Story of China - R. Van Bergen

Kuang Hsu, the Illustrious Successor

Taken from his father and mother when he was only three and a half years old, the poor little boy was brought to that immense Purple Forbidden City; a city by itself indeed. To worship and to be worshiped,—such were his duties and his burdens. The dead and gone emperors of China were now his ancestors, and he must worship at their tablets, or their spirits would have no rest. He must worship the Tsze Hsi An; that was a duty impressed upon the child from his babyhood. But every one of the palace officers, and of the five thousand palace servants must worship him, for to them he was the Tien-tsz', the Son of Heaven.

Poor little fellow! Even if he did have a "whipping boy," who was to receive all the punishment which the little Emperor had deserved, what boy would not rather take his own whipping? But Kuang Hsu had no choice. He was watched by day and by night. Did he ever have any fun? It is difficult for a foreigner to find out what passes behind those high walls enclosing the Purple Forbidden City. The Court Records, or the Peking Gazette, of the time when Kuang Hsu was still a boy, has some curious notices. One day a pony was presented to him. All boys like ponies, and I suppose he did. At all events, the Peking Gazette  says that the pony was quiet and gentle, and, therefore, he had given it the name of: "The Pearl that flies like a bird." The Gazette  does not tell how long the pony with such a long name lived.

When Kuang Hsu was sixteen years old, it was time for him to marry. The Tsze Hsi An, or Empress-Dowager, as she is improperly called, selected his bride for him. This was Ye-ho-na-la (yay-hoh-nah-lah), one of her own nieces.

Kuang Hsu now ascended the throne and began to use the vermilion pencil. It is supposed that a certain degree of liberty was allowed him in unimportant matters; but it is certain that he was compelled to consult his imperious adoptive mother in every affair of moment. It is very probable that the decisions of the council were laid before the Empress before they were submitted to him. But Li Hung Chang stood between the throne and the outside barbarians, and if Kuang Hsu had any serious troubles, they were kept hidden from the world.

The world, in the first eight years of Kuang Hsu's reign, did not take much interest in him or in China. But suddenly, in 1894, a change came. A dispute arose between China and Japan in regard to Korea. The King of Korea asked the assistance of China to help him subdue a rebellion in his country. Japan thereupon claimed that Korea was an independent State, and that China had no right to interfere. Japan then began to send large bodies of soldiers to Korea.

It has been stated that the Tsze Hsi An, who was that year to celebrate her sixtieth birthday, wished to add splendor to it by defeating Japan. It is more probable that Japan's warlike preparations had attracted Li Hung Chang's attention. For several years he had been successful in defending China, by using one nation's jealousy to keep the other in check. He may have thought that Russia or England would not permit Japan to fight. He should have known that China had no soldiers beyond what remained of his own "Ever-Victorious Army." Whosoever or whatsoever was the cause of the war, it ended the peaceful existence of China.

Poor Kuang Hsu, on the 1st of August, 1894, ordered his generals to drive the so-called Japanese pigmies back into their lair. Instead of that, the undrilled, half-starved, ill-armed Chinese coolies, hired for the purpose of cutting off Japanese heads, gladly followed their officers when they set the example of running away from the enemy. Tsze Hsi An did not celebrate her birthday that year. Instead, there was fear in the Purple Forbidden City. Yellow jackets and peacock feathers, the tokens of rank and power, were given and taken away, and still those little pigmies drew nearer and nearer to the capital. Poor Kuang Hsu! If common report at Peking at that time be true, he did feel the disgrace to his country and to himself, but he did not know what to do, nor which way to turn.

The Japanese gained one success after another; they had half destroyed the Chinese navy in a great battle at the mouth of the Yahu River, and had captured Port Arthur, the strongest fortress in China, with its great stores of war material. A combined attack by army and navy was made on the forts which protected the harbor of Wei-hai-wei. The Chinese admiral finally gave up his shattered fleet, and then killed himself.

Peace proposals were now being made by the Chinese, and at length Li Hung Chang was called to Peking and received orders to proceed to Japan with full powers to conclude a treaty of peace.

The journey almost cost him his life, for he was shot at by a Japanese ruffian and the ball wounded him in the cheek. The Mikado, or Emperor, of Japan, ordered all fighting to stop, and after much negotiation a treaty of peace was concluded.

China was forced to agree to Japan's demands, and Li Hung Chang returned to Peking with the Treaty of Shimonoseki that humbled China before the whole world.

Peace was made. What next? That was the question. If China was to keep her place among the nations, reforms must be instituted. Railroads must be built, schools must be opened, and what had been done by Japan must be done by China.

In the meantime a new Czar of Russia was to be crowned in the old imperial City of Moscow, and Li Hung Chang was sent to represent Kuang Hsu, and the old man began his long journey around the world.

How could he even describe to his fellow-countrymen what he had seen? The Chinese language itself has no name for many of our modern improvements.

Li Hung Chang, while in the United States, visited many places of interest, and bowed before Grant's tomb. Here, at least, was something which he could understand.

He returned to China, and upon his arrival at Peking, knowing who was the real ruler, he went in his chair to the E-ho Park Palace, to pay his respects to the Tsze Hsi An, and came near losing his head for it. The Peking Gazette  announced the very next day that Li would be severely punished for his lack of respect in not visiting the Emperor first. It took all the influence of the Tsie Hsi An and all Li's diplomacy to save his life. He withdrew to Pao-ting-fu (pah-oh ting-fu), the capital of the province, and would no more take office.

Kuang Hsu was in earnest in his desire for reforms. China must wake up from her long sleep; railroads must be built; schools must be established.

But when he ordered his officers to do all this, they kow-towed and said: "We have no money!" Then Russia stepped in, and wanted to build a railroad, and China was forced to yield. When the order was given that Chinese boys and girls must be sent to school to learn what our boys and girls are learning, the whole of China stood aghast. What was to become of those hundreds of thousands of men who had spent their lives in learning by heart the books of Confucius and Mencius? Would they, too, have to go to school and learn our a, b, c?

Every officer and every one of the literati thought that the Emperor was mad. The people thought so, too, especially when the railroads upset the Feng Shui of the whole country, and disturbed the "luck" of every family. But Kuang Hsu was in earnest, and the Peking Gazette  announced that he, the Son of Heaven, would go himself to open the new railroad between Peking and Tientsin.

What was the Tsze Hsi An doing all this time? She saw that if Kuang Hsu was premitted to go on, whatever might be the fate of China, her power would be lost. She pretended to be satisfied with the reforms, and even announced in the Gazette  that she, too, would visit Tientsin in a rail-road carriage. But she consulted secretly with her Manchu friends, and bribed the palace officials, and formed a plot against the Emperor's life. But one who was loyal to the poor Emperor warned him of his danger, and Kuang Hsu was on the point of leaving the Purple Forbidden City to seek shelter in the British Legation, when he was dragged back and taken to the E-ho Park Palace, where he was confined upon a little island. He would have been poisoned if the foreign ministers had not heard of the outrage and interfered. They demanded to see the Emperor, and at last the physician of the French Legation was admitted. The young Emperor looked as if he were just recovering from a dose of poison.

The foreign ministers could do nothing for him, as their respective governments did not desire to go to war with China, and so Kuang Hsu was kept in confinement and the Tsze Hsi An was the real ruler once more.