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On the "Interior" 

August 30, 1915:


“Since I started this letter I have found out that next week I must leave for the far up-country, the "interior" as it is known on Canton Road. This means that I am going into my cave for at least a year and shall see little of the white race. I am to take the old Tsingkiangpu Houseboat No. 36 and proceed to Tsingkiangpu, 400 li up the Grand Canal of China. This is a great commercial point of the Grand Canal and while its population is unknown, various estimates place it up as high as half a million. It is probably about the size of Frisco.


There are no white people up there except some missionaries and a travelling representative of the B.A.T. [British-American Tobacco]. This place cannot be any worse than Mungtza, way down south in Hunan, where Bill Denby rusticated for two and a half years. Of course Bill is in the Maritime Customs and they don’t have much to do, so for 2 1/2 years Bill and his two outdoor staff got ginned every night. It was the only pleasure they had, to get ginned at night and to spend the daytime looking forward to getting ginned the next night. 

But I shall not be stationed in Tsingkiangpu, I am to travel the whole Grand Canal territory as far up as Taierchwang [Taierzhuang] and to come in contact with all the marketing conditions of the up-country. But I don’t intend to follow in the footsteps of so many men of the Dark Interior. In the first place I don’t like gin and in the second place the Company wouldn’t stand for it when there is so much to do. But it takes a pretty narrow person to blame a man stationed in some far native city, seeing a white man every few months, never seeing a white woman, with twelve hours a day heavy on his hands. The principal white men one sees are Catholic priests. It is all very well for these hypocrites back home to talk about vice and all that. They can go down to the movies any night they want to and can see lots of white women any day of their lives.


However I shall be as busy as possible with all the exigencies of native travelling. If I were not busy it would be impossible to stand it, just think of it, nothing to commune with except my own thoughts day in, day out, and in famine times, nothing but dying Chinese to look at. When the crops fail up Ichowfu way, where I am going, they say the poor die by the hundred thousand.  . . .

I shall travel by native junk principally, but there will be a lot of moving by chair. I shall also travel by mule cart, wheelbarrow, on mule back where there are any roads. There is one straight stretch in this country where one has to travel 165 miles carried in a chair. On the main waterways I shall travel in native launch, but to appreciate this you should see a native launch. There is no limit to the number of passengers they can carry except the surface area of the boat. They emit an odor which would be very unpopular at home it is so highly flavored but up-country one soon gets used to it and misses it when it is not present. I shall also have along two servants, my boy and a cook, and the Company pays for a laodah for the House boat and the junks I hire. 

At night I shall either sleep in a junk or if I have to, in a native inn, but that is as a last resort. . . .  I shall sleep in a bag lined with camels hair and use few if any blankets. Men up-country also wear camels hair overcoats, which are very expensive but are necessary because of bitter penetrating cold of the middle Provinces’ winters. They tell me that a man up-country gets into one of these coats along in November and does not come out again until the following spring. In the interior the Chinese have no fires the way we do at home; inured by centuries to great extremes of climate they simply stand the cold. I shall probably spend many hours in Chinese junks unprovided with steam heating arrangements. At home physical activity helps to keep out the cold but here in China there is little physical activity in the winter time.”

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