Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Ho-shên

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3639253Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period, Volume 1 — Ho-shênKnight Biggerstaff

HO-shên 和珅 (T. 致齋), 1750–1799, Feb. 22, was the son of Ch'ang-pao 常保 of the Niuhuru clan and the Manchu Plain Red Banner, who was an obscure deputy lieutenant-general holding an hereditary Ch'ing-ch'ê tu-yü of the third class. His mother was a daughter of Ying-lien 英廉 (T. 夢堂, 1707–1783) who was a Grand Secretary from 1776 to 1783. Ho-shên attended the school for bannermen and passed the examination for the hsiu-ts'ai degree. In 1769 he inherited his father's Ch'ing-ch'ê tu-yü and in 1772 was made an Imperial Bodyguard of the third class. Three years later he was stationed as a guard at the Ch'ien-ch'ing Gate (乾清門) and within a month his spectacular rise to power began.

Several stories have come down explaining the hold which Ho-shên secured and held over Emperor Kao-tsung during the last two decades of that monarch's life, but none can be substantiated, and it seems unlikely that the relationship between the two can ever be adequately explained. We know that the emperor was sixty-five years of age when he noticed Ho-shên for the first time. We know, too, that Ho-shên was handsome, affable, self-possessed and exceedingly clever with his tongue, and that he held the emperor's complete confidence from the end of 1775 until the emperor's death (1799).

Early in 1776 Ho-shên was made a guard of the Imperial Ante-chamber and a deputy lieutenant general of the Manchu Plain Blue Banner, the latter involving an elevation in official rank from the fifth to the second grade. He was also honored by being promoted from membership in his original Banner to that in the much more distinguished Plain Yellow Banner. Two months later he was made a junior vice-president of the Board of Revenue, in another two months he was appointed a Grand Councilor, and a month later he was made a Minister of the Imperial Household. Early in 1777, when twenty-eight (sui), he was honored by being allowed to ride horseback in the Forbidden City, a privilege ordinarily reserved for the highest ministers of the Empire, and for them only when they had become too old to walk the long distance between the outer and inner gates of the Palace. Later in the same year he was made concurrently general commandant of the Peking Gendarmerie, and in 1778 was appointed superintendent of the Customs and Octroi at the Ch'ung-wên Gate, Peking, a lucrative post ordinarily granted for a period of only one year, but which Ho-shên managed to hold for eight years.

In 1780 Ho-shên was sent to Yunnan to investigate the charge of corruption lodged against the governor-general, Li Shih-yao [q. v.]. He substantiated the charge and caused Li's removal. In addition to carrying out his primary duties, he made a careful investigation of economic matters and border relations and sent in a series of statesman-like memorials in which various problems were discussed and recommendations made. During his absence he was appointed a president of the Board of Revenue and shortly after his return was made lieutenant general of the Manchu Bordered Blue Banner. His son was given the name Fêng-shen-yin-tê 豐紳殷德 (T. 天爵, H. 潤圃, 1771–1810), by the emperor and was betrothed (1780) to the emperor's youngest and favorite daughter, the Tenth Princess, Ho-hsiao (和孝公主, 1775–1823). The marriage took place early in 1790. Likewise in 1780 Ho-shên was made one of the directors-general for the compilation of the Imperial Library, Ssŭ-k'u ch'üan-shu (see under Chi Yün). He also served as a director-general of many literary projects of his time. In 1781 he was sent to Kansu to help put down a local Mohammedan rebellion (see under A-kuei), but so incompetent did he prove to be in military affairs that he was promptly recalled to the capital.

Established as he was in the complete confidence of the emperor, Ho-shên's power was very great, making it possible for him to cause the advancement or ruin of officials almost at will. Taking advantage of his position, he soon placed his own henchmen in many of the key positions in the Empire. Through these officials, and also through other officials who dared not refuse his demands, he exacted untold wealth from the people who were helpless in the face of the widespread corruption which flourished under his aegis. Almost from the beginning his position was untouchable, and even such important and honorable ministers as A-kuei [q. v.] dared not bring charges against him for fear that his hold over the emperor was great enough to enable him to crush them if they opposed him too openly. In 1782, however, a daring censor, Ch'ien Fêng [q. v.], brought charges of corruption against Kuo-t'ai and Yü I-chien (see under Ch'ien Fêng), Governor and Financial Commissioner respectively of Shantung, both of whom were Ho-shên's protégés. Ho-shên did everything in his power to protect his henchmen, but Liu Yung [q. v.] and Ch'ien Fêng, who with Ho-shên were sent to investigate the charges, so conclusively proved their guilt that Kuo-t'ai and Yü were promptly ordered to commit suicide while in prison. Although Ho-shên was known by the emperor to have been implicated and was known to have made great efforts to protect the criminals, he was not, so far as we know, even reprimanded. In fact, within a very few months he was further honored by being given the title of Grand Guardian of the Heir Apparent.

In 1784, after the successful conclusion of a campaign against Mohammedan rebels in Kansu (see under Fu-k'ang-an) Ho-shên, as a high Peking official who was indirectly connected with the campaign, was rewarded by being made a president of the Board of Civil Office, an assistant Grand Secretary, and a First Class Baron. He remained in control of the important and lucrative Board of Revenue and the Board of Civil Office as long as Emperor Kao-tsung lived. In 1786 he was appointed a Grand Secretary and in 1788, at the close of the Taiwan rebellion (see under Fu-k'ang-an), he was elevated to a third class earldom with the designation Chung-hsiang (忠襄伯). In 1798, just a few months before his fall, he attained a long-coveted dukedom. Besides the various positions already mentioned, he held many other offices concurrently—as many as twenty at one time being recorded.

Even under ordinary circumstances Ho-shên's power would have been cumulative because of his high position, but the normal tendency was greatly accelerated as a consequence of the increasing senility of the emperor. While it is true that the prestige of such honest men as A-kuei and Liu Yung was so great that Ho-shên was unable to cause their removal from office, still they were not influential enough to curb his activities. He placed all of his own followers in office, and corrupted the vast majority of others in the official hierarchy by threatening to have them cashiered unless they complied with his demands. In this connection it is significant that his senior, A-kuei, was frequently away from Peking on various missions, thus leaving Ho-shên free to draw up imperial decrees and other documents. The administration went from bad to worse during the last few years of the Ch'ien-lung period, but the state of affairs was even more scandalous in the first years of the Chia-ch'ing period during which Emperor Jên-tsung was allowed to have no part in the conduct of affairs of state, control and actual administration of the government remaining entirely in the hands of Emperor Kao-tsung, or rather in the hands of the man who dominated him—Ho-shên.

During the last few years of the life of Emperor Kao-tsung, a sordid military campaign was carried on in Central and Western China against the impoverished people who, crushed by the exactions of their local officials (who in turn were being squeezed to meet the demands of the insatiable Ho-shên) were finally driven in desperation to revolt. Taking advantage of this opportunity to benefit themselves, Ho-shên and several of his friends, among them Fu-k'ang-an, Ho-lin, and Sun Shih-i [qq. v.], prolonged the campaign over a number of years, spending vast sums of money on themselves while reporting that the funds had gone to meet military expenses, and from time to time ruthlessly slaughtering thousands of harmless country people in order to report great victories. High honors were lavishly bestowed upon the "victorious" commanders and the high metropolitan officials who "managed" the campaign from the capital, but the struggle dragged on, and it was not until after the death of Emperor Kao-tsung and the cashiering of the corrupt officials in the government and the army who had been responsible for the scandalous conduct of the campaign, that it was finally brought to a successful conclusion (see under Ê-lê-têng-pao).

On February 7, 1799 Emperor Kao-tsung died, and the young emperor who had not been allowed to exercise his imperial power during the lifetime of his father immediately took steps to rectify the disgraceful situation which had developed during the two preceding decades. The three corrupt generals mentioned above had already died during the campaign; Ho-shên, however, was promptly arrested and although out of respect to the memory of his master he was permitted to take his own life, his huge accumulation of silver, gold, precious stones, and other forms of wealth, was confiscated. He left a volume of poems, entitled 嘉樂堂詩集 Chia-lo t'ang shih-chi in which the last poem was written while in prison. His son, Feng-shên-yin-tê, because of his marriage to the emperor's half-sister, was not executed, but all his own and his father's ranks and honors were taken from him except the Ch'ing-ch'ê tu-yü which had been inherited from his grandfather. In later years he was, however, given high offices and ranks, and died with the rank of a duke. He did not have a son and the hereditary rank of Ch'ing-ch'ê tu-yü passed to his uncle's branch of the family (see under Ho-lin). He likewise left a collection of verse entitled 延禧堂詩鈔 Yen-hsi t'ang shih-ch'ao, printed in 1811.

The Ch'ing dynasty, which reached its peak during the Ch'ien-lung period, slowly but steadily declined thereafter—the disintegration unquestionably beginning during the period when Ho-shên was in power. Though it is probably more true to say that Ho-shên's activities were made possible by the weakening of the power of the dynasty than that the activities of Ho-shên undermined the Manchu rule, still there can be no doubt that the corruption and nepotism which marked the period of his ascendency had a permanently debilitating effect upon the government. As to Ho-shên himself, there is no question of his intelligence and ability; but he was so obsessed by greed for wealth and power that all of his talents were subordinated to their acquisition.

From beginning to end the reception of Earl Macartney's Embassy to China in 1793 was in the hands of Ho-shên. When the latter was taken ill at Jehol with rheumatism, the Embassy's physician, Dr. Gillan, ministered to him.

[1/325/2b; 2/35/1a; 33/34/1a, 50/4b; Hung, William, Ho Shen and Shu-ch'un-yuan, Peiping, January, 1934 (with portrait); Hung, William, 和珅及淑春園史料劄記 Ho-shên chi Shu-ch'un-yüan shih-liao cha-chi, in 燕京大學校刊 Yenching ta-hsüeh hsiao-k'an, VI, No. 22 (Feb. 23, 1934); 嘉慶誅和珅案 Chia-ch'ing chu Ho-shên an, in 史料旬刊 Shih-liao hsün-k'an, Nos. 6, 7, 8, and 14; Chao-lien [q. v.], Hsiao-t'ing tsa-lu and Hsü-lu, passim; 八旗氏族通譜 Pa-ch'i shih-tsu t'ung-p'u 5/14b; 清皇室四譜 Ch'ing Huang-shih ssŭ-p'u 4/18a; Staunton, George, Embassy to the Emperor of China (1797), pp. 342, 352–58.]

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