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could reach the town it was necessary for him to capture Kingchow which was held by a resolute garrison, while the skilful general Wou Sankwei occupied the place of supreme command over the Quadrilateral of Leaousi.* Kingchow and Songshan were taken after several severe actions, and at the cost of a vast amount of bloodshed; but Ningyuen, with its new commandant Wou Sankwei, remained defiant as of old.
Taitsong had, therefore, to resort in the year 1642—3 to his former tactics of despatching expeditions into Shansi, which carried everything before them, it is true, but which contributed only very slightly and indirectly to the weakening of Chinese power at Ningyuen. The return of the last of these expeditionary forces had hardly been signalized by the usual festivities at Moukden, when Taitsong was seized with what proved to be a fatal illness.
Before his death events yet to be described had brought the Ming Empire to the verge of dissolution. The days of Tsongching were numbered, and his capital was at the mercy of a cruel and relentless rebel. The Manchu, who had so long appeared the most formidable of his enemies, did not prove the instrument whereby his fall was effected. Taitsong was not destined to be the scourge of Providence to purify a corrupt court, and to reform a profligate society. Indeed, the Manchu chief's death preceded the suicide of the last Ming Emperor by some months.
Taitsong was only fifty-two years of age at the time of his death in September 1643, and when he died he left the main object of his life apparently as distant from realization as when he took up the scheme committed to him as a legacy by his father Noorhachu. The Manchus had inflicted an incalculable amount of injury on the Chinese, and Taitsong had enjoyed the empty honour of having laid unsuccessful siege to Pekin; but the conquest of China remained a feat for the accomplishment of which all the military power of the Manchus, aided by the great talent of their leaders, had as yet
* Cis Leaoutung. The Quadrilateral were Kingchow, Ningyuen, Songshan, and Shanhaikwan.
proved inadequate. On the very eve of its attainment the balance of chances seemed, humanly speaking, greater against the Manchu ambition than it had been at any time during the previous generation; and by the irony of fate the triumph which had been denied to both Noorhachu and Taitsong was reserved for a child, the grandson of the former and the son of the latter.
Taitsong was buried at Moukden* in the midst of the people whom he had helped to make great. He had made his authority recognized among all the Tartars from the districts of the Eleuths to the waters of Japan. Corea was his vassal, and Leaoutung one of his provinces. Famous as a warrior, he deserved to rank still higher as the civilizer of the Manchus. It was not his lot to conquer China, but he at least indicated the only way in which it could be subdued. The Chinese themselves recognized in him a man who strove above all things to adapt his ways of government to the customs of those he aspired to govern. In Taitsong's hands the ambition of his family lost nothing of its dignity and grandeur; and he passed it on to his successors in a more tangible and definite form. Taitsong may fairly be held to have directed, as well as quickened, the growth of Manchu power, and, but for his energy and good judgment, it may be doubted whether his race would ever have been elevated to the high position of occupying the Dragon Throne.
• Moukden is now known to the Chinese as Shinyan^;. For the eulogy of this capital of the Manchus see Keen Lung's poem in Amiot's "Memoirs Concernant les Mcurs, &c. des Chinois," Paris, 1776. An account of moden Moukden will be found in Fleming's travels already cited. The tombs of the early Manchu emperors were then (forty years ago) reported to stand in need of repair. A dynasty totters on the throne when the monuments to its founders and progenitors are neglected.
THE CONQUEST OF CHINA.
These long years of misgovernment had allowed so plentiful
a crop of private grievances and public misfortunes to
accumulate in China that no difficulty was experienced by
adventurers in attracting to their fortunes large numbers oi
followers under one plea or another. An individual had bu:
to give out that he desired to redress any one of the many
national evils, and forthwith he found himself at the head of
an armed force, which, if not very formidable against trained
battalions, more than sufficed to overcome the small, unpaid
and semi-mutinous local garrisons. Several of these
insurrectionary movements have already attracted passing
notice while the Manchu danger seemed more pressing and
immediate; but, as a lull ensued in the bitterness of that
contest after Taitsong's retreat from Pekin, the internal peril
thrust itself more prominently into view, and assumed larger
and more formidable proportions. There were, no doubt,
many who thought that the worst consequences of Tartar
invasion had been realized, and that, although the end of the
Mings might be at hand, the Manchus would not be strong
enough to usurp their inheritance. Such a conviction was a
direct incentive to the ambitious to seize the golden oppor
tunity for finishing the Mings out of hand, and so it seemed*
at all events, to Li Tseching, who now comes more pr°"
minently forward as one of the chief arbiters of Chinas
Li Tseching was the son of a peasant of Yenan in the province of Shensi, and, at an early age, he betook hirnsell A SACK. 535
to the practice of arms, being renowned both as a horseman and as an archer. As early as the year 1629 he appears on the scene as one of a band of robbers, but at that time the Emperor's lieutenants were able to assert their master's authority, and Li Tseching was fortunate to make his escape from an encounter in which most of his companions lost either their lives or their liberty. The very next year, however, found him high in the command of a large force of rebels which assumed almost the proportions of an army. After a few years' service as lieutenant he succeeded to the command in chief on the death of his leader. In this capacity he gained many advantages over the Imperialists, and a large extent of country was subject to his exactions. Sometimes he acted in concert with Chang Hienchong, a Mahomedan chief, whose career closely resembled his own; but more generally he carried on his operations without the assistance or the cognizance of those having similar objects to attain. For it was the characteristic mark of his system that while he resorted to violence to carry his ends he often turned danger aside and extricated himself from a perilous situation by simulating a desire to come to terms with the authorities. Other insurgents obtained marked successes, and then after an interval disappeared. Hut Li Tseching remained, and the growth of his power was steady and sure.
The details of his career claim not our attention until, from the position of a robber chief in the mountains of Shensi, he raised his aspiring glance to the throne of Pekin itself. In the year 1640, when it was computed that nearly half a million of men obeyed his orders, he first began to turn his thoughts in the direction of ousting the Ming. With that object in view he undertook the siege of the important city of Kaifong, one of the principal places in Honan, and once the capital of China. Before he could attack Kaifong he had first to besiege and take Honanfoo, where he was received with resolution, and long kept in check by the valour of the governor. Treachery within at last opened the gates to him, and the town of Honan no longer constituted an obstacle in his path. The place appears to have been handed over to the soldiery, when horrors that cannot be described are reported to have been perpetrated. At Kaifong, which was at this period one of the strongest fortresses in China, he did not fare so well, for after laying siege to it during seven days he beat a retreat pursued by an army sent from Pekin to the succour of the central provinces.
Li Tseching does not appear to have been much awed by the extensive preparations made against him, and although the Emperor placed four armies in the field he boldly assumed the offensive. The Imperialists, in dealing with the rebels, resorted to the tactics which had proved so fatal to them in the case of the foreign invader; and the consequences were similar. Li Tseching met their armies in detail and overthrew them. Many thousands of the soldiers refused to fight, and joined the ranks of their opponent. After these decisive successes, Li Tseching again invested Kaifong, and so greatly had the terror of his name increased that he might have captured it had he not been compelled to suddenly raise the siege in consequence of a severe wound inflicted by an arrow.
Several times after this second withdrawal Li returned to lay siege to Kaifong, and at last, towards the end of the year 1642, an accident placed it in his possession. The governor who had defended the town with such intrepidity had, among other precautions, flooded the moat by means of a canal from the Hoangho, and this extra barrier of defence had no doubt greatly contributed to the discomfiture of Li Tseching. But in the result it was to prove fatal to the Imperialists. The Hoangho, at all times capricious in its movements, and the source of as much trouble as benefit to the provinces it waters, rose suddenly to the dimensions of a flood, and, overflowing its banks, spread over the country. Li's camp was speedily under water, and many of his soldiers were drowned; but most escaped to a neighbouring eminence. The garrison was not so fortunate. The waters of the river bore down the walls and flooded the streets. Thousands perished at the time, and thousands more were slain by the rebels outside. The formidable defences of the city were levelled by the shock of nature, and of the once famous Kaifong there remained only the ruins left by this deluge.