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A SINGULAR BIRTH. 497
Soodsu and Jiaho streams. The scene has been praised for its rugged beauty; and from the description of this remote valley, protected on three sides by water, and on the fourth by the heights of a lofty range, we can imagine that it was well adapted to be the cradle of a race of conquerors. In many respects it corresponded with the original home of the Mongols on the upper course of the Amour, but its two radical differences were that it was on a much smaller scale, and that it was close to the Chinese frontier. The valley of Hootooala was as much the object of the veneration and affection of the Manchus as that of the Onon had been of the Mongols.
In this particular district, which was surrounded by numerous others of similar character, there appeared as chief, about the middle of the fourteenth century, when Hongwou was busily engaged in his war with the Yuens, a man whose name has been handed down to us as Aisin Gioro. Aisin Gioro was to the Manchus all that Budantsar had been to the Mongols. He is said to have owed his birth to a singular and miraculous intervention of Providence. A magpie had dropped a red fruit into the lap of a maiden of the Niuche, and she having eaten of it conceived a son, who became Aisin Gioro. Calumnious writers have affirmed that this mythical hero was nothing more than a runaway Mongol, but at all events there is no question that he ruled as lord in the small and secluded valley of Hootooala. Five generations in descent from him came the old chief Huen, or, as his friends more boastfully called him, the Emperor Chintsu, and during Wanleh's life he ruled over the same territory, of which the dimensions may be inferred from the fact that its length did not exeeed twelve miles. This state preserved amicable relations with the Chinese, who did not exact any tribute from it, and who allowed its inhabitants full and free commercial intercourse during the time of the fair or market held at Neuchang.
In the year 1559 an heir was born to the son of this chief
Huen, whose name was destined to rise high on the list
of great conquerors as Noorhacha Great anticipations were
formed as to the glorious future in store for this boy. His
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personal appearance was remarkable, his strength enormous, and his determination of character attracted attention from an early age. When he was nineteen, his step-mother gave him a small sum of money and sent him out into the world to gain his fortune, but her sympathy having been won over by his exceptional talent, she speedily repented of her harshness. She wished him to return to her house, or at the least to accept further assistance; but he resolutely refused to avail himself in any way of her aid.
Feuds existed among these Manchu clans, and contests between them were far from infrequent. But it was not until the close of the sixteenth century that this inter-tribal strife attracted the attention of the Chinese, and then apparently it was as much in consequence of the importunity of one of the eombatants as from any interest taken in this trivial matter. About this period, too, the ambition to unite the scattered clans and to weld the Manchus, or more properly the Niuche, into a single confederacy began to take form in the minds of several of these petty chieftains; and we may feel sure from his subsequent acts that such schemes were not foreign to the mind of the young Noorhachu. Neither his youth nor his opportunities allowed him to take the lead in this enterprise, and, indeed, his first appearance on the scene of public affairs was as the opponent of the man who took the initiative in the national cause.
In 1583, a chief named Nikan Wailan, or Haida, who ruled over a small district south of Hootooala, induced the Chinese commander in Leaoutung to assist him in an attack upon one of his neighbours. The Chinese appear to have also had some grievance against the victim of this onslaught, and lent a small body of troops with the greater readiness for the purpose of his chastisement. The main object of their undertaking having been thus successfully performed, the Chinese soldiers would have been withdrawn, but that NikaD succeeded in persuading them to remain to assist him against another of his neighbours, whose overthrow he also meditated. Now it happened that this neighbouring chief had married the cousin of Noorhachu, and when the news of the approaching army of invasion reached Hootooala, the old chief Huen NOORHACHU. 499
and his son and heir, the father of Noorhachu, at once set off with such force as they could assemble to succour their kinsman the chief of Goolo. At first they showed a wish to merely convey their relative to a place of safety until the cloud on the affairs of Goolo had blown over; but the chief would not allow the removal of his wife, probably for fear that he would then lose the support of Huen and his companions. They all, therefore, remained together to defend the place against Nikan and the Chinese.
The latter did not dare attack the town when they found it prepared for a resolute and protracted defence, but they had recourse to an act of treachery to gain their end. Simulating a desire for a pacific arrangement, they enticed a large number of the garrison outside the walls, when they fell upon and massacred them all. Among the slain were Huen and his son. Nikan had thus far accomplished much towards the attainment of his object, and he flattered himself that he held ultimate success within his grasp. The brutal and cowardly murder of both his grandfather and father roused the indignation of Noorhachu to the highest point, and he swore to exact a bitter revenge for it from Nikan and also from the Chinese. Vengeance became the principal object of his life, and to the murder of his kinsmen must be attributed the origin of that danger which eventually cost Wanleh's successors their throne.
Nikan remained in possession of his first conquest, but Noorhachu was known to be making strenuous preparations to march against him in order to dispute the prize he had acquired by the aid of the Chinese. Noorhachu had already assumed the rights of the chiefship in his valley, and at his request the Chinese had restored the bodies of his father and grandfather for burial. Some compensation had also been allowed him by the Lcaoutung officials, who disclaimed the main responsibility for the slaughter of his parents; but Nikan still flourished on his crime, and the prominence of his position kept him in view as the mark of his rival's vengeance. Noorhachu's principal object now became to get Nikan into his power, either by force or by negotiation with the Chinese. He signally failed in his latter plan, and the Chinese authorities, who pinned their faith to the designing Nikan, not only ignored his requests, but created Nikan chief of all the Niuche districts. By this step Noorhachu was virtually stripped of his authority, and became one of the vassals of his hated rival. The measure of the Chinese was extreme, but its very boldness might have ensured success, had they provided the necessary force to secure its execution. Li Chingliang, the Governor of Leaoutung, who made this creation of a new potentate, could at first congratulate himself on the success of his experiment, for on the Imperial proclamation becoming known among the Niuche many of Noorhachu's own people left him and attached themselves to the side of Nikan. Noorhachu himself still stood haughtily aloof, and fixed in his resolve to slay his father's murderer.
The Chinese did not support their nominee with any degree of vigour, and Noorhachu continued to carry on his plans for securing the person of Nikan. So persistently did Noorhachu pursue him that Nikan did not feel safe from his attack even in the interior of his stockaded camp at Toolun. Several times he made his escape only by a precipitate retreat into Leaoutung, and the Chinese at last grew tired of supporting a man who was apparently unable to defend himself. In 1586, therefore, they handed him over to Noorhachu, who at once killed him. The success which thus marked his plans, and which attended his performance of a sacred duty, raised Noorhachu's reputation to a high point among his countrymen; while, on the other hand, the fluctuating policy of the Chinese tended to diminish theirs and to weaken their authority. Noorhachu was still a young man when he thus accomplished the first object of his lifeThere yet remained for him to attain the purpose for which Nikan had striven—the supremacy over a Niuche confederacy.
His first care was to establish his place of residence at a spot well situated in the plain where water was abundant, and, having selected the site of his capital, he surrounded it with a triple wall. He also drew up a code of regulations adapted by their simplicity to the requirements and intelligence of his subjects; and he devoted all his leisure to the disciplining of A HOSTILE CONFEDERACY. 501
his small army. With the Chinese he renewed the amicable arrangements that had long been in force, and accepted at their hands the titles and money gifts which the Leaoutung officials were willing, and indeed eager, to bestow upon him. While he thus secured the neutrality of the Imperial governors, he resolutely pursued his schemes for uniting the clans of the southern Niuche under his sway. In this he encountered less difficulty than might have been thought possible, but his triumph over Nikan had produced a far greater effect than the real extent of that victory justified. In 1591 he began the second portion of his career by the annexation of the Yalookiang district, which, suddenly attacked, offered little or no resistance to his arms.
The success which attended this act of spoliation roused the apprehension of all Noorhachu's neighbours. Up to this they had passed their time in rivalries which led to petty wars, barren of result; but Noorhachu's well-prepared and vigorous measures were evidently directed towards the attainment of some higher object than the gratification of a feud. These measures constituted, therefore, a common danger to all the other chiefs. When there went forth a voice among the common folk of Manchuria that Noorhachu was a wise and valiant ruler who gave his followers a share in the benefits of his own elevation, there also passed through the courts or camps of the other chiefs of the Niuche the fear that this energetic chief, with his new-fangled ideas, aimed at their annihilation. What had been a vague apprehension or a mere suspicion before the seizure of Yalookiang became a settled fear and a complete conviction after that event.
Seven of the neighbouring princes combined and declared war upon Noorhachu. Thirty thousand Niuche and Mongols invaded his territory, and threatened to upset all the young chiefs plans and calculations by his conclusive overthrow. Noorhachu was not himself appalled at the greatness of the approaching storm, but his followers and people had less faith in their leader's capability to repel the invaders. In this crisis of his fortunes, the care which he had bestowed on his fighting force stood him in good stead, for in each man who followed his banner he possessed a faithful and well-trained