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Base Camp Yenchingkou, Szechwan Province, 1921-1926: Chinese village life through the eyes of a resident fossil hunter (working paper)

Base Camp Yenchingkou, Szechwan Province, 1921-1926: Chinese village life through the eyes of a resident fossil hunter (working paper)

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Published by Vin Morgan
Central Asiatic Expeditions (1921-1930) fossil hunter Walter Granger's life at base camp in Sichuan Province, China.
Central Asiatic Expeditions (1921-1930) fossil hunter Walter Granger's life at base camp in Sichuan Province, China.

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Published by: Vin Morgan on Jul 29, 2010
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Morgan, V.L., 2008, “Base Camp Yenchingkou, Szechwan Province, 1921-26,” TGPP Paper No. 2, - p. 1
(Working manuscript) Base Camp Yenchingkou, Szechwan Province, 1921-1926:Chinese village life through the eyes of a resident fossil hunter By Vincent L. MorganContact:morganvl60@gmail.comCopyright 2010 (Working Manuscript) by Vincent L. MorganABSTRACTWalter Granger was the first trained paleontologist to explore for fossils in China and Mongolia. In 1921,as a key member of the American Museum of Natural History’s Central Asiatic Expeditions (CAE), he began the hunt in the Yangtze valley, along the Upper River at Wanhsien in Sichuan Province. For generations, the Chinese had been pulverizing fossils into powder for use as medication. One healer, LeiHiao, wrote in 400 AD that if one twice washed a "dragon bone" in hot water, then reduced it to powder and placed it in a thin bag with two young, eviscerated swallows for one night and afterward mixed it inwith a medicinal preparation, it would provide an "effect...as if it were divine"; Andersson/Shapiro]. Fossilteeth, known as “lung ya,” and bones, known as “lung ku,” were obtained from peasants by Chinesewholesalers who supplied the vendors. Reports of fossils emanating from the Yangtze area had intriguedwestern paleontologists for years. Western residents and travelers reported occasionally spotting uncrushedfossil, usually in an apothecary shop. They were thought to be Pleistocene, but this was not certain becauseno in situ examination had been conducted. The Chinese druggists were not telling. Finally, an enterprisingBritish consul stationed in Ichang known as John “Fossil” Smith reported that some of the fossils were being found at a location up river in the mountainous region of Yenchingkou. Yenchingkou (Salt WellValley) was a vale of rice paddies tended by villagers who lived in a remote mountain hamlet of the samename. Yenchingkou was located ten miles up the river west of Wanhsien and another ten miles inland tothe south. It was reached only after a steep one thousand foot climb––much of it on stone steps––up fromthe south bank landing at the river. For reasons not explained, the village was split into lower and upper.Both fronted the main trail along White Water Creek (Pei Shui Chih) that flowed down to the Yangtze.Perhaps that was the explanation: expansion of the village accommodated ease of access to water and trail.Another seventeen hundred feet above the hamlet lay a Paleozoic limestone ridge paralleling the Yangtzehundreds of feet below. As Granger approached the district in September of 1921, he wondered how a moreancient Paleozoic formation could hold fossils from the Pleistocene. The answer was discovered soonenough and between 1921 and 1926 he spent three winter seasons of about six months each in that regioncollecting fossils, surveying geography and geology, studying natural history and observing the daily livesof the locals. His expedition headquarters were in an ancestral temple he rented from the Tan family of thelower village. Granger appears to have been the first westerner to live and work in Yenchingkou and tochronicle its people and their customs. While he worked, he also documented local life. His diary, lettersand camera narrate routine to tribulation including encounters bandits and clashing warlords. Granger’swife Anna accompanied him for the second two seasons and added to the written record, narrating,supplementing and at times interweaving with Granger’s.
[]. Backdrop.
British and Japanese navies are plying the waters of China with powerful, post-W.W.I navies inSeptember 1921. Germany is routed, mainland Europe is recovering and the U.S. is too. Withdrawingmilitarily from world affairs seems, to most in the U.S., preferable to global expansion or militarymission. The U.S.’s conquest of the Philippines gives it some international presence in Asia if little protection of its western flank. The now-obsolete U.S. Navy is hardly a match to that of the British or the Japanese. If the two were to ally, their combined sea power would be overwhelming. Some U.S.naval officers are worried that they are not in a position to protect the mainland from attack, let alonethe Hawaiian Islands.
 
Morgan, V.L., 2008, “Base Camp Yenchingkou, Szechwan Province, 1921-26,” TGPP Paper No. 2, - p. 2
Post-Qing Dynasty China has become rife with factionalized politics, maneuvering warlords andconfused expectations. The settlements at the 1919 Versailles peace conference undermined theChinese and left them empty-handed on the world stage. Though it thinks not, it is vulnerable; it isexploitable. The “occupying nations” that ensconced themselves and their commerce in Shanghaiunder the treaties of the 1800s, await and wonder what their pieces are worth.J.B. Powell, a journalist of China affairs, concludes at the close of 1921:For the position of China and her lack of gain it would seem two things are responsible, her own lack of unity and force, and the mutual jealousies existing between the various powers of the world. For theformer China can blame herself, although she is in a process of governmental evolution; for the latter she must blame the nations collectively, realizing that the much-talked-of age of internationalsympathy, understanding and justice has not yet arrived. [The Weekly Review of the Far East(formerly Millard's Review), Millard Publishing Co, Volume XIX, Shanghai, China, Saturday, January7th, 1922, Number 6, p. 230.]China, nevertheless, has begun its own territorialism, upon the lands and commerce of its neighbor tothe northwest, Inner Mongolia. (‘Inner Mongolia’ refers to the southeastern Mongolian territory thateventually would become a part of China.) Chinese farmers, traders, telegraph- and trade-postoperators constitute the frontline of advance. Further west, post-Revolutionary Russia has taken controlin Outer Mongolia. (‘Outer Mongolia’ refers to the northwestern Mongolian territory that would claimindependence in 1921 as the ‘Mongolian People’s Republic.’) Urga, the capital of Outer Mongolia, hasalready been compromised and the Russian-Mongolian Buriats government is hard at work subvertingthe once absolute power of the Mongolian princes elsewhere. Pro-Russian terror squads roam thecountryside to help make the point. Scores of citizens are slaughtered to make the point that the rest of Outer Mongolia shallow follow Urga.A vast barren of Gobi stretches northeast along the border between Inner and Outer Mongolia andintersects a main route between Kalgan and Urga. It blocks China and Russia from advancing againsteach other. Each is content with its own Mongolia. The Japanese, in the meantime, seek control over China and, in addition to flexing its muscle all over China’s inland and coastal waters, has begunmilitary encroachment in north China’s Manchuria.***Commercial opportunity in China has drawn the attention of the western world for years. TheAmericans were the first to make inroad. American, British, and French obtained a foothold by treatyrights in south China long ago. Their ‘concessionary’ interests now line the Bund in Shanghai withstately embassies and three varieties of the red, white and blue waving over the skyline and on their trade and war ships lying at anchor in Yangtze waters just yards away. ?The British run Customs andInspection. ?The French run the postal service. British, Japanese and Chinese passenger steamshipsdominate the River. The Robert Dollar Line, British and American Tobacco Co., Standard Oil,Anderson-Meyer Co., and China Inland Mission are familiar western names all along the River.Business is brisk everywhere as swarms of merchants, traders, travelers, diplomats, foreign militaryand missionaries and Chinese workers operate side by side along the Yangtze from Shanghai toChungking. Separate residential enclaves throughout allow most foreigners to keep with their ownwhen desired–and for most that is much of the time.China seethed under the egocentricity of a manipulative, domineering, insulated west:One morning, riding in a rickshawDown Nanking Road in Shanghai,I watched six cooliesstruggling, single-file,A rope stretched tight
 
Morgan, V.L., 2008, “Base Camp Yenchingkou, Szechwan Province, 1921-26,” TGPP Paper No. 2, - p. 3
Across their backs and shoulders,Their faces grim and twisted,Slowly pullingA great load of heavy broken rocksOn a protesting two-wheeled cart.And hanging on the ropeBetween two of the straining menThere was a bird-cage.And the bird was singing.Portrait of China–1923 by Ann Wallin. [Danbury, Richard S., ed. Dan River Anthology. SouthThomaston, ME, U.S.A.: Dan River Press, 1986.]The Japanese are present, too, along with the Italians and the Chinese. They also have fleets of gunboats plying the Yangtze, protecting, it was said, their citizens and commerce.The American gunboat fleet lags behind those of the British and Japanese, as does its grasp of Asianaffairs. Predominant post-war sentiment in the U.S. is isolationist––few at home want to expendresources to bolster an Asian presence. Nevertheless, some key players––capitalists, politicians andmilitary––in the U.S. think that increased exploit in Asia will present greater opportunity. TheseAmericans know what they are after and want a stratagem for staking a better claim [presence] in theeconomic and political affairs in China and the Mongolias. Osborn knows many of these people––J.PMorgan, for example, is his uncle and Admiral Welles of the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Intelligenceis a friend. Osborn also wants to get deep into China and the Mongolias. He has a theory to prove andthat desire coincides with those of his powerful friends. And scientific investigation, they know, is one judicious way to travel around. Exploration for scientific purposes can accomplish other goals. Lewis& Clark, John C. Fremont, Roy Andrews (codenamed ‘Reynolds’) and others had demonstrated thatfor the Americans.* * *Granger’s scientific results in the Yangtze will be less significant in comparison to hisaccomplishments in the Mongolias beginning in 1922. The Mongolia work will attract attentionworldwide for decades and commence work that continues to this day. It will be his pioneering presence as the first trained scientist to investigate and produce results in both regions that constitutesthe major U.S. achievement. The American scientific venture will grab the spotlight practicallyovernight. The other western powers are left only to follow it all in press accounts.Traveling about in China and Mongolia in 1921 offers a potpourri. The Peking scene is quite refined.The foreigners all have their walled compounds, privileges, and pleasures. Travel outside of Pekingisn't bad because it is usually done in luxury.
The Mongolias are rugged and wild, but, except for rogue Russian killing squads, are peaceful, even gentle.
Women travel the auto route between Urgaand Kalgan with considerable normality. In the spring of 1922, the wife of a Buriat dignitary will feelfree to divert her car off the auto route and over to Granger's field camp at Iren Dabasu in Inner Mongolia to drop off the Urgan passports required for travel into Outer Mongolia!The “wild west,” if anywhere, is in the Yangtze River area. The region is hostile from a variety of quarters and for a number of reasons. While westerners earlier had been held to be immune from muchof it, that changes considerably during the 1920s. [from Howell.] [p. 156, Howell] - It was stillunderstood in 1921 that foreigners had immunity during riots and revolutions. But recent ‘smalloutrages’ against them were beginning to occur. Moreover, Sichuan Province is in a state of rebellionagainst Peking. The embryonic and prosperous South China Republic [?further to the south?] is alsofighting for independence. Granger’s undertaking for the sake of science seems impressive (see pp.154-158, Howell). J.G. Andersson and the Chinese had declined to go.

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