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China eText - Chapter X - The First Manchu Ruler

Chapter X - The First Manchu Ruler

While the Manchu generals and armies were establishing their power in Southern China the young Emperor Chuntche, under the direction of his prudent uncle, the regent Ama Wang, was setting up at Pekin the central power of a ruling dynasty. In doing so little or no opposition was experienced at the hands of the Chinese, who showed that they longed once more for a settled government; and this acquiescence on the part of the Chinese people in their authority no doubt induced the Manchu leaders to adopt a far more conciliatory and lenient policy toward the Chinese than would otherwise have been the case. Ama Wang gave special orders that the lives and property of all who surrendered to his lieutenants should be scrupulously respected. This moderation was only departed from in the case of some rebels in Shensi, who, after accepting, repudiated the Manchu authority, and laid close siege to the chief town of Singan, which held a garrison of only 3,000 Manchus. The commandant wished to make his position secure by massacring the Chinese of the town, but he was deterred from taking this extreme step by the representations of a Chinese officer, who, binding himself for the good faith of his countrymen, induced him to enroll them in the ranks of the garrison. They proved faithful and rendered excellent service in the siege; and when a relieving Manchu army came from Pekin the rebels were quickly scattered and pursued with unflagging bitterness to their remotest hiding places.

In the province of Szchuen a Chinese leader proclaimed himself Si Wang, or King of the West. He was execrated by those who were nominally his subjects. Among the most heinous of his crimes was his invitation to literary men to come to his capital for employment, and when they had assembled to the number of 30,000, to order them to be massacred. He dealt in a similar manner with 3,000 of his courtiers, because one of them happened to omit a portion of his full titles. His excesses culminated in the massacre of Chentu, when 600,000 innocent persons are said to have perished. Even allowing for the Eastern exaggeration of numbers, the crimes of this inhuman monster have rarely, if ever, been surpassed. His rage or appetite for destruction was not appeased by human sacrifices. He made equal war on the objects of nature and the works of man. He destroyed cities, leveled forests, and overthrew all the public monuments that embellished his province. In the midst of his excesses he was told that a Manchu army had crossed the frontier, but he resolved to crown his inhuman career by a deed unparalleled in the records of history, and, what is more extraordinary, he succeeded in inducing his followers to execute his commands. His project was to massacre all the women in attendance on his army.

When the assembly took place Si Wang slew his wives coram populo, and his followers, seized with an extreme frenzy, followed his example. It is said that as many as 400,000 women were slain that day, and Si Wang, intoxicated by his success in inducing his followers to execute his inhuman behests, believed that he had nothing to fear at the hands of the Manchus. But he was soon undeceived, for in one of the earliest affairs at the outposts he was killed by an arrow. His power at once crumbled away, and Szchuen passed under the authority of the Manchus. The conquest of Szchuen paved the way for the recovery of the position that had been lost in Southern China, and close siege was laid to the city of Canton. Outside Canton the Manchus carried everything before them, and that city itself at last was captured, after what passed for a stubborn resistance. Canton was given over to pillage.

At this moment of success Ama Wang, the wise regent, died, and Chuntche assumed the reins of government. He at once devoted his attention to administrative reforms. Corruption had begun to sway the public examinations, and Chuntche issued a special edict, enjoining the examiners to give fair awards and to maintain the purity of the service. But several examiners had to be executed and others banished beyond the Wall before matters were placed on a satisfactory basis. He also adopted the astronomical system in force in Europe, and he appointed the priest Adam Schaal head of the Mathematical Board at Pekin. But his most important work was the institution of the Grand Council, which still exists, and which is the supreme power under the emperor in the country. It is composed of only four members--two Manchus and two Chinese--who alone possess the privilege of personal audience with the emperor whenever they may demand it. As this act gave the Chinese an equal place with the Manchus in the highest body of the empire it was exceedingly welcome, and explains, among other causes, the popularity and stability of the Manchu dynasty. When allotting Chuntche his place among the founders of Manchu greatness, allowance must be made for this wise and far-reaching measure.

An interesting event in the reign of Chuntche was the arrival at Pekin of more than one embassy from European States. The Dutch and the Russians can equally claim the honor of having had an envoy resident in the Chinese capital during the year 1656.

In 1661 the health of Chuntche became so bad that it was evident to his courtiers that his end was drawing near, although he was little more than thirty years of age. On his deathbed he selected as his successor the second of his sons, who afterward became famous as the Emperor Kanghi. Kanghi assumed the personal direction of affairs when only fourteen years of age. Such a bold step undoubtedly betokened no ordinary vigor on the part of a youth, and its complete success reflected still further credit upon him.

The interest of the period passes from the scenes at court to the camp of Wou Sankwei, who, twenty years earlier, had introduced the Manchus into China. During the Manchu campaign in Southern China he had kept peace on the western frontier, gradually extending his authority from Shensi into Szchuen and thence over Yunnan. When a Ming prince, Kwei Wang, who had fled into Burmah, returned with the support of the king of that country to make another bid for the throne, he found himself confronted by all the power and resources of Wou Sankwei, who was still as loyal a servant of the Manchu emperor as when he carried his ensigns against Li Tseching. Kwei Wang does not appear to have expected opposition from Wou Sankwei, and in the first encounter he was overthrown and taken prisoner. The conqueror, who was already under suspicion at the Manchu court, and whom every Chinese rebel persisted in regarding as a natural ally, now hesitated as to how he should treat these important prisoners. Kwei Wang and his son--the last of the Mings--were eventually led forth to execution, although it should be stated that a less authentic report affirms they were allowed to strangle themselves. Having made use of Wou Sankwei, and obtained, as they thought, the full value of his services, the Manchus sought to treat him with indifference and to throw him into the shade. But the splendor of his work was such that they had to confer on him the title of Prince, and to make him viceroy of Yunnan and the adjacent territories. He exerted such an extraordinary influence over the Chinese subjects that they speedily settled down under his authority; revenue and trade increased, and the Manchu authority was maintained without a Tartar garrison, for Wou Sankwei's army was composed exclusively of Chinese, and its nucleus was formed by his old garrison of Ningyuen and Shanhaikwan. There is no certain reason for saying that Wou Sankwei nursed any scheme of personal aggrandizement, but the measures he took and the reforms he instituted were calculated to make his authority become gradually independent of Manchu control. For a time the Manchu government suppressed its apprehensions on account of this powerful satrap, by the argument that in a few years his death in the course of nature must relieve it from this peril, but Wou Sankwei lived on and showed no signs of paying the common debt of humanity. Then it seemed to Kanghi that Wou Sankwei was gradually establishing the solid foundation of a formidable and independent power. The Manchu generals and ministers had always been jealous of the greater fame of Wou Sankwei. When they saw that Kanghi wanted an excuse to fall foul of him, they carried every tale of alleged self-assertion on the part of the Chinese viceroy to the imperial ears, and represented that his power dwarfed the dignity of the Manchu throne and threatened its stability.

At last Kanghi resolved to take some decisive step to bring the question to a climax, and he accordingly sent Wou Sankwei an invitation to visit him at Pekin. Wou Sankwei excused himself from going to court on the ground that he was very old, and that his only wish was to end his days in peace. He also deputed his son to tender his allegiance to the emperor and to perform the Kotao in his name. But Kanghi was not to be put off in this way, and he sent two trusted officials to Wou Sankwei to represent that he must comply with the exact terms of his command, and to point out the grave consequences of his refusing. Wou Sankwei cast off his allegiance to the Manchus, and entered upon a war which aimed at the subversion of their authority. Such was the reputation of this great commander, to whose ability and military prowess the Manchus unquestionably were indebted for their conquest of the empire, that a large part of Southern China at once admitted his authority, and from Szchuen to the warlike province of Hunan his lieutenants were able to collect all the fighting resources of the state, and to array the levies of those provinces in the field for the approaching contest with Kanghi.

While Wou Sankwei was making these extensive preparations in the south, his son at Pekin had devised an ingenious and daring plot for the massacre of the Manchus and the destruction of the dynasty. He engaged in his scheme the large body of Chinese slaves who had been placed in servitude under their Tartar conquerors, and these, incited by the hope of liberty, proved very ready tools to his designs. They bound themselves together by a solemn oath to be true to one another, and all the preparations were made to massacre the Manchus on the occasion of the New Year's Festival. This is the grand religious and social ceremony of the Chinese. It takes place on the first day of the first moon, which falls in our month of February. All business is stopped, the tribunals are closed for ten days, and a state of high festival resembling the Carnival prevails. The conspirators resolved to take advantage of this public holiday, and of the excitement accompanying it, to carry out their scheme, and the Manchus appear to have been in total ignorance until the eleventh hour of the plot for their destruction. The discovery of the conspiracy bears a close resemblance to that of the Gunpowder Plot. A Chinese slave, wishing to save his master, gave him notice of the danger, and this Manchu officer at once informed Kanghi of the conspiracy. The son of Wou Sankwei and the other conspirators were immediately arrested and executed without delay. The Manchus thus escaped by the merest accident from a danger which threatened them with annihilation, and Kanghi, having succeeded in getting rid of the son, concentrated his power and attention on the more difficult task of grappling with the father.

But the power and reputation of Wou Sankwei were so formidable that Kanghi resolved to proceed with great caution, and the emperor began his measures of offense by issuing an edict ordering the disbandment of all the native armies maintained by the Chinese viceroys, besides Wou Sankwei. The object of this edict was to make all the governors of Chinese race show their hands, and Kanghi learned the full measure of the hostility he had to cope with by every governor from the sea coast of Fuhkien to Canton defying him, and throwing in their lot with Wou Sankwei. The piratical confederacy of Formosa, where Ching, the son of Koshinga, had succeeded to his authority, also joined in with what may be called the national party, but its alliance proved of little value, as Ching, at an early period, took umbrage at his reception by a Chinese official, and returned to his island home. But the most formidable danger to the young Manchu ruler came from an unexpected quarter. The Mongols, seeing his embarrassment, and believing that the hours of the dynasty were numbered, resolved to take advantage of the occasion to push their claims. Satchar, chief of one of the Banners, issued a proclamation, calling his race to his side, and declaring his intention to invade China at the head of 100,000 men. It seemed hardly possible for Kanghi to extricate himself from his many dangers. With great quickness of perception Kanghi saw that the most pressing danger was that from the Mongols, and he sent the whole of his northern garrisons to attack Satchar before the Mongol clans could have gathered to his assistance. The Manchu cavalry, by a rapid march, surprised Satchar in his camp and carried him and his family off as prisoners to Pekin. The capture of their chief discouraged the Mongols and interrupted their plans for invading China. Kanghi thus obtained a respite from what seemed his greatest peril. Then he turned his attention to dealing with Wou Sankwei, and the first effort of his armies resulted in the recovery of Fuhkien, where the governor and Ching had reduced themselves to a state of exhaustion by a contest inspired by personal jealousy not patriotism. From Fuhkien his successful lieutenants passed into Kwantung, and the Chinese, seeing that the Manchus were not sunk as low as had been thought, abandoned all resistance, and again recognized the Tartar authority. The Manchus did not dare to punish the rebels except in rare instances, and, therefore, the recovery of Canton was unaccompanied by any scenes of blood. But a garrison of Manchus was placed in each town of importance, and it was by Kanghi's order that a walled town, or "Tartar city," was built within each city for the accommodation and security of the dominant race.

But notwithstanding these successes Kanghi made little or no progress against the main force of Wou Sankwei, whose supremacy was undisputed throughout the whole of southwest China. It was not until 1677 that Kanghi ventured to move his armies against Wou Sankwei in person. Although he obtained no signal success in the field, the divisions among the Chinese commanders were such that he had the satisfaction of compelling them to evacuate Hunan, and when Wou Sankwei took his first step backward the sun of his fortunes began to set. Calamity rapidly followed calamity. Wou Sankwei had not known the meaning of defeat in his long career of fifty years, but now, in his old age, he saw his affairs in inextricable confusion. His adherents deserted him, many rebel officers sought to come to terms with the Manchus, and Kanghi's armies gradually converged on Wou Sankwei from the east and the north. Driven out of Szchuen, Wou Sankwei endeavored to make a stand in Yunnan. He certainly succeeded in prolonging the struggle down to the year 1679, when his death put a sudden end to the contest, and relieved Kanghi from much anxiety; for although the success of the Manchus was no longer uncertain, the military skill of the old Chinese warrior might have indefinitely prolonged the war. Wou Sankwei was one of the most conspicuous and attractive figures to be met with in the long course of Chinese history, and his career covered one of the most critical periods in the modern existence of that empire. From the time of his first distinguishing himself in the defense of Ningyuen until he died, half a century later, as Prince of Yunnan, he occupied the very foremost place in the minds of his fellow-countrymen. The part he had taken, first in keeping out the Manchus, and then in introducing them into the state, reflected equal credit on his ability and his patriotism. In requesting the Manchus to crush the robber Li and to take the throne which the fall of the Mings had rendered vacant, he was actuated by the purest motives. There was only a choice of evils, and he selected that which seemed the less. He gave the empire to a foreign ruler of intelligence, but he saved it from an unscrupulous robber. He played the part of king-maker to the family of Noorhachu, and the magnitude of their obligations to him could not be denied. They were not as grateful as he may have expected, and they looked askance at his military power and influence over his countrymen. Probably he felt that he had not been well treated, and chagrin undoubtedly induced him to reject Kanghi's request to proceed to Pekin. If he had only acceeded to that arrangement he would have left a name for conspicuous loyalty and political consistency in the service of the great race, which he had been mainly instrumental in placing over China. But even as events turned out he was one of the most remarkable personages the Chinese race ever produced, and his military career shows that they are capable of producing great generals and brave soldiers.

The death of Wou Sankwei signified the overthrow of the Chinese uprising which had threatened to extinguish the still growing power of the Manchu under its youthful Emperor Kanghi. Wou Shufan, the grandson of that prince, endeavored to carry on the task of holding Yunnan as an independent territory, but by the year 1681 his possessions were reduced to the town of Yunnanfoo, where he was closely besieged by the Manchu forces. Although the Chinese fought valiantly, they were soon reduced to extremities, and the Manchus carried the place by storm. The garrison were massacred to the last man, and Wou Shufan only avoided a worse fate by committing suicide. The Manchus, not satisfied with his death, sent his head to Pekin to be placed on its principal gate in triumph, and the body of Wou Sankwei himself was exhumed so that his ashes might be scattered in each of the eighteen provinces of China as a warning to traitors. Having crushed their most redoubtable antagonist, the Manchus resorted to more severe measures against those who had surrendered in Fuhkien and Kwantung, and many insurgent chiefs who had surrendered, and enjoyed a brief respite, ended their lives under the knife of the executioner. The Manchu soldiers are said to have been given spoil to the extent of nearly ten million dollars, and the war which witnessed the final assertion of Manchu power over the Chinese was essentially popular with the soldiers who carried it on to a victorious conclusion. A very short time after the final overthrow of Wou Sankwei and his family, the Chinese regime in Formosa was brought to an end. Kanghi, having collected a fleet, and concluded a convention with the Dutch, determined on the invasion and conquest of Formosa. In the midst of these preparations Ching, the son of Koshinga, died, and no doubt the plans of Kanghi were facilitated by the confusion that followed. The Manchu fleet seized Ponghu, the principal island of the Pescadore group, and thence the Manchus threw a force into Formosa. It is said that they were helped by a high tide, and by the superstition of the islanders, who exclaimed, "The first Wang (Koshinga) got possession of Taiwan by a high tide. The fleet now comes in the same manner. It is the will of Heaven." Formosa accepted the supremacy of the Manchus without further ado. Those of the islanders who had ever recognized the authority of any government, accepted that of the Emperor Kanghi, shaved their heads in token of submission, and became so far as in them lay respectable citizens.

The overthrow of Wou Sankwei and the conquest of Formosa completed what may be called the pacification of China by the Manchus. From that period to the Taeping Rebellion, or for nearly 200 years, there was no internal insurrection on a large scale. On the whole the Manchus stained their conclusive triumph by few excesses, and Kanghi's moderation was scarcely inferior to that of his father, Chuntche. The family of Wou Sankwei seems to have been rooted out more for the personal attempt of the son at Pekin than for the bold ambition of the potentate himself. The family of Koshinga was spared, and its principal representative received the patent of an earl. Thus, by a policy judiciously combined of severity and moderation, did Kanghi make himself supreme, and complete the work of his race. Whatever troubles may have beset the government in the last 220 years, it will be justifiable to speak of the Manchus and the Tatsing dynasty as the legitimate authorities in China, and, instead of foreign adventurers, as the national and recognized rulers of the Middle Kingdom.