Imatges de pàgina


of this state The conquest of Tonquin had not indeed been attended with much difficulty, but its retention and administration had been only effected at the cost of a great effort. There was nothing in its position to repay the bloodshed it entailed, and Suentsong was wise to relax his hold upon it at the first opportunity and with the least affront to his personal dignity.

The tranquillity of Suentsong's life was no more disturbed by foreign wars, and the internal affairs of his country continued prosperous and raised no ground for anxiety. But in one respect he shocked the national sentiment, although he appears to have been led to do so by the desire of considering the necessities of the state. Shortly after his accession, he had proclaimed his principal and at that time favourite wife Empress, but time went on without his having an heir. This naturally caused considerable disappointment to a monarch desirous of retaining the throne in his own immediate descendants, and when one of his other wives presented him with a son the Empress's fall in his affections was assured. The child was proclaimed Heir Apparent with all the solemnity due to the auspicious occasion, and his mother was elevated to the rank of Empress, from which rank the Emperor's first wife was deposed. This unusual step, contrary to established rules, was received with murmurs on the part of the people, but the Emperor would not be diverted from his path. He might, perhaps, have been less determined on the subject had he known that the boy was not his. A substituted child, if we may accept the authority of the Emperor Keen Lung, was thus put in the place of the heir to the Chinese Empire.

Suentsong seems to have varied the monotony of reigning by periodical expeditions into the region north of China, which partook of the double character of the chase and the foray. During these he succeeded in inflicting some punishment upon the nomad tribes, and exhibited capacity in the conduct of irregular warfare by the manner in which he surprised the scattered forces of his opponent. A reign of assured internal peace and much national prosperity was brought suddenly to a conclusion in 1435. Suentsong showed during his reign of ten years the possession of many of the kingly virtues, and during his leisure hours he cultivated the Muses with attention and success. This amiable prince left the throne to the son whose doubtful birth he had hailed with such delight eight years before.

As Yngtsong, the new Emperor, was only a child of eight years of age, it was necessary that some one should assume the active responsibility of authority during his tender years; and, as is usual under such circumstances, the opportunity was afforded the princesses of the reigning family to put themselves forward and assert their rights in the matter. The strongest willed and the most influential among them did not, however, prove to be the wife who had successfully imposed upon the late Emperor, and who had thereby obtained the supreme position in the palace; but it turned out to be Changchi, Suentsong's mother. Her son was hardly dead when she seized the reins of power, and, proclaiming herself Regent, gained over the adherence of the most influential of the ministers by taking them into her confidence and by forming them into a council. This new governing body consisted of five members, who acted in co-operation with the Empress Regent. They possessed their offices, however, by her favour, and they appear to have been as little able to resist the tact of her advances as to oppose the schemes and policy which she propounded. They served as a useful screen for her ambition, and in bidding her grandson follow their example and accept their advice, she knew she was really directing him so as to best promote her own ends.

Her desire to exercise the authority of ruler being thus easily attained and gratified, it was only natural that she should look about to discern what persons there were who might threaten her undisturbed tenure of the position she had usurped, and whom she might count her friends and whom her enemies. Among the latter, as she conceived, none was more formidable and more to be dreaded than the eunuch Wangchin, who had gained a great ascendency over the young Emperor Yngtsong; and with the promptitude of an unscrupulous mind she resolved to compass his death. Before the assembled ministers and in the presence of the whole BOUNDLESS INCAPACITY. 449

court, she denounced him as an enemy of the state, and as one whose crimes rendered him deserving of death. But the young Emperor implored that the life of his favourite might be spared, and all present supported what he asked as a personal favour. The Empress felt constrained to yield, but she warned Wangchin that on the next occasion he must expect no mercy. She little thought at the time that she would never again have so much as the inclination to decree his punishment .

The exact character of Wangchin's crime is not known, but probably he possessed no fault greater or more disastrous in its consequences than his incapacity. Having thus been marked out in a public manner as the enemy, and consequently as the object also of the Empress Regent's resentment, he set himself to the task, difficult though it was, of removing the insecurity of his position by ingratiating himself into her good graces. In this he succeeded beyond his hopes, and in a degree that might appear to be incredible, although we know how much a handsome face, a ready tongue, and a plausible address may accomplish. Within three years after the scene described, Wangchin had not only gained a seat on the council, but his influence was allpowerful with the Empress Regent. She, who had been his bitterest, indeed, so far as we may judge, his only foe, was now bis warmest friend and stanchest supporter. Without him nothing was done, and the Empress practically resigned to him the functions of authority.

The consequences of this diversion of the ruling power from the hands of the Empress and her council into those of this ambitious individual proved most disastrous and unfortunate, for his incapacity was boundless. Having displaced the experienced ministers of the Empire, he advanced to the front rank of the official service creatures of his own, but all bad to retain office by humouring his whims and obeying his commands. The administration of the country was carried on after a certain fashion without any evil consequences becoming apparent, but when Wangchin selected his favourites or his creatures for commands in the army he imperilled both his reputation and the national interests by inviting defeat. VOL. L a G

Even here his better fortune seemed at first likely to save him from the natural consequences of his impolicy, for a revolt in Yunnan was summarily repressed and the Emperor's authority promptly reasserted. But the natural consequences of human incapacity are not to be ultimately averted. They arise sooner or later; and their advent was not long deferred in the case of Wangchin.

Among the Mongols of the northern frontier there had at this time arisen some fresh sense of union, and Yesien, Prince of Chuning, who succeeded to his father's place and name about the time when all Wangchin's designs had apparently been crowned with success, was possessed with the ambition to renew the incursions into China that had formerly been the prerogative and practice of his race. The border governors soon reported that Yesien was actively engaged in military preparations, and that his emissaries and spies were exploring the frontier of the Empire for the purpose of ascertaining its weak places. But for the time Yesien took no active steps against the Chinese authorities, and duly sent the usual envoy and presents to the capital for the purpose of announcing his accession to the chiefship of his people. He also made the customary request to the Emperor for a Chinese princess as his wife. Yesien's moderation removed the apprehensions which his military preparations were beginning to arouse, and both Yngtsong and the more experienced of his officials were in favour of a gracious compliance with the requests of the Tartar prince. But to Wangchin the occasion appeared to be one not for arranging in a satisfactory manner a difficulty that might imperil the national interests, but for exalting his own position and for gratifying his personal vanity. Wangchin appropriated for himself the presents sent by the Tartar chief, and haughtily refused to entertain the request for a bride. The messengers returned to the camp of Yesien to inflame his indignation by the rejection of his overtures, and by the relation of their discourteous treatment .

The desert chieftain took this conduct on the part of the Chinese Government as an affront to his person, and as a slight upon his honour. According to the code of honour among his race, the insult thus publicly offered could only be TOO LARGE AN ARMY. 451

atoned for in blood; for the instincts natural to man raged, uncontrolled by the lessons of civilization, in the hearts of the children of these northern steppes. Yesien's reply to Wangchin was to collect his fighting men and to harry the border districts of the Empire. The boldness of his policy greatly disconcerted Wangchin and his advisers, for Yesien marched against the strongly fortified and strategically important town of Taitong in Shansi, and even proclaimed his intention of attacking Pekin.

Wangchin, alarmed at the storm which he had so heedlessly raised, called out all the troops stationed in the northern provinces, and he also compelled the courtiers to take up arms and join the active army in the field. Five hundred thousand men were assembled, and, to increase the confidence of the soldiers and to make victory doubly assured, as he thought, Wangchin insisted on the young Emperor placing himself at their head. But, as the event turned out, these extensive preparations and this presence of the sovereign contributed not to make a victory more signal and illustrious, but to render a defeat more crushing and ignominious.

The eunuch general was ill-able to direct the unwieldy machine which he had found it so easy in the Emperor's name to create, and, ignorant of the way in which it was necessary to provide for the requirements of so vast a body of men, his troops had not taken the field many days before they were reduced to extreme straits by the breaking-down of the transport and commissariat services. In face of an enterprising enemy this mismanagement soon produced the greatest confusion in the ranks of the Imperialists. Divided councils also presented themselves in the Cabinet to increase the disorder; but although many sought to expose the folly of Wangchin, and to cause his removal from office, yet he remained supreme in the affection of his Sovereign and in bis own effrontery.

Meantime, Yesien was actively employed in the endeavour to take the superior army of his opponent at a disadvantage, and at last the favourable opportunity offered itself when Wangchin pitched his camp in a false position at a place called Toumon. The error of the Chinese commander was

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