CHAPTER XII. A SHORT REIGN AND THE BEGINNING OF A LONG ONE

Having thus settled the difficulties within his own family, Yung Ching next turned his attention to humbling the bold band of foreigners who had established themselves in the capital and throughout the country, as much by their own persistency and indifference to slight as by the acquiescence of the Chinese government, and who, after they had reached some of the highest official posts, continued to preach and propagate their gospel of a supreme power and mercy beyond the control of kings, a gospel which was simply destructive of the paternal and sacred claims on which a Chinese emperor based his authority as superior to all earthly interference, and as transmitted to him direct from Heaven, The official classes confirmed the emperor's suspicions, and encouraged him to proceed to extreme lengths. On all sides offenses were freely laid at the doors of the missionaries. It was said of them that "their doctrine sows trouble among the people, and makes them doubt the goodness of our laws." In the province of Fuhkien their eighteen churches were closed, and the priests were summarily ordered to return to Macao. At Pekin itself the Jesuits lost all their influence. Those who had been well-disposed toward them were either banished or cowed into silence. The emperor turned his back on them and refused to see them, and they could only wait with their usual fortitude until the period of imperial displeasure had passed over. When they endeavored to enlist in their support the sympathy and influence of the emperor's brother - the thirteenth prince - who in Kanghi's time had been considered their friend, they met with a rebuff not unnatural or unreasonable when the mishaps to his relations for their Christian proclivities are borne in mind. This prince said, in words which have often been repeated since by Chinese ministers and political writers, "What would you say if our people were to go to Europe and wished to change there the laws and customs established by your ancient sages? The emperor, my brother, wishes to put an end to all this in an effectual manner. I have seen the accusation of the Tsongtou of Fuhkien. It is undoubtedly strong, and your disputes about our customs have greatly injured you. What would you say if we were to transport ourselves to Europe and to act there as you have done here? Would you stand it for a moment? In the course of time I shall master this business, but I declare to you that China will want for nothing when you cease to live in it, and that your absence will not cause it any loss. Here nobody is retained by force, and nobody also will be suffered to break the laws or to make light of our customs."

The influence of Yung Ching on the development of the important foreign question arrested the ambition and sanguine flight of the imagination of the Roman Catholic missionaries, who, rendered overconfident by their success under Kanghi, believed that they held the future of China in their own hands, and that persistency alone was needed to secure the adhesion of that country to the Christian Church. Yung Ching dispelled these illusions, and so far as they were illusions, which nearly two subsequent centuries have proved them to be, it was well that they should be so dispelled. He asserted himself in very unequivocal terms as an emperor of China, and as resolute in maintaining his sovereign position outside the control of any religious potentate or creed. The progress of the Christian religion of the Roman Catholic Church in China was quite incompatible with the supposed celestial origin of the emperor, who was alleged to receive his authority direct from Heaven. It is not surprising that Yung Ching, at the earliest possible moment, decided to blight these hopes, and to assert the natural and inherited prerogative of a Chinese emperor. There is no room to doubt that the Catholic priests had drawn a too hasty and too favorable deduction from the favor of Kanghi. They confounded their practical utility with the intrinsic merit and persuasive force of Christianity. An enlightened ruler had recognized the former, but a skeptical people showed themselves singularly obdurate to the latter. The persecution of the Christians, of which the letters from the missionaries at Pekin at this time are so full, did not go beyond the placing of some restraint on the preaching of their religion. No wholesale executions or sweeping decrees passed against their persons attended its course or marked its development. Yung Ching simply showed by his conduct that they must count no longer on the favor of the emperor in the carrying out of their designs. The difficulties inherent in the task they had undertaken stood for the first time fully revealed, and having been denounced as a source of possible danger to the stability of the empire, they became an object of suspicion even to those who had sympathized with them personally, if not with their creed.