Samuel van de Putte 8


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Where possible, the illustrious company travels from monastery to monastery and otherwise they spend the nights in tents or gers. The fame of the head lama heralds their arrival, the small caravan is always received with the utmost respect and provided with shelter. Samuel praises himself lucky.

In fact, they are crossing the so-called Eurasian steppe: the elongated stretch of grasslands and semi-deserts that – but for a few interruptions by narrow mountain passes – runs from the Pacific to the Mediterranean.

Both from above Beijing to the pusztas in Hungary and from Manchuria to East Groningen in the Netherlands. Due to long rainless periods, there grows virtually no tree species. In the two months that rain does fall, shrub and grass brighten up again.

It is this route that Samuel initially wanted to take to reach the renowned middle kingdom. Numerous wars forced him, however, to turn southwards time and again, towards India – and make a detour of about ten years.

Via this latitude band the first traders and jesuits trekked to the far east, a route by sea was unknown to them. It is the equestrian route along which the plague moved westward in the Middle Ages, even though horses and campfires are no friends of fleas and rats.

The steppe rather looks like a landscape without history, but experienced travelers like Samuel immediately recognize the pattern of a few large stones where earlier travelers once set up camp.

From a stack of three, four small stones, they judge that this might be a good place to ignite some manure and prepare the carrots, turnips, buckwheat or parsnip they brought along.

The hour of the day determines how everyone is dressed, including the monks and lamas.

Early in the morning everybody is barely recognizable under all the felt and the inside out facing sheepskins.

At noon, most walk or ride bare-chested, swatting insects. Later in the afternoon, all tighten the load of clothes firmly back on again.

But the messy horde recovers and rearranges itself as soon as it stands in front of the gate of a monastery.

Quickly the uniforms of man and horse are straightened out, loops are tied, buttons are arranged and the long sleeves pulled halfway over the hands.

With curiosity hightened by the enthusiastic reports of the new Tibetan monastery in the middle of the steppes of Qinghai, the company bends away towards Labrang.

The monastery complex turns out to

The months-long journey is exhausting and progresses arduously. The lamas decide to stay for a longer period of time. Hoping that the older head lama will regain strength. He is, after all, their passe-partout.

Some hundred kilometres furtheron lies Koko Nor. The salt lake is well known for its intense blue color.

Together with a few other equally inquisitive caravan members Samuel explores the 74 kilometers around the lake. The omnipresent rapeseed is in bloom and lays a golden yellow glow around the clear blue water.

Once the caravan gets back on trail after the winter, they head straight for the Great Wall. 

To 'that unparalleled border wall that has been running over many mountains and through many valleys for centuries,' Samuel writes in a letter, ‘against the raids of the tartars.’

Some caravan members and he are not allowed to go any further. At three different places they try to pass the gate - to no avail.

The guards are on edge ‘because of the war with the Mongolian Zjongares tribe,' he explains in the letter. ‘Nobody can enter or leave the city without a patent.’

One morning he inconspicuously joins an entering caravan, casually takes one of the camels by the reins, hides 'my European being and blue eyes' under local clothing and

Halfway through his no less than 61-year reign, Emperor Kangxi did get some admiration for the 'to measure is to know' approach that the strange religious fellows demonstrated with their intriguing instruments such as binoculars, solar clocks, hygrometer and thermometer.

Thanks to the technical and astronomical performances of the Belgian jesuit Ferdinand Verbiest and his fellow brothers, the other congregations – franciscans, dominicans and augustinians – were also tolerated. 

This benevolence was partly caused by the jesuits helping the emperor to improve Chinese artillery and make the cannons bigger and more mobile.

In essence, confucianism did not seem to differ too much from

The ethical, philosophical system of imperial China (a fusion of confucianism, taoism and buddhism) never considered moral, virtuous behavior and the recognition of duties as a divine commandment.

To the powers that were it remained incomprehensible that any discussion about life & death with these pragmatic westerners

Far more difficult than to get past the Great Wall, however, it turns out for Samuel to enter the city 'Pekin'. His chances seem to have completely vanished when the main lama dies.

 That degrades the company into a mere entourage of the person whose name is on the imperial invitation. But the remaining lamas and monks do not want to have been on the road all these

The imperial cities are kept so inaccessible because they threaten to come apart at the seams while the infra and social structures barely keep pace.

Around the palaces, temples, monasteries and houses of the aristocracy – with their beautiful ceramic roofs and cultivated gardens – the common people dwell ever more closely together in their low huts with thatched roofs and mud or single-brick walls.

Along with the many silver fleets from Peru and Mexico, the easy to grow food like corn, potato and peanuts also crossed the Atlantic.

During Samuel's life, the Chinese population is well on its way to double within a century; from 150 to 300 million, almost a third of the world's population.

Meanwhile it is high time for Samuel to cash in a bill of exchange. But with whom or what trade house? As much as fate smiled upon the VOC in Japan – as the only foreign company that was allowed to continue to trade – the very expensive missions of their 'embassies' to Beijing failed to win the young emperor over.

The first attempt, the one by Pieter van Hoorn in January 1667, was typical of the Dutch approach. In his student days, Samuel had already heard about it and read about it in The Opregte Haarlemsche Courant as well.

Without appointment or announcement, Van Hoorn sailed to the South-Chinese coast of Fuzhou and navigated the Pearl River up to the north. According to his ship's log, he managed to pass 37 cities, 335 villages and 34 pagodas. 

On June 20 they reached Beijing despite all official obstacles. In procession, they entered the Forbidden City flags flying and trumpets blasting. At least, Pieter had himself be carried in per palanquin.

VOC Japan

For European trade missions like the VOC, the main problem remained for centuries that China had a lot of high-quality, cultural goods to offer, but that, in reverse there was virtually no demand for European merchandise – except for silver to use as domestic currency.

So what did the VOC think to entice the young emperor with to issue a unique trade position? Besides artists like Pieter van Doornik who came along to make drawings to report to the Heeren XVII in Amsterdam, his party included secretaries and bookkeepers as well, who kept a close record of the gifts: so many horses, oxen, swords, daggers, rifles, satin, cotton, wool, coral, amber, cloves, pepper, sandalwood, elephant and walrus teeth, incense, rose water, carpets, celestial globes, fine metalwork, ostrich eggs, copper models and mirrors.

The only part that could charm the thirteen-year-old emperor was the steeds. Never did he see horses that big and strong. He personally came to 'inspect' them and demanded a drawing to be made instantly.

As for the purpose of the journey: all trade with the rest of the world had, as always, to be carried out at a safe distance in Canton, the city that Samuel had in mind as his next destination.

Also in Beijing Samuel keeps his distance from the papal brothers. He is aware of the aversion the young emperor has developed towards Westerners.

In search of a trading house to cash his bill of exchange, however, he meets Antoine Gaubil who comes across as a friendly, intelligent young man from France.

Gaubil is allowed to stay in Beijing because he had been able to prove himself as an astronomer. He was allowed to succeed Ferdinand Verbiest, the renowned Belgian jesuit who acquired a position at the imperial court half a century earlier.

After a public discussion with Chinese scientists, Verbiest and his group not only improved the Chinese calendar, but further expanded the imperial observatory as well.

The technical renovation of the arsenal of weapons was perhaps more decisive for the imperial tolerance policy to let the westerners convey their christian message. The jesuit brothers improved the cannons and made them more mobile as well.

During his meeting with Antoine, Samuel enthusiastically recounts the journey he has been making for the past twenty years. Antoine is all ears.

Afterwards he reports to Rome that he met ‘a

He would very much like to travel along the coast to the south of China, to the international port of Canton, but he cannot find a caravan to take him there.

Besides, how would he be able to emerge from the interior if all foreigners are allowed to disembark only for very short periods – and no further than one kilometer in the circumference of the trading posts.

The merchants have to leave the purchasing to the Chinese mediators. Once the trading season is over, the ships – loaded or not – have to redescend the Pearl River and sail out to open sea.

English and Dutch crews often bivouac in Portuguese Macao until the next season.

If he were to find the right party, Samuel would still want to take the risk, after all he did manage to enter Beijing as well. But then he hears about the revolt, down in the southwest. The stories shock him.

Years of oppression and exploitation have boned minorities like the Miao so much that they simply had to break through their crippling poverty.

In some villages the farmers killed their wives and children, burned down houses and bridges and – with no one and

In any case, an opportunity such as the lama party that took him to Beijing he doesn’t find anywhere. And since every route through China is actually too complicated and too dangerous for him, he decides to return to Lhasa with the same caravan.

Without the head lama and therefore exempt from all formal meetings and its slow progress, but still with the right papers and the hospitable accommodations.

The coming year he has plenty of time to think about how he will proceed.

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Deel 9

be set up on a large scale with no less than twenty halls, various schools and sufficient accommodation for some two thousand monks.

On the way he tries to map out the lake and lists the tribes, animals, flowers and minerals he encounters.

finally manages to slip past the guards.

christianity. The popish foremen did their best to translate several texts for Rome (where they consequently did not understand why christianization remained so unsuccessful).

turned out to be impossible because they made themselves spiritually, in absolute terms, entirely dependent upon an authority outside of themselves, namely God.

Apparently their 'to measure is to know' approach keeps them spiritually at novice level.

months, years for nothing…

They forge plans to use the stamps they already have and to visit the most important temples and places of interest anyway. With success, as long as they do not come too close to the forbidden city.

certain Samuel Wandepot' in Beijing who claimed to have traveled half the world and now wants to go to Canton. ‘I do not know what came of him since then, nor what happened to him, nor what is true of it.’

Gradually Samuel has become a somewhat known and illustrious person, but unbelief rises proportionally.

nothing left to lose – started to battle the local rulers and the imperial army.

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