to Mr. Bayard.
Peking, February 8, 1887. (Received April 12.)
Sir: I have the honor to report that the Emperor Kuang Hsii assumed the reins of government yesterday. No notice of this event was sent to the legations. There was no public ceremonial. This day is always regarded as a holiday by the people. They thronged the streets. There was no procession or any of the public festivities usual in other countries. The princes and nobles of the Imperial family, the members of the court, and the high officials proceeded in a body to the presence of the Empress and paid their respects to the Emperor. At night there were displays of fire-works and illuminations all over the city. But this practice is usual; it is called the “feast of lanterns.”[Page 185]
The Empress remains Empress regent. Her participation in the government is not well defined. Decrees will be issued in the name of the Emperor; but when she some time ago contemplated retiring from all control in matters of state an urgent request was made to her by all the high officials that she would still remain as an adviser of the Emperor, and, until he has acquired more experience, that she would to a certain extent retain control of public matters. To this she, being pressed, consented. She will, therefore, continue to appear with the Emperor, but behind a gauze screen, as heretofore.
For this arrangement there are two probable reasons. The first is that the question of audience of the foreign ministers is thereby postponed. During the long regency of the Empress dowager no effort was made to secure an audience. As she actually remains in power it is supposed that no such effort will now be made. The Chinese regard the granting of audience to any foreigners who will not make the kotow and bring tribute as derogatory to the dignity of the Emperor. They think that their own people will regard the granting of audience as a waiver of the claim of universal dominion, which is the traditional superstition of China. They are anxious that the reign of the Emperor shall not at the outset be marked by a retrocession from a revered belief. While in Corea and Japan the seclusion of the King and Emperor has been utterly done away, here it is preserved more strictly than ever. No eye may rest on the Imperial cortege as it passes in the street. All the ways are barricaded with mats and hangings, and formal notices, when the Emperor goes out, are sent to all the legations to request them to notify their people to keep off the streets.
Another and potent reason for the continued participation of the Empress dowager in the Government is the fact that Prince Chun is father of the Emperor. By Chinese etiquette he can not participate in the Government of his son. Filial piety, which underlies the whole system of government, and is the only well-defined religion that exists—the worship of ancestors—prohibits the father from occupying a position under the son. Prince Chun is at the head of the admiralty board, and has some connection which is not accurately known with the military. His influence is considerable. He is consulted by the high officials on all important questions. He is the seventh prince, the brother of the Emperor Hien Feng, and the brother-in-law of the Empress. A great party desires that he shall still remain in the direction of affairs. Thus, with the adroitness for which Chinese statesmen are famous, the question has been settled as to the participation of the Empress dowager in the Government.
The Empress has now ruled China for twenty-five years. On the death of Hien Feng in 1861, his son, Tung-Chi, an infant, succeeded him. There were two Empresses then. The Eastern Empress died six years ago. Until the assumption of the Government by Tung-Chi, in 1873, these two ladies ruled as regents. Tung-Chi died in 1874. The present Empress, who was then secondary consort of Hien Feng, the other Empress being his widow, adopted her nephew, Kung Hsii, the son of Prince Chun, as Emperor. The boy was then but four years old. He is now sixteen, this being the beginning of the thirteenth year of his reign.
Prince Kung, brother of Hien Feng, was at the head of the Government from his brother’s death until 1884. He was then removed. Prince Chun has since then been the most important man in the Empire.[Page 186]
It is universally admitted that the Empress has manifested great ability. She is very industrious, even laborious. In a personal Government like this the labors of the sovereign are enormous. It is understood that she studies and comprehends all subjects submitted to her. It must be said that under her rule China has attained the highest position among the nations that she has ever occupied. Her financial credit is good in the markets of the world; peace prevails at home; manufactures and commerce are increasing; the navy has been created, and the army much improved. The people are generally prosperous, contented, and loyal. Altogether, the Empress will go down to history as one of the great rulers of the world.
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