An ever-changing exotic realm: Kashgar through the eyes of Lady Catherine

Chapter Three) Ancient Cartography and the West

An ever-changing exotic realm: Kashgar through the eyes of Lady Catherine

One day in December 1908, an Englishman produced the Sketch Map of Kashgar City shown in Image 39.  More than a century later, this map still provides us with a direct view of the geographical layout and multicultural traits of the city of Kashgar at the end of the Qing Dynasty.

On the map, we can see that the Tuman River flows through the old city of Kashgar from northeast to southwest, just as it does today. In the center of the city is its most well-known landmark and a symbol of its Islamic culture, the Id Kah Mosque; as well as a government headquarters representing the Qing army's rule in Xinjiang. The Manchurian settlement where both Manchu and Han officials and soldiers were stationed lies on the perimeter of the city. Meanwhile, two symbols of the rivalry between Western powers for control of Central Asia — the embassies of Britain and the Russian Empire — stand side by side, outside the city's northern gate. Merchants from the city of Andijan (in Uzbekistan) huddle together at the northern gate, while a group of Swedish missionaries devoted to spreading Christianity can be seen outside the south gate.

Image 39: Sketch Map of Kashgar from 1908

At the end of the Qing Dynasty, a myriad of cultures and religions converged in Kashgar, a city of great strategic importance in southern Xinjiang. At this time, the city bustled from sunrise to sunset as members of the Qing court; English and Russian ambassadors; and Swedish missionaries came and went, sharing the streets with local Kashgarians. One could see people drinking tea and chatting; watching street performances and singing ditties; selling wares and proselytizing… There were soldiers, officials, farmers, merchants, missionaries and doctors…

 For a certain period of time at the end of the Qing Dynasty, in the British Embassy outside the northern gate of Kashgar (shown in Image 39), there lived a woman named Catherine Macartney: the wife of the British Consul-General in Kashgar, Sir George Macartney. In 1898, at the age of only 21, she accompanied her husband on an epic journey, beginning in England, passing through Russian territories in Central Asia, and ending in Kashgar, Xinjiang Province. She would go on to live for 17 years in the British Embassy outside the northern gate of Kashgar, even giving birth to and raising her three children there.

Image 40: Currency from the Sino-Russian "Daosheng" Bank

During the 17 years in which she lived in this exotic realm, Lady Catherine developed ties of varying closeness with distinguished figures from a number of nations in the buildings shown in Image 39. The diaries that she kept at this time provide us with a uniquely Western, feminine perspective on the diverse and ever-changing state of Kashgar, over a century ago.

At that time, Russians were an enormous and powerful presence in Kashgar with which the British had no choice but to contend. In Image 39, the Russian and British Embassies stand side by side. Given the long-standing rivalry between these two nations for control over Central Asia, Russians and British people tended to view one another as enemies. Lady Catherine came to view socializing with Russians as a chore, not only because of this deep-rooted antagonism, but also because of the language barrier: the few ladies in the Russian Embassy couldn't speak a word of English, while she herself could not speak Russian.

At the end of the Qing Dynasty, Russia had acquired immense economic and commercial wealth in Xinjiang, and Russian products were sold all throughout the province. Lady Catherine writes that, upon her arrival in 1898, Russian products were not all that common in Kashgar; however, she recalls that, a few years later, the market was saturated with fabrics, daily necessities, furniture, sugar and flour from Russia. All of a sudden, people on the streets began to wear clothes made from Russian fabrics whose loud, floral motifs Catherine found terribly vulgar. This high volume of trade led to the foundation of the Sino-Russian Daosheng Bank next to the Russian Embassy.

In November 1882, Nikolai Petrovsky became the first Russian ambassador stationed in Kashgar. Upon his arrival, he rented a few local dwellings outside the northern city gate as embassy offices. In 1906, the Finnish military leader Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim stayed at the Russian Embassy on his way through Kashgar. He remarked that the manor where the Russian ambassadors lived was the former official residence of Yaqub Beg. In addition to this manor and the embassy's administrative headquarters, the Russian settlement in Kashgar comprised a number of houses built with the aid of local contractors for use by Russian officials and 60 Cossacks. When Mannerheim visited, a church and two other houses were still being built.

Image 41: Qing court officials in Kashgar

At this time, there was another unique community of foreigners living in Kashgar who congregated in the "Andijan Trade District" outside of the northern city gate (see Image 39). This community was largely composed of Central Asian migrants from the former territories of the Khanate of Kokand.

In the mid-Qing Dynasty, the Khanate of Kokand was still an independent state; during the reign of Emperor Daoguang, it became an enemy of the Qing court when it supported the rebellions in Xinjiang led by Jahangir Khoja. In 1868, the khanate was annexed by the Russian Empire, making the merchants from Kokand who came to sell their wares in Kashgar the citizens of a Russian protectorate. In the first half of 1879, after statesman Zuo Zongtang restored Qing rule over Xinjiang, the Qing government expelled Russian merchants from Xinjiang as a means of pressuring Russia into returning the Prefecture of Ili. Thousands of merchants from the former Khanate of Kokand were expelled from Kashgar as a result of this policy.

It was only after 1882, following the construction of the Russian Embassy, that the merchants dared to return. As they had in the past, they rented or bought houses and stores outside the northern gate of Kashgar where they lived and ran their businesses for part of the year. Over time, they developed a compact community referred to in Image 39 as the "Andijan Trade District", Andijan being a famous trade hub in the Fergana Valley. During the Qing Dynasty, the people of Xinjiang habitually referred to merchants from Central Asia as "Andijans", hence the label "Andijan Trade District" on this map. In 1929, the Swedish diplomat Gunnar Jarring visited Kashgar. He later recalled of his journey: "The old city of Kashgar has a distinctive place known as the Andijan quarter." According to Jarring, this quarter was made up of Russian-style brick houses. In its needle-thin alleyways, merchants would sell various wares imported from Russia.
In this city, the most authoritative figures were the officials, both military and administrative, of the Qing court. These officials presided over every sphere of the city's development. The "Manchurian settlement" and "Chinese governmental office" marked in Image 39 were home to these officials, as well as Qing army soldiers and Chinese merchants. The Qing officials would regularly host banquets to which they invited a number of foreign expats and diplomats, such as Lady Catherine. She was deeply struck by these officials — in particular, she remarked upon their elegant gestures and unique speaking manner. Image 41 is a photograph of Qing officials working in Kashgar. They sit upright in their traditional garb with solemn expressions on their faces, suggesting that the photograph was taken on a formal occasion.

Image 42: Qing soldiers stationed in Kashgar

The banquets of Qing officials were extremely ceremonious and boasted an abundance of dishes. Upon arriving at the Chinese government seat, the first thing that met Lady Catherine's gaze was an ornate "shadow wall", a kind of decorative feature that hides the entrance to a building, onto which the image of a dragon had been carved in relief. Once inside, she was greeted by the lady of the house, whose feet were bound. This woman stared in curiosity at Lady Catherine's large feet, leaving her somewhat embarrassed. 
Laid out at this banquet were a variety of side-dishes and seasonings. The first dish to arrive at the table that evening is still eaten to this day: a type of preserved egg call biandan or pidan. "Afterwards came 40 or so dishes: there was red meat, vegetables, chicken, various types of dried fish, sea cucumber, duck, shark fin, seaweed, lotus seeds and roots, different kinds of mushrooms, and desserts." Finally came a crispy "roasted suckling pig" and "sparrow's nest soup". Such a sumptuous banquet would still make modern readers' mouths water. It is indeed surprising to imagine that, over a century ago in Kashgar, one could find sea cucumbers and seaweed, as well as luxurious dishes like shark's fin soup and sparrow's nest soup. Lady Catherine must have thoroughly enjoyed this banquet — otherwise, she wouldn't have dedicated such a long passage of her journal to describing it.

Also noteworthy was the thoughtfulness of the Qing officials. When preparing the banquet, they organized for someone to borrow Western eating implements such as a knife and fork from the embassy for the convenience of Lady Catherine, who had difficulty using chopsticks. This gesture reflects the Qing officials' degree of respect for their guest.

In Image 42, we can see a group of Qing soldiers stationed in Kashgar. This old photo may seem funny to the people of today. The soldiers wear completely different outfits and carry different weapons. Most carry mêlée weapons like swords and wooden poles, except for one of them (third from the left) who holds a rifle in one hand. Their lives were undoubtedly far less opulent than those of the banquet-throwing officials. Although I cannot say for certain what they used to eat, I did find some descriptions of their living conditions while reading documents from the mid-Qing Dynasty.

Image 43: Chinese theater of Kashgar

Among the Qing soldiers stationed in Yangi Hissar (today called Yengisar County) in southern Xinjiang, those who belonged to the Manchu Eight-Banner Army had their own individual rooms, while those belonging to the Green Standard Army shared rooms in groups of two. These boarding arrangements were standard in the mid-Qing Dynasty. I am unsure if these arrangements improved towards the end of the Qing Dynasty.

However, we do not need to be too concerned about these soldiers. After all, they received a significant and stable salary from the government. One can imagine that, in their time off work, they would have watched Chinese operas at local theatres. In Image 43, we can see the old Chinese Theatre of Kashgar, a very imposing structure with a traditional Chinese pailou, or decorative arch, at the entrance. The operas staged at this theatre (typically belonging to the then-popular genre of caizi jiaren, or love stories between a beautiful woman and a young scholar) were not only enjoyed by the Chinese — they were also appreciated by local Uyghurs and foreigners. To sum up with a cliché, art doesn't discriminate.

Image 44: Exterior of Id Kah Mosque with bazaar in front, at end of Qing Dynasty

In Kashgar, there also lived a community of Han Chinese people from Tianjin, whose shrewdness greatly impressed Lady Catherine.
While the Andijan merchants I mentioned before mostly imported goods from Russia, the merchants from Tianjin sold products made in China. These products — silk, jade, coral, cloisonné vases, and teapots — were meticulously crafted and beautiful to behold, but they were quite expensive. Lady Catherine, who often interacted with the Tianjin merchants, quickly discovered that, "in additional to selling their wares and running their stores, they also operate private banks and lend money at usury. No matter who they deal with, they make use of every trick at their disposal in an attempt to lure them in — all while smiling and laughing, giving you the impression that they're very friendly."

When she wasn't dealing with Russians, Qing officials and Han Chinese merchants, Lady Catherine led a very ordinary life as a housewife. She would often weave her way through the bustling markets and alleyways, buying fruits or essentials such as shoes and hats for her family. In this way, she was extremely familiar with the ins-and-outs of living as a local in Kashgar.

Image 45:  Exterior of Id Kah Mosque

Image 44 is a photo of Kashgar's main landmark, the Id Kah Mosque. In front of the mosque, we can see the local bazaar, which Lady Catherine once visited and described as brimming with activity. In particular, on Thursdays (known to locals as Market Day), the bazaar would attract throngs of visitors. As shown in Image 44, local merchants would habitually place reed mats on the unpaved streets and set up tents to protect them from the sun. They would squat on their mats, hawking their wares to passers-by.

The old city of Kashgar had narrow streets filled with bumps and holes. Carts and donkeys transporting water would often splash the ground, making it muddy and difficult to traverse. In the middle of the bazaar were rows of fruit vendors. In summer, their booths would overflow with all the fruits you could ever want — peaches, apricots, cantaloupes, grapes, figs, watermelons — all sold at astoundingly low prices. Catherine wrote, "A cantaloupe is only worth two pennies… while for a shilling one can buy an entire basket of grapes." So derisory was the price of fruit in Kashgar that Lady Catherine decided not to serve them at banquets, as they were too common.

Image 46: Kashgar bazaar (where scrap iron and boots were sold) and Id Kah Mosque in 1907

Image 45 is a photo I took during my research trip to Kashgar in July 2012. The mosque appeared pristine and elegant; although there is no longer a thronging bazaar in front, one can still find stalls selling all types of wares in the streets and alleyways behind it.

As an important gathering point among the local population and travel destination for tourists, the mosque is an ideal place for vendors to show off their wares. It continues to be surrounded by bazaars of different sizes and specialties. In addition to the Id Kah Mosque, vendors also organized bazaars selling all kinds of items near several other mosques in Kashgar toward the end of the Qing Dynasty (either in front of the mosque, as in Image 46; or in surrounding alleyways, as in Image 47). For instance, there was a bazaar specializing in all kinds of headwear, such as leather caps and exquisite women's hats that were decorated with silver thread. There were cotton bazaars and floral fabric bazaars, as well as bazaars where blacksmiths and silversmiths produced custom-made tools and jewelry. Amusingly, there was a street in Kashgar filled with vendors selling old clothing that locals called the "louse bazaar" — Lady Catherine, who had seen the market, wrote that it "lived up to its name".

Image 47: The streets of Kashgar in 1910

A mandatory addition to local bazaars at that time were tea salons. People would sit there drinking tea as they listened to musicians — typically, a duo of percussion instruments — play enchanting local melodies. Sometimes, someone would stand next to the salon passionately reciting stories from a book, leaving listeners in an enraptured haze.

In 1915 — 17 years since she had arrived in Kashgar — Lady Catherine returned to England, aged 38. Following her return, she and her husband took up residence on the Bailiwick of Jersey, a small island off the coast of Normandy in the English Channel. As she listened to the gentle sea breeze, Lady Catherine must have often reflected upon the 17 years that she spent in a foreign land: the Russians who she found so difficult to deal with, the tantalizing smell of the roasted suckling pig, the shrewdness of Tianjin merchants; the bustling bazaars, with their fresh fruit; the tea salons, with their live music performances and recitals…

Main references

Macartney, Catherine and Shipton, Diana (authors); Wang Weiping and Cui Yanhu (translators): Recollections of Diplomats' Wives. Xinjiang People's Publishing Press, 2010.

Jarring, Gunnar (author); Cui Yanhu and Guo Yingjie (translators): Return to Kashgar. Xinjiang People's Publishing Press, 2010.

Mannerheim, Carl Gustaf Emil (author) and Wang Jiaji (translator): Carl Mannerheim's Observations of the Western Territories, 1906-1908. Chinese Ethnic Art and Photography Publishing House, 2004.