China Chapter XXI - The Regency

Start Your Free Trial

Chapter XXI - The Regency

While the suppression of the Taeping Rebellion was in progress, events of great interest and importance happened at Pekin. It will be recollected that when the allied forces approached that city in 1860, the Emperor Hienfung fled to Jehol, and kept himself aloof from all the peace negotiations which were conducted to a successful conclusion by his brother, Prince Kung. After the signature of the convention in Pekin, ratifying the Treaty of Tientsin, he refused to return to his capital; and he even seems to have hoped that he might, by asserting his imperial prerogative, transfer the capital from Pekin to Jehol, and thus evade one of the principal concessions to the foreigners. But if this was impossible, he was quite determined, for himself, to have nothing to do with them, and during the short remainder of his life he kept his court at Jehol. While his brother was engaged in meeting the difficulties of diplomacy, and in arranging the conditions of a novel situation, Hienfung, by collecting round his person the most bigoted men of his family, showed that he preferred those counselors who had learned nothing from recent events, and who would support him in his claims to undiminished superiority and inaccessibility. Prominent among the men in his confidence was Prince Tsai, who had taken so discreditable a part in the arrest of Parkes and his companions at Tungchow, and among his other advisers were several inexperienced and impetuous members of the Manchu family. They were all agreed in the policy of recovering, at the earliest possible moment, what they considered to be the natural and prescriptive right of the occupant of the Dragon Throne to treat all other potentates as in no degree equal to himself. No respect for treaties would have deterred them from reasserting what had solemnly been signed away, and the permanent success of the faction at Jehol would have entailed, within a comparatively short period, the outbreak of another foreign war. But the continued residence of the emperor at Jehol was not popular, with either his own family or the inhabitants of Pekin. The members of the Manchu clan, who received a regular allowance during the emperor's residence at Pekin, were reduced to the greatest straits, and even to the verge of starvation, while the Chinese naturally resented the attempt to remove the capital to any other place. This abnegation of authority by Hienfung, for his absence meant nothing short of that, could not have been prolonged indefinitely, for a Chinese emperor has many religious and secular duties to perform which no one else can discharge, and which, if not discharged, would reduce the office of emperor to a nonentity. Prince Tsai and his associates had no difficulty in working upon the fears of this prince, who held the most exalted idea of his own majesty, at the same time that he had not the power or knowledge to vindicate it.

Download China Study Guide

Subscribe Now

While such were the views prevailing in the imperial circle at Jehol, arrangements were in progress for the taking up of his residence at Pekin of the British minister. After Lord Elgin's departure, his brother, Sir Frederick Bruce, who was knighted for his share in the negotiations, was appointed first occupant of the post of minister in the Chinese capital, and on March 22, 1861, he left Tientsin for Pekin. Mr. Wade accompanied Sir Frederick as principal secretary, and the staff included six student interpreters, whose ranks, constantly recruited, have given many able men to the public service. Before Sir Frederick reached the capital, the Chinese minister had taken a step to facilitate the transaction of business with the foreign representatives. Prince Kung--and the credit of the measure belongs exclusively to him--will always be gratefully remembered by any foreign writer on modern China as the founder of the department known as the Tsungli Yamen, which he instituted in January, 1861. This department, since its institution, has very fully answered all the expectations...

(The entire section is 14,607 words.)