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 …

Buttons and Badges

David Leffman Mesny Leave a Comment

Mesny and other Qing dynasty officials showed off their rank with – amongst other things like jade belt buckles, Buddha-bead necklaces and peacock feathers – coloured hat finials or “buttons” (帽顶), and embroidered rank badges (補子). Here’s a photo of him from around 1875, dressed as a third-rank official. Hat finials were a coloured ball the size of a large …

Monkeys and Fire: Jiuzhou, 1869

David Leffman Mesny, Miao War 2 Comments

There’s a local saying in southeast Guizhou: “If you want to enjoy your New Year, don’t argue with the people at Jiuzhou”. The population must be a fiesty bunch then. I wondered if this was why my bus ticket included insurance coverage of up to ¥20,000 medical expenses, or ¥4000 for personal injury. Known as Huangping in Mesny’s day, I …

Niuchang, 1868: Mesny joins the Sichuan Army

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

In late summer 1868, Mesny travelled down through northern Guizhou to rendezvous with the Sichuan Army at Niuchang town. There are over fifty places called Niuchang (“Bull Market”) in Guizhou; before China adopted Western days of the week, markets rotated from village to village on a twelve day circuit, each day named after Chinese zodiac animals. It took a lot …

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 …