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THE HISTORY OF CHINA.
THE REIGN OF KIAKING.
WHEN the aged Keen Lung passed from the hall of audience
that he has the finest country within an Imperial ring-fence in the world.”
The transfer of sovereign power from the hands of one ruler to those of another is always a matter of moment to the tranquillity of the realm as well as to the sentiment of the people. Its importance is immeasurably enhanced when the reign has been one of the exceptional length of the Emperor Keen Lung's; and men who had grown up accustomed to the ways of a staid and virtuous court feared lest his successor might depart from the search of wisdom and pursue that of folly. It is impossible to say how far the new Emperor had shown tastes or habits to give weight to the apprehension, but it does appear as if Keen Lung's favourable opinion of his chosen heir was not shared by some of his most trusted advisers. The prospect of a change in the practices of the court, and in the mode of administration, awakened some mistrust throughout the country, while it excited open dread at the capital. Even under the iron rule of Keen Lung the ambition of individuals, the aggressiveness of neighbours, and the disaffection of subject peoples had not been altogether repressed, and each in its turn had proved a source of trouble and anxiety. The appearance of a new and untried man in the place of power seemed to many to furnish the opportunity of renewing enterprises that had failed under different auspices. The mutable decrees of Fortune might well be expected to show some sign of wavering after a complete cycle of consistent favour.
To these causes, rather than to any gross incapacity on the part of the new Emperor, or to the progress of decay in the system, must be attributed the various disturbances which broke out among the people shortly after Keen Lung's death, and which were aggravated by the dissensions within the reigning house itself. None of these attained any large dimensions or threatened very serious danger, but in China the incentives to insurrection inevitable in any vast country are indefinitely increased by the difficulty of moving troops at any distance from the postal roads and water routes, as well as by the little value placed upon human life. The most prosperous and glorious reigns have not been free from these
jarring elements; and Kiaking, without his capacity, could not expect to escape the troubles that had beset his father. What wonder, then, that the accession of the new sovereign was followed by outbreaks of disturbance and sedition ; although we must refuse to attribute them to any process of natural decay in the Empire, but rather incline to the supposition that they had no distinct meaning, or at the most that they were tentative schemes to test the real power of the executive? The objects at which these disturbers of the general peace aimed were as diverse as the motives of their conduct; and the following incident, which was the originating cause of much of Kiaking's misfortune, will serve to show that the apprehension of personal loss and indignity was not the least important factor in introducing the distractions of civil strife within the borders of his dominions.
Among the ministers of Keen Lung's later years, none had enjoyed the same pre-eminence as Hokwan, or Ho Chung Tong. The favour of his master secured for him a position of such importance that he was not merely the dispenser of his bounty and the director of his political affairs, but he also held the key of his exchequer. The esteem of this Emperor was so great that his confidence in his minister knew no bounds; while the age of the monarch prevented the close supervision of Hokwan's doings that might have been beneficial in his own interests. So long as Keen Lung lived Hokwan was above suspicion and secure against the animad versions of his enemies. But when that monarch died in the last year of the eighteenth century, Hokwan fell upon evil days, and had to bear without support the attack of his numerous enemies. He succumbed to the onset made upon him ; but his fall has been too lightly attributed to the greed of Kiaking. If the statement is true that he had amassed eighty millions of taels or twenty-five millions sterling, there scarcely needed clearer testimony of his guilt; and Kiaking, in signing the order for his execution, did nothing more than his duty for so signal a breach of trust. It is true that the Emperor, sorely pressed for money, benefited by this prize; but there seems no reason to question the substantial truth of the official account. There is too general a fancy that the Chinese write their
history and give their statistics with the view of impressing the outside world. It is much more probable that the idea of such an audience never presents itself to their mind. Although the natural character of the people is not marked by truthfulness, the pride of the literary official class makes accuracy, or at least the attempt to be accurate, a cardinal virtue in dealing with the archives of the State. The execution of Hokwan was the penalty exacted from the most prominent citizen of the realm for indulging in systematic peculation, in which he was imitated with alacrity by his subordinates; and there is little doubt that this strong step was needed to check, if only for a time, one of the worst tendencies in the civil organization of the Chinese Empire.
Had Kiaking devoted this large amount of money to the public service, and resolutely striven to supply with it the exigencies of government, he might have left a name honoured in the annals of his country. He appears, however, to have squandered the treasure seized from Hokwan on personal amusement, and, relieved by the death of his father from an irksome restraint, he hastened to indulge in all kinds of excesses. The vast sum he had acquired by Hokwan's exposure was soon dissipated, without benefiting the State, or greatly contributing to the happiness of the man. At the same time, the moral declamations of his Government were not affected by his own conduct, and the very same year (1800) that beheld the commencement of extravagant display at Pekin was marked by the first edict passed on the subject of foreign opium. This important historical document was issued by the Hoppo, or Farmer of the Customs, at Canton, the one port open to foreign trade. The loftiness of its moral tone, in striking contrast with the conduct of the Emperor and his courtiers, only partially conceals the fact that the antipathy of the Chinese officials was directed against foreign trade as a whole, and not against the opium traffic as a part. Moreover, it must be remembered that whereas the Hoppo himself and the majority of the Canton mandarins were favourable to intercourse with the foreigner for personal reasons, and so long as they derived a pecuniary advantage from it, the Censors at the capital were consistently opposed