Miao Rebellion - 1832
The Miao aborigines were brave and determined, rude and free. They have resisted successfully the whole power which the mandarins could bring against them; for they are good archers, and in their mountains invincible. The mandarins are very strict against them, and by their conduct often irritate them to such a degree that the mountaineers take dire revenge upon their oppressors. Whenever they are unruly, Government prohibits the importation of salt, to force them, by withholding this necessary of life, to submission.
In 1832 one of the chiefs, in a strange frenzy, declared himself Emperor of China, and sped down the mountains to lay the whole lowlands waste. There were, perhaps, some other causes that led to this outbreak; which, however, have never been made known. The soldiers sent against these mountaineers were beaten, and a division led by a Manchoo was likewise nearly annihilated in a mountain defile, into which he had been inveigled; the terror grew in the same measure as the imperial forces were scattered.
In this emergency the Emperor commanded Le, the governor-general of Kwang-tung and Kwang-se, who had also a seat in the cabinet as assistant-minister, to lead forward his troops to victory, and exterminate the rebels with one fell swoop. He accordingly commenced a toilsome march, but saw, with great concern, that two hundred of his one thousand warriors were so debilitated by opium-smoking that they had to be left behind. A number of them also asked leave of absence, on the plea that they had to attend to their old mothers at home; and, according to Chinese law, were allowed to return, with a few blows awarded them as cowards.
Le, though commander-in-chief, had never commanded a single company, still less an army; but, as the creed of the Chinese goes far to assert that whosoever has read the books of Kung-foo-tze is capable to undertake anything, the most renowned literary characters are also considered the greatest generals. High hopes were, therefore, entertained of Le; who forthwith, to make an end of the affair, advanced deep into the mountains. This was just what the miao-tse wanted. For a long while not a single enemy was seen; on a sudden, however, during the night, the whole Chinese force was surrounded, and attacked on all sides. To make matters worse, a great quantity of gunpowder accidentally exploded, by which many warriors lost their lives. This caused much consternation, and the Chinese heroes were obliged fairly to retreat as fast as possible; for arrows flew from every hiding-place.
Such a misfortune as this rendered the governor wretched: he had no hope of retrieving his losses; the soldiers rose in open mutiny against him, because he would not ask for rewards sufficiently to indemnify the relatives of the fallen; and the grandee was finally denounced as unfit to serve his imperial Majesty any longer. His sentence was, to be transported for life; which he, with all his cunning and bribes, could not avert: he wandered in exile with his family, and was afterwards never heard of. Yet he was a most adroit man, and had powerful friends who held the highest offices; and, moreover, he possessed access to the imperial ear.
Taou-kwang very soon perceived that iron and steel would not do the work against the barbarians; he, therefore, despatched Hegan, his trusty servant, as commissioner; who having a short time before been in disgrace, had now an opportunity offered to retrieve his character. He did not come with soldiers, but money: with imperial warrants, high promises, and judges, to settle the whole strife by the civil power. There could be nothing more unwarlike than this expedition; yet it was the best calculated to answer the end.
Other troops advanced from the side of Hoonan. They were, according to their own account, successful enough; for they took two cities of the miao-tse, and burnt the houses down. Then appeared Hegan with plenipotentiary powers, announcing dire vengeance on all who would not instantly submit. Emissaries were at the same time sent to effect the surrender of the leading rebel, and of some of his adherents. Upon this, nine hundred thousand ounces of silver were paid to buy a peace; on which the mountaineers agreed to let the Chinese forces withdraw unmolested.
The chief who had occasioned so much trouble, and assumed the name of Golden Dragon, was, with some others, sent to Peking, and there cut to pieces; their heads being carried about in triumph through the city, as a trophy of the glorious conquest just obtained. The whole was magnified into a victory, officially reported, and an imperial rescript was obtained to bestow rewards on the generals; the Emperor being very liberal with tobacco-pouches, bow-rings, and peacock feathers, which were freely bestowed on the fortunate commanders.
Thus the rebellion was extinguished. But the miao-tse retained all their liberties, and maintained them also with a powerful hand. The mandarins endeavoured to build castles, in order to coerce the refractory mountaineers; but these forts they pulled down with indignation, and it was intimated that if the authorities wished to remain in peace, they must not interfere with their affairs.
After many repeated victories, several relations of the ringleader were taken prisoners, and their bodies, by a slow process, cut to pieces. The imperial heroes quitted the field triumphantly, and the report sent to Peking was such as to raise the highest ideas of the general's abilities. Unfortunately, however, an eye-witness and scholar at the same time called the conclusion of the peace a gross imposition upon his majesty, and a disgrace to the nation. He expressed great indignation against and contempt for the high authorities, who by bribery induced the highlanders to allow his majesty's troops the empty forms of victory and triumph, when there were none in reality. The commissioners gave 500,000 taels in silver for a sham surrender and submission of the rebels, and flourish of drums. The writer, at the same time, wonders at the commissioners' audacity to receive the imperial reward unblushingly. The 500,000 taels given to bring over a few, who were constituted Chinese officers, and received the badges of authority, he represents as utterly thrown away. The hill-men would not submit to their new-fangled authorities, and still threaten the plain with an invasion. Here, however, the matter ended.
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