Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

FREE EDUCATION. 169

and the passing of an alteration in the accepted practice in state education. In the former case his well-meant effort failed, as the people would have nothing to do with the new regulations. Wenti had the good judgment to recognize the unpopularity of his attempted innovation, and to withdraw the obnoxious regulations. With regard to the second matter, it had been customary from the time of the Hans to have schools and colleges in all the principal towns established for the gratuitous education of the people. To Wenti, who was an unlettered man, the advantage of this scheme of national education appeared to be no equivalent for the great burden it cast upon the taxpayers; and despite the representations of all the learned classes, he ordered their abolition in the year A.D. 601. According to some, this decree applied to all, with the exception of the Imperial College at the capital; but there is authority for the view that it was to be enforced only in the cases of persons intended for commercial or mechanical pursuits. Regarded in the light in which it has been handed down to us, it can only be considered as a retrograde step; but it is quite possible that it was rendered imperative by financial considerations. The death of Wenti took place in A.D. 604. There is reason to believe that his end was precipitated by his second son Yankwang, who aspired to be his successor. The suspicion is not weakened by the fact that Yankwang. beyond doubt murdered his elder brother, whom Wenti had intended to be his heir. Of Wenti's personal character much might be said in the highest terms of praise, and even the faults with which he has been charged are those that appeal to our sympathy. Brave, and a skilful commander, he possessed the essentials to success in the dark age out of which he emerged like a meteor from a gloomy sky. His moderation gained him friends, and disarmed the hostility of his foes. The magnanimity of a sovereign who spared the life of the prince he had deposed, and who erected temples in honour of neglected dynasties that had immediately preceded his own, was such as appealed to the general understanding. With these great qualifications was combined

a practical wisdom that shone conspicuous in all his acts, and it is without surprise that we read the panegyric written by some Chinese student on the “unlettered” Wenti. If Yankwang, or Yangti, seized the Empire by means that were brutal and unnatural, he soon showed that he possessed all the qualifications of a ruler of a great people. From the very beginning of his reign he devoted his attention to the construction of great public works, which have earned him a name more durable than that of the general who gives his energy and abilities to conquests that are destined to prove ephemeral. One of his first acts was to remove the capital to Loyang, which he desired to make the most magnificent city in the world. Two million men were employed upon his palace and other public buildings, and fifty thousand merchants were invited or commanded to come thither from other cities in the Empire. Of all his works the great canals," which he caused to be cut out in every direction, were at once the most useful and the most splendid triumphs of man over the obstacles of nature. By his order, public granaries, to which, during years of plenty, the prosperous were compelled to contribute, were erected in all the provincial capitals in preparation for times of dearth. And when these grandiose schemes had been brought to completion, Yangti, accompanied by his court, the great officials of the state, and the chosen troops of his army, made a kind of Imperial progress through his dominions. Both in his works and in this tour through the realm, Yangti may be said to have resembled the Emperor Adrian. His foreign wars were not as successful as those of his father had been ; but he reduced the Loo Chow group of

* The most authentic account of these canals is that handed down to us in the “Chouihingkiukien,” or History of the Control of Waters, of which the Père Amiot has left the following translation: “Yangti, of the Soui dynasty, who ascended the throne in A.D. 605, and only reigned thirteen years, began in the very first year of his reign to cause either new canals to be constructed or the ancient ones to be extended, so that ships could go from the Hoangho into the Kiang, and from those two great streams into the rivers of Tsi, Wei, Han, etc. Several of these great works still remain to testify to the greatness of Yangti.”

COREA VICTORIOUS. 171

islands to subjection, and seven hundred years later the first Ming Emperor based his claim to tribute on that fact. For many years later he was engaged in a domestic struggle with the people of Corea and their intrepid prince. The successes of this war remained entirely with the latter, who repulsed many invading armies, and in the end Yangti was fain to admit that the conquest of Corea would cost too much both in time and money to compensate for the attempt. Elsewhere fortune did not smile on Yangti's arms, although the triumph of the Souis brought to China envoys and merchants from the extremity of Asia. Fresh maps and an interesting description of the countries of Asia were obtained during this reign, and the Kuen Lun, or Mountains of Heaven, are first mentioned at this time. Neither his care for his people nor his devotion to science could save, however, his closing years from trouble and civil disturbance. The vast sums he had laid out on great works, and the extravagance which marked his ordinary expenditure, exhausted his exchequer, leaving him without the source of strength which, of all others, was most essential to the preservation of his position. He showed wisdom of a practical kind in forbidding his subjects to carry offensive weapons, and his successors down to the present day have studiously followed him in the path he marked out in this respect. He reversed much of his father's legislation in educational matters, and was the first to accord the degree of “Doctor” to those officials who had passed a fixed examination. He tarnished his fame during the last few years of his life by giving himself up to the indulgence of pleasure, and his indifference to his duties brought upon him the vengeance of a fanatic named Haokie. This man, at the head of a party of discontented soldiers, surprised the Emperor while journeying through his dominions, and strangled him before aid could arrive. In this ignominious fashion closed the life and reign of Yangti, who at one time promised to be the most remarkable ruler of his House and period. His son Kongti was placed on the throne by the assistance of Liyuen and his sons. Liyuen had been made Prince of Tang some years before, and his intrigues and open sedition had been the cause of considerable anxiety during the last years of Yangti's reign. Kongti was placed on the throne only to abdicate. The same year beheld his rise and fall. The ruin of his fortunes, the collapse of his House, were rendered the more expressive by the destruction of the great and costly palace which Yangti had constructed. Liyuen's second son and acting commander is reported to have said that this splendid edifice was only useful “to soften the heart of a prince, and to foment his cupidity.” Accordingly he gave it to the flames. The abdication of Kongti was followed by his murder, when Liyuen assumed the style of Emperor. Thus passed away the Soui dynasty after twenty-nine years' tenure of power. It was the last of the five small dynasties which ruled China after the fall of the Hans. Of these it was the greatest, in that it ruled a united China, and left to its inheritor the legacy of a country which it had all the credit of having consolidated and of having restored to something approaching its former height as a great administrative and conquering Empire.

( 173 )

CHAPTER XIII.
THE TANG D Y NASTY.

Taitsong the Great.

LIYUEN is known in history as the Emperor Kaotsou, first ruler of a dynasty which restored the country to its legitimate place among the nations. His very first act proclaimed both the clemency of the man, and the self-confidence of the rising family. China had still to be conquered, the Tangs were only one set of competitors among many, there must have been some who looked back with feelings of attachment and regret to the days of Yangti; yet despite all these elements of danger and disunion Kaotsou's first act was to spare the members of the deposed House and to allot them pensions. He desired to govern in accordance with the dictates of his conscience, which forbade him to stretch his prerogative or violate the fundamental laws of justice and humanity. The long troubles through which China struggled were at length passing away, and, as they disappeared, they left the ruler strong enough to follow a policy which had as its principal object the welfare of the state, rather than the personal gratification of the ruler. It was the peculiar glory of the Tangs to lead the nation into a new path of greatness, which has proved durable, at the same time that they raised the tone of public life. If the institutions and political power of England first assumed form and took substance in the hands of the Plantagenets, the service rendered to China by the Tangs was neither less tangible nor practical. The nine years during which Kaotsou occupied the throne were passed in wars, both beyond the frontier and within

« AnteriorContinua »