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A DESPERATE STRUGGLE. 227
the stern game of war he preferred the spectacle, for the camp the luxury and pleasant ease of the palace.
If their leader was forgetful of his former prowess, the fierce soldiers who followed his banner did not rest satisfied with what had been achieved. They panted for fresh triumphs, and thought the tranquillity of the life of citizens but a poor exchange for the excitement of the soldier's career. When some of his old energy returned to him, his soldiers were disaffected, and several of his rivals were preparing for a fresh outbreak in the struggle for power. It is probable that he would have triumphed over his difficulties even at this late stage, but that a desperate party among his soldiers resolved to precipitate the crisis. It was while he was in his palace at Loyang, whither he had led his army for the purpose of meeting one of his opponents, that the bad feeling among his soldiers broke out in a flame. The news was suddenly brought to him that a party of conspirators was forcing the gates. Buckling on his armour, he placed himself at the head of his immediate attendants, and hastened to defend the entrance, at the same time sending an order for the immediate despatch of his cavalry from outside the town. Its commander refused to obey, and Chwangtsong was left to his fate. No record has been preserved of that stubborn fight at the gate of the palace of Loyang, but wc may safely imagine that it was worthy of the earlier reputation of Litsun-hiu. Deserted by his oldest officers he fought on with a mere handful of men, checking the rush of the hundreds of his assailants. The result remained doubtful, until an arrow struck the Emperor in the head, when he was carried into the interior of the palace by a faithful follower. The Empress sent him a cup of sour milk, which was no doubt poisoned, as Chwangtsong died immediately after taking it. Chwangtsong was only thirty-five years of age when this event occurred, and there cannot be a difference of opinion that a remarkable career was thus cut short. His old adversary, Ycliu Apaoki, the Khitan king, expressed great grief at his death. He himself died the same year, and was succeeded by his son.
Troubles broke out in several directions, and might have assumed grave proportions but that Lisseyuen, Chwangtsong's adopted brother and best general, took steps to remove them. He executed such of the rebels as he could seize, and banished the Empress, who was more than suspected of having poisoned her husband, and who was discovered in the act of plundering the palace. But he refused the dignity of Emperor which they wished to confer upon him, and while the troubles continued he styled himself simply Governor of the realm. Having restored some appearance of order, he retracted his refusal, and mounted the throne under the title of Mingtsong (a.d. 926).
During the ten years of his tenure of power Mingtsong was continually engaged in wars with either domestic or foreign enemies, but he managed to find time for the promotion of science and the encouragement of men of learning. The great art of printing was first discovered and turned to practical use during his reign, more than five centuries before Caxton and the printing presses of Germany.* His principal successes had been obtained over the Khitans, who were the most troublesome of neighbours, but their losses were so severe that they were fain to accept the terms accorded them. Mingtsong showed a desire to propitiate them by releasing several of their officers whom he had made prisoners, although he was warned that the knowledge they had acquired in China would be turned against himself. Mingtsong thought the risk on this account preferable to a perpetuation of the hostile feelings between the peoples.
In A.D. 933 he fell dangerously ill, and troubles arose in his own family on the question of the succession. One son absolutely appeared in arms in the palace, and Mingtsong was constrained to order summary steps to be taken for his punishment. Distressed at this act, Mingtsong's malady assumed an intensified form, and he died very shortly afterwards, leaving behind him the reputation of a wise and peace-loving prince.
* The exact date of the first printing press, in which wooden blocks were used, is uncertain; but it was probably about this period that it was first generally employed. The celebrated publication commonly called the Pekin Gazette, was nearly two centuries older, as it certainly existed in the reign of the enlightened Mingti of the Tangs (a.d. 713-756).
FATHER EMPEROR. 229
His son Mingti succeeded him, but his brief reign of one year was a series of misfortunes. Litsongkou, Prince of Lou, one of Mingtsong's favourite generals, revolted against him, and drove him from the throne. The Empress declared in favour of this pretender, and, when Mingti had been got rid of, Litsongkou became the Emperor Lou Wang. He did not long enjoy the power he had won by the extinction of the family of Likeyong, for within a year he fell a victim to the ambition of a rival general. Seeing that the end was at hand, he retired with his family to a turret in his palace, which he set on fire, thus perishing in the flames. So expired the brief dynasty of the Later Tangs.
Cheking Tang, such was the name of the new ruler, had taken a prominent part in the troubles of this period. Indeed he had been the first to urge Litsongkou to make his attempt upon the throne; but when that ruler was beset with difficulties he did not scruple to turn them to account for his own purposes. On assuming the purple, Cheking Tang changed his name to Kaotsou, and gave his dynasty the title of the Tsin.
As a matter of fact, the power of the new Emperor was little more than a shadow of the despotism of the Khitan king on his northern frontier. That despotism had been steadily growing and extending its limits in the few years that had elapsed since Litsun-hiu had warred with Apaoki; and in A.D. 937 Tekwang, the son of the latter ruler, changed the name from Khitan to Leaou. He openly claimed the Emperor as his vassal, and Kaotsou was sufficiently prudent to recognize that his strength was inadequate to contest the pretension. Kaotsou addressed him as Father Emperor, and sought on all occasions to propitiate a personage of whose superior military power he stood in daily apprehension. Several of the more old-fashioned of the ministers, not approving of these condescensions towards a "barbarian" potentate, remonstrated with Kaotsou; but their sense of the slighted dignity of the Empire was ill-suited to the time, and their inconvenient protests were summarily dismissed or passed over. It was also practically observed by one of the ministers that the Khitans or Leaous were no longer a
barbarous people. They had appropriated, with a large portion of Chinese territory in Leaoutung, and Pechihli, the civilization and refinement of Chinese life, at the same time that they retained the hardy characteristics of their Tartar ancestors. A war between this warlike and united people, and the enfeebled strength of the Empire could have but one result. Tekwang felt sure of his superior power. It would have been strange if he had refrained from exercising it.
So long as Kaotsou lived, his tact availed to avert an overthrow, and the Khitan king rested content with the profuse profession of goodwill and subservience sent him at frequent intervals by the occupant of the Dragon Throne. Kaotsou had, however, to pay a still heavier price to prevent the invasion of his dominions by this northern people in the surrender of several of his border cities, and the grant of an annual subsidy. He accepted the inevitable with the calmness of a philosopher. His death after a reign of seven years altered the position of affairs, by affording those who had throughout exclaimed against the indignity to the Empire an opportunity of carrying their opinions into acts.
The new ruler was Tsi Wang, Kaotsou's nephew, but during his four years' reign he left no distinct impression on the history of the times. He fell into the hands of ministers who were inclined to dispute the claims of the Khitan king, and their arguments, based on the personal disgrace to the Emperor, proved palatable to the mind of a new ruler. It was certainly not hard to show the shame of a Chinese monarch being the feudatory of a northern king; but they excluded from their calculations stern necessity which is generally clothed in a garb without symmetry to the eye or pleasure to the imagination. Tsi Wang paid his court, with less judgment than his uncle, to Tekwang, who in retaliation resolved to depose the Chinese ruler. His resolve was intensified by a severe defeat inflicted upon his army by one of Tsi Wang's generals, and in order to make the blow the more crushing, he collected all his strength for a supreme effort. Before the rising tempest Tsi Wang would have yielded, but it was too late. He sought an ally in the King of Corea, who had suffered from the aggressiveness of the Khitans; but his envoy returned with SURRENDER OF AN ARMY. 231
the depressing judgment that their alliance would be valueless as they possessed no arms, and were destitute of all knowledge of war. Tsi Wang had to rely solely upon his own resources. The two armies came face to face on the banks of the River Touho, and they remained so for some months, neither caring to strike the decisive blow without long deliberation. In the skirmishes which took place, the Tartars were generally the more fortunate, and at length Tekwang by a skilful manoeuvre succeeded in shutting the Imperial army up in its camp, when want of provisions compelled its speedy surrender. The surrender of his army involved for Tsi Wang the loss of his crown. Before he could make any fresh preparations for defence, his capital was in the possession of the Khitans, and his abdication and retirement into private life followed an abortive attempt to commit suicide. With this act the dynasty of the Later Tsins reached its consummation. Tekwang held for a short time possession of the capital, and then retired to his own dominions. He wished to place a puppet prince upon the throne as master of the Empire, but his own death arrested the plans which he had formed. Lieouchi Yuen, a trusted companion of the first Emperor of this dynasty, was placed on the throne by the public voice, and took the name of Kaotsou of the later Han dynasty.
This new family only enjoyed the possession of its high titular rank for the short space of four years. Lieouchi Yuen, who gave some proof of the possession of great qualities, died less than two years after he snatched the state out of the grasp of the Khitans, and his son Ynti succeeded him. The Khitans of Leaoutung seized what they thought a favourable opportunity to renew their enterprise; but Kwo Wei, who had been left by Lieouchi Yuen as the chief adviser of his son, baffled their attempt by winning several victories over them. Ynti turned his increasing security to reckless account by indulging his passion for idle pleasures. The season for such conduct was singularly inopportune, as the Empire had barely escaped a great danger, which might at any moment recur. On Kwo Wei's return from his victorious campaign in the north he was received with such acclamations by the