National Geographic : 1938 Sep
AMONG THE BIG KNOT LOIS OF HAINAN Wild Tribesmen With Topknots Roam the Little-known Interior of This Big and Strategically Important Island in the China Sea BY LEONARD CLARK With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author SO, THERE is nothing left in the world to explore? Actually, there are many dim cor ners still awaiting complete exploration. Such a shadowland is the interior of Hainan, big tropical island in the China Sea and potentially one of the most im portant military bases in the Far East. It lies like some luscious tropic fruit, waiting to be enjoyed-or stands like a sentry guarding the door to both South China and French Indo-China (map, page 394). WILD STORIES OF MEN WITH TAILS The island of Hainan, as great in area as Formosa, has belonged to China for about 2,000 years-since before the birth of Christ. Yet the Chinese have occupied little more than its fringe, and among them the legend still persists that the wild men of the interior have tails! This island of approximately 14,000 square miles-about the size of New Jersey and Connecticut together-supports easily on its north plain some 2,000,000 to 2,500,000 Chinese and tame Loi aborigines; also a handful of Americans and Euro peans, including missionaries and the French Consul. Some 250,000 (my estimate) "wild Loi" aborigines inhabit the colorful mountains and jungles of the remote interior. It was through the so-called wild Loi country that I hoped to advance my expedition. "TAIL OF THE DRAGON" Hainan means "South of the Sea," but Chinese sometimes term their far southern possession "The Tail of the Dragon." The name is quite appropriate, too, for to the bulk of the Chinese people Hainan is far more remote and mysterious than even Mongolia, Turkistan, or Tibet. To this day, since the original conquest of the flat coastal sections of Hainan under the Emperor Wu-Ti in 111 B. C., the Lois of the mountains (where many have been driven by successive waves of migration from the mainland) have held off all Chinese attempts to annex their lands, either by force or by peaceful penetration. Occasionally lone Hakka traders go deeply into the unknown regions beyond the Loi-Chinese border area, but few indeed are the white men who have penetrated that fever-ridden hinterland. Casting about for information I learned to my amazement that not even the oldest "China hands" in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and other cities could tell me much about Hainan-except that "it is a wild place at the end of the Chinese world." HAINAN AHOY! On June 26, 1937, at blazing noon in the China Sea, Nicol Smith and I first sighted the cloud-mottled sandbars of Hainan. I did not realize that nearly two months were to pass before our expedition - or rather its remnants-were to emerge from the interior of Hainan, and I was to see again that lonely but bewitching shore of ivory, jade, and moving brown sails (page 396). Because of shallow water the steamer dropped anchor about two miles off the flat north coast and opposite the port of Hoihow (page 392). Our boxes and bags were quickly passed by Chinese Customs officers and placed aboard a junk, one of a fleet that had come out to take off several hun dred Cantonese troops. Hot winds from the unseen and mysteri ous mountains far over the rolling plains to the south filled the creaking brown mat sails overhead. In an hour, with flying salt-spray in our faces, we approached long sandspits. Junks sailed all around us and gave the impression that they were scudding over dry land! Long lines of fishermen, carrying nets on bamboo poles, were wad ing far from shore, and looked like grotesque sea monsters as the late sun cast giant shadows beyond them.