Imatges de pàgina

( 727 )



At the very time that the British embassy was residing at Pekin 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,” tom. 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 Ili, 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 exhausted, 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

our remarks on Keen Lung's relations with his alien subjects may be brought to an appropriate conclusion.

It is the custom in China that the Emperor alone has the power of life and death in his hands. No capital punishment can be awarded, save under exceptional circumstances, by any one except the sovereign in person, and in Keen Lung's reign this privilege and duty were practically exercised. Crowds of prisoners were sent every month to Pekin to have their fate decided by the Emperor in consultation with his most intimate advisers. Neither Keen Lung nor his two predecessors shirked the onerous and responsible task they had in this respect to perform; and, so far as can be judged, they all appear to have conscientiously striven to mete out impartial justice in every case. Keen Lung, by the testimony of all beholders, was conspicuous not only for his justice but for the mercy with which he tempered it. None but the very worst cases received the punishment of death, and, indeed, with the existence of so convenient a place of transportation as Ili, it is not surprising to learn how common a form of punishment enforced banishment to that district became during this period.

Keen Lung devoted himself with unsurpassed assiduity to the innumerable subjects that demanded his attention, and he gave up even the night-time to the proper discharge of public business. He began the work of the day at an early hour, a course of proceeding to be attributed partly to the custom of the East, and partly to the active habits he had acquired from long practice, but which astonished those who saw him act with an energy unusual at his advanced age. The most important questions of State were often decided at a midnight council, and most of the ordinary business of administration had been accomplished before the first meal of the day.

Among numerous other subjects to which Keen Lung devoted his attention was one that had long baffled both the ingenuity and the resources of the Chinese Emperor—the proper control of the course of the river Hoangho. His attention seems to have been drawn the more forcibly to this question by the aggravation it had caused to the suffering of the people, to whose misfortunes from famine were added


731 those from the inundations of this great river. To the general Akoui, whose overthrow of the Miaotze had secured him the first place among Chinese soldiers and statesmen, Keen Lung entrusted, in the year 1780, a task that he hoped might serve to celebrate his reign by the achievement of a feat to which none of his predecessors could lay claim. The Emperor's final instructions were published in the form of an edict, so that the nation was taken beforehand into his confidence as to the magnitude of his designs and the excellence of his intentions. “My intention," said he, “is that this work should be unceasingly carried on in order to secure for the people a solid advantage, both for the present and in the time to come. Share my views, and in order to accomplish them forget nothing in the carrying out of your project, which I regard as my own, since I entirely approve of it, and the idea which originated it was mine. For the rest, it is at my own charge, and not at the cost of the province, that I wish all this to be done. Let expenses not be stinted.

. I take upon myself the consequence, whatever it may be. I have no other instructions to give you. Despatch !”

Akoui had, before receiving this marked encouragement from the Emperor, instituted some preliminary inquiries into the matter, and had come to the conclusion that it would be quite feasible to resist the encroachments of the river and to prevent its further ravages. Having received an emphatic promise of support from the Emperor, Akoui devoted himself to the great task which he had undertaken, and in due course he was able to notify to the throne that his efforts, supported by the Viceroy of Honan and the board appointed to control the waters of the realm, had been crowned with success. But although the ravages committed by this river in flood-time have been much less during the last hundred years than at any previous epoch, the present state of the Hoangho leaves much to be desired. And this great river is practically useless for navigation.

Keen Lung, as has been said, abdicated in favour of his son in the year 1796, and survived that event almost exactly three years. His reign forms the most important epoch in modern Chinese history, for it marked what was long thought

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