Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Nien Kêng-yao

NIEN Kêng-yao 年羹堯 (T. 亮功, H. 雙峯), d. Jan. 13, 1726, was a member of the Chinese Bordered Yellow Banner. His father, Nien Hsia-ling 年遐齡 (1643–1727), served as governor of Hukuang (present Hupeh and Hunan) from 1692 to 1704, and then retired. Nien Kêng-yao became a chin-shih in 1700 and was selected a bachelor in the Hanlin Academy. In March 1709 he was appointed a sub-chancellor of the Grand Secretariat. About this time the Banner company to which the Nien family belonged was assigned to serve Yin-chên [q. v.], fourth son of Emperor Shêng-tsu and newly created Prince Yung 雍親王. (Each of the Manchu princes of the Ch'ing period was entitled to the service of companies of bannermen as nominal slaves.) About the same time a sister of Nien Kêng-yao became a concubine of Yin-chên.

In October 1709 Nien was appointed governor of Szechwan and, owing to his ability, gradually came to the notice of the Emperor. During the sixteen years of his administration he quelled several uprisings of the aborigines west of Szechwan. When Tsewang Araptan [q. v.], King of the Eleuths, sent an army to invade Tibet, and in 1717 succeeded in taking Lhasa, Nien immediately gave aid to the Chinese troops that were dispatched to recover that territory. In 1718 he was made governor-general of Szechwan and thus had power to direct military affairs. Meanwhile Yin-t'i [禵, q.v.], the Emperor's favorite son, was made commander-in-chief of the forces that were fighting Tsewang Araptan in Kansu and was given the title Fu-yüan Ta-chiang-chün 撫遠大將軍. This appointment was interpreted as a wish on the part of Emperor Shêng-tsu to give Yin-t'i a chance to elevate himself above his brothers, thus dealing a severe blow to the aspirations of the other contenders for the throne, among them Yin-chên. Nien Kêng-yao seems now to have turned his back on his master, Yin-chên, and for this the latter severely reprimanded him in a letter. Whether or not Nien was won over completely to the faction of Yin-t'i is a matter of conjecture. But the success of Yin-t'i in the recovery of Tibet in 1720, and in the re-instatement of the sixth Dalai Lama at Lhasa (see under Yen-hsin), doubtless enhanced Yin-t'i's claim to the throne, and Nien, invested with the title Ting-hsi Chiang-chün 定西將軍, took an active part in helping Yin-t'i win the Tibetan campaign. In June 1721 Nien was granted an audience with the aged Emperor in the Summer Palace at Jehol and was raised to the rank of governor-general of Szechwan and Shensi. It is probable that he was sent to Shensi to assist Yin-t'i and to promote the interests of that Prince in the matter of succession.

In December 1722 Emperor Shêng-tsu died and Yin-chên (Emperor Shih-tsung) ascended the throne with the support of the military forces of Lungkodo [q. v.]. Yin-t'i was at once recalled and closely watched, and the command of his armies in Kansu was given to Yen-hsin [q. v.]. The opponents of Yin-chên were helpless. Nien Kêng-yao, perhaps conscious of the dilemma in which he was placed, repeatedly asked the new Emperor for an audience in Peking—a request that was granted early in 1723. Shih-tsung, realizing that Nien was temporarily needed to maintain order on the frontier and to consolidate his own not too stable position, seems to have inspired Nien with confidence—in fact, awarded him a minor hereditary rank and the title of Grand Guardian, and made his elder brother, Nien Hsi-yao 年希堯 (T. 允恭, d. 1738), governor of Kwangtung. A few months later, because of his help in ejecting the Eleuths from Tibet, Nien was elevated to a duke of the third class with right of perpetual inheritance. The Emperor addressed intimate letters to him, which sometimes amounted to flattery; and Nien's own memorials, most of which were confidentially presented to the throne, became at times unexpectedly informal. The Emperor also attempted to promote friendship between Lungkodo and Nien, and even ordered that one of Nien's sons, Nien Hsi 年熙 (d. 1724), be given Lungkodo as foster son.

In 1723 Nien succeeded Yen-hsin as commander-in-chief of the forces sent to quell the uprising of the Khoshotes of Kokonor under Lobdzan Dandzin 羅卜藏丹津. The Khoshotes under Gushi Khan (see under Galdan) had been under Manchu suzerainty since 1637. Lobdzan Dandzin, a grandson of Gushi Khan, was ambitious and, after allying himself with Tsewang Araptan, revolted with a part of the Khoshotes. With the help of the able general Yüeh Chung-ch'i [q. v.], Nien won several victories over the rebels and in a few months quelled the revolt, in consequence of which many lamas were killed and their monasteries destroyed. Lobdzan Dandzin took refuge with the Eleuths until he was captured and delivered to Peking in 1755. Other rebel leaders who were captured were sent to Peking where, according to ancient rites, they were presented to the Emperor and executed. Nien was thereupon raised to a duke of the first class, with the additional hereditary rank of a viscount which was inherited by his eldest son, Nien Pin 年斌. Nien's father, Nien Hsia-ling, was also made a duke of the first class. Meanwhile, because Tsewang Araptan pleaded for peace, the conflict with the Eleuths came temporarily to an end. Except for troops left to guard the outposts of Turfan and Hami and the route from Si-ning to these cities, the Chinese forces were withdrawn to Kansu (see under Funinggan). Nien presented a memorial of over 10,000 words on ways of pacifying the Mongols and the aborigines of the Kokonor region, and on plans for the emigration of Chinese colonists to those parts. Thus Kokonor was added to the Chinese empire.

When, late in 1724, Nien made a visit to Peking and paid his respects to the Emperor, he was given additional honors and privileges normally granted to a Prince of the Blood; and for his share in quelling the uprising of the aborigines west of P'ing-fan, Kansu, was given the additional rank of a baron which went to his second son, Nien Fu 年富. Nien Kêng-yao had now reached the zenith of his power. When he arrived at the capital, many princes and high officials went outside the city to greet him. But he had by this time become conscious of his importance and responded, it is said, only mildly to the salutation even of Princes. His attitude aroused hatred and jealousy, and it was not long before gossip about him reached the Emperor who by this time had probably determined to be rid of him. Nien himself was not slow to discover that he had lost favor, for on his return to Sian in January 1725 he submitted a memorial, protesting his loyalty and gratitude and imploring the Emperor's mercy. But the response was only a cold warning, hinting that loyalty required of a high official that he be circumspect and ever on guard against prosecution. Meanwhile it was discovered that Nien had engaged in secret correspondence with the Emperor's arch enemy, Yin-t'ang [q. v.]. When Tulišen [q. v.] was appointed provincial commissioner of Shensi (1725) the Emperor notified Nien that one of Tulišen's tasks was to collect evidence of maladministration there. Repeatedly Nien memorialized that he was repentant and wanted advice, but he received only scoldings, sarcasm, and threats.

His plea for leave being denied, he was, at the end of May, transferred to the post of Tartar General at Hangchow, and the armies he once commanded went under the control of Yüeh Chung-ch'i. By this time many high officials, perhaps former sworn friends, began to accuse Nien of various crimes in the hope of keeping themselves from being involved. As the accusations accumulated, Nien was in a few months progressively degraded in rank until he became merely a bannerman at large. In November he was taken under escort to Peking. One of his last memorials shows that he feared for his life, for he pleaded that he was not very old and could still serve his master for several years "as a dog or a horse." But he was shown no clemency. Early in 1726 his crimes were enumerated under ninety-two heads, among them the following: sequestering arms in his home; permitting servants to accept bribes; taking daughters of Mongolian princes as concubines; ordering high officials to kneel in his presence; illegally engaging in the sale of trees, tea, and horses; and receiving bribes and embezzling public funds to the amount of 3,500,000 taels silver. Most of the other so-called "crimes" were trivial, and included even such an innocent deed as the unintentional reversal of a phrase in a memorial. For these "ninety-two crimes" Nien was sentenced to be executed, but the Emperor granted him the privilege of committing suicide. His son, Nien Fu, was beheaded and his other sons were banished. But his father and his brother escaped the death penalty. In 1727, the year following his death, his banished sons were permitted to return to Peking, but were barred from the examinations and from appointment as officials.

The case of Nien Kêng-yao was recorded in history as Emperor Shih-tsung intended it to be—the story of a man elevated for his military success, but condemned for "ninety-two crimes." But according to the studies of Professor Meng Sen (see under Chao I-ch'ing), the case is closely connected with the question of Yin-chên's succession to the throne. After long struggles with his brothers, Yin-chên became Emperor through disingenuous means (see under Yin-chên). In Peking, Lungkodo and his gendarmes kept Yin-chên's estranged brothers quiet, but in Shensi and Kansu the armies of Yin-t'i were a menace. Nien's position as governor-general and his great influence made it expedient that the Emperor should, for a time, treat him with deference, but when he was no longer useful his knowledge of how the Emperor reached the throne was embarrassing. The latter feared being branded in history as a usurper, and that fear made him both suspicious and ruthless. It is noteworthy that Lungkodo, the other favorite of Yin-chên, was also persecuted at this time, and was later imprisoned on similar charges.

Wang Ching-ch'i [q. v.] was one of many who were involved in the case. He had in a letter flattered Nien and had criticized the government and high officials. An article by him which appeared in a book of miscellaneous notes was manifestly a warning to Nien that his military successes might later arouse the Emperor's suspicions. For this the Emperor caused Wang to be executed (1726), and one of Nien's "ninety-two crimes" was that he had not reported on writings of such a "rebellious" nature.

Another writer, Ch'ien Ming-shih 錢名世 (亮工, 絅庵), a native of Wu-chin, Kiangsu, and the t'an-hua 探花 or third ranking chin-shih of 1703, wrote a poem in praise of Nien and gave him the entire credit for recovering Tibet (1720). The Emperor did not have Ch'ien executed, but punished him mentally. He sent him home and gave him a tablet with the characters, Ming Chiao Tsui Jên 名教罪人, meaning "Offender Against the Confucian Doctrines," to hang over his gate. He also enjoined every official in Peking who held the chin-shih degree to write a poem ridiculing and condemning him. These poems, brought together in a collection entitled Ming-chiao tsui-jên, were recently published by the Palace Museum. Duke P'u-chao 普照, a great-great-grandson of Nurhaci [q. v.] and a great-grandson of Ajige [q. v.]—that is to say, a fourth cousin of Yin-chên—was the uncle of Nien's wife. P'u-chao died in 1724, and in the following year his rank was abolished owing to this indirect connection with Nien. It is worth noting that the person sent by Yin-t'ang to win Nien to the cause of Yin-t'i was the Portuguese priest, Jean Mourao (see under Yin-t'ang), who died in Kansu in 1726. There were several officials sent by the Emperor ostensibly to serve Nien, but in reality to act as spies. Some of them went over to Nien's side and were later tried and placed in confinement.

Nien Kêng-yao is credited with three works on military tactics: the 年將軍兵法 Nien Chiang-chün ping-fa, the 治平勝算之書 Chih-p'ing shêng-suan chih shu, and the 經邦軌轍 Ching pang kuei-chê, but all were apparently written by others and falsely attributed to him.

Although Nien Hsi-yao was dismissed (early in 1726) from his post of junior vice-president of the Board of Works, he was in the same year appointed a minister of the Imperial Household. Later (1726–35) he served as superintendent of customs at Huai-an, Kiangsu, but was removed on charges of corruption. He was a good painter, and wrote several books on mathematics, a subject in which he was probably influenced by Catholic missionaries. His special interest was trigonometry, on which he produced three works known collectively as 測算刀圭 Ts'ê-suan tao-kuei, printed in 1718. He is credited with two other works on mathematics. From the missionaries he likewise learned about projection and perspective on which he wrote a treatise entitled 視學 Shih hsüeh, printed in 1729—a revised and enlarged edition appearing in 1735. In his preface to the first edition Nien Hsi-yao acknowledged that he learned perspective in Western painting from Castiglione (see under Chao-hui) and that he wrote his treatise primarily for the use of painters. In the second edition he added more diagrams to illustrate the principles of perspective and acknowledged further indebtedness to Castiglione.

While serving as superintendent of customs at Huai-an, Nien Hsi-yao had charge of the manufacture of porcelain. The excellent ceramic wares which were made under his direction came to be known as Nien-yao 年窯.

[1/301/2a; 2/13/9b; 2/12/16a; Chang-ku ts'ung-pien (see under Hung Ch'êng-ch'ou), nos. 4–10; Wên-hsien ts'ung-pien (see bibl. Dorgon) nos. 1, 5–8; Mêng Sên, 清初三大疑案考實 Ch'ing-ch'u san ta i-an k'ao-shih; Howorth, H. H., History of the Mongols (1876), part I, pp. 523–25; Backhouse and Bland, Annals and Memoirs of the Court of Peking (1914), pp. 281-88; Chao-lien [q. v.], Hsiao-t'ing tsa-lu, 9/4a, 10/29b, Hsü-lu, 3/8b; Hsüeh-ch'iao shih-hua (see under Shêng-yü), 4/29b; P'ing-ting Chun-ko-êr fang-lüeh (see under Fu-hêng), 1st series, chüan 12–16; Tung-hua lu, Ch'ien-lung 3:11; Shao Chin-han [q. v.], Nan-chiang wên-ch'ao, 9/1a; Bul. of the Nat. Lib. of Peiping (1936), vol. 10, no. 5.]

Fang Chao-ying