CHAPTER XI. THE EMPEROR KANGHI

Among the Mongol tribes the noblest at this period were the Khalkas. They prided themselves on being the descendants of the House of Genghis, the representatives of the special clan of the great conqueror, and the occupants of the original home in the valleys of the Onon and Kerulon. Although their military power was slight, the name of the Khalka princes stood high among the Mongol tribes, and they exercised an influence far in excess of their numbers or capacity as a fighting force. Kanghi determined to establish friendly relations with this clan, and by the dispatch of friendly letters and costly presents lie succeeded in inducing the Khalka chiefs to enter into formal alliance with himself, and to conclude a treaty of amity with China, which, be it noted, they faithfully observed. Kanghi's efforts in this direction, which may have been dictated by apprehension at the movements of his new neighbors, the Russians, were thus crowned with success, and the adhesion of the Khalkas signified that the great majority of the Mongols would thenceforth abstain from acts of unprovoked aggression on the Chinese frontier. But the advance of China and her influence, even in the form of paying homage to the emperor as the Bogdo Khan, or the Celestial Ruler, so far west as the upper course of the Amour, involved the Pekin Government in fresh complications by bringing it into contact with tribes and peoples of whom it had no cognizance. Beyond the Khalkas were the Eleuths, supreme in Ili and Kashgaria, and divided into four hordes, who obeyed as many chiefs. They had had some relations with the Khalkas, but of China they knew nothing more than the greatness of her name. When the surrender of the Khalka princes became known the Eleuth chiefs held a grand assembly or kuriltai, and at this it was finally, and, indeed, ostentatiously, decided not to yield Kanghi his demands. Important as this decision was, it derived increased weight from the character of the man who was mainly instrumental in inducing the Eleuths to take it.

Much has been written of the desert chiefs from Yenta to Yakoob Beg, but none of these showed greater ability or attained more conspicuous success than Galdan, who strained the power of China, and fought for many years on equal terms with the Emperor Kanghi. Galdan determined that the easiest and most advantageous beginning for his enterprise would be to attack his neighbors the Khalkas, who, by accepting Kanghi's offers, had made themselves the advanced guard of China in Central Asia. He began a systematic encroachment into their lands in the year 1679, but at the same time he resorted to every device to screen his movements from the Chinese court, and such was the delay in receiving intelligence, and the ignorance of the situation beyond the border, that in the very year of his beginning to attack the Khalkas, his envoy at Pekin received a flattering reception at the hands of Kanghi, still hopeful of a peaceful settlement, and returned with the seal and patent of a Khan. Events had not reached a state of open hostility three years later, when Kanghi sent special envoys to the camp of Galdan, as well as to the Khalkas. They were instructed to promise and pay much, but to rest content with nothing short of the formal acceptance by all the chiefs of the supremacy of China. Galdan, bound by the laws of hospitality, nowhere more sacred than in the East, gave them an honorable reception, and lavished upon them the poor resources he commanded. In hyperbolic terms he declared that the arrival of an embassy from the rich and powerful Chinese emperor in his poor State would be handed down as the most glorious event of his reign. But he refused to make any tender of allegiance, or to subscribe himself as a Chinese vassal. The dissensions among the Khalka princes assisted the development of Galdan's ambition, and added to the anxiety of the Chinese ruler. Kanghi admonished them to heal their differences and to abstain from an internecine strife, which would only facilitate their conquest by Galdan, and he succeeded so far that he induced them to swear a peace among themselves before an image of Buddha.

At this juncture the Chinese came into collision with the Russians on the Amour. The Russians had built a fort at Albazin, on the upper course of that river, and the Chinese army located in the Khalka country, considering its proximity a menace to their own security, attacked it in overwhelming force. Albazin was taken, and those of the garrison who fell into the hands of the Chinese were carried off to Pekin, where their descendants still reside as a distinct Russian colony. But when the Chinese evacuated Albazin the Russians returned there with characteristic obstinacy, and Kanghi, becoming anxious at the increasing activity of Galdan, accepted the overtures of the Russian authorities in Siberia, who, in 1688, sent the son of the Governor-general of Eastern Siberia to Pekin to negotiate a peace. After twelve months' negotiation, protracted by the outbreak of war with Galdan, the Treaty of Nerchinsk, the first concluded between China and any European power, was signed, and the brief and only war between Russia and China was thus brought to a speedy and satisfactory termination. The Russians agreed to the destruction of Fort Albazin, but they were allowed to build another at Nerchinsk.