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THE MING DYNASTY-continued.
Chitsong and Moutsong.
THE throne being thus left vacant and no heir existing whose claims could be held to be indisputable, there was every prospect of a period of trouble ensuing upon the death of Woutsong, and only the promptitude and resolution of the Empress Changchi averted such a catastrophe. She at once summoned all the principal officials to a secret council, and dwelling upon the critical nature of the situation, insisted on the absolute necessity of choosing some scion of the reigning House and proclaiming him Emperor. Their choice fell upon the grandson of the Emperor Hientsong, a youth of some fourteen summers, who ascended the throne under the style of Chitsong. A glimpse is obtained of this young prince before he had accepted the responsibility of power in his parting interview with his mother. Although fortune was about to raise him to so brilliant a station, we are told that he parted from her with reluctance. “My son,” she said, "you are about to accept a heavy burden; never forget the few words your mother has addressed to you, and always respect them."
His first act was to proclaim a general pardon, from which Kiangping, an ambitious official who had risen by the personal favour of Woutsong, and who even aspired to the purple, was alone excepted. Neither the Empress Dowager nor her ministers would allow this measure of oblivion to apply to so formidable an opponent, and Kiangping was accordingly executed after his estates had been made forfeit to the Crown.
In a very few months, therefore, the dangers of a disputed succession were happily averted, and the most formidable enemy of the public peace had been removed without difficulty or strife. Chitsong's long reign could not well have opened under fairer auspices.
The incursions of the Tartar chief Yenta had formed a principal element of disturbance throughout the lifetime of Woutsong; they became still more frequent after his successor occupied the throne. Indeed, hardly a year elapsed without witnessing some of his depredations either in Shansi or Pechihli, and his raid formed the annual event along the northern frontier. Nor was Yenta the only chief who troubled the borders, or whose acts weighed down weak-kneed ministers at the capital with the cares of government. Mansour, of Turfan, had succeeded to the authority and power of Hahema, and he had again established at Hami a delegate of his own. In 1522 he advanced across the desert and laid siege to Souchow, but in this he had miscalculated his strength. The town was stoutly defended, and Mansour was in turn attacked by a relieving force. From the battle which ensued, he was glad to escape with his life and the relics of his army. After this reverse, Mansour gave little more trouble, and in 1528 he thought it better, on account of the defection of several of his allies, to send in his surrender and to admit the supremacy of the Emperor.
Nor were these the sole quarters whence danger emanated. The district included in the loop of the Hoangho, and bounded on the south by the Great Wall, was inhabited by the assemblage of tribes known then and now under the name of Ordus or Ortus.* These, although settled within what may be called the geographical frontier of China, were really as independent of her authority as if they had been a tribe in a
* A full but uninteresting description of these tribes is given in " Mailla," vol. x. pp. 300-3. They still constitute one of those semi-subdued people -an imperium in imperio—whose existence mars the symmetry and completeness of the Chinese Empire according to the notions of Europe. Reference may also be made, for information about these tribes, to Timkowski's interesting “ Travels,” vol. ii. pp. 266-8; and to Huc's “ Travels," vol. i.
remote portion of Central Asia. They had owed this happy immunity from interference on the part of the Chinese taxcollectors and officials as much to the excellence of their conduct as to the natural difficulties and barren character of the region they inhabited. During the reigns of some of Chitsong's predecessors disturbances had arisen on this border, and the second year after his accession was marked by a raid on a more than usually large scale. The Ordus were doubtless encouraged in their depredations by the example of their eastern as well as by that of their western neighbours, although in comparison with either they were a source of small anxiety to the Pekin authorities.
Chitsong felt little disposition to devote himself to the cares of government, and preferred to relieve his superstition in religious ceremonies and to indulge his inclination by cultivating a taste for poetry. His advisers deplored the attitude of their prince, and remonstrated with him on the consequences that his indifference to the duties of his high office must entail. But their counsels were poured into ears that did not heed, and Chitsong continued the even tenor of
A mutiny among his troops at the northern post of Taitong did not avail to rouse him from his torpor, but when, after the birth of an heir, he expressed a desire to retire from the throne into private life, and made some preparations towards carrying his intention into execution, his courtiers all joined to urge upon him the necessity of abandoning it in order to save the realm from the numerous calamities of a long minority or disputed succession.
Three principal subjects alone were of absorbing interest in the reign of this Emperor, and it is the common fortune of great empires that they should relate exclusively to foreign affairs. But it must not be supposed that they exercised little or no effect on the material condition of the country, or on the development of the national resources. These three questions were the wars with Yenta the Tartar, and with the Japanese, and the progress of events in Cochin China. Each of these topics occupied a most important place in the annals of the time, and they contributed to swell the tide of difficulty that was already accumulating round the Ming dynasty. It
might be more instructive to trace the growth of thought among the masses, or to indicate the progress of civil and political freedom; yet not only do the materials not exist for such a task, but those we possess all tend to show that there has been no growth to describe, no progress to be indicated during these comparatively recent centuries. It is the peculiar and distinguishing characteristic of Chinese history that the people and their institutions have remained practically unchanged and the same from a very early period. Even the introduction of a foreign element has not tended to disturb the established order of things. The supreme ruler preserves the same attributes and discharges the same functions; the governing classes are chosen in the same manner; the people are bound in the same state of servitude, and enjoy the same practical liberty; all is now as it was. Neither under the Tangs nor the Sungs, under the Yuens nor the Mings, was there any change in national character, or in political institutions to be noted or chronicled. The history of the Empire has always been the fortunes of the dynasty, which have depended in the first place on the passive content of the subjects, and in the second, on the success or failure
its external and internal wars. This condition of things may
be disappointing to those who pride themselves on tracing the origin of constitutions and the growth of civil rights, and who would have a history of China the history of the Chinese people; although the fact is undoubted that there is no history of the Chinese people, apart from that of their country, to be recorded. The national institutions and character were formed, and had attained in all essentials to their present state, more than 2000 years ago, or before the destruction of all trustworthy materials for the task of writing their history by the burning of the ancient literature and chronicles of China. Without them we must fain content ourselves with the history of the country and the Empire.
The disturbances in Cochin China, which were the direct consequence of those previously recorded in that portion of the Empire, do not call for the same detailed notice as the two other matters referred to. When Lili had consolidated his position in that kingdom by his amicable convention with
the Chinese, he reigned for several years in tranquillity, and left his throne to his children. That family was still reigning at the time of Chitsong's accession, but he had not long occupied the Dragon Throne when the House of Lili began to experience the same misfortunes as those by which it had risen to the purple at the expense of another. An ambitious minister named Mouteng Yong ousted the reigning prince, and made his way by a succession of crimes to the throne. Secure of his main object, the exercise of unquestioned authority, he feigned moderation by placing on the throne one of his sons, while in the background he wielded the attributes of power without much of its responsibility. The path of the new despot was not free from trouble, as the royal house continued to find many supporters, but it still looked as if he would succeed in his plans when the Pekin Government suddenly came to the resolution to interfere and support the expelled family. Mouteng made some preparations to resist the Chinese army of invasion, but his heart misgave him at the critical moment, and he thought it better to accept terms by which he surrendered the throne he had usurped but retained the office of first minister. Thus for a further period the kingdom of Cochin China, through the intervention of the Chinese, secured internal tranquillity.
The Tartar chief Yenta, whose marauding attacks on the Shansi frontier had for some time caused the Chinese considerable trouble, represented a more serious danger to the Empire, for the governorship of Taitong, which was the principal scene of his activity, was situated within a short distance of the capital. He began in the year 1529 a series of incursions into Shansi, which continued throughout this and the following reign. Sometimes he varied the excitement of his pursuit by combining with his brother Kisiang, the chief of the Ordus, in raiding the western district of Ninghia across the Hoangho; but, as a rule, the neighbourhood of Taitong witnessed his exploits. Never, wrote the Imperial historian, were the frontiers of China more disturbed than they were by Yenta.
In 1541, Yenta carried his activity still further than he had yet done, for, under the guidance of a traitorous Chinese