Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Min-ning
MIN-ning 旻寧 (original ming Mien-ning 綿寧), Sept. 16, 1782–1850, Feb. 25, was the sixth emperor of the Ch'ing dynasty, who ruled for thirty years under the reign-title, Tao-kuang 道光 (1821–51). He was the second son of Emperor Jên-tsung (see under Yung-yen) and his mother was Empress Hsiao-shu (孝淑睿皇后, née Kitala 喜他臘氏, d. 1797). Min-ning was born when his grandfather, Emperor Kao-tsung, was still on the throne. It is reported that in 1791 he went with his grandfather on a hunting excursion and pleased the aged monarch by felling a deer with his bow and arrow. He showed inclination to study, and in 1799 was secretly chosen by his father as heir to the throne. In 1813, as in previous years, he accompanied his father to Jehol to spend the summer months there, but returned to Peking early in October while his father remained at Jehol. At this time a group of villagers near the capital—members of a sect called T'ien-li chiao (see under Na-yen-ch'êng) plotted a rebellion and on October 8, 1813, actually stormed the Palaces in Peking. The sect exercised great influence in Honan, Shantung, and Chihli and had among its adherents certain bannermen, officials, and eunuchs. On the above-named day these rebels, assisted by eunuchs, made their way into the Palace grounds. Minning, then studying inside the Palace, courageously went to the rescue and killed two attackers with a fowling-piece. The uprising was finally crushed by imperial troops brought in by Yung-hsüan [q. v.] and other princes. Emperor Jên-tsung, who was then on his way back to the capital, received the reports on October 9 and two days later, in an edict rewarding those who took part in putting down the revolt, made Min-ning a prince of the first degree with the designation Chih (智親王).
On September 2, 1820 Emperor Jên-tsung died at Jehol of a sudden illness. Min-ning, then at his father's bed-side, was at once proclaimed heir-apparent and on October 3, 1820 ascended the throne. His name, hitherto written Mien-ning (see above) was now changed to Min-ning. The first years of his rule were passed in tranquility. Realizing, however, the depleted state of the national finances, he early embarked on a policy of frugality which he continued throughout his reign. He reduced the expenses in the Palace and is reported himself to have worn old and patched garments. He terminated the practice of his ancestors in spending their summers at Jehol, being content to reside in Peking or at the Yüan-ming Yüan (see under Hung-li).
At first Min-ning attempted to continue the conquest of the Northwest which had been initiated by his predecessors. He put down with determination, and with only slight regard for expense, a rebellion (1825–28) of Muslims in Turkestan (see under Ch'ang-ling). Though irritated by sporadic invasions of Khokandians who aided the Muslims, he refrained from pursuing the war farther west and bribed Khokand to accept peace. Perhaps he became disgusted with empty military victories which cost much and brought no returns. After some display of military power in connection with the capture of the rebel leader, Jehangir (see under Ch'ang-ling), Min-ning turned his attention to internal affairs. He admonished the officials in charge of Yellow River conservancy to economize, but even the routine repairs on the dikes cost annually millions of taels, and much of this went into the hands of corrupt officials. Yet the offenders could not be removed without danger of increasing the flood disasters. On the other hand, continuance of those officials merely postponed the final catastrophe of 1855 when the Yellow River swept north of the Shantung promontory. Minning foresaw these flood disasters but was unable to decide upon a plan that would avert them and at the same time would not be too costly. One fact that confused the situation was the necessity for supplying water to the Grand Canal in order to facilitate the transport of tribute rice from the south. In 1825 an attempt was made to use the sea route, but was discontinued, probably because of imminent unrest among the hundreds of thousands of people who depended on the Grand Canal for a livelihood. Min-ning had been trained to cope with such matters only by emulating examples of earlier times and could command neither the technique nor the courage to embark on policies that would dispossess many people and would cost large sums. Moreover, his treasury had been too heavily drained by the war in Turkestan to stand such strains. In order to increase revenues he tried to reform the monopoly on salt and in this he was partially successful (see under T'ao Chu).
Except in the salt administration, Min-ning attempted no financial reforms. In 1835 the Board of Revenue reported for the first time a population above four hundred million. But with no increase in national income, such a population could survive only with lower standards of living. In the meantime the increased import of opium resulted in the export and shortage of silver. Consequently commodity prices rose and living became more difficult for the masses. It was thus for economic reasons as well as for the evil effects of opium on the morals of the nation that Min-ning decided to prohibit the use of that drug and to prevent its import. Hence in 1838 he sent Lin Tsê-hsü [q. v.] to Canton to stop the trade in that commodity. The Western merchants who engaged in the opium trade were outraged at the policies which Lin Tsê-hsü employed to suppress it and as a result the Anglo-Chinese war of 1839–42 broke out. In his conduct of the war Min-ning displayed his weaknesses—indecision, ignorance, and miserliness. From early in 1839 to July 1840 he approved the policy of Lin Tsê-hsü in suppressing the opium trade and in hectoring the English. But when the British fleet took Tinghai and came to Taku he became alarmed and was persuaded by Ch'i-shan [q. v.] to make peace. Early in 1841, after the British had taken two forts near Canton, Min-ning finally decided to make war. He ignored Ch'i-shan's peace agreement at Chuenpi and condemned I-li-pu [q. v.] for his failure to attack the English at Tinghai. I-shan [q. v.] and other generals were sent to Canton and Yü-ch'ien [q. v.] was dispatched to guard Chekiang. While the war was going on at Canton (1841) Min-ning actually ordered a reduction of troops in Chekiang, probably to save expenses (see under Yü-ch'ien). The indemnity paid at Canton (see under I-shan) did not stop the war which now extended to Amoy and to the Chekiang coast. The emperor decided once more to fight it out, and with that in view sent I-ching [q. v.] to Chekiang. As this general, too, proved unable to resist the invaders Minning wavered between war and peace until peace was finally concluded by Ch'i-ying [q. v.] at Nanking in 1842. The indemnity which was now to be paid he refused to defray from central government funds but ordered Ch'i-ying to pay it out of the provincial treasuries, as if the peace negotiators were solely responsible for the terms of the treaty. The main cause of the war, the prohibition of opium, was by this time almost forgotten.
After the war Min-ning again turned his attention to the treasury. In 1843 it was found that the bullion in the vaults of the Board of Revenue was short nearly ten million taels. Min-ning then ordered all the officials who had been connected with the vault in the past forty-three years to make up the shortage. In an effort to economize, official salaries were reduced. In 1848 a general accounting of the provincial treasuries was ordered, which affected yet more officials and their families. The Grand Canal was by 1849 impassable, and transport of tribute rice by the sea route was undertaken—a measure that threw tens of thousands of Canal boatmen into unemployment. Meanwhile ominous local unrest in Yunnan, Hunan, and Kwangsi was growing, paving the way for the great upheaval known as the Taiping Rebellion (see under Hung Hsiu-ch'üan). Min-ning did not live to see it; he died early in 1850 in the Yüan-ming Yüan, leaving to his successor, his fourth son, I-chu [q. v.], a crumbling empire, a depleted treasury and four hundred million subjects in a state of unrest. He was given the temple name, Hsüan-tsung 宣宗 and the posthumous name Ch'êng Huang-ti 成皇帝. His tomb was named Mu-ling 慕陵.
Despite his failings Min-ning had certain amiable characteristics. With most of his officials he acted as their friend and patron rather than their ruler. He was generally true to his friends, and trusted to the end his favorites such as Ts'ao Chên-yung and Mu-chang-a [qq. v.]. Even to Ch'i-ying, denounced by many as a traitor, Min-ning remained loyal. His reign might have been a quiet and prosperous one had China been permitted to continue in her accustomed isolation, undistracted by Western contacts. But it was the fate of Min-ning to be the first Emperor of China to be humiliated by a Western power. The situation demanded a man of great talents, of creative imagination, and with sufficient courage to experiment in new ways of government. That Min-ning was aware of his shortcomings is evidenced by the fact that in his will he ordered that no tablet lauding his achievements be erected at his tomb—he did not wish to provoke yet more criticism from future generations. He also ordered in his will that after his death all his garments, with the exception of a few, should be distributed among his courtiers. It had previously been the practice to preserve the vestments of deceased Emperors in sealed chests.
Min-ning was well-versed in Chinese literature. His literary works, written before he became Emperor, were collected in 1822 under the title, 養正書屋全集定本 Yang-chêng shu-wu ch'üan-chi ting-pên, 40 chüan, printed in 1824. His poems written from 1821 to 1828 were printed in 1830, under the title (宣宗) 御製詩初集 (Hsüan-tsung) yü-chih shih, ch'u-chi, 24 chüan. A collection of his prose, Hsüan-tsung yü-chih wên, (文) ch'u-chi, 10 chüan, was printed in 1831. Both works were reprinted later. His unpublished writings were edited and printed in 1850 under the title, Hsüan-tsung yu-chih shih wên yu (餘) chi, 18 chüan. His life and times were recorded in the Hsüan-tsung Ch'êng Huang-ti shih-lu (實錄), 476 + 4 chüan, and his edicts were edited as Hsüan-tsung Ch'êng Huang-ti shêng-hsün (聖訓), 130 chüan. Both were completed in 1856.
Min-ning had nine sons and ten daughters. Two of his sons died young. Of the remaining seven, the most notable were: the fourth, I-chu, who inherited the throne; the fifth, I-tsung [q. v.], whose sons nearly wrecked the empire by sponsoring the Boxers; the sixth, I-hsin [q. v.], the famous Prince Kung who conducted foreign affairs for nearly thirty years; and the seventh, I-huan [q. v.], father of Emperor Tê-tsung (see under Tsai-t'ien). Min-ning's eighth son, I-ho 奕詥 (posthumous name 端, 1844–1868), was made (in 1850) a prince of the second degree with the designation, Chung (鍾郡王), (see under I-hsin and I-huan). Min-ning's ninth son, I-hui 奕譓 (posthumous name 敬, 1845–1877), was also made in 1850 a prince of the second degree, with the designation, Fu (孚郡王). I-hui's adopted grandson, P'u-chin 溥伒 ( 雪齋), a grandson of I-tsung, is a famous calligrapher and painter. One of Min-ning's daughters married Duke Ching-shou (see under Ming-jui).
[1/chüan 17–19; 1/227/9a; Tung-hua lu, Tao-kuang; Ch'in-ting P'ing-ting chiao-fei chi-lüeh (see under Ying-ho); Ch'ing-ch'ao yeh-shih ta-kuan (see bibl. under Li Hung-tsao) 1/62–4; Gutzlaff, Charles, The Life of Taou-Kwang (1852).]