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during the reign of Kiaking, when suspected persons were rigorously excluded from the Palace and inner fortress of the capital, and with them all heed for national necessities and expectations.
Kiaking was to learn that such protection is delusive, even in its main purpose, and that difficulties are not overcome by a refusal to recognize them. In the year 1813, when some satisfactory progress had been made towards the pacification of Shantung, the Chinese world was astonished and startled by the announcement that a band of conspirators had made a daring attack on the Palace itself, and that they had almost succeeded in their attempt to kill the Son of Heaven. A body of rebels, some two hundred in number, succeeded in making their way into the inner city, by one of the gates according to some, by climbing over the wall according to others; and, taking the guards by surprise, made straight for the presence of the Emperor. Some of them fell, or were engaged in a struggle with such of the soldiers and officials as possessed the presence of mind or the courage to bar their way; but several overcame or evaded all opposition, and reached Kiaking's chamber. It is certain that, but for the appearance and promptitude of Prince Meenning, Kiaking's days were then numbered. Meenning, fortunately for him, showed a courage and decision in action that were not expected from one of so peaceful and retiring a disposition. Snatching up a gun, he shot two of the intruders, while a nephew of the Emperor despatched a third. Kiaking was thus for a second time saved from the steel of his own subjects ; but his narrow escape seems to have had the effect of heightening the worst features in his character. To Meenning his gratitude, however, was unbounded ; and that prince, afterwards the Emperor Taoukwang, was at once proclaimed heir-apparent with every attendant ceremony of solemnity.
After these manifestations of vigour and resolution, the observer may feel more disposed to believe that the secret societies of China, which caused even the Emperor to feel insecure in his palace, were a formidable and well-organized association of either well-meaning or desperate men.
The conditions inseparable from either a despotic sway, or
foreign domination, compel those who aspire to effect the cure or removal of public evils to have recourse to secrecy as some substitute for strength. In Europe we have some instances of this alternative having been both successfully and honourably employed. The mind will recur to the Vehmgericht and the Vespers of Palermo, to days when to belong to secret associations meant devotion to patriotic obligations, and not an inclination to criminal pursuits. China had nothing to learn from Europe, either as to the objects to be attained in this way, or as to how men are to be bound to one another by solemn oaths for the attainment of illegal ends, although they may be perfectly justifiable on some other ground.
In China, where the ordinary affairs of life are always wrapped up in some high moral sentiment, or in some axiom of accepted wisdom enunciated by one of the early sages, the objects of a political association borrow their form from this national peculiarity. Men are brought together, not with the ostensible object of ousting the Manchu, or of reforming society, but with that of "uniting heaven and earth,” of propagating " celestial reason," or of spreading the worship of " the queen of heaven, the mother and nurse of all things." In China the precaution has even been taken of further masking the proposed scope of its operations by the assumption of a title of not merely inappropriate meaning, but occasionally of absolutely no meaning at all. By this device not only has the suspicion of the executive been often allayed, but the curiosity-that powerful agent and frequently very useful ally-of the public has been enlisted in behalf of its objects, without knowing whither they tended.
The first principle of a secret association is equality. Each assumes the same risk, and fidelity to the common bond can only be ensured by all being pledged to mutual support in both danger and necessity. Such conditions formed the basis of membership in those political clubs which became so numerous during the reign of Kiaking. In a couplet, wherein was supposed to be expressed the guiding maxim of one of the most important of these societies, it was said that “the blessing and the woe should be reciprocally
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borne and shared.” In the machinery of government, drawn up for the guidance of its members, the ingenuity of the people revealed itself, and the Nihilistic associations of Russia could not find much to improve upon in the regulations of these Chinese confederacies which, after thirty years of silent intrigue, succeeded in plunging the Empire into a state of insurrection from the effects of which it is only now recovering. A similar state of things may well lead to a similar result.
The principle of Freemasonry was adopted, and all the members were called Brothers. The chosen leaders were styled in addition Elders, but this superior title was awarded to a very small number, and those only of the most trusted and experienced. Bound together by laws of which the full nature has never been revealed or discovered, treachery, or want of the necessary zeal in carrying out the behests of the order, was punished by death, inflicted by a chosen delegate, or more than one, as representative of the injured brotherhood. Various ceremonies of as impressive a character as the human mind can conceive had been assigned to mark the entrance of a new member. The night-time was selected as the appropriate hour for so grave an undertaking, and the members assembled from far and near to take part in an office which enhanced their individual importance while it added to their collective strength. When thirty-six oaths had been sworn to advance the cause and to stand by his colleagues to the last extremity, and when a present of money had been made to show that the novice placed his worldly goods at the service of the common fund, the most important part of the ceremony was next performed. This was called “crossing the bridge.” The novice stood underneath two drawn swords held over his head by two members, while the Elder Brother heard him affirm his undeviating fidelity to the cause ; and when this was finished the new member cut off the head of a cock with the exclamation, "Thus may I perish if the secret I divulge!” To meetings such as these, held in retired woods, lonely houses, or in the deserted burial-places of the ancient kings, did Kiaking's enemies flock, and they returned from them to their daily
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avocations with thoughts in their minds and pledges on their consciences that could not but bode ill for the tranquillity of the realm. By signs known only to themselves, and by pass-words, these sworn brothers could recognize their members in the crowded streets, and could communicate with each other without exciting suspicion as to their being conspirators at heart, with a common object in view.
In its endeavour to cope with this formidable and widespread organization under different names, Kiaking's Government found itself placed at a serious disadvantage. Without an exact knowledge of the intentions or resources of its secret enemies, it failed to grapple with them; and, as its sole remedy, could only decree that proof of membership carried the penalty of death,
Although all these disturbing elements, which seemed to require a monopoly of the ruler's attention, were at work, yet Kiaking did not abate any of his pretensions as a great ruler, and, indeed, in some ways he carried his head higher and behaved more arrogantly than any of his predecessors. In 1803 a long-standing insurrection in Annam threatened to alter the condition of affairs in that State, and to derange, in consequence, its dependence on Pekin. An ambitious minister defied his master, and raised a powerful faction against him. He defeated the ruler's troops in several encounters, and when he drew up his forces outside Hué, the capital, success seemed within his grasp. But the fortunate arrival of a Chinese expedition, although the French claim the greater credit from the presence of a few of their officers, baffled his designs and saved the dynasty. A victory gained outside Hué decided the pretensions of the rebel, who fell on the field; and, while it left Annam under the tranquil control of its sovereign, it also gave fresh significance to the claims of China over another of its remoter feudatories. Tranquillity was little more than restored in this southern kingdom, when a benefit of a different if undoubted kind was conferred on the Chinese themselves by the introduction into Canton of the practice of vaccination. To an Englishman, Dr. Pearson, belongs the credit of this real service to suffering humanity; and it only remains to be
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said that the Chinese betook themselves so readily to the practice that they soon spread it far and wide.
Kiaking had shown himself ill-disposed towards foreigners from the first days of his reign. Père Amiot, to whose literary efforts we owe so deep a debt of gratitude, and who rendered good service to the Chinese themselves in his official position at Pekin, was expelled, after a residence of thirty years, from the country; and the Portuguese Padre Serra owed rather to his good fortune than to any other circumstance the permission to remain at the capital. The representatives of the Church of Rome had, it is true, sunk by this time into utter insignificance, and the question of China's relations with the foreign Powers had entered upon the much larger phase of her dealings with the great conquering and commercial races of Europe. The scene of interest had also been shifted from the capital to the great city of Canton, the one port where trade was allowed with the outer races, if only on onerous conditions and subject to frequent interruptions. Hither, however, came French and American traders in their ships as well as those of England, with the view of tapping the wealth of the Celestial Empire ; and the keen competition of commerce was further embittered by the progress of the great wars in Europe, which were reflected in their course on the shores of China and in the Indian seas.
It must not be supposed, although the totals appear small in comparison with the dimensions they have subsequently reached, that the China trade was considered a matter of small importance by the Directors of the East India Company, whose charter conferred on them the monopoly of the trade with that country as well as with the Indies. It was always deemed a matter of the very highest importance, on which not merely the future development, but the annual dividend of the greatest trading and administering company of all time depended. The profit of the China trade enabled Warren Hastings and the Marquis Wellesley to carry out their schemes of empire at the same time that they satisfied the wants and expectations of the Directors in Leadenhall Street. Each year was consequently marked by a steady increase in the quantity of goods sent from Calcutta and