Imatges de pàgina
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hands of the foreign mercenaries, who, during their return march, burnt and pillaged in all directions.

Nor did the Empire long enjoy the peace which these victories in the internal war seemed to promise. Its neighbours had not been indifferent witnesses of the discord prevailing in the state. The extremities to which the Emperor was reduced afforded them an opportunity for indulging their propensity to rapine, which none of them were slow to seize.

Foremost among them, both by reason of their military strength, and also for the warlike characteristics of the people, were the Tibetans, who, having originally entered into relations with China on the terms of friends, had now become her most inveterate foes. Early in A.D. 763 they began to threaten the border districts and fortresses of the Empire, and, meeting with success above their expectations, they followed up their attack by sending the bulk of their army into China. Having captured the principal fortresses in the west of Shensi, they resolved to march on Singan, which lay exposed to their attack. A panic seized the population, and Taitsong himself became infected with it, and the Court set the bad example to the people of being the first to seek safety in flight. The Tibetans entered the capital without resistance, and remained there fifteen days. Having collected their plunder, they slowly retreated towards their homes.

In this crisis, Kwo Tsey came prominently forward, and with the small force at his disposal manœuvred with such skill that the Tibetans were fain to beat a more hurried retreat. They retained several of the strong places they had captured, and it was not until A.D. 765 that, on the renewal of the war, they were expelled from them with heavy loss by Jihchin, one of Taitsong's lieutenants. Their defeat culminated in the attack made upon them by their allies, the Huiho, who were won over by Kwo Tsey. An attempt was made in A.D. 766 to close the struggle by a treaty of peace, but it proved abortive. The war lingered on, and each year witnessed fresh incursions on the part of the Tibetans. Seven years later they were, however, vanquished in a decisive battle by Kwo Tsey. If the details of these border wars

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have left no deep impression upon the record of the age, their consequence is at least written clearly in the plain statement of the census held during this reign. Whereas under Mingti the population had exceeded fifty-two millions, under Taitsong, in A.D. 764, it did not reach seventeen millions; and the national prosperity had declined in like proportion. In A.D. 779 Taitsong died after a troubled reign of seventeen years, leaving to his son Tetsong the task of completing the pacification of a realm which it did not seem feasible to long hold together.

The first three years of Tetsong's reign were marked by the return of peace and prosperity to the realm, because Taitsong had practically left the government in the hands of the aged Kwo Tsey, whose spirit and energy had not been weakened by the weight of years. Under his advice Tetsong administered a grave rebuke to those who were always endeavouring either to cast the horoscope of the Empire, or to flatter the idiosyncrasies of the prince by reporting, or more often inventing out of their own imagination, such abnormal circumstances as might appear susceptible of a hidden interpretation. Against these superstitions, and those who prospered by their propagation, the following proclamation, framed by Kwo Tsey, delivered a shrewd blow. “Peace and the general contentment of the people," so ran this edict, "the abundance of the harvest, skill and wisdom shown in the administration, these are prognostics which I hear of with pleasure ; but 'extraordinary clouds,' 'rare animals,' *plants before unknown,' 'monsters,' and other astonishing productions of nature, what good can any of these do men ? I forbid such things to be brought to my notice in the future.” This protest against prevailing superstition came opportunely at a time when, because the year happened to be that dedicated to the horse, it was forbidden to travel on that useful animal along the public roads. Well might Tetsong exclaim, "Is it possible that any one can make the lives of men depend on such dreams as these?” The return of prosperity was shown by the census taken in A.D. 780, when the population was found to have risen to nineteen millions. The revenue was placed at thirty-one millions of

taels in money,* and twenty millions of a measure of grain, computed at one hundred pounds in weight.

With the death of Kwo Tsey in A.D. 781, Tetsong lost the mainstay of his Empire. It was said of him that he had risen to the lofty and onerous position of commander-in-chief after passing through no fewer than twenty-four different grades, in each and all of which he distinguished himself by his capacity. But for his great military qualities, and the sterling integrity which he showed in its service, the Tang dynasty would, beyond doubt, have gone the way of its predecessors. There were those who advised Kwo Tsey to cast his allegiance to the winds and to place himself upon the throne, but his steadfast reply was that he was "a general of the Tangs." He remained constant in his trust until his death at the patriarchal age of eighty-five, setting to all an example of virtue and devotion to the public service that in that day found few imitators, and leaving behind him among his own people the same reputation that Belisarius left • among the Romans of the later Empire. Kwo Tsey was the

more fortunate in that he died as he lived, the object of his sovereign's gratitude and esteem.

The death of Kwo Tsey was the signal for the outbreak of disturbances within the realm. The previous Emperor had promised, at a time when he was hard pressed, some of the great governors that he would renew the ancient practice of making their dignities hereditary, a practice which had led to the origin of the great feudatories and the accumulation of power in their hands, a state of things which had repeatedly broken up the Empire during the earlier dynasties. As it happened, no case of any importance had arisen during the second Taitsong's life to show whether he meant to carry out his promises or not. The penalty of the weak act was reserved for his son and successor. Tetsong refused to ratify this arrangement, and when a case arose for his sanction he declined to make any concession, and nominated another official to the vacant post. The governors, greatly disappointed in the hopes they had entertained, leagued together, and determined to seize by force the supreme power

* About ten millions of our present money.

A PEACE-OFFERING.

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to which they aspired. Their successes at first surpassed their utmost hopes. The forces of the government were driven from the field, the Emperor had to abandon the capital, and seventy princes of the Tang family were executed to show with what object these subjects had appeared in arms. Chutse, the principal of the insurgent chiefs, took all the steps he considered necessary to place himself on the throne, and assumed all the pomp of royalty. But while he was engaged in the pleasant occupation of regulating the affairs of his own palace, the people were rallying to the side of Tetsong. A proclamation, containing at once a confession of faults and a promise of better government in the future, had been issued in his name, and all those who had taken up arms against their sovereign were promised pardon and forgiveness. It was not without a touch of dignity that Tetsong excluded from the royal clemency Chutse, the principal of all his foes, as the man who had murdered so many of his family, and who had desecrated the temples of his ancestors.

The effect of this proclamation was so great that Chutse found himself deserted by the bulk of his supporters, and although he showed valour in the field, he was compelled to seek safety by flight in the direction of Tibet. On the approach of a body of cavalry sent in pursuit, his officers slew him, and sent his head as a peace-offering to the Emperor. Tetsong evinced fresh wisdom in again issuing a general amnesty, and the rebels returned to their homes. Several victories obtained over the Tibetans in A.D. 791-2 added to the returning sense of security, and ten years later this success was repeated against the same foe.

A great many civil wars, and frequent disasters received at the hands of foreign foes, had marked the history of the Tangs for a long period. The benefits originally conferred by its earlier princes were beginning to be lost sight of, and the later rulers seemed to have forgotten the greatness of the mission with which they were entrusted. There could not be much doubt that the continuance of this state of things would be followed by the collapse of the dynasty. Well might the contemporaries of Tetsong declare that the glory of the Tangs

had departed, and that it was only a question of a few years when the unworthy descendants of the great Taitsong should take their departure from the scene of history. Already had the eunuchs appeared in the palace, influencing the hand which guided the bark of state, and flooding the public service with their nominees; and with their advent to power the days of the existing administration were numbered. Corruption in the service, distrust and rivalry in the cabinet and at the council board, were not less fatal to the well-being of the state than the timidity in action and irresolution in thought which characterized the acts of these beings, who possessed all the greed of power and of wealth without the capacity of turning them to their legitimate and honourable uses. In the year A.D. 800 Tetsong proclaimed that there were no longer any openly declared rebels, and that the country was pacified; but the canker was eating at the core, for the eunuchs made all state appointments, even to the generals in the field and the governors in the provinces.

Tetsong died in the year A.D. 805, and his son Chuntsong succeeded him. Of this young prince the most favourable prognostications were made, but his ill-health and an incurable disease rendered his tenure of the throne of the shortest duration. He abdicated the same year as that of his accession to power.

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