The Manchus, The Normans Of China
( Originally Published 1910 )
The Ta-Ts'ing Dynasty—The Empress Dowager Her Origin—Her First Regency—Her Personality Other Types—Two Manchu Princes—Two Manchu Ministers—The Nation's Choice—Conclusions
IN A wide survey of the history of the world, we dis-cover a law which appears to govern the movements of nations. Those of the north show a tendency to encroach on those of the south. The former are nomads, hunters, or fishers, made bold by a constant struggle with the infelicities of their environment. The latter are occupied with the settled industries of civilised life.
The Goths and Vandals of Rome, and the Tartars under Genghis and Tamerlane all conform to this law and seem to be actuated by a common impulse. In;, the east and west of the Eastern hemisphere may be noted two examples of this general movement, which afford a curious parallel: I refer to the Normans of Great Britain and the Manchus of China. Both empires are under the sway of dynasties which originated in the north; for the royal house of Britain, though under another title, has always been proud of its Norman blood.
The Normans who conquered Britain had first settled in France and there acquired the arts of civilised life. The Manchus coming from the banks of the Amur settled in Liao-tung, a region somewhat similarly situated with reference to China. There they learned something of the civilisation of China, and watched for an opportunity to obtain possession of the empire. In Britain a kindred branch of the Norman family was on the throne, and William the Conqueror contrived to give his invasion a colour of right, by claiming the throne under an alleged bequest of Edward the Confessor. The Manchus, though not invoking such artificial sanction, aspired to the dominion of China because their ancestors of the Golden Horde had ruled over the northern half of the empire. The Norman conquest, growing out of a family quarrel, was decided by a single battle. The Manchus' conquest of a country more than ten times the extent of Britain was not so easy to effect. Yet they achieved it with unexampled rapidity, because they came by invitation and they brought peace to a people exhausted by long wars. Their task was comparatively easy in the north, where the traditions of the Kin Tartars still survived ; but it was prolonged and bloody in the south.
Both houses treated their new subjects as a conquered people. Each imposed the burden of foreign garrisons and a new nobility. Each introduced a foreign language, which they tried to perpetuate as the speech of the court, if not of the people. In each case the language of the people asserted itself. In Britain it absorbed and assimilated the alien tongue; in China, where the absence of common elements made amalgamation impossible, it superseded that of the conquerors, not merely for writing purposes, but as the spoken dialect of the court.
Both conquerors found it necessary to conciliate the subject race by liberal and timely concessions; but here begins a contrast. In Britain no external badge of subjection was ever imposed ; in process of time all special privileges of the ruling caste were abolished; and no trace of race antipathy ever displays itself anywhere—if we except Ireland. In China the cue remains as a badge of subjection. Habit has reconciled the people to its use; but it still offers a tempting grip to revolutionary agitators. Every party that raises the standard of revolt abolishes the cue; would it not be wise for the Manchu Government to make the wearing of that appendage a matter of option, especially as it is beginning to disappear from their soldiers' uniform?
The extension of reform in dress from camp to court and from court to people (to them as a matter of option) would remove a danger. It would also remove a barrier in the way of China's admission into the congress of nations. The abolition of the cue implies the abandonment of those long robes which make such an impression of barbaric pomp. Already the Chinese are tacitly permitted to adopt foreign dress; and in every case they have to dispense with the cue. The Japanese never did a wiser thing than to adopt our Western costume. Their example tends to encourage a reform of the same kind in China. A new costume means a new era.
Another point is required to complete the parallel: each victor has given the conquered country a better government than any in its previous history. To Confucius feudalism was a beau-ideal, and he beautifully compares the sovereign to the North Star which sits in state on the pole of the heavens while all the constellations revolve around it, and pay it homage. Yet was the centralised government of the First Hwang-ti an immense improvement on the loose agglomeration of the Chous. The great dynasties have all adopted the principle of centralisation; but not one has applied it with such success, nor is there one which shows so large a proportion of respectable rulers as the house of Ta-ts'ing. Of the first six some account has been given in Part II. As to the next two it is too soon to have the verdict of history. One died after a brief reign of two years and three months, too short to show character. The other now sits at the foot of the throne, while his adoptive mother sways the sceptre. Both have been overshadowed by the Empress Dowager and controlled by her masterful spirit.
China has had female rulers that make figures in history, such as Lu of the Han and Wu of the T'ang dynasties, but she has no law providing for the succession of a female under any conditions. A female reign is abnormal, and the ruler a monstrosity. Her character is always blackened so as to make it difficult to delineate. Yet in every instance those women have possessed rare talent; for without uncommon gifts it must have been impossible to seize a sceptre in the face of such prejudices, and to sway it over a submissive people. Usually they are described much as the Jewish chronicler sketches the character of Jezebel or Athaliah. Cruel, licentious, and implacable, they "destroy the seed royal," they murder the prophets and they make the ears of the nation tingle with stories of shameless immorality.
Among these we shall not seek a parallel for the famous Empress Dowager, so well known to the readers of magazine literature. In tragic vicissitudes, if not in length of reign, she stood without a rival in the history of the world. She also stood alone in the fact that her destinies were interwoven with the tangle of foreign invasion. Twice she fled from the gates of a fallen capital; and twice did the foreign conqueror permit her to return. Without the foreigner and his self-imposed restraint, there could have been no Empress Dowager in China. Did she hate the foreigner for driving her away, or did she thank him for her repeated restoration?
The daughter of Duke Chou (the slave-girl story is a myth), she became a secondary wife of Hienfung in 1853 or 1854; and her sister somewhat later be-came consort of the Emperor's youngest brother. Having the happiness to present her lord with a son, she was raised to the rank of Empress and began to exert no little influence in the character of mother to an heir-apparent. Had she not been protected by her new rank her childless rival might have driven her from court and appropriated the boy. She had instead to admit a joint motherhood, which in a few years led to a joint regency.
Scarcely had the young Empress become accustomed to her new dignity, when the fall of Taku and Tientsin, in 186o, warned the Emperor of what he might expect. Taking the two imperial ladies and their infant son, he retired to Jeho, on the borders of Tartary, in time to escape capture. There he heard of the burning of his summer palace and the surrender of his capital. Whether he succumbed to disease or whether a proud nature refused to survive his dis-grace, is not known. What we do know is, that on his death, in 1861, two princes, Sushun and Tuanhwa, organised a regency and brought the court back to the capital about a year after the treaty of peace had been signed by Prince Kung as the Emperor's representative. Prince Kung was not included in the council of regency; and he knew that he was marked for destruction. Resolving to be beforehand, he found means to consult with the Empresses, who looked to him to rescue them from the tyranny of the Council of Eight. On December 2 the blow was struck: all the members of the council were seized; the leader was put to death in the market-place; some committed suicide; and others were condemned to exile. A new regency was formed, consisting of the two Empresses and Prince Kung, the latter having the title of " joint regent."
What part the Empress Mother had taken in this her first coup d'état, is left to conjecture. Penetrating and ambitious she was not content to be a tool in the hands of the Eight. The senior Empress yielded to the ascendency of a superior mind, as she continued to do for twenty years.
There was another actor whom it would be wrong to overlook, namely, Kweiliang, the good secretary, who had signed the treaties at Tientsin. His daughter was Prince Kung's principal wife, and though too old to take a leading part in the Court revolutions, it was he who prompted Prince Kung, who was young and inexperienced, to strike for his life.
The reigning title of the infant Emperor was changed from Kisiang, "good luck," to Tung-chi, " joint government " ; and the Empire acquiesced in the new régime.
One person there was, however, who was not quite satisfied with the arrangement. This was the restless, ambitious young Dowager. The Empire was quiet; and things went on in their new course for years, Prince Kung all the time growing in power and dignity. His growing influence gave her umbrage ; and one morning a decree from the two Dowagers stripped him of power, and confined him a prisoner in his palace. His alleged offence was want of respect to their Majesties; he threw himself at their feet and implored forgiveness.
The ladies were not implacable; he was restored to favour and clothed with all his former dignities, except one. The title of Icheng-wang, " joint regent," never reappeared.
In 1881 the death of the senior Dowager left the second Dowager alone in her glory. So harmoniously had they cooperated during their joint regency, and so submissive had the former been to the will of the latter, that there was no ground for suspicion of foul play, yet such suspicions are always on the wing, like bats in the twilight of an Oriental court.
On the death of Tung-chi, the adroit selection of a nephew of three summers to succeed to the throne as her adopted son, gave the Dowager the prospect of another long regency. Recalled to power by the reactionaries, in 1898, after a brief retirement, the Empress Dowager dethroned her puppet by a second coup-d'etat.
During the ruinous recoil that followed she had the doubtful satisfaction of feeling herself sole aristocrat of the Chinese Empire. Was it not the satisfaction of a gladiator who seated himself on the throne of the C esars in a burning amphitheatre? Was she not made sensible that she, too, was a creature of circumstances, when her ill-judged policy compelled her a second time to seek safety in flight? A helpless fugitive, how could she conceive that fortune held in reserve for her brighter -days than she had ever experienced?
Accepting the situation and returning with the Emperor, the Empire and the world accepted her, and, taught by experience, she engaged in the con-genial task of renovating the Chinese people. Advancing years, consciousness of power, and willing conformity to the freér usages of European courts, all conspired to lead her to throw aside the veil and to appear openly as the chief actor on this imperial stage.
Six years ago her seventieth birthday was celebrated with great pomp, although she had forbidden her people to be too lavish in their loyalty. At Wuchang, Tuan Fang, who was acting viceroy, gave a banquet at which he asked me to make a speech in the Dowager's honor. The task was a delicate one for a man who had borne the hardships of a siege in 1900; but I accepted it, and excused the Dowager on the principle of British law, that "The king can do no wrong." Throwing the blame on her ministers, I pronounced a eulogy on her talents and her public services.
The question arises, did we know her in person and character? Have we not seen her in that splendid portrait executed by Miss Carl, and exhibited at St. Louis? If we suspect the artist of flattery, have we not a gallery of photographs, in which she shows her-self in many a majestic pose? Is flattery possible to a sunbeam? We certainly see her as truly as we see ourselves in a mirror !
As to character, it is too soon to express an opinion. Varium et mutabile semper femina.
To pencil and sunbeam add word-pictures by men and women from whose critical eyes she did not conceal herself ; and we may confidently affirm that we knew her personal appearance as well as we knew that of any lady who occupies or shares a European throne. A trifle under the average height of European ladies, so perfect were her proportions and so graceful her carriage that she seemed to need nothing to add to her majesty. Her features were vivacious and pleasing rather than beautiful; her complexion, not yellow, but subolive, and her face illuminated by orbs of jet, half-hidden by dark lashes, behind which lurked the smiles of favour or the lightning of anger. No one would take her to be over forty. She carried tablets on which, even during conversation, she jotted down memoranda. Her pencil was the support of her sceptre. With it she sent out her autograph commands; and with it, too, she inscribed those pictured characters which were worn as the proudest decorations of her ministers. I have seen them in gilded frames in the hall of a viceroy.
The elegance of her culture excited sincere admiration in a country where women are illiterate; and the breadth of her understanding was such as to take in the details of government. She chose her agents with rare judgment, and shifted them from pillar to post, so that they might not forget their dependence on her will. Without a parallel in her own country, she has been sometimes compared with Catherine II. of Russia. She had the advantage in the decency of her private life; for though she is said to have had favourites they have never dared to boast of her favours, nor was a curious public ever able to identify them.
Her full name, including honorific epithets added by the Academy, was Tse Hi Tuanyin Kangyi Chaoyu Chuangcheng Shoukung Chinhien Chunghi. A few hours before her death, which occurred on the day after the Emperor's, she named his nephew as successor, and the present ruler, Hsuan-Tung, who was born in 1903, began to reign November 14, 1908.
Let the Dowager be taken as a type of the Manchu woman. The late Emperor, though handsome and intelligent, was too small for a representative of a robust race. Tuan Fang, the High Commissioner, is a more favourable specimen. The Manchus are in general taller than the Chinese, and both in physical and intellectual qualities they prove that their branch of the family is far from effete.
Prince Kung, who for fifteen years presided over the imperial cabinet, was tall, handsome and urbane.
Despite the disadvantages of an education in a narrow-minded court, he displayed a breadth and capacity of a high order. Prince Ching, who succeeded him in 1875, though less attractive in person, is not deficient in that sort of astuteness that passes for statesmanship. What better evidence than that he has kept himself on top of a rolling log for thirty years? To keep his position through the dethronement of the Emperor and the convulsions of the Boxer War required agility and adaptability of no mean order. Personally I have seen much of both princes. They are abler men than one would expect to find among the offshoots of an Oriental court.
Wensiang, who from the opening of Peking to his death in 1875 bore the leading part in the conduct of foreign affairs, showed great ability in piloting the state through rocks and breakers. His mental power greatly impressed all foreigners, while it secured him an easy ascendency among his countrymen. Such men are sure to be overloaded with official duties in a country like China. Physically he was not strong; and on one occasion when he came into the room wheezing with asthma he said to me : " You see I am like a small donkey, with a tight collar and a heavy load." The success of Prince Kung's administration was largely due to Wensiang. Paochuin, minister of finance, and member of the Inner Council, was distinguished as a literary genius. Prince Kung de-lighted on festive occasions to call him and Tungsuin to a contest in extempore verse. To enter the lists with a noted scholar and poet like Tung, showed how the Manchus have come to vie with the Chinese in the refinements of literary culture. I remember him as a dignified greybeard, genial and jocose. On the fall of the Kung ministry, he doffed his honours in three stanzas, which contain more truth than poetry:
"Through life, as in a pleasing dream,
"Alas! Leviathan to take
"That loss is often gain's disguise
In more than one crisis, the heart of the nation has cleaved to the Manchu house as the embodiment of law and order. The people chose to adhere to a tolerably good government rather than take the chance of a better one emerging from the strife of factions.
Three things are required to confirm their loyalty: (I) the abolition of tonsure and pigtail, (2) the abandonment of all privileges in examinations and in the distribution of offices, (3) the removal of all impediments in the way of intermarriage.
This last has been recently authorised by proclamation. It is not so easy for those who are in possession of the loaves and fishes to admit others to an equal share. If to these were added the abolition of a degrading badge, the Manchu dynasty might hope to be perpetual, because the Manchus would cease to exist as a people.
1. More than once I have demanded the expulsion of the Manchus, and the partition of China. That they deserved it no one who knows the story of 1900 will venture to deny. It was not without reason that Mene tekel and Ichabod were engraved on the medal commemorating the siege in Peking. If I seem to recant, it is in view of the hopeful change that has come over the spirit of the Manchu Government. Under the leadership of Dowager Empress and Emperor, the people were more likely to make peaceful progress than under a new dynasty or under the Polish policy of division.
2. The prospect of admission to the full privileges of a member of the brotherhood of nations will act as an incentive to improvement. But the subjection of foreigners to Chinese jurisdiction ought not to be con-ceded without a probation as long and thorough as that through which Japan had to pass. In view of the treachery and barbarism so conspicuous in 1900—head-hunting and edicts to massacre foreigners—a probation of thirty years would not be too long. During that time the reforms in law and justice should be fully tested, and the Central Government should be held responsible for the repression of every tendency to anti-foreign riots.
A government that encourages Boxers and other rioters as patriots does not merit an equal place in the congress of nations. The alternative is the " gunboat policy," according to which foreign powers will ad-minister local punishment. If the mother of the house will not chastise her unruly children, she must allow her neighbours to do it.
3. Prior to legal reform, and at the root of it, the adoption of a constitution ought to be insisted on. In such constitution a leading article ought to be not toleration, but freedom of conscience. As long as China looks on native Christians as people who have abjured their nationality, so long will they be objects of persecution; self-defence and reprisals will keep the populace in a ferment, and peace will be impossible. If China is sincere in her professions of reform, she will follow the example of Japan and make her people equal in the eye of the law without distinction of creed.
4. All kinds of reform are involved in the new education, and to that China is irrevocably committed. Reënforced by railroad, telegraph, and newspaper, the schoolmaster will dispel the stagnation of remote districts, giving to the whole people a horizon wider than their hamlet, and thoughts higher than their hearthstone. Animated by sound science and true religion, it will not be many generations before the Chinese people will take their place among the leading nations of the earth.