Wang Lun Outtake 3The Emperor and the Dzungars
Translation © C D Godwin 2018
At first the struggles for the throne and the factional infighting of this savage people had been supported in Peking, then everyone grew weary of the squabbling.
Qianlong had had enough of the west. Then one summer swarms of horsemen swept up to the walls of Jehol on little light brown long-tailed horses; neither the white steppe nor the loose scree of the mountains had impeded them. They had swum across raging torrents. They came, Dzungars, led by defeated Amursana; sable-capped, in a splendid fox-fur coat, he touched his forehead to the ground nine times before the Emperor and begged for help against their cruel wicked king. The proud Emperor received them with a laugh; uttered a blasphemous challenge to the Censors: “If this harvest fails, it will be you who bring the next sacrifice to Shangdi, not I.” Then he personally penned a letter to that king, who was called Dawachi, and not long afterwards intelligence reached him of the barbarian’s boastful declaration: There’s an Emperor in the east, who in his vanity is mad enough to think he can deal as equals with me and my peers.
The imperial army made its way via Berkul and Amrizi to the Ili River. Barely five months later princes and people had been brought into subjection. In great splendour the Emperor informed his ancestors of the campaign: “Our warehouses are full, our treasure-chambers overflow with silver. With Your help we shall make great undertakings in order to make room for Our spirits and demonstrate Our power in the farthest corners of the Earth.” Filled with joy he sacrificed to them after the victory, and was happy when they leaped merrily about in the underworld, clapping their hands.
Candles of thanksgiving were still burning in the ancestral temples, when shabbily rewarded Amursana fell from behind on the few Chinese troops left along the Ili, wrung the governor’s neck, set signal fires burning. No Chinese escaped.
The greatness of the manly Emperor grew in this disaster. General after general, despatched by him but not up to the task, was executed. He drove westward all the tribes capable of fighting. A settled hatred for these people seized him; they had tempted him into deceitful ventures and were consuming themselves and him in turmoil. Zhao Hui was named commander in chief; he blew the rebel devil Amursana across the frontier. The insurgents were held in a stranglehold. A stern regime was imposed on the people.
But no Chinese had yet laid hands on the devil. And one day emissaries issued from the deathbed camp of this venomous Dzungar chieftain: to every tented settlement they carried strips of his fox-pelt coat. The hordes rose again. One hot day, between noon and evening, they forced the imperial troops to drink, not the inebriating waters of Shanxi, but the black draft of the River of Death. High mandarins had joined the retinue of untameable shortlegged Amursana.
What happened next remained, etched with the sharpness of torment, in the memory of Zhao Hui the general. How the Emperor, that great poet, in open council had first broken into tears over the fallen, and then made several favourable comments about the Dzungars, their bravery, and that they were of the same race of people. And concluded by bidding the Princes, Censors and Ministers to adjourn the session until next morning. How next morning he had read out to them in the Junji-chu, the High Council, a poem he had composed during the night. The turns of phrase were tender, the allusions soulful and enigmatic. To the delight of all men of education he was outlining the suppression of the Dzungars. At the end he had bowed to the kneeling courtiers and flung the sheets of costly paper over them, crying: “I am no poet. You should not consider this a poem. This poem is an edict. And the session is now closed.”
Some ten weeks after this event, the Dzungars had ceased to exist. Four and a half million people, men, women, children, babies had still blinked their eyes at the green Ili and the grey-white peak of Khan Tengri; within nine days they saw nothing more. A few families fled north to the Irtysh. The most savage bloodthirsty gods of the Tibetan plateau shuddered at the work carried out by the Imperial Chinese Army across the Tianshan, in accordance with the decree from the Son of Heaven.