CHAPTER X. THE FIRST MANCHU RULER
While the Manchu generals and armies were establishing their power in Southern China the young Emperor Chuntche, under the direction of his prudent uncle, the regent Ama Wang, was setting up at Pekin the central power of a ruling dynasty. In doing so little or no opposition was experienced at the hands of the Chinese, who showed that they longed once more for a settled government; and this acquiescence on the part of the Chinese people in their authority no doubt induced the Manchu leaders to adopt a far more conciliatory and lenient policy toward the Chinese than would otherwise have been the case. Ama Wang gave special orders that the lives and property of all who surrendered to his lieutenants should be scrupulously respected. This moderation was only departed from in the case of some rebels in Shensi, who, after accepting, repudiated the Manchu authority, and laid close siege to the chief town of Singan, which held a garrison of only 3,000 Manchus. The commandant wished to make his position secure by massacring the Chinese of the town, but he was deterred from taking this extreme step by the representations of a Chinese officer, who, binding himself for the good faith of his countrymen, induced him to enroll them in the ranks of the garrison. They proved faithful and rendered excellent service in the siege; and when a relieving Manchu army came from Pekin the rebels were quickly scattered and pursued with unflagging bitterness to their remotest hiding places.
In the province of Szchuen a Chinese leader proclaimed himself Si Wang, or King of the West. He was execrated by those who were nominally his subjects. Among the most heinous of his crimes was his invitation to literary men to come to his capital for employment, and when they had assembled to the number of 30,000, to order them to be massacred. He dealt in a similar manner with 3,000 of his courtiers, because one of them happened to omit a portion of his full titles. His excesses culminated in the massacre of Chentu, when 600,000 innocent persons are said to have perished. Even allowing for the Eastern exaggeration of numbers, the crimes of this inhuman monster have rarely, if ever, been surpassed. His rage or appetite for destruction was not appeased by human sacrifices. He made equal war on the objects of nature and the works of man. He destroyed cities, leveled forests, and overthrew all the public monuments that embellished his province. In the midst of his excesses he was told that a Manchu army had crossed the frontier, but he resolved to crown his inhuman career by a deed unparalleled in the records of history, and, what is more extraordinary, he succeeded in inducing his followers to execute his commands. His project was to massacre all the women in attendance on his army.
When the assembly took place Si Wang slew his wives coram populo, and his followers, seized with an extreme frenzy, followed his example. It is said that as many as 400,000 women were slain that day, and Si Wang, intoxicated by his success in inducing his followers to execute his inhuman behests, believed that he had nothing to fear at the hands of the Manchus. But he was soon undeceived, for in one of the earliest affairs at the outposts he was killed by an arrow. His power at once crumbled away, and Szchuen passed under the authority of the Manchus. The conquest of Szchuen paved the way for the recovery of the position that had been lost in Southern China, and close siege was laid to the city of Canton. Outside Canton the Manchus carried everything before them, and that city itself at last was captured, after what passed for a stubborn resistance. Canton was given over to pillage.
At this moment of success Ama Wang, the wise regent, died, and Chuntche assumed the reins of government. He at once devoted his attention to administrative reforms. Corruption had begun to sway the public examinations, and Chuntche issued a special edict, enjoining the examiners to give fair awards and to maintain the purity of the service. But several examiners had to be executed and others banished beyond the Wall before matters were placed on a satisfactory basis. He also adopted the astronomical system in force in Europe, and he appointed the priest Adam Schaal head of the Mathematical Board at Pekin. But his most important work was the institution of the Grand Council, which still exists, and which is the supreme power under the emperor in the country. It is composed of only four members - two Manchus and two Chinese - who alone possess the privilege of personal audience with the emperor whenever they may demand it. As this act gave the Chinese an equal place with the Manchus in the highest body of the empire it was exceedingly welcome, and explains, among other causes, the popularity and stability of the Manchu dynasty. When allotting Chuntche his place among the founders of Manchu greatness, allowance must be made for this wise and far-reaching measure.
An interesting event in the reign of Chuntche was the arrival at Pekin of more than one embassy from European States. The Dutch and the Russians can equally claim the honor of having had an envoy resident in the Chinese capital during the year 1656.
In 1661 the health of Chuntche became so bad that it was evident to his courtiers that his end was drawing near, although he was little more than thirty years of age. On his deathbed he selected as his successor the second of his sons, who afterward became famous as the Emperor Kanghi. Kanghi assumed the personal direction of affairs when only fourteen years of age. Such a bold step undoubtedly betokened no ordinary vigor on the part of a youth, and its complete success reflected still further credit upon him.