Mesny 1862: A Prisoner on the Yangzi

David Leffman General Hou, Mesny, Taipings, Travel writing Leave a Comment

During the Taiping Uprising, Mesny found work as a “Blockade Runner”, ferrying contraband arms and salt upstream along the war-ravaged lower Yangzi between Shanghai and the inland metropolis of Wuhan. The work was profitable but extremely dangerous, and it wasn’t long before Mesny was fighting off pirates and getting himself badly battered during a near-fatal assault by the Qing navy. …

Mountains and Monkeys

David Leffman Fanjing Shan, Golden Monkeys, Travel writing 3 Comments

There’s no point spending half your life living rough on the road if you can’t indulge a few private interests from time to time. One of mine is seeing as much wildlife as possible. Though I’m really more interested in smaller stuff like reptiles and insects, I’ve always had good luck with primates; highlights include seeing orang-utan, proboscis monkeys, gibbon, …

Baoding 1882: Mesny meets Li Hongzhang

David Leffman Baoding, Li Hongzhang, Mesny Leave a Comment

In late January 1882 Mesny arrived at Baoding, the capital of Zhili province. Wrapped protectively around Beijing, Zhili was heavily militarised and only absolutely trusted ministers were put in charge; its viceroy was Li Hongzhang, a scholar-turned-general who had fought his way to Imperial recognition during the Taiping Rebellion. Li had since become one of the most powerful men in …

How I Became A Guidebook Writer

David Leffman Travel writing Leave a Comment

Back in 2005, I was interviewed by China Travel magazine in Hong Kong. The journalist took me out for afternoon tea at the swish Mandarin Oriental hotel, and we chatted for a couple of hours about my background as a travel writer, and in particular how I had become so interested in China. Between guzzling tea, petit fours and cucumber …

Yamdena

David Leffman Indonesia 2 Comments

Between 1997 and 1998 I spent six months working in Sulawesi, Kalimantan and Maluku, researching a guidebook to Indonesia. As a region of island groups scattered across 2000km of ocean, just getting around occupied most of my time. In theory, you could fly between major centres, but in practice the planes seldom left the ground, and when they did take …

Seda

David Leffman Sichuan, Travel writing 1 Comment

We hadn’t wanted to go to Seda. I doubt anybody does, unless they’re a monk studying at the enormous lamasery there, the largest in western Sichuan. But things had gone astray at the bus station in Ma’erkang, where the staff had refused to tell me whether there was a bus through to the monastery town of Ganzi, hundreds of kilometres further …

On Mesny’s Trail: Hami

David Leffman Mesny Leave a Comment

On 12 April, 1881, Mesny passed “the Royal tomb where the King of the Chao-to nation is buried, this of a green colour and shaped like a round tower with a dome” and arrived at China’s northwestern military headquarters, Hami (aka Qumul). He had spent two years on the journey here from Hong Kong, though he would by now have …

On Mesny’s Trail: The Road to Xinjiang

David Leffman Mesny 2 Comments

With Jiayuguan’s western gate behind him, Mensy left China for Xinjiang, the “New Territories” of Chinese Turkestan, whose desolate, sand-blurred vistas stretched thousands of kilometres west across two vast desert basins to the borders with Russia and Central Asia. His party marched onto the almost featureless plain, where bitter winds cut through everyone’s clothing (except for the carters, who had …

On Mesny’s Trail: Jiayuguan

David Leffman Mesny, Zuo Zongtang Leave a Comment

On 24 March 1881, two years into what would become a five-year trip around China, Mesny crossed an immense gravel plain and arrived at Jiayuguan, a run-down township at the edge of the nation’s northwesternmost frontier. He left early the next morning for Jiayuguan fort, which guards a 5km-wide pass between the snow-capped Qilian mountains to the south and the …