The Ta-ts'ing Dynasty, 1644
( Originally Published 1910 )
The Manchus, Invited to Aid in Restoring Order, Seat their Own Princes on the Throne—the Traitor, General Wu San-kwei—Reigns of Shunchi and Kanghi—Spread of Christianity —A Papal Blunder—Yung
cheng Succeeded by Kienlung, who Abdicates Rather than Reign Longer than his Grandfather Era of Transformation
THE Manchus had been preparing for some generations for a descent on China. They had never forgotten that half the Empire had once been in the possession of their forefathers, the Kin Tartars; and after one or two abortive attempts to recover their heritage they settled themselves at Mukden and watched their opportunity. It came with the fall of the Mings.
Wu San-kwei, a Chinese general whose duty it was to keep them in bounds, threw open the gate of the Great Wall and invoked their assistance to expel the successful rebel. His family had been slaughtered in the fall of the capital; he thirsted for revenge, and without doubt indulged the hope of founding a dynasty. The Manchus agreed to his terms, and, combining their forces with his advanced on Peking. Feeling himself unable to hold the city, the rebel chief burnt his palace and retreated, after enjoying the imperial dignity ten days.
General Wu offered to pay off his mercenaries and asked them to retire beyond the Wall. Smiling at his simplicity, they coolly replied that it was for him to retire or to enter their service. It was the old story of the ass and the stag. An ass easily drove a stag from his pasture-ground by taking a man on his back; but the man remained in the saddle. Forced to submit, the General employed his forces to bring his people into subjection to their hereditary enemy. Rewarded with princely rank, and shielded by the reigning house, he has escaped the infamy which he deserved at the hands of the historians. A traitor to his country, he was also a traitor to his new masters. He died in a vain attempt at counter-revolution.
The new dynasty began with Shunchi, a child of six years, his uncle the Prince Hwai acting as regent. Able and devoted, this great man, whom the Manchus call Amawang, acquitted himself of his task in a manner worthy of the model regent, the Duke of Chou. His task was not an easy one. He had to suppress contending factions, to conciliate a hostile populace, and to capture many cities which refused to submit. In seven years he effected the subjugation of the eighteen provinces, everywhere imposing the tonsure and the "pigtail as badges of subjection. Many a myriad of the Chinese forfeited their heads by refusing to sacrifice their glossy locks ; but the conquest was speedy, and possession secure.
The success of the Manchus was largely due to the fact that they found the empire exhausted by internal strife and came as deliverers. The odium of over-turning the Ming dynasty did not rest on them. While at Mukden they had cultivated the language and letters of the " Inner land " and they had before them, for guidance or warning, the history of former conquests.
They have improved on their predecessors, whether Kins or Mongols; and with all their faults they have given to China a better government than any of her native dynasties.
Shunchi (1644-1662) passed off the stage at the age of twenty-four and left the throne to a son, Kanghi (1662-1723), who became the greatest monarch in the history of the Empire. During his long reign of sixty-one years, Kanghi maintained order in his wide domain, corrected abuses in administration, and promoted education for both nationalities. It is notable that the most complete dictionary of the Chinese language bears the imprimatur of Kanghi, a Tartar sovereign.
For his fame in the foreign world, Kanghi is largely indebted to the learned missionaries who enjoyed his patronage, though he took care to distinguish between them and their religion. The latter had been proscribed by the regents, who exercised supreme power during his minority. Their decree was never revoked; and persecution went on in the provinces, without the least interference from the Emperor. Still his patronage of missionaries was not without influence on the status of Christianity in his dominions. It gained ground, and before the close of his reign it had a following of over three hundred thousand converts. Near the close of his reign he pointedly condemned the foreign faith, and commanded the expulsion of its propagators, except a few, who were required in the Board of Astronomy.
The favourable impression made by Ricci had been deepened by Schaal and Verbiest. The former under Shunchi reformed the calendar and obtained the presidency of the Astronomical Board. He also cast cannon to aid the Manchu conquest. The latter did both for Kanghi, and filled the same high post. Schaal employed his influence to procure the building of two churches in Peking. Verbiest made use of his to spread the faith in the provinces. The Church might perhaps have gained a complete victory, had not dissensions arisen within her own ranks. Dominicans and Franciscans entering the field denounced their forerunners for having tolerated heathen rites and accepted heathen names for God. After prolonged discussions and contradictory decrees the final verdict went against the Jesuits. In this decision the Holy See seems not to have been guided by infallible wisdom.
Kanghi, whose opinion had been requested by the Jesuits, asserted that by Tien and Shang-ti the Chinese mean the Ruler of the Universe, and that the worship of Confucius and of ancestors is not idolatry, but a state or family ceremony. By deciding against his views, the Pope committed the blunder of alienating a great monarch, who might have been won by a liberal policy. The prohibition of the cult of ancestors—less objectionable in itself than the worship of saints —had the effect of arming every household against a faith that aimed to subvert their family altars. The dethronement of Shang-ti (a name accepted by most Protestant missionaries) and the substitution of Tien Chu, could not fail to shock the best feelings of devout people. Tien Chu, if not a new coinage, was given by papal fiat an artificial value, equivalent to " Lord of all "—whereas it had previously headed a list of divisional deities, such as Lord of Heaven, Lord of Earth, Lord of the Sea, etc.
What wonder that for two centuries Christianity continued to be a prohibited creed! The ground thus lost by a papal blunder it has never regained. The acceptance of Tien and Shang-ti by Protestants might perhaps do something to retrieve the situation, if backed by some form of respect for ancestors.
Kanghi was succeeded by his son Yungcheng (1722-1736), who was followed by Kienlung (1736-1796), during whose reign the dynasty reached the acme of splendour. Under Kienlung, Turkestan was added to the empire. The Grand Lama of Tibet was also enrolled as a feudatory; but he never accepted the laws of China, and no doubt considered himself repaid by spiritual homage. No territory has since been added, and none lost, if we except the cession of Formosa to Japan and of Hong Kong to Great Britain. The cessions of seaports to other powers are considered as temporary leases.
After a magnificent reign of sixty years, Kienlung abdicated in favour of his fifth son, Kiak'ing, for the whimsical reason that he did not wish to reign longer than his grandfather. In Chinese eyes this was sublime. Why did they not enact a law that no man should surpass the longevity of his father?
As to Kiak'ing, who occupied the throne for twenty-four years, weak and dissolute is a summary of his character.
The next four reigns came under the influence of new forces. They belong to the era of transformation, and may properly be reserved for Part III.