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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 Tu 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
times appear, have, during the period of the Christian era wrenched the government of every civilized Asiatic state from its own people and governed them on the whole with advantage. As Parthians, Mamluks, Mongols, Seljuk and Ottoman Turks, to leave the lesser breeds unnamed, the distant congeners of the Manchus have not only invaded but repeatedly controlled all the civilized nations of the continent. The history of China cannot be properly understood unless due notice is taken of the impact of her northern neighbors from the period of the great Ch'in to recent times, nor can we afford to neglect the fact that her own great dynasties and governing element have come from those northern provinces which are chiefly peopled by descendants of a Tartar-Chinese intermixture.
Nurhachu, though he never entered China, stands as an exponent of the highest qualities of his race, a creative genius not only in strategy but in politics, the founder of a great tradition capably maintained for two centuries by his descendants, the establisher of a line of monarchs which have been surpassed by no other ruling house during an equal period in China.
The Chinese had reason for serious apprehension if Nurhachu succeeded in his purpose of reducing all the Tartar clans to his way. He had left them in no doubt as to his intention, when this was accomplished, of driving them behind the Great Wall, and in 1617 he published an open defiance to them by drawing up and burning with sacrificial ceremonies a document known as the "Seven Hates," including amongst the charges their murder of his parents, their interference with Manchu autonomy, their assistance rendered to his enemies, their assassination of an envoy and harassing of his farmers-"for all of which," he concludes, "I hate you with an intense hatred and now make war against you." They took him at his word, for while engaged, in 1619, in a war with the last of the Nüjen states that continued to resist him, a Chinese army of 200,000 was assembled at Mukden and marched in four divisions against the little state of Hingking. With only 60,000 men he proceeded, by the same tactics that Napoleon employed,
to attack each of these divisions with his whole force before assistance could be got from the others. The result of the five days' battle, known as that of Sahu, was a complete and extraordinary victory for the Manchus and the annihilation of the Chinese army, with a loss of 45,000 men slain on the field. Yet, though his success secured for him unquestioned authority over the Nüjen tribes that had held out against him, the Chinese troops soon recovered their morale under an able general, who fortified the towns of Liaotung so successfully that for two years Nurhachu did not venture to attack him. The bravery of the Chinese is noticeable throughout these campaigns. What defeated them ultimately was the removal of energetic generals and the unconscionable turpitude of the eunuch control under which the Peking government had fallen. In 1621 Mukden and Liaoyang with seventy walled cities were captured and the Manchus for the first time established in control of the whole territory which foreigners have ever since called by their name. The Chinese never gave up the contest, but they were badly led by dull and cowardly generals sent by the palace politicians. Nevertheless the resistance was always determined. They lost the country west of the Liao down to the Great Wall, but regained most of it within four years under a competent leader called Sun Chengtsung, who fortified Shanhai kwan and Ningyuen. It was in 1625, during this period when his military advance was checked, that Nurhachu removed his palace from Liaoyang to Mukden-his sixth capital-and built the imperial headquarters which the dynasty has ever since regarded as its home. The transfer of the administration from the original tribal valley to this thickly settled Chinese plain was attended by a fuller adjustment of his government to the Chinese system and by an imitation of Ming ceremonial at his court. It was as natural for the princes to be educated in Chinese letters as it was for the Frankish princes to write Latin. Chinese culture was the only culture known to their world, and it was impossible for a sovereign in eastern Asia to set up his rule upon any other model or to hope for acceptance by civilized subjects unless he adopted their