China and the Manchus/Chapter IV

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The Emperor Shun Chih was succeeded by his third son, known by his year-title as Kʽang Hsi (lasting prosperity), who was only eight years old at the time of his accession. Twelve years later the new monarch took up the reins of government, and soon began to make his influence felt. Fairly tall and well proportioned, he loved all manly exercises, and devoted three months annually to hunting. Large bright eyes lighted up his face, which was pitted with smallpox. Contemporary observers vie with one another in praising his wit, understanding, and liberality of mind. He was not twenty when the three feudatory princes broke into open rebellion. Of these, Wu San-kuei, the virtual founder of the dynasty, who had been appointed in 1659, was the chief; and it was at his instigation that his colleagues who ruled in Kuangtung and Fuhkien determined to throw off their allegiance and set up independent sovereignties. Within a few months, Kʽang Hsi found vast portions of the empire slipping from his grasp; but though at one moment only the provinces of Chihli, Honan, and Shantung were left to him in peaceable possession, he never lost heart. The resources of Wu San-kuei were ultimately found to be insufficient for the struggle, the issue of which was determined partly by his death in 1678, and partly by the powerful artillery manufactured for the Imperial forces by the Jesuit missionaries, who were then in high favour at court. The capital city of Yünnan was taken by assault in 1681, upon which Wu San-kuei's son committed suicide, and the rebellion collapsed. From that date the Manchus decided that there should be no more "princes" among their Chinese subjects, and the rule has been observed until the present day.

Under the Emperor Kʽang Hsi a re-arrangement of the empire was planned and carried out; that is to say, whereas during the Mongol dynasty there had only been thirteen provinces, increased to fifteen by the Mings, there was now a further increase of three, thus constituting what is known as the Eighteen Provinces, or China Proper. To effect this, the old province of Kiangnan was divided into the modern Anhui and Kiangsu; Kansuh was carved out of Shensi; and Hukuang was separated into Hupeh and Hunan. Formosa, which was finally reconquered in 1683, was made part of the province of Fuhkien, and so remained for some two hundred years, when it was erected into an independent province. Thus, for a time China Proper consisted of nineteen provinces, until the more familiar "eighteen" was recently restored by the transfer of Formosa to Japan. In addition to the above, the eastern territory, originally inhabited by the Manchus, was divided into the three provinces already mentioned, all of which were at first organized upon a purely military basis; but of late years the administration of the southernmost province, in which stands Mukden, the Manchu capital, has been brought more into line with that of China Proper.

In 1677 the East India Company established an agency at Amoy, which, though withdrawn in 1681, was re-established in 1685. The first treaty with Russia was negotiated in 1679, but less than ten years later a further treaty was found necessary, under which it was agreed that the river Amur was to be the boundary-line between the two dominions, the Russians giving up possession of both banks. Thus Ya-kʽo-sa, or Albazin, was ceded by Russia to China, and some of the inhabitants, who appear to have been either pure Russians or half-castes, were sent as prisoners to Peking, where religious instruction was provided for them according to the rules of the orthodox church. All the descendants of these Albazins probably perished in the destruction of the Russian college during the siege of the Legations in 1900. Punitive expeditions against Galdan and Arabtan carried the frontiers of the empire to the borders of Khokand and Badakshan, and to the confines of Tibet.

Galdan was a khan of the Kalmucks, who succeeded in establishing his rule through nearly the whole of Turkestan, after attaining his position by the murder of a brother. He attacked the Khalkas, and thus incurred the resentment of Kʽang Hsi, whose subjects they were; and in order to strengthen his power, he applied to the Dalai Lama for ordination, but was refused. He then feigned conversion to Mahometanism, though without attracting Mahometan sympathies. In 1689 the Emperor in person led an army against him, crossing the deadly desert of Gobi for this purpose. Finally, after a further expedition and a decisive defeat in 1693, Galdan became a fugitive, and died three years afterwards. He was succeeded as khan by his nephew, Arabtan, who soon took up the offensive against China. He invaded Tibet, and pillaged the monasteries as far as Lhasa; but was ultimately driven back by a Manchu army to Sungaria, where he was murdered in 1727.

The question of the calendar early attracted attention under the reign of Kʽang Hsi. After the capture of Peking in 1644, the Manchus had employed the Jesuit Father, Schaal, upon the Astronomical Board, an appointment which, owing to the jealousies aroused, very nearly cost him his life. What he taught was hardly superior to the astronomy then in vogue, which had been inherited from the Mongols, being nothing more than the old Ptolemaic system, already discarded in Europe. In 1669, a Flemish Jesuit Father from Courtrai, named Verbiest, was placed upon the Board, and was entrusted with the correction of the calendar according to more recent investigations.

Christianity was officially recognized in 1692, and an Imperial edict was issued ordering its toleration throughout the empire. The discovery of the Nestorian Tablet in 1625 had given a considerable impulse, in spite of its heretical associations, to Christian propagandism; and it was estimated that in 1627 there were no fewer than thirteen thousand converts, many of whom were highly placed officials, and even members of the Imperial family. An important question, however, now came to a head, and completely put an end to the hope that China under the Manchus might embrace the Roman Catholic faith. The question was this: May converts to Christianity continue the worship of ancestors? Ricci, the famous Jesuit, who died in 1610, and who is the only foreigner mentioned by name in the dynastic histories of China, was inclined to regard worship of ancestors more as a civil than a religious rite. He probably foresaw, as indeed time has shown, that ancestral worship would prove to be an insuperable obstacle to many inquirers, if they were called upon to discard it once and for all; at the same time, he must have known that an invocation to spirits, coupled with the hope of obtaining some benefit therefrom, is worship pure and simple, and cannot be explained away as an unmeaning ceremony.

Against the Jesuits in this matter were arrayed the Dominicans and Franciscans; and the two parties fought the question before several Popes, sometimes one side carrying its point, and sometimes the other. At length, in 1698, a fresh petition was forwarded by the Jesuit order in China, asking the Pope to sanction the practice of this rite by native Christians, and also praying that the Chinese language might be used in the celebration of mass. Kʽang Hsi supported the Jesuits in the view that ancestral worship was a harmless ceremony; but after much wrangling, and the dispatch of a Legate to the Manchu court, the Pope decided against the Jesuits and their Imperial ally. This was too much for the pride of Kʽang Hsi, and he forthwith declared that in future he would only allow facilities for preaching to those priests who shared his view. In 1716, an edict was issued, banishing all missionaries unless excepted as above. The Emperor had indeed been annoyed by another ecclesiastical squabble, on a minor scale of importance, which had been raging almost simultaneously around the choice of an appropriate Chinese term for God. The term approved, if not suggested, by Kʽang Hsi, and indisputably the right one, as shown by recent research, was set aside by the Pope in 1704 in favour of one which was supposed for a long time to have been coined for the purpose, but which had really been applied for many centuries previously to one of the eight spirits of ancient mythology.

In addition to his military campaign, Kʽang Hsi carried out several journeys of considerable length, and managed to see something of the empire beyond the walls of Peking. He climbed the famous mountain, Tʽai-shan, in Shantung, the summit of which had been reached in 219 B.C. by the famous First Emperor, burner of the books and part builder of the Great Wall, and where a century later another Emperor had instituted a mysterious worship of Heaven and Earth. The ascent of Tʽai-shan had been previously accomplished by only six Emperors in all, the last of whom went up in the year 1008; since Kʽang Hsi no further Imperial attempts have been made, so that his will close the list in connexion with the Manchu dynasty. It was on this occasion too that he visited the tomb of Confucius, also in Shantung.

The vagaries of the Yellow River, named "China's Sorrow" by a later Emperor, were always a source of great anxiety to Kʽang Hsi; so much so that he paid a personal visit to the scene, and went carefully into the various plans for keeping the waters to a given course. Besides causing frequently recurring floods, with immense loss of life and property, this river has a way of changing unexpectedly its bed; so lately as 1856, it turned off at right angles near the city of Kʽai-fêng, in Honan, and instead of emptying itself into the Yellow Sea about latitude 34°, found a new outlet in the Gulf of Peichili, latitude 38°.

Kʽang Hsi several times visited Hangchow, returning to Tientsin by the Grand Canal, a distance of six hundred and ninety miles. This canal, it will be remembered, was designed and executed under Kublai Khan in the thirteenth century, and helped to form an almost unbroken line of water communication between Peking and Canton. At Hangchow, during one visit, he held an examination of all the (so-called) B.A.'s and M.A.'s, especially to test their poetical skill; and he also did the same at Soochow and Nanking, taking the opportunity, while at Nanking, to visit the mausoleum of the founder of the Ming dynasty, who lies buried near by, and whose descendants had been displaced by the Manchus. Happily for Kʽang Hsi's complacency, the book of fate is hidden from Emperors, as well as from subjects,—

All but the page prescribed, their present state

and he was unable to foresee another visit paid to that mausoleum two hundred and seven years later, under very different conditions, to which we shall come in due course.

The census has always been an important institution in China. Without going back so far as the legendary golden age, the statistics of which have been invented by enthusiasts, we may accept unhesitatingly such records as we find subsequent to the Christian era, on the understanding that these returns are merely approximate. They could hardly be otherwise, inasmuch as the Chinese count families and not heads, roughly allowing five souls to each household. This plan yields a total of rather over fifty millions for the year A.D. 156, and one hundred and five millions for the fortieth year of the reign of Kʽang Hsi, 1701.

No record of this Emperor, however brief, could fail to notice the literary side of his character, and his extraordinary achievements in this direction. It is almost paradoxical, though absolutely true, that two Manchu Emperors, sprung from a race which but a few decades before had little thought for anything beyond war and the chase, and which had not even a written language of its own, should have conferred more benefits upon the student of literature than all the rest of China's Emperors put together. The literature in question is, of course, Chinese literature. Manchu was the court language, spoken as well as written, for many years after 1644, and down to quite recent times all official documents were in duplicate, one copy in Chinese and one in Manchu; but a Manchu literature can hardly be said to exist, beyond translations of all the most important Chinese works. The Manchu dynasty is an admirable illustration of the old story: conquerors taken captive by the conquered.

At this moment, the term "Kʽang Hsi" is daily on the lips of every student of the Chinese language, native or foreign, throughout the empire. This is due to the fact that the Emperor caused to be produced under his own personal superintendence, on a more extensive scale and a more systematic plan than any previous work of the kind, a lexicon of the Chinese language, containing over forty thousand characters, with numerous illustrative phrases chronologically arranged, the spelling of each character according to the method introduced by Buddhist teachers and first used in the third century, the tones, various readings, etc., etc., altogether a great work and still without a rival at the present day.

It would be tedious even to enumerate all the various literary undertakings conceived and carried out under the direction of Kʽang Hsi; but there are two works in particular which cannot be passed over. One of these is the huge illustrated encyclopædia in which everything which has ever been said upon each of a vast array of subjects is brought into a systematized book of reference, running to many hundred volumes, and being almost a complete library in itself. It was printed, after the death of Kʽang Hsi, from movable copper types. The other is, if anything, a still more extraordinary though not such a voluminous work. It is a concordance to all literature; not of words, but of phrases. A student meeting with an unfamiliar combination of characters can turn to its pages and find every passage given, in sufficient fullness, where the phrase in question has been used by poet, historian, or essayist.

The last years of Kʽang Hsi were beclouded by family troubles. For some kind of intrigue, in which magic played a prominent part, he had been compelled to degrade the Heir Apparent, and to appoint another son to the vacant post; but a year or two later, this son was found to be mentally deranged, and was placed under restraint. So things went on for several more years, the Emperor apparently unable to make up his mind as to the choice of a successor; and it was not until the last day of his life that he finally decided in favour of his fourth son. Dying in 1723, his reign had already extended beyond the Chinese cycle of sixty years, a feat which no Emperor of China, in historical times, had ever before achieved, but which was again to be accomplished, before the century was out, by his grandson.