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Manchu Emperor Daoguang / Taoukwang / Tao Kwang - 1820-1850

Manchu Emperor

Tao Kuang ('Splendour of Reason') was the name assumed by the Prince Mienning who had earned the gratitude of his father and the more dubious heritage of the Dragon Throne by his gallant defense of Chia Ch'ing against the conspirators of 1818. He was regarded by those who knew him as naturally rather stupid or else very unnaturally reserved. It really seems that he suffered considerable deterioration as time went on. This may have been the result of the various quackeries with which he is said to have experimented in order to increase his physical strength. These left him eventually toothless and hollow-cheeked. He is described as tall, lank and dark-complexioned. Yet he had evidently more character than his father, and could display on occasion a resolution which his detractors might even regard as obstinacy.

He was probably sincere enough in his early efforts to cleanse the Augean stable of the court and may well have grown discouraged at the apparent futility of the task. Thence he sank into habits of debauchery which sadly disappointed the hopes which a creditable beginning had inspired. His life, moreover, was saddened by family troubles. One of his sons was a scapegrace and reprobate, devoted to the use of opium, and the Emperor is said to have slain him with a blow struck in a moment of uncontrollable anger - a moment vainly regretted forever after.

The Empire was, during the reign of Tao Kuang, rarely free from political trouble of one kind or another. The first uprising was in Turkestan in the neighborhood of Kashgar, about 1825. It was suspected from what was to be seen of the administration of the Chinese governors that the virility which had characterized the spacious times of K'ang Hsi and Ch'ien Lung-was a thing of the past. Under the impulse of some such instinct, or in obedience to their own restless moods, the tribes rallied around one Jehangir, a descendant of the old chiefs or Khojans, and the Chinese garrison was massacred. A large army was immediately despatched, and after an exasperating and protracted campaign, which cost the government some ten million ounces of silver, Jehangir was captured and sent to Peking. Here he expiated his failure by suffering a cruel and lingering death.

The rebellion in Formosa and Hainan was less formidable and was put down by the use of bribery as much as by the sword. It is perhaps a mistake to speak of the rebellions in Formosa as ever being really suppressed, since no attempt was made to follow up the crushing of an insurrection by such a constructive policy as might ensure lasting tranquillity.

More serious was the new outbreak among the Miaotsz of three provinces in 1832. These had suffered cruel exactions at the hands of the lawless bands belonging to the secret societies, and avenged themselves by the slaughter of the impotent and indifferent officials. They were then attacked in force. Choosing for their leader the chief known as the Golden Dragon, the tribesmen prepared energetically to defend themselves. The Chinese forces were at first under the Viceroy of Kwangtung, General Li, but his incompetence and cruelty led to his recall and Tao Kuang then sent his father-in-law to continue the campaign. Contrary to the general expectation, and possibly also to his deserts, Heng nan succeeded in putting an end to the revolt in ten days. It is said that considerable success attended a kind of "poster campaign" through which the people were graciously advised to return peaceably to their homes.

The grandees at the Imperial Court were by no means at one as to the policy to be pursued with respect to the opium trade. There were two parties in the palace, one, headed by the Empress, favorable to the legalization of the trade in opium; another, headed by the Emperor, demanding total prohibition of the drug. The latter party naturally won in the contest of policy and the triumph produced speedy and spectacular results at Canton. The first war with Great Britain in 1839 was a somewhat desultory campaign. It was, moreover, carried on with a surprisingly small force on the English side, not more than nine thousand men being engaged at any one time, and the great city of Canton being stormed by a force of only five thousand effectives. Under the Treaty of the Bogue, Hongkong was ceded to Great Britain and an indemnity of six million dollars promised, to pay for the opium which had been destroyed. The results of the treaty of 1842 were far-reaching. Not only were the trade interests of Great Britain advanced through the possession of Hongkong (an island destined soon to become the greatest emporium in the East and the world's third largest port), but the other nations of Europe and America soon recognized the door opened for their own commerce.

The poor Emperor had already had his sea of troubles and was now seriously ill. His fears were increased by the prediction of an eclipse of the sun for New Year's Day, 1850. This was so inauspicious an omen that the Emperor tried to avert the occurrence by postponing the New Year celebration for twenty-four hours. He might, however, as well have tried to postpone the eclipse. The sick monarch grew worse and worse, and a few weeks later died, leaving the Dragon Throne to his fourth son, Hsien Feng.



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