Joseph Rock describes this as the Qingnatong monastery on the Yangtze. but the location looks very similar to the Puhua monastery (普化寺)at Bingzhongluo (Champutong) on the Salween (Nujiang):
Here are some other pictures I took of the Puhua Si:
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
When Joseph Rock visited the monastery at Champutong (Bingzhongluo) in 1928 it was only a few years after the whole site had been burnt down by Chinese autorities, in retaliation for the killing of Catholic priests in the late 19th century. He found a dilapidated monastery and a handful of monks.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
After a rather dull day in Bingzhongluo, I set off down the track to the Nu river in good spirits, whistling Wish Me Luck as You Wave Me Goodbye. It was good to be walking at last, rather than sitting on planes, buses and trains. I had spent the previous evening sat in the one and only bar in Bingzhongluo, chatting to a sound recordist called Jez from Durham, who said he had come to the Nujiang to try record the sounds of silence. He wasn't having much luck, as the truck horns and chainsaws in the Nujiang were interrupting his silences. I advised him to try New Zealand instead - very good for silence there, I can tell you. With no one else to talk to in town it was good to have a bit of company.
The next morning I rose early-ish and I walked down to the level of the Nu river, past the Chongding Catholic church and towards the huge granite or limestone gorge now known as Shimenguan (Stone Portal). The weather wasn't as good as last year, and I didn't bother taking many pictures under the gloomy overcast skies, but just plodded on though the gorge, with the road to myself. Passed by a couple of small hamlets and had a scary encounter with an aggressive dog at the bridge over the river. But otherwise I had a fairly uneventful day as I walked along the river - passing through one village (Nidadang?) which had its own small Catholic church (and a nice friendly old woman).
It was midday when I had stopped to eat my lunch of crackers, pistachios and an apple by the river, and then a long haul up a gravel track to the right of the main road up to the wooden log cabins of Qiunatong.
Joseph Rock makes only a passing mention of Qiunatong in his account of his travels to the 'Salwin' in the August 1926 issue of the National Geographic journal ('Through the great river trenches of Asia').
After crossing over the Sela pass from the Mekong valley and spending time at the 'last outpost of Christianity' - the French Catholic mission station/church at Bahang (Baihanluo) - he describes his encounters with the French missionaries there. He mentions 'the intrepid Father Genestier' who lived at Tjonatong (Qiunatong) and who had been driven out of the village on two occasions by murderous Tibetan lamas, angry about the incursion of westerners - and especially missionaries into the forbidden Buddhist/Lama-ist country. (Bear in mind that Tibet had just been invaded by a British-Indian force lead by Colonel Younghusband in 1904 and hundreds of Tibetans had been slaughtered by British Maxim guns).
Genestier had managed to avoid the fate of other priests in the Nujiang and Mekong valleys, who had been captured and decapitated in 1905 and had their heads displayed on sticks of the town walls at Atuntze (Deqin). Genestier had fled south into Lisu land and into soverighn Chinese territory.
The location of Qiunatong is one of the key reasons why it became a focus for Catholic missionary activity. Located just a few km south of the border with Tibet, Qiunatong was the nearest place to Tibet that the missionaries could set up shop under the protection of the then Qing Dynasty Chinese government. In response to the murders of the priests by the Tibetans in 1905, Genestier headed south and eventually arrived in Kunming - then known as Yunnan-fu, where he saw the French consul. The French consul made loud complaints and demanded action from the Chinese authorities, who obliged by sending a force of Chinese soldiers to modern day Bingzhongluo (then known as Champutong), where they razed the Tibetan Buddhist monastery to the ground and granted the Catholics some land further south at Baihanluo to build another church.
So a kind of uneasy truce was made between Tibetan Lama-ists and French Catholics in the Tibetan-Yunnan border area. And this is where Genestier spent the rest of his life - among the Nu and Lisu people of the Salween (Nu) river canyon. Interestingly, Qiunatong is a completely Nu community - there still are few if any Tibetan converts to Christianity.
Despite his much repeated claims to be 'the first white man' in the area, Joseph Rock was following in the footsteps of other westerners - missionaries and plant hunters - in the Nujiang/Salween canyon. Here's what the German botanist Heinrich Handel-Mazzetti said of the Nu people he encountered around the mission stations of Baihanluo in 1917:
"The Nu do not practice alpine cattle farming: hence the well preserved state of their forests and the tracklessness of their mountains. They are a Burmese people and according to their handed-down traditions they migrated from the Drong Jiang. Most of them are short and somewhat unprepossessing in appearance, but absolutely honest. They are at a very low level of civilisation. They have no writing and their language is extremely poor in its vocabulary, being without any means of expressing abstract ideas; for example, they had no word for "colour". They do not lock up their houses when they go out, they leave their few cattle unattended on die pastures, they wash as seldom as the other peoples living in these parts, and they are very easily converted to Christianity."
Original account is here.
In this Nu minority village they have a strong traditional system of everyone helping each other - everyone works together and lends a hand to build a house for one family in the village.
My own excursion into Qiunatong began when I turned north off the main 'road' about 10km north of Bingzhongluo, and walked up the rough track towards the collection of log cabins. I followed behind a tractor that was carrying three guys who had been collecting firewood, as it was put-putting at the same speed as I was walking up the long incline. I passed a few houses and got barked at by a few dogs, but didn't see any sign of the small village wth a guesthouse and shops that I had been expecting.
Then suddenly I emerged into a small concrete square amid the houses, and there in front of me was the Qiunatong Catholic church. Not much to look at: mostly constructed of wood - it had a small cross on top and looked rather dark and grim. There were a couple of locals loafing around on the steps in front of the church, but nobody paid me much notice. I took my heavy pack off my shoulders and found that an old lady hanging round by the door was the keeper of the church key - and she opened the place up to me. I was granted a few minutes to survey the dark red painted wooden interior and the simple kneeling pews and religious icons, then asked for a 10 kuai fee by the old lady before she shut up shop.
As I was leaving I read the various official notices posted on the front door. One was asking the parishioners to respect and support the 2008 Olympics, and another listing the contributions made by various visitors to the church restoration fund. It seems that visitors from places like Spain, Hong Kong, Sweden and Beijing have provided huge amounts of money to the church - 3000 yuan here, 20,000 yuan there. In contrast, another sign noted the contributions from Qiunatong villagers for the relief of the sick fund - 5 kuai here, 8 kuai there.
Most of the activity in the village was centred around the building of a new floor on one of the buildings. About 20 villagers - seemingly more women than men - were hard at work, digging up gravel and using it to mix concrete and spread it on the floor. They carried their loads using their foreheads to support a large band. They seemed cheerful enough and invited me to have a go. But I was exhausted from my long haul up the hill and was also frustrated that there was no store open in the village - the xiaomaibu pointed out to me remained fimrly boarded up despite my polite requests to buy some water or drink.
I eventually found my way to the village 'lodge' - which was a house like any of the others. A young girl took me over the vegetable patch and I found the interior was similar to all other Tibetan houses I've ever stayed in - the spacious dark room with little furniture and with life centred around the fire. I was offered butter tea and was introduced to another guest from the outside world - a Chinese guy from Hunan province. He alsmot immediately started quizzing me about my travels and knowledge about China, and then started talking politics, asking why America wanted to change China ... blah blah blah. I just ignored him as much as I could after that. It wasn't difficult because other toursists started to arrive - the new breed of Chinese backpacker types - all kitted out with the latest outdoor gear, walking poles etc, and all very noisy.
I went out for a wander around the village - climbing up a track to take some pictures with the Rolleicord from above, then crossing over to the other side of the valley, leaping over a stream and boulders, to climb up to the village graveyard. There were some simple Chinese-style graves but topped off with crosses. There were also a few very primitive graves, some basically just a heap of stones, and the ones where a child had been buried next to adults were very poignant. I came across a man who was carrying a large slab of thin slate on his back, walking down the hill from god knows where ... and I returned to the lodge.
By late evening there were quite a number of Chinese trekkers in residence. The local family cooked me a dinner of egg fried rice and, thankfully, some decent tasting and very filling baba/momo bread, which was rather like a chapati. I was sat near the window, next to the head of the house - an older feller in his late fifties or early sisxties. He sat by the fire all evening, drinking corn liquor (shuijiu) slurring his words and telling us about the place. I couldn't make out much of what he was saying, but then neither could the Chinese from Beijing. At one point he was sounding off about the logging activity in the area - but whether he was angry about the logging by outsiders or the recent logging bans, it wasn't clear.
He told about how he had been in the army and had been involved in the liberation of the area. And yet at the same time he said that outsiders didn't understand the Nu and their ways. This became apparent when some arrogant Beijingers poured into the house in their high tech trekking gear, looked around, sniffed and announced they were going to the village head's house to find somewhre to stay. The old man exploded with a diatribe against them, cursing them for being so insensitive and for their assuming that the villaege head (Cunzhang) would be better than him. He said that the Nu all considered themselves equals, shared everything and helped each other. Later he talked about how they had weathered the Cultural Revolution, how he had told the people who came to close down the Qiunatong church that Christianity was in the hearts of all the Nu in the village and that they could not bear the closing of the church.
The guy kept offering me some of the snot-coloured liquid and I drank a few sips but it tasted of nothing much and seemed to have no alcoholic effect on me. Which was a pity as I could have used oms Dutch courage to get me through the obligatory sing song - when it was my turn I did something Christmassy: "O Come All Ye Faithful' I think.
The Chinese talked among themselves - a continual game of stating-the-bleeding-obvious and also a lot of one-upmanship/bragging about where they had all been - mostly based around trips up to Chawalong.
At around nine we all went over to see the dancing and singing in the village hall. Quite good fun - Tibetan-style dancing in a ring, a bit like the hokey cokey, but with Tibetan lyrics - and the men and women staying in their own single sex groups to sing set pieces/challenges to each other. Some Nu girls hovered about the place with kettle full of shuijiu to op up the dirty cups of all the drinkers.
I was also accosted by one the the local guys who informed me t"hat the Nu considered themselves different - " we like to enjoy ourselves' he told me. We are Nu. We are honest. We like to have fun ..."