CHAPTER XIV. THE COMMENCEMENT OF EUROPEAN INTERCOURSE
A great famine about the same period is chiefly remarkable for the persecution it entailed on the Christian missionaries and those among the Chinese themselves professing the foreign religion. The cause of this scarcity was mainly due to the extraordinary growth of the population, which had certainly doubled in fifty years, and which, according to the official censuses, had risen from sixty millions in 1735 to three hundred millions in 1792. Of course the larger part of this increase was due to the expansion of the empire and the consolidation of the Manchu authority. So great was the national suffering that the gratuitous distribution of grain and other supplies at the cost of the state provided but a very partial remedy for the evil, which was aggravated by the peculation of the mandarins, and the evidence of the few European witnesses shows that the horrors of this famine have seldom been surpassed. The famine was laid to the charge of the Christians, and a commission of mandarins drew up a formal indictment of Christianity, which has stood its ground ever since as the text of the argument of the anti-foreign school. It read as follows: "We have examined into the European religion (or the doctrine) of the Lord of Heaven, and although it ought not to be compared with other different sects, which are absolutely wicked, yet, and that is what we lay to its blame, it has had the audacity to introduce itself, to promulgate itself, and to establish itself in secret. No permission has ever been given to the people of this country to embrace it. Nay, the laws have absolutely long forbidden its adoption. And now all these criminals have had the boldness to come, all of a sudden, into our kingdom, to establish their bishops and priests in order to seduce the people! This is why it is necessary to extinguish this religion by degrees and to prevent its multiplying its votaries." The fury of the Chinese, fortunately, soon exhausted itself; and although many Europeans were injured none lost their lives, but several thousand native converts were branded on the face and sent to colonize the Ili valley.
While Lord Macartney was at Pekin it was known that the emperor contemplated abdicating when he had completed the sixtieth year of his reign - the cycle of Chinese chronology - because he did not desire his reign to be of greater length than that of his illustrious grandfather, Kanghi. This date was reached in 1796, when on New Year's day (6th of February) of the Chinese calendar, he publicly abdicated, and assigned the imperial functions to his son, Kiaking. He survived this event three years, and during that period he exercised, like Charles the Fifth of Germany, a controlling influence over his son's administration; and he endeavored to inculcate in him the right principles of sound government. But in China, where those principles have been expressed in the noblest language, their practical application is difficult, because the official classes are underpaid and because the law of self-preservation, as well as custom, compels them to pay themselves at the equal expense of the subjects and the government. Even Keen Lung had been unable to grapple with this difficulty of the Chinese civil service, which is as formidable at the present time as ever. One of the ablest and most honest of Keen Lung's ministers, when questioned on the subject, said that there was no remedy. "It is impossible, the emperor himself cannot do it, the evil is too widespread. He will, no doubt, send to the scene of these disorders mandarins, clothed with all his authority, but they will only commit still greater exactions, and the inferior mandarins, in order to be left undisturbed, will offer them presents. The emperor will be told that all is well, while everything is really wrong, and while the poor people are being oppressed." And so the vicious circle has gone on to the present day, with serious injury to the state and the people. When Keen Lung had the chance of bringing matters under his own personal control he did not hesitate to exercise his right and power, and all capital punishments were carried out at the capital only after he had examined into each case. It is declared that he always tempered justice with mercy, and that none but the worst offenders suffered death. Transportation to Ili, which he wished to develop, was his favorite form of punishment.
To the end of his life Keen Lung retained the active habits which had characterized his youth. Much of his official work was carried on at an early hour of the morning, and it surprised many Europeans to find the aged ruler so keen and eager for business at these early conferences. His vigor was attributed by competent observers to the active life and physical exercises common among the Tartars. It will be proper to give a description of the personal appearance of this great prince. A missionary thus described him: "He is tall and well built. He has a very gracious countenance, but capable at the same time of inspiring respect. If in regard to his subjects he employs a great severity, I believe it is less from the promptings of his character than from the necessity which would otherwise not render him capable of keeping within the bounds or dependence and duty two empires so vast as China and Tartary. Therefore the greatest tremble in his presence. On all the occasions when he has done me the honor to address me it has been with a gracious air that inspired me with the courage to appeal to him in behalf of our religion.... He is a truly great prince, doing and seeing everything for himself." Keen Lung survived his abdication about three years, dying on the 8th of February, 1799 - which also happened to be the Chinese New Year's day.