On the death of the Emperor, a plot was concocted by eight members of the extreme anti-foreign party at Court, who claimed to have been appointed Regents, to make away with the Empress Dowager, the concubine mother, known as the Western Empress, of the five-year-old child just proclaimed under the title of Chi Hsiang (good omen), and also the late Emperor's three brothers, thus securing to themselves complete control of the administration. Prince Kung, however, managed to be "first at the fire," and in accordance with the Chinese proverb, was therefore "first with his cooking." Having got wind of the scheme, in concert with the two Empresses Dowager, who had secured possession of the Emperor, he promptly caused the conspirators to be seized. Two of them, Imperial princes, were allowed to commit suicide, and the others were either executed or banished, while Prince Kung and the two Empresses formed a joint regency for the direction of public affairs, after changing the style of the reign from Chi Hsiang to T`ung Chih (united rule).
The position of these two Empresses was a curious one. The Empress Dowager par excellence--for there is only one legal wife in China-- had no children; a concubine had provided the heir to the throne, and had in consequence been raised to the rank of Western Empress, subordinate only to the childless Eastern Empress. Of the latter, there is nothing to be said, except that she remained a cipher to the end of her life; of the concubine, a great deal has been said, much of which is untrue. Taken from an ordinary Manchu family into the palace, she soon gained an extraordinary influence over Hsien Feng, and began to make her voice heard in affairs of State. Always on the side of determined measures, she had counselled the Emperor to remain in Peking and face the barbarians; she is further believed to have urged the execution of Parkes and Loch, the order luckily arriving too late to be carried out. For the next three years the Regents looked anxiously for the final collapse of the T`ai-p`ings, having meanwhile to put up with the hateful presence of foreign diplomats, now firmly established within the Manchu section of the city of Peking. No sooner was the great rebellion entirely suppressed (1864), than another rising broke out. The Nien-fei, or Twist Rebels, said to have been so called because they wore as a badge turbans twisted with grease, were mounted banditti who, here to-day and gone to-morrow, for several years committed much havoc in the northern provinces of China, until finally suppressed by Tso Tsung-t`ang.
Turkestan was the next part of the empire to claim attention. A son and successor of Jehangir, ruling as vassal of China at Khokand, had been murdered by his lieutenant, Yakoob Beg, who, in 1866, had set himself up as Ameer of Kashgaria, throwing off the Manchu yoke and attracting to his standard large numbers of discontented Mahometans from all quarters. His attack upon the Dunganis, who had risen on their own account and had spread rebellion far and wide between the province of Shensi and Kuldja, caused Russia to step in and annex Kuldja before it could fall into his hands. Still, he became master of a huge territory; and in 1874 the title of Athalik Ghazi, "Champion Father," was conferred upon him by the Ameer of Bokhara. He is also spoken of as the Andijani, from Andijan, a town in Khokhand whence he and many of his followers came. Luckily for the Manchus, they were able to avail themselves of the services of a Chinese general whose extraordinary campaign on this occasion has marked him as a commander of the first order. Tso Tsung-k`ang, already distinguished by his successes against the T`ia-p`ings and the Nien-fei, began by operations, in 1869, against the Mahometans in Shensi. Fighting his way through difficulties caused by local outbreaks and mutinies in his rear, he had captured by 1873 the important city of Su-chow in Kansuh, and by 1874 his advance-guard had reached Hami. There he was forced to settle down and raise a crop in order to feed his troops, supplies being very uncertain. In 1876 Urumtsi was recovered; and in 1877, Turfan, Harashar, Yarkand, and Kashgar. At this juncture, Yakoob Beg was assassinated, after having held Kashgaria for twelve years. Khoten fell on January 2, 1878. This wonderful campaign was now over, but China had lost Kuldja. A Manchu official, named Ch`ung-hou, who was sent to St Petersburg to meet Russian diplomats on their own ground, the main object being to recover this lost territory, was condemned to death on his return for the egregious treaty he had managed to negotiate, and was only spared at the express request of Queen Victoria; he will be mentioned again shortly. His error was afterwards retrieved by a young and brilliant official, son of the great Tseng Kuo-fan, and later a familiar figure as the Marquis Tseng, Minister at the Court of St James's, by whom Kuldja was added once more to the Manchu empire.
The year 1868 is remarkable for a singular episode. The Regents and other high authorities in Peking decided, at whose instigation can only be surmised, to send an embassy to the various countries of Europe and America, in order to bring to the notice of foreign governments China's right, as an independent Power, to manage her internal affairs without undue interference from outside. The mission, which included two Chinese officials, was placed under the leadership of Mr Burlingame, American Minister at Peking, who, in one of his speeches, took occasion to say that China was simply longing to cement friendly relations with foreign powers, and that within some few short years there would be "a shining cross on every hill in the Middle Kingdom."
Burlingame died early in 1870, before his mission was completed, and only four months before the Tientsin Massacre threw a shadow of doubt over his optimistic pronouncements. The native population at Tientsin had been for some time irritated by the height to which, contrary to their own custom, the towers of the Roman Catholic Cathedral had been carried; and rumours had also been circulated that behind the lofty walls and dark mysterious portals of the Catholic foundling hospital, children's eyes and hearts were extracted from still warm corpses to furnish medicines for the barbarian pharmacopoeia. On June 21, the cathedral and the establishment of sisters of mercy, the French Consulate, and other buildings, were pillaged and burnt by a mob composed partly of the rowdies of the place and partly of soldiers who happened to be temporarily quartered there. All the priests and sisters were brutally murdered, as also the French Consul and other foreigners. For this outrage eighteen men were executed, a large indemnity was exacted, and the superintendent of trade, the same Manchu official whose subsequent failure at St Petersburg has been already noticed, was sent to France with a letter of apology from the Emperor.
In 1872 T`ung Chih was married, and in the following year took over the reins of government. Thereupon, the foreign Ministers pressed for personal interviews; and after much obstruction on the part of the Manchu court, the first audience was granted. This same year saw the collapse of the Panthays, a tribe of Mahometans in Yunnan who, so far back as 1855, had begun to free themselves from Chinese rule. They chose as their leader an able co-religionist named Tu Wen-hsiu, who was styled Sultan Suleiman, and he sent agents to Burma to buy arms and munitions of war; after which, secure in the natural fortress of Ta-li, he was soon master of all western Yunnan. In 1863 he repulsed with heavy loss two armies sent against him from the provincial capital; but the end of the T`ai-p`ing rebellion set free the whole resources of the empire against him, and he remained inactive while the Imperialists advanced leisurely westwards. In 1871 he tried vainly to obtain aid from England, sending over his son, Prince Hassan, for that purpose. The following year saw the enemy at the gates of Ta-li, and by and by there was a treacherous surrender of an important position. Then a promise of an amnesty was obtained at the price of Tu's head, and an enormous indemnity. On January 15, 1873, his family having all committed suicide, the Sultan passed for the last time through the crowded streets of Ta-li on his way to the camp of his victorious adversary. He arrived there senseless, having taken poison before setting forth. His corpse was beheaded and his head was forwarded to the provincial capital, and thence in a jar of honey to Peking.
His conqueror, whose name is not worth recording, was one of those comparatively rare Chinese monsters who served their Manchu masters only too well. Eleven days after the Sultan's death, he invited the chief men of the town to a feast, and after putting them all to death, gave the signal for a general massacre, in which thirty thousand persons are said to have been butchered.
In 1874 the Japanese appear on the scene, adding fresh troubles to those with which the Manchus were already encompassed. Some sailors from the Loo-choo Islands, over which Japanese sovereignty had been successfully maintained, were murdered by the savages on the east coast of Formosa; and failing to obtain redress, Japan sent a punitive expedition to the island, and began operations on her own account, but withdrew on promises of amendment and payment of all expenses incurred.