more worthy of its powerful place in Mongol life. It once was, 
and might again be, a constructive spiritual influence, rather than an 
economic drain. 

After we had some tea, we continued on to Beilighe Temple. The 
visit was a dismal failure. The monks were all away on one of their 
tours to another monastery, and the place was closed and deserted. 
Only a lay caretaker had been left there, and he could not answer 
my questions. This tendency to abandon the home temples every 
few weeks makes a visit to a lamasery something of a gamble. You 
never can know whether you will be able to get into the shrines once 
you reach them after a long journey. 

Even though we rejoined the others sooner than we expected, the 
swim delayed us a while, so it was suppertime when we got back to 
camp. As Dunguerbo would not have time to get home to his 
sister's before dark, we invited him to spend the night at camp. He 
stayed with the ma-fus in the stables outside the gate, but came in 
that evening to visit Fred's room. We fed him from leftover rations, 
then took him over to the mess hall to hear the phonograph. 

He listened entranced to the vocal records, especially those of the 
Don Cossacks, whose Asiatic melodies must have held special mean- 
ing for him even though he could not understand the words. The 
symphony records, though, merely made him restless, and he did not 
like the "noise" of American dance music. Even waltzes, he said, 
left him with an impression of jumbled sounds. 

The houseboys, Chinese privates from the Sarachi district of 
central Suiyuan, tried to crowd into the mess hall, saying that if "that 
no-account" could come in, they could too. They recognized him as 
a Mongol by the scarlet vest he wore with his student's uniform- 
no Chinese would wear anything as bright and Sa-hsien people, as 
members of the first wave of Chinese migration into the Mongol 
grazing lands, are the most open in their scorn of the people they 
dispossessed. 

Their feeling was even more obvious next morning when Fred 
went to ask the cook for an extra plate of eggs to give Dunguerbo. 



DUNGUERBO AND HIS FAMILY 127 

"Mongol no good!" the Chinese servants said with emphasis. This 
annoyed us very much, as Dunguerbo had a far finer personality 
and a much more generous nature than most of the Chinese we had 
contact with up there. 

He asked us to visit his home south of Shanpa, and we stopped 
at the big Chinese restaurant in town for lunch on the way. As on 
other such occasions, he ate little and showed that polite deference 
toward us which always came out in public, whether in Shanpa or 
in a lamasery. Although we treated him as an equal, he seemed to 
feel when others were around that he should be the respectful 
youngster, never taking advantage of the superior position he held 
by being able to speak far better Chinese than I, and Mongolian, 
which none of us Americans knew. 

The refugee home of Dunguerbo's sister, to which he and his 
father had come after fleeing west to escape the Japanese, was a 
simple adobe hut. It adjoined the temporary wartime barracks of 
the Pa Shih-ling, the Eighth Mongol Cavalry, composed of members 
of the Eastern Oirat Banner. (The Western Oirats belonged to the 
Seventh Cavalry, Ch'i Shih-ling.) Dunguerbo's brother-in-law, who 
was a hya, or noble of the third rank in this Banner, was also a 
captain in this cavalry unit. He had gone on to Paotou to join 
General Fu, leaving his wife and baby daughter, so Dunguerbo and 
his stepmother had moved in to keep her company. Dunguerbo's 
father, possibly because he found matrimony a little trying now that 
he had passed fifty, preferred life in a mountain yurt from which he 
could get good hunting. 

The quarters were very crowded even for Dunguerbo, the two 
women, and the baby. They consisted of little more than one room, 
with another half room, entered by a hole in the wall, that was used 
for storage. The felt on the k'ang-bed was stained and greasy, the 
walls were as smoke-blackened as the inside of a yurt, and the air 
was thick with flies. 

Dunguerbo' s sister looked considerably different in her simple 
Chinese peasant garb of white jacket and dark-blue trousers. She 
was still quite pretty, in a Mongol way, but the lack of head orna- 
ments seemed to enhance her olive skin and emphasized the length 
of her nose, giving her face a rather Semitic cast. While she was 
making some buttered tea, we asked Dunguerbo to persuade her and 
her stepmother to put on their Mongol finery for a photograph. 



128 DUNGUERBO AND HIS FAMILY 

The two women looked a little embarrassed, but after a whispered 
consultation they told us, through Dunguerbo, that they would be 
flattered. While his sister poured us tea, the older woman reached 
into the storage hole and proceeded to dig out a couple of large 
bundles tied up in old rags, from under a pile of saddles and saddle 
rugs. When they opened them, out tumbled robes of fine dark serge, 
short, sleeveless jackets of bright-colored satin with brocaded borders, 
and pounds of silver jewelry. Again we were impressed, as always, 
by the contrast of wealth in squalor that seems so typical of Mongol 
life. 

We watched, trying not to stare too rudely, as they donned their 
heavy head-trappings, looking for the differences between the head- 
dresses of the Eastern and Western Oirat Banners to which their 
respective husbands belonged. Both wore swik pendants of almost 
identical pattern. The principal difference seemed to be in the orna- 
ments they wore on their braids at each side. Dunguerbo's sister, as 
an Eastern Oirat by marriage, had the ends of her braids stuffed 
into two flattened spiral boxes of silver set with corals, which were 
attached by tapes to a coral-studded band of dark cloth that she 
wore like a coronet. Her stepmother, a Western Oirat, on the other 
hand, had her braids bound by a pair of slightly curved, boxlike 
clamps, set with turquoise and coral, such as I had seen worn by 
Mongol women in the Paotou district some years ago. She was 
also wearing her bridal crown, a silver skullcap with hinged panels 
at the front, sides, and back. It looked very heavy. 

We had a hard time persuading them to leave off their head cloths. 
They acted as though they felt undressed without them, but the 
coverings would have hidden most of the finery. 

As the two women posed for Hill in front of the house, nervously 
adjusting their ornaments and straightening the pendant chains from 
their swiks and earrings, some Chinese women, wives of local farmers 
and camp-followers who hung around the barracks, came over to 
watch. They laughed and made rude remarks at the "barbaric" dis- 
play, making the two who were being photographed feel very self- 
conscious about being Mongols and therefore "different." 

This was not the first time I had seen examples of what seems 
almost a determined campaign of derision on the part of the border 
Chinese. They like to make the Mongols feel that their way of life 
is ridiculous, and that they must become like the Chinese. If the 



DUNGUERBO AND HIS FAMILY 129 

Mongols ever do entirely give up their old customs and dress to 
conform to Chinese ways, much of the color would disappear from 
the frontier lands of Northeast Asia, and future travelers would 
then find little to relieve the drabness of the worn-out farmlands and 
grey deserts. 

The Belgian Mission has realized this. Father Ma, the only 
Mongol to become a priest, told me that in his old home in the 
northern Ordos almost a thousand Mongol families belong to the 
Mission. On Sundays and festivals they ride into church with all 
their finery, the women with their jeweled headdresses and the men 
with their silver mounted saddles and horse trappings, trying to out- 
rival each other. After Mass, he said, they often have horse races 
or wrestling matches. In short, the Fathers have skilfully managed 
to make the Church festivals take the place of the Lama temple fairs, 
and the mission now takes the place in their social life that the lama- 
series once held, but they have kept their costume and most of their 
customs under the new auspices. 

Dunguerbo seemed the least disturbed by the remarks of the 
onlookers; perhaps he was used to them. He scarcely lost his jolly, 
friendly manner, even though the Chinese gapers followed us back to 
the house and leaned in through the door and window to stare at 
us as we finished our tea. 

Before we left, Dunguerbo told us about a wonderful temple called 
Ago-in Stime, southwest of Dabatu Pass. I had been hearing vague 
references to the place from other Mongols, and knew it must be a 
very famous shrine. Dunguerbo whetted my curiosity still more 
by saying that it had not been looted and still had great treasures. 
Furthermore, no white man had ever seen it. 

He had gone there with his father about two months ago to attend 
an annual festival, and hinted broadly that he would be glad to go 
there again if we wanted to see it. He had nothing to do, he said, 
until the Oirat School reopened at Beilighe Temple sometime in 
October. Of course he did not say that he would be glad to make a 
trip to get away from these squalid surroundings, but I imagine that 
had something to do with it. 

The idea of seeing Ago-in Sume appealed to me strongly, but we 
had only just returned from a long trip and it was too soon to think 
about another. As we left, I told him we would keep it in mind. 



17 

THE JOURNEY TO AGO-IN SUME 

O EPTEMBER dragged on with still no new part for the truck, 
O and reports from the south told of lingering floods and impass- 
able roads. Two or three members of the camp got orders to go 
north and east in an effort to reach Peking, but the rest were still 
there, and morale, if anything, was worse. Finally, toward the end 
of the month, I decided to take advantage of Dunguerbo's offer to 
guide us to Ago-in Sume, and asked Fred, the magician, and Walter 
Hill if they would care to come along. 

The trip began badly. The day we set out the weather changed. 
It was very cold and the sky was heavily overcast. Furthermore, Hui 
had just been recalled to join General Fu's cavalry in Paotou, so we 
had to take another, less reliable, ma-fu. He took a long time to 
catch and saddle our horses, and we were late in starting. 

As soon as we left camp, I cut off across country to Dunguerbo's 
house to collect him, while the other three rode into Shanpa, and out 
by the Southwest Road. Before I reached his house, it began to rain 
and the wind blew even colder. I thought the trip was doomed. 

Luckily, Dunguerbo said he didn't mind bad weather. He searched 
in the storeroom for his sheepskin overcoat-sleeping-bag, while his 
sister made me some buttered tea. When I told them that Hui had 
gone on to Paotou, which is near Dunguerbo's old home, the latter 
sighed enviously. 

"Ayah!" he exclaimed, u a ma-fu ? s life is a good one!" Then he 
asked, very practically, if our new ma-fu liked Mongols. I did not 
know, but as it turned out they got along quite well 

When we set out to join the others, I slung Dunguerbo's heavy 
coat across my saddlebow, and he climbed up behind me. This was 
not successful, as the dangling sleeves made the horse nervous and he 
started to bolt. When I reined him in, Dunguerbo dismounted and 
put on the coat. Then he hopped up behind me again, and we 
started down the Southwest Road. 

130 



THE JOURNEY TO AGO-IN SUME 131 

As the others had never been over the road, I had suggested for 
our meeting place, the buildings nearest to Dunguerbo's house. 
These were a couple of small one-room noodleshops, the Chinese 
equivalents of our hot-dog stands, that faced each other across the 
highway near a prominent irrigation ditch. I thought our com- 
panions could easily find the food shops because of their traditional 
signs, the pairs of wooden hoops with dangling red streamers. As 
luck would have it, the proprietors had not yet hung them out for 
the day, alid Fred and Hill, together with the ma-fu, had ridden on 
past them for miles. 

We did not catch up with them until noon, at a big town called 
Mi-ts'ang. They were waiting at a restaurant with a particularly 
flamboyant pair of food signs, beside a small river. Fred had al- 
ready managed to order a few dishes by the simple expedient of 
sketching a pig and a hen laying eggs, so I just ordered us a couple 
more. 

The meal was delicious, one of the best I have ever had in China. 
The only hitch was that the cook had an artist's temperament. With 
the rare opportunity of displaying his talents to visiting foreigners 
the first he had seen outside of the Belgian missionaries he could 
not be rushed. We lost two hours more there. 

Shortly after leaving the inn we saw a chorten in the distance, 
and then a couple of graceful Chinese roofs surmounting Tibetan- 
style temple halls. It was obviously a large monastery. Dunguerbo 
said that it was the original Meirin Lamasery, from which had 
stemmed the new Meirin Temple we had recently seen in the moun- 
tains. 

When we reached it, we found an outer mud wall of recent con- 
struction, over which peered the roofs of adobe barracks. I feared 
the worst, but reality exceeded the expectation. It was now a Chinese 
military school for the sons of landlords and officials. Every hall 
and outbuilding of the original temple had been gutted. The only 
furniture remaining was in the monastery library, where an ornate 
gilded bookcase, with individual compartments for the 108 volumes 
of the Kangyur, stood empty and forlorn above a pile of rotting cab- 
bages, stored there for the students 3 food. 

Above the door of the main hall, set aside for a Nationalist shrine 
to Sun Yat-sen and a lecture hall, was a large character-board with 
the Chinese Nationalist motto, "Propriety, Loyalty, Equality, and 



132 THE JOURNEY TO AGO-IN SUME 

Conscience (or Sense of Shame). " The third word, Equality, cer- 
tainly could not apply to the Chinese attitude toward the Mongols, 
and I wondered if any of the students felt a sense of shame at the way 
the local Chinese had treated the Mongols, and this, their former 
shrine. I was sure they did not, when I saw the contemptuous way 
they looked at Dunguerbo. 

Other Chinese I have spoken to, before and since, explained away 
the confiscation of a lamasery on the edge of the Chinese farming 
lands (actually this temple was in a small desert and the land around 
it was useless) by saying that the lama religion is corrupt, and a bad 
influence on all its worshipers, and deserves to be driven out anyhow, 
so it is no crime to put its temples to better use. 

It is true that many of the lama monks are dissolute, and that the 
religion itself contains degenerate elements. All old religions tend 
to become corrupt when the first fires of truth begin to burn out 
and negative influences assert themselves. But even at this stage, 
some of the truth remains, and the religion as a social force still has 
great importance for the community as a whole. This is especially 
true for people like the Mongols and Tibetans, who live by their 
religion to an extent hard for an Occidental to understand. In addi- 
tion, the temples are important to them as centers of their social life, 
the meeting places for all their festivals. 

As I have suggested, Lamaism is a foreign thing for the Mongols. 
It is a comparatively recent borrowing, having been introduced only 
about three hundred years ago, which is a relatively short period in 
Asia's long history. But in that space of time, it has absorbed so 
many of their deepest traditional beliefs, and has become such a fixed 
part of their life, that if it were to be suddenly abolished by outside 
pressure much of the basic culture of the Mongols would vanish 
with it. 

We continued on past the temple along the road. The map showed 
the road as leading from Shanpa to Dabatu Pass, but it did not seem 
to be getting any nearer to the mountains. It was almost evening when 
we found out from a herdsman that it did not go to the pass at all. 
We immediately left the road and struck off across country toward 
the pass, which we could now see clearly, although it was still about 
ten miles to the west of us. 

Sunset found us well beyond the farming country, but completely 
fouled up in a morass of dunes and marshes, alternating with broad 



THE JOURNEY TO AGO-IN SUME 133 

pools of tainted water Dunguerbo's dreaded water. We could see 
why he disliked it, but I suspect that his feeling on this occasion was 
due to more than the inconvenience. It seemed to border on panic. 
No doubt it was the mysterious quality of an unfamiliar element, 
made more fearsome by the darkness and the explosions of wild fowl 
ducks and geese in large flocks which burst up out of the marsh 
everywhere, practically under our horses' hoofs. 

When we finally floundered up out of the marshes into the desert 
proper, we were grateful for Dunguerbo's mountain sense that en- 
abled him to recognize the notch of the pass leading to Borin Temple, 
in the dark profile of the range against the evening sky. After a 
couple of more weary miles across the sand, in the face of an autumn 
gale blowing down off the mountains, we made the pass and soon we 
reached the temple. Everybody had already turned in, but we roused 
one of the lamas and got a room for the night. 

We slept quite late next morning and the sun was already fairly 
high when we set out again. Passing some semipermanent Mongol 
houses of the type called beishin, near the mouth of the pass, we 
stopped for some photographs of the occupants, particularly a 
woman with a fine headdress. Then we went on down the plain, 
and turned south, following the range. 

After some miles we came opposite Dabatu Pass, through which 
we had crossed into the Gobi. We paused to admire the contrast 
of purple rock and drifted yellow sand that distinguished this pass 
from all the others we had seen. It appeared rather low to us 
through the clear air. We always found it hard to judge heights 
and distances in this region, but this time we knew from experience 
that the pass was a great deal higher than it looked. 

For at least an hour we rode up and down over high dunes made 
by sand from the Gobi blown down through the pass. Then, from 
the arid desert, we came abruptly to a shallow lagoon that stretched 
for several miles ahead of us, approaching close to the range. Only 
a few hundred yards separated the water from the base of the moun- 
tains, but this was carpeted with grass and bushes. Here some 
Chinese camel owners had pastured their animals to fatten them for 
the winter's work, when the local grain would be carried south to 
Ninghsia, Lanchow, or even Sian. Even though the camels them- 
selves were at some distance, the stench of the ground in several 
places where they had lain for some time was terrific. 



134 THE JOURNEY TO AGO-IN SUME 

I noticed a considerable salt deposit around the edges of the 
lagoon, which had been left after some of the water had evaporated, 
and asked Dunguerbo where the camels got their water. 

"They drink that/' he said, "it doesn't matter." Camels must 
indeed be strange animals, we thought. 

At noon we came to T'ai-yang Miao, once a large lama temple, 
now completely in ruins. Not long ago the Chinese had completely 
destroyed it to punish the lamas for "lack of cooperation." I had 
heard something about their harboring a small advance patrol of 
Japanese who had come down through the passes from the Gobi. 

The main hall at the base of the mountain was an empty shell, 
full of scattered bricks from the upper coping. Not a trace of any 
contents remained. Far more depressing was what had once been 
a handsome cave-temple, partway up the cliff above. On the floor 
we found shattered remnants of fine woodwork and plaster images, 
and in a nook at one side that once housed a special shrine, countless 
paintings, books, and manuscripts had been burned. The smoke of 
them had blackened the white stone of the ceiling all the way out to 
the entrance. 

The sight depressed Dunguerbo. He said that it made him sick, 
but when I told him the story of the Japanese patrol which he had 
never heard he admitted that there may have been some provoca- 
tion. We, too, felt that this thorough and complete destruction 
seemed a needless display of Chinese power. We were all glad to 
push on. 

Rounding a steep cliff promontory that marked the end of this 
projecting section of the range, we rode across more desert. Here 
the caravan trail that we were following was marked for winter 
camel drivers by small cairns of red and grey boulders. My horse 
was a gentle buckskin which I had chosen for his tireless pacing be- 
cause it was easier on my back. Unfortunately, however, he was in- 
clined to shy at anything unusual. Haystacks, oxcarts, and large 
boulders were his chief obsessions, but today he added cairns to the 
list. The sudden jolts caused by his shying were almost as hard on 
my still sore back as a constant trot would have been. 

As a matter of fact, the cairns were hardly needed. For the 
bleached bones of horses and camels who had died on the winters' 
march, picked clean by wolves, lined the caravan trail on both sides, 
plainly marking the route. 



THE JOURNEY TO AGO-IN SUME 135 

To continue our bad luck of yesterday, the bright sunshine of 
this morning, which we had hoped meant a new spell of clear weather, 
gave way to dark clouds that hung heavy around the peaks. Soon 
it began to pour, in gusty squalls of hard-driven, ice-cold rain. The 
horses plodded on stolidly with hanging heads, and we, wrapped in 
our blankets but getting wetter and wetter, were drooped over our 
saddles like individual replicas of "Lo, the poor Indian." 

To our left Dunguerbo pointed out a wide, deep pass which he 
called Haron-in Gol (T'ai-yang Miao Hsi-k'ou, in Chinese). This, 
he told me, split the range neatly in half and was much better than 
Dabatu Pass, since it had an easy grade without dunes. He explained 
that he had not brought us through here on our way to Shanda-in 
Temple because it was a much longer route and we had said we were 
pressed for time. It would have added at least a day to the trip 
each way. 

At the mouth of the pass, where the junction of the main valley 
and a side one isolated a high terrace, we saw a high wall, made of 
well-fitted stones. It was all that remained of an extensive village- 
fortress that had guarded this important pass in times gone by. 
On the return trip, when the weather was more conducive to digres- 
sions, I turned aside to explore the space within the walls. 

Along with many pieces of broken porcelain and some small bits 
of rusty iron from a recent period, I found one piece of prehistoric 
pottery and a flint implement, where winds and rain had eroded the 
soil to a deeper level. Obviously this site was a very old one, and 
had been occupied for centuries since the Stone Age. I would like 
to be able to report the discovery of a Nestorian inscription, or at 
least one of their bronze crosses, in order to follow in the great 
tradition of travelers who explored other parts of Inner Mongolia. 
But I had no such luck. 

About half a mile beyond the pass, a long terrace projected into 
the plain as an extension of the range. On its northern end stood a 
giant cairn in the shape of an enormous Mongol tent ger-obo, 
Dunguerbo called it and in the far distance, somewhat hazy through 
the rain, we saw another. Between them was the gap that marked 
the opening of the gorge in which our temple stood. 

Dunguerbo had said that Ago-in Sume, and indeed the whole 
gorge, was a particularly sacred place to the Mongols, who came here 
in immense groups during the sixth and tenth months of their calen- 



136 THE JOURNEY TO AGO-IN SUME 

dar our July and November. Its sanctity was immediately ap- 
parent to us when we passed a sharp rock about thirty feet high, at 
the entrance of the gorge. When the river was in flood it must have 
formed an island. It was hung with katagh scarfs and strings of 
shoulder bones of sheep. I noticed that the latter were inscribed with 
Om mani padme hum, and Dunguerbo explained that this prayer was 
supposed to be broadcast when they clattered in the wind. 

The gorge was very impressive, though still low compared to the 
towering range ahead. The red and purple colors of its rocks seemed 
very beautiful, in so far as we could appreciate any beauty then. 
We were wet to the bone, shivering with cold, and hoping that the 
next turn would bring us to the temple. But turn followed turn, 
and we soon found ourselves deep in the range itself. The gorge had 
narrowed sharply and the red mountains rose sheer on both sides. 
In places the rock walls had close strata of different colors that had 
been weirdly distorted in places by ancient pressure. It reminded 
us of wood grain on a gigantic scale. 

Finally, at a particularly narrow turn we came to a row of prayer 
flags fluttering from a string that extended from wall to wall. This 
was a sacred barrier to keep out demons. Just beyond was the main 
temple rising from a cluster of residence buildings. It was rather 
small, newly painted in white and grey, with the red stripe around 
the top. On the roof gleamed the Wheel and gazelles and the usual 
finials. They looked very yellow. Indeed, we found they were solid 
gold. This was the fabulously rich Ago-in Sume. 



18 

TEMPLE OF THE ANTELOPE CAVE 

WE WERE hospitably greeted by a handsome young lama 
named Oiruk, the host monk of Ago-in Sume. He showed 
us into the vast guest courtyard in a group of buildings across the way 
from the main temple. Here three yurts were set up, and he took us 
into the largest of these, a reception tent. He seated us on throne 
cushions, and brought us tea with millet and bread sticks. 

We would much rather have taken time out to change our clothes 
first. But we had to take some tea, exchange snuff bottles with the 
host monk and others, and present kataghs, before politeness per- 
mitted us to think of comfort. Finally we were able to break away 
to the smaller yurt where we were to sleep, and had a chance to put 
on dry things. Then we returned to the reception tent to dine more 
fully. 

Four or five monks looked on curiously as we ate, and from a 
corner near the door, two pairs of eyes stared at us from under the 
lowered, dark blue headcloths of two women. Dunguerbo whispered 
that they were Alashans, and that this temple belonged to the Alashan 
Banner, a fact which kept him from feeling completely at home. 

I looked closely to see how their headdresses differed, and finally 
one of them moved forward nearer the fire and drew back her head- 
cloth, disclosing the swik on one side. Like those worn by the Oirat 
women, it consisted of a large silver hoop with a jeweled front panel 
and a pendant. The front panel was much narrower on this Alashan 
swik, however, and was set with smaller stones, while the pendant 
consisted of only one line of corals and lacked the ornamental box 
below. In fact, it looked more like a misplaced earring. Then it 
dawned on me : for the first time I realized that the swiks must orig- 
inally have been earrings, but with the desire to display more wealth 
in stones, they had grown irnpractically large to hang from the ears, 
so the Mongol women had been forced to adopt this way of wearing 
them. 

137 



138 TEMPLE OF THE ANTELOPE CAVE 

After dinner Oiruk took us up to visit the abbot, who lived in a 
small, beautifully appointed cottage further up the gorge. He was a 
grossly fat man, rather tall for a Mongol, with small pigs' eyes and 
heavy jowls. He examined us shrewdly as we entered the room and 
smiled expansively when I presented him with a roll of figured satin. 
Through Dunguerbo, I addressed to him a few polite remarks, which 
he answered rather noncommittally. His eyes narrowed when he 
spoke, and all the while he tenderly caressed his right knee with a 
fat and flabby hand. Then as the interview began to bore him, he 
motioned languidly to an obsequious lama attendant, who quickly 
brought us a katagh from a lacquered chest as a sign that we were 
dismissed. 

On returning to our yurt, we looked at the scarf, and found it 
old and frayed. Dunguerbo said that it was an insult to give one in 
such condition. The host monk, looking on, made an exclamation of 
disgust which Dunguerbo translated as "J ust like him I" and went off 
to get a good one of his own which he exchanged for the abbot's, 
to erase the breach of hospitality. 

We shivered through the night on the floor of the sleeping yurt 
in damp and inadequate blankets, even though we were fully dressed. 
Wintry gusts roared down the gorge all night long, making weird 
moaning sounds. It was already October, and the storm of the 
afternoon had brought very cold weather in its wake. We were 
grateful for the practical shape of the tent, as the savage winds passed 
harmlessly around the smooth curves of its sides and dome, though 
we wished the felt were a little thicker. A square tent could never 
have survived those onslaughts. 

We were wakened next morning after fitful slumber by a chorus 
of barking from the monastery dogs, who were serenading an early 
morning departure. The sounds echoed and re-echoed in the narrow 
gorge. This was followed shortly by several foghorn blasts of the 
conch-shell trumpets, calling worshipers to prayer. Once more the 
dogs began barking, as the courtyards stirred into morning activity. 

Almost all day long the dogs found something to bark at. This 
is true of most lamaseries, but here it was so much more noticeable 
because of the way the gorge affected the sound. For a wealthy 
monastery, the dogs were more than usually ill-fed, and their disposi- 
tions proportionately worse. Perhaps this was done on purpose to 
make them better watchdogs, but it left them with little spirit. They 



TEMPLE OF THE ANTELOPE CAVE 139 

snarled malignantly with fangs bared at every passer-by, but their 
yellow slit eyes closed and they turned their heads away when any- 
one looked directly at them. 

In appearance they were mostly black, with tan and white mark- 
ings on paws, chests, and over the eyes, and they had the size and 
general build of Eskimo Huskies, to which they are closely related. 
As yet they had not gotten their new winter coats, while lumps of 
last year's still clung to their hind quarters, matted with dirt and 
burrs. They looked to us only one stage better than the naked dogs 
of southern China, who have lost all their hair from mange. 

After we had had a simple breakfast of millet congee, an aging 
monk with a broad smiling face, set off by a straggling grey mous- 
tache, came in and offered to show us the sights of the temple. He 
led us first up a steep rock-cut stairway carved from the cliff face be- 
hind our guest quarters. After about three hundred feet, the stone 
balustrade on the outside gave way to one of lacquered wood which 
supported a row of brass prayer wheels. Our guide scraped against 
them with his elbow, setting them all spinning, as he passed. This 
brought us to a stone platform opening into a vast cavern. 

"This is the Lowung Chim, the Antelope Cave," announced our 
guide, in Chinese and Tibetan. 

The Antelope Cave ! I had also heard about this from the lamas, 
but had not realized that it was at Ago-in Sume. It is one of the 
most sacred places of the Mongol people. They had considered it 
sacred long before they were converted to Lamaism, even before 
their ancestors had been known as "Mongols." No one knew how 
long this had been a holy place. 

It was very dark inside, and the air was already heavy with the 
smoke of incense. Leading back from the doorway we could make 
out lines of prayer benches, indicating that this served as a regular 
temple. As our eyes grew accustomed to the dimness, we saw at 
the far end the dull gleam of gold in a dark shrine. 

We went forward and came, to a great block of stone, forming a 
platform for the offerings. These were mostly torma cakes shaped 
from dough and water, or in some cases dough and blood. Beside 
these was a cup made of the top of a human skull, with a turquoise- 
studded band of silver around it, and a beautifully wrought golden 
lid. Most of the accessory ornaments were of gold or silver instead 
of the usual brass. 



140 TEMPLE OF THE ANTELOPE CAVE 

Behind this was another great block of stone serving as a base 
for the main shrine. On it was the image of Padma Sambhava, who 
had introduced Lamaism to Tibet in the 8th century and founded 
the Red Sect. His image was flanked by two smaller ones represent- 
ing his wives. Except for their heads, the three figures were wrapped 
in rich brocade, but from what we could see they appeared to be real 
gold, not merely gilded. It was the golden face of the central image 
that I had seen gleaming from the rear of the cave. 

The shrine was set well out in the cave, so people could walk 
around it clockwise and thus acquire merit. A Mongol couple 
were circling it as we stood there, mumbling their prayers with 
bowed heads. As a final act of devotion, on the last time around, 
they each flung a silken scarf over a wire strung across the front of 
the shrine below the images. 

As we stood there, more lamas came in. Some sat on the prayer 
benches, while others lit more incense. The smoke billowed upward, 
increasing the murk. Through it the golden images continued to 
gleam, though more dully. The monks chanted and the temple 
drums boomed, while great gusts from the peaks roared past the 
opening, at times drowning out all other sounds. The combination 
of the rich treasures, the incense-scented murk, and the rhythmic 
droning of the prayers, together with the sound of the elements out- 
side combined to make an experience none of us will ever forget. 
Our scalps tingled with a sense of awe, and we felt as the Mongols 
did, that this was indeed a holy place. 

When we came out, I commented to our guide about the beautiful 
things of gold, and said I thought the temple was indeed fortunate 
to have such wealth in these times. He replied that it was the only 
one over a very wide area that had not been looted by the Chinese. 
Though he knew a little of the Chinese language, he obviously de- 
tested the people who persecuted his religion, and said vehemently 
that they never allowed Chinese to come there, much less enter their 
holy places. He explained that they only tolerated the ma-fu be- 
cause he was with us, and thanked me for sending him off early to 
graze the horses, thus getting him out of the way before we asked 
to see the temples. 

The lamas here were probably afraid of Chinese spies who might 
report their wealth and return with a bandit horde. I could not see 
that they had very much to fear, however, because it was easy to see 




C/3 



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f $rf^ 




TEMPLE OF THE ANTELOPE CAVE 141 

that they could stand off an army with a few riflemen well placed in 
the caves above the narrow entrance gorge. In fact, we were sure 
that they must have had guards stationed in the gorge when we 
came in, because they seemed prepared for our coming before we 
arrived. 

We returned to the valley floor to visit the main temple halls, and 
I was surprised to find that these were also dedicated to Padma Samb- 
hava. To find these temples of the Yellow Sect dedicated to the 
founder of the rival Red Sect was something of a shock. It was 
almost as inappropriate as an Episcopal Church dedicated to St. 
Ignatius Loyola. 

Brightly painted pictures along the walls showed how Padma 
Sambhava had been miraculously born from a flaming lotus hence 
his name which means the "Lotus-born" and how he had come from 
India to Tibet. By using the magical practices that decaying 
Buddhism had borrowed from the Hindus, to subdue the native gods 
and demons of Tibet, he had succeeded in introducing Buddhism 
where others had failed. After forcing the Tibetans to acknowledge 
the power of the foreign faith, he managed to achieve an acceptable 
compromise by retaining the native deities as lesser demons and 
guardian spirits of Lamaism. This accounts for much of the demon- 
worship in the modern faith. 

Along with the good in Buddhist philosophy, Padma Sambhava 
also brought in much evil, in the form of sexual and magical practices 
which Indian Buddhism on its downward grade had picked up from 
other, more mysterious cults. As Lamaism became worse and worse 
in Tibet, various reformers sprang up to try to correct its excesses. 
The last and greatest of these was Tsong Kapa, who founded the 
Yellow Sect. This, too, is now as degenerate as the Red Sect was 
at its worst, and just as urgently needs new reformers if it is to 
survive. 

The night before, we had tried to see the Living Buddha of this 
temple, whose name I now found was Lowung Chimba, "the Lord 
of the Antelope Cave," but we were told he had gone to bed. This 
morning, when we tried again, after visiting the temples, the attend- 
ants said he was out. Meanwhile we saw portraits of his predecessor 
surrounded by six earlier incarnations, all wearing hats like that 
traditionally worn by Padma Sambhava alone, but in yellow instead 
of red. This aroused my suspicions that the Living Buddha of Ago- 



142 TEMPLE OF THE ANTELOPE CAVE 

in Sume was the reincarnation of Padma Sambhava himself, though 
it seemed almost impossible that a member of the Yellow sect would 
claim any relationship to the chief member of the rival Red Sect. 

It took two days to find the answer, because Dunguerbo did not 
understand the Chinese word for "reincarnation" that I used in 
requesting him to ask the lamas from whom their Living Buddha was 
reincarnated. Finally I found a monk who knew enough Chinese to 
give me the answer. The Living Buddha was indeed Padma Samb- 
hava reborn ; as if the late Bishop Manning had been the reborn soul 
of Ignatius Loyola ! 

When this astounding fact was admitted, I made a more de- 
termined effort to meet the Living Buddha before we left. Under this 
pressure the host monk made the pathetic admission that he was very 
ill with an unknown sickness, but they had been trying to conceal 
the fact. Though he did not say as much, I assumed they felt that 
it was inappropriate for a great sorcerer not to be able to keep him- 
self well, or at least to be unable to cure himself when he became 
sick. Oiruk told Dunguerbo that he would probably consent to see 
us if we insisted, but we did not want to disturb an invalid, and left 
reluctantly on the third day without having met this lama curiosity. 



19 

LAST DAYS IN SHANPA 

A S WE RODE back from Agoin Sume, the Temple of the Ante- 
JT\. lope Cave, it was still very cold, though a change of wind made 
the plain seem somewhat warmer than the mountains had been. We 
had lunch in the ruins of T'ai-yang Miao, and spent the night at the 
house of a courtesy-aunt of Dunguerbo's who lived near Borin 
Temple. She, too, was a lama-witch, or shoibwonsh, like Dunguerbo's 
grandmother, though not nearly as old a woman, and in the course 
of conversation with her I learned some more of the old Mongol 
traditions. 

On the second day, we almost immediately reached the farm land, 
and rode cross country by cart tracks, instead of merely skirting it 
along the Southwest Road. It now looked very bleak. That first 
night at the temple, October 1st, when it had seemed so cold, the 
plain had had an unusually heavy frost. The first ones, in Septem- 
ber, had all been light and had not done any special harm, but this 
frost had killed all the plants. We noticed one pathetic case where 
a farmer had risked planting most of his land in cotton. The season 
had been too short, and the plants were killed when the bolls had 
barely begun to form. He was probably ruined. 

Everywhere people were getting in the rest of the harvest, mostly 
soybeans. Women and children and very old men were cutting the 
stalks and piling them into ox carts to take back to their farmyards, 
where they could thresh out the beans. We saw no able-bodied men ; 
they were all off with General Fu's army in the east of the province. 

Many fields were already bare and quite a number were flooded, 
making a haven for huge flocks of unbelievably tame wild ducks, 
geese, and demoiselle cranes. The latter were very large grey-blue 
birds with arching black tail plumes. They had a very fastidious 
way of walking, picking up their feet very daintily and waggling 
their black bustles. They let us get very close before pulling in their 
feet and spreading their enormous wings to fly away. 



144 LAST DAYS IN SHANPA 

The ma-fu, who was a farmer's son, explained that they flooded 
the fields in the fall so that the ground would freeze and retain the 
water. Then in spring, when the ice melted, there would not only be 
a lot of moisture on the surface, but the ground would also be soft 
and partially broken, easier to work with simple tools. 

We had to make several long detours because of all the water, 
but we got to camp that night. 

They had good news for us. The clutch plate had just arrived, 
and when one more technicality was completed, we would be free to 
go south. The Chinese general at camp still had to sign papers of 
acceptance for the equipment we had brought from Chungking, and 
he was still stalling. Our CO. thought it might delay us a week or 
two more. 

In the meantime, I rode out with the camp doctor one day when 
he went to call on a wealthy landlord whose mother had trachoma. 
His name was Li, and the fellows in camp called him " Black Forest 
Li," because he had a heavy grove of poplars near his "castle," and 
the name "Farmer Li" had already been given to another land- 
owner. 

While the doctor was looking at his mother, our host told me that 
his father had come from Shansi province about forty years ago, 
during a famine. He was converted to Catholicism, and took over a 
large tract of land with the encouragement of the Belgian priests. 
His holdings now totaled about a thousand mou (350 acres), with 
thirty tenants and their families to help work it. The tenants had 
small plots of their own, but were supposed to spend the greater part 
of their time tending his fields. 

When the doctor had finished his examination, Mr. Li took us up 
into his watchtower to show us the view. It was built into a corner 
of the wall and had very thick walls of its own, making it a stronghold 
in itself. It was so arranged that even if bandits broke into the court- 
yard through the outer wall, or through the gate, the family could 
climb up into an inner room in its second story, pulling up the 
ladder behind them, and bolting the iron-bound trap door which was 
thick enough to stop the average Chinese bullet. 

He showed us the view of the mountains, then pointed to his 
fields and sighed. General Fu's recent forced draft had taken all but 
five of his tenants, he said. How could he possibly get in all his crops 
with so few hands ; and how could he thresh the grain that was already 



LAST DAYS IN SHANPA 145 

stacked high around his threshing yard? He was sure he would lose 
heavily. 

This disaster was the last in a long chain of troubles that were 
fairly typical for this region. In 1926 the bandits had driven off all 
his herds, and for the next five years had terrorized his family and 
his tenants so that they were almost afraid to venture out of doors. 

Even greater was the terror within his home when General Fu 
moved west during the War, and quartered in this "castle" a detach- 
ment of troops that had till recently been professional bandits. The 
looting of the place was fully as thorough as it would have been had 
his lodgers still been practicing their old trade, though perhaps it was 
more gradual. Three years ago they had been recalled, and the crops 
since then had begun to make good his losses. But now with this 
year's most promising crop facing ruin for lack of hands, he feared 
that he would be worse off than ever. 

He seemed surprisingly cheerful in spite of it, looking forward to 
better times following the peace if civil war could be avoided, we 
assumed, though the country people up here never brought up the 
subject. Only the military seemed to be looking forward to a fight. 

He was resigned to the fact that he probably would not be able 
to keep his tenants when they got out of the army. In the old days, 
before this war, tenants with military training often became bandits ; 
though national reconstruction would now probably give them better 
opportunities in more legitimate activities elsewhere. Or was he 
again thinking about the spread of communism ? 

In any case, he was interested in finding ways to farm his lands 
with fewer men, and he asked me ab.out American methods of agri- 
culture. I told him that as far as I knew, our plows and harrows 
were heavy and cut deep, so deep that the thin layer of topsoil here- 
abouts would soon be loosened to blow away. He was set aback for 
a moment He had been thinking about mechanization, he said, ever 
since another American officer from Shanpa had told him of our 
methods the year before. 

Then with quick presence of mind, he asked me about farming in 
the dry areas of America. Certainly we must have places like this 
dry plain. How did we handle the problem of drifting sands ; and 
what crops did we raise in areas of thin topsoil ? I was somewhat at a 
loss as always when an educated Chinese, admitting that we as a 
nation are masters of technology, expected us as individuals to be 



146 LAST DAYS IN SHANPA 

masters of all scientific knowledge. I simply told him that I didn't 
really know, but that I did know that when some of our farmers 
had ploughed up a vast area of grazing land for wheat, they got a 
dust bowl. 

He began to lose interest in mechanical farming, and I was glad. 
We had passed the hovels of his tenants on our way here. Now they 
lived in squalor, but if he introduced machines, they would not have 
even that. The economic consequences would be appalling. 

While we were up on the tower roof he pointed out some of the 
passes, including one just north of Beilighe Pass, which he said was 
a much easier one, and had a temple in it. The name he gave to it 
was one I had heard Dunguerbo mention as being one of the better 
Oirat temples. As the latter had described it, it was not in a pass, 
but just beyond one, in the edge of the Gobi. 

Of course this aroused my interest, and as the weather seemed to 
have turned warmer, bringing a hazy Indian Summer, I thought it 
might be possible to make one more week-end jaunt to see it. The 
C.O. and another officer had mentioned wanting to see the Gobi, and 
perhaps get a little hunting on the way, and this would give them 
that opportunity. They were quite enthusiastic about the idea when 
I broached it to them, but another cold snap on Saturday morning 
made them lose interest in it. I planned to go alone the following 
day, since I had already asked Dunguerbo to come to camp and be 
our guide. 

Then, as a bombshell, the Chinese general, who was always sus- 
picious of our actions, issued an order that if any Americans left 
camp he must take along a Chinese interpreter for "security." These 
"interpreters," or "translation officers" as they were literally called, 
were a shifty lot. With two exceptions, their English was terrible, 
and their chief function was to report back to the Secret Police agency 
in Chungking full details of all our activities, personal and otherwise 
as another officer at camp had just learned to his sorrow. I did 
not relish the company of one, and I knew that the presence of a 
Chinese of this type would effectively prevent me from making the 
acquaintance of any new Mongols. They certainly would not offer 
me the usual hospitality if I came with such a person. 

I went to the general and explained that as I spoke Chinese and 
would have a Chinese-speaking Mongol companion, I didn't need 
another interpreter as well. He insisted falsely, we later discovered 



LAST DAYS IN SHANPA 147 

that the order had come from Chungking, to protect us against 
the Chinese Communists who, he said, were beginning to filter into 
this region. I began to see one of his intentions for the order. He 
was rabidly anti-Communist and was always trying to emphasize the 
danger of the Chinese Communists to China now, and ultimately to 
America as well. If he could persuade us that we were personally in 
danger from them, he would have gone far toward rousing us against 
them. In my case, he probably also had a second reason a desire 
to see what I was doing among the Mongols. For none of the 
Chinese believed my sincere assertion that I was interested in study- 
ing the life of the people. In any case, he insisted that without 
an interpreter I could not go to the mountains. 

I reported this to Dunguerbo, who was quite upset. He said that 
he could not possibly take a Chinese officer to the Oirat temple I had 
proposed visiting, as we would be very unwelcome. In view of this, 
I decided to give up the longer trip and just make a day's jaunt to 
Beilighe Temple for my last expedition. The Beilighe lamasery was 
not a very impressive one compared to several we had since seen 
it was not even as well-equipped as its much smaller neighbors, the 
Meirin and Dungsher temples but its abbot, Lopon Dorje, was one 
of the finest lamas I had met, and I wanted one last talk with him 
to ask him some questions about lama beliefs that were still puzzling 
me. 

When I suggested this, Dunguerbo felt a little better about it, but 
he still looked dubious at the idea of traveling with a Chinese officer. 
He was not usually very anti-Chinese not at all, compared to 
most Mongols but he had had an unpleasant experience on his way 
to camp. He had been stopped outside of Shanpa by some Chinese 
soldiers who had handled him roughly and questioned him closely 
about where he was going. Before letting him go they had threatened 
him and taken away some of the presents he was bringing us. 

As we started out next morning, Dunguerbo did not look very 
well, and he soon complained of a headache from the cold, so I let 
him go back to camp. This would mean that I could not learn very 
much from the abbot of Beilighe, whose Chinese was very limited. 
But I decided to push on, if only because the interpreter did not like 
the cold, either. It was a freezing day. 

As a last straw as if one were needed the Wu-chia River had 
risen in flood and overflowed its banks for a considerable distance 



148 LAST DAYS IN SHANPA 

at the crossing we had hoped to make. We rode for miles, sloshing 
through flooded fields and marsh, looking for another place to cross. 
We found none, and never got to the mountains. 

This was certainly discouraging, but the trip was such a complete 
fiasco that it seemed almost funny. Frustration after frustration had 
ended by my taking one of the interpreters on a wild-goose chase 
from which he would take long to recover. At least it ended the 
interpreter-guard problem. No one ever said anything about having 
to take one on leaving camp again. Moreover, it gave me a better 
perspective, making me grateful for all the expeditions that had 
worked out. As we rode back to camp, cold and dejected, I realized 
how fortunate we had been the other times, and resigned myself to 
sit quietly in camp until things were settled with the general, so we 
could leave for China, on our way home. 

When we got back to camp in midafternoon, in a frozen state, we 
found it a beehive of activity. A dispatch had come at noon saying 
that an American plane was making a special trip to Shanpa. It was 
arriving in a few hours, and would be able to take back about a dozen 
passengers if they were ready. 

Shekalus (my driver) and I, together with two or three others 
from our original group, had to stay to get the truck back ; but three 
of my party, including Walter Hill, had enough points for immediate 
discharge, so I let them go. They quickly packed, along with nine 
men from the regular camp personnel. Then they all broke out the 
pai-chiu for a farewell binge. Soon another dispatch came saying that 
the plane was almost due to land. So we all piled into the camp 
truck those about to leave, and the rest of us to see them off and 
set out for "Shanpa Airfield," a strip of pasture on the other side of 
town. 

The sun had already set and it was beginning to get dark when 
we finally heard the sound of a plane. Being a large Army transport 
plane, it made considerable noise. Then we sighted it. It passed 
over Shanpa, circled, and then turned to head south again. 

A groan went up from the would-be passengers. At the sugges- 
tion of the C.O., we quickly. gathered brush and made a series of fires, 
while the driver of the truck turned on its headlights and maneu- 
vered it so that they shone the length of the field. For a few hectic 
moments the plane seemed to be continuing on. Then the pilot spot- 
ted our lights and circled to make a fine landing. 



LAST DAYS IN SHANPA 149 

The pilot explained that his map showed a railroad from Paotou 
extending past Shanpa, and when they failed to find one, they were 
starting to head back for Sian to try again next day. Now that they 
had landed, considering the condition of the field, he thought it better 
to spend the night there and take off in the morning. Accordingly, 
we all piled into the truck again, with the plane's pilot and crew 
and a very agreeable colonel who had come along as passenger, stop- 
ping in Shanpa for a very raucous feast as a continuation of the fare- 
well party. 

At noon the next day we saw the plane off, and when we got back 
to camp we found the Chinese general in such good humor from the 
compliments of the American colonel that he agreed to sign the final 
papers, releasing us to begin the trip south. Meanwhile, the last 
problem, lack of gas, was solved when the CO. offered us enough 
drums for the trip down to Sian, on condition that we would help 
him by taking down a truckload of unused supplies and equipment 
that he and the supply officer had been ordered to return to Chung- 
king. 

I would have liked to start next morning, but that was the Double 
Tenth, China's Independence Day, and the local officials had invited 
all the Americans to come to the annual celebration in Shanpa. For 
reasons of "face" we could not leave before that. We began to load 
the truck for departure the day after, and Fred and I, after packing, 
took a cross-country ride to Dunguerbo's sister's house to say good- 
bye to him and his family. 

The morning of the Double Tenth (10th of October), we drove 
to Shanpa under ceremonial arches, made by despoiling what few 
evergreens grew locally of all their foliage. The town was packed. 
Landlords and tenant-farmers, sheep-raisers and caravan drivers, 
were all there in their best clothes. Only the Mongols were conspicu- 
ously absent. The year before, we had heard, very many of them had 
turned out for the celebrations, as their various princes and rulers 
who were refugees in Shanpa were expected to attend to show their 
loyalty. This year, when attendance was on a voluntary basis, none 
came. 

In one section of town a street had been roped off for races by the 
school children, but none of them were natural athletes and their 
showing was not impressive. In the center of town, the market had 
spilled over into the side alleys, and a milling crowd of prospective 



150 LAST DAYS IN SHANPA 

buyers were eyeing the enlarged displays of Japanese cloth now 
confiscated, rather than smuggled; cheap manufactured gadgets, 
probably from the same source ; and secondhand goods of all descrip- 
tions and every stage of decay. 

On a temporary stage in a square near the Sun Yat-sen Memorial 
Hall, a troupe of amateur actors, in false beards and gold-embroid- 
ered dragon robes, were giving a traditional Chinese play. They did 
quite well considering the restlessness of the audience, which came 
and went at will and kept up a steady hum of conversation, drowning 
out the shrill singing of the players. 

In the Memorial Hall itself, the local officials had arranged a dis- 
play of agricultural products in the old U.S. county fair tradition, of- 
fering prizes to the largest pumpkins, the fattest squash, the biggest 
ear of corn, etc. It was surprising to see how many types of grain 
and vegetables this region could support, considering the short season 
and all the natural obstacles. We had seen all these things growing 
individually, but had not stopped to consider how great a variety 
there was. 

The local gentry, town officials, merchants, and tax collectors were 
having a feast at the Guest House, and had invited us, knowing 
that we all would soon be leaving. One of them remarked to our 
table that they had reason to be grateful at this harvest festival, as a 
considerable number of new seeds had been brought up by the first 
American group that founded the camp, and given to General Fu. A 
number of the prize exhibits had come from these. 

It was a wonderful feast as usual, but some of the local dignitaries 
did not look very happy, with good reason. In spite of the hectic 
gaiety of the town today, and the crowds in its streets, Shanpa was 
fast becoming a dead city. Nearly all of the provincial officials had 
gradually left to join General Fu. The refugee families had mostly 
packed up to return to their old homes in the east, while Shanpa's 
wartime merchants hurried eastward to take advantage of the ex- 
pected boom. Thus most of the consumers of luxury farm products 
had moved on, and even if the harvest could all be gotten in with re- 
duced hands, there would be no market for it until transportation 
was greatly improved. It was too expensive to carry things all the 
way to Paotou, as the animals would have to be fed along the way, 
and a man could not make much profit. With its chief means of in- 
come suddenly removed along with its prestige, and the promise of 



LAST DAYS IN SHANPA 151 

a hard winter ahead, Shanpa was once more a small town with an un- 
certain future. 

We had had many happy occasions there, in its inns and at some 
of its private homes, as well in prowling around its shops and market. 
But we were glad to be leaving before hard times set in, so we could 
remember the town at its best. 



20 

LO-PEI CHAO 

ON OCTOBER llth, the day after the big celebration, we left 
Shanpa to return south. Only five of us remained from the 
original group : Vincent Shekalus, the driver and mechanic, Fred the 
magician, John Hagan, Chief Pike, and myself. We got off early in 
the morning, hoping that, with luck, we could make Lo-pei Chao 
that afternoon and, by starting early again the next morning, reach 
Ninghsia the second evening. 

We were making such good time that we took an hour off at San- 
sheng-kung to say goodbye to the Belgian Fathers. When we told 
them that the rest of the camp were probably soon to follow, they were 
genuinely sorry. In spite of the unfortunate beginning of the rela- 
tionship, with the confiscation of their mission station, real friend- 
ships had grown up between some of the priests and various Ameri- 
cans, and both parties had profited by an interchange of hospitality 
and the loaning of books. The Fathers were delighted by American 
detective stories, and they in turn lent us books on China and Mon- 
golia. 

They gave us a substantial brunch, and we drove on to the ferry. 
Everything had gone unbelievably smoothly until we reached the 
river, but now our troubles began. The excess weight of our load 
made the truck and trailer sink deep in the flood-softened shore. For 
a time it looked as though we would be stuck for good, but we had 
the ferrymen help us unload the two vehicles. Then we put chains 
on six of the ten wheels of the truck and, having detached the trailer, 
drove it onto firmer ground. After which, the ever-resourceful 
Shekalus extricated the trailer by means of a winch, and we finally 
got truck, trailer, and load aboard the ferry and crossed the river. 
The whole operation took four hours. 

It was late afternoon as we started up the grade that led onto the 
plateau of the Ordos Desert As we climbed the successive rises, we 
scared up a big fox and six antelope, and regretted that we did not 

152 



LO-PEI CHAO 153 

have time to stop for a little hunting. We were making too good 
time to stop for anything, we thought. 

We were just reaching the plateau proper when we heard a loud 
pop! from inside the cowling. We immediately stopped to investi- 
gate, and Shekalus found that the bearings in the water pump had 
cracked. Without spare parts for it, not even his great mechanical 
ability could help us. I whittled a new leather washer from a piece 
taken from a revolver holster, but there was nothing else we could do. 

This northwest edge of the plateau was quite high and cut by ra- 
vines, making a succession of low hills. Shekalus would drive to the 
top of a hill, wait a few minutes for the engine to cool, then coast down 
it, and repeat. 

While we were working on the pump the sun had set, and it was 
fast getting dark. We knew that we must be nearing Lo-pei Chao 
Temple, and as I knew the prejudice natives of this region had against 
people who arrived after dark, I decided to go ahead on foot and make 
the necessary arrangements for receiving the rest. I took Hagan, 
who was as long-legged as I, and together we made much better time 
than the truck. 

We finally saw the temple at the edge of the plain below us, and 
paused a moment to catch our breath. Looking back from this last 
hill we could see the mountains of the Khara Narin Ula that I had 
come to know so well in the past two months. Extending along the 
western horizon, they looked deep blue in the distance against the last 
stages of a pink and gold sunset. Below us to the east, the square 
white and red buildings of the lamasery gleamed dully in the after- 
glow. Two or three dark shapes, Mongol lamas or pilgrims, were 
returning toward it through the dusk. The desert in that direction 
was a soft yellowish grey, but toward the sunset it was a deep blue- 
grey with bluish purple shadows. 

The light in the west died, and the colors faded. We strode on 
briskly to the lamasery, where we were received by the Erh Lama, 
the assistant abbot, who turned out to be the same one who had given 
me tea on our trip north. He was a little suspicious of us, arriving 
on foot, but was fairly cordial and gave us his own rooms, moving 
into an adjoining, empty cottage inside the same small compound. 

In a few minutes we heard the sound of a motor, and the truck 
rolled down the slope toward the temple, its engine gleaming red in 
the darkness from the heat of the exhaust manifold. The lamas were 



154 LO-PEI CHAO 

somewhat awed by the sight, but they seemed more satisfied about us, 
seeing that we actually had a truck. 

That evening we began to discuss what to do. Shekalus was sure 
that nothing could be done about the pump, and in this condition it 
certainly would not be safe to take off across the desert. The only 
practical thing seemed to be to take steps about getting new parts 
for the pump. We knew that they did not have any at camp, but we 
considered going back there to radio for some. This did not seem too 
practical, though. It would take as long to get back to Shanpa on 
horseback assuming we could get horses as it would to go to 
Shih-chieh-shan, from where I imagined there was some sort of 
motor service to Ninghsia City. Ninghsia also had a small U.S. 
weather station with a radio ; and as the parts would have to come 
through there, we could send for help and be on hand to pick up the 
things when they came, thereby saving a lot of time. 

I decided then to go to Ninghsia, if possible, taking Pike, who was 
an old radioman. He could send a message from a Chinese station if 
by any chance the Ninghsia weather station was already closed. The 
other three would stay to guard the truck. It seemed better to leave 
three rather than two. It was unsafe to wander around the desert 
alone, and this way, if two wanted to go for a stroll or a hunting trip, 
there would always be one on guard at the temple. Meanwhile, as 
some of the cargo consisted of unused canned food, they would not 
starve. 

It was a difficult decision to make, as I felt that my responsibility 
was with the truck. However, none of the others knew Chinese or 
Mongol I had meanwhile picked up a slight smattering of the latter 
and it was unsafe to travel in such a country without being able 
to ask directions, and how to get food, water, and lodgings. 

Having made up my mind, next morning, when the Erh Lama 
and some of his friends crowded in to watch us prepare our breakfast, 
I began to negotiate for animals. The discussion dragged on end- 
lessly. The Erh Lama raised many objections. The temple had no 
horses, he said, and the temple camels were still out in the distant 
summer pastures. It would take a long time to catch them, too, as 
they had been set out to graze back in the fifth month (June by our 
calendar) and would now be fairly wild. Furthermore, even if: the 
camels could be caught, which might take several days, they shdiild 
not be ridden, according to custom, before the tenth month (mid- 



LO-PEI CHAO 155 

November). Lastly, foreigners could not ride camels anyhow; how 
did we expect to use them? 

I replied to the last remark that I had learned to ride a camel at 
Shanda-in Sume, and that my intended companion was a good horse- 
man and could no doubt manage a camel. The lamas continued to 
voice their objections, and finally left without giving us any more 
assurance than the Erh Lama's parting remark: "Tomorrow we 
will think of something," he said. 

Faced with an idle day, we found various things to occupy us. 
Shekalus 'and Pike made one last vain effort to fix the pump. Fred 
read, and Hagan and I played chess with the set I had been given at 
Ch'ien-li Temple. 

Some of the lamas strolled in to watch us. They seemed very 
much puzzled by the chessmen. The younger monks picked up the 
little horses and camels with grins of amusement at the lifelike carv- 
ings. They obviously had no idea what the pieces were used for. 
Finally, an old lama with a white beard came forward, and said, 

"Your game looks like shatara." 

"Yes, this is a Mongol set, 37 I replied. 

He expressed his surprise that foreigners would want to play a 
lowly Mongol game, and told me that he used to play it years ago, 
but that there were no longer any sets in the Ordos, nor people who 
knew how to play it. I gathered from this that even though the Bel- 
gian Mission had tried to maintain Mongol customs among their 
parishioners in their small section of the Ordos, gradual cultural de- 
generation due to Chinese pressure was causing them to vanish else- 
where in this region. 

I was convinced of this loss of traditions that afternoon, when 
Fred and I went out strolling and stopped to visit a yurt just over 
the brow of the hill. As the Mongol shepherdess brewed us some tea, 
I noticed that the hearth had none of the symbolism still maintained 
in the Oirat yurts. It was simply a fire pit with a ring of small boul- 
ders around it, three of which stood higher to support the cooking pot. 
(The bracing of the smoke holes also followed a differ ent pattern. It 
had six long sticks, three running from north to south across the 
opening, and three from east to west, crossing in the middle, with no 
attempt to render the eight-spoked wheel.) 

This was not an isolated instance, but was true of all the yurts 
we later visited in the Ordos. I was sure that it was a sign of de- 



156 LO-PEI CHAO 

generation rather than a mere difference in custom, as the old founda- 
tions for pilgrims' yurts in the dwelling compounds at Lo-pei Qiao 
had the square space around the circular hearth marked out in wood, 
showing that the symbolism of the center of the tent had once been 
maintained in the Ordos, as elsewhere. 

That afternoon we also visited the halls of the temple for some- 
thing to do. This lamasery, though relatively small, had one medi- 
um-sized temple and two rather small ones. These were all well-fur- 
nished, especially as far as paintings were concerned, with complete 
sets showing the lives of Buddha, Padma Sambhava, Marpa, Mila- 
raspa, and Tsong Kapa. These seemed to form a review of all that 
we had learned at previous temples. On the whole, though, we found 
nothing very spectacular. In half an hour we had seen everything 
worth seeing. It was a dreary place in which to be marooned. 

The only bright spot of the whole day was the appearance that eve- 
ning of a Chinese road inspector. Aside from occasional visits to 
Shanpa, like the one he had just made for the Double Tenth celebra- 
tion, he was stationed here. He lived in a larger building in one of 
the other compounds of the temple, and was supposed to maintain his 
quarters as a posthouse for travelers. 

He immediately suggested that three of us move into the room 
off his, and as he had a larger stove than the one in the Erh Lama's 
room, he offered to help us prepare our food. That evening he pro- 
duced some coarse wheat flour and eggs, and whipped up some 
noodles and scrambled eggs. 

In the corner over his cooking stove I noticed a document pasted 
on the wall, signed and sealed by Fu Tso-yi. It said that this was a 
Mongol place, and that soldiers and officials should respect the Mon- 
gol people and their possessions. 

"He's a great man," said the road inspector, nodding toward the 
signature. Then he added, "Of course he does not mean all that. He 
hates the Mongols. I hate them too." 

"What's the matter with them?" I asked. 

"They interfere with progress. Their princes and dukes are al- 
ways obstinate when General Fu wants more land, or more soldiers 
for his army." 

"But Prince K'a, the Prince of Dalat, has been very cooperative, 
hasn't he?" I asked. "Most of the land east of Shanpa was taken 
from him and given to the Belgian Mission and to Chinese settlers." 




Border farmers taking in the autumn harvest. 




Threshing grain with stone rollers. 
(Photos by W. E. Hill.) 




The writer hires a camel. 




Camel Caravan in the Ordos Region. 
(Photos by W. E. Hill) 



LO-PEI CHAO 157 

"P'ei!" spat out the Chinese contemptuously. "He is very weak." 

I saw that by this reasoning the Mongols would always be in the 
wrong. If they did not grant concessions they opposed progress, and 
if they did, they were beneath contempt. What chance did they have 
against the "master race" in the face of such prejudice? 

When the conversation got around to the lamas, he was even more 
rabid. He said they were all sex-ridden like the images in their 
temples, and a bad influence on their own people; that they objected 
to Chinese colonists on their lands, and thus interfered with progress. 
Their temples all ought to be looted, as those from Shanpa to Paotou 
already had been, and their wealth in herds should all be confiscated 
for the use of General Fu's troops. This had been done in many cases, 
he admitted. 

Aside from this rather annoying prejudice which did not make for 
good will between him and the lamas, he was very agreeable. With 
another Chinese who later turned up, he did a great deal to help us. 

The following day, the Erh Lama came around early, and es- 
corted Pike and me to a nearby Mongol settlement, in an attempt 
to arrange for some camels with a wealthy Mongol matron. She 
was quite friendly but insisted that her camels, like those of most 
other Mongol families, were still out in the summer pastures, and 
that it would take several days to round them up and bring them in. 
She did not seem the least inclined to let us have any. 

In one of the intervals between arguments, when she had gone 
out to think up another objection; we wandered out to watch the 
rest of her family making felt, assisted by some lamas from Lo-pei 
Chao and some of the neighbors. As the usual high wind was 
blowing, they had put up a screen of old felts to form a rectangular 
enclosure about four feet by ten, the approximate size of the pieces 
to be made. On the clean-swept ground inside, four men spread goat 
hairs in layers, wetting down each layer with water sprayed from their 
mouths, and treading on them to mat the fibers together. When they 
had managed to make a fairly firm felt rug, they would roll it up and 
pass it on to seven or eight people outside. The latter would then 
kneel on the ground in a line, and leaning on the rolled bundle with 
all their weight, roll it back and forth under their forearms, from 
elbow to wrist. They laughed and chanted in unison, obviously 
enjoying the community project. It reminded me in spirit of an 
old-fashioned cornhusking bee in our own country. 



158 LO-PEI CHAO 

When this deal fell through, we returned to the lamasery, and 
I spent the rest of the day in a vain series of requests to borrow 
some of the temple stock. I wanted two riding camels, and a third 
to carry our bedding. That did not seem too unreasonable, but 
the trio of rogues on whom our fate depended did not appear to 
trust us. The small-pox pitted Ta Lama, or abbot, the toothless 
Erh Lama, our host, and the one-eyed Elder Lama, kept raising 
the same old objections that we had heard since the day before. 
I sensed that what they were really afraid of was that we might run 
off with the animals, which represented part of the temple wealth, and 
not come back with them. This was in spite of my reminder that 
they would have the truck and all our gear as security. 

When dusk came with the deadlock still unbroken, the Chinese 
road inspector, who had since come into the negotiations, began to 
threaten the lamas. He suggested that the solution was to tie up 
the Erh Lama and beat him, as an example to the rest. This, of 
course, I refused to do. 

Finally they promised to arrange to have horses for us in the 
morning. We were glad of even this concession, although the road 
inspector said they were a poor substitute for camels, especially if 
we wanted to ride across country to save time, because the ill-fed 
local horses tired easily on sand. We ourselves did not look forward 
to the small Mongol saddles with solid wooden frames, that are not 
too comfortable even~when well padded with blankets. Still, it was 
a means of getting to Ninghsia. 

Dawn came and no horses. The Chinese began to threaten the 
lamas again, and they made another promise of camels, with great 
reluctance. Meanwhile three of us went walking to explore a ruined 
temple that we could barely make out in the distance, some miles to 
the north. 

Most of the desert we walked over was gravel rather than sand, 
as the lighter stuff had been swept away by the constant winds, to 
form the deep loess deposit of North China south of the Wall. This 
unrelenting sand blast has polished all surface rocks and rounded 
their edges even the flints. I found several stone knives near 
broken bits of prehistoric pottery, so that there was no doubt of 
their being man-made, but they were so worn that it was hard to 
discern the facets made by flaking. Any archeologist used to our 
clean-chipped American arrowheads would doubtless reject them, if 



LO-PEI CHAO 159 

he did not know the unusual conditions that had reduced them to 
this. 

The lamasery was gutted, but before returning we climbed the 
hill behind it for the view. There I found a half-ruined cairn, and on 
the flat rock which had served as its base were some strange carvings 
that looked like hoofprints. They had no resemblance to any form 
of writing now used in Inner Mongolia, and I wondered if they had 
been made by the Huns or the Turks, both of which had once ruled 
the Ordos. It was odd to see the traces of ancient peoples everywhere, 
when today the same region only supports two or three persons per 
square mile, and you can go for miles without even seeing a tent. 

When we got back, I paid a call on "Toothless" and "One-Eye." 
I did not mention camels, but spoke of the sacred Buddhist shrines 
in India. They had barely heard of them and seemed much impressed, 
so much so that they offered to provide the camels without fail in 
the morning. 

I returned to my room next door and tried to read or write 
letters, anything to take my mind off the conversation that went 
on endlessly on the other side of the wall. For days I had heard 
them discussing camels (tcime), and I thought that if I were to 
hear the word tcimc much longer, without seeing a camel, I would 
lose my mind. 

The long discussion about whether or not we would get camels 
from the monastery seemed finally settled when the Erh Lama came 
in late that evening to say he had two camels. I went out to see 
them in the moonlight, and found them tethered behind the main 
temple. They were very impressive-looking animals compared to 
any we had yet seen. One in particular had high, firm humps and a 
thick coat of winter hair. Both were fine animals, but without a 
third for a pack animal to carry our bedding, we could not leave. 
I said as much to the Erh Lama. 

The next morning when I woke at dawn and went out to see 
the camels, I only found one. The Erh Lama apologetically ex- 
plained that the particularly handsome one of the night before was 
the personal property of the abbot, and he had refused to consider 
lending it. However, he had already sent out four lamas to look 
for two more, and we would surely have them by next morning. 

"Next morning !" the expression was meaningless. With a hollow 
laugh I strode off to tell the others about the latest stall. I made a 



ifo . LO-PEI CHAO 

special effort to calm their anger by reminding them that this was 
Asia, where things happen slowly, and there was no use losing 
tempers. But at the same time I was so near losing mine that I 
felt I had to get rid of a lot of physical energy to avert an explosion. 

There was no way to do this at Lo-pei Chao except by walking, 
so I collected an old lama as guide, and walked the twelve miles to 
Wojer Temple (Wojer Sume), the chief monastery of the Hanggin 
Banner, and back the same day. 

Wojer Sume was a large, unlooted, and therefore especially 
interesting temple, and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring its many 
halls with the young host monk, the Living Buddha's disciple. One 
of my principal reasons in going there was to see the Living Buddha 
of Wojer and enlist his help in getting camels in case the Erh Lama 
should again fail us ; but he was away. 

In the course of conversation with his disciple, it developed that 
this Living Buddha was also "Lowung Chimba," the reincarna- 
tion of Padma Sambhava, as was the Living Buddha at the Antelope 
Cave, across the Yellow River ! They did not tell me by what feats 
of theological casuistry they had contrived to explain away an 
individual soul's rebirth in two bodies. However, they intimated 
that it had been done because of the rivalry between this banner, the 
Hanggin, and that of the Alashan Oelots across the river. 

In spite of this rivalry, there seemed to be some connection be- 
tween this Hanggin temple and the Alashan Banner. The abbot's 
study had on its wall a faded photograph of the last Prince of 
Alashan with his bride. He was a dissolute-looking older man in a 
fur cap with a ruby jewel, and a fur-trimmed robe. His bride was a 
stunning young woman even to our Western taste. She was wearing 
a sable-edged hat trimmed with golden phoenixes, studded with seed 
pearls, and had three necklaces of large Korean pearls, over a fur- 
trimmed dragon robe of gold brocade. The host monk said that 
she had been a Manchu Princess. This reminded me that the 
Manchu Emperors had followed the old custom of the rulers of 
China since the Han Dynasty, giving their daughters in marriage 
to the princes beyond the Wall, to keep their loyalty. With this 
charming woman, any prince would forget his predatory ambitions ! 

The whole monastery here was preparing for a great ceremony to 
take place on the first of the tenth month, still nearly four weeks 
away. This involved the drawing of a magic diagram, the Kalacakra 



LO-PEI CHAO 161 

M and ala. Three lama draughtsmen were laying out the plan for it 
in charcoal on a square block of white plaster in the center of one 
of the temple halls. Their apprentices had already been grinding 
mineral pigments of several bright colors, and had set them out to 
one side in small bowls. Meanwhile the throne of the Living Buddha, 
who was to officiate, was hung with silks of imperial yellow, and 
before it were placed magic daggers (purbu) and other ritual im- 
plements, of silver and gold. 

As the host monk briefly described the ceremony to be, he gave 
me a personal invitation to come and see it. As an added induce- 
ment if any were needed he said that the enormous new chorten, 
now under construction on the hill above the temples, was to be 
dedicated on the same day, with games and dances. Very reluctantly, 
I had to tell him that by that time we would be out of the country, 
though of course I would have been eager to come. He seemed 
very disappointed. Perhaps he hoped that the presence of a foreigner 
or two would give the temple festival even greater prestige in the 
eyes of his other guests. 

When we had seen all the buildings and their handsome furnish- 
ings, he invited me back to the guest hall for more tea. As we 
drank, I turned the conversation to Mongol chess. He immediately 
pulled out from behind a cushion a small box wrapped in a dirty 
cloth, and opened it to show me a beautifully carved miniature set. 
He told me that he had brought it from his home across the river 
and that he had trouble keeping it, as the Living Buddha, his master, 
disapproved of so frivolous a game. 

"If he were to come back here now and find me playing chess 
with a guest, he would certainly beat me for wasting my time !' } he 
said, laughing. 

It suddenly occurred to me that this remark might offer the 
explanation for the strong emphasis on the conflict between Good 
and Evil, Strength iand Weakness, etc., that I had noticed in Mongol 
chess. The higher lamas had probably not approved of the other 
monks wasting their time over a game, so either they themselves, 
or one of the offending monks may have introduced the moral ele- 
ment to justify the time spent over the chessboard. Was this the 
whole explanation; or was it that most, if not all, of the sets I 
played with in the temples had been made by monastic craftsmen, 
whose philosophy had guided them in their choice of figures? Both 



162 LO-PEI CHAO 

factors had no doubt entered in, but I felt relieved to have an answer 
to my question. 

It amused me to find that the host monk played very well. If 
chess was indeed a forbidden game here, and forgotten elsewhere 
in the Ordos, these lamas must have done a lot of clandestine playing. 
For not only did my opponent show considerable skill, but his in- 
evitable advisers gave him shrewd suggestions that could only have 
come from experience. 

They enjoyed so much the novelty of playing with a "West Rus- 
sian" that they tried to persuade me to spend the night and play some 
more. But I had to get back to Lo-pei Chao on the remote chance 
that the Erh Lama might produce the promised camels. 

Wojer Sume, like most other Ordos temples, was built in a cleft 
between two hills. These sheltered it from the wind, and gave the 
same effect of surprise to the traveler as the lamaseries in the moun- 
tain gorges ; he would not see it until he was almost upon it. Con- 
sequently, as soon as my lama guide and I left it, and lost sight of 
its buildings, the country seemed especially desolate. 

A mesa or two loomed in the distance. At long intervals, we 
caught a glimpse of a yurt down a side valley. Otherwise it was 
just gently rolling desert, with gravel hills and clumps of sagebrush. 
A pit viper lunged at me from a bush in the middle of the path, but I 
noticed him just in time and jumped aside. I tried to kill it with a 
rock, but the lama behind me looked horrified and urged me not to. 
For a moment I had forgotten that to his religion even snakes are 
sacred, because they might be reincarnated souls of friends and 
relatives who had not been as good as they should have been. 

As I tramped down the last slope to Lo-pei Chao, with the ex- 
hausted lama about a mile behind me, I saw only the one camel 
tied up behind the temple. I was disgusted, but feeling too tired for 
another long session with the abbot, I just plodded on into the room 
where the other four were cooking supper with the road inspector. 
Their happy faces surprised me. 

"What are you all grinning about?'' I asked. 

"The camels have come !" they all said at once. "They're just over 
the hill grazing." 

Weary as I was, I smiled too, but I was not entirely convinced 
after all those false alarms. I just took their word for it, and held 
out my bowl for some soup. 



21 

SOUTH BY CAMEL 

NEXT MORNING, when I got up at sunrise, the three camels 
were all there. At the gate to our compound the Erh Lama 
was superintending their saddling, and another very stocky lama 
was adjusting their girths. The latter straightened up and turned 
as I came out. He looked very familiar, and he smiled in a friendly 
way as though he knew me too. 

"This is Dansing," said the Erh Lama. "He brought in the two 
other camels yesterday. He knows camels well, and he will go 
with you, as your lo-t'o fu." 

Dansing Lama as soon as I heard his name, I recognized him 
as the lama wrestler who had been so helpful at the ferry on our 
trip north. 

I was glad that he was to come along, as I remembered from 
that occasion that he was strong and capable, and a good worker. 
He seemed to be looking forward to the trip, too. I guessed that he 
was a man of action and did not find the life of a monk too congenial. 
In fact, he later admitted that he was forced to be a lama because 
his family had given him to the temple when he was still a child, 
but that he was not fond of monastery life and was always glad 
to get away. 

The other four Americans soon came out to admire the animals, 
and as they were all she-camels, of about the same size, with only 
minor variations in color, we christened them Billie, Millie, and Tillie. 

Billie, the pack animal, had on one of the clumsy-looking pack- 
saddles consisting principally of two long bags stuffed with burrs. 
To these Dansing lashed our bedding rolls and musette bags, to- 
gether with his own bundle of clothing, making a flat platform on 
which he could later sit. All this gear must have weighed about 80 
pounds, and he himself weighed more than twice that amount. But 
a camel is generally expected to carry a load from 320 to 370 pounds, 
so this was a light burden for her. 



164 SOUTH BY CAMEL 

Dansing did all the loading by himself. Chinese caravan men 
always load a camel in pairs, one on each side of the animal, but 
Mongols generally prefer to work alone. He was deft with the 
ropes, and clever at handling the weights to balance them. We 
enjoyed watching his skill, and again I was glad that we were to 
have such a capable camel-tender. 

Our riding camels each had a couple of felt pads as the basis of 
their saddles one against the back of the front hump, and the other 
against the front of the rear one, overlapping in the middle. These 
were covered in turn by small saddle rugs, with holes in the sides 
for stirrup leathers. The Erh Lama and another monk very kindly 
lent us each a pair of silver-inlaid stirrups from their personal horse 
saddles. In summer we had seen Oirat and Khalkha Mongols using 
such saddles on their riding camels, but now in the fall, when the 
humps were broad and firm, there was not enough room for a saddle 
tree between them. The saddle rugs had originally been scarlet and 
gold, fittingly splendid accompaniments to our handsome stirrups ; 
but now they were so old and worn that we felt no compunctions 
about hiding their faded splendor under a couple of army blankets 
for our greater comfort. 

We had a quick breakfast and got under way with envious good- 
byes from the fellows we were temporarily abandoning, and last 
minute admonitions from the older lamas about taking care not to 
fall off. They were still sceptical about our riding ability, feeling 
about "West Russians" and camels the way the border Chinese felt 
about "foreigners" and horses. 

To reassure them, I showed them that I could make the camel 
kneel by tugging on the rope and saying soki, and then make it rise 
again by shouting hog! As in driving a car, the ability to start and 
stop at will is half the battle. 

In spite of this, the Erh Lama, in particular, was very worried 
when I kept the lead-rope instead of handing it over to Dansing 
and announced that I was going to guide my own camel. I felt, 
though, that if an animal that had not been ridden for five months 
was going to act up, I wanted to be able to control it, as I could not 
if someone else held the rope. Pike, more conservative, let Dansing 
hold his rope for the first couple of days, until he felt accustomed 
to the motion and his muscles had accommodated themselves to the 
camel's peculiar contours. He felt very uncomfortable that first day, 



SOUTH BY CAMEL 165 

having been one of the two or three at camp that never went riding, 
and was therefore not in trim for it. 

For the first couple of miles Dansing walked, and the camels 
ambled along quietly behind him. The motion seemed rather erratic 
at first, but was not unpleasant, except that since the basis of the 
saddle was composed of two pads instead of one, it caused an 
opening and closing effect as though the camel were hinged in the 
middle. We soon relaxed to it, though, and took stock of our 
animals. 

They were all three handsome beasts as camels go, but some of 
their features seemed very ridiculous to us. The thick manes at the 
back of their heads hung to about twelve inches below their ears, 
and bobbed up and down as they walked, like musicians' wigs. The 
soft, friendly look in their heavy-lidded brown eyes was completely 
belied by the proud tilt of their aristocratic noses and their frequent 
snorts of disdain. But their legs amused us most of all. The front 
pair with the heavy mass of shoulder fur reaching almost to the 
knees, suggested an elderly gentleman striding along in golf knickers, 
while their long, bony hind legs minced along like those of an 
emaciated spinster in tights, trying hard to catch up. Then those 
apologies for tails ! 

As my back was still slightly sore, I decided not to wear my gun 
belt, and fastened it around Tillie's front hump. She was not par- 
ticularly happy about this, and would occasionally curve her long 
neck back and rub the belt with her nose to indicate disapproval. 
This was rather disconcerting, especially when she brayed at the 
same time, expelling a blast of acrid breath. I finally packed away 
the pistol altogether. I never believed in wearing one anyway, es- 
pecially in friendly territory; but in Shanpa they were always re- 
quired whenever we left camp as a holdover from the time, not long 
before, when the Japs had only been about twenty-eight miles away, 
just over the mountains. 

We had not gone very far when the rear camel, which Pike was 
riding, let out an angry snort and struck the ground with a hard 
thump. Dansing looked back and began cursing. A small yellow 
dog was following us as fast as his short, bow legs could move. His 
mashed-in face with grizzled whiskers reminded us of an old-fash- 
ioned pug, while his body was that of a dachshund. Dansing ex- 
plained that it was his own pet, Shippur by name. He said he had 



166 SOUTH BY CAMEL 

asked one of the other lamas to keep him while he was away, because 
camels were scared of small dogs, and this one would be a constant 
annoyance to them. He kept shouting at Shippur to go home, but 
the dog ignored him. He just plodded stolidly along behind us, 
keeping out of the sun in the shadow of one of the camels. He paid 
no attention to Billie's deep groans of resentment when he got too 
near her, and he usually managed to dodge the occasional kicks of 
the other camels. Once he got hit amidships and was lifted right off 
the ground. He yelped once or twice but did not seem to be hurt. 

That first day we kept mostly to the main highway, taking short- 
cuts only rarely. We passed a number of herds of camels, some of 
which wandered over to stare at us with their usual curiosity, and 
a few herds of horses at a greater distance. Otherwise the rolling 
plain seemed deserted. All day long we only passed two horsemen 
and a couple of Chinese soldiers on foot. 

That night we stopped at the small posthouse below the red mesa, 
where we had stopped for tea on our way north. The two Chinese 
roadworkers who kept the place were very bored. Since Shanpa had 
ceased to be the capital of Suiyuan, in August, only a couple of 
busses had passed there, and their only guests had been a few Moslem 
merchants traveling with pack donkeys to sell goods to the Mongols. 

After supper, Dansing and I went over to a neighboring farm- 
house-inn, where a small detachment of Mongol cavalrymen were 
quartered. We were leaving the lands of his banner, and he wanted 
to inquire about the less familiar country ahead. We found the 
soldiers busy playing dominoes and knuckle-bone dice, which are to 
the poor Mongol laymen what chess is to the lamas. I was surprised 
to see how emotional they got over their games. Their leader 
answered Dansing's questions, and was extremely cordial. He said 
they were men of the Ottok Banner, whose territory we were now 
re-entering after nearly three months. 

On the way back to our lodgings I asked Dansing why he had 
not done anything about feeding the camels. He had merely tethered 
them to a hitching-post in a bare spot that had no vegetation. 

"Don't they have to be fed? 7 ' I asked. 

"Oh, no !" he replied. "They don't have to eat for the three or 
four days we are traveling. If they ate anything they would be hard 
to ride." 



SOUTH BY CAMEL 167 

I noticed though, that day and in the days to come, that they were 
always nibbling as we rode along. I still believe that a little evening 
feeding would have cured them of the annoying habit of constantly 
jerking on the nose ropes as their snakelike heads dived for tasty 
morsels of dried sagebrush or thorn bushes. 

In the early morning light the mesa was more spectacular than 
ever. The rock itself was a bright, golden red, while the slanting 
rays of the rising sun accented the shadows of dark cave mouths, 
and the symbols around them, carved by prehistoric men and by more 
recent lamas, who had also vanished. The strange appearance of the 
countless man-made holes, tombs or dwellings, had caused the Chinese 
to name it Po-yen-yao, 'The Kiln (or mesa) of a Hundred Eyes." I 
never could find out its Mongol name, because Dansing, like Dun- 
guerbo, was afraid to mention the names of unusual natural features 
while we were near them, to avoid offending the spirits of the place, 
and I forgot to ask him after we had left there. 

As we started out, we flushed several herds of antelope over the 
next rise. Altogether they must have numbered several hundred 
animals. They let us get quite near, then they bounded off across 
the plain, their white rumps bobbing comically as they hopped over 
obstructions. 

At noon we came to a well where a family of the Ottok Banner 
were watering their stock. They had sheep and goats, several horses 
and camels, and a couple of cows. One of the yearling camels had a 
necklace of sheep scapulas, such as I had seen adorning the rock in 
the gorge near the Antelope Cave. I asked Dansing about it, and he 
said that it meant that the animal had been dedicated to the gods, 
as an offering. It was now a sacred beast, and could never be 
ridden by man. 

The woman of the family, who was saving time by suckling her 
baby as she watched the goats, had the same headdress I first saw at 
Shih-chieh-shan ferry the many small braids plaited into two large 
ones encased in leather, with the long, fiat pendants, and the heavy 
silver ornaments above. 

About this time Shippur seemed to be getting weary. The lack of 
enough food and water seemed to be telling on him. He collapsed 
completely when we stopped for lunch, and lacked the energy to go on, 
so Dansing hoisted him aboard his camel. It was Shippur's first 



i68 SOUTH BY CAMEL 

camel ride, and he did not like the motion. He tried to adjust to it 
by lying first in one position then in another atop the packs. First 
he would hold his head erect, and then he would put it down again 
between his paws. Whatever position he tried, he still shook like 
a jello pudding and could not get comfortably settled. Finally, when 
his master vaulted off to walk a while, he jumped off too, although 
it was fully seven feet to the ground. It seemed an excessive leap for 
so small a dog, but it did not faze him, and he ran along, happily 
annoying the camels, with all his former energy. 

All day we followed the highway, which stretched on endlessly 
with a monotonous sameness of scenery. I kept trying to get Dansing 
to strike west and find the old caravan road that led southeast through 
the Arbus Ula range. The Chinese road inspector at Lo-pei Chao 
said that by taking this, we could reach the ferry in two days time. 
Dansing would not consider it. He was as much of a plainsman as 
Dunguerbo had been a mountaineer, and was not a man to take a 
mountain road he did not know. In addition, he seemed especially 
awed by the flat-topped mountain that had so intrigued us on the 
trip north. He did not want to go near it. He called it Orondeshi, 
a name Dunguerbo had used to describe one or two isolated moun- 
tains of unusual shape across the river. Later I learned that this 
word means "anvil," and that this particular mountain used to be 
regarded by the Mongols with superstitious reverence as the anvil 
on which Jenghis Khan had forged his magic weapons. Dansing 
never gave any reason for his dread of this mountain, and I doubt 
if he knew the old legend, but he had somewhere picked up the fear 
which the legend had inspired. 

When late afternoon found us approaching the second posthouse, 
which was only 80 li (about twenty-seven miles) from our last night's 
stop, with 120 li more to go before we reached the ferry, I became 
disgusted at our slowness. Following a hunch, I turned off down a 
"small road" that looked like a fairly well-traveled shortcut. It led 
southeast toward the mountains instead of curving far to the south- 
west to round the range, as the highway did. 

As soon as we left the highway, the scenery improved. Several 
Mongol families had pitched their yurts just over the brow of the 
first ridge, to be out of sight of predatory-minded travelers on the 
main road, and to let their herds pasture in the green meadowlands 
at the foot of the range. We also passed close by a small lama temple, 



SOUTH BY CAMEL 169 

Rashi Jung, but it was too late to stop to see it, as the sun was 
already sinking behind the range. 

The outcroppings of rock beside the trail on both sides were 
oddly formed, and eroded. The two principal types of rock were thin 
slabs of fine-grained red mudstone, which still bore the ripple marks 
of primeval waters when the Ordos region was an inland sea, and a 
coarse-grained white sandstone. In some places these alternated in 
the same formation. The rocks had been tilted at crazy angles by 
some prehistoric upheaval, so that in places the strata were vertical. 
The mountains themselves, which rose to great heights ahead and 
to the west of us, appeared to be great fault-blocks raised toward the 
north and east, and clipping southward. The strata of light and 
dark stone across the sheer face of the nearest one were well-defined 
in irregular patterns. 

As we rode along, at a somewhat faster clip, a Mongol rider on 
a handsome pinto pony crossed the trail some distance ahead of us. 
He stopped for a moment and looked in our direction, then whipped 
up his horse and made straight for the mountains, disappearing into 
what looked like a narrow cleft in the cliff face. Dansing laughed. 

" He thinks we're bandits," he said. 

As we rode on, we came to the cross trail on which we had seen 
him, and found it to be a well-marked one leading to the cleft, which 
from here looked much more imposing. The cliff was split from top 
to bottom, to form an awe-inspiring chasm. I was sure it was a pass 
which would take us through the range and' save a lot of time. 
Dansing admitted that it probably was a pass, but he would not con- 
sider taking it. He looked frightened at the idea. It was getting 
toward dusk, and the shadows in the gorge already were dark and 
forbidding. He was probably afraid to meet the lama demons that 
he had so little respect for by day. 

We kept on straight south over a lesser divide that was quite 
high, but nevertheless cut off the end of the range, making this route 
still a much shorter one than the bus road. This stretch was even 
more interesting geologically. Many veins of coal were visible along 
the sides of the trail, ranging from a poor, sulphurous variety to what 
seemed to be a fairly good grade of soft coal ,* and the highly eroded 
outcroppings of limestone looked even more weird than those we had 
passed further back. In this fading light, it did not take much 
imagination to make out figures of men and animals among them. 



170 SOUTH BY CAMEL 

As we climbed, we came across an enormous pair of argali horns, 
fully as large as those I had found in Dabatu Pass. They had been 
painted red and left beside the trail as an offering to the spirits of 
the mountain. This is an ancient Central Asiatic custom to insure 
increased fertility of the game. I had first seen it practiced in West 
Tibet and was surprised to see it still continued here. 

, Darkness came upon us fast, but we continued on by the light of 
the moon, which was only two days short of being full. Within two 
hours we had broken the back of the pass, and soon reached a river 
bed on the far side, where we found a well. Though the latter was 
in the center of the river bed, the water was fully fifteen feet down. 
We dipped some up in canteens tied to camel ropes, to cook our last 
rations, and after eating, curled up in our blankets on the sand. The 
night was so cold that the water in the stone trough was frozen 
solid in the morning, but our sleeping bags kept us fairly warm and 
we woke refreshed. 

Without breakfast, we rode down the river bed which opened 
out onto a flat plain, where several herds of antelope were grazing. 
They seemed especially tame in this out-of-the-way spot, and let us 
approach very near them before streaking away. All morning we 
rode across this plain toward a tall mountain that terminated a 
southern extension of the range. Except for an occasional river 
gully, it was very flat, soft ground, so we tried out the speed of our 
camels. Their trot was backbreaking, but when they broke into a 
lope, it was a very easy motion, except for the fact that the motion 
was forward and backward, and from side to side. I found it easier 
to rise in the stirrups, or even to post. Dansing was shocked at this 
technique, but he said with feeling, "You two can certainly ride a 
camel!" Coming from a Mongol, this was a high compliment. 

At noon we rounded the base of the prominent mountain that we 
had seen all morning. On the west side it was very bleak with sand 
dunes- extending up almost to the peaks, but on the south, streams 
flowed from the base of the cliff, making a green meadow. As we 
rode out onto the meadow, I looked up at the face of the mountain. 

Halfway up the cliff, and extending almost all the way across it, 
was the great lamasery of Lo-shan Miao (Manba-Rasan Sume). 
This was the temple we had first seen from the ferry, and which I 
had then so hoped to visit someday. I never expected to have to 
visit it on a camel trip. 



SOUTH BY CAMEL 171 

We left our camels beside the ruined wall of an ancient village 
at the base of the cliff, and climbed the steep, twisting path to the 
monastery. At first it seemed deserted, but when we walked into 
a shrine hall which incidentally featured life-sized images of a 
copulating god and goddess, painted blue a young monk came in 
to greet us. He was followed by several others who invited us to 
come to the guest rooms. 

Dansing stayed behind for a moment, and when he rejoined us 
in the guest hall we were startled by the change in his appearance. 
On the trip he had worn a long sheepskin robe with the fleece inside, 
girt by a crimson belt. Now he was carrying that under his arm. 
From a bundle he had carried up the hill, he had taken a handsome 
robe of orange-gold satin, figured with Buddhist symbols, and was 
wearing this with a blue silk sash to match his blue silk cuffs. His 
whole bearing changed to conform to his magnificent costume. He 
had an air of pride now that we had not noticed before, and the 
people here treated him with deference. "Clothes make the man" 
seems to apply even in Mongolia. 

After the first cups of tea, they said it would take some time to 
prepare our meals of mutton noodles, so I took advantage of the 
delay to visit the main temple, that loomed cathedral-like in the 
center of the line of buildings. 

It exceeded my expectations. Its impregnable position had pre- 
served it from looting, and its small images and ritual ornaments were 
all complete, while its paintings were clean and fresh, though some 
were obviously very old. My guide said that the Living Buddha, 
Galdan Dambei Nima, a reincarnation of the Bodhisattva Vajrapani, 
was away. But his massive gilded throne and brocaded robes showed 
that when he was there he must preside in more than usual splendor. 
Even Ago-in Sume had not been as completely equipped as this one, 
though some of its things had been finer and its site had been more 
spectacular, in another way. 

After a substantial lunch of mutton noodles, tea, and cheese, we 
continued on across the parklike meadow at the base of the cliff. 
With its flowing brooks, its green grass, and its willow trees, this 
spot really deserved to be called an oasis. 

Here we saw a small encampment of Ottok Mongols who had come 
on pilgrimage to the temple. Two of the women had dazzling head- 
gear. In addition to their braid-plates of silver, they had heavy 



172 SOUTH BY CAMEL 

silver coronets, bound around with kerchiefs of sheer silk. From the 
sides of the coronets hung three strings of jeweled pendants on each 
side, together with large earflaps and a flaring neckpiece, all covered 
with row upon row of large spherical corals, setting off smaller 
plaques of silver set with turquoise. Compared with these, the Oirat 
festival headdresses seemed to have been very plain, though much 
more tasteful. 

At the far side of the oasis we came upon the old oxcart road 
from Teng-k'ou, where we would have come out had we headed 
straight for the mountains from Lo-pei Chao. We followed this over 
a ridge to the bank of the Yellow River. Here the old road joined 
the new highway, and both cut inland again to pass around a rocky 
hill. We left them both and continued on down the shore. The 
river was still quite swollen and a heavy deposit of fresh silt on the 
bank told of unusually high summer floods. It was soft going, but 
a shorter route than if we had followed the roads. 

Finally we came to the village below the chorten-gate that marked 
the old entrance to the Ordos. We dismounted at the Mongol inn 
where I had spoken with the lamas in August, and Dansing left the 
camels there. Then he shouldered both our bedding rolls and put 
them aboard the ferry for us. 

The clumsy scow was very slow in getting off. It took almost 
two hours to collect a full cargo, but eventually we got underway 
with three heavy oxcarts, the oxen that drew them, five riding horses, 
two mules, and a couple of pack-donkeys, together with a motley 
assortment of passengers : Chinese cavalrymen, Moslem traders, and 
a few Mongols, as well as us not to mention the never-to-be-left- 
behind Shippur, who characteristically hopped aboard just as the 
ferrymen were shoving off. 

In half an hour we were across the river in Shih-chieh-shan, back 
in Ninghsia Province. 



22 

NINGHSIA INTERLUDE 

IN CROSSING over the Yellow River we noticed a surprising 
concentration of strange-looking craft along the far bank, below 
the town of Shih-chieh-shan. As we drew nearer, we found that 
they were several large skin rafts. These had been made by inflating 
sheepskins, which had been peeled off the dead animals with the 
fewest possible cuts, and then fastened into wooden frames and 
covered over with a decking of rude planks. The usual type of skin 
raft, as I had seen them in the Yellow River at Lanchow, are made 
of a dozen skins, in four rows of three skins each. These were made 
of twelve to twenty of those smaller rafts, lashed together. They were 
piled high with rolls of bedding and bales of household goods. 

When we landed near them, I asked about them and found that they 
belonged to refugees from the Japs, who were now returning from 
Lanchow to Paotou, Northern Shansi, and even Peking and Tientsin. 
I thought how miserably cold and damp it must be floating down the 
Yellow River in late October. I saw that most of the passengers 
wanted to get as far from the water as possible during their stop- 
over, for they had pitched small tents some distance up the bank. 

Shih-chieh-shan, the promised land of busses and good food, to 
which we had been looking forward for days, proved a veritable hell 
that evening. We had a very hard time finding lodgings because the 
few inns were clogged with refugees. Then, after finally getting set- 
tled in a private house, we set out, half-starved, for a good nieal on 
main street, only to find that none of the three restaurants in town 
had any meat, fish, or eggs. We had to be satisfied with rice and a 
dish of cold cabbage. This was the wonderful Chinese nieal we had 
been dreaming about on the desert ! 

The physical discomforts, however, were slight compared to our 
mental ones. An overofficious Chinese captain connected with the 
notorious Nationalist secret police, who had broken down there on 
Ms way north with supplies for the Chinese at the camp in Shanpa, 

173 



174 NINGHSIA INTERLUDE 

had made some pretence of helping us when we arrived. But from 
then on he accompanied us almost everywhere, and when he was not 
with us, had us watched. Apparently he suspected us because of our 
unconventional mode of travel "any respectable American would 
be traveling in a truck." 

When I paid Dansing for our use of the camels thus far, the 
captain snatched the money from him and counted it, and questioned 
him roughly about us, having already annoyed us personally by 
countless inquiries. We turned in early to avoid more unpleasant- 
ness, and an hour or so later were wakened by the police agent, 
whose suspicions had been aroused by the lack of light in our room. 
He wanted to know if we were still there. 

For hours after that we were kept awake, as loud voices in the 
courtyard discussed the belief that we were probably deserters trying 
to get back to our own country. The speakers noisily concluded that 
I was not an officer, but an imposter, since I had not been wearing 
a formal uniform; and that probably there was no truck broken 
down in the desert, as we had said. In short, they thought we were 
fugitives. 

The next day, at breakfast in one of the inns, we met two groups 
of refugees who had come down from Lanchow on the skin rafts. 
One group were refugees from Manchuria, hoping to return to Har- 
bin. They expected it would take them many months, since the 
Peking-Suiyuan Railroad was said to have been cut by the Com- 
munists beyond Tatung, and disturbed political conditions might 
make traveling unsafe all winter. 

In spite of these uncertainties, their voices had a ring of hope 
and anticipation at the thought of going home. The saga of these 
returning refugees, traveling back under conditions almost as diffi- 
cult physically as those under which they had left, would make a 
tale of human interest fully as dramatic as those written about their 
flight. But the outside world, jaded by war news and accounts of 
mass migrations, would probably never hear it. We hoped that 
these men would not find disillusionment in their ruined villages and 
looted homes at the end of the road. 

In the course of our conversation, I told them the story of our 
breakdown, and somehow the news must have gotten out that it was 
authentic. At any rate, we were pleasantly free from surveillance 
all morning. 



NINGHSIA INTERLUDE 175 

We discovered that there was no bus service to Ninghsia, but 
that a truck was getting ready to go there, and we could go along as 
passengers. Several times during the next few hours we visited the 
place where it was being repaired, in the street, a short distance from 
our lodgings. When we had strolled into town yesterday the motor 
was lying in pieces beside it ; now it was almost installed. 

This was a truck that had left Shanpa for Ninghsia a month be- 
fore, with one of the first Americans to get away from camp. Like 
ours, it had broken down in the Ordos, and it had to be towed by oxen 
out of the desert, while the passengers straggled out on foot or by 
oxcart. Now, the mechanics thought they might have it ready 
to leave by noon, and with luck they might make Ninghsia city late 
that night. 

We were delighted at the prospect of leaving this small corner of 
Hell, and did not mind the sudden interruption when the local mayor 
barged in on us, about noon, to give us two minutes' notice to roll up 
our things and climb aboard. 

I remarked jokingly to Pike, as the truck got off to a jerky start, 
that at least we'd probably get a couple of miles out of town in it. 
I was optimistic. We had only run a mile beyond the city gate when 
the cylinder block cracked audibly, as the truck struggled to climb a 
slight rise. 

As we started somberly back toward town on foot, the officer in 
charge of the truck, his face livid with anger at the unfortunate 
driver and mechanic, was giving orders to hire more oxen to tow 
the truck on to Ninghsia. 

We went back to the small restaurant where we had breakfast, and 
sat down dejectedly to order lunch. The owner and cook was openly 
smoking opium on the k'ang behind us. He held out the pipe to us, 
and when we refused with thanks, he went right on smoking. With 
greedy eyes he watched the pill smoulder over the small lamp, then 
passed it back and forth over the pinhole atop the flat bowl of his 
pipe, sucking avidly until his hollow cheeks looked hollower still. 
Chinese soldiers and even officers wandered in from the street to look 
at us, and noticed him without comment. He too did not care who 
saw him. Obviously, opium-smoking was an accepted thing around 
here. 

One of the soldiers told me that Governor Ma, the ruler of 
Ninghsia, while outwardly subscribing to the opium suppression 



176 NINGHSIA INTERLUDE 

policy of the National Government, recognized opium as an impor- 
tant source of revenue. Thus, although lie confiscated it at intervals, 
to give the appearance of cooperating to suppress the vice, he merely 
held it and resold it after a short time. A chest of the drug had just 
been sent to this town from the capital, and the local people were re- 
quired to buy it at so much per pound, until all was sold. Then the 
money would be forwarded to the Governor. A cynical officer re- 
marked that probably next week, after enough of the stuff was in 
private hands, they would announce another general confiscation. 

At lunch we reluctantly decided that camels, though slow, were 
our best bet after all, so after we finished eating I prepared to cross 
the river to get Dansing and have him bring back the Three Graces. 
As I ambled along the damp, newly laid silt of the river bank, wait- 
ing for the ferry to get full enough to cross, a medium-sized skin boat 
passed swiftly with the current. I caught a brief glimpse of a pretty 
Chinese matron in an expensive fur-lined coat, holding a frightened- 
looking child dressed in silk, and a man whose fine features were 
partly hidden by an upturned astrakhan collar. A cargo of furniture 
and household goods was piled high amidships, and between this 
and the steersman at the stern, stood five young pear trees of the 
type that have made Lanchow famous for its fruit. I reflected that 
the War, for all the evil it had done to China, had at least acquainted 
some of the Eastern Chinese with the "Wild West" of their country, 
and had made them properly appreciative of some of its products. 

My musings were interrupted by the unexpected sight of two 
new-looking, light trucks, rolling down the road from the desert 
toward the ferry landing below the chorten-gate. I thought I saw 
the dark blue of the Navy's heavy winter jacket on one or two of the 
passengers seated atop the load on the first truck. But the river was 
wide, and I could not be sure at this distance. 

The ferry was now ready to cross, but I decided to forget about 
the camels until I found out if there were men from camp aboard the 
trucks, in the hope that they could wangle us a ride. 

When the scow approached from the far bank with the first truck, 
I was delighted to find that my eyes had not deceived me. Five of the 
passengers were fellows from camp who had received their orders the 
day we left. They had managed to get a ride on one of a convoy of 
sixteen Toyoda trucks, captured from the Japanese at Paotou, which 
were going south with passengers and freight for General Fu Tso-yi. 



NINGHSIA INTERLUDE 177 

Though the trucks had engines similar to the Chevrolet, and were 
copied from our General Motors models, they were not all equal to 
the long haul. This was the third truck the Navy men had ridden 
on since leaving Shanpa, and they expected to have to stay here until 
all the trucks that had broken down in the desert were repaired and 
had rejoined the convoy. 

As the new Americans had arrived in more state and had less ob- 
vious whiskers Pike already had a full beard they were immedi- 
ately well received. They moved in with us, and soon a representa- 
tive of our new friend, the mayor, came to help their interpreter find 
them meat and eggs which they could take to a restaurant to supple- 
ment the menu. They fared royally compared to what we had had 
on the previous evening. 

Next morning at a formal "wine breakfast" pal-chin always 
tastes awful in the morning we met General Fit's representative in 
charge of the convoy. He gave us his permission to go on to 
Nmghsia with the other Navy fellows, if and when all the other trucks 
got repaired and ready to go. I then went on to picture the plight of 
our desert-bound companions, whom luckily he had met in passing 
Lo-pei Chao. I must have been sufficiently graphic, because he was 
so moved that he arranged to send our truck ahead that afternoon, so 
I could get a message through as soon as possible and shorten their 
lonely wait. 

Shortly after two in the afternoon, our truck left Shih-chieh-shan, 
and in spite of a half -hour's delay caused by taking the wrong road, 
we reached P'ing-lo, the halfway point, a couple of hours later. The 
driver, a scared-looking puppet-soldier from Manchukuo who had 
been retained because of his knowledge of Jap trucks, wanted to stop 
there for the night. He seemed to fear that he was being sent down 
into China for execution, and wanted to delay the trip as long as pos- 
sible. Urged on by us, the Chinese officer-in-charge ordered him to 
push on. 

We almost immediately regretted this decision to go on, when we 
found the new main road badly torn up just beyond the town, but 
we managed to continue by an older one. At sunset, we passed our 
truck of yesterday, advancing slowly and sedately across the country- 
side, drawn by seven oxen, with two more plodding along behind as 
reserves. To have gotten this far, they must have kept going all 
the previous night. 



178 NINGHSIA INTERLUDE 

Two hours later, after dragging through long stretches of soft 
mud at a snail's pace, we found ourselves still far from our destina- 
tion, bogged down to the hubs on a newly surfaced causeway, halfway 
across a shallow irrigation pond. Fortunately it was full moon, and 
even more luckily, a detachment of General Ma's infantry happened 
along. For a while they did no good, exerting much effort to lift 
instead of pulling. Then one of them had a bright idea. He wan- 
dered off to a nearby farm and commandeered four oxen forgetting 
to bring the yokes for two of them. We unloaded the truck ; the two 
usable oxen pulled, the soldiers and Americans pushed, and she 
came right out. 

The erratic driver, in an excess of enthusiasm at this release, 
drove on too far ahead, but a detachment of peasants, sent out to help 
us by the headman of the nearest village, shouldered our bedding and 
gear and carried them on to the truck. 

When we arrived in Ninghsia at midnight, the guards on the wall 
saw our headlights from a distance, and swung open the huge iron- 
bound doors of the Northwest Gate. We were embarrassed but de- 
lighted to find that, in spite of the hour, the Governor's aide had pre- 
pared a large banquet for us with course after course of rich Mo- 
hammedan food and plenty of yellow wine. 

Full and exhausted, Pike and I were dropped off at the small U.S. 
weather station which was luckily still open so we could send a 
dispatch the first thing in the morning. The others continued on to 
the Governor's fabulous guest house, where we had been lodged on 
our trip north. 

Next morning we prepared a long, detailed message for Head- 
quarters in Chungking, having found that the camp in Sian, from 
which we had hoped to get help, was now closed. Within two days 
they replied that they were sending the required parts by plane to 
Lanchow with a new radio operator for the Ninghsia weather sta- 
tion, and that he would bring them by some means up to Ninghsia. 

There was no bus service between Lanchow and Ninghsia. Mail 
from Lanchow was brought to Ninghsia (and on to Shanpa) by ox- 
cart; but trucks quite often left Lanchow for Sian by way of P'ing- 
liang, and from P'ingliang to Ninghsia by cart would take at least a 
week. It seemed as though we would still have a fairly long wait, so 
I decided to return to Lo-pei Chao and rejoin the others, to let them 
know that help was on its way. 



NINGHSIA INTERLUDE 179 

Pike had had enough of camels for the time being, while Edwood 
Young, the Ninghsia radio operator, had not had a change in months. 
So Pike offered to take Young's place, while the latter came back 
with me, bringing his portable sending and receiving set so we could 
keep in contact with developments in Ninghsia. Then when the new 
operator arrived with the parts, Pike would leave the radio job to 
him, and bring the parts on to us in the desert, by whatever means 
seemed practical at the time. 

In order to return north, I found that I had to approach the Gov- 
ernor directly. Since this province was operated as a virtually inde- 
pendent dictatorship, in the style of one of the old warlord states, all 
business, however trivial, had to be done through the head man. His 
officials were afraid to undertake anything on their own. Any slip 
would be punished swiftly and ruthlessly. 

Accordingly, at one of the Governor's famous feasts this one 
being given for the other Americans who were returning home I 
took the opportunity to ask him about transportation back to Shih- 
chieh-shan. He was very cordial and promised us either a truck or a 
pair of horses, depending on the condition of the roads. His offi- 
cials had told him the roads were in fine condition they did not dare 
to tell him anything else but remembering the trouble we had had 
getting down in a fairly good truck, I suggested politely that a truck 
would be an unnecessary expense to him, and that we would be just 
as happy to have horses. 

That was quite a feast and not only because of the vast quantity 
and excellence of rich foods and wines. Before dinner, the Governor 
launched out on his favorite topic, the Chinese Communists, by way 
of a speech to the visiting Americans. It was obvious that he 
wanted American aid in this domestic problem and hoped that we 
could exert some influence at home. 

With considerable bombast, he told how he had fought the Reds 
up and down China before the Japanese War, and how he had vigor- 
ously opposed any concessions to the Communists and rebels during 
the Sian Incident, when Chiang Kai-shek's life was at stake. His 
final remark amused us very much: 

"As a last instance of their perfidy," he said, "look at their tactics 
in war. When my forces were large, the Communists retreated. 
When my forces were small, they attacked. What kind of a foe is 
that?" A very smart one, we thought. 



i8o NINGHSIA INTERLUDE 

I found the atmosphere of the city heavy and oppressive with its 
many instances of authoritarian rule, and was glad when the horses 
came, two mornings after the banquet. They were two fine, large 
pacers, excellent animals. Unfortunately, they had Chinese sad- 
dles, somewhat like a cut-down stock saddle without the horn, but 
too short to be really comfortable. We padded them liberally with 
blankets, however, and soon got used to them. 

As a less agreeable aspect of the province's political setup, we had 
to accept an escort of four cavalrymen. We had noticed that no 
foreigners were allowed to go far in this province without spies, 
usually in the form of courtesy passengers aboard the supply trucks ; 
however, four seemed to be overdoing it. They were a constant 
source of trouble to us. They kept us off the new bus road, lest the 
hoofs spoil its surface, but did not know enough about the country- 
side to suggest good substitute routes. In addition, they stole some 
of our cigarettes, and allowed the packhorse to throw the case with 
our precious radio. Luckily it was not damaged. 

In spite of the annoyance of having guards, we enjoyed the op- 
portunity to study the countryside in a less hectic fashion than aboard 
a constantly breaking-down bus. The land was very poor north of 
Ninghsia city. The salt deposits were so thick in the fields that had 
been over-irrigated that the other night when we rode down in the 
moonlight, the ground for long stretches had looked as though there 
had just been a snowstorm. Still, even in this area the number of 
landlords' "castles 77 was considerable. In one place we counted eleven 
imposing ones in a radius of about half a mile. Most of the tenants 
lived within their walls, a sure sign of bandit-ridden country. We 
saw few temples, even in the towns, but many small mosques of sim- 
ple, though very distinctive, architecture. 

I noticed that the military signs on village walls, and on farm- 
houses and temples that had been used as barracks, had changed 
their tenor. The wartime slogans such as "Down with Japanese Im- 
perialism !" had given way to mottoes about reconstruction, such as 
"Raise the status of the Nation; raise the position of its people/' 
This was probably in response to a directive from Chungking, but 
the martial spirit was still there. In fact, we now saw more soldiers 
everywhere, than while the war was on. As in Suiyuan, many had 
been forcibly recruited since the Japanese surrender to prepare for the 
expected civil war. The officials gave the explanation that the troops 




A Village Temple in Northern Ninghsia. 




Ninghsia City, the North Gate. 
(Photos by W. E, Hill) 




A Village gate in P'ing-lo, Northern Ninghsia. 




When his modern bicycle breaks down, a Ninghsia official takes to a cart. 

(Photos by W. E. Hill.) 



NINGHSIA INTERLUDE 181 

were needed to rebuild the roads, but they realized perfectly well that 
roadbuilding was one of the best means for toughening raw recruits 
and getting them accustomed to discipline. It was tragic to think 
that this apparent reconstruction was probably only a prelude to 
greater and more terrible destruction. 

My companion found that thirty miles a day on horseback is en- 
tirely too much after several years of no riding to speak of, and when 
the sun set while we were still about fifteen li from P'ing-lo, he felt 
miserable. The guards did not know the roads, and in this flat coun- 
try it was hard to find any landmarks without a moon. We stopped 
all the late wayfarers we passed, and asked our way, until finally we 
got on the right one. Soon we came to a few trees, then crossed an 
old wooden bridge with ornamental arches at each end, and found 
ourselves at the south gate of P'ing-lo. The high gate tower with its 
upsweeping roofs silhouetted against the starry sky made an exotic 
picture, recalling a more ancient China, but we were too tired to fully 
appreciate it. 

The whole town was dark, with all the shops and houses shut. 
Even Father Kostenoble of the Belgian Mission had gone to bed 
with the sun. The barking of his dogs as we banged on the outer 
gate woke him up. In spite of this rude awakening, and our coming 
late and uninvited, he was delighted to see foreign faces and received 
us warmly. He fed us well and gave us some delicious homemade 
liqueurs, while asking the news of the outside world. His cordial 
hospitality was the only bright spot on the dismal ride to Shih-chieh- 
shan. 

By noon of the second day, the Arbus Ula mountains, with the 
Orondeshi mesa rearing high above the rest, loomed impressively on 
the northern skyline. Several hours later, we were riding through 
what was left of the Great Wall We scarcely noticed it. Here, 
farther out on the plain than the bus road, little of the Wall was left. 
It was just a long, low mound, almost obliterated for considerable 
stretches, with a filled-in ditch that had once been a moat, on the 
north side, and more prominent lumps of earth at intervals where the 
guard towers had long since crumbled away. 

By late afternoon we finally reached Shih-chieh-shan itself, a good 
two hours after we first sighted the strange towers of its mosque. 
In this clear air, distant objects look deceivingly near, and it seemed 
to take forever to reach the place. 



i82 NINGHSIA INTERLUDE 

This time we found the inns somewhat better provided, and we 
managed to have a good dinner, with our chief guard as our guest. 
When we had finished eating, our four escorts brought the pack- 
horse with our gear down to the riverbank, and we paid them off. 
It was too late to take the ferry, so we hired a small private craft to 
cross the river in the twilight. 



23 

THE SECOND CAMEL TRIP 

HPHE YELLOW RIVER had fallen several feet in the week since 
JL Pike and I had crossed it, and that evening it was flowing more 
swiftly down its narrowed channel. The black water swirled around 
the bows of our small craft and slapped against the rude side plank- 
ing. Ahead of us the shore still held a soft pink glow from the dying 
sunset, and when this faded to grey blue, the gate-chorten and the 
wall in the pass loomed ghostly white against the deep blue sky. 

On landing we went straight to the Mongol inn. Dansing was 
waiting for us there, and seemed as delighted to see us as I was to 
see him. All the time we were away I had been wondering if he 
would still be there when we got back. For he was a somewhat im- 
petuous individual, and was perfectly capable of packing his golden 
robe and leaving with the camels if he got tired of waiting. 

We spent the night there, sleeping on a k'ang with fifteen or 
twenty Mongols of all ages and both sexes wrapped in their skin 
robes. I had warned Young beforehand that he had probably never 
passed a night in such a place as this would be, and in the morning he 
ruefully admitted that I had been right. Every time he woke up, he 
said, he found the stout matron next to him breathing heavily in his 
face. 

He was much interested in the appearance of the Mongols. Their 
features and general build, he said, were almost exactly like those of 
the Eskimos he had met on a trip to Greenland during the first part 
of the War. The resemblance was further accentuated by their cos- 
tume. The weather had turned very cold, and all the men were now 
clad in short sheepskin jackets and trousers, with the wool inside, 
and were wearing their thick winter boots of dark leather. The 
women and the lamas had on longer sheepskin robes that gave them 
a heavy, rather clumsy appearance. The ladies, however, were still 
wearing their distinctive braid ornaments, which lent them a little 
charm. 



1 84 THE SECOND CAMEL TRIP 

As we prepared to leave in the morning, I was surprised to find 
that our expedition had acquired two more camels. At the inn, 
Dansing had met an old friend, Nimbu Lama, a good-looking young 
fellow of about twenty, from a temple near Lo-pei Chao. He was on 
his way back from a trip to the Antelope Cave Temple, and Dansing 
had invited him to come along with us, since he knew the "small 
road" through the mountains and could act as guide. Dansing still 
refused to take the Teng-k'ou road, as he said this had only Chinese 
squatters along it, and he hated even to meet them. I did not care 
especially, as long as the way was quicker than the bus road and 
would enable us to see a new stretch of country. 

We stopped at Loshan Miao for lunch, and I showed Young 
around his first lama temple. He had the usual first reactions ; awe at 
the display of wealth that far outshone anything he had seen in other 
Asiatic temples, and disgust at the number of "obscene" images and 
paintings, and the degenerate appearance of most of the lamas there. 

Starting on again, we rounded the mountain to the east, and 
headed north toward the Arbus Ula Range. For a few miles we rode 
along the edge of the plain where we had seen all the antelope, scaring 
up several of these animals, then we turned off into a stretch of bad- 
lands some distance west of our previous route. The hills around us 
were flat-topped, devoid of vegetation from about halfway up, with 
sheer walls that were oddly striped because the darker strata had been 
more resistant to weathering. From a distance, many looked like 
man-made walls built on low hillocks. Some of the smaller ones had 
been even more strangely weathered, with flat, upper strata that had 
resisted erosion, resting like table tops on pyramid-like structures of 
softer sandstones. 

We were aiming for a deep-cleft pass that I assumed was the one 
we had seen from the other side on the way down, but the shadows 
began to lengthen when we were still some distance away. Dansing 
began to look around for a yurt, and Nimbu pointed out a couple 
that were a short ride to the east, off the main trail. 

Their owner was a Mongol hunter, who lived there with his wife 
and daughter. He received us very cordially, and after the usual 
exchange of greetings and snuff bottles, he offered us tea and millet. 
We were lucky not to have come any later, for in the course of the 
next two hours six other travelers arrived, and while he crowded 
four into the storage yurt, two had to sleep outside. 



THE SECOND CAMEL TRIP 185 

With all the guests, there were eleven people at one time eating 
supper around his fire. The wife and daughter waited until the 
guests were through, then ate the rest of the meat from the half- 
gnawed bones. We were a motley crowd, with the two lamas, two 
Americans, hunters, and travelers. 

One of the guests was a very disagreeable Chinese landlord, 
traveling with a Mongol cavalry officer. He had a thin pinched face 
that looked even gaunter and more ratlike under his huge black fur 
cap. His sharp eyes flickered constantly from one person to an- 
other, and he was constantly making bitter remarks. It would seem 
from his conversation that he hated everybody in this region. He 
was especially contemptuous of the Mongols, and thought to com- 
pliment his host by calling him a Chinese. The latter took him 
aback by saying firmly that he was a Mongolian and proud of it. 
The landlord was apparently strongly anti-foreign too, being very 
patronizing toward us. 

Tl[ie Mongol officer must have been a person of consequence 
among his people, because all the other Mongols deferred to him, in 
spite of their general dislike for his Chinese companion. The hunt- 
er's wife was wearing a simple headcloth of old toweling until he ar- 
rived. But before presenting her snuff bottle to him, she readjusted 
her coiffure to make a better impression. 

First she removed the headcloth, and we were surprised to see that 
her head had been shaved, leaving only a small island of long hair 
on top that had been braided to form a flat skullcap. Around this she 
carefully fitted a black tape from which hung two heavy braids of 
shiny false hair, complete with the leather braid casings and the large 
silver plaques set with coral, called shirwilk, that are characteristic of 
the Ottok Banner. Then she replaced the headcloth so that the 
braids looked like part of her own hair. I later noticed that many of 
the older Mongol women in the Ordos did this, though the younger 
ones always had braids of their own hair, and merely unfastened the 
shirwilk ornaments when they wanted to be more comfortable in the 
informal surroundings of their tents. 

We were glad when the disagreeable Chinese and his Mongol 
escort left for the other yurt as soon as they had finished eating. 
The tension immediately lifted, and the group around the fire became 
more convivial. I noticed on such occasions that the Mongols had 
much more capacity for humor than the border Chinese. Their life 



1 86 THE SECOND CAMEL TRIP 

was basically just as hard, if not harder, but they seemed more buoy- 
ant, and laughed and joked at each other's expense with greater 
freedom. 

I took advantage of this change in mood to pass around a pack of 
cigarettes that I had brought from the weather station in Ninghsia. 
We had always had Chesterfields at Shanpa, but these were Camels, 
and I was curious to see the Mongols' reaction when they noticed the 
picture on the wrapper. The first man I passed them to looked the 
package over with interest, and immediately began to jabber to the 
rest. Several of the others got up and crowded around him, and the 
conversation became very animated. I caught only the words teime, 
and buher, meaning "hump/' so I asked Dansing what they were 
saying. 

"They ask, 'Why show ugly, summer camel'?" he replied. "It 
has no hair, no humps. Very bad looking!" 

I tried to explain to him that this was a dromedary, another kind 
of camel, that was more familiar to us "West Russians," and that, 
unlike the true camel of Mongolia and Central Asia, this type had 
only one hump. The Mongols continued to grumble a little. Dan- 
sing interpreted their comments by remarking that it didn't look as 
though it had even one hump, and if it was like that all the time, it 
must be very impractical for riding or carrying things. Anyway, it 
was still a very ugly camel ! 

Next morning we were wakened about dawn by the sound of 
great gusts of wind beating at the tent Early as it was, most of the 
other visitors had left, among them the Chinese and his escort. 

After eating, we got our hostess to pose for a photo wearing her 
massive coral crown, which she called a daroluk. Unfortunately the 
picture never came out, but at least her posing gave us a chance to 
see how the crown was worn, and how it gave great distinction to 
even a rather ordinary-looking woman. Then we gave them a few 
small presents, and set out toward the pass in steadily worsening 
weather. Yesterday noon it had been warm enough in the sunshine 
to ride without shirts, while today the sky was heavily overcast and 
the strong, cold wind Cut through our jackets. 

The pass toward which we were riding by now I was sure it was 
the same we had seen from the northeast looked almost as impres- 
sive, but very different, from this side. Its mouth was quite narrow, 
between rather low hills, and behind*them the black cleft cut down 



THE SECOND CAMEL TRIP 187 

through row after row of jagged peaks, ascending one after the 
other to a stupendous height. On the whole, though, it was not 
quite as spectacular as the northern approach, since it lacked the 
grandeur of that sheer and lofty wall. 

The pass seemed to have been cut by a river working down 
through soft vertical strata between layers of harder rock, as the side 
walls were so steep and straight throughout most of its length. They 
were very dark, almost a chocolate brown, suggesting basalt. This 
sombre color must have been the reason for its name Khara Gol, or 
Black Pass, which Dansing confided to us later, when we were well 
away from there. 

Here and there we passed huge caves overlooking the gorge. I 
scrambled up the rock to explore some of them, but if they ever had 
been used by primitive man, all traces had been washed down the 
cliff from their sloping floors. However I did find the almost perfect 
fossil of an ammonite, resembling a chambered nautilus, in a lime- 
stone boulder beside the trail. No doubt a trained geologist could 
find much more in this unexplored range. * 

We were glad that the local bandits were still occupied as mem- 
bers of General Fu's armies, for we came on a number of side val- 
leys that suddenly debouched on the main pass, making fine hideouts 
for a few armed men to ambush anyone passing by. Perhaps epi- 
sodes like this had contributed to the fear which the Mongols seem 
to have for the Khara Gol. 

At the far end of the pass, a smaller branch of the main stream 
had carved another outlet. Between this and the principal mouth, a 
massive block of resistant stone rose even higher than the north 
wall of the range, of which it had once formed a part. On its summit 
we sighted an argali sheep, curiously watching us. Dansing forgot 
his awe of the pass, and began to yodel to try to scare it. It turned 
aside its head with the heavy, curling horns, and seemed about to 
leap away. Then its curiosity apparently overcame its natural re- 
action at so unearthly a sound, and it stayed on the crag to watch 
until we were gone. 

Almost at the moment we emerged from the pass, to follow for a 
few miles the trail by which we had come south, the heavens opened 
and the rains fell. The camels disliked the rain as much as we did, 
but there was nothing to do but push on. The small temple of Rashi 
Jung that we had passed on the way down was closed and locked, 



i88 THE SECOND CAMEL TRIP 

and we could find no other shelter. After an hour or so the heavy 
rain stopped, but a cold damp wind that was almost as bad began to 
blow from the north. 

The trail led up and down over long, low hills, fingers projecting 
from the main range, and roughly paralleled the bus road, which was 
out of sight to the east. Occasionally in a valley we would come 
upon the home of some Chinese squatter, mere dugout dwellings 
with sod roofs projecting from the hillsides. The soil around them 
was all bare, and filthy from goat dung. They seemed the last word 
in squalor. At least yurts could be moved when the surroundings 
got too filthy. 

We saw no signs of any Mongols after leaving the vicinity of the 
pass until toward dusk, when we began to come across extensive 
horse and camel herds, and now and then saw someone tending a 
flock of sheep in the distance. 

As soon as darkness fell, Dansing's friend Nimbu abruptly 
changed our course, and began to lead us far afield, so we could get 
to his home that night. I had no sense of direction in the blackness, 
but knew from the fact that we were now crossing smooth, soft sand, 
instead of uneven gravel hills, that we must be following one of those 
river beds leading east across the plain. 

Several times during the day he had attempted to lead us east 
toward the bus road, but every time we saw from our position in 
relation to the mountains that we were getting off the direct route, 
I had forestalled him. Now, with no means of knowing exactly 
where we were, he had us at his mercy. 

Whatever Nimbu's reason for taking us home with him ; whether 
he wanted company or protection on his way home, or whether he 
simply wished to show us off to his parents as strange curiosities, he 
succeeded in his aim. We found ourselves spending the night in a 
very large yurt fully twenty feet in diameter at least thirty li east 
of our route. 

His family consisted of his father, a very old man with a grey 
beard ; two women, both of whom seemed to be his wives ; a fairly 
pretty young daughter ; and a half-witted son who seemed a year or 
two older than Nimbu. The brother would smile at us now and 
then, and open his mouth wide to let out a pitiful gurgle. The rest of 
the time he just sat by the fire playing with the end of his cloth belt. 



THE SECOND CAMEL TRIP 189 

We felt sorry for the family, that they could not have sent this son 
as their temple offering to become a lama, and kept the strong and 
handsome Nimbu to carry on their line. 

Nimbu' s mother fed us a fine dinner of mutton and potatoes, the 
latter a rare luxury in this region. Then his father got Dansing and 
Nimbu to ask us all sorts of questions about our customs and ways of 
life in America. Nimbu did not speak as much Chinese as Dansing, 
but he was far more quick-witted, and I think he understood my de- 
scriptions of unfamiliar things better than Dansing did. 

When, as usual, I looked into the god-box to see what sort of 
paintings and images it held, Nimbu's father asked me what the gods 
of "West Russia" looked like. I told them that we had only one 
God calling him Bur khan Tcngri, the name the Mongols had given 
to their supreme Sky God before they took over Lamaism and said 
that he was not a man, and no man had ever seen him, so we could 
not really describe or represent Him. When the young lamas passed 
on this information, the faces of all three had a half-smile, as though 
they were thinking that that was a rather unsatisfactory way of ex- 
plaining things. 

I went on to tell them, however, that Burkhan Tengri's son had 
come down to live among men as a teacher, and although he had re- 
turned to his Father, we could represent him as men had seen him 
at various stages of his life. Finally, there was a third aspect of 
Burkhan, His spirit, who brought men great thoughts (I did not 
know how to express the word "Inspiration"), and that we some- 
times paint this as a white bird. I was trying to explain all this in 
simple Chinese, but I could not be sure how much Nimbu and Dan- 
sing understood. After the first sentence or two their faces began to 
look rather blank, so I did not attempt to go on to describe our other 
beliefs, and the many sects that had destroyed the ideal of a Universal 
Church. 

Next morning Nimbu's mother gave us a good breakfast of millet 
gruel. We woke to the sound of pounding as she ground the brown 
husks off the grains in a wooden mortar made of a half -hollowed log, 
about two feet high. Then she poured everything into a shallow 
woven basket and sifted off the chaff. Half of the grain she poured 
into the pot, and swelled in boiling water to make the gruel. The rest 
she put aside and Nimbu said she would later mix it with sand and 



190 THE SECOND CAMEL TRIP 

roast it in the iron ko. No doubt it was this process that left the small 
stones that were so hard on our teeth when they gave us parched 
millet in our tea. 

Nimbu's family belonged to the Hanggin Banner. But this morn- 
ing, when Nimbu's mother opened a chest in the corner, I noticed a 
festive crown, like the daroluk of the Ottok hunter's wife but a little 
plainer. Nimbu explained the women of all the Ordos Banners had 
jewelry of the same general type; but that most of them were a little 
more reserved about wearing it than were the women of the Ottok, 
who trotted theirs out on all possible occasions to show off their 
wealth. This may once have been true, but I never saw such a crown 
elsewhere among the Hanggin or Dalat Banners, and I think that 
with increased poverty due to Chinese encroachment, most present- 
day Mongol families cannot afford such luxuries. 

Just as we were about to leave the yurts this family also had 
two a dense fog rolled up. It was very thick near the ground but 
somewhat thinner above, so we could only see each other's heads as 
we rode along, and occasionally, as it thinned a little, the heads of 
the other camels. The bobbing heads and the motion beneath us for 
once made the overdone description of a camel as "the ship of the 
desert" seem singularly appropriate. 

We traveled west in the river bed until the fog burned away 
about half an hour later. By this time we were on slightly higher 
ground, and we looked back to see the two yurts of Nimbu's family 
not far from the red mesa of Po-yen-yao. It took us the better part 
of the morning to regain our route to the north. Even then, we 
failed to find the real trail, and spent most of the day floundering 
.around among gravel ridges, in country that Dansing said he had 
never been in. It seemed that on this day we had a better sense of 
direction than he had. 

In the late afternoon we came to a ruined temple that Dansing 
recognized. He said that it had been despoiled by the monks them- 
selves, before moving on to a more auspicious site. From here he 
said that he knew the way, and that we had fully forty li to go to the 
next temple, so we had better start looking for a place to spend the 
night. 

Considering the distance we had come, I did not think it could 
be forty li to the temple near Lo-pei Chao. Young suggested that 
Dansing was exaggerating the distance because he didn't want to go 



THE SECOND CAMEL TRIP 191 

on, just as he and Nimbu had understated the distance to the latter's 
home when they wanted to push on long after dark last evening. 
This turned out to be true. Dansing's li had accordion pleats, and 
could be stretched or squeezed together at will. 

We wondered later if he had known that the nearby yurt, where 
we eventually spent the night, had a singularly beautiful young ma- 
tron, a veritable Mongol Delilah, and deliberately arranged things so 
we would have to stay there. We came upon her as she was tending 
the family sheep, on a hill not far from the ruined temple, and as he 
was arranging with her to spend the night at her yurt he could not 
control a broad grin that was almost a leer. 

She would have been beautiful in any country, but her beauty that 
made us tingle was more than offset by her husband's other wife, 
whom we met in the family's main yurt, a thin, wild-eyed girl who 
was coughing her lungs out, with what seemed like an advanced case 
of pleurisy. She kept wanting to come over to our side of the fire to 
see us better, which meant that she was coughing almost in our 
faces. The husband was a gaunt, tired-looking man in his early 
thirties, who did not seem to have much personality. He spent most 
of his time, while we were there, sitting in the tent with two old 
crones shoibwonshes, like Dunguerbo's grandmother who seemed 
to be the real heads of the family. They claimed to be seventy and 
eighty-two years old, respectively, and looked their ages. It seemed 
singularly appropriate that we should come across these lama witches 
at Halloween time. 

The eldest shoibwonsh was gaunt and shrunken, but extremely 
talkative. She sat behind the fire with nothing on above the waist, 
as had Dunguerbo's grandmother when I first met her. Apparently 
that is the accepted thing for Mongol witches. Her sister, less dried 
up, and with a smiling open face that must once have been beautiful, 
spoke less, but was far more active. Considering her energy and not 
her first appearance, it was hard to realize that she had reached her 
three score years and ten, which of itself was a remarkable thing for a 
Mongol. 

Neither of them had ever heard of the symbolism of the yurt, or 
the other aspects of ancient tradition that were told me by Dunguer- 
bo's grandmother and his courtesy "aunt," both shoibwonshes of 
the Oirat Banner. Their only functions seemed to be fortune-telling 
and the sale of paper charms. 



192 THE SECOND CAMEL TRIP 

They thought I aspired to be a fortune-teller when I warned them 
that the sick wife would soon die if she could not get medicine. (I 
was trying to persuade some member of the family to come on with 
us to Lo-pei Chao to get her some of the sulfa drugs we had.) The 
older one immediately asked me how much longer she herself had to 
live. I made some complimentary remark to the effect that she had 
ten good years at least ahead of her, but she sighed and said some- 
thing in a sombre tone. Dansing interpreted that she felt she would 
die this winter. For a few moments she looked even older. Then she 
recovered her good spirits, and the two of them seemed to be tossing 
jokes back and forth, while the pretty wife prepared a mutton feast 
for us. 

After dinner we were talking to the two old crones through the 
husband, who knew a little Chinese. The pretty wife had left to go 
to the other tent. Dansing soon left too. He came back about an 
hour later, just as we were rolling up in our blankets for the night. 
He looked very smug. Next morning the pretty one made sheep's 
eyes at Dansing across the fire, and he grinned back. The husband 
did not seem to notice. 

When we left the tent that morning the air was freezing, and the 
icy wind from the north cut right through our jackets. We wrapped 
ourselves in extra army blankets, until Young suggested that we 
looked like Arabs, and in that way we kept off some of the blast. 
Winter had clearly begun, and I remembered Father Schram's re- 
mark that up here they only had two seasons, a short summer and a 
long winter. We stopped for a quick lunch of tea and millet at 
Shante Temple, only a few miles from Lo-pei Chao, and after a brief 
tour of its main halls, set out over the hills for Lo-pei Chao itself. 

From a considerable distance, we could see that the truck was still 
there, and as we drew closer, we saw a grinning trio of Americans 
waiting for us. They said they had known us from the time we 
mounted the first hill in the distance; for only Americans would 
hustle the camels along as we did. 



24 

LEAVING THE ORDOS 

THE GRINS of the three who had been left at Lo-pei Chao were 
not due entirely to our return, though they said they were glad 
to see us, and happy to know that the parts were on their way. They 
were also smiling in rightful pride because they had just completed 
the job of casting a new bearing for the water pump. 

The three had not gone anywhere while I was away. They had 
just sat around and done a lot of reading, but their minds had not 
been idle. Shekalus suggested that if they had some lead, and could 
make a mold, they could probably cast a new bearing. The three had 
put their heads together, and devised a very clever method of doing 
this. First they fired some thirty bullets from their revolvers into a 
mud wall. Then prying them out, they had melted the lead out of the 
copper jackets over the stove, and poured it into a mold made from 
the casing of a dry-cell battery. 

They had just finished putting the pump together, and rigging up 
a lubricating system for it that was equally ingenious. They had 
hung an inverted canteen over the pump, on wires, and had pierced it 
so that it would drip oil gradually. 

As soon as they had heard our stories of the trips down and back, 
and our success in getting the message through to Chungking, She- 
kalus drove the truck about a quarter of a mile to test the pump. It 
seemed to work perfectly, but we did not know how long it could 
hold out. As long as the parts were on their way, we decided to 
stay there a few days longer, rather than risk a breakdown in a less 
favorable place. The next two days, cold and uneventful, passed as 
a hazy and unpleasant dream. Finally, on the third afternoon, a 
broken-down Chinese truck arrived from our former camp, with the 
next to last group of Americans aboard. They said that the last were 
to follow in the morning. 

The next day Young got through to Pike for the first time. The 
portable set had not been working well, and he had been unable to 



194 LEAVING THE ORDOS 

make connections, though we all took turns cranking the generator. 
Pike told him that Jack Shearer, his relief, had gotten a truck from 
Lanchow, and was due to arrive with the new parts at any time. 

Almost immediately, the last truck from Shanpa drew up in front 
of the temple. Some of the Americans aboard it had just come in 
from a column working beyond Paotou. They brought all sorts of 
gloomy rumors. Governor Fu, they said, had been forced to give up 
Kueihua to the Chinese Communists, and now Paotou itself was 
threatened by an uprising of Northern Mongols with Russian allies 
from Outer Mongolia. Moreover, a raiding party of "Commies" 
was supposed to have attacked Ambei on the Wuyuan road, not far 
from Shanpa. 

The last report was one reason for their sudden leaving. The lo- 
cal authorities, and especially the Chinese at camp, had represented 
the Chinese Communists as little better than bandits, and had warned 
the C.O. that Americans were currently not popular with Communist 
groups. The newcomers pointed out that our own position was not 
too good either, with a truck full of supplies that the Communists 
could use. If they should cross the Yellow River at Paotou, and 
move south toward Ninghsia, we would be completely cut off. 

These rumors and warnings did not sound too reliable. For ex- 
ample, they said that much-maligned Prince Te had joined the Outer 
Mongolian invasion column. I knew that this could not be true, as 
he represented the hereditary wealth that the Communists would be 
most anxious to wipe out. As a matter of fact, I later learned that 
the Outer Mongolians had driven off his herds, taken his sons cap- 
tive, and forced the prince himself to flee for his life. But we were 
not in a position there to find out how sound the rumors were, and 
there was no point in taking risks. 

Now we had a double incentive for attempting the trip with the 
new pump : the possible danger of getting embroiled in a civil war if 
we stayed, and the advisability of going to meet the parts to save 
further horse and camel trips, which the arctic weather was making 
more and more impractical. It seemed a good idea to start off with 
the others. Then if the new pump did not work, and we broke down 
again, they could at least report our location to Pike. 

On impulse we decided to risk it. We quickly rolled up our bed- 
ding, stowed the loose gear, and hopped aboard. Much to our sur- 
prise the improvised bearing stood up one mile, two miles, ten, 



LEAVING THE ORDOS 195 

and finally fifty-odd. Soon after dark we reached the ferry crossing 
at Shang-tu-k'ou, and saw the lights of Shih-chieh-shan glimmering 
across the river. 

As we were unloading our bedding at the posthouse, I looked up 
at the chorten-gate, now black against the starry sky, and thought 
about how much had happened since we first had seen it three months 
ago. A shout and some laughter from the Mongol inn below it re- 
minded me of the Mongols I had seen on that occasion, and of the 
questions that the Chinese attitude toward them had raised in my 
mind. I had long since learned the answers from seeing the rela- 
tions between the "Master Race" and the "barbarians," the exploit- 
ers and the exploited, and they did not make me happy. 

That night, as we lay in our sleeping bags, we discussed the 
Chinese-Mongolian question in the light of the recent rumors about 
the Chinese Communists and the Outer Mongolians. At first the is- 
sues and the possible results seemed very confused, but eventually we 
came to some conclusions : 

If the Chinese Communists took over Chahar and Suiyuan, as they 
seemed likely to in time, they were, for all their talk, still Chinese with 
a contempt for aborigines and "barbarians." The way they had 
treated the semi-Tibetan tribesmen of northern Yunnan and western 
Szechuan during their famous (or notorious) Long March proved 
that. Unless their attitude had greatly changed, the Mongols would 
find themselves just as badly off. 

What if the Russians succeeded in adding this region to * 'Inde- 
pendent" Outer Mongolia? They were nominally sympathetic to- 
ward smaller minority groups, and boasted of encouraging the per- 
petuation of old Asiatic traditions at least those that did not 
interfere with the new economic system. But even though it might 
be desirable for all the Mongols to be reunited once more in a com- 
mon destiny, the Inner Mongolians would undoubtedly be forced to 
pay for possibly greater security at the expense of an even greater 
loss of their much-prized freedom. 

If, on the other hand, conditions were to remain as they were, 
with the Inner Mongolians under the control of such warlords as Fu 
Tso-yi and Ma Heng-kuei, their future looked very bad indeed. The 
culture of the Mongols as we had observed it on our trips seemed 
rapidly passing. The new deserts at the foot of the Khara Narin Ula 



196 LEAVING THE ORDOS 

range showed how sheep and goats can ruin pasture land just as 
much as poor farming can, if the land is overgrazed and not allowed 
to rest now and then. And so little good pasture remains to the 
Mongols in Inner Mongolia that what is left must be used to the 
utmost. With this economic pressure rapidly increasing, the remain- 
ing Mongol Banners of Inner Mongolia might soon be forced to fol- 
low the recent example of the Dalats, and give up their old ways of 
life to take up the civilization of the encroaching Chinese at least in 
part, thus losing their own identity. 

Even the borrowed Tibetan culture of Lamaism that has had so 
much influence over the Mongols in the past three hundred and fifty 
years was fast passing. Once vastly wealthy, the looted lamaseries 
and this means all but a few like Ago-in Sume and Lo-shan Miao are 
no longer so; even by Asiatic standards, in which pomp and glitter 
count for more than less showy assets because of the emphasis on 
"face." Large monasteries like Shandagu Miao and Shanda-in 
Sume require vast amounts for upkeep ; and as the Mongol laymen 
nobles as well as hunters and herdsmen become steadily poorer, 
they could no longer afford to support the temples, much less repair 
the damages suffered during the War even in areas not occupied by 
the Japanese. This would not decrease the demands of the lamas, 
however, and the temples would doubtless continue to pull down the 
living standard of the Mongols in their decline. 

We could only hope that the future would provide a solution that 
would permit the Mongols to maintain their eminently well-balanced 
way of life, so well adapted to their environment, and at the same 
time enable them to raise their standard of living to include medical 
care and better living conditions in general. This could be accom- 
plished under a benevolent Chinese government that would have the 
foresight to allow the Mongols either outright freedom under a sys- 
tem of federation, or at least a greater measure of self-rule under 
Mongol rulers who would understand their problems and this does 
not mean absentee princes, like the wastrels who have signed away 
tribal rights for personal profit. Such a government would also have 
to assist the Mongols in returning to pasture land the marginal areas 
that are obviously not fit for farming, and in encouraging better, 
less haphazard markets for their dairy products and hides. It would 
probably also have to break the temporal power of the Lama Church 
without destroying it as an institution. 



LEAVING THE ORDOS 197 

Even then, such a progressive program for the Mongols seemed 
too much to expect. If the long-promised Coalition Government for 
China could ever be achieved, perhaps that would be idealistic enough 
to undertake it. But with all the preparations for civil war that we 
had seen in the Northwest, and the increasing tendency of both the 
Kuomintang and the Communists to crush down the liberal elements 
with their brutal secret police systems, the prospects of progressive 
reform in the frontier regions seemed very remote. 

This was what passed ' through our minds that night. We did 
not foresee, could never have imagined, what actually did take place 
within four years. Governor Fu, after gaining some nominal vic- 
tories against the Communists with aid of his Mongol cavalry, was 
appointed the Nationalist Commander of North China; whereupon 
he proceeded to sell out Peking and the surrounding areas to the Reds 
without a fight. In return for this, his late enemies awarded him 
high positions in their own government, including the executive con- 
trol over Suiyuan Province, with a prominent voice in the future 
destiny of the Mongols, whom he still despises. A few months later, 
General Ma of Ninghsia, after many public announcements of heroic 
defense, likewise sold out to the Communists ; and with all protection 
gone, the Belgian fathers were forced to flee from their great hold- 
ings in Ninghsia and Suiyuan. 

The Bamboo Curtain has settled down tightly over Inner Mon- 
golia, and we have no means of knowing what is actually going on 
there. It may be years before any Occidental is admitted to see. But 
considering the type of Chinese still in control of that area, and the 
new teachings that exalt economic progress for the rulers above in- 
dividual welfare for the ruled, it does not seem as though the families 
and Banners of Dunguerbo, Dansing, and all the other Mongols who 
had been so hospitable to us in their tents and temples, will soon enjoy 
that peace, security, and freedom from exploitation which we had 
hoped they would regain. 



INDEX 



Ago-in Sume, 129, 136, 137-42 

Alashan (Oelot) Banner, 16, 18, 137, 160 

Antelope Cave (Lowung Chim'), 139-40 

Arbus Ula, 12-13, 168, 181, 184 

Banners (general), 70 

Bayan Shanda-in Sume (Shantan 

Miao), 105, 114-20, 121 
Beilighe Pass, 57, 58-72 
Beilighe Temple, 48, 49, 50-56, 57, 101, 

126, 147 
Belgian Mission (Congregation de 

Scheut), 14, 15-19, 21-22, 28-29, 129, 

152, 155, 156, 197 
Borin Temple, 108, 123, 133 
Camels, 9, 10-11, 37-38, 114, 118-19, 133- 

34, 158, 163-67, 186 
Ch'ien-li Miao, 85, 88-95 
Chinese settlers in Mongolia, 15, 16, 28- 

29, 32-38, 143, 144-46, 188 
Chortens, 4, 55, 114 
Dabatu Pass (Dabatein Gol), 105, 110, 

111-12, 121, 133 

Dalat Banner, 51, 70, 83, 85, 90, 98, 156 
Dansing Lama, 13-14, 163-72, 174, 183- 

84, 186, 190-92 
Dungsher Temple, 97, 98-99 
Dunguerbo, 66, 101, 104-5, 122-29 
Fu Tso-yi, General, Governor of Sui- 

yuan, 12, 22, 23, 24, 34, 42-43, 44-45, 

50-51, 73, 145, 150, 156-57, 194, 195, 

197 

Gobi Desert, 22, 72, 113, 114 
Great Wall of China, 3, 181 
Hanggin Banner, 69, 70-71, 160, 190 
Haron-in Gol, 135 
Hou-t'ao Plain (the Great Plain), 16, 

18, 19, 43, 86 

Ikh-chao League, see Ordos Banners 
Jenghis Khan, 6, 70, 110, 168 
Johansen, Fred, the Magician, 11, 17, 

48, 52, 57, 64, 101, 104-5, 109, 120, 130, 

152 

Khalkha Tribe 118, 120 
Khara Gol (the Black Pass), 169, 186- 

87 
Khara Narin Ula (Lang Shan Range), 

18, 59, 153 
Khubilai Khan, 51, 70, 110 



Kueihua, 42, 43, 46, 194 

Lama Religion (general), 5, 51, 53-55, 

74, 79, 81, 132, 140, 141, 196 
Lamaseries (general), 5, 38, 157, 196 

(for specific temples, see names ending 

in Miao or Sume} 
Lang Shan, see Khara Narin Ula 
Living Buddhas, 74, 75-80, 83-84, 90, 94 

108-9, 141-42, 160, 171 
Lo-pei Chao, 13, 153-60, 162, 192, 193 
Lo-shan Miao (Manba-Rasan Sume), 6, 

170-71, 184 

Lopon Dorje, Abbot, 57-58, 103, 105, 147 
Ma Heng-kuei, General, Governor of 

Ninghsia, 12, 24, 175-76, 179, 195, 197 
Manchu Dynasty, 18, 70, 160 
Manhui, 29, 38, 73 
Marco Polo, 62, 109, 110 
Marpa, 90, 156 
Meirin Sume (New Meirin Temple), 

106-7 

Meirin Temple, Old, 107, 131 
Milaraspa, 76, 156 
Mohammedan Mongols, 13, 51 
Mongol customs, 69, 71, 91, 111-12, 119- 

20, 123-25, 157, 166, 167, 189-90 
Mongol dress, 6, 7, 60-61, 63, 102-3, 118, 

128, 137, 171-72, 183, 185, 186, 190 
Mongol settled farmers, 85-86 
Mongolia, Inner, 11, 18-19, 195-96 
Mongolia, Outer, 19, 116, 118-19, 194, 

195 
Mongolian chess (shatara}, 91-95, 117, 

155, 161-62 

Mountain sheep, 113, 170, 187 
Nestorian Christianity, 51, 80, 111 
Ninghsia (Province), 4, 12, 15, 19, 172, 

173-82, 197 

Ninghsia City, 10, 154, 175, 178-80 
Obos, 6, 87, 107, 118-19, 135 
Oirat Banner, 49, 50-51, 69, 70-71, 85, 

90, 99, 103, 127 
Oinak, 137, 138, 142 
Ordos (Desert), 3, 4, 9-12, 152-53, 155- 

56, 158-59, 162, 165-72 
Ordos Banners (Ikh-chao League), 7, 

70,71 
Orondeshi (Mesa), 168-181 



199 



200 



INDEX 



Ottok Banner, 7, 70, 166, 167, 171-72, 

185 

Padma Sambhava, 140, 141, 156 
Paotou (Pao-t'ou), 10, 19, 43, 44, 46, 

128, 176, 194 

Peking-Suiyuan Railroad, 11, 43, 174 
Ping-lo, 177, 181 

Po-yen-yao Mesa, (13), 166-67, 190 
Prehistoric remains, 112-13, 121, 135, 

158-59, 167 

Rashi Jung, 168-69, 187 
San-sheng-kung, 14, 15, 17, 18, 39, 48, 

152 

Sarachi (Sa-hsien), 18, 44, 126 
Schram, Father, 29, 38-39, 43, 73-74, 82 
Shamanism, 51, 124 
Shanda-in Temple, see Bay an Shanda-in 

Sume 
Shandagu Temple (Shan-ta-ku Miao), 

51, 73-83, 96-97 

Shang-tu-k'ou, 5, (172), (183), 195 
Shanpa, 4, 19-20, 23-26, 43, 115, 149-51 



Shante Temple, 192 

Shih-chieh-shan, 3, 172, 173-77, 181, 195 

Shoibwonsh (Lama witch), 123-24, 143, 

191 
Suiyuan (Province), 3, 4, 19, 42-44, 126, 

195, 197 

Ta-shun-chen, 21, 38 
T'ai-an-chen, see Shanpa 
T'ai-yang Miao, 134, 143 
Tanguts, 39, 99 
Te, Prince, 42, 194 
Tomei Temple, 111, 122 
Tseng Kapa, 53, 141, 156 
Ulan-chap League (Oirats, etc.). 70, 

(118) 

Wojer Sume, 14, 160-62 
Wu-chia Ho, 48, 75, 85, 147 
Wuyuan, 43, 44, 85, 194 
Yellow River, 3-5, 13-14, 46, 48, 172, 173, 

176, 183; Old course, 50, 107 
Yurt (Mongol tent), 58, 62-64, 124-25, 

155-56 



128379