National Geographic : 1944 Jun
Exploring a Grass Wonderland of Wild West China BY RAY G. JOHNSON * With Illustrationsfrom Photographsby the Author AST YEAR a timely and welcome invita tion came from Governor Liu Wun-wei of remote Sikang Province to visit the lofty grasslands west of Kangting, known until recently as Tatsienlu. On May 23, 1943, I left Chengtu for this wild-western China "roof of the world." Sikang is the newest province of the Re public of China. It lies along the China Tibet borderland, and is about 12 times as large as the State of Oregon. It is a wild and rugged region, rich in grasslands and min erals, but until recently practically inacces sible except by caravan (map, page 718). There I rode on horseback through places where few white men had been. I talked with native women who had never seen a vil lage, heard of a white man, or faced the "evil eye" of a camera. I called on the leading candidate for Pan chen Lama of Tibet, a six-year-old boy, and took a picture of him which I believe to be the only one in existence (page 714). I shot musk deer and Tibetan eared pheasants in a hunters' paradise. I "reached for leather" on top of a 16,000 foot pass when my horse smelled my boot and evidently, because it missed the rancid butter odor of the natives, bucked in the full style of the Western cayuse. There I saw vast areas of heavily sodded forage lands of relatively high grazing capac ity, now fully utilized by vigorous, hardy types of livestock. Whole mountainsides were clothed in glow ing banks of spring blossoms. Here were well-known shrubs growing wild in a vast profusion of rare varieties. But these strange sights and vivid experi ences were incidental. My real purpose was to gain an answer to a number of questions concerning livestock and rangelands. Dr. C. C. "Benson" Chen, a veterinarian holding a degree from Iowa State College, was assigned by the Ministry of Education to take official charge. Dr. C. W. Swen of Nanking University's t Agricultural Economics Department was asked to gather and study the marketing and cost phases of the range livestock operations. Dr. Louis K. Lii, a dairy-production man from the faculty of West China Union Uni- versity, with degrees from Cornell and the University of California, also was assigned to us. A Tibetan interpreter and a repre sentative of the Sikang Government were to join us at Kangting. Here Few Trucks Had Traveled "Thirty to 35 days of travel on horseback north and west of Kangting should enable you to see a fair cross section of the high grass land regions," casually remarked Governor Liu's secretary. "It will take a day to reach Yaan (Yachow). One or two days will be needed for outfitting at Yaan, and then two days by truck and you should be in Kang ting." Soon I learned that not a dozen trucks had yet gone the entire distance. A windproof and rainproof tent was uncov ered at Dr. David Graham's. It was a relic of his active work in the Tibetan borderland for the Smithsonian Institution. Oiled silk, weighing only 22 pounds, exclusive of poles, which would shelter three inside and three more in the fly, was a find. An old World War I army saddle once used for breaking broncos, found mildewing in a mission attic, looked good to this buckaroo accustomed to a Western "sideboard" saddle. Possibly I could use that saddle horn in roping horses or cattle, or at least as a steady ing influence should I be mounted on a cranky saddle horse. Since we were to be on China's "roof of the world," we borrowed an aneroid barometer. Helpful Chinese students located a camera with an F:4.5 lens. A telescope tripod with a universal-joint head cost $1,250 at the film shop. Then came the parting with $5,440 for 34 rolls of fresh film (exchange 20 to 1). I regretted leaving the comfortable home of that practical agricultural missionary, Dr. * The author, head of the Animal Husbandry De partment of Oregon State College, was one of several men with the Cultural Relations Division of the U. S. Department of State, assigned to the American Em bassy at Chungking, China, and in turn loaned to the Chinese Central Government to aid China in its efforts for increasing agricultural production. Pro fessor Johnson was assigned to the Ministry of Edu cation under whose auspices he studied agricultural production. -The Editor. t Now in Chengtu, and joined with West China Union University and others to form the Associated Universities.