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Genghis Khan by  Jacob Abbott

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HE accounts given us of the events and transactions of Genghis Khan's reign after he acquired the supreme power over the Mongul and Tartar nations are imperfect, and, in many respects, confused. It appears, however, from them that in the year 1211, that is, about five years after his election as grand khan, he became involved in a war with the Chinese, which led, in the end, to very important consequences. The kingdom of China lay to the southward of the Mongul territories, and the frontier was defended by the famous Chinese wall, which extended from east to west, over hills and valleys, from the great desert to the sea, for many hundred miles. The wall was defended by towers, built here and there in commanding positions along the whole extent of it, and at certain distances there were fortified towns where powerful garrisons were stationed, and reserves of troops were held ready to be marched to different points along [185] the wall, wherever there might be occasion for their services.

The wall was not strictly the Chinese frontier, for the territory on the outside of it to a considerable distance was held by the Chinese government, and there were many large towns and some very strong fortresses in this outlying region, all of which were held and garrisoned by Chinese troops.

The inhabitants, however, of the countries outside the wall were generally of the Tartar or Mongul race. They were of a nation or tribe called the Kitan, and were somewhat inclined to rebel against the Chinese rule. In order to assist in keeping them in subjection, one of the Chinese emperors issued a decree which ordained that the governors of those provinces should place in all the large towns, and other strongholds outside the wall, twice as many families of the Chinese as there were of the Kitan. This regulation greatly increased the discontent of the Kitan, and made them more inclined to rebellion than they were before.

Besides this, there had been for some time a growing difficulty between the Chinese government and Genghis Khan. It seems that the Monguls had been for a long time accustomed to pay some sort of tribute to the Emperor of [186] China, and many years before, while Genghis Khan, under the name of Temujin, was living at Karakorom, a subject of Vang Khan, the emperor sent a certain royal prince, named Yong-tsi, to receive what was due. While Yong-tsi was in the Mongul territory he and Temujin met, but they did not agree together at all. The Chinese prince put some slight upon Temujin, which Temujin resented. Very likely Temujin, whose character at that time, as well as afterward, was marked with a great deal of pride and spirit, opposed the payment of the tribute. At any rate, Yong-tsi became very much incensed against him, and, on his return, made serious charges against him to the emperor, and urged that he should be seized and put to death. But the emperor declined engaging in so dangerous an undertaking. Yong-tsi's proposal, however, became known to Temujin, and he secretly resolved that he would one day have his revenge.

At length, about three or four years after Temujin was raised to the throne, the emperor of the Chinese died, and Yong-tsi succeeded him. The very next year he sent an officer to Genghis Khan to demand the usual tribute. When the officer came into the presence of Genghis Khan in his camp, and made his de- [187] mand, Genghis Khan asked him who was the emperor that had sent him with such a message.

The officer replied that Yong-tsi was at that time emperor of the Chinese.

"Yong-tsi!" repeated Genghis Khan, in a tone of great contempt. "The Chinese have a proverb," he added, "that such a people as they ought to have a god for their emperor; but it seems they do not know how to choose even a decent man."

It was true that they had such a proverb. They were as remarkable, it seems, in those days as they are now for their national self-importance and vanity.

"Go and tell your emperor," added Genghis Khan, "that I am a sovereign ruler, and that I will never acknowledge him as my master."

When the messenger returned with this defiant answer, Yong-tsi was very much enraged, and immediately began to prepare for war. Genghis Khan also at once commenced his preparations. He sent envoys to the leading khans who occupied the territories outside the wall inviting them to join him. He raised a great army, and put the several divisions of it under the charge of his ablest generals. Yong-tsi raised a great army too. The historians say [188] that it amounted to three hundred thousand men. He put this army under the command of a great general named Hujaku, and ordered him to advance with it to the northward, so as to intercept the army of Genghis Khan on its way, and to defend the wall and the fortresses on the outside of it from his attacks.

In the campaign which ensued Genghis Khan was most successful. The Monguls took possession of a great many towns and fortresses beyond the wall, and every victory that they gained made the tribes and nations that inhabited those provinces more and more disposed to join them. Many of them revolted against the Chinese authority, and turned to their side. One of these was a chieftain so powerful that he commanded an army of one hundred thousand men. In order to bind himself solemnly to the covenant which he was to make with Genghis Khan, he ascended a mountain in company with the envoy and with others who were to witness the proceedings, and there performed the ceremony customary on such occasions. The ceremony consisted of sacrificing a white horse and a black ox, and then breaking an arrow, at the same time pronouncing an oath by which he bound himself under the most solemn sanctions to be faithful to Genghis Khan.

[189] To reward the prince for this act of adhesion to his cause, Genghis Khan made him king over all that portion of the country, and caused him to be every where so proclaimed. This encouraged a great many other khans and chieftains to come over to his side; and at length one who had the command of one of the gates of the great wall, and of the fortress which defended it, joined him. By this means Genghis Khan obtained access to the interior of the Chinese dominions, and Yong-tsi and his great general Hujaku became seriously alarmed.

At length, after various marchings and countermarchings, Genghis Khan learned that Hujaku was encamped with the whole of his army in a very strong position at the foot of a mountain, and he determined to proceed thither and attack him. He did so; and the result of the battle was that Hujaku was beaten and was forced to retreat. He retired to a great fortified town, and Genghis Khan followed him and laid siege to the town. Hujaku, finding himself in imminent danger, fled; and Genghis Khan was on the point of taking the town, when he was suddenly stopped in his career by being one day wounded severely by an arrow which was shot at him from the wall.

The wound was so severe that, while seffer- [190] ing under it, Genghis Khan found that he could not successfully direct the operations of his army, and so he withdrew his troops and retired into his own country, to wait there until his wound should be healed. In a few months he was entirely recovered, and the next year he fitted out a new expedition, and advanced again into China.

In the mean time, Hujaku, who had been repeatedly defeated and driven back the year before by Genghis Khan, had fallen into disgrace. His rivals and enemies among the other generals of the army, and among the officers of the court, conspired against him, and represented to the emperor that he was unfit to command, and that his having failed to defend the towns and the country that had been committed to him was owing to his cowardice and incapacity. In consequence of these representations Hujaku was cashiered, that is, dismissed from his command in disgrace.

This made him very angry, and he determined that he would have his revenge. There was a large party in his favor at court, as well as a party against him; and after a long and bitter contention, the former once more prevailed, and induced the emperor to restore Hujaku to his command again.

[191] The quarrel, however, was not ended, and so, when Genghis Khan came the next year to renew the invasion, the councils of the Chinese were so distracted, and their operations so paralyzed by this feud, that he gained very easy victories over them. The Chinese generals, instead of acting together in a harmonious manner against the common enemy, were intent only on the quarrel which they were waging against each other.

At length the animosity proceeded to such an extreme that Hujaku resolved to depose the emperor, who seemed inclined rather to take part against him, assassinate all the chiefs of the opposite party, and then finally to put the emperor to death, and cause himself to be proclaimed in his stead.

In order to prepare the way for the execution of this scheme, he forbore to act vigorously against Genghis Khan and the Monguls, but allowed them to advance farther and farther into the country. This, of course, increased the general discontent and excitement, and prepared the way for the revolt which Hujaku was plotting.

At length the time for action arrived. Hujaku suddenly appeared at the head of a large force at the gates of the capital, and gave the [192] alarm that the Monguls were coming. He pressed forward into the city to the palace, and gave the alarm there. At the same time, files of soldiers, whom he had ordered to this service, went to all parts of the city, arresting and putting to death all the leaders of the party opposed to him, under pretense that he had discovered a plot or conspiracy in which they were engaged to betray the city to the enemy. The excitement and confusion which was produced by this charge, and by the alarm occasioned by the supposed coming of the Monguls, so paralyzed the authorities of the town that nobody resisted Hujaku, or attempted to save the persons whom he arrested. Some of them he caused to be killed on the spot. Others he shut up in prison. Finding himself thus undisputed master of the city, he next took possession of the palace, seized the emperor, deposed him from his office, and shut him up in a dungeon. Soon afterward he put him to death.

This was the end of Yong-tsi; but Hujaku did not succeed, after all, in his design of causing himself to be proclaimed emperor in his stead. He found that there would be very great opposition to this, and so he gave up this part of his plan, and finally raised a certain [193] prince of the royal family to the throne, while he retained his office of commander-in-chief of the forces. Having thus, as he thought, effectually destroyed the influence and power of his enemies at the capital, he put himself once more at the head of his troops, and went forth to meet Genghis Khan.

Some accident happened to him about this time by which his foot was hurt, so that he was, in some degree, disabled, but still he went on. At length he met the vanguard of Genghis Khan's army at a place where they were attempting to cross a river by a bridge. Hujaku determined immediately to attack them. The state of his foot was such that he could not walk nor even mount a horse, but he caused himself to be put upon a sort of car, and was by this means carried into the battle.

The Monguls were completely defeated and driven back. Perhaps this was because Genghis Khan was not there to command them. He was at some distance in the rear with the main body of the army.

Hujaku was very desirous of following up his victory by pursuing and attacking the Mongul vanguard the next day. He could not, however, do this personally, for, on account of the excitement and exposure which he had en- [194] dured in the battle, and the rough movements and joltings which, notwithstanding all his care, he had to bear in being conveyed to and fro about the field, his foot grew much worse. Inflammation set in during the night, and the next day the wound opened afresh; so he was obliged to give up the idea of going out himself against the enemy, and to send one of his generals instead. The general to whom he gave the command was named Kan-ki.

Kan-ki went out against the enemy, but, after a time, returned unsuccessful. Hujaku was very angry with him when he came to hear his report. Perhaps the wound in his foot made him impatient and unreasonable. At any rate, he declared that the cause of Kan-ki's failure was his dilatoriness in pursuing the enemy, which was cowardice or treachery, and, in either case, he deserved to suffer death for it. He immediately sent to the emperor a report of the case, asking that the sentence of death which he had pronounced against Kan-ki might be confirmed, and that he might be authorized to put it into execution.

But the emperor, knowing that Kan-ki was a courageous and faithful officer, would not consent.

In the mean while, before the emperor's an- [195] swer came back, the wrath of Hujaku had had time to cool a little. Accordingly, when he received the answer, he said to Kan-ki that he would, after all, try him once more.

"Take the command of the troops again," said he, "and go out against the enemy. If you beat them, I will overlook your first offense and spare your life; but if you are beaten yourself a second time, you shall die."

So Kan-ki placed himself at the head of his detachment, and went out again to attack the Monguls. They were to the northward, and were posted, it seems, upon or near a sandy plain. At any rate, a strong north wind began to blow at the time when the attack commenced, and blew the sand and dust into the eyes of his soldiers so that they could not see, while their enemies the Monguls, having their backs to the wind, were very little incommoded. The result was that Kan-ki was repulsed with considerable loss, and was obliged to make the best of his way back to Hujaku's quarters to save the remainder of his men.

He was now desperate. Hujaku had declared that if he came back without having gained a victory he should die, and he had no doubt that the man was violent and reckless enough to keep his word. He determined not to submit. [196] He might as well die fighting, he thought, at the head of his troops, as to be ignobly put to death by Hujaku's executioner. So he arranged it with his troops, who probably hated Hujaku as much as he did, that, on returning to the town, they should march in under arms, take possession of the place, surround the palace, and seize the general and make him prisoner, or kill him if he should attempt any resistance.

The troops accordingly, when they arrived at the gates of the town, seized and disarmed the guards, and then marched in, brandishing their weapons, and uttering loud shouts and outcries, which excited first a feeling of astonishment and then of terror among the inhabitants. The alarm soon spread to the palace. Indeed, the troops themselves soon reached and surrounded the palace, and began thundering at the gates to gain admission. They soon forced their way in. Hujaku, in the mean time, terrified and panic-stricken, had fled from the palace into the gardens, in hopes to make his escape by the garden walls. The soldiers pursued him. In his excitement and agitation he leaped down from a wall too high for such a descent, and, in his fall, broke his leg. He lay writhing helplessly on the ground when [197] the soldiers came up. They were wild and furious with the excitement of pursuit, and they killed him with their spears where he lay.

Kan-ki took the head of his old enemy and carried it to the capital, with the intention of offering it to the emperor, and also of surrendering himself to the officers of justice, in order, as he said, that he might be put to death for the crime of which he had been guilty in heading a military revolt and killing his superior officer. By all the laws of war this was a most heinous and a wholly unpardonable offense.

But the emperor was heartily glad that the turbulent and unmanageable old general was put out of the way, for a man so unprincipled, so ambitious, and so reckless as Hujaku was is always an object of aversion and terror to all who have any thing to do with him. The emperor accordingly issued a proclamation, in which he declared that Hujaku had been justly put to death in punishment for many crimes which he had committed, and soon afterward he appointed Kan-ki commander-in-chief of the forces in his stead.

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