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China eText - Chapter XI - The Emperor Kanghi

Chapter XI - The Emperor Kanghi

Among the Mongol tribes the noblest at this period were the Khalkas. They prided themselves on being the descendants of the House of Genghis, the representatives of the special clan of the great conqueror, and the occupants of the original home in the valleys of the Onon and Kerulon. Although their military power was slight, the name of the Khalka princes stood high among the Mongol tribes, and they exercised an influence far in excess of their numbers or capacity as a fighting force. Kanghi determined to establish friendly relations with this clan, and by the dispatch of friendly letters and costly presents lie succeeded in inducing the Khalka chiefs to enter into formal alliance with himself, and to conclude a treaty of amity with China, which, be it noted, they faithfully observed. Kanghi's efforts in this direction, which may have been dictated by apprehension at the movements of his new neighbors, the Russians, were thus crowned with success, and the adhesion of the Khalkas signified that the great majority of the Mongols would thenceforth abstain from acts of unprovoked aggression on the Chinese frontier. But the advance of China and her influence, even in the form of paying homage to the emperor as the Bogdo Khan, or the Celestial Ruler, so far west as the upper course of the Amour, involved the Pekin Government in fresh complications by bringing it into contact with tribes and peoples of whom it had no cognizance. Beyond the Khalkas were the Eleuths, supreme in Ili and Kashgaria, and divided into four hordes, who obeyed as many chiefs. They had had some relations with the Khalkas, but of China they knew nothing more than the greatness of her name. When the surrender of the Khalka princes became known the Eleuth chiefs held a grand assembly or kuriltai, and at this it was finally, and, indeed, ostentatiously, decided not to yield Kanghi his demands. Important as this decision was, it derived increased weight from the character of the man who was mainly instrumental in inducing the Eleuths to take it.

Much has been written of the desert chiefs from Yenta to Yakoob Beg, but none of these showed greater ability or attained more conspicuous success than Galdan, who strained the power of China, and fought for many years on equal terms with the Emperor Kanghi. Galdan determined that the easiest and most advantageous beginning for his enterprise would be to attack his neighbors the Khalkas, who, by accepting Kanghi's offers, had made themselves the advanced guard of China in Central Asia. He began a systematic encroachment into their lands in the year 1679, but at the same time he resorted to every device to screen his movements from the Chinese court, and such was the delay in receiving intelligence, and the ignorance of the situation beyond the border, that in the very year of his beginning to attack the Khalkas, his envoy at Pekin received a flattering reception at the hands of Kanghi, still hopeful of a peaceful settlement, and returned with the seal and patent of a Khan. Events had not reached a state of open hostility three years later, when Kanghi sent special envoys to the camp of Galdan, as well as to the Khalkas. They were instructed to promise and pay much, but to rest content with nothing short of the formal acceptance by all the chiefs of the supremacy of China. Galdan, bound by the laws of hospitality, nowhere more sacred than in the East, gave them an honorable reception, and lavished upon them the poor resources he commanded. In hyperbolic terms he declared that the arrival of an embassy from the rich and powerful Chinese emperor in his poor State would be handed down as the most glorious event of his reign. But he refused to make any tender of allegiance, or to subscribe himself as a Chinese vassal. The dissensions among the Khalka princes assisted the development of Galdan's ambition, and added to the anxiety of the Chinese ruler. Kanghi admonished them to heal their differences and to abstain from an internecine strife, which would only facilitate their conquest by Galdan, and he succeeded so far that he induced them to swear a peace among themselves before an image of Buddha.

At this juncture the Chinese came into collision with the Russians on the Amour. The Russians had built a fort at Albazin, on the upper course of that river, and the Chinese army located in the Khalka country, considering its proximity a menace to their own security, attacked it in overwhelming force. Albazin was taken, and those of the garrison who fell into the hands of the Chinese were carried off to Pekin, where their descendants still reside as a distinct Russian colony. But when the Chinese evacuated Albazin the Russians returned there with characteristic obstinacy, and Kanghi, becoming anxious at the increasing activity of Galdan, accepted the overtures of the Russian authorities in Siberia, who, in 1688, sent the son of the Governor-general of Eastern Siberia to Pekin to negotiate a peace. After twelve months' negotiation, protracted by the outbreak of war with Galdan, the Treaty of Nerchinsk, the first concluded between China and any European power, was signed, and the brief and only war between Russia and China was thus brought to a speedy and satisfactory termination. The Russians agreed to the destruction of Fort Albazin, but they were allowed to build another at Nerchinsk.

There is reason to believe that Galdan thought that he might derive some advantage from the complications with Russia, for his military movements were hastened when he heard that the two powers were embroiled on the Amour, and he proclaimed his intention of invading the Khalka region, because some of their people had murdered his kinsmen. Galdan endeavored to conclude an alliance with the Russians, who sent an officer to his camp; but they soon came to the determination that it would be more advantageous to keep on friendly terms with the Chinese than to embark on a hazardous adventure with the chief of an Asiatic horde. The mere rumor of a possible alliance between Galdan and the Russians roused Kanghi to increased activity, and all the picked troops of the Eight Manchu Banners, the Forty-nine Mongol Banners, and the Chinese auxiliaries, were dispatched across the steppe to bring the Napoleon of Central Asia to reason. In face of this formidable danger Galdan showed undiminished courage and energy. Realizing the peril of inaction, he did not hesitate to assume the offensive, and the war began with a victory he gained over a general named Horni, within the limits of Chinese territory. The moral of this success was that it showed that Kanghi had not decided a moment too soon in resorting to extreme measures against the ambitious potentate who found the Gobi Desert and the surrounding region too circumscribed for his ambition.

Kanghi intrusted the chief command of his armies to his brother, Yu Tsing Wang, who justified his appointment by bringing the Eleuth forces speedily to an engagement, and by gaming a more or less decisive victory over them at Oulan Poutong. The loss was considerable on both sides, among the imperial officers killed being an uncle of the emperor; but Galdan's forces suffered a great deal more during the retreat than they had done in the action. After this disaster Galdan signed a treaty with the Chinese commander, Yu Tsing Wang. At first he attempted to gain an advantage by excluding his personal enemies, the Khalkas, from it, but the Chinese were not to be entrapped into any such arrangement, and, standing up for their dependents, the provisions of the treaty provided equally for their safety and for the acceptance by Galdan of the supremacy of China. This new arrangement or treaty was concluded in 1690, but Kanghi himself seems to have placed no great faith in the sincerity of Galdan, and to have regarded it merely as a truce. This view was soon found to be correct, for neither side laid aside their arms, and the unusual vigilance of the Chinese gave Galdan additional cause for umbrage. Kanghi showed that he was resolved not to let the terms, to which Galdan had subscribed, become a dead letter. He summoned a great assemblage of the Khalka tribes on the plain of Dolonor--the Seven Springs near Changtu--and he attended it in person, bestowing gifts and titles with a lavish hand. Kanghi was thus able to convince himself that, so far as the Mongol tribes were concerned, he might count on their loyalty and support. He then began to establish an understanding with Tse Wang Rabdan, and thus obtain an ally in the rear of Galdan. This latter circumstance was the direct cause of the second war with Galdan, for Kanghi's embassador was waylaid and murdered in the neighborhood of Hami. The outrage for which, whether he inspired it or not, Galdan was held blameworthy, aroused the strongest resentment and anger of Kanghi.

Kanghi made extraordinary preparations for the campaign. He placed four armies in the field numbering about 150,000 combatants, and it has been computed that, with non-combatants, the total of men employed did not fall short of a million. The first of these armies numbered 35,600 men, and was intrusted to Feyanku, the Ney of the Manchu army. Kanghi took personal command of the second, and its strength is given at 37,700 men; and the third army, 35,400 men, was placed under the orders of Sapsu. The fourth, of unstated but greatest numerical strength, acted as the reserve force for the others, and did not, properly speaking, come into action at all. In order to render the war popular Kanghi offered special pay to the soldiers, and undertook to provide for the widows and orphans of those slain. At the same time Kanghi neglected no precaution to insure the success of his arms. He provided cotton armor which was proof to the bullet for his cavalry and part of his infantry, and he organized a corps of artillerists mounted on camels, which also carried the light pieces, and rendered good service as "flying artillery." Before setting out for the campaign, the emperor reviewed his army, and he chose for the occasion the date of the popular Feast of Lanterns, when all China takes a holiday. After the inspection of the numerous and well equipped army an impressive ceremony took place. Feyanku approached his sovereign, and received at his hands a cup of wine, which the general took while on his knees, and which, on descending from the steps of the throne, he quaffed in full view of the spectators. Each of his assistant generals and the subordinate officers in groups of ten went through the same ceremony, and the ruin of Galdan was anticipated in the libations of his conquerors. While Feyanku marched to encounter Galdan wherever he should find him, the ministers and courtiers at Pekin made a strenuous effort to prevent Kanghi taking the field in person, expatiating on the dangers of a war in the desert, and of the loss to the empire if anything happened to him. But Kanghi, while thanking them for their solicitude, was not to be deterred from his purpose. He led his army by a parallel route to that pursued by Feyanku across the Gobi Desert to Kobdo, where Galdan had established his headquarters. The details of the march are fully described by the Roman Catholic priest, Gerbillon, in his interesting narrative. They reveal the difficulties of the enterprise as well as its success. Some detachments of the Chinese army were compelled to beat a retreat, but the main body succeeded in making its way to the valley of the Kerulon, where some supplies could be obtained. Feyanku's corps, when it reached the neighborhood of the modern Ourga, was reduced to an effective strength of 10,000 men, and of Sapsu's army only 2,000 ever reached the scene of operations, and they formed a junction with the force under Feyanku. But Galdan did not possess the military strength to take any advantage of the enfeebled state in which the Chinese armies reached his neighborhood. He abandoned camp after camp, and sought to make good his position by establishing an empty alliance with the Russians in Siberia, from whom he asked 60,000 troops to consummate the conquest of China. Such visionary projects as this provided a poor defense against the active operations of a Chinese army in his own country. In a fit bordering on desperation Galdan suddenly determined to risk an attack on the camp of Feyanku at Chowmodo. That general, less fortunate than his sovereign, had been reduced to the verge of distress by the exhaustion of his supplies, and was even meditating a retreat back to China, when the action of Galdan relieved him from his dilemma. The exact course of the battle at Chowmodo is not described in any authentic document. During three hours Feyanku stood on the defensive, but when he gave the order for attack, the Eleuths broke in confusion before the charge of his cavalry. Two thousand of their best warriors were slain, their organization was shattered, and Galdan became a fugitive in the region where he had posed as undisputed master. This victory undoubtedly relieved the Chinese from serious embarrassment, and Kanghi felt able to return to Pekin, leaving the further conduct of the war and the pursuit of Galdan in the hands of Feyanku. Formidable enemy as Galdan had proved himself, the defeat at Chowmodo put an end to his career, and destroyed all his schemes of greatness. The Chinese pursued him with great persistence, and at last he died in 1697, either of his deprivations or by the act of his own hand. With Galdan disappeared one of the most remarkable of the desert chiefs; but, although Kanghi flattered himself that such would be the case, peace did not settle down on Central Asia as the consequence of the death of his active and enterprising antagonist. The Chinese armies were recalled for this occasion, and the only force left on the remote frontier was a small one under the command of the gallant Feyanku.

The overthrow and death of Galdan brought Tse Wang Rabdan into direct contact with the Chinese. He had from his hostile relations with Galdan-- the murderer of his father Tsenka--acted as the ally of Kanghi, but when he became the chief of the Eleuths on the death of his uncle, his ideas underwent a change, and he thought more of his dignity and independence. No rupture might have taken place, but that the Chinese, in their implacable resolve to exterminate the family of their enemy Galdan, demanded from Tse Wang Rabdan not only the bones of that chieftain, but also the persons of his son and daughter, who had taken refuge with him. Tse Wang Rabdan resented both the demand itself and the language in which it was expressed. He evaded the requests sent by Feyanku, and he addressed a letter of remonstrance to Kanghi, in the course of which he said, "The war being now concluded, past injuries ought to be buried in oblivion. Pity should be shown to the vanquished, and it would be barbarous to think of nothing but of how to overwhelm them. It is the first law inspired by humanity, and one which custom has consecrated from the earliest period among us who are Eleuths." Kanghi, undeterred by this homily, continued to press his demand, and sent several missions to the Eleuth camp to obtain the surrender of Galdan's remains and relations. His pertinacity was at last rewarded, and the bones of his old opponent were surrendered to be scattered as those of a traitor throughout China, and his son was sent to Pekin, where, however, he received an honorable appointment in lieu of being handed over to the public executioner. Although Tse Wang Rabdan at last conceded to Kanghi what he demanded, his general action soon marked him out as the antagonist of the Chinese in Central Asia. He first vanquished in battle, and then established an alliance with the Kirghiz, and thus his military forces were recruited from the whole of the vast territory from Hami on the east to Khokand on the west.

The main object of his policy was to assert his influence and authority in Tibet, and to make the ruling lama at Lhasa accept whatever course he might dictate for him. Galdan had at one time entertained the same idea; but probably because he had not as good means of access into the country as Tse Wang Rabdan had, on account of his possession of Khoten, it lay dormant until it was dispelled by the rupture after his adoption of Mohammedanism. Up to this time China had been content with a very shadowy hold on Tibet, and she had no resident representative at Lhasa. But Kanghi, convinced of the importance of maintaining his supremacy in Tibet, took energetic measures to counteract the Eleuth intrigues, and for a time there was a keen diplomatic struggle between the contending potentates. From an early period the supremacy in the Tibetan administration had been disputed between two different classes, the one which represented the military body making use of religious matters to forward its designs, the other being an order of priests supported by the unquestioning faith and confidence of the mass of the people. The former became known as Red Caps and the latter as Yellow Caps. The rivalry between these classes had been keen before, and was still bitterly contested when Chuntche first asconded the throne; but victory had finally inclined to the side of the Yellow Caps before the fall of Galdan. The Dalai Lama was their great spiritual head, and his triumph had been assisted by the intervention and influence of the Manchu emperor. The Red Caps were driven out of the country into Bhutan, where they still hold sway. After this success a new functionary, with both civil and military authority, was appointed to carry on the administration, under the orders of the Dalai Lama, who was supposed to be lost in his spiritual speculations and religious devotions. This functionary received the name of the Tipa, and, encouraged by the little control exercised over his acts, he soon began to carry on intrigues for the elevation of his own power at the expense of that of his priestly superiors. The ambition of one Tipa led to his fall and execution, but the offense was attributed to the individual, and a new one was appointed. This second Tipa was the reputed son of a Dalai Lama, and when his father died in 1682 he kept the fact of his death secret, giving out that he had only retired into the recesses of the palace, and ruled the state in his name for the space of sixteen years. The Tipa well knew that he could not hope to obtain the approval of Kanghi for what he had done, and he had made overtures to the princes of Jungaria for protection, whenever he might require it, against the Chinese emperor. At last the truth was divulged, and Kanghi was most indignant at having been duped, and threatened to send an army to punish the Tipa for his crime. Then the Tipa selected a new Dalai Lama, and endeavored to appease Kanghi, but his choice proved unfortunate because it did not satisfy the Tibetans. His own general, Latsan Khan, made himself the executor of public opinion. The Tipa was slain with most of his supporters, and the boy Dalai Lama shared the same fate. These occurrences did not insure the tranquillity of the state, for when another Dalai Lama was found, the selection was not agreeable to Latsan Khan, and his friends had to convey the youth for safety to Sining, in China.

It was at this moment that Tse Wang Rabdan determined to interfere in Tibet, and, strangely enough, instead of attempting to make Latsan Khan his friend, he at once resolved to treat him as an enemy, throwing his son, who happened to be at Ili, into prison. He then dispatched an army into Tibet to crush Latsan Khan, and at the same time he sent a force against Sining in the hope of gaining possession of the person of the young Dalai Lama. The Eleuth army quitted the banks of the Ili in 1709, under the command of Zeren Donduk, and having crossed Eastern Turkestan appeared in due course before Lhasa. It met with little or no resistance. Latsan Khan was slain, and the Eleuth army collected an incalculable quantity of spoil, with which it returned to the banks of the Ili. The expedition against Sining failed, and the rapid advance of a Chinese army compelled the retreat of Zeren Donduk without having attained any permanent success. As the Eleuth army had evacuated Tibet there was no object in sending Chinese troops into that state, and Kanghi's generals were instructed to march westward from Hami to Turfan. But their movements were marked by carelessness or over-confidence, and the Eleuths surprised their camp and inflicted such loss upon Kanghi's commanders that they had even to evacuate Hami. But this was only a temporary reverse. A fresh Manchu army soon retrieved it, and Hami again became the bulwark of the Chinese frontier. At the same time Kanghi sent a garrison to Tibet, and appointed resident ambans at Lhasa, which officials China has retained there ever since. The war with Tse Wang Rabdan was not ended by these successes, for he resorted to the hereditary tactics of his family, retiring when the Chinese appeared in force, and then advancing on their retreat. As Kanghi wrote, they are "like wolves who, at the sight of the huntsmen, scatter to their dens, and at the withdrawal of danger assemble again round the prey they have abandoned with regret. Such was the policy of these desert robbers." The last year of Kanghi's reign was illustrated by a more than usually decisive victory over the forces of Tse Wang Rabdan, which a courtier declared to be "equivalent to the conquest of Tibet"; but on the whole the utmost success that can be claimed for Kanghi's policy was that it repelled the chronic danger from the desert chiefs and their turbulent followers to a greater distance from the immediate frontier of the empire than had been the case for many centuries. He left the task of breaking the Eleuth power to his grandson, Keen Lung.

The close of Kanghi's reign witnessed a decline in the interest he took in the representatives of Europe, and this was not revived by the splendor of the embassy which Peter the Great sent to Pekin in 1719. The embassy consisted of the embassador himself, M. Ismaloff; his secretary, M. de Lange; the English traveler, Mr. Bell, and a considerable suite. Kanghi received in the most gracious manner the letter which Peter addressed to him in the following terms: "To the emperor of the vast countries of Asia, to the Sovereign Monarch of Bogdo, to the Supreme Majesty of Khitay, friendship and greeting. With the design I possess of holding and increasing the friendship and close relations long established between your Majesty and my predecessors and myself, I have thought it right to send to your court, in the capacity of embassador-extraordinary, Leon Ismaloff, captain in my guards. I beg you will receive him in a manner suitable to the character in which he comes, to have regard and to attach as much faith to what he may say on the subject of our mutual affairs as if I were speaking to you myself, and also to permit his residing at your Court of Pekin until I recall him. Allow me to sign myself your Majesty's good friend. Peter." Kanghi gave the Russian envoy a very honorable reception. A house was set apart for his accommodation, and when the difficulties raised by the mandarins on the question of the kotao ceremony at the audience threatened to bring the embassy to an abortive end, Kanghi himself intervened with a suggestion that solved the difficulty. He arranged that his principal minister should perform the kotao to the letter of the Russian emperor, while the Russian envoy rendered him the same obeisance. The audience then took place without further delay, and it was allowed on all hands that no foreign embassy had ever been received with greater honor in China than this. Ismaloff returned to his master with the most roseate account of his reception and of the opening in China for Russian trade. A large and rich caravan was accordingly fitted out by Peter, to proceed to Pekin; but when it arrived it found a very different state of affairs from what Ismaloff had pictured. Kanghi lay on his death- bed, the anti-foreign ministers were supreme, declaring that "trade was a matter of little consequence, and regarded by them with contempt," and the Russians were ignominiously sent back to Siberia with the final declaration that such intercourse as was unavoidable must be restricted to the frontier. Thus summarily was ended Peter's dream of tapping the wealth of China.

Although Kanghi was not altogether free from domestic trouble, through the ambition of his many sons to succeed him, his life must on the whole be said to have passed along tranquilly enough apart from his cares of state. The public acts and magnificent exploits of his reign prove him to have been wise, courageous, and magnanimous, and his private life will bear the most searching examination, and only render his virtue the more conspicuous. He always showed a tender solicitude for the interests of his people, which was proved, among other things, by his giving up his annual tours through his dominions on account of the expense thrown on his subjects by the inevitable size of his retinue. His active habits as a hunter, a rider, and even as a pedestrian, were subjects of admiring comment on the part of the Chinese people, and he was one of their few rulers who made it a habit to walk through the streets of his capital. He was also conspicuous as the patron of learning; notably in his support of the foreign missionaries as geographers and cartographers. He was also the consistent and energetic supporter of the celebrated Hanlin College, and, as he was no ordinary litterateur himself, this is not surprising. His own works filled a hundred volumes, prominent among which were his Sixteen Maxims on the Art of Government, and it is believed that he took a large part in bringing out the Imperial Dictionary of the Hanlin College. His writings were marked by a high code of morality as well as by the lofty ideas of a broad-minded statesman. His enemies have imputed to him an excessive vanity and avarice; but the whole tenor of his life disproves the former statement, and, whatever foundation in fact the latter may have had, he never carried it to any greater length than mere prudence and consideration for the wants of his people demanded. We know that he resorted to gentle pressure to attain his ends rather than to tyrannical force. When he wished to levy a heavy contribution from a too rich subject he had recourse to what may be styled a mild joke, sooner than to threats and corporal punishment. The following incident has been quoted in this connection: One day Kanghi made an official, who had grown very wealthy, lead him, riding on an ass, round his gardens. As recompense the emperor gave him a tael. Then he himself led the mandarin in similar fashion. At the end of the tour he asked how much greater he was than his minister? "The comparison is impossible," said the ready courtier. "Then I must make the estimate myself," replied Kanghi. "I am 20,000 times as great, therefore you will pay me 20,000 taels." His reign was singularly free from the executions so common under even the best of Chinese rulers; and, whenever possible, he always tempered justice with mercy.

Notwithstanding his enfeebled health and the many illnesses from which he had suffered in later life, he persisted in following his usual sporting amusements, and he passed the winter of 1722 at his hunting-box at Haidsu. He seems to have caught a chill, and after a brief illness he died on the 2oth of December in that year.

The place of Kanghi among Chinese sovereigns is clearly defined. He ranks on almost equal terms with the two greatest of them all--Taitsong and his own grandson, Keen Lung--and it would be ungracious, if not impossible, to say in what respect he falls short of complete equality with either, so numerous and conspicuous were his talents and his virtues. His long friendship and high consideration for the Christian missionaries have no doubt contributed to bring his name and the events of his reign more prominently before Europe than was the case with any other Chinese ruler. But, although this predilection for European practices may have had the effect of strengthening his claims to precede every other of his country's rulers, it can add but little to the impression produced on even the most cursory reader by the remarkable achievements in peace and war accomplished by this gifted emperor. Kanghi's genius dominates one of the most critical periods in Chinese history, of which the narrative should form neither an uninteresting nor an uninstructive theme. Celebrated as the consolidator and completer of the Manchu conquest, Kanghi's virtue and moderation have gained him permanent fame as a wise, just, and beneficent national sovereign in the hearts of the Chinese people.