China and the Manchus/Chapter III

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China and the Manchus by Herbert Allen Giles
Chapter III: Shun Chih



The back of the rebellion was now broken; but an alien race, called in to drive out the rebels, found themselves in command of the situation. Wu San-kuei had therefore no alternative but to acknowledge the Manchus definitely as the new rulers of China, and to obtain the best possible terms for his country. Ever since the defeat of Li by the combined forces of Chinese and Manchus, it had been perfectly well understood that the latter were to be supported in their bid for Imperial power, and the conditions under which the throne was to be transferred were as follows:—(1) No Chinese women were to be taken into the Imperial seraglio; (2) the Senior Classic at the great triennial examination, on the results of which successful candidates were drafted into the public service, was never to be a Manchu; (3) Chinese men were to adopt the Manchu dress, shaving the front part of the head and plaiting the back hair into a queue, but they were to be allowed burial in the costume of the Mings; (4) Chinese women were not to adopt the Manchu dress, nor to cease to compress their feet, in accordance with ancient custom.

Wu San-kuei was loaded with honours, among others with a triple-eyed peacock's feather, a decoration introduced, together with the "button" at the top of the hat, by the Manchus, and classed as single-, double-, and triple-eyed, according to merit. A few years later, his son married the sister of the Emperor; and a few years later still, he was appointed one of three feudatory princes, his rule extending over the huge provinces of Yünnan and Ssŭchʽuan. There we shall meet him again.

The new Emperor, the ninth son of Abkhai, best known by his year-title as Shun Chih (favourable sway), was a child of seven when he was placed upon the throne in 1644, under the regency of an uncle; and by the time he was twelve years old, the uncle had died, leaving him to his own resources. Before his early death, the regent had already done some excellent work on behalf of his nephew. He had curtailed the privileges of the eunuchs to such an extent that for a hundred and fifty years to come,—so long, in fact, as the empire was in the hands of wise rulers,—their malign influence was inappreciable in court circles and politics generally. He left Chinese officials in control of the civil administration, keeping closely to the lines of the system which had obtained under the previous dynasty; he did not hastily press for the universal adoption of Manchu costume; and he even caused sacrificial ceremonies to be performed at the mausolea of the Ming Emperors. One new rule of considerable importance seems to have been introduced by the Manchus, namely, that no official should be allowed to hold office within the boundaries of his own province. Ostensibly a check on corrupt practices, it is probable that this rule had a more far-reaching political purport. The members of the Han-lin College presented an address praying him (1) to prepare a list of all worthy men; (2) to search out such of these as might be in hiding; (3) to exterminate all rebels; (4) to proclaim an amnesty; (5) to establish peace; (6) to disband the army, and (7) to punish corrupt officials.

The advice conveyed in the second clause of the above was speedily acted upon, and a number of capable men were secured for the government service. At the same time, with a view to the full technical establishment of the dynasty, the Imperial ancestors were canonised, and an ancestral shrine was duly constituted. The general outlook would now appear to have been satisfactory from the point of view of Manchu interests; but from lack of means of communication, China had in those days almost the connotation of space infinite, and events of the highest importance, involving nothing less than the change of a dynasty, could be carried through in one portion of the empire before their imminence had been more than whispered in another. No sooner was Peking taken by the One-Eyed Rebel, than a number of officials fled southwards and took refuge in Nanking, where they set up a grandson of the last Emperor but one of the Ming Dynasty, who was now the rightful heir to the throne. The rapidly growing power of the Manchus had been lost sight of, if indeed it had ever been thoroughly realised, and it seemed quite natural that the representative of the House of Ming should be put forward to resist the rebels.

This monarch, however, was quite unequal to the fate which had befallen him; and, before long, both he himself and his capital were in the hands of the Manchus. Other claimants to the throne appeared in various places; notably, one at Hangchow and another at Foochow, each of whom looked upon the other as a usurper. The former was soon disposed of, but the latter gradually established his rule over a wide area, and for a long time kept the Manchus at bay, so hateful was the thought of an alien domination to the people of the province in question. Towards the close of 1646, he too had been captured, and the work of pacification went on, the penalty of death now being exacted in the case of officials who refused to shave the head and wear the queue. Two more Emperors, both of Imperial Ming blood, were next proclaimed in Canton, one of whom strangled himself on the advance of the Manchus, while the other disappeared. A large number of loyal officials, rather than shave the front part of the head and wear the Manchu queue, voluntarily shaved the whole head, and sought sanctuary in monasteries, where they joined the Buddhist priesthood.

One more early attempt to re-establish the Mings must be noticed. The fourth son of a grandson of the Ming Emperor Wan Li (died 1620) was in 1646 proclaimed Emperor at Nan-yang in Honan. For a number of years of bloody warfare he managed to hold out; but gradually he was forced to retire, first to Fuhkien and Kuangtung, and then into Kueichou and Yünnan, from which he was finally expelled by Wu San-kuei. He next fled to Burma, where in 1661 he was handed over to Wu San-kuei, who had followed in pursuit; and he finally strangled himself in the capital of Yünnan. He is said to have been a Christian, as also many of his adherents, in consequence of which, the Jesuit father, A. Koffler, bestowed upon him the title of the Constantine of China. In view of the general character for ferocity with which the Manchus are usually credited, it is pleasant to be able to record that when the official history of the Ming Dynasty came to be written, a Chinese scholar of the day, sitting on the historical commission, pleaded that three of the princes above mentioned, who were veritable scions of the Imperial stock, should be entered as "brave men" and not as "rebels," and that the Emperor, to whose reign we are now coming, graciously granted his request.

In the year 1661 Shun Chih, the first actual Emperor of the Chʽing dynasty, "became a guest on high." He does not rank as one of China's great monarchs, but his kindly character as a man, and his magnanimity as a ruler, were extolled by his contemporaries. He treated the Catholic missionaries with favour. The Dutch and Russian embassies to his court in 1656 found there envoys from the Great Mogul, from the Western Tartars, and from the Dalai Lama. China, in the days when her civilization towered above that of most countries on the globe, and when her strength commanded the respect of all nations, great and small, was quite accustomed to receive embassies from foreign parts; the first recorded instance being that of "An-tun" = Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, which reached China in A.D. 166. But because the tribute offered in this case contained no jewels, consisting merely of ivory, rhinoceros-horn, tortoise-shell, etc., which had been picked up in Annam, some have regarded it merely as a trading enterprise, and not really an embassy from the Roman Emperor; Chinese writers, on the other hand, suggest that the envoys sold the valuable jewels and bought a trumpery collection of tribute articles on the journey.

By the end of Shun Chih's reign, the Manchus, once a petty tribe of hardy bowmen, far beyond the outskirts of the empire, were in undoubted possession of all China, of Manchuria, of Korea, of most of Mongolia, and even of the island of Formosa. How this island, discovered by the Chinese only in 1430, became Manchu property, is a story not altogether without romance.

The leader of a large fleet of junks, traders or pirates as occasion served, known to the Portuguese of the day as Iquon, was compelled to place his services at the command of the last sovereign of the Ming dynasty, in whose cause he fought against the Manchu invaders along the coasts of Fuhkien and Kuangtung. In 1628 he tendered his submission to the Manchus, and for a time was well treated, and cleared the seas of other pirates. Gradually, however, he became too powerful, and it was deemed necessary to restrain him by force. He was finally induced to surrender to the Manchu general in Fuhkien; and having been made a prisoner, was sent to Peking, with two of his sons by a Japanese wife, together with other of his adherents, all of whom were executed upon arrival. Another son, familiar to foreigners under the name of Koxinga, a Portuguese corruption of his title, had remained behind with the fleet when his father surrendered, and he, determined to avenge his father's treacherous death, declared an implacable war against the Manchus. His piratical attacks on the coast of China had long been a terror to the inhabitants; to such an extent, indeed, that the populations of no fewer than eighty townships had been forced to remove inland. Then Formosa, upon which the Dutch had begun to form colonies in 1634, and where substantial portions of their forts are still to be seen, attracted his piratical eye. He attacked the Dutch, and succeeded in driving them out with great slaughter, thus possessing himself of the island; but gradually his followers began to drop off, in submission to the new dynasty, and at length he himself was reported to Peking as dead. In 1874, partly on the ground that he was really a supporter of the Ming dynasty and not a rebel, and partly on the ground that "he had founded in the midst of the waters a dominion which he had transmitted to his descendants, and which was by them surrendered to the Imperial sway,"—a memorial was presented to the throne, asking that his spirit might be canonized as the guardian angel of Formosa, and that a shrine might be built in his honour. The request was granted.

Consolidation of the empire thus won by the sword was carried out as follows. In addition to the large Manchu garrison at Peking, smaller garrisons were established at nine of the provincial capitals, and at ten other important points in the provinces. The Manchu commandant of each of the nine garrisons above mentioned, familiar to foreigners as the Tartar General, was so placed in order to act as a check upon the civil Governor or Viceroy, of whom he, strictly speaking, took precedence, though in practice their ranks have always been regarded as equal. With the empire at peace, the post of Tartar General has always been a sinecure, and altogether out of comparison with that of the Viceroy and his responsibilities; but in the case of a Viceroy suspected of disloyalty and collusion with rebels, the swift opportunity of the Tartar General was the great safeguard of the dynasty, further strengthened as he was by the regulation which gave to him the custody of the keys to the city gates. Those garrisons, the soldiers of which were accompanied by their wives and families, were from the first intended to be permanent institutions; and there until quite recently were to be found the descendants of the original drafts, not allowed to intermarry with their Chinese neighbours, but otherwise influenced to such an extent that their Manchu characteristics had almost entirely disappeared. In one direction the Manchus made a curious concession which, though entirely sentimental, was nevertheless well calculated to appeal to a proud though unconquered people. A rule was established under which every Manchu high official, when memorializing the throne, was to speak of himself to the Emperor as "your Majesty's slave," whereas the term accepted from every Chinese high official was simply "your Majesty's servant." During the early years of Manchu rule, proficiency in archery was as much insisted on as in the days of Edward III with us; and even down to a few years ago Manchu Bannermen, as they came to be called, might be seen everywhere diligently practising the art—actually one of the six fine arts of China—by the aid of which their ancestors had passed from the state of a petty tribal community to possession of the greatest empire in the world.

The term Bannerman, it may here be explained, is applied to all Manchus in reference to their organization under one or other of eight banners of different colour and design; besides which, there are also eight banners for Mongolians, and eight more for the descendants of those Chinese who sided with the Manchus against the Mings, and thus helped to establish the Great Pure dynasty.

One of the first cares to the authorities of a newly-established dynasty in China is to provide the country with a properly authorized Penal Code, and this has usually been accomplished by accepting as basis the code of the preceding rulers, and making such changes or modifications as may be demanded by the spirit of the times. It is generally understood that such was the method adopted under the first Manchu Emperor. The code of the Mings was carefully examined, its severities were softened, and various additions and alterations were made; the result being a legal instrument which has received almost unqualified admiration from eminent Western lawyers. It has, however, been stated that the true source of the Manchu code must be looked for in the code of the Tʽang dynasty (A.D. 618-905); possibly both codes were used. Within the compass of historical times, the country has never been without one, the first code having been drawn up by a distinguished statesman so far back as 525 B.C. In any case, at the beginning of the reign of Shun Chih a code was issued, which contained only certain fundamental and unalterable laws for the empire, with an Imperial preface, nominally from the hand of the Emperor himself. The next step was to supply any necessary additions and modifications; and as time went on these were further amended or enlarged by Imperial decrees, founded upon current events,—a process which has been going on down to the present day. The code therefore consists of two parts: (1) immutable laws more or less embodying great principles beyond the reach of revisions, and (2) a body of case-law which, since 1746, has been subject to revision every five years. With the publication of the Penal Code, the legal responsibilities of the new Emperor began and ended. There is not, and never has been, anything in China of the nature of civil law, beyond local custom and the application of common sense.

Towards the close of this reign, intercourse with China brought about an economic revolution in the West, especially in England, the importance of which it is difficult to realize sufficiently at this distant date. A new drink was put on the breakfast-table, destined to displace completely the quart of ale with which even Lady Jane Grey is said to have washed down her morning bacon. It is mentioned by Pepys, under the year 1660, as "tee (a China drink)," which he says he had never tasted before. Two centuries later, the export of tea from China had reached huge proportions, no less an amount than one hundred million lb. having been exported in one season from Foochow alone.