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CHAPTER XXXV. THE GROWTH OF MANCHU POWER UNDER TAITSONG.
FoR a brief space it appeared that the Chinese had found in the hour of extremity a bulwark of safety in the fortress of Ningyuen, and the Manchus after their several repulses were beginning to lose heart a little, and to doubt whether Taitsong was a worthy ruler, and able to carry on the schemes of his father. There was no reason why the whole vigour of the Manchu tribe or confederacy should not be shattered and broken to pieces before the walls of a fortress resolutely defended and well-equipped in artillery. Disappointed in his expectations of success by a direct attack, Taitsong was still resolved to succeed, and his hostility towards China was inflamed and increased by his personal antipathy to, and jealousy of, Chungwan. But, like a prudent man, he would no longer waste his strength by throwing his forces against Ningyuen. It was by some higher instinct than mere prudence, if not by a flash of absolute genius, that he came to the determination to ignore Ningyuen and to advance by another route straight on Pekin. Taitsong kept his own counsel, but he gave orders to the chief of the Kortsin Mongols, who had been one of the first to congratulate him on his accession, to get ready his forces by a certain day. Taitsong then raised his own army to the number of 100,000 men, and moved into the districts of the Kortsin, which are situated west of Ningyuen and the Palisades, which “exist only on the map and in the imagination of the Emperor of China.” Up to this point nobody knew anything of his design, but when he had gone thus far the necessity for
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further silence was removed. The plan was too bold, for the reputation of China's power was still great, to obtain the general approval even of the Manchus, and all his officers and kinsmen endeavoured to dissuade him from a course of such extreme peril. But Taitsong saw that the time had come to strike a bold blow against the Emperor. In a few years the Ming would recover his lost vigour and overcome the Tartars by sheer weight of numbers. It was, therefore, high time, thought Taitsong, especially as he had as yet done nothing, for him to strike a conclusive blow while the Emperor was bewildered and knew not how to utilize his vast resources. Taitsong pressed on rapidly, and his course was not to be stayed by the counsels of the timid. The Manchu army,” augmented by the fighting-men of the Kortsin Mongols, advanced rapidly through the Dangan Pass of the Great Wall towards the capital, scattering before it the small bodies of Chinese troops that were alone available to oppose them, and without being delayed for any time by the forts which had been constructed for the defence of this portion of the frontier. Taitsong had forced his way across the mountains and had reached Kichow on the high road to Pekin before Chungwan became aware that he had been outmanoeuvred and that all his defences had been turned. Then he hastened back with all speed, and, having the advantage of the better road, he succeeded in outstripping the Manchus and in throwing himself with a portion of his army into the capital before Taitsong had fully beleaguered it. The Chinese were further reinforced by a body of troops which arrived opportunely from Taitong. Taitsong issued a proclamation to the people and officials of China, in which he again recited his injuries, and dwelt upon the shortcomings of the Mings. In this document he first made an effort to prepare the public mind for his becoming the successor of their Emperor, for, having dwelt upon the humble origin of Hongwou, the founder of the Mings, he then naïvely demanded whether it were not possible that “Heaven had chosen him to be the master of the Empire and to succeed the Mings.” While this manifesto was being gradually circulated through the country, Taitsong took up his position near Pekin. He does not appear to have subjected it to any close investment, but contented himself with concentrating his troops in a single camp and with offering battle daily to the Chinese. His own headquarters he established at Haidsu, a pleasure-house of the Ming princes. The siege languished, and the Tartars would soon have been obliged to beat a retreat from the dearth of provisions, and the gradual increase of the Chinese forces, without effecting any of their objects, when Fortune, which had so often smiled upon their enterprises, came again to their aid. Pekin was not taken, it is true, but the disgrace and ruin of Chungwan were equal to a great victory. Chungwan, whose reputation and great qualities made him a host in himself, had so well supplied the deficiencies of the Chinese position at Pekin that it looked as if the balance of victory would incline to their side. Taitsong, foiled in the field, resolved to effect his purpose by compassing the ruin of his most formidable opponent, and the machinations of eunuchs who were bitterly inimical to Chungwan greatly facilitated his object. A plot was soon formed between the Manchu leader and a party in the palace to procure Chungwan's disgrace and removal from the command ; and it succeeded only too well. The eunuchs found, and availed themselves of, the opportunity to poison the Emperor's ear against the general who was valiantly defending the country from a victorious invader; and, apparently on the theory that the more improbable the charge the more it will obtain a temporary credence, Chungwan was accused of holding secret communications with the enemy. Invited to visit the Emperor on a pressing matter of state, he hastily left his post for the palace, where he was seized and placed in confinement. Nothing more was afterwards heard of this brave soldier, and
* It was about this time that Taitsong first divided the Manchus into corps known as Banners. The Manchus proper were divided among the eight banners, and each banner followed its own leader and had a distinct military system. Each banner had a special flag and trumpeter attached. The Chinese who deserted to Taitsong were also arrayed under a single banner, but in their case the arrangement appears to have been one of military expediency rather than of any national significance.—See Mailla, vol. x. pp. 442, 494.
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his secret execution in the middle of the night removed another of the few men whose courage and ability might have availed to equalize the struggle with the Manchus. Simultaneously with this event Taitsong drew off his forces for a short distance, and proceeded to invest several places offering fewer obstacles to speedy success than the capital. The removal of Chungwan from the command recalled him to his former post at Haidsu, and when he found that he was freed from further apprehension on the ground of his old and successful opponent at Ningyuen, he delayed no longer in making his dispositions for the assault. A fierce battle was fought outside the city, and a Chinese corps of forty thousand men failed to make any stand against the Manchus. Chungwan's successor, a brave but unskilful officer, was among the slain; and the fate of Pekin seemed to be sealed. Taitsong himself had, however, difficulties of his own to contend against, although we are not cognizant of their exact nature. That they were sufficiently grave may be inferred from the fact that, when he seemed to hold complete victory within his grasp, he suddenly drew off his forces and retreated beyond the Wall. Pekin was saved for this occasion from its northern foe. Another lull ensued in the contest, and Taitsong resumed those proffers of a pacific arrangement which he had consistently made from the first days of his reign. Towards the Ming Emperor he adopted an attitude of equality tempered by the respectful expressions which he expected to have reciprocated; but his ulterior aims were foreshadowed in the persistency with which he recurred to the injuries of a misgoverned and oppressed people. Already he was putting himself forward in the guise of a champion of the subjects against the sovereign. While thus actively engaged in giving to his diplomacy an air of disinterestedness, he took other steps to attract to his side a certain amount of sympathy and regard from the Chinese people. The Manchus had before this adopted the Chinese character in their writing, and Taitsong continued the same line of policy by instituting schools and a course of examination similar to those existing in the Middle Kingdom. Nor did he stop at this point in the measures which he was taking towards identifying his person and family with the traditions and customs dear to every Chinese subject. He had the sense to perceive that the conquest of China would be impossible for him unless he attracted to his cause the sympathetic support of a portion of its people. His proclamations, his daily life, were directed so as to produce the required result in the case of the multitude; but he trusted to other means to draw to his side those who had served in the administration, and who, knowing the corruptness and incapacity of the Ming system, might be the more readily induced to see in him the reformer of the morals of profligate court, and the Heaven-sent champion of an afflicted country. With these ends in view he drew up a list of military dignities precisely similar to those of the Chinese Empire, and by conferring on the officers who deserted to him a grade higher than the one they possessed under the Mings, he succeeded in inducing many to abandon their allegiance to the Chinese Emperor and to take service under him. But what he thus gained in actual numbers was small, indeed, in comparison with the impression produced among the Chinese by this close imitation of the conduct of the greatest and most popular of their former rulers. During the four years following his first attack on Pekin, Taitsong was engaged more in the working-out of this astute policy than in the conduct of military operations. True it is that little or no cessation occurred in the strife on the border, for the Chinese ministers, with singular obtuseness or out of a headstrong and uncontrollable prejudice, refused to so much as even reply to the numerous letters which Taitsong addressed to them. The retreat of Taitsong and a small success gained in a border skirmish, where one of Taitsong's brothers failed to sustain the reputation of his family, sufficed to restore the natural presumption of men who knew nothing of affairs and who had no acquaintance with the exigencies of a perilous situation. The eunuchs received all Taitsong's protestations with contempt, and did not deign to make any reply; but it would have been better for them had they assumed a less defiant tone and adopted a few simple precautions for the defence of the realm. Their pride was grand