The Road to Weng’an

David Leffman Mesny, Miao War, Old Road, Tang Jiong Leave a Comment

In 1870, facing a collapse in morale, exacerbated by in-fighting amongst his own generals, the Sichuan Army commander Tang Jiong had no option but to abandon his eighteen-month-old campaign against the Miao at Chong’an. Mesny joined in the Sichuan Army’s dispirited withdrawal northwest from Chong’an to Weng’an along gu yidao, the old granite-flagged post road. Today a stretch of the road …

Seeking Tiekuang Po

David Leffman Mesny, Miao War Leave a Comment

A sunny market day in Chong’an: chaos. Narrow streets crammed with diminutive but solidly built Miao grandmothers dressed in dark blue with frilled tea-towel turbans, grandchildren strapped to their backs in quilted pads. Some of the babies also wore “tiger” hats, complete with silver icons and tufted ears, to ward off bad luck. The grandmothers were no respecters of age …

Su Yuanchun: The Pit of Ten Thousand Men

David Leffman Mesny, Miao War, Su Yuanchun 2 Comments

Mr Li and I arrived at Shidong after a long trip on foot down the mountain from Bandeng, following a centuries-old trail. There had been a moment of excitement when we bumped into a woodcutter with two aggressive hunting dogs, and some fun banter with a party of Miao returning happily drunk from a funeral, who berated Mister Li for …

Bao Dadu: Victory at Huangpiao, 1869

David Leffman Mesny, Miao War, Zhang Xiumei Leave a Comment

In early May, 1869, Mesny and the Sichuan Army were busy storming Miao fortifications on the heights of Tiekuang Po near Chong’an. On the same day, another battle was going between Miao forces and the Hunan Army some 20km to the northeast at Huangpiao (or Pekuo as it’s called locally), a narrow plateau with steep cliffs dropping into the valley …

Zhang Xiumei and the Miao War

David Leffman Mesny, Miao War, Zhang Xiumei 6 Comments

The Miao Uprising in Guizhou (1855–1873) was – cutting out all the fiddly details – a rebellion against the  Chinese administration by the majority Hmong (Miao) ethnic minority. The Miao are concentrated in Qiandongnan, southeastern Guizhou province, a mountainous region where the only Chinese presence was in a handful of trading posts and garrison towns guarding the lowland roads. Once these had been overrun, …

Zhang Zhidong at Guiyang

David Leffman Mesny, Zhang Zhidong Leave a Comment

While walking at random around the back lanes of Guiyang, I found this bust of Mesny’s patron, Zhang Zhidong, near the restored Six-arch Bridge (六洞桥) on Bo’ai Lu. In the Qing dynasty, Guiyang’s Customs office was here, alongside the home of Yu Dekai (于德楷, aka 于仲芳, 1842–1913), a great friend of Mesny and his exact contemporary. Yu fought alongside Mesny …

Wuyapo: the final battle of the Miao War

David Leffman Mesny, Miao War, Wuyapo Leave a Comment

The last major battle of the Miao War, in either May or June 1872, was long thought to have taken place at the top of Leigong Shan. But a battle site has never been found there, and new research (including a recently-discovered eye-witness claim) makes Wuyapo  – “Crow Slope” or “Crow Mountain”, depending on how literal you want to be – near …

Verbiest’s Map of China

David Leffman map, Mesny, Verbiest, Woodblock print Leave a Comment

Back in June 2016, I was a bit stunned to find this huge, woodblock-printed world map (坤與全圖) hanging up at an antiques stall in Beijing. It wasn’t for sale, and it took me some time to sweet-talk them around the “no photographs” sign (in fact they only let me take this picture because the quality of my ipod camera is so …

Tang Jiong and Mesny’s Farm at Shuitian

David Leffman Mesny, Tang Jiong 1 Comment

According to Mesny’s Chinese Miscellany, in the early 1870s Mesny bought a farm in the vicinity of Shuitian village (水田), 18km to the northeast of Guiyang. Around 1879 he sold the land at cost price to his former commander, Tang Jiong (唐炯), who was looking for a good burial spot for his mother-in-law. In 2015 my local contact, Mr Li Maoqing, located the …

Mesny’s Bridge at Chong’an

David Leffman Mesny, Zhou Dawu Leave a Comment

During the Sichuan Army’s two-year campaign against the Miao at Chong’an, they had been repeatedly slowed by having to ferry themselves across a deep, unbridged gorge just west of town. In 1874 Mesny wrote in the Shanghai Courier how he was designing a chain-link suspension bridge over the chasm, which lay on the main post road between Hunan and Guiyang: “The bridge will …