Nicholas Roerich Estate Museum in Izvara
Nicholas Roerich
Estate Museum
in Izvara


A Letter

Large banners. A great many multicolored banners of various shapes: some oblong, some triangular, some square-shaped. Most of them are red, with huge golden, black and white Chinese inscriptions. From behind the banners, one hears the beating of gigantic drums. Here marches the army of the terrible Yang-t’u-tu!

The ruler of Turkestan is preparing to defend the peo- | ple of Sinkiang from the Sining Amban. There are rumors that the old Sining Amban intends to take re- i venge for the murder of his brother, the old Ti-tai of Kashgar. By order of Yang-t’u-tu, the Ti-tai of Kashgar had been murdered in a most brutal manner by the Tao-tai of Khotan. And now the Dungans of Sinkiang are full of the thought of revenge. But, according to other rumors, Yang-t’u-tu has recruited ten thousand men in | order to repel the possible attacks of Feng. Be this as it 1 may, an army is gathering to march on Hami, or to be more exact, as much of the army as may reach Hami.

It is a strange army: ragged, limping, crooked-handed, mole-eyed, with all evidences of being opium smokers, and gamblers, and beggars. But it is no wonder, for these soldiers are recruited at the bazaars. They collect them everywhere they can. The gambling dens, and opium haunts supply a majority of the soldiers. Every one who cannot prove promptly that he owns property or cannot buy his freedom with the customary bribe—as if by a magic nod of Yang-t’u-tu, is transformed into a soldier. Of course, where “magic” is available, there is no use for the usual technical procedure. Why is it necessary to have long-continued target practise and military training, if without these, an extensive army can be made to appear from the ground? What does it matter, if even before reaching the town gates, this army begins—also as if by magic—to dwindle away? Walking beside the army one sees several boys, and each one of them carries two or three rifles. Of course these rifles are of different make and mechanism.

But where are the soldiers themselves? Of course they do not miss any opportunities and have already disappeared into the narrow alleys and into hidden corners of the clay court yards, having just had time to give their rifles to some casual, gaping passer-by. If a tenth part of the army reaches Hami, it is already an amazing thing. But for this circumstance even, the Yang-t’u-tu has his own considerations. Sometimes the army travels along on carts, and then one sees round the edge of the cart whole rows of sticks, on each of which hangs a soldier’s cap! . . . Why must a soldier have hands and feet? A soldier has a head and the main part of this head is his cap apparently. If the soldier disappears, or even if he has never as yet materialized, there is still a wonderful remedy: the war department hangs out caps, each of which is supposed to be a soldier! And for these, the industrious Yang-t’u-tu receives the corresponding maintenance.

Besides, Yang-t’u-tu is aware that the army of Sining Amban is recruited in a similar fashion. Thus, habits of life equalize the forces of the opponents.

As I have already mentioned, Yang-t’u-tu is an experienced ruler. He knows how to transfer in due time to foreign banks, all his accumulated millions of taels and he decides the fate of his subjects by the aid of a cock fight… With the gods, as you know, Yang-t’u-tu is very harsh. He flogs them, and drowns them and cuts off their hands and feet. And then he replaces the guilty god by a local devil, whom he has just raised to this new dignity. The stern ruler of Sinkiang has managed to remain head of the province for sixteen years; he knew how to escape poison, demotion and destruction from war with his neighbors. A crude brass statue of Yang-t’u-tu has been erected, even during his lifetime. Of course, it was presented by the “grateful” subjects of Sinkiang, who received a special note from the local ambans. The officials say of Yang-t’u-tu: “he is cunning, our Yang-t’u-tu.” Other officials say: “Our governor has a very small heart.” And the people add heartily: “Anyhow, he will not live very long.”

But strangely enough, in the street there appears a detachment of horsemen, quite unlike the ragged army that has just passed. They have not the huge goiters so characteristic of the inhabitants of Sinkiang. They are better dressed and one feels from their riding posture that they are horsemen from birth. They are Kalmuks, a detachment of the Toin-Lama, Khan of the Torguts.

The old Khan of the Torguts, owner of the Karashar lands, also fell under the domination of Yang-t’u-tu, the all-powerful, and in a moment of strange impulse, handed over the succession to the Chinese official who had been sent to him. The official hurried home to the capital of Sinkiang with these precious documents, but the Kalmuks discovered the strange behavior of their Khan. Every mountain pass is well known to the Kalmuk horsemen. And where a Chinese takes several days—the Karashar horsemen can overtake him in a day. The caravan of the Chinese envoy disappeared, and so also did the envoy himself with all letters and documents. For great is Tien Shan, the heavenly mountains, and not only a caravan, but a whole army can be buried within its passes. Thus the Kalmuk horsemen have sought to maintain their independence.

On returning home, the Elders decided that a Khan, who voluntarily gives away his power, must have lost his reason. So they administered to their Khan a soothing drink which soothed him forever.

After this unsuccessful Khan, there remained his young son. Hence, instead of the Khan, the reins were assumed by his uncle, the Toin-Lama—the same Toin-Lama in whom was incarnated the spirit of the Tibetan minister, Sangen-Lama. As a physical identification of this incarnation, the Toin-Lama had a characteristically deformed knee, exactly like the deceased Tibetan minister. Even now the Torguts are considered semi-independent. The Toin-Lama has trained a special detachment in all the maneuvers of the Siberian Cossacks. And yet the Lama turned out to be timorous, for when Yang-t’u-tu demanded that he should send him his complete detachment, this only security of the independence of the Tor-guts was sent at his demand. Yang-t’u-tu then also ordered that Toin-Lama himself should come over to live in the capital of Sinkiang and a special palace was built for the honorary prisoner. And again the demand of Yang-t’u-tu was carried out.

Yang-t’u-tu also once asked: “From where do all the displeasures of the ruler come?” His adherents replied: “From newspapers.” Yang-t’u-tu’s decision was ready as always: “Therefore prohibit all newspapers.”

Yang-t’u-tu asks: “What causes unnecessary outer communications to be brought into the country, and what may clear the huts of their refuse?” Again there comes the reply: “Motorcars agitate the people with their speed and it is difficult to keep an eye on the boats.” The remedy is self-evident: prohibit in all Sinkiang the use of motorcars and boats, excepting only the ruler himself.” In spite of this, the postmaster of Sinkiang, an Italian named Cavallieri, by some miracle retained his car. He also supplies Peking and Shanghai newspapers to the officials of Yang-t’u-tu. But of course this is done quite privately.

How long will American and German firms continue to trade in guts and skins in Sinkiang? They have to be very careful indeed to avoid all the hidden rocks planted by this capricious ruler, who presents a strange sight, with his typical narrow Chinese gray beard, and his thunder-like coughing that drowns out all contradictions. He is ready for another world.

Destined for strange countries are these bales of wool, sewn into white skins and rolled up near the resting camels:

“Who is coming?”

“A caravan of the Belian Khan.”

“Where are you going?”

“Directly to Tien-Tsin.”

“How long will you be on your way?”

“Probably six months.”

And the bells of the camels ring gaily, telling, in their inarticulate way, of far-off America.

Museum Address: 188414, Izvara Village, Volosovo District, Leningrad Region, Russia.
Phones: +7-813-73-73-273 (group tours); Phone/Fax +7-813-73-73-298 (general)
Museum Director: Cherkasova Olga Anatolievna E-mail: