312 FROM CHARCHAN TO CHARKHLIK [Chap. VIII
agricultural settlement at Charkhlik. That this locality offered better chances for cultivation than any other in the whole Lop-nor region must have been known to traders and petty officials who
used to visit the quasi-nomadic Loftliks, or Lop people, fishing and grazing along the lowermost course of the Tarim.2 But in view of the very primitive economic conditions attested for this scanty riverine population even within living memory, it is probable that cultivation did not begin at Charkhlik until the Chinese about 1830-40 established here a penal colony with exiles from Khotan.
When Prejevalsky as the first European visited Charkhlik in 1876, he found there a village with twenty-One houses occupied by free emigrants from Khotan, besides a mud fort sheltering over a hundred convict settlers cultivating land for the Government.; Gradually a number of Lopliks, like the Kirghiz north-westwards, with whom they appear to be closely related in ethnic origin, were attracted to agricultural life, and at the time of my visit the total number of homesteads was counted at about three hundred.' Professor Huntington estimates the population of the little town at twelve hundred souls. That the produce in cereals is considerably in excess of local needs was evident from the fact that a Chinese garrison of about a hundred men was recently maintained here for close on ten years. Chinese administration, as of yore, still retains a keen eye for matters of military geography. Thus it was sure to recognize the strategic importance of Charkhlik, where well-known routes from Tsaidam and Tibet join those leading to Khotan, Kucha, Kara-shahr, and Tun-huang. The neat little ` Yangi-shahr ', with walls of stamped clay which had sheltered this garrison, now stood empty. But the appearance on the scene, some years after its erection, of a body of Tungan rebels, who had fled from Hsi-ning to Tsaidam, and were thence troubling the Mongols grazing in the mountains south of Charkhlik, had sufficed to illustrate the wisdom of Chinese precautions.
The position of Charkhlik is of equal importance for trade development. From the Mongol grazing grounds in the Chimen-tagh and Tsaidam great quantities of wool find their way down to Charkhlik ; and the export of it, both to Khotan and northward to Kara-shahr and Urumchi, provides profitable business for a number of traders. There was life in the large and well-built Bazar, and my inquiries showed that the increasing use made of the rediscovered ancient trade route through the desert eastwards by caravans coming from or going to Khotan was eagerly welcomed by the Charkhlik settlers ; for it helped them to dispose of surplus products with profit and to secure their industrial needs or luxuries at cheaper rates. On the other hand, it is certain that without the existence of this cultivated area, where caravans can revictual and give a rest to their animals before facing the great stretches of absolute waste which are crossed by all the routes radiating from this point, mercantile traffic would be far more difficult than it is at present.
It has already been stated that the river of Charkhlik, from which the oasis derives all its irrigation, is the largest course of water which descends to the Lop-nor depression from the mountains stretching east of Charchan. Its volume is not sufficient to assure its junction with the waters of the Charchan River and Tarim except at the time of the spring and summer floods. Yet
2 Cf. Forsyth, Yarkand Mission Rej5orl, p. J4. The description of ' Lob ', in pp. 51 sqq., from native sources conveys a good idea as to the impressions which visitors from the settled parts of Eastern Turkestan carried away of the uncivilized state of existence prevailing among the Lop people.
Cf. Prejevalsky, Tronc Ku ja lo Lob-nor, pp. 75 sq.
4 This probably includes a certain number of Lopliks, in the transition stage as it were, who still cling to their fishing
for part of the year but cultivate fields at Charkhlik and live there in the hot season, when life among the lagoons and marshes of the Tarim is rendered very trying by mosquitoes, &c. ; cf. Hedin, Reisen in Z.-A., p. 569. Other Lopliks have turned into land-holders of substance, such as Tursun Bai, whose spacious and comfortable house served me as quarters and also as a good illustration of the material progress accomplished within a single generation.