The Great Tiger Hunter of Fujian

 

2012 Suedchinesischer Tiger" by J. Patrick Fischer

“2012 Suedchinesischer Tiger” image courtesy of J. Patrick Fischer

Man from Tennessee Kills 48 Amoy Tigers.

When Harry R. Caldwell lived in China during the first half of the Twentieth Century, no one worried about the extinction of the Amoy tiger. In those days it was a point of pride for any man to kill a tiger, and Harry Caldwell killed four dozen of the beasts. In the villages he served, he was a hero. People called him the “Great Tiger Hunter.”

None of them could have predicted that eighty short years later there would be no wild tigers left in Fujian Province and we would be mourning their loss.

Harry Caldwell did not go to China to carve out a career as a tiger killer. He was a Methodist missionary from Tennessee who preached the gospel in China and raised his family there.

by B_cool-from-Singapore

image courtesy of B_cool-from-Singapore

When he arrived in China in 1900, there were thousands of tigers in Fujian Province alone. They prowled the villages at night, snatching away goats, pigs, and dogs. Some tigers became man-eaters who stalked and killed people who were tending their herds or walking the trails. Once a particularly brazen tiger burst into a house through an open door while the men of the house were having an after-dinner smoke. When the dust cleared, the tiger was gone … and so was a child who’d been sleeping under the table.

The reputation of this man-eating tiger spread. Afraid of encountering him, people began to neglect their crops. Finally, when church attendance fell, Reverend Caldwell decided it was time to go after the man-eating tiger. The reverend was an experienced hunter. In his younger days, he’d spent many hours hunting in the mountains of Tennessee. While in China, he’d supplied wild geese, silver pheasant, muntjac deer and wild boar for the family dinner table. But until then, he’d never shot a tiger.

China Coast Family

China Coast FamilyThe story of Harry Caldwell’s first tiger hunt is told in China Coast Family, a memoir written by his son, John Caldwell. John tells of a childhood in which he frequently heard the frightful low roar of tigers or spied their tracks. His amah scared him with stories of bad little Chinese boys and girls who were killed by the dreaded “lao hu.” Above all, he remembers his father’s victorious return from the hunt with a dead tiger draped over a bamboo pole and carried by eight coolies.

In one recollection, the younger Caldwell tells of the day his mother saw three tigers “basking in the sunlight across the road.” She told his father, and though Reverend Caldwell was skeptical, he grabbed his gun and took off in search of the tigers. Within ten minutes he’d found them—not three tigers, however, but five.

He should have taken his wife’s sighting more seriously and brought sufficient ammunition. As it was, he had only six shells with him. He used five of them to kill the first tiger and one to kill the second. Then, all his ammunition gone, he hid in the grass, listening as the remaining three tigers sniffed the bodies of their dead companions and hoping they would leave. He was lucky. After an hour or so, the tigers wandered off.

John Caldwell’s book has many stories about tigers in Fujian Province. It‘s amazing now to think of so many tigers roaming the hills of southeastern China not so many years ago.

When I wrote my novel, Tiger Tail Soup, I knew only one tale about tigers in China, the one my late husband, Eugene, told me. I’ve recounted that story in an earlier post, “Where Have All the Tigers Gone?” and told it in greater detail in my novel.

China Coast Family was published in 1953, but it’s still available. You can buy it from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com. You can also get a free download from the Universal Library, or you can read the third chapter, “Our Friend the Tiger,” on the website of Amoy Magic.

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About Nicki Chen

About Nicki Chen Nicki Chen is a writer living in Edmonds, WA. Her first novel, Tiger Tail Soup, is set in China during the Japanese invasion and occupation, 1937-1945. She's working on a second novel set in Vanuatu, a South Pacific nation where she and her late husband lived in the early '90s.
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26 comments


  1. Wow. What an amazing and horrifying story! If only something could have been done to preserve the species without risking the loss of more human lives.
    China Coast Family sounds fascinating!




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    • China Coast Family is fascinating. The Caldwells lived an exciting life in a very different time. It’s interesting to read a books that was written in the 1950s when I’m used to reading current books.




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  2. What a beautiful creature. Thanks for introducing us to John, Nicki. China Coast Family sounds like a fascinating read.




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  3. Wow, what a story! Tigers are incredibly beautiful.




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  4. They are beautiful creatures. So sad.




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  5. It’s too bad that humans have found the need to protect ourselves at the cost of the extinction of an animal. Thanks for sharing this, Nicki




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    • When they killed a tiger, I’m sure they thought there would always be more. It reminds me of the song about Davy Crockett: “He killed himself a bear when he was only three.” A tall tale, but it shows the attitude in the US in those days. Now we regulate the hunting and killing of bears, cougars, and wolves, but we didn’t always.




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  6. Just a few days ago I read some news about tigers in China. Not in Fujian, but in the north, they are Siberian tigers. There are only a few wild Siberian tigers in China and some people are optimistic that with a few measures (i.e. leave them some big spaces without human interference), the number of wild tigers could reach 60 or 70 in a few years and it would be a great success.




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    • In December, I saw a Siberian tiger, also known as the Amur tiger, at the Indianapolis Zoo. The zoo is contributing to the efforts to grow the population in China and Russia (on both sides of the Amur River). There are many more on the Russian side of the border.

      There’s also an effort to save the Amoy tiger of Fujian. It’s very small so far. They brought a few tigers to the Laohu Valley Reserve in South Africa. If they’re successful, they hope to bring them back to China. The SaveChina’sTigers website is really interesting. Great photo of a female tiger and her three cubs.




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  7. Thanks for sharing this story. It is quite interesting. Again sad that the protection of one species has caused the near extinction of another.




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  8. Kev

    I’m a cat lover, but I still find this story entrancing.




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  9. Jeri Hansen

    All of your “Behind the Story” have been so informative!! I have really enjoyed reading them.




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    • Thank you, Jeri. I do try to add a little something of interest each week. I’ve really been enjoying China Coast Family (reading it between The Girl on the Train).




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  10. Susan Haigh

    Nicki, I came across this while doing research for my father’s memoirs and couldn’t believe it. My father grew up next door to the Caldwells, in a house Harry had built. My grandfather, another American Methodist missionary, hunted with him often. My father tells many stories about Mr. Caldwell, the hunters who joined them and the relationship between the tigers and the residents of Futsing. Interestingly, Mr. Caldwell’s cook Da Da became so proficient at taxidermy that many of his birds, tigers, deer etc. were displayed at the National Museum in Washington DC.

    I suppose John Caldwell tells these stories in “China Coast Family” as well. This is the first I’ve heard of his book.




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    • Susan, I’m excited to hear from someone whose father lived next door to the Caldwells. I found China Coast Family a few months ago and found it so interesting to read about the tigers because of the stories my husband told me about Chinese tigers. You should order the book. You can get it for $1.99 on Amazon. I think you’ll find it well worth the cost. Harry Caldwell was an amazing person.




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    • Hi Susan – I am doing research on the summer residents of Kuliang. I don’t know if you will see this reply, but if you do, I would love to be in touch. You can also find me at http://www.guling-kuliang.com/




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  11. Mark

    I’m in the midst of researching a book about Harry Caldwell. He was my great grandfather ( his eldest son Oliver was my grandfather). If you’re interested in Harry, I suggest you read Blue Tiger, which he wrote. It’s available at Amazon. It was published in 1924, a best seller, and printed in many different languages.
    If you’re interested in reading about why he and others were hunting at the pace they were, read Camps and Trails In China by Roy Chapman Andrews..




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    • Thank you for commenting, Mark. And thank you for suggesting Blue Tiger and Camps and Trails in China. You must be proud to have such an illustrious great grandfather. I hope the book you’re researching will be a great success.




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      • mark becker

        Hey again, I ordered Tiger Tail Soup, am looking forward to reading it. That time period in Fukien had a huge impact on a lot of members of my family.. There were 3 generations living there.
        I’m not sure how this works, but could you pass on my contact info to Susan Haigh? It would be great to be in contact with her.. Sounds like we are working on parallel projects..
        Thanks!




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        • Hi Mark. It’s good to hear from you again. After reading your comment, I sent an email to Susan. I told her that if she’d like to hear from you, I’ll send her your email address. I hope that’s all right. We’ll wait to hear from her.

          I hope you’ll enjoy Tiger Tail Soup. My main sources of information were the stories I’d heard from my late husband and the photos and notes I took when we visited Xiamen and Gulangyu in 1983. I was lucky because the great Chinese building boom hadn’t started yet. The cities probably looked almost the same as they did in the 1930s and ’40s.

          Although Tiger Tail Soup is fiction, I tried my best to make the setting and history as accurate as possible. I found a few interesting things online, but when I started writing the book, there wasn’t nearly as much online as there is now. You’ll probably agree with me that isn’t a great deal available in English about that time and place. (All the more reason for us to write books about it.) I haunted university libraries from Seattle to Vermont for nuggets of information and bought a few good books.

          I wish you best of luck on your project. You have an excellent story to tell.




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