It sounded like the subject of a boy's book, like so many British international projects. This was on the order of Stanley's exploits in Africa, or could have been if it hadn't gone wrong. The British in India had recently subdued and annexed Burma. Their possessions thus brought them up to the southwestern borders of China. Inevitably their trade-hungry strategists thought of entering China there and setting up commercial relations, like those of the maritime border over on the east. Once already a British expedition under an officer named Sladen had attempted to follow an ancient trade route with this end in view, moving from India up the Irrawaddy to Bhamo and then overland into Yunnan. Sladen had been stopped, but the British were now, in 1874, ready to try again with an expedition under their Colonel Browne.
Browne and his advisers expected no trouble in Burma, but the Chinese border had a bad reputation. It swarmed with tribes who admitted no allegiance to either one country or the other. Outsiders, however, considered them the responsibility of Peking. Browne's people would need passports to cross the border, and the authorities in India sent word to Sir Thomas Wade requesting him to get the necessary documents. Instead of sending them around by sea, which bad heretofore been the way the British in Indian-zone possessions and in China dispatched mail to each other, a new method was decided on: the passports would go by hand in the care of Augustus Raymond Margary, a young man from the Peking Consular office. Margary would travel across China and meet the expedition in Burma. A fluent speaker of Chinese, he could then return in his tracks as their guide and interpreter. With an escort of six Chinese Margary set off with the passports. They went by way of the Yangtze and Tungting Lake to Kweichow, Kweiyang, Kunming (then known