Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

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 This important historical document was issued by the Hoppo, or Farmer of the Customs, at Canton, the one port open to foreign trade.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

ENGLISH AND FRENCH.

5

to it as a bad thing in itself, and as likely to bring many
evils in its train upon the Middle Kingdom. The edict in
question, although signed in the name of the Hoppo, was
really drawn up by the pens, and issued by the express
command, of the Board of Censors at Pekin.

Circumstances intervened, moreover, very shortly after the
publication of this edict to give weight to the remonstrances
of those who declared that it was intolerable that the people
of the Celestial Empire should be compelled, against the
inclination of their leaders, to hold communication with
strangers who appeared, in the eyes of a true follower of
Confucius, as little better than barbarians. The laws of war
are arbitrary, and even on the China coast, during the in-
tensity of the great European contest with France, each
combatant strove to snatch an advantage from the other.
The manner in which the Portuguese had come into occupa-
tion of Macao has been previously explained; but when the
nineteenth century commenced the descendants of Da Gama
had lost their national enterprise, and were in very deed as
in name no more there than the tenants of the Chinese.
Yet the position of Macao was so advantageous that it
presented a standing temptation to all interested in the
commerce of the Chinese seas to wrest it from the feeble
hands of those who held it. Immunity from danger, so far
as the Chinese were concerned, seemed to be certain from the
weakness and inefficiency of their fleet; but it was different
with those other Europeans who felt the inducement and
possessed the power. While the French conceived the
undertaking, the English had executed it; and, as it had
proved in other parts of Asia between these two rival peoples,
the victory was to the swift as well as to the strong. During
the year 1802 Macao was occupied by an English force and
squadron ; and it was only evacuated as one of the minor
details of the Treaty of Amiens. Macao was thus treated as
if it were a European possession, and probably not the least
thought was given to the breach its occupation by an armed
force involved of the sovereign rights of China. The brief
time that the English squadron remained there in 1802 pre-
vented an angry discussion ; but when the operation was
repeated six years later, the wrath of the Chinese, as will be seen, could no longer be controlled.

The pretensions of the Chinese are only to be supported by a mighty and efficient power. Without that they must invite many difficulties, and bring down upon the country a multitude of calamities. It was only in the natural course of things that when first a sense of weakness was felt, the arrogance of the Emperor should become more apparent. To Kiaking the presence of Europeans on his coasts in increasing numbers appeared in the light of a danger, in consequence of the ill-concealed disaffection among large sections of his own subjects. Had his Government felt strong in its own resources, it could have afforded to regard the foreign traders at Canton with unaffected indifference; but the Tartars, goaded into irritation by their own fears at the aversion of the Chinese, resorted to a policy of petty provocation in their dealings with the races of Europe. The course they adopted was one well-defined and clearly arranged, for the express purpose of heightening the glory of the rulers of China, and of hindering all relations with the "outer barbarians." In so far as it succeeded it served the purpose for which it was framed, and obtained that sort of popular approval which is never refused to measures that have the tendency to show that a nation is the superior of any other. But when it proved impossible, it became the cause of much national misery and misfortune.

The antipathy to the inhabitants of a strange and unknown world, natural to the human mind, was in China fomented for its own purposes by all the means at the disposal of the ruling caste. The ill-will of Kiaking increased with his personal embarrassments. It was bad enough in his eyes that the peoples of the West should be permitted to plant their feet at any time within the borders of the Empire, but it was intolerable that they should be witnesses of the disunion spreading within the realm, and of the scanty respect paid to even the person of the sovereign. For the popular discontent had reached such a pass that Kiaking could no longer consider himself safe in his own capital. In 1803, when his illustrious father had not been dead more

SECRET SOCIETIES.

7

a

than four years, the Emperor was attacked in open day, while being carried in his chair of state through the streets of Pekin. The attack was evidently well-planned, and the plotters almost succeeded in attaining their object. Kiaking stood in imminent danger of murder, when the striking devotion of a few of his eunuch attendants foiled his assailants, and saved his life at the price of their own. This outrage produced a great sensation, and the public mind was much affected by so flagrant an insult upon the person of the chosen Son of Heaven. Chinese Emperors, indeed, had before that fallen victims to the assassin; but if so, it had been in the interior of their palaces, and not in the open way of the people. The national sense of decorum then incurred a grave shock.

The discovery was soon made that this attempted assassination formed part of an extensive plot with ramifications among the Imperial family itself. A series of inquisitorial investigations took place, which had as their outcome the disgrace and punishment of many of the Emperor's relatives; but even this summary proceeding failed to restore confidence to the heart of Kiaking. He never allowed himself to forget the narrow escape he had had; and while he often expressed surprise at their turpitude, he never afterwards permitted his kinsmen to pass out of the range of his suspicion.

The peculiar feature of this conspiracy was its originating, perhaps, and certainly its extensively developing, under the auspices of one of those secret societies, which, in the form of fraternal confederacies and associations, have always been a feature in Chinese life, but which have acquired during the present century an importance they could never previously claim, both in China itself, and among Chinese colonies abroad. Of these the first to attract notoriety, and to be marked out for disapproval by the Government, was the society known as the sect of the White Water-lily, or the Pe-lëen-keaou. Whether because it was as a matter of fact incriminated in the plot of 1803, or whether, and more probably, the Government availed itself of that event as an excuse to denounce and punish the members of a society which it both disapproved of and feared, the fact is certain that the members of the Water-lily association were accused of holding unorthodox opinions, and of meditating treasonable practices. The province of Shantung was the immediate scene of their appearance and outbreak; but although the Water-lilies threatened to be dangerous, they very soon lost their significance, and disappeared in the more formidable and extensive confederacy known as the Society of Celestial Reason, which at a still later period was merged into that of the Triads.

Although the designations were frequently changed, and sometimes with the express object of misleading the authorities no name was taken or at least publicly revealed, there seems little doubt that the Water-lily * sect was the originating society, and that all the subsequent orders sprang from its members. The escape of the Emperor, and the summary punishment of those leaders of the conspiracy who were captured, did not lead to the collapse of the Water-lily band, and, although proscribed by name, their operations continued, and their daring was remarkable. We have seen the financial embarrassments of Kiaking, and that the escheated property of Hokwan served but to minister to his personal pleasure, and not to the alleviation of the difficulties of government. The dissatisfaction of the seditiously inclined grew rapidly, and before the Emperor's advisers had realized the extent of the discontent, many of the inhabitants of Shantung, and of three other provinces, had joined the society of the Waterlily, and had formed themselves into a common band, no longer for the attainment of secret ends, but from open hostility to the ruling powers. In China the machinery resorted to for the redress of public grievances may assume a character of secrecy; but if the objects are based on palpable facts, such as popular suffering, the spirit of insubordination very speedily reveals itself. So it was in the case of the

* The name Water-lily was chosen on account of the popularity of that plant. M. Huc says, “The poets have celebrated it in their verses, on account of the beauty of its flowers; the doctors of reason have placed it among the ingredients for the elixir of immortality; and the economists have extolled it for its utility."_" Chinese Empire," vol. ii. pp. 309-10.

« AnteriorContinua »