Chapter IX - The Manchu Conquest Of China
Tingbi, with the wrecks of the Chinese armies, succeeded in doing more for the defense of his country than had been accomplished by any of his predecessors with undiminished resources. He built a chain of forts, he raised the garrison of Leaoutung to 180,000 men, and he spared no effort to place Leaouyang, the capital of that province, in a position to stand a protracted siege. If his counsels had been followed to the end, he might have succeeded in permanently arresting the flood of Manchu conquest; but at the very moment when his plans promised to give assured success, he fell into disgrace at the capital, and his career was summarily ended by the executioner. The greatest compliment to his ability was that Noorhachu remained quiescent as long as he was on the frontier, but as soon as he was removed he at once resumed his aggression on Chinese soil.
Meanwhile, Wanleh had been succeeded on the Chinese throne by his son, Chu Changlo, who took the name of Kwangtsong. He was an amiable and well- meaning prince, whose reign was unquestionably cut short by foul means. There is little doubt that he was poisoned by the mother of his half- brother, from a wish to secure the throne for her son; but if so she never gained the object that inspired her crime, for the princes of the family met in secret conclave, and selected Kwangtsong's son a youth of sixteen, as his successor. The choice did not prove fortunate, as this prince became known as Tienki the Unhappy, whose reign witnessed the culmination of Ming misfortunes. One of his first acts was the removal of Tingbi from his command, and this error of judgment, aggravated by the ingratitude it implied to a faithful servant, fitly marked the commencement of a reign of incompetence and misfortune.
In 1621 the Manchu war reopened with an attack on Moukden or Fanyang, which Noorhachu had marked out as his next object. The garrison was numerous, and might have made a good defense, for the walls were strong; but the commandant was brave to the degree of temerity, and, leaving his fortress, marched out to meet the Manchus in the open. The result was a decisive overthrow, and the victors entered Moukden at the heels of the vanquished. The Chinese still resisted, and a terrible slaughter ensued, but the Manchus retained their conquest. At this juncture the Chinese were offered the assistance of the Portuguese at Macao, who sent a small body of 200 men, armed with arquebuses and with several cannon, to Pekin; but after some hesitation the Chinese, whether from pride or contempt of so small a force, declined to avail themselves of their service, and thus lost an auxiliary that might have turned the fortune of the war in their favor. The Portuguese were sent back to Macao, and, although the Chinese kept the cannon, and employed the Jesuit priests in casting others for them, nothing came of an incident which might have exercised a lasting influence not merely on the fortune of the war, but also on the relations between the Chinese and Europeans. The Chinese sent several armies to recover Moukden; but, although they took these guns with them, they met with no success, and Noorhachu made it the base of his plan of attack on Leaouyang, the capital of the province. The defense of this important town was intrusted to Yuen Yingtai, the court favorite and incompetent successor of Tingbi. That officer, unwarned by the past, and regardless of the experience of so many of his predecessors, weakened himself and invited defeat by attempting to oppose the Manchus in the open. He was defeated, losing some of his best soldiers, and compelled to shut himself up in the town with a disheartened garrison. The Manchus gained an entrance into the city. Then a terrible encounter took place. The garrison was massacred to a man, Yuen Yingtai, brave, if incapable, committed suicide, and those of the townspeople who wished to save their lives had to shave their heads in token of subjection. This is the first historical reference to a practice that is now universal throughout China, and that has become what may be called a national characteristic. The badge of conquest has changed to a mark of national pride; but it is strange to find that the Chinese themselves and the most patient inquirers among sinologues are unable to say what was the origin of the pig-tail. They cannot tell us whether shaving the head was the national custom of the Manchus, or whether Noorhachu only conceived this happy idea of distinguishing those who surrendered to his power among the countless millions of the long-haired people of China. All that can be said of the origin of the pig-tail is that it was first enforced as a badge of subjugation by the Manchus at the siege of Leaouyang, and that thenceforward, until the whole of China was conquered, it was made the one condition of immunity from massacre.
The capture of Leaouyang signified the surrender of the remaining places in Leaoutung, which became a Manchu possession, and Noorhachu, to celebrate his triumph, and also to facilitate his plans for the further humiliation of the Chinese, transferred his capital from Moukden to Leaouyang. Misfortunes never come singly. In Szchuen a local chief had raised a force of 30,000 men for service on the frontier in the wars with the Manchus, and the viceroy of the province not only declined to utilize their services, but dismissed them without reward or even recognition of their loyalty. These slighted and disbanded braves easily changed themselves into brigands, and as the government would not have them as supporters, they determined to make it feel their enmity, Chetsong Ming, the chief who had raised them, placed himself at their head, and attracted a large number of the inhabitants to his standard. The local garrisons were crushed, the viceroy killed, and general disorder prevailed among the people of what was the most fertile and prosperous province of the empire. Chetsong attempted to set up an administration, but he does not seem to have possessed the capacity or the knowledge to establish a regular government. While he headed the rebellious movement, a woman named Tsinleang, the hereditary chieftainess of a small district, placed herself at the head of the loyalists in the state, and, leading them herself, succeeded in recovering the principal cities and in driving Chetsong out of the province. She has been not inappropriately called by one of the missionary historians the Chinese Penthesilea. The success she met with in pacifying Szchuen after a two years' struggle was not attained in other directions without a greater effort and at a still heavier cost. In Kweichow and Yunnan a rebel named Ganpangyen raised an insurrection on a large scale, and if his power had not been broken by the long siege of a strong fortress, obstinately defended by a valiant governor, there is no telling to what success he might not have attained. But his followers were disheartened by the delay in carrying this place, and they abandoned him as soon as they found that he could not command success. In Shantung another rising occurred; but after two years' disturbance the rebel leader was captured and executed. These internal disorders, produced by the corruption and inertness of the officials as much as by a prevalent sense of the embarrassment of the Mings, distracted the attention of the central government from Manchuria, and weakened its preparations against Noorhachu.
For a time Noorhachu showed no disposition to cross the River Leaou, and confined his attention to consolidating his position in his new conquest. But it was clear that this lull would not long continue, and the Chinese emperor, Tienki, endeavored to meet the coming storm by once more intrusting the defense of the frontier to Tingbi. That general devised a simple and what might have proved an efficacious line of defense, but his colleague, with more powerful influence at court, would have none of it, and insisted on his own plan being adopted. Noorhachu divined that the councils of the Chinese were divided, and that Tingbi was hampered. He promptly took advantage of the divergence of opinion, and, crossing the frontier, drove the Chinese behind the Great Wall. Even that barrier would not have arrested his progress but for the stubborn resistance offered by the fortress of Ningyuen--a town about seventy miles northeast of Shanhaikwan, once of great importance, but now, for many years past, in ruins. When he reached that place he found that Tingbi had fallen into disgrace and been executed, not for devising his own plan of campaign, but for animadverting on that of his colleague in satirical terms. The Chinese had made every preparation for the resolute defense of Ningyuen, and when Noorhachu sat down before it, its resolute defender, Chungwan, defied him to do his worst, although all the Chinese troops had been compelled to retreat, and there was no hope of re-enforcement or rescue. At first Noorhachu did not conduct the siege of Ningyuen in person. It promised to be an affair of no great importance, and he intrusted it to his lieutenants, but he soon perceived that Chungwan was a resolute soldier, and that the possession of Ningyuen was essential to the realization of his future plans. Therefore, he collected all his forces and sat down before Ningyuen with the full determination to capture it at all costs. But the garrison was resolute, its commander capable, and on the walls were arranged the cannon of European construction. Noorhachu led two assaults in person, both of which were repulsed, and it is said that this result was mainly due to the volleys of the European artillery. At last, Noorhachu was compelled to withdraw his troops, and although he obtained some successes in other parts of the country, he was so chagrined at this repulse that he fell ill and died some months later at Moukden, in September, 1626.
Noorhachu was succeeded by his fourth son, the fourth Beira or Prince, known as Taitsong, who continued both his work and policy. Taitsong was as determined to humiliate the Mings as his father had been. He commenced his offensive measures by an attack on Corea, which he speedily reduced to such a pass that it accepted his authority and transferred its allegiance from the Mings to the Manchus. This was an important success, as it secured his eastern flank and deprived the Chinese of a useful ally in the Forbidden Kingdom. It encouraged Taitsong to think that the time was once more ripe for attacking Ningyuen, and he laid siege to that fortress at the head of a large army, including the flower of his troops. Notwithstanding the energy of his attack, Chungwan, the former bold defender of the place, had again the satisfaction of seeing the Manchus repulsed, and compelled to admit that the ramparts of Ningyuen presented a serious if not insuperable obstacle to their progress. Almost at the very moment of this success the Emperor Tienki died, and was succeeded, in 1627, by his younger brother, Tsongching, who was destined to be the last of the Ming rulers.
The repulse of Taitsong before Ningyuen might have been fatal if he had not been a man of great ability and resource. The occasion called for some special effort, and Taitsong proved himself equal to it by a stroke of genius that showed he was the worthy inheritor of the mission of Noorhachu. Without taking anybody into his confidence he ordered his army and his allies, the Kortsin Mongols, to assemble in the country west of Ningyuen, and when he had thus collected over a hundred thousand men, he announced his intention of ignoring Ningyuen and marching direct on Pekin. At this juncture Taitsong divided his army into eight banners, which still remain the national divisions of the Manchu race. The Manchus seem to have been a little alarmed by the boldness of Taitsong's scheme, and they might have hesitated to follow him if he had given them any time for reflection, but his plans were not fully known until his forces were through the Dangan Pass on the march to the capital. The Chinese, relying altogether on Ningyuen as a defense, had made no preparation to hold their ground on this side, and Taitsong encountered no opposition until he reached Kichow. Then Chungwan, realizing that he had been outmaneuvered, and that the defenses of Ningyuen had been turned, hastened back by forced marches to defend Pekin. Owing to his road being the better of the two he gained the capital in time, and succeeded in throwing himself and his troops into it in order to defend it against the assault of the Manchus. After Taitsong sat down before Pekin he engaged in an intrigue for the ruin of Chungwan, whose disgrace would be equivalent to a great victory. The method is not to be approved on general grounds, but Taitsong conceived that he was justified in bribing persons in Pekin to discredit Chungwan and compass his ruin. The emperor was persuaded that Chungwan was too powerful a subject to be absolutely loyal, and it was asserted that he was in communication with the enemy. Chungwan, who had been so long the buttress of the kingdom, was secretly arrested and thrown into a prison from which he never issued. The disappearance of Chungwan was as valuable to Taitsong as a great victory, and he made his final preparations for assaulting Pekin; but either the want of supplies or the occurrence of some disturbance in his rear prevented the execution of his plan. He drew off his forces and retired behind the Great Wall at the very moment when Pekin seemed at his mercy.
During four years of more or less tranquillity Taitsong confined his attention to political designs, and to training a corps of artillery, and then he resumed his main project of the conquest of China. Instead of availing themselves of the lull thus afforded to improve their position, the Chinese ministers seemed to believe that the danger from the Manchus had passed away, and they treated all the communications from Taitsong with imprudent and unnecessary disdain. Their attention was also distracted by many internal troubles, produced by their own folly, as well as by the perils of the time.
Taitsong, in 1634, resumed his operations in China, and on this occasion he invaded the province of Shansi, at the head of an army composed largely of Mongols as well as of Manchus. Although the people of Shansi had not had any practical experience of Manchu prowess, and notwithstanding that their frontier was exceedingly strong by nature, Taitsong met with little or no resistance from either the local garrisons or the people themselves. One Chinese governor, it is said, ventured to publish a boastful report of an imaginary victory over the Manchus, and to send a copy of it to Pekin. Taitsong, however, intercepted the letter, and at once sent the officer a challenge, matching 1,000 of his men against 10,000 of the Chinese. That the offer was not accepted is the best proof of the superiority of the Manchu army.
It was at the close of this successful campaign in Shansi, that Taitsong, in the year 1635, assumed, for the first time among any of the Manchu rulers, the style of Emperor of China. Events had long been moving in this direction, but an accident is said to have determined Taitsong to take this final measure. The jade seal of the old Mongol rulers was suddenly discovered, and placed in the hands of Taitsong. When the Mongols heard of this, forty-nine of their chiefs hastened to tender their allegiance to Taitsong and the only condition made was that the King of Corea should be compelled to do so likewise. Taitsong, nothing loth, at once sent off letters to the Corean court announcing the adhesion of the Mongols, and calling upon the king of that state to recognize his supremacy. But the Corean ruler had got wind of the contents of these letters and declined to open them, thus hoping to get out of his difficulty without offending his old friends the Chinese. But Taitsong was not to be put off in this fashion. He sent an army to inflict chastisement on his neighbor, and its mission was successfully discharged. The king and his family were taken prisoners, although they had fled to the island of Gangwa for safety, and Corea became a Manchu possession. The last years of Taitsong's life were spent in conducting repeated expeditions into the provinces of Shansi and Pechihli, but the strength of the fortresses of Ningyuen and Shanhaikwan on the Great Wall effectually prevented his renewing his attempt on Pekin. These two places with the minor forts of Kingchow and Songshan formed a quadrilateral that effectually secured Pekin on its northern side, and being intrusted to the defense of Wou Sankwei, a general of great capacity, of whom much more will be heard, all Taitsong's ability and resources were taxed to overcome those obstacles to his progress south of the Great Wall. He succeeded after great loss, and at the end of several campaigns, in taking Kingchow and Songshan, but these were his last successes, for in the year 1643 he was seized with a fatal illness at Moukden, which terminated his career at the comparatively early age of fifty-two. Taitsong's premature death, due, in all probability, to the incompetence of his physicians, cut short a career that had not reached its prime, and retarded the conquest of China, for the supreme authority among the Manchus then passed from a skillful and experienced ruler into the hands of a child.
The possession of a well-trained army, the production of two great leaders of admitted superiority, and forty years of almost continuously successful war, had not availed to bring the authority of the Manchus in any permanent form south of the Great Wall. The barrier of Tsin Che Hwangti still kept out the most formidable adversary who had ever borne down upon it, and the independence of China seemed far removed from serious jeopardy. At this juncture events occurred that altered the whole situation, and the internal divisions of the Chinese proved more serious and entailed a more rapid collapse than all the efforts of the Manchus.
The arch rebel Li Tseching, who proved more formidable to the Ming ruler than his Manchu opponent, was the son of a peasant in the province of Shansi. At an early age he attached himself to the profession of arms, and became well known as a skillful archer and horseman. In 1629, he first appears on the scene as member of a band of robbers, who were, however, destroyed by a rare display of energy on the part of one of the emperor's lieutenants. Li was one of the few who were fortunate enough to escape with their lives and liberty. He soon gathered round him another band, and under his successful and courageous leading it shortly acquired the size of an army. One reason of his success was his forming an alliance with the Mohammedan settlers in Kansuh, who were already known as Tungani or "Colonists." But the principal cause of his success was his skill and promptitude in coming to terms with the imperial authorities whenever they became too strong for him, and he often purchased a truce when, if the officials had pushed home their advantage, he must have been destroyed. His power thus grew to a high point, while that of other robber chiefs only waxed to wane and disappear; and about the year 1640, when it was said that his followers numbered half a million of men, he began to think seriously of displacing the Ming and placing himself on the throne of China. With this object in view he laid siege to the town of Honan, the capital of the province of the same name. At first the resolution of the governor baffled his attempt, but treachery succeeded when force failed. A traitor opened a gate for a sum of money which he was never paid, and Li's army burst into the city. The garrison was put to the sword, and horrible outrages were perpetrated on the townspeople. From Honan Li marched on Kaifong, which he besieged for seven days; but he did not possess the necessary engines to attack a place of any strength, and Kaifong was reputed to be the strongest fortress in China. He was obliged to beat a hasty retreat, pursued by an army that the imperial authorities had hurriedly collected. There is reason to think his retreat was a skillful movement to the rear in order to draw the emperor's troops after him. Certain it is that they pursued him in four separate corps, and that he turned upon them and beat them one after the other. When he had vanquished these armies in four separate encounters he again laid siege to Kaifong, and it was thought that he would have taken it, when Li was wounded by an arrow, and called off his troops in consequence. Several times afterward he resumed the attempt, but with no better fortune, until an accident accomplished what all his power had failed to do. The governor had among other precautions flooded the moat from the Hoangho, and this extra barrier of defense had undoubtedly done much toward discomfiting the besiegers. But in the end it proved fatal to the besieged, for the Hoangho, at all times capricious in its movements, and the source of as much trouble as benefit to the provinces it waters, rose suddenly to the dimensions of a flood, and overflowing its banks spread over the country. Many of Li's soldiers were drowned, and his camp was flooded, but the most serious loss befell the Imperialists in Kaifong. The waters of the river swept away the walls and flooded the town. Thousands perished at the time, and those who attempted to escape were cut down by the rebels outside. Kaifong itself was destroyed and has never recovered its ancient importance, being now a town of only the third or fourth rank. This great success established the reputation of Li Tseching on a firm basis, and constituted him one of the arbiters of his country's destiny. He found himself master of one-third of the state; proclaimed himself Emperor of China, under the style of Yongchang, and gave his dynasty the name of Tachun. Having taken this step of open defiance to the Ming government, Li invaded Shansi, which he reduced to subjection with little difficulty or bloodshed. An officer, named Likintai, was sent to organize some measures of defense, but, on arrival, he found the province in the hands of the rebel, and he had no choice save to beat a discreet and rapid retreat. The success of Li continued unchecked. Important places like Taiyuen and Taitong surrendered to him after a merely nominal resistance, and when they fell there was no further impediment in the way of his marching on Pekin.
No preparations had been made to defend Pekin. The defenses were weak, the garrison insufficient, as all the best troops were on the frontier, and the citizens disposed to come to terms with the assailant rather than to die in the breach for their sovereign. When Li pitched his tent outside the western gate of the capital, and sent a haughty demand to the emperor to abdicate his throne, he was master of the situation; but Tsongching, ignorant of his own impotence, defied and upbraided his opponent as a rebel. His indignation was turned to despair when he learned that the troops had abandoned his cause, that the people were crying out for Li Tseching, and that that leader's followers were rapidly approaching his palace. Tsongching strangled himself with his girdle, but only one officer was found devoted enough to share his fate. Although Tsongching had some nominal successors, he was, strictly speaking, the last of the Ming emperors, and with him the great dynasty founded by Hongwou came to an end. The many disasters that preceded its fall rendered the loss of the imperial station less of a blow to the individual, and the last of the Ming rulers seems to have even experienced relief on reaching the term of his anxieties. The episode of the faithful officer, Li Kweiching, concludes the dramatic events accompanying the capture of Pekin and the fall of the dynasty. After the death of his sovereign he attempted to defend the capital; but overpowered by numbers he surrendered to the victor, who offered him an honorable command in his service. Li Kweiching accepted the offer on the stipulation that he should be allowed to give the Emperor Tsongching honorable burial, and that the surviving members of the Ming family should be spared. These conditions, so creditable to Li Kweiching, were granted; but, at the funeral of his late sovereign, grief or a spirit of duty so overcame him that he committed suicide on the grave of Tsongching. Li Tseching, who had counted on valuable assistance from this officer, became furious at this occurrence. He plundered and destroyed the ancestral temple of the Mings, and he caused every member of the imperial family on whom he could lay hands to be executed. Thus terminated the events at Pekin in the absolute and complete triumph of the rebel Li Tseching, and the panic produced by his success and severity blinded observers to the hollowness of his power, and to the want of solidity in his administration. Yet it seemed for a time as if he were left the virtual master of China.
While the Ming power was collapsing before the onset of Li Tseching, there still remained the large and well-trained Ming army in garrison on the Manchu frontier, under command of the able general, Wou Sankwei. At the eleventh hour the Emperor Tsonching had sent a message to Wou Sankwei, begging him to come in all haste to save the capital; and that general, evacuating Ningyuen, and leaving a small garrison at Shanhaikwan, had begun his march for Pekin, when he learned that it had fallen and that the Ming dynasty had ceased to be. Placed in this dilemma, between the advancing Manchus, who immediately occupied Ningyuen on his evacuation of it, and the large rebel force in possession of Pekin, Wou Sankwei had no choice between coming to terms with one or other of them. Li Tseching offered him liberal rewards and a high command, but in vain, for Wou Sankwei decided that it would be better to invite the Manchus to enter the country, and to assist them to conquer it. There can be no doubt that this course was both the wiser and the more patriotic, for Li Tseching was nothing more than a successful brigand on a large scale; whereas the Manchu government was a respectable one, was well organized, and aspired to revive the best traditions of the Chinese. Having come to a prompt decision, Wou Sankwei lost no time in promptly carrying it out. He wrote a letter to the Manchus, asking them to send an army to co-operate with his in driving Li Tseching out of Pekin; and the Manchus, at once realizing that the moment had arrived for conquering China, acquiesced promptly in his plans, sent forward their advanced corps, and ordered a _levee en masse_ of the nation for the conquest of China. Assured of his rear, and also of speedy re-enforcement, Wou Sankwei did not delay a day in marching on Pekin. Li Tseching sent out a portion of his army to oppose the advance of Wou Sankwei; but the officer's instructions were rather to negotiate than to fight, for to the last Li Tseching expected that Wou Sankwei would come over to his side. He was already beginning to feel doubtful as to the security of his position; and his fears were increased by his superstition, for when, on entering Pekin, he passed under a gate above which was written the character "joong" (middle), he exclaimed, drawing his bow at the same time, "If I hit this joong in the middle, it is a sign I have gained the whole empire, as the empire is joong, the middle kingdom." His arrow missed its mark. The apprehensions of Li Tseching were soon confirmed, for Wou Sankwei defeated the first army he had sent out with a loss of 20,000 men. Li does not seem to have known of the alliance between that officer and the Manchus, for he marched at the head of 60,000 men to encounter him. He took with him the aged father of Wou Sankwei and two Ming princes, who had survived the massacre of their family, with a view to appealing to the affection and loyalty of that commander; but these devices proved vain.
Wou Sankwei drew up his forces at Yungping in a strong position near the scene of his recent victory; his front seems to have been protected by the river Zanho, and he calmly awaited the attack of Li Tseching, whose army far outnumbered his. Up to this point Wou Sankwei had not been joined by any of the Manchus, but a body was known to be approaching, and he was anxious to put off the battle until they arrived. For the same reason Li Tseching was as anxious to begin the attack, and, notwithstanding the strength of Wou Sankwei's position, he ordered his troops to engage without delay. Adopting the orthodox Chinese mode of attack of forming his army in a crescent, so that the extreme wings should overlap and gradually encompass those of the enemy, Li trusted to his numerical superiority to give him the victory. At one moment it seemed as if his expectation would be justified; for, bravely as Wou Sankwei and his army fought, the weight of numbers was telling its inevitable tale when a Manchu corps opportunely arrived, and attacking the Chinese with great impetuosity, changed the fortune of the day and put the army of Li Tseching to the rout. Thirty thousand men are said to have fallen on the field, and Li himself escaped from the carnage with only a few hundred horsemen.
After this Li met with disaster after disaster. He was driven out of Shansi into Honan, and from Honan into Shensi. Wou Sankwei took Tunkwan without firing a shot, and when Li attempted to defend Singan he found that his soldiers would not obey his orders, and wished only to come to terms with Wou Sankwei. Expelled from the last of his towns he took refuge in the hills, but the necessity of obtaining provisions compelled him now and then to descend into the plains, and on one of these occasions he was surprised in a village and killed. His head was placed in triumph over the nearest prefecture, and thus ended the most remarkable career of a princely robber chieftain to be found in Chinese annals. At one time it seemed as if Li Tseching would be the founder of a dynasty, but his meteor-like career ended not less suddenly than his rise to supreme power was rapid. Extraordinary as was his success, Wou Sankwei had rightly gauged its nature when he declared that it had no solid basis.
The overthrow of Li Tseching paved the way for a fresh difficulty. It had been achieved to a large extent by the military genius of Wou Sankwei and by the exertions of his Chinese army. That officer had invited the Manchus into the country, but when victory was achieved he showed some anxiety for their departure. This was no part of the compact, nor did it coincide with the ambition of the Manchus. They determined to retain the territory they had conquered, at the same time that they endeavored to propitiate Wou Sankwei and to retain the command of his useful services. He was given the high sounding title of Ping-si Wang, or Prince Pacifier of the West, and many other honors. Gratified by these rewards and unable to discover any person who could govern China, Wou Sankwei gradually reconciled himself to the situation and performed his duty faithfully as the most powerful lieutenant of the young Manchu ruler, Chuntche, the son of Taitsong, who, after the fall of Li Tseching, removed his capital to Pekin, and assumed the style and ceremony of a Chinese emperor. The active administration was intrusted to Prince Dorgun, brother of Taitsong, who now became known as Ama Wang, the Father Prince, and who acted as regent during the long minority of his nephew. The new dynasty was inaugurated at Pekin with a grand ceremony and court.
After this formal and solemn assumption of the governing power in China by the young Manchu prince, the activity of the Manchus increased, and several armies were sent south to subject the provinces, and to bring the whole Chinese race under his authority. For some time no serious opposition was encountered, as the disruption of Li's forces entailed the surrender of all the territory north of the Hoangho. But at Nankin, and in the provinces south of the Yangtsekiang, an attempt had been made, and not unsuccessfully, to set up a fresh administration under one of the members of the prolific Ming family. Fou Wang, a grandson of Wanleh, was placed on the Dragon Throne of Southern China in this hope, but his character did not justify the faith reposed in him. He thought nothing of the serious responsibility he had accepted, but showed that he regarded his high station merely as an opportunity for gratifying his own pleasures. There is little or no doubt that if he had shown himself worthy of his station he might have rallied to his side the mass of the Chinese nation, and Wou Sankwei, who had shown some signs of chafing at Manchu authority, might have been won back by a capable and sympathetic sovereign. But notwithstanding the ability of Fou Wang's minister, Shu Kofa, who strove to repair the errors of his master, the new Ming power at Nankin did not prosper. Wou Sankwei, cautious not to commit himself, rejected the patent of a duke and the money gifts sent him by Shu Kofa, while Ama Wang, on his side, sought to gain over Shu Kofa by making him the most lavish promises of reward. But that minister proved as true to his sovereign as Wou Sankwei did to the Manchu. The result of the long correspondence between them was nil, but it showed the leaders of the Manchus in very favorable colors, as wishing to avert the horrors of war, and to simplify the surrender of provinces which could not be held against them. When Ama Wang discovered that there was no hope of gaining over Shu Kofa, and thus paving his way to the disintegration of the Nankin power, he decided to prosecute the war against the surviving Ming administration with the greatest activity.
While these preparations were being made to extend the Manchu conquest over Central China, all was confusion at Nankin. Jealousies between the commanders, none of whom possessed much merit or experience, bickerings among the ministers, apathy on the part of the ruler, and bitter disappointment and disgust in the ranks of the people, all combined to precipitate the overthrow of the ephemeral throne that had been erected in the Southern capital. Ama Wang Waited patiently to allow these causes of disintegration time to develop their full force, and to contribute to the ruin of the Mings, but in the winter of 1644-45 he decided that the right moment to strike had come. Shu Kofa made some effort to oppose the Manchu armies, and even assumed the command in person, although he was only a civilian, but his troops had no heart to oppose the Manchus, and the devices to which he resorted to make his military power appear more formidable were both puerile and ineffective. Yet one passage may be quoted to his credit if it gave his opponent an advantage. It is affirmed on good authority that he could have obtained a material advantage if he would only have flooded the country, but he "refused to do so, on the ground that more civilians would perish than Manchus, and he said, 'First the people, next the dynasty.'" The sentiment was a noble one, but it was too severe a crisis to admit of any sentiment, especially when fighting an up-hill battle, and Shu Kofa, soon realizing that he was not qualified to play the part of a great soldier, resolved to end his existence. He took shelter with a small force in the town of Yangchow, and when he heard that the Manchus were entering the gate, he and his officers committed suicide. The Chinese lamented and were crushed by his death. In him they saw the last of their great men, and, no doubt, they credited him with a higher capacity even than he possessed. Only a military genius of the first rank could have saved the Mings, and Shu Kofa was nothing more than a conscientious and capable civil mandarin, ignorant of war. His fortitude could only be measured by his indifference to life, and by his resolve to anticipate the fall of his sovereign as soon as he saw it to be inevitable.
Fou Wang speedily followed the fate of his faithful minister; for, when the Manchus marched on Nankin, he abandoned his capital, and sought safety in flight. But one of his officers, anxious to make favorable terms for himself with the conqueror, undertook his capture, and coming up with him when on the point of entering a junk to put to sea, Fou Wang had no alternative left between an ignominious surrender and suicide. He chose the latter course, and throwing himself into the river was drowned, thus ending his own career, and the Ming dynasty in its southern capital of Nankin.
Meantime dissension further weakened the already discouraged Chinese forces. The pirate Ching Chelong, who was the mainstay of the Ming cause, cherished the hope that he might place his own family on the throne, and he endeavored to induce the Ming prince to recognize his son, Koshinga, as his heir. Low as he had fallen, it is to the credit of this prince that he refused to sign away the birth-right of his family. Ching was bitterly chagrined at this refusal, and after detaching his forces from the other Chinese he at last came to the resolution to throw in his lot with the Manchus. He was promised honorable terms, but the Tartars seem to have had no intention of complying with them, so far at least as allowing him to retain his liberty. For they sent him off to Pekin, where he was kept in honorable confinement, notwithstanding his protests and promises, and the defiant threats of his son Koshinga. In preserving his life he was more fortunate than the members of the Ming family, who were hunted down in a remorseless manner and executed with all their relations on capture. The only place that offered any resistance to the Manchus was the town of Kanchow, on the Kan River, in Kiangsi. The garrison defended themselves with desperate valor during two months, and a council of war was held amid much anxiety, to consider whether the siege should be abandoned. Bold counsels prevailed. The Manchus returned to the attack, and had the satisfaction of carrying the town by assault, when the garrison were put to the sword.
The relics of the Chinese armies gathered for a final stand in the city of Canton, but unfortunately for them the leaders were still divided by petty jealousies. One Ming prince proclaimed himself Emperor at Canton, and another in the adjoining province of Kwangsi. Although the Manchus were gathering their forces to overwhelm the Chinese in their last retreat, they could not lay aside their divisions and petty ambitions in order to combine against the national enemy, but must needs assail one another to decide which should have the empty title of Ming emperor. The Manchus had the satisfaction of seeing the two rivals break their strength against each other, and then they advanced to crush the victor at Canton. Strong as the place was said to be, it offered no serious resistance, and the great commercial city of the south passed into the hands of the race who had subdued the whole country from Pekin to the Tonquin frontier. At this moment the fortune of the Manchus underwent a sudden and inexplicable change. Two repulses before a fortress southwest of Canton, and the disaffection of a large part of their Chinese auxiliaries, who clamored for their pay, seem to have broken the strength of the advanced Manchu army. A wave of national antipathy drove the Tartars out of Canton and the southern provinces, but it soon broke its force, and the Manchus, returning with fresh troops, speedily recovered all they had lost, and by placing stronger garrisons in the places they occupied consolidated their hold on Southern China. Although the struggle between the Manchus and their new subjects was far from concluded, the conquest of China as such may be said to have reached its end at this stage. How a small Tartar tribe succeeded after fifty years of war in imposing its yoke on the skeptical, freedom-loving, and intensely national millions of China will always remain one of the enigmas of history.