Ch`ien Lung's son, who reigned as Chia Ch`ing (high felicity--not to be confounded with Chia Ching of the Ming dynasty, 1522-1567), found himself in difficulties from the very start. The year of his accession was marked by a rising of the White Lily Society, one of the dreaded secret associations with which China is, and always has been, honeycombed. The exact origin of this particular society is not known. A White Lily Society was formed in the second century A.D. by a certain Taoist patriarch, and eighteen members were accustomed to assemble at a temple in modern Kiangsi for purposes of meditation. But this seems to have no connexion with the later sect, of which we first hear in 1308, when its existence was prohibited, its shrines destroyed, and its votaries forced to return to ordinary life. Members of the fraternity were then believed to possess a knowledge of the black art; and later on, in 1622, the society was confounded by Chinese officials in Shantung with Christianity. In the present instance, it is said that no fewer than thirty thousand adherents were executed before the trouble was finally suppressed; from which statement it is easy to gather that under whatever form the White Lily Society may have been originally initiated, its activities were now of a much more serious character, and were, in fact, plainly directed against the power and authority of the Manchus.
Almost from this very date may be said to have begun that turn of the tide which was to reach its flood a hundred years afterwards. The Manchus came into power, as conquerors by force of arms, at a time when the mandate of the previous dynasty had been frittered away in corruption and misrule; and although to the Chinese eye they were nothing more than "stinking Tartars," there were not wanting many glad enough to see a change of rule at any price. Under the first Emperor, Shun Chih, there was barely time to find out what the new dynasty was going to do; then came the long and glorious reign of K`ang Hsi, followed, after the thirteen harmless years of Yung Cheng, by the equally long and equally glorious reign of Ch`ien Lung. The Chinese people, who, strictly speaking, govern themselves in the most democratic of all republics, have not the slightest objection to the Imperial tradition, which has indeed been their continuous heritage from remotest antiquity, provided that public liberties are duly safeguarded, chiefly in the sense that there shall always be equal opportunities for all. They are quick to discover the character of their rulers, and discovery in an unfavourable direction leads to an early alteration of popular thought and demeanour. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, they had tired of eunuch oppression and unjust taxation, and they naturally hailed the genuine attempt in 1662 to get rid of eunuchs altogether, coupled with the persistent attempts of K`ang Hsi, and later of Ch`ien Lung, to lighten the burdens of revenue which weighed down the energies of all. But towards the end of his reign Ch`ien Lung had become a very old man; and the gradual decay of his powers of personal supervision opened a way for the old abuses to creep in, bringing in their train the usual accompaniment of popular discontent.
The Emperor Chia Ch`ing, a worthless and dissolute ruler, never commanded the confidence of his people as his great predecessors had done, nor had he the same confidence in them. This want of mutual trust was not confined to his Chinese subjects only. In 1799, Ho-shen, a high Manchu official who had been raised by Ch`ien Lung from an obscure position to be a Minister of State and Grand Secretary, was suspected, probably without a shadow of evidence, of harbouring designs upon the throne. He was seized and tried, nominally for corruption and undue familiarity, and was condemned to death, being allowed as an act of grace to commit suicide.
In 1803 the Emperor was attacked in the streets of Peking; and ten years later there was a serious outbreak organised by a secret society in Honan, known as the Society of Divine Justice, and alternatively as the White Feather Society, from the badge worn by those members who took part in the actual movement, which happened as follows. An attack upon the palace during the Emperor's absence on a visit to the Imperial tombs was arranged by the leaders, who represented a considerable body of malcontents, roused by the wrongs which their countrymen were suffering all over the empire at the hands of their Manchu rulers. By promises of large rewards and appointments to lucrative offices when the Manchus should be got rid of, the collusion of a number of the eunuchs was secured; and on a given day some four hundred rebels, disguised as villagers carrying baskets of fruit in which arms were concealed, collected about the gates of the palace. Some say that one of the leaders was betrayed, others that the eunuchs made a mistake in the date; at any rate there was a sudden rush on the part of the conspirators, the guards at the gates were overpowered, every one who was not wearing a white feather was cut down, and the palace seemed to be at the mercy of the rebels. The latter, however, were met by a desperate resistance from the young princes, who shot down several of them, and thus alarmed the soldiers. Assistance was promptly at hand, and the rebels were all killed or captured. Immediate measures were taken to suppress the Society, of which it is said that over twenty thousand members were executed, and as many more sent in exile to Ili.
Not one, however, of the numerous secret societies, which from time to time have flourished in China, can compare for a moment either in numbers or organization with the formidable association known as the Heaven and Earth Society, and also as the Triad Society, or Hung League, which dates from the reign of Yung Cheng, and from first to last has had one definite aim,--the overthrow of the Manchu dynasty.
The term "Triad" signifies the harmonious union of heaven (q.d. God), earth, and man; and members of the fraternity communicate to one another the fact of membership by pointing first up to the sky, then down to the ground, and last to their own hearts. The Society was called the Hung League, because all the members adopted Hung as a surname, a word which suggests the idea of a cataclysm. By a series of lucky chances the inner working of this Society became known about fifty years ago, when a mass of manuscripts containing the history of the Society, its ritual, oaths, and secret signs, together with an elaborate set of drawings of flags and other regalia, fell into the hands of the Dutch Government at Batavia. These documents, translated by Dr. G. Schlegel, disclose an extraordinary similarity in many respects between the working of Chinese lodges and the working of those which are more familiar to us as temples of the Ancient Order of Free and Accepted Masons. Such points of contact, however, as may be discoverable, are most probably mere coincidences; if not, and if, as is generally understood, the ritual of the European craft was concocted by Cagliostro, then it follows that he must have borrowed from the Chinese, and not the Chinese from him. The use of the square and compasses as symbols of moral rectitude, which forms such a striking feature of European masonry, finds no place in the ceremonial of the Triad Society, although recognized as such in Chinese literature from the days of Confucius, and still so employed in the every-day colloquial of China.
In 1816 Lord Amherst's embassy reached Peking. Its object was to secure some sort of arrangement under which British merchants might carry on trade after a more satisfactory manner than had been the case hitherto. The old Co-hong, a system first established in 1720, under which certain Chinese merchants at Canton became responsible to the local authorities for the behaviour of the English merchants, and to the latter for all debts due to them, had been so complicated by various oppressive laws, that at one time the East India Company had threatened to stop all business. Lord Amherst, however, accomplished nothing in the direction of reform. From the date of his landing at Tientsin, he was persistently told that unless he agreed to perform the kotow, he could not possibly be permitted to an audience. It was probably his equally persistent refusal to do so--a ceremonial which had been excused by Ch`ien Lung in the case of Lord Macartney--that caused the Ministers to change their tactics, and to declare, on Lord Amherst's arrival at the Summer Palace, tired and wayworn, that the Emperor wished to see him immediately. Not only had the presents, of which he was the bearer, not arrived at the palace, but he and his suite, among whom were Sir George Stanton, Dr Morrison, and Sir John Davids, had not received the trunks containing their uniforms. It was therefore impossible for the ambassador to present himself before the Emperor, and he flatly refused to do so; whereupon he received orders to proceed at once to the sea-coast, and take himself off to his own country. A curious comment on this fiasco was made by Napoleon, who thought that the English Government had acted wrongly in not having ordered Lord Amherst to comply with the custom of the place he was sent to; otherwise, he should not have been sent at all. "It is my opinion that whatever is the custom of a nation, and is practised by the first characters of that nation towards their chief, cannot degrade strangers who perform the same."
In 1820 Chia Ch`ing died, after a reign of twenty-five years, notable, if for nothing else, as marking the beginning of Manchu decadence, evidence of which is to be found in the unusually restless temper of the people, and even in such apparent trifles as the abandonment of the annual hunting excursions, always before carried out on an extensive scale, and presenting, as it were, a surviving indication of former Manchu hardihood and personal courage. He was succeeded by his second son, who was already forty years of age, and whose hitherto secluded life had ill-prepared him for the difficult problems he was shortly called upon to face.