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Manchu Emperor Xianfeng / Hieufung / Hien Feng - 1850-1861

Manchu Emperor

The emperor Taou-kwang ('Splendour of Reason') sixth of the dynasty, dying in February, 1850, after a reign of 29 years, was succeeded by his son, Yih-choo, surname Hieufung ('General Plenty'). This prince, dissatisfied with his father's liberal measures, adopted a reactionary policy, and showed a disposition to return to the traditional legislation of his house. Loud complaints were made; the smouldering embers of discontent were fanned into a flame; and in August 1850, the mountaineers on the borders of Quang-ee, Quei-chew, and Hoo-quang broke out into open rebellion.

Though the reign of Hsien Feng ('General Plenty') was, throughout its ten years' duration, overshadowed by the murderous rivalry of the T'aipings, yet there was much else to make it memorable, even if it can lay no claim to distinction. The Emperor himself, who was nineteen when he came to the throne, had no share of his father's ability and vigor. His reign, so far as he personally is concerned, is a decade of imbecile and futile effort to fill depleted coffers. He desired to issue paper and iron money and seriously proposed to have "counters cut out of jade stone to take the place of bullion." He had the narrowest conceivable views of the functions of government, and the officials surrounding him at Court were as anti-foreign as ever. Ki-ying, the one man at Canton who had labored for justice, and had in an earlier reign even petitioned for some measure of toleration for Christianity, was recalled and ordered to commit suicide in 1856.

What the compulsory surrender of the opium was in 1839, that the seizure of the ship Arrow was in 1856, the proximate and yet not the real cause of war with Great Britain. In the war which then commenced the British had the cooperation of the French (their recent allies in the Crimea), who found a casus belli in the murder of a French priest in Kwangsi. On the British side Lord Elgin was sent out as High Commissioner and Plenipotentiary. The advance on Peking ended when the Anting gate surrendered, and on Oct. 24, 1860, the Treaty of 1858 was ratified by Prince Kung (representing the Emperor, who was now a fugitive at Jehol) and Lord Elgin. Lord Elgin felt that, inasmuch as the obstinacy and bad faith of the Court had been responsible for the protracted character of the war, a stern act of justice was necessary to reach the Imperial mind and heart. Nevertheless, the destruction of the famous Yuan-ming-yuam, or Summer Palace, was a most regrettable act of vandalism. It was almost the only thing in Peking which reminded men of the earliest glories of the dynasty.

Within a month from the signing of the treaties with England and France a treaty was signed, also at Peking, with Russia. By this treaty China ceded to the Colossus of the North all the territory north of the Amur and made possible the establishment of the great port of Vladivostock.

The lady Tz'u-hsi was the daughter of Duke Chou, and therefore of good family. She married, in 1853, the Emperor Hsien Feng, as his second consort. His first consort, the Imperial chief consort, did not bear him any sons, but his second consort presented him with a boy, later Emperor T'ung Chih. Thus her star came into the ascendant, because she was the mother of the Heir-apparent. She retained her power as regent when her nephew Kuang Hsu succeeded the Emperor T'ung Chih, and since then the whole world looked for years and years to this Empress of the East, with whom an entire regime, centuries old, came to a last supreme explosion of despair before going under for ever.

There was trouble, rebellion, and change through all the years of his reign, over all the vast plains of the Celestial Empire, from the gutturalvoiced tribes of Mongolia and the blue-capped Mohammedans of Shensi, down to the innumerable pirates of Kwangtung; east and west, north and south, his people had been disobedient and rebellious; the administration of his empire had been set at defiance, and his sacred decrees had been imperfectly carried out by weak and corrupt viceroys, much more intent upon their own aggrandisement than upon the welfare of the people. Year after year great bands of marauding rebels had moved across the once happy Flowery Land, marking their progress in the darkness of night by the glare of burning villages, or shadowing it in the day by the rolling smoke of consuming towns. A maniac usurper had not only sought to ascend the dragon throne, but had nearly done so, and had claimed divine honors; while invading armies of the outside barbarian had humiliated the empire, had visited the once inviolate city of Peking, and had burned the palace of the Son of Heaven.

Hsien Feng had doubtless been shaken in health as well as in complacency by his hurried flight to Jehol, and it hardly needed the appearance of a comet to create alarm. Prince Kung made a diplomatic journey to Jehol to arrange matters with regard to the succession and had hardly returned before the arrival of an Edict proclaiming the Crown Prince as heir.

Unequal to the difficulties of a transition period, he had, like many other rulers similarly placed, sought consolation in sensual indulgences, and had allowed himself to be led by unworthy favorites.On 21 August 1861 the Emperor Hien-fung died at the Jehol, his hunting-seat in Tartary, in the 26th year of his age and the 11th of his reign. At last, as the decree announcing his death stated, "his malady attacked him with increasing violence, bringing him to the last extremity, and on the 17th day of the moon he sped upwards upon the dragon to be a guest on high. We tore the earth and cried to heaven, yet reached we not to him with our hands or voices." The further news of the Emperor's death on August 22 soon reached the capital and the new Emperor was immediately proclaimed under the title of Ki Tsiang.

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Page last modified: 08-02-2012 13:23:04 ZULU