CHAPTER XXI. THE REGENCY
Among those who were slain during these popular disorders was a young chief named Ma Sucheng; and when the news of his murder reached his native village, his younger brother, Ma Sien, who had just received a small military command, declared his intention to avenge him, and fled to join the Mohammedan fugitives in the mountains. In this secure retreat they rallied their forces, and, driven to desperation by the promptings of want, they left their fastnesses with the view of regaining what they had lost. In this they succeeded better than they could have hoped for. The Chinese population experienced in their turn the bitterness of defeat; and the mandarins had the less difficulty in concluding a temporary understanding between the exhausted combatants. Tranquillity was restored, and the miners resumed their occupations. But the peace was deceptive, and in a little time the struggle was renewed with increased fury. In this emergency the idea occurred to some of the officials that an easy and efficacious remedy of the difficulty in which they found themselves would be provided by the massacre of the whole Mussulman population. In this plot the foremost part was taken by Hwang Chung, an official who bitterly hated the Mohammedans. He succeeded in obtaining the acquiescence of all his colleagues with the exception of the viceroy of the province, who exposed the iniquity of the design, but who, destitute of all support, was powerless to prevent its execution. At the least he resolved to save his honor and reputation by committing suicide, and he and his wife were found one morning hanging up in the hall of the yamen. His death simplified the execution of the project which his refusal might possibly have prevented. May 19, 1856, was the date fixed for the celebration of this Chinese St. Bartholomew. But the secret had not been well kept. The Mohammedans, whether warned or suspicious, distrusted the authorities and their neighbors, and stood vigilantly on their guard. At this time they looked chiefly to a high priest named Ma Tesing for guidance and instruction. But although on the alert, they were after all, taken to some extent by surprise, and many of them were massacred after a more or less unavailing resistance. But if many of the Mussulmans were slain, the survivors were inspired with a desperation which the mandarins had never contemplated. From one end of Yunnan to the other the Mohammedans, in face of great personal peril, rose by a common and spontaneous impulse, and the Chinese population was compelled to take a hasty refuge in the towns. At Talifoo, where the Mohammedans formed a considerable portion of the population, the most desperate fighting occurred, and after three days' carnage the Mussulmans, under Tu Wensiu, were left in possession of the city. The rebels did not remain without leaders, whom they willingly recognized and obeyed; for the kwanshihs, or chiefs, who had accepted titles of authority from the Chinese, cast off their allegiance and placed themselves at the head of the popular movement. The priest Ma Tesing was raised to the highest post of all as Dictator, but Tu Wensiu admitted no higher authority than his own within the walls of Talifoo. Ma Tesing had performed the pilgrimage to Mecca, he had resided at Constantinople for two years, and his reputation for knowledge and saintliness stood highest among his co-religionists.