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- China - 40/83 -

colony was, and is still, one of the most peculiar and least understood of the departments of the Tartar government; and although it has served its purpose in preventing dynastic squabbles, there must always remain the doubt as to how far the dynasty has been injured by the loss of the services of so many of its members who might have possessed useful capacity. They purchased the right to an easy and unlaborious existence, with free quarters and a small income guaranteed, at the heavy price of exclusion from the public service. No matter how great their ambition or natural capability, they had no prospect of emancipating themselves from the dull sphere of inaction to which custom relegated them. Toward the close of Kiaking's reign the number of these useless Yellow Girdles had risen to several thousand, and the emperor, alarmed by the previous attacks, or having some reason to fear a fresh plot, adopted strenuous measures against them. Whether the emperor's apprehensions overcame his reason, or whether there were among his kinsmen, some men of more than average ability, it is certain that the princes of the Manchu family were goaded or incited into what amounted to rebellion. The exact particulars remain unknown until the dynastic history sees the light of day; but it is known that many of them were executed, and that many hundreds of them were banished to Manchuria, where they were given employment in taking care of the ancestral tombs of the ruling family.

Special significance was given to these intrigues and palace plots by the remarkable increase in the number and the confidence of the secret societies which, in some form or other, have been a feature of Chinese public life from an early period. Had they not furnished evidence by their increased numbers and daring of the dissatisfaction prevalent among the Chinese masses, whether on account of the hardships of their lot, or from hatred of their Tartar lords, they would scarcely have created so much apprehension in the bosom of the Emperor Kiaking, whose authority met with no open opposition, and whose reign was nominally one of both internal and external peace. These secret societies have always been, in the form of fraternal confederacies and associations, a feature in Chinese life; but during the present century they have acquired an importance they could never previously claim, both in China and among Chinese colonies abroad. The first secret society to become famous was that of the Water-Lily, or Pe-leen-keaou, which association chose as its emblem and title the most popular of all plants in China. Although the most famous of the societies, and the one which is regarded as the parent of all that have come after it, the Water-Lily had, as a distinct organization, a very brief existence. Its organizers seem to have dropped the name, or to have allowed it to sink into disuse in consequence of the strenuous official measures taken against the society by the government for the attempt, in 1803, on Kiaking's life in the streets of Pekin. They merged themselves into the widely-extended confederacy of the Society of Celestial Reason-- the Theen-te-Hwuy--which became better known by the title given to it by Europeans of the Triads, from their advocacy of the union between Heaven, earth, and man. The Water-Lily Society, before it was dissolved, caused serious disturbances in both Shantung and Szchuen, and especially in the latter province, where the disbanded army that had rescued Tibet and punished the Goorkhas furnished the material for sedition. With more or less difficulty, and at a certain expense of life, these risings were suppressed, and Kiaking's authority was rendered secure against these assailants, while for his successors was left the penalty of feeling the full force of the national indignation of which their acts were the expression.

With regard to the organization of these secret societies, which probably remain unchanged to the present day, China had nothing to learn from Europe either as to the objects to be obtained in this way or as to how men are to be bound together by solemn vows for the attainment of illegal ends. By signs known only to themselves, and by pass-words, these sworn conspirators could recognize their members in the crowded streets, and could communicate with each other without exciting suspicion as to their being traitors at heart. In its endeavors to cope with this formidable and widespread organization under different names, Kiaking's government found itself placed at a serious disadvantage. Without an exact knowledge of the intentions or resources of its secret enemies, it failed to grapple with them, and, as its sole remedy, it could only decree that proof of membership carried with it the penalty of death.

During the last years of the reign of Kiaking the secret societies rather threatened future trouble than constituted a positive danger to the state. They were compelled to keep quiet and to confine their attention to increasing their numbers rather than to realizing their programme. The emperor was consequently able to pass the last four years of his life with some degree of personal tranquillity, and in full indulgence of his palace pleasures, which seem at this period to have mainly consisted of a theatrical troupe which accompanied him even when he went to offer sacrifice in the temples. His excessive devotion to pleasure did not add to his reputation with his people, and it is recorded that one of the chief causes of the minister Sung's disgrace and banishment to Ili was his making a protest against the emperor's proceedings. Some time before his death Kiaking drew up his will, and on account of his great virtues he specially selected as his successor his second son, Prince Meenning, who had saved his life from assassins in the attack on the palace. Kiaking died on September 2, 1820, in the sixty-first year of his age, leaving to his successor a diminished authority, an enfeebled power, and a discontented people. Some mitigating circumstance may generally be pleaded against the adverse verdict of history in its estimation of a public character. The difficulties with which the individual had to contend may have been exceptional and unexpected, the measures which he adopted may have had untoward and unnatural results, and the crisis of the hour may have called for genius of a transcendent order. But in the case of Kiaking not one of these extenuating facts can be pleaded. His path had been smoothed for him by his predecessor, his difficulties were raised by his own indifference, and the consequences of his spasmodic and ill-directed energy were scarcely less unfortunate than those of his habitual apathy. So much easier is the work of destruction than the labor of construction, that Kiaking in twenty-five years had done almost as much harm to the constitution of his country and to the fortunes of his dynasty as Keen Lung had conferred solid advantages on the state in his brilliant reign of sixty years.

On the whole it seems as if the material prosperity of the people was never greater than during the reign of Kiaking. The population by the census of 1812 is said to have exceeded 360 millions, and the revenue never showed a more flourishing return on paper. To the external view all was still fair and prosperous when Kiaking died; under his successor, who was in every sense a worthier prince, the canker and decay were to be clearly revealed.



The early years of the new reign were marked by a number of events unconnected with each other but all contributing to the important incidents of the later period which must be described, although they cannot be separated. The name of Taoukwang, which Prince Meenning took on ascending the throne, means Reason's Light, and there were many who thought it was especially appropriate for a prince who was more qualified for a college than a palace. Most of the chroniclers of the period gave an unfavorable picture of the new ruler, who was described as "thin and toothless," and as "lank in figure, low of stature, with a haggard face, a reserved look, and a quiet exterior." He was superior to his external aspect, for it may be truly said that although he had to deal with new conditions he evinced under critical circumstances a dignity of demeanor and a certain royal patience which entitled him to the respect of his opponents.

Taoukwang began his reign in every way in a creditable manner. While professing in his proclamations the greatest admiration for his father, his first acts reversed his policy and aimed at undoing the mischief he had accomplished. He released all the political prisoners who had been consigned to jail by the suspicious fear of Kiaking, and many of the banished Manchu princes were allowed to return to Pekin. He made many public declarations of his intention to govern his people after a model and conscientious fashion and his subsequent acts showed that he was at least sincere in his intentions, if an accumulation of troubles prevented his attaining all the objects he set before himself when he first took the government in hand. Nothing showed his integrity more clearly than his restoration of the minister Sung to the favor and offices of which he had been dispossessed. The vicissitudes of fortune passed through by this official have been previously referred to, and his restoration to power was a practical proof of the new ruler's good resolutions, and meant more than all the virtuous platitudes expressed in vermilion edicts. Sung had gained a popularity that far exceeded that of the emperor, through the lavish way in which he distributed his wealth, consistently refusing to accumulate money for the benefit of himself or his family. But his independent spirit rendered him an unpleasant monitor for princes who were either negligent of their duty or sensitive of criticism, and even Taoukwang appears to have dreaded, in anticipation, the impartial and fearless criticism of the minister whom he restored to favor. Sung was employed in two of the highest possible posts, Viceroy of Pechihli and President of the Board of Censors, and until his death he succeeded in maintaining his position in face of his enemies, and notwithstanding his excessive candor. One of the first reforms instituted by the Emperor Taoukwang was to cut down the enormous palace expenses, which his father had allowed to increase to a high point, and to banish from the imperial city all persons who could not give some valid justification for their being allowed to remain. The troupes of actors and buffoons were expelled, and the harem was reduced to modest dimensions. Taoukwang declared himself to be a monogamist, and proclaimed his one wife empress. He also put a stop to the annual visits to Jehol and to the costly hunting establishment there, which entailed a great waste of public funds. The money thus saved was much wanted for various national requirements, and the sufferings caused by flood and famine were alleviated out of these palace savings. How great the national suffering had become was shown by the marked increase of crime, especially all forms of theft and the coining of false money, for which new and severe penalties were ordained without greatly mitigating the evil. During all these troubles and trials Taoukwang endeavored to play the part of a beneficent and merciful sovereign, tempering the severity of the laws by acts of clemency, and personally superintending every department of the administration. He seems thus to have gained a reputation among his subjects which he never lost, and the blame for any unpopular measures was always assigned to his ministers. But although he endeavored to play the part of an autocrat, there is every ground for saying that he failed to realize the character, and that he was swayed more than most rulers by the advice of his ministers. The four principal officials after Sung, whose death occurred at an early date after Taoukwang's accession, were Hengan, Elepoo, Keying, and Keshen.

The first ten years of Taoukwang's reign have been termed prosperous, because they have left so little to record, but this application of the theory that "the country is happy which has no history," does not seem borne out by such facts as have come to our knowledge. There is no doubt that there was a great amount of public suffering, and that the prosperity of the nation declined from the high point it had reached under Kiaking. Scarcity of food and want of work increased the growing discontent, which did not require even secret societies to give it point and expression, and as far as could be judged it was worse than when the Water-Lily Society inspired Kiaking with most apprehension. Kiaking, as has been observed, escaped the most serious consequences of his own acts. There was much popular discontent, but there was no open rebellion. Taoukwang had not been on the throne many years before he was brought face to face with

China - 40/83

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