Imatges de pàgina

occasion nor inducement for a heaven-sent champion to appear in the arena. The constitutional methods ready to the hand sufficed to curb the wrong-doing sovereign, and they were employed with efficacy and address. Li Wang was driven from the throne, and compelled to flee the country. He survived his fall fourteen years; but time secured no oblivion for his faults in the eyes of the people. In that sense the nation proved as inexorable as the laws of the Empire. Li Wang died in exile, and during his absence China was governed by a regency composed of two ministers. When Li Wang died, the regents proclaimed his son, Siuen Wang, Emperor, thus giving a fresh lease of life to the Chow dynasty. Brilliant victories over the barbarians, who had grown more daring in their encroachments, marked the beginning of his reign; but something of the effect of this successful defence of the Empire was removed by a great blight which visited the country. The blame for this national calamity was laid at the door of the sovereign, because he had neglected to perform in person a ceremony the origin of which was traced back to the ancient days of Chinese annals; and the penalty of such neglect was pronounced by the highest authority to be "the wrath of the Master of all things (Changti), and desolation throughout the Empire." What the famine began, the valour of the barbarians completed. Siuen Wang's army was routed on the field of battle, and although ultimately retrieving his lost fortune, he never completely recovered the popularity which had accompanied his earlier years, when he was in every respect "a much-beloved king."

His son Yeou Wang was heir not only to his throne, but also to his misfortunes. Floods, earthquakes, and other calamities struck terror to the heart of the people; the ruler alone proved callous to them. While his subjects were daily raising loud complaints to the throne, he passed his time in idle pleasure in his palace. The general distress made the reduction of taxation a matter of ordinary prudence; he doubled the imposts to gratify the wishes of his mistress. The Chinese have never been silent under tyranny. They have sometimes, but rarely, produced a Brutus, or a Harmodius; but they have never failed to find satirists, whose bitter A WARDEN OF THE MARCHES. 13

words have exposed the shortcomings of the Emperor, even though endowed in the common parlance with many of the attributes of God. Yeou Wang became the butt of the learned; his crimes were denounced in the Tribunal of History, and his amours formed the theme of daily conversation. "The Royal House was approaching its fall," wrote the great historian of the day. Meanwhile the heir apparent had fled the palace, and sought with his mother refuge among the Tartar tribes of the West. These wild people looked upon the cities of China as their lawful prey, and though often beaten back with loss, it cost them little or nothing to resume an enterprise that might result in the attainment of a great prize. Never did the prospect appear more seductive to them than during the years when Yeou Wang's conduct had alienated his people, and the dynasty of Chow seemed tottering on the verge of ruin. The Tartars poured over the frontier, ravaging the country as they advanced; and Yeou Wang marched with several armies to oppose them. The victory should have gone to him, but the column under his command was attacked and overwhelmed by numbers, Yeou Wang himself perishing on the field.

His son Ping Wang was then placed upon the throne by the great vassal princes, but the danger from the Tartars, elated by their success over his father, continued to be so great that the Chinese were kept in a state of constant alarm. Ping Wang had to resort to the dangerous expedient of making one of the great nobles the custodian of his frontier. He abandoned his Western capital to this noble, Siangkong, Prince of Tsin, and retired to the Eastern capital, named Loyang, in Honan. The task entrusted to the prince named was difficult, but it enabled him to consolidate a power within the state independent of that of the Emperor. "The Tartars," said Ping Wang in his decree to the prince, "are constantly making their inroads into my provinces of Ki and Fong. You alone can put a stop to their onslaughts and marauding. Take, then, all this country, I yield it to you willingly, on the simple condition that you turn it into a barrier against them." In this decree, as engraved on a vase in Shensi, Ping Wang styled himself "the King of Heaven." Little did he think when doing so that the descendants of the Prince of Tsin would drive his in ignominy from the throne. Centuries were to pass away before the fall came, but the abnegation of the duty of defending the frontier could only lead, sooner or later, to the loss of Imperial power and station.

The other great vassals were not slow to follow the example set them by the powerful Prince of Tsin. If Siangkong was the only one to assume regal honours by offering sacrifice on the tortoise, his peers were not backward in claiming the substance of authority in their own territories. During Ping Wang's reign, it was said, " the ancient religion perished, the sciences, learning, zeal for the public good were cast aside; and men of talent, having lost their career, scattered themselves over the face of the country." The public mind was so much disturbed by the disunion in the Empire, and the incompetence of the prince, that fresh evidence of the imminent ruin of the dynasty was seen in the most trifling circumstances. The " Chiking"—a wonderful collection of national ballads, translated by that admirable man and sinologue, the late Dr. Legge—is full of the complaints that rose at this time from the midst of the people to the foot of the throne; and one high official reported as a momentous fact that "the ancestral burial-place of the House of Chow was in ruins, and that only a few sad relics remained as evidence of its having existed!" Ping Wang died in B.C. 720, after a reign of more than fifty years. Between that time and the year B.C. 606, seven Emperors of the dynasty of Chow succeeded each other. Their names were Hing Wang, Chang Wang, Li Wang, Hoei Wang, Siang Wang, King Wang, and Kwang Wang.

A few years after the death of the last-named ruler, Laoutse, the first religious and social reformer, was born. With him commenced a new era in the history of China. The period of one hundred and twenty years thus covered was taken up with innumerable petty wars between the principal vassals of the crown. The Tartars of the West and of the North afforded permanent occupation for those on the frontier, and although the Chinese triumphed by dint of numbers and superior skill, they never ventured to wage more than a defensive war. The seven Emperors last named succeeded RETROSPECTION. 15

in maintaining their position in Honan, and for a short distance in the surrounding region on account of the prevailing dissension; but their authority was but a faint semblance of what it once had been, and still claimed to be. Like the later Csesars, the less able they became to wield the sword against the enemy, and to resist the arrogance of the proud, the closer they wrapt the purple round them, and sought in the pleasures of the palace to forget the duties of the council chamber. So far as the record of notable events or the exercise of Imperial power is concerned, the annals of the Chow rulers might be already closed; but the ability and virtues of Laoutse, and the genius of Confucius, gave a lustre to the last three centuries of their rule not unworthy of its earlier fame.

Before passing on to the consideration of the important epoch which we have now reached, and which forms the commencement of the regular history of China, it will be advisable to glance back for a moment at the vast space of time which has been traversed in the few preceding pages.* Originally a nomad people, following the free and untrammelled existence of the hunter and the shepherd, the necessities produced by increasing numbers compelled the Chinese to become agriculturists, and to settle in towns. They had their mythical ancestors, in common with the rest of mankind, who taught

• This is the more necessary as the antiquity of Chinese history has been challenged by several writers. There can be no question of its substantial accuracy from the time of Confucius, but that is only two thousand four hundred years ago. The balance of evidence is wholly in favour of the account given in these pages, but the remarks of so intelligent a critic as M. de Guignes may here be inserted and studied with profit. It is permissible to believe that his critical faculty has proved too strong for his judgment of facts. "One of the causes which have led the Chinese into treat errors with regard to the antiquity of their country is that they have given to the ancient characters the meaning which they acquired in much more recent times. The characters now translated by the words rmptror, province, city, xcApalace meant no more in former times than chief of tribe, district, camp, and house. These simple meanings did no flatter their vanity sufficiently, and they therefore preferred employing terms which would represent their ancestors as rich and powerful, and their Empire as vast and flourishing in a durable manner before the year them the use of fire and of clothes, and who raised them gradually from the brute life which they were leading into a higher and nobler one. Then appeared the first conqueror Hwangti, to be followed by those three perfect, and probably ideal Emperors, Yao, Chun, and Yu, who left an example that none of their successors could hope to emulate. With the death of Yu the first stage in Chinese history closes. The principle that the ruler of the country should be the very best and ablest man in the community, carried out during four brilliant reigns, was set aside partly by the national sense of gratitude, partly because the progress of the age had led to the supersession of the purely public spirit of the patriarchal rulers, by the personal ambition of their descendants. The death of Yu was followed by the establishment of the first dynasty in the person of his son. After six centuries that dynasty was destroyed, to be succeeded by a second, which, when it had ruled for four centuries, was displaced by a third, still reigning at the period we have reached.

With the establishment of a distinct line of succession the country expanded its limits, and assumed all the proportions of an Empire. Its existence was acknowledged by the surrounding nations. It became an object of terror or of solicitude to its neighbours. Foreign embassies flocked to the capital; the princes of the desert, the rulers of the Jongs of the Amour, the kings of the Indo-Chinese peninsula, admitted that the countenance of the great Ti was the light which illumined Eastern Asia. And then, as all things human decline and fall—if they even arise with renewed strength like Antaeus—there came a long period of decadence. Prince succeeded prince only to find the extent of his territory more limited, of his authority more circumscribed. The weakness of one ruler had led to the transfer of supreme power from the hands of the sovereign to those of the nobles, already too formidable, and it was not until the ranks of the nobles produced a man, in the third century before our era, capable of subduing his peers that the Emperor reacquired the old supremacy, which had belonged to him in days that may well be styled prehistoric. It was at this period that the feudal system was in most vigorous condition, although

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