780 ON THE ANCIENT ROUTE ALONG THE KONCHE-DARYA [Chap. XXI
to contend for years with the saline efflorescence brought to the surface when irrigation is started. Where cultivation of such new fields is systematically persisted in, near the old oases of the Tarim basin, whether under official pressure or under the influence of economic conditions resulting from an increased population, this trouble is gradually overcome. The fields which in the beginning had yielded rich crops and then after a few years had rapidly deteriorated, again become gradually fertile, and of value to colonists who had previously been loud in their complaints and had often been anxious to desert their holdings.'°
Instability But at Kara-kum there was a conspicuous absence of those human factors which might
of new favourably influence the process of reclamation just described. Of this I had ample occasion to
convince myself when I made the acquaintance of many of the settlers in spe whom official advances
of seed and temporary maintenance had attracted to the new epiphany of Kara-kum, established on the left bank of the Konche-darya and popularly designated as Konche. They were the same vagrant folk, drawn from such distant oases as Yarkand, Kucha, and Khotan, whose congeners I well remembered seeing at Charchan, Vash-shahri, Charkhlik, all of them places that official action was anxious to ` develop '. For the most part loafers or men of an adventurous disposition, for whom steady labour in the settled life of fairly crowded oases holds out no attraction, these ` Musafirs ' or ` Wanderers ', as more respectable local people characteristically called them, seemed to constitute a standing feature, in the staging of such new colonizing ventures.
Reasons for Obviously such wandering folk were not of the stuff to overcome the initial difficulties that
starting face the cultivator on newly reclaimed land, nor were they credited with any serious intention of
colonies. doing so. Respectable headmen from other small places in the long straggling district of Wei-li,
who were attending at the newly built Ya-mên, did not disguise from me their conviction that this large crowd of soi-disant settlers gathered about the Bazar of the ` new town ' would not stay beyond a year or two, until they had reaped the first ample harvests and eaten up such official advances as dribbled down to them through greedy hands at the local Ya-mên. They would then gradually melt away to play the same role at some other place which was to be ` colonized ' under the auspices of an enterprising district head anxious for the distinction to be gained—and still more for the profits to be made—over such transactions. For it did not need much familiarity with the methods prevailing in most of these little Ya-mêns to realize that whatever the aims cherished or professed in higher places might be, the immediate motive for the establishment of new colonies or the shifting of old ones was supplied by the opportunities they offered to the district heads and their staff to supplement, out of the special grants accorded for the enterprise, the extremely meagre pickings from the charge of unprofitable districts.
Explanation As regards the official reason put forward for the latest shift in the case of Kara-kum, the
of shift retiring Amban explained to me that it was hoped that the newly opened settlement would profit
kum. by the close proximity of its lands to the deep-cut bed of the river. This would provide a convenient
natural drainage and thus prevent the damage from shör due to stagnating waters which most of the transient ` settlers ' at old Kara-kum had obviously not been prepared to counteract by dint of hard work. For the previous shift from Doral below Tikenlik to Kara-kum, which took place about 1900, a plausible reason had apparently been found in the greater security with which it would be possible to watch and control a large number of Tungan rebels who had escaped to Lop from the Hsi-ning side a few years earlier and had been forced to settle down about Doral, if they were moved with the district head-quarters to Kara-kum ; for this place lies within two marches of
1° Cf. Desert Cathay, i. pp. x28 sq., for observations on the Van Ta-jên's canal was for a time in danger of being deserted
` new lands ' of Kara-kum near Yàrkand, where a large area again through the same cause, but was ultimately fully
of good land newly brought under cultivation through reclaimed from the desert.