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KING OF THE ELEUTHS. 677
wheel of events, the old sense of insecurity and uncertainty was revived, and an ambitious and defiant prince grasped the reins of power among a warlike population. The change had been effected in the most open and unequivocal manner, and Amursana thought he had ensured his success by the slaughter of the Chinese garrison and its commanders.
The impression produced by this event was profound, and when Amursana followed up the blow by spreading about rumours of the magnitude of his designs they obtained some credence even among the Mongols. Encouraged by this success, he sought to rally those tribes to his side by imputing sinister intentions to Keen Lung. His emissaries declared that Keen Lung wished to deprive them all of their rank, authority, and estates, and that he had summoned Amursana to Pekin only for the purpose of deposing him. They also protested that their master, Amursana, like a true desert chief, preferred his liberty to every other privilege, and, sooner than trust himself within the toils of the wily Emperor, had bidden him defiance, and raised between them an inexpiable cause of hostility. Amursana proclaimed himself King of the Eleuths, and many of the clans gave in their adhesion to his rule and promised to support him in war.
If the shock caused by the news of the great disaster on the banks of the Hi gave a little confidence to those who were unfriendly to the Manchu authority, it also roused Keen Lung's indignation to the highest point. The sense of disappointment at the failure of his plans was increased all the more by the memory of the easy victory which had both flattered his vanity and attained his aims. There were those among his ministers who impressed upon him the wisdom of discontinuing a costly war, of which the results among a turbulent and treacherous population would always be doubtful. "We must have done with this useless and disastrous war," they exclaimed in the palace and at the council-board. But Keen Lung did not allow himself for a moment to be swayed by their advice. The blood of his slaughtered soldiers called for a summary revenge, the objects of his policy demanded that Amursana should be deposed from the position of defiance and independence which he had assumed, and the reputation of China rendered it absolutely imperative that a reverse suffered in the field should be as openly and as signally retrieved. For each and all of these reasons Keen Lung rejected the counsels of the timid, whose natural courage, as the Emperor said, should have led them to reject their own advice as unworthy of their race and country.
Keen Lung made, therefore, the necessary preparations for another campaign beyond the frontier, and sent two generals, at the head of a large army, with orders to capture the rebel Amursana dead or alive. Amursana was in no position to resist this force, and many of his adherents deserted him at the first approach of the Chinese. Amursana himself was on the point of being taken when the disagreement of Keen Lung's two commanders provided him with an avenue of escape. The inaction of these officers, after the dispersion of their opponent's forces had gained them a bloodless victory, enabled the Eleuth prince to make fresh head against the invader. Keen Lung lays all the blame for the small results of this campaign on the apathy of his generals, whom he recalled to Pekin. His intention was to execute them for their misconduct in the field, but during their journey back they were surprised and slain by a band of Eleuths. Two other generals were appointed to take their places, but they did no better than their predecessors. Keen Lung had to thank the incapacity of his officers for a second abortive campaign. Amursana, it is true, was compelled to lead a perilous existence among the Kirghiz tribes; but so long as he survived or remained at large there could be no assurance of peace in the Central Asian region. Keen Lung attributed the escape of his foe to the negligence of his generals, who were a second time recalled and, on this occasion, executed.
The nature of their offence appears to have been that they placed too much confidence in the promises of the Kirghiz. Taltanga, one of these generals, was on the eve of entering their country, when he allowed himself to be dissuaded from doing so by their pledge to surrender Amursana on the return of one of their chiefs. The Mongol contingent, disgusted by the credulity of their commander, or wearied by a A DISASTER. 679
protracted campaign barren of result, left Taltanga and returned to their homes. The Kirghiz did not keep their faith; Taltanga saw that he had been duped, and Amursana again took the field against Keen Lung's army. The Chinese commanders found themselves obliged to order a retreat, and during the return march to Kansuh they were harassed by their active and enterprising assailants. The destruction of the small rear-guard under the intrepid Hoki, who seems to have voluntarily sacrificed himself by making a resolute stand to save the rest of the army, completed the disastrous events of this campaign. Encouraged by Amursana's success every petty chief hastened to set up his own authority, and they uniformly celebrated the commencement of their independence by the massacre of every Chinese subject on whom they could place their hands.
Yet not for these disasters and unfortunate occurrences did the Emperor Keen Lung give up his policy or depart from the line of action, in the wisdom of which he continued firmly to believe. To the incompetence of his commanders he could with much justice attribute the failure of his plans, and without indulging in useless recriminations or complaints he devoted himself to the task of discovering a man capable of executing his projects. The loss of Panti appeared for a moment to be irreparable. Keen Lung was still engaged in this search, when the message came from the scene of war that the exigencies of the situation had led to the discovery of a military genius. An officer named Tchaohoci had the command of a small detachment, and, when Taltanga began his retreat towards Kansuh, he hastened to collect such troops as he could, and made preparations for defending the district under his control against the advancing Eleuths. He gathered round him the relics of Hoki's force and the stragglers of Taltanga's army, and with them he prepared to uphold the Emperor's authority until assistance should come to him from China.
The news of Tchaohoei's fortitude and energy confirmed Keen Lung in his belief that the policy upon which he had decided was the right one, and that its success demanded only a competent and cautious general. Tchaohoei's conduct in face of a confident enemy and under arduous circumstances seemed to mark him out as the very man for the occasion, and in a despatch to the Emperor, describing the position of affairs and suggesting the measures that seemed to him necessary, he showed such a grasp of the whole question, and his views so closely accorded with those of Keen Lung himself, that the Emperor at once determined to send him the reinforcements he required, and to entrust him with the chief command over all the troops beyond the frontier. When Tchaohoei revealed his talent as a commander, Keen Lung had been almost on the point of giving up the contest in despair. The sufferings of his troops had been great, their losses severe, and the result appeared as remote as ever. The complaints at the capital for the waste of precious lives and treasure could not with safety be much longer ignored; and had Tchaohoei failed in his task the Manchu ruler would, no doubt, have abstained from further action and given up the prosecution of his favourite policy.
In 1757 two fresh armies were sent across the desert, and, when they reached Hi, they enabled Tchaohoei to at once assume the offensive. Amursana, although he had so far preserved his life and avoided complete overthrow, was in no better state to offer a determined resistance to the onset of his assailants than on the first occasion of the Chinese advance. Again his supporters abandoned him, and sought only to secure their own safety by flight to the mountains that surrounded the favoured districts of Hi. Amursana, unable to rally round him a sufficient body of troops to justify his attempting open resistance to the Chinese, and possibly awed by their persistence in pursuing him, imitated the example of his supporters, and again fled for safety to his former friends the Kirghiz. His flight was so precipitate that he marched day and night without staying to inquire whether he was even being pursued, or whether his own supporters were following him.
Tchaohoei entrusted the pursuit of Amursana to Fouta, the most trusted and skilful of his lieutenants. This officer followed by forced marches on the traces of the fugitive. He reached Amursana's first place of retreat very shortly after AN IRRITATED HEAVEN. 681
that ill-advised prince, and he had the satisfaction of receiving the surrender of the principal Kirghiz clans. But Amursana had then made his escape into Russian territory, where he was permitted rather to wander at large than to enjoy the absolute protection of the Czar's Government. Yet even at this remote distance, and notwithstanding that the solitudes to which he had fled were unknown and had not been penetrated by Chinese soldiers, Amursana still was not safe from Keen Lung's vengeance. The result of this war remained indecisive, his objects were considered to be but half-attained so long as Amursana continued at large. Both to Tchaohoei and to Fouta Keen Lung sent fresh instructions to lose no opportunity and to spare no effort to capture the rebel alive or dead.
The close of Amursana's troubled career was at hand, although the fatal blow that ended it was* not struck by his implacable enemy. "An irritated heaven hastened the time of its vengeance," to use Keen Lung's phrase, " and a pestilent malady slit the black thread of his life." A demand was presented to the Russian officials to surrender the body, but with this request they refused to comply on the ground that their religion forbade the expression of enmity after death. They showed the emissaries of Keen Lung the corpse of his unfortunate antagonist, and with this incident the campaign that had as its main object the chastisement of Amursana may be said to have terminated.
The first intelligence of Tchaohoei's success had served to supply the peace party at Pekin with a favourable opportunity for renewing their advice, that it would be wise to withdraw from Central Asia and to abandon once and for all dangerous and unprofitable enterprises in a far distant and impoverished region. "The kingdom of the Eleuths," exclaimed these men, " is too remote from the centre of our authority for us to be able to long govern it . Let us, therefore, abandon it to the care of whoever wishes to take it . What matters it to the glory of the Middle Kingdom, these uncultivated lands, and a people more than half savage?" The advice of these timid counsellors carried less weight than it would otherwise have done because Keen Lung had decided in his own mind