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sat drinking in the beauty of the scene; and then, to the soft accompaniment of the rippling water and the swish of the oars against the lotus leaves, she began to sing, in a low, but perfectly placed voice, a soft minor song so charmingly and with such artistic grace, I could not help murmuring "beautiful" in Chinese, she started and said, “I forgot myself. It is most unbecoming for an Empress of China to sing,” and placing her hand upon my hair with one of her graceful half-caressing gestures she continued. "Never mention my singing to any one, if the Shanghai papers knew it there would be a pretty row."
Eight months later we were again at the summer palace. One lovely evening in the late spring, again floating in the imperial barge on the lake I was sitting near the empress Dowager as before, and I dared ask her to sing again, and she did! the same sweet minor song, like some sweet crooning lullaby! It was charming.
The too generally accepted idea that the Empress Dowager was of mean origin is now, thanks to the larger knowledge we have of things Chinese, quite exploded. She was descended in direct line from Nur-ha-chu the great warrior prince, whose splendid strategic feats led to the conquest of China and the founding of the Manchu dynasty. There were three other Empresses Dowager in her family. Her cousin was the first wife of Hsien-Fong of whom the late Empress Dowager became the fifth wife. She belonged to the powerful White banner clan.
When I was in the palace I heard of an old Manchu prophecy dating from the conquest of China, that when “one of the White banner-clan attained to imperial power in China it would be the end dynasty.” Strange to say the late Empress Dowager, the first of the White banner to wield imperial power, was virtually the last of the dynasty! I have often thought of this prophecy during the past year.
As I have said before, the Empress Dowager seemed to me really a Chinese patriot, she loved China as did few of the Chinese themselves, with a real devotion. I used to say when I was in the palace, before Chinese patriotism had been fully awakened, that she was the only Chinese patriot I had met! She believed in China, she cherished the noble deeds of the rulers of all its other dynasties, she gloried in China's accomplishments in the past, she longed to bring back its brilliant epochs. She was profoundly discouraged at her powerlessness to check the inroads of the foreigners, at her inability to infuse new life and greater effort into the Manchus. She hoped by inaugurating a representative government to increase China's power, to put new life into the governing element, to check the gangrene of official greed which was sapping the life of the government.
Though she would have fought to the last to retain her power and assure the supremacy of her clan for the future, I believe, had she lived to see this pacific revolution, the noble generosity of the republicans to the imperial family, the more than justice they have shown the Manchus in general; if she could have felt, as I firmly believe her broad mind and real patriotism was capable of feeling, that the republic, brought about by this extraordinary revolution was what China needed to shake her from her long lethargy; I think the Empress Dowager would have accepted it as a happy solution of the great problem of keeping China's entity intact, and establishing a nation united and strong.
However, I cannot but rejoice that she was borne aloft in the Dragon chariot before the revolution was accomplished!
THE MANCHU CONQUEST OF CHINA
By F. W. Williams, Assistant Professor of Modern Oriental
History, Yale University
The expulsion of the Tartar dynasty which ruled China for two centuries and a half has excited the sympathetic approval of the civilized world. That dynasty had been tried in the balance and found wanting; under its rule the largest and potentially the richest homogenous empire in the world had been reduced to impotence by foreign powers, its resources neglected, its people mistreated. A summary of their shortcomings does not, however, set forth the meaning of the Manchu conquest of China, or explain the remarkable nature of their achievement. To estimate their place in history fairly it is necessary to review the course of that conquest and consider its effect upon the welfare of the people whom the Manchus inadvertently rescued from a condition bordering upon anarchy. A brief account of the conquest and settlement of this northern race is all that this paper contemplates. The expansion of China under their rule, and the revived prestige of a mighty nation acquired from the exercise of a higher sense of racial control than the Chinese themselves were capable of, are subjects belonging to another chapter of this story. The decadence of the Manchus-apparently an inevitable result of their contact with a higher culture-should not blind us to the extraordinary success of their great performance.
Nurhachu, the founder of the high fortune of this clan, was born in 1559 in Hutuala, the capital of a small principality among the Great White Mountains, north of the Korean border. Here his ancestors of the Aisin Gioro (Golden Dynasty) had ruled for two centuries from the time of their founders, one of the “Kings” of the Nüjen Tartars. The relationship of these peoples to the Kin and other Tartar conquerors of northern China in the Sung period is somewhat obscure, but they belong to the same race that had been driven from China by the Mongols in the thirteenth century and relapsed more or less into barbarism in the wooded mountains between the Yalu and Sungari Rivers. China under the Mings had been fairly successful in holding them to the east of the Liao Valley while protecting her own settlers in Laiotung by garrisons in a line of border fortresses, but this fertile region was often harassed by bands of Tartar robbers. It was in pursuance of the characteristic policy of setting these predatory gangs upon one another that the empire finally engendered the genius of one of the great fighting chiefs of Asiatic history and ultimately brought about its conquest by his successors.
A khan of one of these tiny septs secured the help of the Chinese frontier guard in laying siege to a town ruled by a man who had married the granddaughter of Hüen, chieftain of Hutuala, Nurhachu's grandfather. The old man hastened with his son and heir to assist the princess, but being decoyed outside of the walls by a ruse of the Chinese captain, both were slain together with most of the garrison. Nurhachu thus became the head of his house at the age of twenty-four. The Chinese officer appears to have exceeded his instructions by embroiling the Bai, or Imperial Frontier Count, in the murder of these clansmen, and Nurhachu received the bodies of his father and grandsire as well as presents of considerable value, together with investiture in his chieftainship and the title of T'u tuh—the same as that now given to the military governors of the provinces. Instead, however, of surrendering the murderer of his father the Chinese made him lord of all the Manchu clans, which placed the young chief in a position of extreme danger and caused him to devote his energies to attacking his enemy and revenging himself upon the treacherous Chinese. Three years later, by drilling and improving his forces, he had so strengthened his position that the Chinese thought it wise to deliver up his enemy Nikan for execution, and to make a treaty that opened better trading facilities to his people. Next year, in 1587, he built Laocheng a few miles from his ancestral capital, with a palace and court after the Chinese manner, and governed so wisely as to bring the five Manchu clans in a few years to recognize him as king.
From this time to the end of his reign his career was one long succession of raids and conflicts brought about by the jealousy of his neighbors and his own determination to create an army that might become an instrument of his vengeance upon the Chinese. As a fighting chieftain he developed all those traits of élan, endurance and personal bravery that are common enough in history to excite no special surprise. He had the qualities of a Sivaji or a Skanderbeg, and these alone are sufficient to account for his ultimate conquest of people of his own kind in the vast wilderness between the Pacific, the Amur and the Mongolian steppe, roughly half a million square miles. What arrests attention, however, is the extraordinary capacity revealed in this Berserker fighter for the administration of his conquests and the assimilation of the sundry tribes within the region. The prestige of his victories attracted the soldiers of conquered tribes, who learned under a severe but generous leader the advantages of discipline and union. By 1606 he had even aroused the admiration of the Mongols beyond the Lao, whose Beiras sent him a complimentary embassy. Ten years later he had assumed the style of Tienming in his new capital at Hingking, and ruled his domain with the panoply and circumstance of a Chinese emperor. The assumption of this state was inevitably regarded as a challenge by the Chinese, whose policy it had always been to prevent the border tribes from uniting, and to recognize no titles among them that were not bestowed by the Ming suzerain. But Nurhachu revealed in his daring plans the political genius which has been a characteristic of his race in all ages, and which European observers have too often ignored. That race under various names has impressed us with its fighting powers, its endurance and its brutality; we have not recognized, however, its ability to assimilate and control its conquered subjects by methods which, barbarous and imperfect as they may some