« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
BOOK THE SIXTH.
CHINA AND JAPAN :-Tartar Revolutions-Posterity of Grengis Khan finally maintain possession of the Throne-Pretensions to Antiquity considered.
PROCEEDING eastward in the Asiatic continent, the next great empire which solicits our attention is that of China. Towards the end of the thirteenth century, the Tartar posterity of Gengis Khan were possessed of the sovereignty of China, of India, and Persia. The branch of this Tartar family which then reigned in China was termed Yuen: for the conquerors adopted both the name and manners of the people whom they conquered. The Chinese were at this time a much more polished people than their invaders, who, therefore, very wisely retained their laws and system of government. The consequence was an easy submission upon the part of the Chinese, who, while they were allowed to follow in quiet and security their ordinary method of life, were very indifferent who sat upon the throne. After this
conquest there were nine successive emperors of the family of the Tartars, nor was there the least attempt by the Chinese to expel these foreigners. One of the grandsons of Gengis Khan was, indeed, assassinated in his imperial palace, but it was by one of his own countrymen, a Tartar; and his next heir succeeded to the throne without the smallest opposition.
At length indolence and luxury put an end to this race of monarchs. The ninth emperor in descent from Gengis Khan abandoned himself to the most effeminate pleasures, and giving up the whole administration to a set of priests, excited at length both the contempt and abhorrence of his subjects. A rebellion was raised by one of the bonzes, and the Tartars were utterly extirpated from China in the year 1357. The Chinese were now governed for two hundred and seventy-six years by their native princes; but at the end of this period a second revolution gave the throne once more to the Tartars. This revolution affords a singular picture of the national character of the Chinese. Some violences committed against the Mantchou Tartars had given high provocation to this warlike people, and they determined to invade the empire. Their attempt was favoured by an insurrection in some of the provinces; the Tartars met with very little resistance. The rebel Chinese, headed by a mandarin of the name of Listching, joined themselves to the Tartarian army, and both together took possession of the imperial city of Pekin. The conduct of the Chinese emperor is unparalleled in history: without making the smallest attempt to defend his
capital or maintain possession of his throne, he shut himself up in his palace, and commanded forty of his wives to hang themselves in his presence; he then cut off his daughter's head, and ended the catastrophe by hanging himself. The Tartars took possession of Pekin, and their prince Taitsong pursued his conquests till the whole empire submitted to his authority. This, which is the last revolution that China has undergone, happened in the year 1641; since which time the empire has peaceably submitted to the government of the Tartar princes who are now upon the throne, and who, like their predecessors of the race of Gengis Khan, very wisely maintain the Chinese laws, manners, and customs, without innovation.
The history of this celebrated empire has afforded a most fertile field of historical controversy. While the Chinese annals, which go back for some thousands of years beyond our vulgar era, are, by some authors, esteemed incontrovertible; while the government and political establishment of this empire are vaunted as a most perfect model of an excellent constitution, and the knowledge of the Chinese in the arts and their acquaintance with the sciences are supposed to have preceded, by many ages, the first dawnings of either in the European kingdoms,-there are other authors, no less respectable for the solidity of their judgment and the extent of their information, who are disposed to treat all these accounts as a gross exaggeration and imposture; who consider the boasted antiquity of this great
empire, or, at least, the authenticity of its ancient history, as an absurd chimera-the policy and government of China as an establishment meriting no encomium--and the abilities of the Chinese in the arts, and progress in the sciences, even of those which they are supposed to have practised for thousands of years, to be, at this day, extremely low and inconsiderable. Voltaire and the Abbé Raynal are the most distinguished advocates of the hyperbolical antiquity of this singular people; and the fables of the Chinese have received from them a credence which might not have been so readily accorded, had they not afforded to these authors an opportunity of throwing discredit on the Mosaic accounts of the creation and of the deluge.
The empire of China, say these authors, has subsisted in splendour for above four thousand years, without having undergone any material alteration in its laws, manners, language, or even in the mode and fashion of dress. Its history, which is incontestable, being the only one founded on celestial observations, is traced by the most accurate chronology so high as an eclipse calculated two thousand one hundred and fifty-five years before our vulgar era, and verified by the missionaries skilled in mathematics. Father Gaubil has examined a series of thirty-six eclipses of the sun recorded in the books of Confucius, and found only two of them dubious, and two spurious. Thus the Chinese have joined the celestial to the terrestrial history, and proved the one by the other. "In the history of other nations," says
Voltaire, "we find a mixture of fable, allegory, and absurdity; but the Chinese have written their history with the astrolabe in their hands, and with a simplicity unexampled in that of any other of the Asiatic nations.' Every reign of their emperors has been written by a contemporary historian, nor is there any contradiction in their chronology. "With regard to the population of the empire," says Voltaire, "there are in China, by the most accurate computation, one hundred and thirty millions of inhabitants, and of these not less than sixty millions of men capable of bearing arms. The emperor's ordinary revenue is about fifty-two millions sterling. The country of China is greatly favoured by nature, producing every where and in the utmost abundance, all the European fruits, and many others to which the Europeans are strangers. The Chinese have had a manufacture of glass for two thousand years; they have made paper of the bamboo from time immemorial; and they invented the art of printing in the time of Julius Cæsar. The use of gunpowder they have possessed beyond all memory, but they employed it only in ornamental fireworks."
They have been great observers of the heavens, and proficients in astronomy, from time immemorial. They were acquainted with the compass, but only as a matter of curiosity, not applying it to navigation. "But what the Chinese best understood," says Voltaire, "is morality and the laws; morality they have brought to the highest perfection. Human nature is ad