« AnteriorContinua »
the flight of Chunti. The war with the expelled Mongols still went on, but China was then emancipated from the Tartar yoke. The description of these later campaigns belongs to the reign of Hongwou, not to the career of the adventurer Choo Yuen Chang.
The expulsion of the Mongols from China, after they had exercised supreme authority in it for almost a century, marks the close of the history of that remarkable people as a great national power. After the death of Kublai, their decay proved rapid. Not one of his descendants or successors seemed capable of reviving the earlier glories of the family. Possessing, almost to the end of their struggle with the numerous champions of Chinese liberty, the best army in the country, their own divisions and incapacity as rulers prevented their turning this superiority to any advantage. They also showed, by their indifference to the growing power of Choo, an inability to realize the situation, which would alone convict them of grave short-sightedness. While a formidable military power was being formed at their very doors, they remained inactive, or still worse, they further enfeebled themselves by indulging personal rivalries and petty ambitions. The last page in the history of Mongol power in China is unworthy of its mighty past. At the very moment when the conqueror was being vanquished by the conquered, the great Timour, descendant in the sixth degree of Genghis, was about to begin in Western Asia that marvellous career of triumph which emulated, if it could not surpass, that of the greatest of the Mongols. This fact makes it clear that the old Mongol spirit was not yet extinct; but it had certainly departed from that section of the family which had established itself in China.
With the fall of the Mongols a brighter era began for the Chinese, whose aspirations had been repressed under a foreign rule, and the qualities shown by Choo during those years when he was moulding the national will to his purpose did not, fortunately, become less conspicuous after he mounted the throne, as the first of the Mings with the style of Hongwou. It was generally felt that a more auspicious epoch was on the point of commencing, and that the ancient
glories of China were about to be revived in the form most agreeable and palatable to the nation. The incubus of a foreign domination had been cast off, and a great people could rejoice in the prospect raised by so satisfactory an achievement. The advent of the Mings to power was effected in the way most calculated to ensure the durability of their tenure, and the affection of the people was won by the fact that their new prince had conferred upon them the greatest of all the benefits which can be rendered by individuals to communities—the attainment of freedom.
THE REIGN OF HONGWOU.
With the capture of Pekin, and the despatch of an army into the north-west, under the command of his able general Suta, Hongwou had the leisure to take a careful survey of his position. The Mongols were then in full retreat for their northern solitudes, but the situation was still pregnant with difficulty. In this events were but following the usual course of human affairs; for it has been often demonstrated how much easier it is to destroy than to create. To expel the foreigner and revive a form of national government was a task which appealed generally to the good-will and support of the nation; but it by no means followed that the endeavour to place Hongwou on the throne would meet with the same support, or attain a similar degree of success. The first years after the storming of Pekin were, therefore, passed by Hongwou in considerable anxiety; but the prudence which had marked all his proceedings when in a minor capacity continued to characterize his acts as supreme ruler.
He began his career by attaining a great and striking success, and he showed how deserving he was of the prize he had won by his subsequent wisdom and moderation.
The first proclamations he issued were those in honour of his parents and ancestors, which attract and receive the approval of the Chinese. Having indulged his own personal feelings and gratified the popular sentiment, Hongwou next turned his attention to reward those who had so far assisted him in his enterprise. The generals were recompensed with titles and pecuniary grants for their faithful service; but as VOL. I.
these favours would have been conferred by the most ordinary of princes, Hongwou resolved to show the exceptional nature of his own talents by the bestowal of a peculiar distinction. In the year 1369, the first of his reign, he erected at Pekin a temple, or hall, in which statues were placed in honour of those of his generals who had been slain, whilst vacant places were left for those who still survived the chances of the long war of independence.
Hongwou was much too prudent a man, and too thoroughly acquainted with the idiosyncrasies of his countrymen, to make his army the sole prop of his power and the basis of his authority. The utility of possessing a highly efficient and trustworthy body of troops was incontestable, and Hongwou was happy and secure in the possession. But in China it is necessary to stability of authority that, in addition to the power of the sword, there shall be the expressed approval of the national mind. The force of public opinion is on cherished points irresistible from the unanimity of a great and multitudinous race; and Hongwou showed marked skill, not only in appreciating the drift of his people's minds, but in flattering the ideas which influenced their opinion. In a country composed exclusively of civilians, the new ruler saw how fatal a mistake it would be to unduly exalt the military class. The Mongols had committed that blunder, or rather it formed the distinguishing feature of their system, and consequently their rule never did, and probably never could, contain the elements of durability. Hongwou had no difficulty in reversing this system; and, while he kept several armies employed in the national war, he took every pains to impress upon his new subjects the fact that he was a man of peace, who believed that the national glory could be best advanced by promoting the welfare of the people. In China there are three principal ways of bringing these views home to the public mind. They are, first, by encouraging learning and by rewarding those who show proficiency in the study of the classical writers; secondly, by a pure and impartial administration of justice through the provincial governors ; and, thirdly, by the imposition of moderate and fairly distributed taxes, and also
THE RULER'S DUTIES.
by a benevolent attention to the local wants of the people, who, scattered over an enormous extent of country, and living under every variety of climate, are frequently visited with all the horrors due to drought, famine, and pestilence. The key to Hongwou's reign will be furnished by the manner in which he discharged the duties, thus defined, of a Chinese ruler.
The Mongols, although Kublai himself had set a wiser example, took but scant interest in the literature of the country; partly because they suffered from the inability of "barbarians” to understand or appreciate the beauties of a southern tongue, and also, no doubt, because the supremacy of letters was an idea totally foreign to their system. The wisdom of Kublai had imposed some fetters on their savage inclination; but with his death the inclination to patronize the classics of China passed away from his unworthy successors. There remained, therefore, to Hongwou the possibility of securing a greater amount of popular applause by encouraging learning, and by patronizing the literary classes. His first acts showed that he fully appreciated the opportunity, and they were guided by an excellence of judgment seldom shown by mortals in the shaping of even their own affairs, Much of the State resources had been turned aside from their legitimate objects by the later Emperors of the previous dynasty, to be devoted to purposes of personal indulgence, or for the maintenance of an unnecessary and foolish splendour. Hongwou's first measure was to stop every outlay that could come under the charge of extravagance, and to devote the public money to objects that might fairly be included in the category of national requirements. Not content with stopping the imprudent outlay which had marked the decline of the Mongol power, he even went so far as to destroy some of the costly palaces which had been constructed out of Chinese money to testify to the magnificence of the House of Genghis. In this extreme step we may see the working quite as much of shrewd judgment and of close acquaintance with the character of his countrymen, as of the spirit of an iconoclast. Hongwou's conduct was based on the best models, and could not fail to secure the national applause. When he remarked