Strange Doings in the Qinling Mountains

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A borderland beyond man's ken.

Most folks never heard tell of Shaanxi’s Qinling Mountains, and for most who know them well, that’s just fine. Let the younger, mightier Himalayas occupy the outside world’s imagination, and leave the Qinling for the many creatures, common and queer both, who dwell in their eaves. The countryside Chinese who draw out their homespun lives in the mountains’ shadows keep their tales to themselves, for the most part – the dog killings and marauding monkeys, while some tales amaze and break loose as if of their own volition: UFOs disappearing a village entire, a Bigfoot rousted in its dwindling haunt.

But first know that the Qinling mountains are a boundary, where monumental energies are kept at bay. Mongolia’s freezing breath, dry and desiccated, loses its purchase on the rugged peak of Taibai Mountain, rearing 3800 meters in defiance. Nonetheless, Taibai’s northern face is deciduous, windswept, brooding over the loess plateau, which brooks no surcease of man’s labor. The southern slopes, however, bathe in the last stirrings of south sea zephyrs and monsoon wet, evergreen. Thus do the Qinling in their fifteen hundred kilometer span divide north and south China as Great Wall or Yellow River never could, shaping the very heavens over all creatures dwelling on either side.

Strange things come to pass at boundaries. The lineaments blur, and what would only be a gnarled yew tree closer to home, here takes on the aspect of a crouching ogre, or a fairies’ bower. The mind of man can not help but be touched in these places, loosing its grip on the vital conceit that all it surveys orders along the thin lines of logic.

Little else can explain Yangxian’s dog massacre last year. Yangxian lies in the misty southern vales protected by Taibai Mountain. A city approaching half a million, it had for years suffered all manner of stray dog and other shunted critters to dwell in its side streets, as will any city in uneasy truce with teeming forests hard by. Strays found themselves increasingly ill-used, the more they waxed fat on the mounds of garbage that grew with good economic times.

Those who give official numbers claimed three hundred people bitten and two dead from rabies when the purge began in early summer. Squads of underutilized city workers were thrust into vans and given daily quotas of hides, garnered chiefly by clubbing and cutting. The disconcert of civilians turned to dismay when the order came for licensed dog owners to dispense with their charges, or pay a hundred yuan fine, should the deputized dog-killers need step in where the masters dared not. Yangxian elders looked at the blood trails, the dog-empty streets, and declared nothing like it since the great Chinese demagogue had ordered likewise, to distract them from starvation and their own miserable straits.

And now, this year, Yangxian finds itself again at odds with its close-neighbored animal kingdom, whose hungrier denizens covet the bounty Yangxian would otherwise use for the propagation of its own already teeming race. Atimes the frozen breath of Mongolia breaches the barrier thrown up by the Qinling, spelling a cold, hungry winter for creatures best suited to more dependable climes. A band of golden monkeys, the southern reaches of the Qingling the species’ northernmost home, this year felt the clench of gelid earth, offering little by way of the mast and berries that constitute the bulk of their diet.

Pickins are slim this year for the golden monkey.

These golden monkeys have starved before, but always their privation was a matter of little concern to men. This year, the golden monkeys have taken a page from their less hirsute cousins, using cunning and numbers when nature stints. Farm villages surrounding Yangxian have been startled from their slow cycle by primate raids.

Hungry monkeys cut few capers.

Sometimes, the golden monkeys come rampaging down the villages’ main thoroughfares, screeching like loosed bedlamites. Other times, they approach with stealth at crepuscular hours, grim and bold like blue-faced, furry commandoes. They favor corn from unguarded cribs, but in desperation will snatch the tanghulu from a laughing baby’s mouth. More reflective villagers take the raids as a sobering token, reminding them how easily man could slip down in nature’s hierarchy to a more humble rank.

And what place in God’s order for a creature deemed too fell and misshapen to exist? The higher reaches of course, where scarp and crag, cold and want keep away all but a handful of those who suffer none greater than they to live in the flatlands. The Rockies, the Himalayas, and Shennongjia are such places, as is Taibai Mountain. Nowadays, the Bigfoot is much on the tongues of folk from Mei County, which rests at the foot of the mountain.

A wistful artist's rendering.

But countryside yarns don’t make news until city-britches tell them. This October, a group of hikers from Xi’an nigh soiled themselves at the sight of a massive, shambling, shaggy hominid picking its way among the brush beyond them. The hikers spoke naught of the encounter nor of ought else until they’d been admitted to a hospital and treated for shock.

Then there are the Taibai campers from Shanghai whose story closely matches the other visitors’, save for the Bigfoot loosing a warbling, unearthly cry before disappearing into the bush with unsettling grace. Outlandish as the tale may be, it matches the report of a Taibai Mountain National Forest Park official, who on September 18th heard several claims of a man-like figure, yet far too big and covered in light-colored hair to be a son of Adam. It could be but a young Westerner, unshorn, grown Brobdingnagian on doctored milk, from one of those NGO’s tracking the giant panda which dwells in the Qinling. Sources have yet to confirm.

Even more outlandish is last month’s account of flying saucers snatching up a whole village outside county seat Xianyang. Another case of the newly fangled internet spreading a tale faster than cholera, reporters from around China hied over to the Qinling mountains hoping for a supernatural scoop. All we’ve got is shaky phone-camera video of oscillating blue lights, lights the big papers are quick to dismiss as “rays of square spot lights”. It’ll take a naturalist, not a newspaper hack, to look into what the locals have noted: not a snake to be found anywhere near to where those eerie lights emanated.

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