« AnteriorContinua »
the falling-off in the population of the districts which preserved the closest resemblance to the old system.
Vouti died in A.D. 493, and his infant grandson Siaochao succeeded him for a short time. In the following year he was murdered by Siaolun, brother of Kaoti, the founder of the dynasty, and having paved the way to power by further atrocities Siaolun threw aside all hesitation, and ascended the throne under the name of Mingti. On the throne Mingti showed no transcendent ability, and, although his reign witnessed another abortive attempt on the part of the Wei ruler to extend his kingdom, the Tsis could not compare for power or for the enlightenment of their policy with their northern neighbours. About this time the Weis changed their capital from Pingching to Loyang, and their family name from Topa (Lord of the Earth) to Yen (Yellow), of whom more will be heard at a later period. Mingti's last years witnessed a revival of the cruel acts by which he had won his way to power, so that when he died, in A.D. 498, it was felt that there was more cause for rejoicing than for grief. His assassination of the general Siao-y, who had done most for the defence of the state against its northern assailants, was the culminating act of his career, and brought about eventually the fall and extirpation of his race.
Of the two last rulers of the Tsis little need be said. Paokwen, Mingti's son, ruled for two years under that name, or as Hwen Hu, and on his deposition and murder his brother Siaopaoyong enjoyed the titular rank of Emperor as Hoti for a few months. Neither possessed any real power, and, as both were mere youths, they could offer only a faint opposition to the astute general, who was urged on to effect their ruin partly by a desire for revenge and partly by the promptings of an insatiable ambition. This general's name was Siaoyen, and his one passion was to exact the most ample vengeance from the ruling family for the wrong done him by the barbarous murder of his brother Siao-y. The success of his operations, the crowds of soldiers who flocked to his banner, the general support accorded him by the people, all encouraged him to proceed to the bitter end with the enterprise he had begun. In the face of this semi-popular movement,
WINE NOT GOLD.
loyalty to the Tsis became a crime, and the punishment for fifty years of misgovernment and tyranny descended with irresistible force on the persons of two youths, who had hardly assumed the responsibility of government before they found that they and their race were condemned beyond the prospect of reprieve.
The dynasty which had, as we were significantly reminded, established itself by force and not by merit, reached the close of its brief career in the murder of Hoti in the year A.D. 502. They sent that unfortunate prince, whose life had been spared, a quantity of gold, and the irony of the present brought his altered circumstances home to him. “What need have I of gold after my death ? ” said he, “a few glasses of wine would be more valuable." So they brought him what he asked, bottles of the strong wine of the country, and he drank himself into a stupor, when he was strangled with the silken cord of his robe-an end not inappropriate for the last of a race which had shut its eyes to the necessities of the people, and which had always sought the shortest road to unscrupulous and uncontrolled authority.
SIAOYEN was a cadet of the reigning family of Tsi, but, aspiring to mark out a distinct track for himself in history, he took the dynastic name of Leang, of which he was the founder, and the personal style of Vouti. He experienced no great difficulty in overcoming the opposition of several disappointed rivals, and his wise moderation disarmed the enmity of many who stood on the verge of pronounced hostility. Vouti then devoted most of his attention to the administration of public affairs rather than to the possibility of extending his authority over the neighbouring states. His action was not, perhaps, marked by as much prudence and knowledge of the world as might have been expected from one who had risen to a lofty eminence by his own talents. His abolition of capital punishment was attended, as may well be believed, by a great increase in the amount of crime, and Vouti was soon obliged to suspend his well-meant but very injudicious experiment. This and other steps tending in a similar direction were probably taken with the view of making his person popular, and although condemned by the Tribunal of History, they may have had the desired effect. Unsatisfactory and inglorious as the rule of the Tsis had been, there were still those who remembered the fallen House with regret. One minister, sooner than eat the bread of the new Emperor, starved himself to death, whereupon Vouti
with the stoicism of the philosopher concealing the chagrin of the new-comer, remarked, “Is it not from Heaven, and not from court notables, that I have received the crown ? What reason, then, induced this miserable personage to commit suicide?” Loyalty to an old race or an expiring cause is in most cases unintelligible to the reformer who imports and represents the ideas of the new era.
The main interest of this period continues to centre in the fortunes of Wei rulers. This great northern state was immeasurably superior to that which held together round the Imperial authority at Kienkang (Nankin), and even when broken up into two divisions, each of the fragments was more vigorous than the united realm of the Leang rulers. Yet at the time when the Leangs were first established on the throne the causes which brought ruin to the Tartar family of the Topas or Yens were already in operation. It was not, however, until after the close of Vouti's first war that they revealed themselves in even a partial degree. Throughout Vouti's long reign, the ruler of Wei was practically the arbiter of China's destiny. It was to his court that foreign embassies went, and he regulated the relations with the Tartar and other tribes from Corea to Tibet.
In A.D. 503 the first collision in the long wars, which extended over nearly half a century, occurred between the troops of Wei and those of the new Emperor. In this, as in most cases afterwards, the successes were obtained by the former, although on one occasion the governor of one of Vouti's cities had the courage to leave the gates of his fort open in order to restore confidence by showing how little he feared the foe. But this was the sole exception to the otherwise unchequered good fortune of the great Northern Power. The campaign of the following year was chiefly remarkable for the brave defence of a strong place by the wife of its commandant. Chouyang had been entrusted to the charge of Ginching, one of the most skilful lieutenants of the Wei ruler; but during the temporary absence of that officer with a portion of the garrison, Vouti's generals, learning that Chouyang was denuded of many of its defenders, seized the favourable opportunity and appeared before the walls at the head of a large army. So rapid were their movements that they succeeded in carrying all the outer defences without a blow. At this stage, when the place was almost in their grasp, Mongchi, the wife of Ginching, appeared upon the ramparts, and restored the sinking courage of the garrison. The progress of the Wei troops was checked, and Mongchi made all the necessary preparations for undergoing a siege in form. The inhabitants were armed and the defences of the gate strengthened, and by promise of reward as well as by the inspiration of her presence, Mongchi imbued every man in the garrison with her own resolute spirit. Her fortitude was duly rewarded by the sight of the withdrawal of the baffled army under the Imperial generals. Her husband Ginching had in the meanwhile won a great victory in the field, but had been compelled to abandon the siege of Chongli in consequence of the flooding of his camp by the overflow of the river Hoaiho. Elsewhere, too, the Wei generals were equally successful, and the campaign closed for the year with unrelieved disaster for the arms of Vouti.
During the ensuing winter internal troubles threatened a disruption of the Wei state, and it appeared doubly necessary for its prince to maintain his reputation by a successful foreign war. In the spring his troops resumed hostilities with the Imperialists, and in the numerous encounters which took place more than fifty thousand men were computed to be slain on the side of the latter. Vouti's generals lost all heart, and feared to come out of their positions. Their opponents composed in doggrel rhyme * a challenge, taunting them with being afraid to cross swords with them ; but neither the sneers of the foe nor the desperate nature of their position could induce them to issue from their entrenchments and assume the offensive. The Imperialists were glad
* This challenge was: “They took the head of a dead person and decked it out in a widow's cap, and carried it round the camp chanting the following ditty : 'Neither the young Siao (Siaohong, the Imperial general) nor the old Liu (Liu Singchin, a minister) is to be feared ; no other was formidable, save the tiger of Hofei (Weijoui, the only successful Imperial general).'”-“ Mailla," vol. v. p. 225.