Gateway to the Classics: Genghis Khan by Jacob Abbott
Genghis Khan by  Jacob Abbott

Conquests in China

A FTER the death of Hujaku, the Emperor of China endeavored to defend his dominions against Genghis Khan by means of his other generals, and the war was continued for several years, during which time Genghis Khan made himself master of all the northern part of China, and ravaged the whole country in the most reckless and cruel manner. The country was very populous and very rich. The people, unlike the Monguls and Tartars, lived by tilling the ground, and they practiced, in great perfection, many manufacturing and mechanic arts. The country was very fertile, and, in the place of the boundless pasturages of the Mongul territories, it was covered in all directions with cultivated fields, gardens, orchards, and mulberry-groves, while thriving villages and busy towns were scattered over the whole face of it. It was to protect this busy hive of wealth and industry that the great wall had been built ages before; for the Chinese had always been stationary, industrious, and peaceful, while the territories of Central Asia, lying to the north of them, had been filled from time immemorial with wild, roaming, and unscrupulous troops of marauders, like those who were now united under the banner of Genghis Khan. The wall had afforded for some hundreds of years an adequate protection, for no commander had appeared of sufficient power to organize and combine the various hordes on a scale great enough to enable them to force so strong a barrier. But, now that Genghis Khan had come upon the stage, the barrier was broken through, and the terrible and reckless hordes poured in with all the force and fury of an inundation. In the year 1214, which was the year following that in which Hujaku was killed, Genghis Khan organized a force so large, for the invasion of China, that he divided it into four different battalions, which were to enter by different roads, and ravage different portions of the country. Each of these divisions was by itself a great and powerful army, and the simultaneous invasion of four such masses of reckless and merciless enemies filled the whole land with terror and dismay.

The Chinese emperor sent the best bodies of troops under his command to guard the passes in the mountains, and the bridges and fording-places on the rivers, hoping in this way to do something toward stemming the tide of these torrents of invasion. But it was all in vain. Genghis Khan had raised and equipped his forces by means, in a great measure, of the plunder which he had obtained in China the year before, and he had made great promises and glowing representations to his men in respect to the booty to be obtained in this new campaign. The troops were consequently full of ardor and enthusiasm, and they pressed on with such impetuosity as to carry all before them.

The Emperor of China, in pursuing his measures of defense, had ordered all the men capable of bearing arms in the villages and in the open country to repair to the nearest large city or fortress, there to be enrolled and equipped for service. The consequence was that the Monguls found in many places, as they advanced through the country, nobody but infirm old men, and women and children in the hamlets and villages. A great many of these, especially such as seemed to be of most consequence, the handsomest and best of the women, and the oldest children, they seized and took with them in continuing their march, intending to make slaves of them. They also took possession of all the gold and silver, and also of all the silks and other rich and valuable merchandise which they found, and distributed it as plunder. The spoil which they obtained, too, in sheep and cattle, was enormous. From it they made up immense flocks and herds, which were driven off into the Mongul country. The rest were slaughtered, and used to supply the army with food.

It was the custom of the invaders, after having pillaged a town and its environs, and taken away all which they could convert to any useful purpose for themselves, to burn the town itself, and then to march on, leaving in the place only a smoking heap of ruins, with the miserable remnant of the population which they had spared wandering about the scene of desolation in misery and despair.

They made a most cowardly and atrocious use, too, of the prisoners whom they conveyed away. When they arrived at a fortified town where there was a garrison or any other armed force prepared to resist them, they would bring forward these helpless captives, and put them in the forefront of the battle in such a manner that the men on the walls could not shoot their arrows at their savage assailants without killing their own wives and children. The officers commanded the men to fire notwithstanding. But they were so moved by the piteous cries which the women and children made that they could not bear to do it, and so they refused to obey, and in the excitement and confusion thus produced the Monguls easily obtained possession of the town.

There are two great rivers in China, both of which flow from west to east, and they are at such a distance from each other and from the frontiers that they divide the territory into three nearly equal parts. The northernmost of these rivers is the Hoang Ho. The Monguls in the course of two years overrun and made themselves masters of almost the whole country lying north of this river, that is, of about one third of China proper. There were, however, some strongly-fortified towns which they found it very difficult to conquer.

Among other places, there was the imperial city of Yen-king, where the emperor himself resided, which was so strongly defended that for some time the Monguls did not venture to attack it. At length, however, Genghis Khan came himself to the place, and concentrated there a very large force. The emperor and his court were very much alarmed, expecting an immediate assault. Still Genghis Khan hesitated. Some of his generals urged him to scale the walls, and so force his way into the city. But he thought it more politic to adopt a different plan.

So he sent an officer into the town with proposals of peace to be communicated to the emperor. In these proposals Genghis Khan said that he himself was inclined to spare the town, but that to appease his soldiers, who were furious to attack and pillage the city, it would be necessary to make them considerable presents, and that, if the emperor would agree to such terms with him as should enable him to satisfy his men in this respect, he would spare the city and would retire.

The emperor and his advisers were much perplexed at the receipt of this proposal. There was great difference of opinion among the counselors in respect to the reply which was to be made to it. Some were in favor of rejecting it at once. One general, not content with a simple rejection of it, proposed that, to show the indignation and resentment which they felt in receiving it, the garrison should march out of the gates and attack the Monguls in their camp.

There were other ministers, however, who urged the emperor to submit to the necessity of the case, and make peace with the conqueror. They said that the idea of going out to attack the enemy in their camp was too desperate to be entertained for a moment, and if they waited within the walls and attempted to defend themselves there, they exposed themselves to a terrible danger, without any countervailing hope of advantage at all commensurate with it; for if they failed to save the city they were all utterly and irretrievably ruined; and if, on the other hand, they succeeded in repelling the assault, it was only a brief respite that they could hope to gain, for the Monguls would soon return in greater numbers and in a higher state of excitement and fury than ever. Besides, they said, the garrison was discontented and depressed in spirit, and would make but a feeble resistance. It was composed mainly of troops brought in from the country, away from their families and homes, and all that they desired was to be released from duty, in order that they might go and see what had become of their wives and children.

The emperor, in the end, adopted this counsel, and he sent a commissioner to the camp of Genghis Khan to ask on what terms peace could be made. Genghis Khan stated the conditions. They were very hard, but the emperor was compelled to submit to them. One of the stipulations was that Genghis Khan was to receive one of the Chinese princesses, a daughter of the late emperor Yong-tsi, to add to the number of his wives. There were also to be delivered to him for slaves five hundred young boys and as many girls, three thousand horses, a large quantity of silk, and an immense sum of money. As soon as these conditions were fulfilled, after dividing the slaves and the booty among the officers and soldiers of his army, Genghis Khan raised the siege and moved off to the northward.

In respect to the captives that his soldiers had taken in the towns and villages—the women and children spoken of above—the army carried off with them all that were old enough to be of any value as slaves. The little children, who would only, they thought, be in the way, they massacred.

The emperor was by no means easy after the Mongul army had gone. A marauding enemy like that, bought off by the payment of a ransom, is exceedingly apt to find some pretext for returning, and the emperor did not feel that he was safe. Very soon after the Monguls had withdrawn, he proposed to his council the plan of removing his court southward to the other side of the Hoang Ho, to a large city in the province of Henan. Some of his counselors made great objections to this proposal. They said that if the emperor withdrew in that manner from the northern provinces that portion of his empire would be irretrievably lost. Genghis Khan would soon obtain complete and undisputed possession of the whole of it. The proper course to be adopted, they said, was to remain and make a firm stand in defense of the capital and of the country. They must levy new troops, repair the fortifications, recruit the garrison, and lay in supplies of food and of other military stores, and thus prepare themselves for a vigorous and efficient resistance in case the enemy should return.

But the emperor could not be persuaded. He said that the treasury was exhausted, the troops were discouraged, the cities around the capital were destroyed, and the whole country was so depopulated by the devastations of the Monguls that no considerable number of fresh levies could be obtained; and that, consequently, the only safe course for the government to pursue was to retire to the southward, beyond the river. He would, however, he added, leave his son, with a strong garrison, to defend the capital.

He accordingly took with him a few favorites of his immediate family and a small body of troops, and commenced his journey—a journey which was considered by all the people as a base and ignoble flight. He involved himself in endless troubles by this step. A revolt broke out on the way among the guards who accompanied him. One of the generals who headed the revolt sent a messenger to Genghis Khan informing him of the emperor's abandonment of his capital, and offering to go over, with all the troops under his command, to the service of Genghis Khan if Genghis Khan would receive him.

When Genghis Khan heard thus of the retreat of the emperor from his capital, he was, or pretended to be, much incensed. He considered the proceeding as in some sense an act of hostility against himself, and, as such, an infraction of the treaty and a renewal of the war. So he immediately ordered one of his leading generals—a certain chieftain named Mingan—to proceed southward at the head of a large army and lay siege to Yen-king again.

The old emperor, who seems now to have lost all spirit, and to have given himself up entirely to despondency and fear, was greatly alarmed for the safety of his son the prince, whom he had left in command at Yen-king. He immediately sent orders to his son to leave the city and come to him. The departure of the prince, in obedience to these orders, of course threw an additional gloom over the city, and excited still more the general discontent which the emperor's conduct had awakened.

The prince, on his departure, left two generals in command of the garrison. Their names were Wan-yen and Mon-yen. They were left to defend the city as well as they could from the army of Monguls under Mingan, which was now rapidly drawing near. The generals were greatly embarrassed and perplexed with the difficulties of their situation. The means of defense at their disposal were wholly inadequate, and they knew not what to do.

At length one of them, Wan-yen, proposed to the other that they should kill themselves. This Mon-yen refused to do. Mon-yen was the commander on whom the troops chiefly relied, and he considered suicide a mode of deserting one's post scarcely less dishonorable than any other. He said that his duty was to stand by his troops, and, if he could not defend them where they were, to endeavor to draw them away, while there was an opportunity, to a place of safety.

So Wan-yen, finding his proposal rejected, went away in a rage. He retired to his apartment, and wrote a dispatch to the emperor, in which he explained the desperate condition of affairs, and the impossibility of saving the city, and in the end declared himself deserving of death for not being able to accomplish the work which his majesty had assigned to him.

He enveloped and sealed this dispatch, and then, calling his domestics together, he divided among them, in a very calm and composed manner, all his personal effects, and then took leave of them and dismissed them.

A single officer only now remained with him. In the presence of this officer he wrote a few words, and then sent him away. As soon as the officer had gone, he drank a cup of poison which he had previously ordered to be prepared for him, and in a few minutes was a lifeless corpse.

In the mean time, the other general, Mon-yen, had been making preparations to leave the city. His plan was to take with him such troops as might be serviceable to the emperor, but to leave all the inmates of the palace, as well as the inhabitants of the city, to their fate. Among the people of the palace were, it seems, a number of the emperor's wives, whom he had left behind at the time of his own flight, he having taken with him at that time only a few of the more favored ones. These women who were left, when they heard that Mon-yen was intending to abandon the city with a view of joining the emperor in the south, came to him in a body, and begged him to take them with him.

In order to relieve himself of their solicitations, he said that he would do so, but he added that he must leave the city himself with the guards to prepare the way, and that he would return immediately for them. They were satisfied with this promise, and returned to the palace to prepare for the journey. Mon-yen at once left the city, and very soon after he had gone, Mingan, the Mongul general, arrived at the gates, and, meeting with no effectual resistance, he easily forced his way in, and a scene of universal terror and confusion ensued. The soldiers spread themselves over the city in search of plunder, and killed all who came in their way. They plundered the palace and then set it on fire. So extensive was the edifice, and so vast were the stores of clothing and other valuables which it contained, even after all the treasures which could be made available to the conquerors had been taken away, that the fire continued to burn among the ruins for a month or more.

What became of the unhappy women who were so cruelly deceived by Mon-yen in respect to their hopes of escape does not directly appear. They doubtless perished with the other inhabitants of the city in the general massacre. Soldiers at such a time, while engaged in the sack and plunder of a city, are always excited to a species of insane fury, and take a savage delight in thrusting their pikes into all that come in their way.

Mon-yen excused himself, when he arrived at the quarters of the emperor, for having thus abandoned the women to their fate by the alleged impossibility of saving them. He could not have succeeded, he said, in effecting his own retreat and that of the troops who went with him if he had been encumbered in his movements by such a company of women. The emperor accepted this excuse, and seemed to be satisfied with it, though, not long afterward, Mon-yen was accused of conspiracy against the emperor and was put to death.

Mingan took possession of the imperial treasury, where he found great stores of silk, and also of gold and silver plate. All these things he sent to Genghis Khan, who remained still at the north at a grand encampment which he had made in Tartary.

After this, other campaigns were fought by Genghis Khan in China, in the course of which he extended his conquests still farther to the southward, and made himself master of a very great extent of country. After confirming these conquests, he selected from among such Chinese officers as were disposed to enter into his service suitable persons to be appointed governors of the provinces, and in this way annexed them to his dominions; these officers thus transferring their allegiance from the emperor to him, and covenanting to send to him the tribute which they should annually collect from their respective dominions. Every thing being thus settled in this quarter, Genghis Khan next turned his attention to the western frontiers of his empire, where the Tartar and Mongul territory bordered on Turkestan and the dominions of the Mohammedans.

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