Imatges de pÓgina

southern frontiers the Emperor's sovereignty was successfully asserted; and envoys came from the distant states of Bengal and Malacca to bring presents from their rulers to the Chinese potentate. The Chinese themselves were well pleased with these recognitions of their power, and regarded the elephants sent from India as omens of happy import. The internal condition of the country was prosperous, and its external affairs were directed with sagacity and confidence as to its mission.

( 445 )


THE MING DYNASTY (continued).

The accession of Gintsong's son, Suentsong, to the throne was not attended by any event of importance. For the time the clashing of arms had ceased throughout the land, and no more formidable contest presented itself for decision than a wordy war between the lettered classes of the nation. Yet that in its way was serious enough, and might have been fraught with grave consequences, because the grievances of a class so powerful as the literary body in China always has been, constituted a subject to which no ruler could be indifferent. The matter came home to every family in the kingdom and affected their worldly interests very closely. In the competitive examinations held throughout the country, students from the southern provinces carried everything before them, and threatened to monopolize all the honours. Not content with restricting their sphere of activity to their own native districts, they ventured beyond them, and were beginning to gain many of the prizes in the schools and academies of the north. Suentsong promptly answered the numerous petitions addressed to him on this subject by appointing a Commission of Inquiry, which found an easy and efficacious remedy by restricting competitors for literary honours to their native districts. The whole official and literary body was divided into three principal classes, one confined to the north, another to the centre, and the third to the south.

This difficulty happily solved, another presented itself in the discontent and ambition of the Emperor's uncle, Kaohin, who had been created Prince of Han, but whose ideas soared above a provincial governorship. In a short time he adopted a menacing attitude towards his nephew, and, making extensive military preparations, boasted that he held the Empire as much at his mercy as his father the Prince of Yen had done in the days of Kien Wenti. But Suentsong showed courage and capacity; and, assuming the command of his army in person, marched against his rival. The promptitude of his measures paralyzed the plans of Kaohin, and none thought of resisting a monarch who showed that he knew so well how to claim his rights and to assert his authority. Before it was generally realized in the country that Kaohin meditated revolt, he was under conveyance to a state prison at Pekin.

The latest Chinese province, Tonquin, proved anything but an easily governed possession. The hill-tribes and a large section of the settled inhabitants were in a constant ferment, and the Chinese garrison was kept continually on the alert and under arms. This state of things soon grew intolerable, and it became a question whether the province should be abandoned, or whether recourse should be had to extreme measures in order to stamp out the national disaffection. After several of his detached corps had been cut in pieces by the mountaineers, the governor sent urgent messages to request reinforcements, saying that without prompt aid he would be unable to maintain his position. On the receipt of this bad news a council was held by the Emperor in the palace, when, after anxious deliberation, it was decided to withdraw the Chinese garrison. Changfoo alone, who had gained his reputation by its conquest, was averse to its surrender, but his advice was either ignored or over-ruled. Thus came to an end in A.D. 1428, after the brief space of ten years, the direct exercise of Chinese authority in Tonquin. The significance of the event was further enhanced by the deposition of the Prince left on the throne by Suentsong's lieutenant, and by the elevation to supreme power of an intriguing minister and popular leader. Notwithstanding this flagrant violation of the agreement upon which he had withdrawn his troops, Suentsong did not conceive it to be prudent to renew his grandfather's interference in the affairs



of this state. The conquest of Tonquin had not indeed been attended with much difficulty, but its retention and administration had been only effected at the cost of a great effort. There was nothing in its position to repay the bloodshed it entailed, and Suentsong was wise to relax his hold upon it at the first opportunity and with the least affront to his personal dignity.

The tranquillity of Suentsong's life was no more disturbed by foreign wars, and the internal affairs of his country continued prosperous and raised no ground for anxiety. But in one respect he shocked the national sentiment, although he appears to have been led to do so by the desire of considering the necessities of the state. Shortly after his accession, he had proclaimed his principal and at that time favourite wife Empress, but time went on without his having an heir. This naturally caused considerable disappointment to a monarch desirous of retaining the throne in his own immediate descendants, and when one of his other wives presented him with a son the Empress's fall in his affections was assured. The child was proclaimed Heir Apparent with all the solemnity due to the auspicious occasion, and his mother was elevated to the rank of Empress, from which rank the Emperor's first wife was deposed. This unusual step, contrary to established rules, was received with murmurs on the part of the people, but the Emperor would not be diverted from his path. He might, perhaps, have been less determined on the subject had he known that the boy was not his. A substituted child, if we may accept the authority of the Emperor Keen Lung, was thus put in the place of the heir to the Chinese Empire.

Suentsong seems to have varied the monotony of reigning by periodical expeditions into the region north of China, which partook of the double character of the chase and the foray. During these he succeeded in inflicting some punishment upon the nomad tribes, and exhibited capacity in the conduct of irregular warfare by the manner in which he surprised the scattered forces of his opponent. A reign of assured internal peace and much national prosperity was brought suddenly to a conclusion in 1435. Suentsong showed during his reign of ten years the possession of many of the kingly virtues, and during his leisure hours he cultivated the Muses with attention and success. This amiable prince left the throne to the son whose doubtful birth he had hailed with such delight eight years before.

As Yngtsong, the new Emperor, was only a child of eight years of age, it was necessary that some one should assume the active responsibility of authority during his tender years ; and, as is usual under such circumstances, the opportunity was afforded the princesses of the reigning family to put themselves forward and assert their rights in the matter. The strongest willed and the most influential among them did not, however, prove to be the wife who had successfully imposed upon the late Emperor, and who had thereby obtained the supreme position in the palace ; but it turned out to be Changchi, Suentsong's mother. Her son was hardly dead when she seized the reins of power, and, proclaiming herself Regent, gained over the adherence of the most influential of the ministers by taking them into her confidence and by forming them into a council. This new governing body consisted of five members, who acted in co-operation with the Empress Regent. They possessed their offices, however, by her favour, and they appear to have been as little able to resist the tact of her advances as to oppose the schemes and policy which she propounded. They served as a useful screen for her ambition, and in bidding her grandson follow their example and accept their advice, she knew she was really directing him so as to best promote her own ends.

Her desire to exercise the authority of ruler being thus easily attained and gratified, it was only natural that she should look about to discern what persons there were who might threaten her undisturbed tenure of the position she had usurped, and whom she might count her friends and whom her enemies. Among the latter, as she conceived, none was more formidable and more to be dreaded than the eunuch Wangchin, who had gained a great ascendency over the young Emperor Yngtsong; and with the promptitude of an unscrupulous mind she resolved to compass his death. Before the assembled ministers and in the presence of the whole

« AnteriorContinua »