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Manchu attack. In face of this new discomfiture, some further victims had to be offered up for the satisfaction of the people, who were beginning to see in the Manchus no longer a marauding tribe of the frontier, but an invader occupying the threshold, and threatening the very existence of the empire. Tingbi, to whose wise counsel the nation might have owed a safe issue from its peril, but whose recommendations had been treated with indifference, was the first to feel the spleen of those who, in the safety of the capital, decreed what was right and wrong, what wise and foolish, in the command of armies in the field. The execution of Tingbi closed an honourable career, and it removed another of the few soldiers who might possibly have been a successful defender of the country. With Tingbi, who had kept Noorhachu at the height of his success for two years at bay, disappeared the only commander whose skill had given any promise of restoring the inequalities of the struggle ; but it is only a sorry satisfaction to remember that the eunuchs suffered in common with the nation, and that all their influence failed to save Tingbi's colleague from a fate similar to his own.
The Chinese lieutenants fared better than might have been anticipated after so crushing an overthrow in improvising a defence of that portion of the Great Wall which approaches most nearly to the sea, and of which the town of Shanhaikwan * may be taken as the central point. Nor were their efforts wholly confined to this object, for, finding that the Manchus were fully occupied in disposing of the large population in their new province, a Chinese officer, named Chungwan, threw himself into Ningyuen with a small band to reinforce the garrison of that place. The courage shown by Chungwan, and the all-providing care and energy of the new viceroy, Chungtsung, served to again arrest the advancing tide of
• Shanhaikwan, meaning “sea and mountain barrier," the most castern gate of the Great Wall. An interesting account of a journey in this quarter of China, from Tientsin to Moukden, will be found in Mr. George Fleming's “ Travels on Horseback in Mantchu Tartary," 1863 ; later information on the same subject is contained in Captain Gill's ** River of Golden Sand," 1880, vol. i., and also in Mr. H. E. M. James's * Long White Mountain,"
Manchu aggression. For the first time, indeed, it was not merely arrested, but rolled back, as Noorhachu did not feel strong enough to retain the country west of the Leaou. He found it an easier and more grateful task to superintend the transfer of his capital from Leaouyang to Moukden. Once more, when things were beginning to wear a fairer aspect, the Chinese ministers proved their country's worst enemies. The capacity of Chungtsung could not, in their eyes, atone for his indifference and dislike to the incapable statesmen who were driving China to her ruin; and at last he too fell a victim, like Tingbi, to their snares and intrigues. A successor was appointed with different aims, and pledged to pursue another line of action. Chungtsung's reputation had been won by the recovery of a large territory from the foe; his successor began his term of authority by its voluntary surrender, and by a precipitate retreat behind the Wall. Chungwan, the heroic commander at Ningyuen, alone refused to leave his post, and vowed that he would defend to the last the outwork of the Empire which had been committed to his charge. The intelligence of this general withdrawal reached Noorhachu, who at once recrossed the Leaou and proceeded to reoccupy the abandoned territory. The small garrison of Ningyuen represented the only hostile force with which he had to cope. The Manchu conqueror paid but little heed to a place of such comparative insignificance, and continued to carry out his schemes for the annexation of the narrow but extremely fertile strip of country skirting the sea and extending up to the Great Wall. But he soon found that the garrison of Ningyuen, if unsubdued, would be a thorn in his side, and that the capture of that town was essential to his further progress. Round Ningyuen, therefore, the Manchus collected in their thousands, and their great leader spared no device known to his experience to effect his object. In Chungwan, however, he met an opponent worthy of his steel. That resolute soldier had, in the most solemn terms, registered a vow to shed his blood in the defence of Ningyuen, and all his men with laudable fidelity had followed his example. Strong in their own fortitude, they also possessed in their artillery an
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invaluable source of material assistance; and Chungwan deemed it no disgrace to confine his efforts to the defence of the town without thinking of undertaking a foolish and useless offensive in the field. For the first time in their career, therefore, the Manchus had opposed to them a general who neglected no means of turning his position to the best advantage, and who was not filled with an overweening selfconfidence and contempt for his adversary. The outcome of these changed tactics and different views was disastrous to the Manchus and highly creditable to the military fame of the Chinese. Noorhachu delivered two assaults in force with the greater portion of his army, and they were made the more vigorously in proportion as the resistance encountered was unusual and unexpected. Their repulse appears to have been chiefly due to the European cannon, which, perhaps, caused more panic than actual loss to the assailants. For the first and only time in his career Noorhachu had to call off his soldiers and to raise a siege. Other successes elsewhere failed to compensate the aged warrior for this rebuff; and sick with disappointed pride he retraced his steps to his capital to die. His death occurred at Moukden in September 1626, when he was nearly sixty-eight years of age. His descendants dated their dynasty from the year 1616, although the conquest of China had not then so much as commenced ; and with the vanity of a new family they assigned to their not very remote founder a semidivine origin, while they gave to Noorhachu the posthumous and glorious title in Chinese eyes of Taitsou Hwangti. Although Noorhachu was very far indeed from enjoying the reputation which he sought to acquire as the conqueror of China, yet there can be no doubt that he deserved all the respect and honour which his people and family could pay him. But for his energy and perseverance the small clan of which he was titular chief might never have risen to fame, and the titles of Tatsing and Manchu never been heard of or invented. In many respects he accomplished for the Manchus what Genghis did for the Mongols. It was not his fault if his sphere was a smaller one and more circumscribed. The credit of having emancipated himself from it may, indeed,
have been all the more conspicuous; and it certainly seems that Noorhachu achieved a great exploit when he extended his sway from a small valley of a few square miles over a vast territory including two Chinese or quasi-Chinese provinces, and stretching from the Great Wall to the Amour. If much of his extraordinary success must be attributed to the blunders and folly of his opponents, cannot almost the same be said of every conqueror from the days of Alexander to those of Napoleon 2 Noorhachu had the strength of will, seldom given to mortals, to know when to stop. His victories are not more remarkable than the vigour with which he made the most of their results, and with which he consolidated his authority in the new possessions that fell into his power. He built up the edifice of his empire step by step, and his successors had to thank him that he sank its foundations very deep in the affections of his own people, and in the possession of a well-trained and valiant army. Noorhachu was succeeded by his fourth son, who became known in history as Taitsong or Tienming; and the accession of a new prince afforded the opportunity for the resumption of negotiations with the Chinese authorities. Whatever his motives, it seemed that the new ruler was disposed to pursue a more peaceful policy than his father, and a return to the old condition of amicable relations with China was for a moment anticipated by the sanguine. Chungwan alone, who had been rewarded for the heroic defence of Ningyuen by promotion to the rank of viceroy and chief commander, received the protestations and overtures of the Manchu ruler with caution and evident disbelief. There ensued the usual despatch of embassies and the accustomed interchange of compliments on the occasion of the death of a mighty and neighbouring potentate; but no real sentiment of friendship existed behind these empty courtesies. The pretensions of Taitsong, who wished to treat with the Ming Emperor on terms of equality, were quite incompatible with those of Tienki, who still asserted all his claims to supremacy based on a remote antiquity, and on the recognition of no equal authority save that of Heaven itself. The correspondence became warmer as it proceeded, and the open court paid by the chief of the
SIEGES OF NINGYUEN. 523
Kortsin Mongols to Taitsong flattered his vanity while it irritated the Chinese. Nor was the situation improved by the announcement that the Manchus were invading and rapidly overrunning the long faithful tributary kingdom of Corea. Finding that nothing could be gained by a wordy war in which his Chinese opponent enjoyed the advantage, and with a large portion of his army released by the overthrow of Corea, Taitsong resolved on renewing the attack upon Ningyuen, and he threw his whole force against that place in a desperate resolve to succeed. Once, if not twice, he sat down before its walls, and led his picked Manchu veterans to the assault in person. But Chungwan was still there, and Taitsong's efforts ended in his signal discomfiture. Again, for a second time, the campaign closed disastrously for the Manchus, who retired behind the Leaou. The ramparts of Ningyuen constituted a secure bulwark for the Chinese capital, and might have long continued to do so had not Taitsong been seized with one of those brilliant ideas which occasionally flash across the minds of great commanders. Meantime, the occupant of the Chinese throne had changed. Tienki, of whom nothing else has been preserved save his misfortunes, had never been of robust health, and in 1627 his death made room for his younger brother, who is known to history as Tsongching. Tsongching was destined to be the last ruler of the once-great family of the Mings, and on his head was to descend with tenfold force the retribution for his predecessors' weaknesses and crimes.