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- China - 4/83 -


the first national dynasty, When the successors of Tsin Chi Hwangti proved unable to keep the throne, the victorious general who profited by their discomfiture was named Liu Pang. He had been a trusted official of the Emperor Hwangti, but on finding that his descendants could not bear the burden of government, he resolved to take his own measures, and he lost no time in collecting troops and in making a bid for popularity by endeavoring to save all the books that had not been burned. His career bears some resemblance to that of Macbeth, for a soothsayer meeting him on the road predicted, "by the expression of his features, that he was destined to become emperor." He began his struggle for the throne by defeating another general named Pawang, who was also disposed to make a bid for supreme power. After this success Liu Pang was proclaimed emperor as Kao Hwangti, meaning Lofty and August Emperor, which has been shortened into Kaotsou. He named his dynasty the Han, after the small state in which he was born.

Kaotsou began his reign by a public proclamation in favor of peace, and deploring the evils which follow in the train of war. He called upon his subjects to aid his efforts for their welfare by assisting in the execution of many works of public utility, among which roads and bridges occupied the foremost place. He removed his capital from Loyang in Honan to Singanfoo in Shensi, and as Singan was difficult of access in those days, he constructed a great highroad from the center of China to this somewhat remote spot on the western frontier. This road still exists, and has been described by several travelers in our time. It was constructed by the labor of one hundred thousand men through the most difficult country, crossing great mountain chains and broad rivers. The Chinese engineers employed on the making of this road, which has excited the admiration of all who have traversed it, first discovered and carried into execution the suspension bridge, which in Europe is quite a modern invention. One of these "flying bridges," as the Chinese called them, is one hundred and fifty yards across a valley five hundred feet below, and is still in use. At regular intervals along this road Kaotsou constructed rest-houses for travelers, and postal-stations for his couriers. No Chinese ruler has done anything more useful or remarkable than this admirable road from Loyang to Singanfoo. He embellished his new capital with many fine buildings, among which was a large palace, the grandeur of which was intended to correspond with the extent of his power.

The reign of Kaotsou was, however, far from being one of uncheckered prosperity. Among his own subjects his popularity was great because he promoted commerce and improved the administration of justice. He also encouraged literature, and was the first ruler to recognize the claims of Confucius, at whose tomb he performed an elaborate ceremony. He thus acquired a reputation which induced the King of Nanhai--a state composed of the southern provinces of China, with its capital at or near the modern Canton--to tender his allegiance. But he was destined to receive many slights and injuries at the hands of a foreign enemy, who at this time began a course of active aggression that entailed serious consequences for both China and Europe.

Reference has been made to the Hiongnou or Hun tribes, against whom Tsin Hwangti built the Great Wall. In the interval between the death of that ruler and the consolidation of the power of Kaotsou, a remarkable chief named Meha, or Meta, had established his supremacy among the disunited clans of the Mongolian Desert, and had succeeded in combining for purposes of war the whole fighting force of what had been a disjointed and barbarous confederacy. The Chinese rulers had succeeded in keeping back this threatening torrent from overflowing the fertile plains of their country, as much by sowing dissension among these clans and by bribing one chief to fight another, as by superior arms. But Meha's success rendered this system of defense no longer possible, and the desert chieftain, realizing the opportunity of spoil and conquest, determined to make his position secure by invading China. If the enterprise had failed, there would have been an end to the paramounce of Meha, but his rapid success convinced the Huns that their proper and most profitable policy was to carry on implacable war with their weak and wealthy neighbors. Meha's success was so great that in a single campaign he recovered all the districts taken from the Tartars by the general Moungtien. He turned the western angle of the Great Wall, and brought down his frontier to the river Hoangho. His light cavalry raided past the Chinese capital into the province of Szchuen, and returned laden with the spoil of countless cities. These successes were crowned by a signal victory over the emperor in person. Kaotsou was drawn into an ambuscade in which his troops had no chance with their more active adversaries, and, to save himself from capture, Kaotsou had no alternative but to take refuge in the town of Pingching, where he was closely beleaguered. It was impossible to defend the town for any length of time, and the capture of Kaotsou seemed inevitable, when recourse was had to a stratagem. The most beautiful Chinese maiden was sent as a present to propitiate the conqueror, and Meha, either mollified by the compliment, or deeming that nothing was to be gained by driving the Chinese to desperation, acquiesced in a convention which, while it sealed the ignominious defeat of the Chinese, rescued their sovereign from his predicament.

This disaster, and his narrow personal escape, seem to have unnerved Kaotsou, for when the Huns resumed their incursions in the very year following the Pingching convention, he took no steps to oppose them, and contented himself with denouncing in his palace Meha as "a wicked and faithless man, who had risen to power by the murder of his father, and one with whom oaths and treaties carried no weight." Notwithstanding this opinion, Kaotsou proceeded to negotiate with Meha as an equal, and gave this barbarian prince his own daughter in marriage as the price of his abstaining from further attacks on the empire. Never, wrote a historian, "was so great a shame inflicted on the Middle Kingdom, which then lost its dignity and honor." Meha observed this peace during the life of Kaotsou, who found that his reputation was much diminished by his coming to terms with his uncivilized opponent, but although several of his generals rebelled, until it was said that "the very name of revolt inspired Kaotsou with apprehension," he succeeded in overcoming them all without serious difficulty. His troubles probably shortened his life, for he died when he was only fifty-three, leaving the crown to his son, Hoeiti, and injunctions to his widow, Liuchi, as to the conduct of the administration.

The brief reign of Hoeiti is only remarkable for the rigor and terrible acts of his mother, the Empress Liuchi, who is the first woman mentioned in Chinese history as taking a supreme part in public affairs. Another of Kaotsou's widows aspired to the throne for her son, and the chief direction for herself. Liuchi nipped their plotting in the bud by poisoning both of them. She marked out those who differed from her, or who resented her taking the most prominent part in public ceremonies, as her enemies, to be removed from her path by any means. At a banquet she endeavored to poison one of the greatest princes of the empire, but her plot was detected and baffled by her son. It is perhaps not surprising that Hoeiti did not live long after this episode, and then Liuchi ruled in her own name, and without filling up the vacancy on the throne, until the public dissatisfaction warned her that she was going too far. She then adopted a supposititious child as her grandson and governed as regent in his name. The mother of this youth seems to have made inconvenient demands on the empress, who promptly put her out of the way, and when the son showed a disposition to resent this action, she caused him to be poisoned. She again ruled without a puppet emperor, hoping to retain power by placing her relatives in the principal offices; but the dissatisfaction had now reached an acute point, and threatened to destroy her. It may be doubted whether she would have surmounted these difficulties and dangers, when death suddenly cut short her adventurous career. The popular legend is that this Chinese Lucretia Borgia died of fright at seeing the apparitions of her many victims, and there can be no doubt that her crimes did not conduce to make woman government more popular in China.

It says much for the excellence of Kaotsou's work, and for the hold the Han family had obtained on the Chinese people, that when it became necessary to select an emperor after the death of Liuchi the choice should have fallen unanimously on the Prince of Tai, who was the illegitimate son of Kaotsou. On mounting the throne, he took the name of Wenti. He began his reign by remitting taxes and by appointing able and honest governors and judges. He ordered that all old men should be provided with corn, meat and wine, besides silk and cotton for their garments. At the suggestion of his ministers, who were alive to the dangers of a disputed succession, he proclaimed his eldest son heir to the throne. He purified the administration of justice by declaring that prince and peasant must be equally subject to the law; he abolished the too common punishment of mutilation, and had the satisfaction of seeing crime reduced to such low proportions in the empire that the jails contained only four hundred prisoners. Wenti was a strong advocate of peace, which was, indeed, necessary to China, as it had not recovered from the effects of the last Hun invasion. He succeeded by diplomacy in inducing the Prince at Canton, who had shown a disposition to assert his independence, to recognize his authority, and thus averted a civil war. In his relations with the Huns, among whom the authority of Meha had passed to his son, Lao Chang, he strove to preserve the peace, giving that chief one of his daughters in marriage, and showing moderation in face of much provocation. When war was forced upon him by their raids he did everything he could to mitigate its terrors, but the ill success of his troops in their encounters with the Tartars broke his confidence, and he died prematurely after a reign of twenty-three years, which was remarkable as witnessing the consolidation of the Hans. The good work of Wenti was continued during the peaceful reign of sixteen years of his son Kingti.

The next emperor was Vouti, a younger son of Kingti, and one of his earliest conquests was to add the difficult and inaccessible province of Fuhkien to the empire. He also endeavored to propitiate the Huns by giving their chief one of the princesses of his family as a wife, but the opinion was gaining ground that it would be better to engage in a war for the overthrow of the national enemy than to purchase a hollow peace. Wang Kua, a general who had commanded on the frontier, and who knew the Hun mode of warfare, represented that success would be certain, and at last gained the emperor's ear. Vouti decided on war, and raised a large army for the purpose. But the result was not auspicious. Wang Kua failed to bring the Huns to an engagement, and the campaign which was to produce such great results ended ingloriously. The unlucky general who had promised so much anticipated his master's displeasure by committing suicide. Unfortunately for himself, his idea of engaging in a mortal struggle with the Tartars gained ground, and became in time the fixed policy of China. Notwithstanding this check, the authority of Vouti continued to expand. He annexed Szchuen, a province exceeding in size and population most European states, and he received from the ruler of Manchuria a formal tender of submission. In the last years of his reign the irrepressible Hun question again came up for discussion, and the episode of the flight of the Yuchi from Kansuh affords a break in the monotony of the struggle, and is the first instance of that western movement which brought the tribes of the Gobi Desert into Europe. The Yuchi are believed to have been allied with the Jats of India, and there is little or no doubt that the Sacae, or Scythians, were their descendants. They occupied a strip of territory in Kansuh from Shachow to Lanchefoo, and after suffering much at the hands of the Huns under Meha, they resolved to seek a fresh home in the unknown regions of Western Asia. The Emperor Vouti wished to bring them back, and he sent an envoy named Chang Keen to induce them to return. That officer discovered them in the Oxus region, but all his arguments failed to incline them to leave a quarter in which they had recovered power and prosperity. Powerless against the Huns, they had more than held their own against the Parthians and the Greek kingdom of Bactria. They retained their predominant position in what is now Bokhara and Balkh, until they were gathered up by the Huns in their western march, and hurled, in conjunction with them, on the borders of the Roman Empire. Meantime, the war with the Huns themselves entered upon a new phase. A general named Wei Tsing obtained a signal victory over them, capturing 15,000 prisoners and the spoil of the Tartar camp. This success restored long-lost confidence to the Chinese troops, and it was followed by several other victories. One Chinese expedition, composed entirely of cavalry, marched through the Hun


China - 4/83

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