Imatges de pàgina


the mission. Fortunately, when affairs appeared to be most unsatisfactory, a message arrived from Jehol, whither Keen Lung had retired, to inquire after the health of the ambassador, and to invite him to pay him a visit at his hunting-place beyond the Wall.

Lord Macartney, with his retinue and the guard allotted to his person, proceeded there in compliance with the invitation, and travelling in an English carriage, he reached Jehol in due course. Although the Emperor and his principal minister were in favour of conceding the English some, if not all, of the privileges they demanded, a very strong party, headed by the victorious general Sund Fo, who had been appointed Viceroy of Kwantung, were not only unfriendly to all foreign intercourse, but inimical to any with England in particular. However, notwithstanding their efforts to render the mission abortive, the Emperor resolved to receive the British envoy in audience, and the interview duly took place in a tent specially erected for the ceremony in the gardens of the palace. A second interview was held, and then the embassy returned to Pekin, whence it made its way overland to Canton. The dislike of the mandarins, which had been only partially concealed during the residence at Jehol, broke out more unequivocally after its departure, and during their return to Canton the English ambassador and his suite suffered considerable inconvenience at the hands of officials, who took their cue from the general Sund Fo, whose Nepaulese laurels had been won at the cost of an irrevocable enmity to the English. Beyond receiving from the lips of the Emperor an assurance that he reciprocated " the friendly sentiments of His Britannic Majesty," no practical results followed from Lord Macartney's embassy, successful though it was in so far as its reception was concerned. Keen Lung's advanced age left him neither the inclination nor the power to go very closely into the question of the policy or impolicy of cultivating closer relations with the foreign race which asserted the supremacy of the seas, and which had already subjected one Asiatic empire to its sway. That question had to be left for his successors; but at the least it may be said that Keen Lung did nothing to retard the establishment of cordial and

peaceful relations with the countries of the West . In almost the last year of his reign he gave this country some ground for hoping for an assured diplomatic position at Pekin by his flattering and favourable reception of Lord Macartney's embassy.

[ocr errors]



At the very time that the British embassy was residing at Pckin and Jehol, the Emperor Keen Lung announced his intention of abdicating in the event of his living to witness the sixtieth year of his accession to the throne. Three years after the departure of Lord Macartney the auspicious event came to pass, and the Emperor therefore retired to one of his palaces, and caused his son Kiaking to be proclaimed in his place. Keen Lung survived his abdication about three years, dying in 1799 at the extremely advanced age of nearly ninety. During these last few years of his long and eventful reign he enjoyed the internal peace and assured tranquillity which were the just guerdon of his previous labours. Freed from the responsibility of the direct exercise of power, he was also able to guide his successor aright in the task of governing the Empire; but no stronger inducement or incentive could be found for a ruler to do his best in the work of administration than the example left by the Emperor Keen Lung. The energy with which that sovereign threw himself into the settlement of external difficulties, and with which he grappled with questions of foreign policy, showed that he would not rest satisfied with either partial success or meagre results. It formed part of the natural character of the man, and was equally conspicuous in matters of domestic policy as in his foreign relations.

Good government is not an achievement that can be easily performed, even when the sovereign has to facilitate his task and to assist his efforts a model constitution and an incorrupt civil service. In China, where the whole responsibility is thrown upon the Emperor, it is one of unusual difficulty. But for the admirable conduct of the people it would be a task almost impossible to accomplish, as the peculation prevailing among the ill-paid and loosely controlled mandarins has long reached a serious pass. Whether Keen Lung himself was fully aware or not of the extent to which the corruption had spread appears doubtful ; but his principal ministers* were perfectly cognisant of it. But while the evils and inconveniences of this seem to have been fully admitted, nobody possessed either the will or the resolution to attempt to grapple with the difficulty, so as to effectually cure the evil and to remove the great blot which used to and still does mar the symmetry of the Chinese system of administration.

The growth of the population had been quite extraordinary during the reign of Keen Lung. Within the space of fifty years it appears to have almost doubled ; but this astonishing increase, while affording strong evidence of the tranquillity and prosperity prevailing throughout the realm, was also accompanied by its necessary and inseparable penalty in a country dependent on its own resources, which, moreover, suffered periodically from visitations of drought and floods. On several occasions, especially towards the end of Keen Lung's reign, the northern provinces were desolated by the ravages of famine, which depopulated in the course of a few weeks districts as large as English counties, and paralysed all the efforts of the local authorities. The Emperor ordered the gratuitous distribution of grain usual under such circumstances; but the remedy applied proved but imperfect, both

* The strongest testimony of this was given by a high Chinese minister to Monseigneur de Caradre (quoted in " Nouvelles des Missions Orientales," torn. i. pp. 90-91), who asked whether there was not some way of putting a stop to these privations and exactions. "It is impossible," replied the mandarin; "the Emperor himself cannot do it, the evil is too widespread. He will, no doubt, send to the scene of these disorders mandarins clothed with all his authority; but they will only commit still greater exactions, and the inferior mandarins, in order to be left undisturbed, will offer them presents. The Emperor will be told that all is well, while everything is really wrong, and while the poor people are being oppressed."


on account of the extent of the suffering, and also because of the peculation of many of the mandarins, who sought to turn the national misfortune to the attainment of their own selfish ends. In 1785 a state of dearth prevailed throughout the greater part of Central and Northern China; and the details preserved by the few European spectators, who were eyewitnesses of the scenes described, serve to show that its horrors have seldom been surpassed.

The very same year was also marked by the outbreak of a fresh spirit of fanaticism against the Christians, on the part not only of the people, but also of the representatives of the administration. The general suffering seems to have resulted in the outbreak of numerous petty and local disturbances, such as those previously referred to in the provinces of Szchuen and Kansuh. Whether because of the indiscreet conduct of some of the native converts, or, as may well have been the case, from a settled design to eradicate heretical doctrines, and to ruin their teachers and votaries, the opportunity afforded by these disorders was seized by the provincial mandarins, and persecutions began which have never been exceeded in ferocity and vindictiveness. Many of the missionaries were cast into prison, and, although violent hands were not actually laid upon them, several died in consequence of the hardships which they had to undergo whilst in confinement . Those who were proved to have assisted the Christians were branded on the face and banished to Hi, which by the toil of these and similar colonists was rapidly acquiring an unknown, and in Central Asia an unexampled prosperity.

The fury of the popular indignation against the Christians was fortunately soon exhausfed, and before the year 1785 closed Keen Lung issued an edict rescinding most of the harsh penalties which he had passed a few months before. The missionaries who had been placed in confinement were released, and the question of the position of the Christian religion reverted to its normal state. The policy of the mandarins was not obscure; as they proclaimed they were resolved to prevent the growth of Christianity, and to stamp it out wherever it had been established. With this episode

« AnteriorContinua »