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

Very little detailed information is obtainable about the inner working of the government and the annual course of events, owing to the practice of not giving the official history of the dynasty publicity until after it has ceased to reign; so all that can be said with any confidence of the first fifteen years of Keen Lung's reign, is that they were marked by great internal prosperity arising from the tranquillity of the realm and the content of the people. Any misfortunes that befell the realm were of personal importance to the sovereign rather than of national significance, although some of the foreign priests affected to see in them the retribution of Providence for the apathy and tyranny of the Chinese rulers. In 1751 Keen Lung lost both his principal wife, the empress, and his eldest son. His disagreements with his ministers also proved many and serious, and the letters from Pekin note, with more than a gleam of satisfaction, that those who were most prominent as Anti-Christians suffered most heavily. Keen Lung suffered from physical weakness, and a susceptibility to bodily ailments, that detracted during the first few years of his reign from his capacity to discharge all the duties of his position, and more than their usual share of power consequently fell into the hands of the great tribunals of the state. When Keen Lung resolutely devoted himself to the task of supervising the acts of the official world the evils became less perceptible, and gradually the provincial governors found it to be their best and wisest course to obey and faithfully execute the behests of their sovereign. For a brief space Keen Lung seemed likely to prove more indifferent to the duties of his rank than either of his predecessors; but after a few years' practice he hastened to devote himself to his work with an energy which neither Kanghi nor Yung Ching had surpassed.

Keen Lung seems to have passed his time between his palace at Pekin and his hunting-box at Jehol, a small town beyond the Wall. The latter, perhaps, was his favorite residence, because he enjoyed the quiet of the country, and the purer and more invigorating air of the northern region agreed with his constitution. Here he varied the monotony of rural pursuits - for he never became as keen a hunter as Kanghi - with grand ceremonies which he employed the foreigners in painting. It was at Jehol that he planned most of his military campaigns, and those conquests which carried his banners to the Pamir and the Himalaya. If the earlier period of Keen Lung's reign was tranquil and undisturbed by war, the last forty years made up for it by their sustained military excitement and achievement. As soon as Keen Lung grasped the situation and found that the administration of the country was working in perfect order, he resolved to attain a complete settlement of the questions pending in Central Asia, which his father had shirked. Up to this time Keen Lung had been generally set down as a literary student, as a man more of thought than of action. But his reading had taught him one thing, and that was that the danger to China from the side of Central Asia was one that went back to remote ages, that it had never been allayed, save for brief intervals, and then only by establishing Chinese authority on either side of the Tian Shan. His studies showed Keen Lung what ought to be done, and the aggressions of his neighbors soon gave him the opportunity of carrying out the policy that he felt to be the best.