Abbildungen der Seite
[blocks in formation]

some attempts against his life, this circumstance rendered him, or at least his court, more tenacious of external forms. It has been ascertained, however, that the agency of the provincial government of Canton was powerfully exerted against the last embassy.

When the reign of Kien-loong, like that of his grandfather, had in 1795 reached the unusual term of sixty years, which just completes a revolution of the Chinese cycle, he resigned the throne to his son, with the title of Emperor, while he reserved to himself that of the Supreme Emperor, though he retired altogether from state affairs, and lived but a short time afterwards. Kea-king was ill-calculated to maintain the imperial dignity after such a monarch as his father. Serra, a Catholic missionary, many years employed at Peking, obtained a very particular account of his habits, which were extremely profligate, and may account for the risks to which his life was exposed from assassins. After the early morning audience, from which no Emperor can excuse himself, and having despatched the business submitted to him, he generally retired to the company of players, and afterwards drank to excess. He would frequently proceed with players to the interior of the palace, and it was remarked that his two younger sons bore no resemblance to himself or to each other. He went so far as to carry the comedians with him, when he proceeded to sacrifice at the temples of Heaven and Earth. This, with other circumstances, was noticed in a memorial by the famous Soong-keun, or Soongta-jin, one of the censors, and the conductor and friend of Lord Macartney while in China. When summoned by the Emperor, and asked what punishment he deserved, he answered, “A slow and ignominious death.” When told to choose another, he said, " beheading;” and on the third occasion he chose

VOL. 1.


strangling*." He was ordered to retire, and on the following day, the court appointed him governor of the Chinese Siberia, the region of Tartary to which criminals are exiled; thus (as Serra observes) acknowledging his rectitude, though unable to bear his


When the reign of Kea-king, unmarked by any events except the suppression of some formidable revolts and conspiracies, had reached the twenty-fourth year, the occurrence of the sixtieth anniversary of the Emperor's age was celebrated by a universal jubilee throughout the empire. Even with private individuals, the attainment of the sixtieth year (a revolution of the cycle) is marked by a particular celebration. In 1819 the national jubilee was observed, as usual, by a remission of all arrears of land-tax; by a general pardon or mitigation of punishment to criminals; and by the admission of double the usual number of candidates to degrees at the public examinations. The celebration of one man's age by two or three hundred millions of people is rather an imposing festival, and could happen to none but the Emperor of China. Kea-king, however, only survived it by a single year; and his death, in 1820, was the occasion of some curious information being obtained relative to the mode of succession, and other particulars.

The Emperor's will, a very singular document, was published to the people. In it was this passage:“The Yellow river has, from the remotest ages, been China's sorrow.

Whenever the mouth of the stream has been impeded by sand-banks, it has, higher up its course, created alarm by overflowing the country. On such occasions, I have not spared the imperial treasury to embank the river, and restore the waters to their former channel. Since a former repair of the river was completed, six or seven years of tran

* The three gradations of capital punishment.



quillity had elapsed, when last year, in the autumn, the excessive rains caused an unusual rise of the water, and in Honân the river burst its banks at several points, both on the south and north sides. The stream Woo-chy forced a passage to the sea, and the mischief done was immense. During the spring of this year, just as those who conducted the repair of the banks had reported that the work was finished, the southern bank at Ee-foong again gave way.” The mention of this subject in the Emperor's will is a sufficient proof of its importance. If the science of European engineers could put an effectual stop to the evil, it would be the most important physical benefit that was ever conferred on the empire; but the illiberal jealousy of China is not likely to let the experiment be very soon tried. Even the European trade at Canton is annually taxed to meet the repairs of the Yellow river.

The Emperor's will proceeds to state the merits of his second son, the present Sovereign, Taou-kuang, in having shot two of the assassins who entered the palace in 1813, which was the reason of his selection. It has been even supposed, that Kea-king's death was hastened by some discontented persons of high rank, who had been lately disgraced in consequence of the mysterious loss of an official seal. The Emperor's death was announced to the several provinces by despatches written with blue ink, the mourning colour. All persons of condition were required to take the red silk ornament from their caps, with the ball or button of rank : all subjects of China, without exception, were called upon to forbear from shaving their heads for one hundred days, within which period none might marry, or play on musical instruments, or perform any sacrifice.

The personal character of the present Emperor is much better than that of his father, but the lofty title

which he chose for his reign, Taou kuâng, “the glory of reason,” has hardly been supported. The most disgraceful act of his administration was the murder, in 1828, of the Mahomedan Tartar prince, Jehanghir, who had surrendered himself in reliance on the faith of promises. It is supposed, indeed, that the reduction of those tribes towards Cashgar, effected by the aid of the Mongol Tartars that intervene, was marked by more than the usual share of Chinese treachery and craft. This war was a source of serious anxiety and expense to the Emperor, whose reign has been infested by a continual succession of public calamities, and by more revolts and insurrections than have been known since the time of the first Emperor of the Manchow dynasty. Subsequent to the termination of the troubles with the independent mountaineers northwest of Canton, which has been mentioned in another chapter, a very singular paper was written by a Chinese, stating the submission of the enemy to be a mere imposition on the Emperor by his officers, and a public disgrace. He said that the imperial commissioners had expended 500,000 taëls of silver for a sham surrender, and the appearance of victory, and wondered at their audacity in receiving the rewards of peacocks' feathers, and other marks of favour. The money was represented to have been thrown away, for the mountaineers had disowned the authority of those who accepted it, and remained as independent as ever

There must be a good deal of truth in this, or a Chinese would hardly have exposed himself to the risk of being the author; and it is a singular picture of the existing state of the empire. Many have been led by the events of recent years to surmise that the end of the Tartar dominion in China is at hand ; its establishment and continuance is certainly a fact not much less extraordinary (when the disproportion of the

conquerors to the conquered is considered) than

[graphic][merged small]
« ZurückWeiter »