Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER XXXVIII.

THE EARLY YEARS OF KANGHl'S REIGN.

The accession of a boy to a throne which demanded the support of strong hands and clear heads was not an event calculated to ensure the tranquil development of Manchu power. Kanghi was only eight years old when the weight of empire was thrust upon him, and the task of government was committed to the charge of four of the principal officials After the proclamation of the new Emperor, and the promulgation of the general amnesty usually granted on the accession of a prince, the co-regents first turned their attention to purifying the palace from the presence of the eunuchs who had established themselves there during the later years of Chuntche's reign, and who doubtless saw in Kanghi's minority the opportunity of advancing their ends, ^and of firmly establishing their influence over the councils of the state. The first act of Kanghi's representatives was to impeach the principal of the eunuchs on a charge of peculation, and to punish him with death. All his colleagues were turned out of the palace and dismissed from their offices, to find some more honourable but certainly to them less agreeable mode of existence among the ranks of the people. Then was passed the law, graven on tablets of metal to defy the injuries of time, forbidding the employment in the public service of any of this unfortunate class. The iron tablets still exist, and the Manchus have remained true to the pledge taken by the young Kanghi. The eunuchs now disappear from the history of China as a political faction, and their enervating influence has fortunately been banished from both the court and the council board.

FORMOSA. 583

The first year of Kanghi's reign marked the summit and beheld the decline of the piratical power of Koshinga. In 1659, after the failure of his expedition against Nankin, Koshinga had been compelled to look beyond his possessions at the mouth of the Kiang for a permanent place of arms, and the naval preparations on which the Manchus were at last engaged made it more necessary for him to secure one without delay. There seemed to him no place better adapted to his necessities or more suitable for the task he had in hand than the island of Formosa,* long the home of a piratical confederacy which had for the time been partially displaced by the power of the Dutch.t It was not so much the conquest of this island with its fierce and courageous tribes that Koshinga wanted, as the possession of the few harbours which had been seized by the emissaries of Eatavia. Although the attainment of his object involved a collision with a race well

• The island of Formosa, situated at a distance of nearly one hundred miles from the coast, is noted for its remarkable productiveness, and also for the fact that a great portion of it has maintained and still maintains its independence of any authority. It fcas been called "the granary of China." Its length is about 300 miles, and its breadth at the broadest point less than one-fourth of that distance. A lofty range of mountains, from north to south, divides it into two regions, differing from each other in political condition and material productiveness. The western half is under regular government, and remarkable for wealth and fertility. The eastern is still under the sway of native princes or chiefs; and the resources of (his half are not only undeveloped, but are also undoubtedly inferior to those of the western districts. Formosa was called by the Chinese Taiwan, " the beautiful island," and since 1895 it has been in the possession of Japan, which acquired it under the Treaty of Shimonoseki.

t A brief sketch of how the island fell into the hands of the Dutch will here be interesting. In 1624 the Dutch sent a fleet with 800 men to attack Macao and expel the Portuguese. Confident of success, they were yet repulsed with loss. As some compensation for this disappointment, they established themselves on the I'escadore Islands, and a few years afterwards they landed on the mainland of Formosa, came to an arrangement with the Japanese then in occupation of the town of Taiwan, and erected in its neighbourhood Fort Zealand. The Japanese retired, leaving them in undisputed occupation of Taiwan. When the Tartar invasion began many Chinese crossed the channel and established themselves in Formosa. From this numerous colony Koshinga naturally expected much help in his design of ousting the Dutch, and, as the result proved, he was not disappointed.

equipped in ships and arms, and more formidable on sea than on land, Koshinga braced his mind to the struggle; for the law of safety demanded that he should without delay obtain a secure place of refuge from the pursuit of the Manchus, Koshinga, partly out of sheer necessity, and partly, no doubt, in the hope of founding a new kingdom beyond the sea, resolved upon the conquest of Formosa, and concentrated all his strength for the undertaking.

The Dutch attempted to come to a friendly arrangement with Koshinga, whose designs on their possessions had been revealed by a preliminary revolt on the part of the many Chinese immigrants who had come across from Fuhkien. That insurrection had been repressed, although not without some difficulty, as was shown by the assistance of the aboriginal clans having to be enlisted. But Koshinga represented a more formidable antagonist, and while the Dutch were flattering themselves that he would not prove a very disagreeable neighbour, he was really drawing the toils round them and restricting their power to the fort and district of Taiwan. When openly assailed the Dutch made a valiant defence, but they appear to have taken few precautions against the determined attack of their opponent. Fort Zealand was carried by storm, the Dutch lost their possessions, and Koshinga was proclaimed King of Formosa. The relics of the national party gathered round this champion, who for a time enjoyed, in his own person and in that of two generations of his children, the dignity of a semi-regal and independent position. He did not himself long retain the position to which he had won his way by remarkable energy and force of character. Rage at the excesses and insubordination of his eldest son, who had been left in command at Amoy, which still remained in his possession, aggravated a slight indisposition; and this formidable and much-feared naval leader died when it seemed that his matured career was only just beginning. Koshinga was no more than thirty-eight years old at the time of his death, and, although the Tartar yoke was not imposed upon Formosa for another twenty years, it very soon became clear that with him the spirit of his party had been destroyed. His death came opportunely to relieve the apprehensions of the

CHINA'S NAVAL HERO. 585

Pekin Government, which had just given orders for the devastation of the country for a distance of more than twenty miles from the coast . Not only was he a remarkable partisan leader, but, without exception, Koshinga may be pronounced to have been the foremost naval hero throughout the whole of the annals of his country.

Kanghi had not been long upon the throne when a great agitation, fanned by popular ignorance and fanaticism, was got up by a few of the more bigoted courtiers, against the Christian priests who had done no harm to anybody, and who had conferred some substantial benefits on the country. The anger of this extreme party was augmented by the favour with which the Emperor Chuntche had regarded these strangers, and by the fact that they had been raised to offices of marked honour and importance. It was not so much religious zeal as personal jealousy that instigated the Chinese official classes in raising this outcry against the foreigners, for they perceived that a charge of propagating "a false and monstrous religion" afforded the simplest and, in the eyes of the people, the most intelligible form of indictment. The Abbe Schaal was deposed from his presidentship, and the other Christian strangers were conveyed as prisoners to Pekin, where they were all found guilty and sentenced to a common death. So heinous was their crime held to be, that many councils met to decide what form of execution would be adequate to their offence. The delay that thus arose, which was intended to enhance their punishment, ensured, as a matter of fact, their safety. It gave Sony, one of the Regents, time to exercise all his influence on the side of justice and mercy; and, thanks to his measures and to the support of the Empress Mother, the sentences were quashed and the prisoners released. Such, however, were the bodily sufferings they had undergone, that the principal of these innocent victims, the Abbe Schaal, died shortly after his release.

Whether the act must be attributed to this cause—for the question of the foreign missionaries roused much attention at the time and divided the political world into rival camps—or whether the capital was disturbed by the cabals and intrigues of ministers, it was very shortly after this episode that Kanghi, on the death of the Regent Sony, determined to abolish the regency and to rule for himself. The act was one betokening no ordinary vigour on the part of a youth of less than fourteen years, and was fully in accordance with the greatness to which Kanghi established his claims. Kanghi seems to have been impelled to take this step by his disapproval of the tyranny and overbearing conduct of the Baturu Kong, another member of the Board of Regency. This minister had taken the most prominent part in the persecution of the Christians; and when death removed Sony, the only one of the regents whose reputation and moral courage rendered him his match, he eagerly anticipated a period of unrestrained power and privilege. The vigilance and resolution of the young Emperor thwarted his plans. By an imperial decree the Board of Regency was dissolved, and Baturu Kong became the mark for the accusation of all over whom he had tyrannized. He was indicted on twelve charges, each sufficient to entail a punishment of death. The indictment was made good; and the first act of Kanghi's reign as responsible sovereign was to decree the death of the unjust minister Kong, or Sucama. The execution of his family was in accordance with the law, and marked the heinousness of the offence.

The overthrow of the Ming prince Kwei Wang and the pacification of Yunnan had set the seal to the fame of Wou Sankwei, the general who, thirty years before, had invited the Manchus into the country to put down the robber Li, and whose military skill had contributed so greatly to their triumph. The Pekin authorities had endeavoured to keep him in the shade; but the splendour of his achievements defeated their plans, and obliged them to reward his services. The title of Prince was conferred upon him, and he was left to exercise uncontrolled authority in Yunnan and its dependent provinces. The Chinese rapidly settled down under his rule, and by a number of wise measures he promoted their welfare and increased his own revenue. His rule was rendered still less irksome by the fact that the majority of his soldiers were native Chinese and not Manchus. Although he does not appear to have nursed any schemes of personal aggrandisement, the measures he took and the reforms instituted under

« AnteriorContinua »