Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

THE INEVITABLE RESULT. 377

testable on the basis of their superior military strength and knowledge; but it had no secure foundation in any portion of the country south of the Hoangho. Even before Kublai's death it was clear that it could not long endure; and when he disappeared, the inevitable result came clearly into view.

CHAPTER XXV.

THE DECLINE OF THE MONGOLS.

Owing to the prompt measures of Bayan, Prince Timour, Kublai's grandson, was proclaimed Emperor under the style of Chingtsong. He retained possession of the throne for thirteen years, during which he governed the country with moderation and with a palpable desire to win the sympathy of the people over whom he reigned. Hl health, and anxiety on the score of the claims of others to the throne, prevented his undertaking any extensive operations at a distance from the base of his power, and Timour's reign was the very opposite to his father's, in that it beheld no foreign wars or costly expeditions on the sea. The bent of his own inclination was further strengthened by a great famine which visited the northern provinces and produced a vast amount of suffering. The preservation of peace became a matter of sheer necessity. When the scarcity passed away, it left other evils in its train, and prominent among these were the exactions of bands of brigands who traversed the country with almost complete impunity. Timour's attention was repeatedly called to the subject, but all he could do availed but little.

When, however, these brigands attempted to combine, and sought to attain other objects than mere plunder, their formidable character vanished. In small parties they were to be dreaded, but as soon as they collected in the proportions of an army they came within the reach of the Mongol garrisons, and were speedily dispersed. The anxiety shown by Timour to relieve the necessities of his suffering subjects and to repress the exactions of tyrannical governors, obtained RELATIONS WITH BURMAH. 379

for him the sympathy and, to some extent, the support of many of the Chinese. The great Mongol chiefs and the princes of the House of Genghis had been allotted possessions throughout the Empire which they ruled in a semi-independent manner, and in their own districts they had assumed not only the right of raising taxes, but also the power of life and death. Timour abolished these privileges by decreeing that for the future no one could be sentenced to death without his express authority. All these measures tended to make his person, if not his race, more popular with the mass of the Chinese.

In many respects Timour had no choice save to rest contented with what had been accomplished. Kublai had done so much that there was very little left for his successor to perform. He often, indeed, received the formal expression of the results of previous triumphs; and among the most notable of these must be placed the embassy sent from Mien or Burmah, where a new king had ascended the throne. There had been some symptoms that this potentate had entertained thoughts of casting off the tie which bound him to the Mongols, but the arrival of the embassy with the tribute dispelled all apprehension on this score. Timour showed his prudence by issuing strict injunctions to the officers in Yunnan to refrain from molesting the Burmese frontier, and to content themselves with keeping the roads open and in a secure state for purposes of trade.

In the north, meanwhile, the rising under Kaidu still lingered on, without any important occurrence, it is true, yet threatening at any time to break out into serious proportions. The expense of maintaining an army in the field in these northern regions was very considerable, and even two victories won by a general named Changar over Kaidu's lieutenants were only an inadequate equivalent for it. In A.D. 1298, the effect of these victories was almost nullified by a disaster inflicted on the Imperial arms, when Timour's forces were surprised, and their commander, Kolikisse, the Emperor's son-in-law, preferred an honourable death to an ignominious surrender. The continuation of this struggle presents no features of interest, although it long remained a serious element of weakness at the root of the Mongol power. Even Kaidu's death from chagrin at a defeat, in A.D. 1301, failed to put an end to the strife.

In the south the Burmese question assumed a fresh turn in these later years. The rightful king had been dethroned and murdered by his brother, who usurped his place. The Mongol forces thereupon crossed over the frontier from Yunnan, and restored order by replacing in power the prince whom they had recognized in the treaty. Whilst engaged in this task, which did not prove very arduous, a more serious matter claimed attention in their rear. A minister had proposed to Timour that he might win a cheap renown by the conquest of the country of Papesifu, in the south-west of China; and in a weak moment Timour had listened to the representations of his flattering counsellor. An army of twenty thousand men was collected for the purpose of invading this remote territory, which possessed no other value or importance than in providing an easy way as alleged of enabling Timour to hand down his name to posterity as a conqueror.

The expedition revealed unexpected dangers. One-third of the force perished from the effects of the climate before it reached its destination, and the commander was compelled to exact so much in the southern provinces of Kweichow and Yunnan that the people rose up and endeavoured to cast off the Mongol yoke. The intended conquest of Papesifu resolved itself into the necessity of defending a territory that had been subjected more than half a century against the efforts of an insurgent population. Songlongtsi, a chief of the people in this quarter, and Chentsiei, the wife of a local official, who had both suffered greatly at the hands of the military commander, placed themselves at the head of the disaffected, and, combining with their forces large numbers of the Miaotse and other fierce tribes of the hills and woods of Kweichow, attacked the towns within their reach. Several of these were captured, and the Mongol general entrusted with the operation against Papesifu was on the point of succumbing to the attack of his more active and numerous enemy, when Koko, Timour's uncle, the governor of Yunnan, A RASH SCHEME. 381

arrived with fresh troops and rescued him from his imminent danger.

Encouraged by the example of the people of Kweichow, the tribes of Papesifu and the neighbouring districts assailed the rear-guard and generally hampered the movements of the expeditionary force returning from Burmah. In the numerous skirmishes which were fought, the Mongols suffered very serious losses. The whole country from Burmah and Laos to Annam and Tonquin rose up against the invaders; and Timour had to collect a large army from the garrisons of Szchuen, Houkwang and Yunnan for the purpose of restoring his disputed authority. Before these troops could reach the scene of war further reverses had been inflicted upon his arms; and the authority of Songlongtsi and Chentsiei practically displaced his own. Several months were occupied in the preparations for restoring the Imperial reputation, and when at last the army was ready to take the field they found that their opponents had retired to the hills, where they occupied strong positions. Owing to the skill of a commander named Lieou Koukia, they were expelled from them and pursued for a considerable distance. The restoration of Mongol influence in this quarter was assured by the capture and execution of Chentsiei and the murder of Songlongtsi. Deprived of their leaders, the people returned to their homes, and affairs speedily resumed their normal aspect. None the less it was felt that the origin of the whole trouble was to be found in the rash and unnecessary proposition to invade Papesifu—a scheme which had resulted in addition of neither territory nor reputation to Timour.

The remaining acts of Timour's reign call for no special comment . Storms, earthquakes, and violent tempests visited the land with unusual frequency; but the people were less affected by these phenomena because there was domestic tranquillity. The frontiers were guarded in force, and a satisfactory termination of the question in the north with the other sections of the Mongol family gave Timour good reason for resting satisfied with the aspect of affairs. In A.D. 1306 the Emperor was seized with a malady which, gradually becoming worse, had a fatal termination in the following

« AnteriorContinua »