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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.
THE TANG DYNASTY.
Taitsong the Great.
LlVUEN 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 the realm; and, although in all his acts there was conspicuous a kingly capacity seldom surpassed, the fame of Kaotsou has assumed an attenuated form in comparison with that of his greater son. Indeed while he lived it was not very different. The annals of Kaotsou are chiefly of interest because they contain some of the noblest deeds of Lichimin, afterwards the great Taitsong. The wisdom of the father was eclipsed by the splendid qualities of the son, and it has been transmitted to us in only a reflected sense through the great achievements of the latter. Had Kaotsou lived at another period he would have been handed down to posterity as an able ruler whose successors should aspire to emulate him. As it is, the Chinese historian records as his most meritorious action the prudence which induced him after a nine years' reign to abdicate in favour of his son.
Kaotsou established his capital at Singan, the ancient Changnan, and his son Lichimin, on capturing Loyang, the metropolis of the Souis, caused Yangti's great palace to be destroyed. It was with the moral reflection—" so much pomp and pride could not long be sustained, and ought to entail the ruin of those who indulged them rather than attend to the wants of the people "—that Lichimin ordered this magnificent pile to be reduced to ashes; but it would be a mistake to see in this measure only the act of a Vandal. The Souis had fallen, and the Tangs were rising upon the ruin of that family; but some formal expression of the change was needed. Neither Kaotsou nor Lichimin would wreak their vengeance on the members of the fallen dynasty. The destruction of the building which typified the greatness of the Souis sufficed for all practical purposes, and leaves the reputation of the Tangs free from those moral stains which sully the shield of most Chinese rulers. The capture of Loyang was only one achievement among many. Wherever Lichimin marched victory went before him. His banners flaunted in the breezes of the northern states, and a great Turk confederacy beyond Shansi felt the weight of the military prowess of the young general. Within four years (A.D. 624) of his assisting in placing his father on the throne, Lichimin was able to announce that he had pacified the realm. Rebels
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had been vanquished, and foreign foes compelled to sue for peace; while the people rejoiced at having obtained a ruler capable of governing them without resorting to the arbitrary expedients of the despot .
Lichimin did not go without his reward for the brilliant successes he obtained in the field. His return to Singan recalls the description of the triumphs of the conquerors of ancient Rome. Dressed in costly armour, with a breast-plate of gold, Lichimin rode into his father's capital at the head of his victorious troops. Ten thousand picked horsemen formed his personal escort, and thirty thousand cuirassiers followed, in the middle of whom appeared a captive king of the Tartars. The spoils of numerous cities, accompanied by the generals who had failed to defend them, were there to grace the triumph of the conqueror. Just as Marcellus or one of the Scipios filed up the Sacred Way when bringing to the Imperial city the plunder of Gaul or of Carthage, did Lichimin proceed to the Hall of his Ancestors, where he apprised the shades of his progenitors of the success which had attended his arms. Having rewarded his principal officers, and accorded their lives to the defeated, Lichimin was feasted in presence of his army by the Emperor, who gave no stinted meed of praise to the son who had rendered such valiant and opportune service both to himself and to the country. The rejoicings of that eventful day, which beheld the popular ratification of the new government, closed with the proclamation of a general amnesty to all, and of a diminution in the taxes; and it still stands out as one of the most remarkable turning-points in Chinese history.
Lichimin's brothers envied while they could not emulate his greatness. His elder brother, unable to appreciate the generosity of character which had impelled him to advise his Either to proclaim him heir-apparent, intrigued against him, revolving in the first place to undermine his position at court, ind in the next to take his life. Kaotsou's mind was warped by the wiles of this intriguer against his favourite son, who fell into disgrace, and at one time thought of leaving a court *hich was as little congenial to his tastes as it was full of danger to his person. The course of history might have been changed, had Lichimin not discovered the quarter whence these hidden shafts were directed against his person and his reputation. His brothers, afraid of his influence with the people and the army, formed a plot for his murder, but their scheme was divulged. The blow which they had intended for Lichimin was turned upon themselves, and their death left this prince the incontestable heir to the throne. He demonstrated his worthiness for the position by the moderation he evinced towards those who had been the keenest partisans in his brothers' cause; and Wei Ching, the ablest of them all, lived to become in later years the most trusted adviser of the man whose death he had plotted.
The same year (a.d. 626) which witnessed these intrigues and the proclamation of Lichimin as heir-apparent, also beheld the retirement of Kaotsou from public life. It may well have been that it was something more than the alleged reason of weight of years that induced this prince to quit the throne at a time when there seemed to be nothing for him to do except to enjoy his hard-won triumph, and that the force of public opinion compelled him to resign the charge of the administration to his son. The transfer of authority was effected in the most regular manner, and with the necessary formalities. Kaotsou expressed his sovereign determination to seek the charm and relaxation of private life, and Lichimin refused to accept a charge for which he said his capacity was inadequate. But when these courtly phrases had served their turn, Lichimin felt constrained to obey the paternal command. Kaotsou descended from the throne, and Lichimin became Emperor under the style of Taitsong. The greater reputation had absorbed the less, and, having long wielded the executive power, Taitsong, by the voluntary retirement of his father, assumed the position to which his personal qualities gave him every right. Kaotsou lived nine years after his deposition, long enough to witness the most remarkable of his son's achievements, and the complete consolidation of his dynasty on the throne.
The first acts of the new ruler showed that he would rest satisfied with no partial degree of success in the task he had set himself to accomplish. It was his first and principal