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THE SONG AND THE TSI RULERS.
WHEN Lieouyu assumed the Imperial dignity in the year A.D. 420, and proclaimed himself by the name of Kaotsou, the founder of the Song dynasty, China was still as a house divided against itself. Six kingdoms had been established within the borders of the northern provinces, and each aspired to bring its neighbour to its feet, and to figure as the regenerator of the Empire. As none of them were formidable, their weakness at least constituted an efficient defence against each other, and when all were decrepit there was safety in an incapacity for offence. The new ruler did not possess the means of giving reality to his pretensions of authority over these states, to which his own did but add a seventh competitor; and, although the fact is disguised as much as possible, the Songs were never more than one ruler among many, and their government always that of only a small section of the Chinese nation.
As the general of the later Tsins Kaotsou had shown great skill, and obtained many successes; but during his brief reign the opportunity did not present itself of following them up by any further triumph. The only event of any importance was the murder of the deposed Emperor Kongti, and this circumstance is chiefly invested with interest for the reason that Kongti refused "to drink the waters of eternal life," because suicide was opposed by the principles of his religion. This is the first, and indeed the only, instance in history of a Chinese ruler violating the custom of the nation by declining to acquiesce in the inevitable. Kongti was thereupon TOPASSE. 143
murdered in his palace by the guard in whose custody he had been placed.
Kaotsou enjoyed possession of the throne for no more than three years. That he possessed many sterling qualities is not to be denied. His frugality and attention to his duties were most worthy of being commended; and the courage which he evinced on the field of battle was well calculated to have produced great results in an age more remarkable for the practice of chicane than for the manifestations of the qualities of a soldier. His kindness and devotion to the fostermother who had nourished him, and who had lived long enough to sec Kaotsou on the throne, were most exemplary, and received the eulogium of his countrymen. On the other hand, he was unfortunate in not coming to the front until well advanced in life, and the prudence obtained only with the experience of years made him loth to endanger what he possessed by striving to attain the wider authority with which, when a younger man, he would alone have rested satisfied.
The reign of the next Emperor Chowti, Kaotsou's eldest son, would not call for notice were it not for the deeds of the northern kingdom of Wei, the ruler of which saw in the death of Kaotsou a favourable opportunity for resuming the operations suspended through fear of the military skill of that prince. The glimpse that is obtained of Topasse, the king of Wei, shows him to have been a man of exceptional talent and energy. At the great council of war, which he held on the eve of the invasion of the Song territories, he propounded the question whether the enterprise should be begun by attacking some fortified place or by overrunning the open country. The former course was adopted mainly on the advice of Hikin, and under the command of this leading general of the period several successes were obtained by the Wei troops. It was not, indeed, until they appeared before the walls of Houlao, a small fortress defended by a brave officer named Maotetso, that their career was in any degree arrested. Topasse sent his best troops to the assistance of Hikin, and came in person to encourage his army with his presence ; but Maotetso relaxed in no degree the vigilance with which he defended his post. His skill and valour baffled the flower of the army, and the most skilful of the generals, of Topasse during seven months, and when at length Houlao surrendered, the conquerors won nothing but a pile of ruins. Topasse died shortly afterwards from the hardships he had endured at, and the chagrin caused by, this siege; but at all events he has secured a durable place in history by the magnanimity, not often met with in Asian annals, which he evinced in the honourable reception he accorded the gallant Maotetso.
This disastrous war was the only event which marked Chowti's reign of one year. From the first it had been plain that he possessed neither the capacity nor the desire to govern his people well. He gave himself up to amusement, and neglected all public business. The nobles and great officials thought that it would be better to check his course with as little delay as possible, and with Tantaotsi at their head they deposed him, putting his brother in his place. Knowing well that there was no safety for themselves or for the nation in a deposed prince who preserved the desire for power, they secretly caused Chowti to be put to death, thus relieving themselves from further apprehension on that score.
Although profiting by their deed, one of the first acts of Wenti, the new ruler, was to punish the murderers of his brother. In this has been seen an instance of fraternal affection; but perhaps it might be taken with more truth as showing the fears of the ruler, who saw in the persons of these deposers and executors of a king the ever-present wardens of the people's rights. This act, which was viewed at the time as to be commended rather than condemned even by those who had applauded the fall of Chowti, so fickle a thing is the public mind, did not prevent Wenti's reign beginning under the fairest auspices. On his side there appears to have been the best intentions, and as to the people, their hopes led them to augur the things which they most desired.
Topasse, of Wei, had been succeeded by his son Topatao, a man not less capable or ambitious than his father. In A.D. 426 he resolved to attack and, if possible, conquer the dominions of Hia, which had just lost their ruler; and with that object he despatched a large army across the Hoangho RIVAL GENERALS. 145
under the command of Hikin, the same general who had conducted the siege of Houlao. At first the career of this army was unopposed. Town surrendered after town at the mere sight of the invader, and the troops of Hia never ventured to meet those of Hikin in the field. It was only when Hikin had advanced to a considerable distance from his base, and began to suffer from the want of provisions, that the Hia forces rallying took fresh courage, and ventured to engage the invaders of their country. Hikin was obliged to confine himself to his camp, which he fortified to the best of his military knowledge, and there he prepared to offer a stout resistance. The day arrived, however, when his stock of supplies was completely exhausted, and the soldiers had no alternative between surrender and cutting their way through the enemy. In these straits Hikin's fortitude did not shine with so bright a glow as that of Gankiai, who scouted all idea of surrender, and led a fierce attack upon the beleaguering army. In this battle the army of Wei was completely victorious, and Gankiai had the honour of taking the Prince of Hia prisoner with his own hand. Gankiai received all the credit of this victory, which irritated Hikin so much that he resolved at all hazards to perform some brilliant action which should eclipse the feat of his colleague whose name and deed were now on the tongues of all men. Partly no doubt by his own carelessness, and also through his tyrannical treatment of the soldiers in contravention of the regulations in force at all times in the Chinese army, which disgusted every one under his command, Hikin failed in his great design. Instead of surpassing Gankiai by a fresh victory, he demonstrated the marked superiority of that officer by incurring a defeat . He marched on Pingleang, the Hia capital, as a conqueror, but it was only as a prisoner that he could obtain admission.
The next year to that which witnessed this campaign against Hia saw the Wei troops engaged in an arduous war against the Gewgen Tartars. There was little fighting, as these tribes retired into the desert on the approach of the regular troops; but, such as it was, it was wholly in favour of Topatao, now the most powerful prince in China, and
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a much greater personage than the Song Emperor himself. Indeed, so completely did he overshadow the nominal ruler of the Empire that a collision between them sooner or later was seen to be inevitable, and each had been long preparing himself for the struggle. It was Wenti who first threw down the glove, but Topatao showed no hesitation in picking it up.
The great province of Honan, lying south of the Hoangho, and to the north-west of the Song capital (Nankin), had been overrun and annexed by Wei in the course of the campaign in the reign of Chowti. Wenti resolved, in A.D. 430, to attempt its reconquest. For that purpose he assembled an army of fifty thousand men, and concluded a defensive and offensive alliance with Hia against the common foe. Before ordering the advance of his army, part of which was to be conveyed in boats up the Hoangho, Wenti sent an embassy to the court of Topatao, requesting him to hand over all that part of Honan which lies south of the Yellow River. Topatao's reply was dignified and to the point. "I was not out of my teens when I heard it said on all sides that Honan belonged to my family. Go and tell your master that if he comes to attack me or mine, I shall defend myself; and even if he succeed in seizing this province, I shall know how to retake it as soon as the waters of the Hoangho are frozen." The war forthwith commenced, but in accordance with sound strategy Topatao withdrew his garrison from southern Honan, and stationed his army on the northern banks of the Hoangho. The ostensible object of the war was therefore obtained without a blow. It only remained for Topatao to put his threat into execution with the advent of winter.
Taoyenchi, Wenti's general, made all the necessary preparations for the defence of the territory which he had so speedily subdued, and the need of fortified places was soon shown by the activity of Topatao's lieutenants. The valiant Gankiai, entrusted with the chief command in the. field, sought an early opportunity of adding to his reputation The occasion soon offered itself, for one of the Song generals ventured to pass over the Hoangho, when his detachment was attacked by Gankiai with a superior force, and cut to