« PreviousContinue »
been strange tales. It has been immemorially reported that ages ago there were cities here, and that they are now buried by the sand. Sir Douglas Forsyth, during his mission to Kashgar, made careful inquiry into these stories, and the results of his researches are so
curious that it may be well to devote a brief space to some account of the opinion he has arrived at. In the first place, it may be noted that such buried cities are not unknown in other parts of Asia. For instance, in 1865 Mr. Johnson visited an ancient city not far from Kiria, and four marches distant from Khotan, which had been buried in the sands for centuries, and from which gold and silver ornaments, and even a quantity of tea, were dug. When Colonel Prejevalsky crossed the sands of Kugnpchi he also heard tales of buried
treasure. This part of the desert is a succession of hillocks, from forty to one hundred feet in height, composed of yellow sand, the upper stratum of which, when disturbed by the wird, blows on either side of the hills, forming loose drifts, which have the appearance of snowdrifts. He describes the appearance of these bare yellow hillocks as being most dreary and depressing. Nothing can be seen but the sky and the sand: not a plant, not an animal is visible, with the single exception of the yellow-grey lizards which trail their bodies over the loose soil, and mark it with the patterns of their tracks. “A dull heaviness oppresses the senses in this inanimate sea of sand. No sounds are heard, not even the chirping of the grasshopper : the silence of the tomb surrounds you” (pp. 73, 80). Such a melancholy scene has conjured up in the Mongol imagination strange tales of warriors who here fought against the Chinese, whose countless slain Allah caused the wind to cover with the desert sand. “To this day the Mongols relate, with superstitious awe, how cries and groans may be heard in the sands of Kugupchi, which proceed from the spirits of the departed; and that every now and then the wiuds, which stir up the sand, expose to view different treasures, such as silver dishes, which, though conspicuous above the surface, may not be taken away, because death would immediately overtake the bold man who ventured to touch them.” Many similar traditions might be quoted of the overwhelming of cities by sand and of the treasures which still remain. Of course, such legends must all be taken with great allowance, but after sisting out of them the evident exaggerations and lies, there remains behind such a residuum of apparent fact that little doubt need be entertained of the existence of several such towns in this part of the country. Sir Douglas Forsyth and Dr. Bellew saw the traces of many in the part of the desert nearest Kashgar, and though they obtained neither gold nor silver, they obtained proof positive that these have been, and are yet found in other ruins, in addition to the coins of the Greek and Roman conquerors, as well as images of Buddha, which refer to a later date. The locality of most of these ruined cities is said to be many marches east of Khotan, but near Ilchi, the chief city of Khotan, remarkable finds of great gold ornaments have been made. Sir Douglas Forsyth is inclined to believe that on the western part of the desert, at all events, the sand mounds are moving on, baring parts now covered, and covering regions now cultivated, and that in this manner the cities and houses which are known to be buried have been from time to time overwhelmed. It is likely that before long we shall learn more of these interesting and mysterious regions from Prejevalsky, whose former explorations are so well known, as well as Count Széchényi, a Hungarian traveller, both of whom are making strenuous efforts to effect an entrance in this part of Asia, and through it on to Tibet, to which we shall soon proceed.
Far away in the centre of Asia (p. 73) lies a region of sandy deserts, relieved by oases of great riches, and peopled by a warlike race, half barbarous, but extremely Moslem,
* See also Pertsof's “Expedition in North Western Mongolia,” in Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society (1879), p. 701,
whose wars, feuds, and conquests formed an important portion of the world's chronicles in the Middle Ages, and even in the earlier centuries of the Christian era. Then for a time their names almost faded out of history, until recent events once more brought them prominently before the world. The most famous kingdom of this great Mediterranean is Little Bokhara, Kashgar, Eastern Turkestan, or Chinese Tartary, the name it bore for nearly a century and a half, and which title, in the midst of the recent hurly-burly, it is destined to bear once more. For some time prior to the ninth century the Chinese Empire extended to the borders of Kokand and Cashmere; but soon after that date internal dissensions disturbed the country, and the Central Asiatic kingdom fell from the grasp of the distant rulers, who had enough to do to hold their own immediate subjects in check. Then the native princes each grasped what they could, sometimes more, sometimes less; now giving rise to a Genghis Khan or a Timour Leng, who were only prevented by death from conquering half the world ; again falling asunder into fragments under the successors of these fierce warrior chiefs, until amid the confused turmoil we come down to the year 1720, when the Chinese began once more to assert their power, and by 1760 had re-conquered the country afterwards known as Eastern Turkestan. Under their rule it continued until the year 1859, when the elements of decay once more began to develop themselves in the Chinese Empire. Rebels had risen up against the Pekin authority, and on every hand were successful. The Panthay ruler swayed over the Mohammedans in Yunnan, the Taepings were at the height of their career, and in Kan-su and Shen-si Mussulman insurgents sprang to arms.
Under these circumstances the time seemed ripe for the Tunganssemi-independent tribes on the Kashgar border-rising and reclaiming the country for its old masters. The latter called in the aid of Yakoob Beg, a Kokand soldier of fortune, who, however, accomplished his task far too well for the taste of his employers, for not only did he succeed in driving out the Chinese, but by the year 1866 had crushed the Tungans also, and established himself ruler of a Mohammedan state whose capital was Kashgar. Here, as Athalik Ghazi, Champion of the Faith, and Badaulet, the Well-beloved, he reigned up to the year 1877, when the Chinese, having settled affairs at home, began to once more bestir themselves in Central Asia. If their fall had been rapid their recovery in that region was even swifter. In the very first battle in which they encountered Yakoob he was defeated. Then immediately the mushroom kingdom seemed to slip from his grasp ; city after city surrendered or was taken, tribe after tribe deserted him. Worst of all, the soldier king died himself, and after a brief but ineffectual stand by his sons and generals, the latter fled over the border into Russian territory, and the Chinese were, after the brief interregnum, once more masters of Eastern Turkestan.
Such, in a few words, is a brief outline of the events which have led to this part of the world appearing under the head of the outlying parts of the great empire whose capital is in Pekin rather than—as would have been the case if these pages had been written a few years sooner — as an independent state.* Since the Chinese have become masters they have ruled with a rod of iron. Every relative or adherent of the Athalik Ghazi has been punished with a ruthlessness which only the
* The fullest history of Kashgar is contained in Mr. D. C. Boulger's “ Life of Yakoob Beg" (1878), froin which able work many of the facts in this sketch are derived.
Chinese can display when their anger is roused. Thousands of people have been slaughtered, and thousands more have been forced to seek safety in exile.
Hence, a country which, while under Yakoob Beg's rule was calculated to contain 850,000 people, is now estimated to include within its 400,000 square miles of territory not more than 600,000. Few countries are inore isolated. East and west the Gobi Desert and the Bolar Tagh, or Pamir Steppe, form its boundary ; on the north the Thian-shan, and on the
south the Kuen Lun mountain ranges separate it from the rest of the world. With the exception of fertile oases here and there, Kashgaria is one wide undulating plain of sand and salt, 3,000 to 4,000 feet high, but sloping off to the east, in which direction the Tarim River, already noticed (p. 79), flows until it loses itself in the Lob-nor. In the summer the climate is very hot and dry, and in the winter extremely cold. Glaciers creep down from the mountain ranges, supplying tributaries to the Tarim, and sometimes by forming mountain reservoirs, which suddenly burst, carrying destruction far and near. Though the country is rich in gold, silver, lead, copper, iron, coal, jade, and other minerals, few of these are worked to any extent, and the population is chiefly massed in towns on