CHAPTER IX. THE MANCHU CONQUEST OF CHINA

Tingbi, with the wrecks of the Chinese armies, succeeded in doing more for the defense of his country than had been accomplished by any of his predecessors with undiminished resources. He built a chain of forts, he raised the garrison of Leaoutung to 180,000 men, and he spared no effort to place Leaouyang, the capital of that province, in a position to stand a protracted siege. If his counsels had been followed to the end, he might have succeeded in permanently arresting the flood of Manchu conquest; but at the very moment when his plans promised to give assured success, he fell into disgrace at the capital, and his career was summarily ended by the executioner. The greatest compliment to his ability was that Noorhachu remained quiescent as long as he was on the frontier, but as soon as he was removed he at once resumed his aggression on Chinese soil.

Meanwhile, Wanleh had been succeeded on the Chinese throne by his son, Chu Changlo, who took the name of Kwangtsong. He was an amiable and well- meaning prince, whose reign was unquestionably cut short by foul means. There is little doubt that he was poisoned by the mother of his half- brother, from a wish to secure the throne for her son; but if so she never gained the object that inspired her crime, for the princes of the family met in secret conclave, and selected Kwangtsong's son a youth of sixteen, as his successor. The choice did not prove fortunate, as this prince became known as Tienki the Unhappy, whose reign witnessed the culmination of Ming misfortunes. One of his first acts was the removal of Tingbi from his command, and this error of judgment, aggravated by the ingratitude it implied to a faithful servant, fitly marked the commencement of a reign of incompetence and misfortune.

In 1621 the Manchu war reopened with an attack on Moukden or Fanyang, which Noorhachu had marked out as his next object. The garrison was numerous, and might have made a good defense, for the walls were strong; but the commandant was brave to the degree of temerity, and, leaving his fortress, marched out to meet the Manchus in the open. The result was a decisive overthrow, and the victors entered Moukden at the heels of the vanquished. The Chinese still resisted, and a terrible slaughter ensued, but the Manchus retained their conquest. At this juncture the Chinese were offered the assistance of the Portuguese at Macao, who sent a small body of 200 men, armed with arquebuses and with several cannon, to Pekin; but after some hesitation the Chinese, whether from pride or contempt of so small a force, declined to avail themselves of their service, and thus lost an auxiliary that might have turned the fortune of the war in their favor. The Portuguese were sent back to Macao, and, although the Chinese kept the cannon, and employed the Jesuit priests in casting others for them, nothing came of an incident which might have exercised a lasting influence not merely on the fortune of the war, but also on the relations between the Chinese and Europeans. The Chinese sent several armies to recover Moukden; but, although they took these guns with them, they met with no success, and Noorhachu made it the base of his plan of attack on Leaouyang, the capital of the province. The defense of this important town was intrusted to Yuen Yingtai, the court favorite and incompetent successor of Tingbi. That officer, unwarned by the past, and regardless of the experience of so many of his predecessors, weakened himself and invited defeat by attempting to oppose the Manchus in the open. He was defeated, losing some of his best soldiers, and compelled to shut himself up in the town with a disheartened garrison. The Manchus gained an entrance into the city. Then a terrible encounter took place. The garrison was massacred to a man, Yuen Yingtai, brave, if incapable, committed suicide, and those of the townspeople who wished to save their lives had to shave their heads in token of subjection. This is the first historical reference to a practice that is now universal throughout China, and that has become what may be called a national characteristic. The badge of conquest has changed to a mark of national pride; but it is strange to find that the Chinese themselves and the most patient inquirers among sinologues are unable to say what was the origin of the pig-tail. They cannot tell us whether shaving the head was the national custom of the Manchus, or whether Noorhachu only conceived this happy idea of distinguishing those who surrendered to his power among the countless millions of the long-haired people of China. All that can be said of the origin of the pig-tail is that it was first enforced as a badge of subjugation by the Manchus at the siege of Leaouyang, and that thenceforward, until the whole of China was conquered, it was made the one condition of immunity from massacre.