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

The early years of the reign of Yung Ching were marked by extraordinary public misfortunes. The flooding of the Hoangho entailed a famine, which spread such desolation throughout the northern provinces that it is affirmed, on credible authority, that 40,000 persons were fed at the state expense in Pekin alone for a period of four months. The taxes in some of the most important cities and wealthiest districts had to be greatly reduced, and the resources of the exchequer were severely strained. But the loss and suffering caused by the famine were speedily cast into the shade by a terrible and sudden visitation which carried desolation and destruction throughout the whole of the metropolitan province of Pechihli. The northern districts of China have for many centuries been liable to the frequent recurrence of earthquakes on a terribly vast and disastrous scale, but none of them equaled in its terrific proportions that of the year 1730. It came without warning, but the shocks continued for ten days. Over 100,000 persons were overwhelmed in a moment at Pekin, the suburbs were laid in ruins, the imperial palace was destroyed, the summer residence at Yuen Ming Yuen, on which Yung Ching had lavished his taste and his treasure, suffered in scarcely a less degree. The emperor and the inhabitants fled from the city, and took shelter without the walls, where they encamped. The loss was incalculable, and it has been stated that Yung Ching expended seventy-five million dollars in repairing the damage and allaying the public misfortune. Notwithstanding these national calamities the population increased, and in some provinces threatened to outgrow the production of rice. Various devices were resorted to to check the growth of the population; but they were all of a simple and harmless character, such as the issue of rewards to widows who did not marry again and to bachelors who preserved their state.

The military events of Yung Ching's reign were confined to the side of Central Asia, where Tse Wang Rabdan emulated with more than ordinary success the example of his predecessors, and where he transmitted his power and authority to his son, Galdan Chereng, on his death in 1727. He established his sovereignty over the whole of Kashgaria, which he ruled through a prince named Daniel, and he established relations with the Russians, which at one time promised to attain a cordial character, but which were suddenly converted into hostility by the Russian belief that the Upper Urtish lay in a gold region which they resolved to conquer. Instead of an ally they then found in Tse Wang Rabdan the successful defender of that region. But the wars of Central Asia had no interest for Yung Ching. He was one of the Chinese rulers who thought that he should regard these matters as outside his concern, and the experience of Kanghi's wars had divided Chinese statesmen into two clearly-defined parties: those who held that China should conquer Central Asia up to the Pamir, and those who thought that the Great Wall was the best practical limit for the exercise of Chinese authority. Yung Ching belonged to the latter school, and, instead of dispatching fresh armies into the Gobi region to complete the triumph of his father, he withdrew those that were there, and publicly proclaimed that the aggressive chiefs and turbulent tribes of that region might fight out their own quarrels, and indulge their own petty ambitions as best they felt disposed. The success of this policy would have been incontestable if it had been reflected in the conduct of the Central Asian princelets, who, however, seemed to see in the moderation and inaction of the Chinese ruler only a fresh incentive to aggression and turbulence. Yung Ching himself died too soon to appreciate the shortcomings of his own policy.

In the midst of his labors as a beneficent ruler the life of Yung Ching was cut short. On October 7, 1735, he gave audience to the high officials of his court in accordance with his usual custom; but feeling indisposed he was compelled to break off the interview in a sudden manner. His indisposition at once assumed a grave form, and in a few hours he had ceased to live. The loss of this emperor does not seem to have caused any profound or widespread sentiment of grief among the masses, although the more intelligent recognized in him one of those wise and prudent rulers whose tenure of power makes their people's happiness.