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China and the Manchus
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Pages (PDF): 84
Publication Date: 1912
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China and the Manchus by Herbert A. Giles was first published as part of the Cambridge Manuals of Science and Literature series. The volume presents a historical account of the Manchu people and the Qing Dynasty.
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The Manchus are descended from a branch of certain wild Tungusic nomads, who were known in the ninth century as the Nii-chens, a name which has been said to mean "west of the sea." The cradle of their race lay at the base of the Ever-White Mountains, due north of Korea, and was fertilised by the head waters of the Yalu River.
In an illustrated Chinese work of the fourteenth century, of which the Cambridge University Library possesses the only known copy, we read that they reached this spot, originally the home of the Su-shen tribe, as fugitives from Korea; further, that careless of death and prizing valour only, they carried naked knives about their persons, never parting from them by day or night, and that they were as "poisonous" as wolves or tigers. They also tattooed their faces, and at marriage their mouths. By the close of the ninth century the Nii-chens had become subject to the neighbouring Kitans, then under the rule of the vigorous Kitan chieftain, Opaochi, who, in 907, proclaimed himself Emperor of an independent kingdom with the dynastic title of Liao, said to mean "iron," and who at once entered upon that long course of aggression against China and encroachment upon her territory which was to result in the practical division of the empire between the two powers, with the Yellow River as boundary, K'ai-feng as the Chinese capital, and Peking, now for the first time raised to the status of a metropolis, as the Kitan capital. Hitherto, the Kitans had recognised China as their suzerain; they are first mentioned in Chinese history in A.D. 468, when they sent ambassadors to court, with tribute.
Turning now to China, the famous House of Sung, the early years of which were so full of promise of national prosperity, and which is deservedly associated with one of the two most brilliant periods in Chinese literature, was founded in 960. Korea was then forced, in order to protect herself from the encroachments of China, to accept the hated supremacy of the Kitans; but being promptly called upon to surrender large tracts of territory, she suddenly entered into an alliance with the Nii-chens, who were also ready to revolt, and who sent an army to the assistance of their new friends. The Nii-chen and Korean armies, acting in concert, inflicted a severe defeat on the Kitans, and from this victory may be dated the beginning of the Nii-chen power. China had indeed already sent an embassy to the Nii-chens, suggesting an alliance and also a combination with Korea, by which means the aggression of the Kitans might easily be checked; but during the eleventh century Korea became alienated from the Nii-chens, and even went so far as to advise China to join with the Kitans in crushing the Nii-chens. China, no doubt, would have been glad to get rid of both these troublesome neighbours, especially the Kitans, who were gradually filching territory from the empire, and driving the Chinese out of the southern portion of the province of Chihli.
For a long period China weakly allowed herself to be blackmailed by the Kitans, who, in return for a large money subsidy and valuable supplies of silk, forwarded a quite insignificant amount of local produce, which was called "tribute" by the Chinese court.
Early in the twelfth century, the Kitan monarch paid a visit to the Sungari River, for the purpose of fishing, and was duly received by the chiefs of the Nii-chen tribes in that district. On this occasion the Kitan Emperor, who had taken perhaps more liquor than was good for him, ordered the younger men of the company to get up and dance before him. This command was ignored by the son of one of the chiefs, named Akuteng (sometimes, but wrongly, written Akuta), and it was suggested to the Emperor that he should devise means for putting out of the way so uncompromising a spirit. No notice, however, was taken of the affair at the moment; and that night Akuteng, with a band of followers, disappeared from the scene. Making his way eastward, across the Sungari, he started a movement which may be said to have culminated five hundred years later in the conquest of China by the Manchus. In 1114 he began to act on the offensive, and succeeded in inflicting a severe defeat on the Kitans. By 1115 he had so far advanced towards the foundation of an independent kingdom that he actually assumed the title of Emperor. Thus was presented the rare spectacle of three contemporary rulers, each of whom claimed a title which, according to the Chinese theory, could only belong to one. The style he chose for his dynasty was Chin (also read Kin), which means "gold," and which some say was intended to mark a superiority over Liao (= iron), that of the Kitans, on the ground that gold is not, like iron, a prey to rust. Others, however, trace the origin of the term to the fact that gold was found in the Nu-chen territory.
A small point which has given rise to some confusion, may fitly be mentioned here. The tribe of Tartars hitherto spoken of as Nu-chens, and henceforth known in history as the "Golden Dynasty," in 1035 changed the word chen for chih, and were called Nu-chih Tartars. They did this because at that date the word chen was part of the personal name of the reigning Kitan Emperor, and therefore taboo. The necessity for such change would of course cease with their emancipation from Kitan rule, and the old name would be revived; it will accordingly be continued in the following pages.
The victories of Akuteng over the Kitans were most welcome to the Chinese Emperor, who saw his late oppressors humbled to the dust by the victorious Nu-chens; and in 1120 a treaty of alliance was signed by the two powers against the common enemy. The upshot of this move was that the Kitans were severely defeated in all directions, and their chief cities fell into the hands of the Nu-chens, who finally succeeded, in 1122, in taking Peking by assault, the Kitan Emperor having already sought safety in flight. When, however, the time came for an equitable settlement of territory between China and the victorious Nu-chens, the Chinese Emperor discovered that the Nu-chens, inasmuch as they had done most of the fighting, were determined to have the lion's share of the reward; in fact, the yoke imposed by the latter proved if anything more burdensome than that of the dreaded Kitans. More territory was taken by the Nu-chens, and even larger levies of money were exacted, while the same old farce of worthless tribute was carried on as before.
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