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RIVAL FEUDATORIES. 27
the tyranny was more complete, and also because there was less to tempt the envy of the ambitious. King Wang's reign closed after eighteen years, without any event having happened to give it either interest or importance. His death proved the signal for further disturbances, which seemed likely to produce a general war; but fortunately one faction proved more powerful than its rival, and King Wang the Third succeeded his brother of the same name.
Confucius flourished during the long reign of this Emperor, and whenever entrusted with office, succeeded in introducing good order and a spirit of impartial justice among his fellows. But, as we have before said, these gleams of a happier time were of but brief duration. The elements were too unfavourable even for Confucius; how much more so were they for weaker men! The second prince of the Wou family, whose power had been steadily increasing during the last half century, was worsted with heavy loss in a war with another potentate, and lost his life in battle. Two minor dynasties—those of Tsao and Chin—were extinguished during this reign, and their states seized by more powerful neighbours, thus affording the first proof of the inevitable termination of these internecine wars. It only remained for time to show which of the feudatories was to become sufficiently strong to absorb his neighbours and depose the ruling House. CHAPTER III.
THE FALL OF THE CHOW DYNASTY.
WHEN Confucius was on his death-bed, in the year B.C. 478, the reign of King Wang, the third of the name, was drawing to a close. For forty years that prince had striven to avert the collapse that threatened the dynasty, and to retain in his hands some portion of the authority of his ancestors. To a certain extent, his object had been attained ; the evil day had at least been staved off, and his son Yuen began his reign under fairer auspices than attended his father's assumption of power. If, however, the circumstances of the period are critically examined, it will be seen that this respite was nothing more than sufferance. The central authority was only the shadow of a name; and if the amiability or personal virtue of the sovereign shone by contrast with his contemporaries, and obtained some faint semblance of a forgotten respect, it had no more practical significance than a single rift in a stormy sky. The prince passed away, and his virtues were forgotten. The clouds remained lowering over a House which all the tenderer virtues could not save.
Yuen's early acts showed that the teaching of Confucius had found him a willing student. He re-enforced the ancient ceremonies, and proclaimed the re-establishment of the reign of justice and of right. Several of the vassal princes took, with all the old formalities, the oath of fealty; and had Yuen possessed the martial qualities necessary to solve the question by waging war on the recalcitrant nobles, he might have made his reign a turning-point in the history of his country. With his respect for the past he had borrowed THE EMPERORS OF JAPAN. 29
none of the political sagacity of Confucius; and he was essentially a man of peace. The wars between the tributary princes went on, and when one had achieved a great victory over his neighbour, the farce was gone through of soliciting by letter, couched in the terms of a superior and not a suppliant, the Emperor's sanction of a revolution within his dominions, which had doubled the territory of a powerful noble, and brought a victorious army to within a week's march of the capital. So it happened that the Prince of Yue overthrew several of his neighbours, and joined their lands to his. Prominent among these was the State of Wou, which, as we have seen, had obtained many triumphs in Chinese territory, and which had enjoyed a line of kings of its own during six centuries and a half. The members of the vanquished family fled, so the story is narrated, to Japan, whither their great progenitor Taipe himself had retired in the twelfth century before our era. They were destined to found there another ruling house of greater fame, as the Emperors of Japan claim these princes as their progenitors. This great success added much to the reputation of Yue, whose prince was named chief of the great vassals, thus provoking the jealousy of the powerful and ambitious Tsins.
Kowtsin, the Prince of Yue, appears to have been a man of exceptional capacity and vigour. Forming a league with the princes disposed to support him, he proceeded to wage war on the Tsins because they refused to pay tribute to him; and such were his activity and skill that they found it prudent to submit to a temporary indignity sooner than continue a contest which might terminate with serious loss. Kowtsin retained to his death possession of the territories won by the sword, and rejoiced in semi-regal privileges. We are told of how he sent to one of the nobles of his country, who had been sentenced to death, a sword with instructions to kill himself, thus anticipating by many centuries the practice of Harikari in Japan. With the death of Kowtsin the predominance of the Yues passed away, and the Tsins then profited by the prudence of their chief in not provoking a premature contest . During the progress of this strife Yuen Wang died, and was succeeded by his son Ching Ting Wang, who followed very closely in the footsteps of his predecessor.
The Court chroniclers affirm that under the rule of this prince the Empire recovered nearly all its lost splendour, and certainly the private character of the sovereign benefited by comparison with his predecessors. But the disintegrating causes so long at work still remained in force, and the absorption of the smaller principalities by the greater continued. Happy in his life, Ching Ting Wang was unfortunate only in the events which immediately followed his death. Three sons were left to profit by and to emulate the example of a father who had given fresh lustre to virtues long foreign to the purple; but in their anxiety to obtain the supreme place they forgot the more honourable rivalry that should have been theirs in propping up a dynasty which depended upon the energy and ability of its members to save it from the untoward fate whither it was apparently tending so fast. The eldest son Gan Wang succeeded his father as Emperor; but in three months, before the Imperial mourning had been laid aside, he fell by the hand of his next brother Sou, who was in his turn slain by his younger brother Kao Wang, after enjoying the pageantry of supreme ruler during the brief space of five months.
Kao Wang's reign, though commencing with a crime, venial it must be allowed in the history of his House, was not fortunate in its character. The nobles scoffed at the authority of the Emperor, and refused homage to one whose strength was fully occupied with domestic brawls. He became little more than a puppet in the hands of another brother, who gradually acquired the reins of power, and ultimately secured for his descendant the Imperial title to which he had himself aspired. After reigning fifteen years, Kao Wang died, and was succeeded by his son Weili Wang in those nominal functions which still appertained to the Emperor.
The troubles were now thickening on all sides. Looking back to this period, the Chinese chroniclers have styled it "the warlike epoch," and although we pass over this portion A GREAT GENERAL. 31
of Chinese history with as few details as possible, the title was well applied. This unfortunate Emperor, divested of the last shadow of authority, remained, it is true, in the palace; but the day of his fall was only postponed until one of the great nobles should gain a position that would justify him in standing forward as the claimant for the throne. The brightest topic in the history of China at this period was furnished by the great deeds of Ouki, a general and a statesman of singular force of character. Originally an officer fighting for his paternal state of Loo, his most brilliant successes were obtained in the service of the Prince of Wei. His guiding precept was that "the strength and greatness of a state depended upon the virtues and application of the ruler." Fortunate in the field, he rendered his master as valuable service in the cabinet by showing him that military triumphs are only justifiable as a means towards an end. The jealousy of those small minds, to which true merit is intolerable, as barring the avenue to the promotion they covet, turned the favour of the Prince of Wei from Ouki, who for a second time was obliged to become an exile. The ability of the man triumphed over the outrages of fortune, and the numerous victories which he obtained in the service now of one prince and again of another would have sufficed, if achieved over a foreign foe or in the interest of the Chows, to give stability to the Empire. In the end, however, he fell a victim to the base schemes of his opponents, for he appears to have treated their threats with scorn, and to have neglected all precautions for defending his own person. He paid the penalty of his fortitude or his rashness, being found murdered in his palace one morning, with no trace left of the assassins. The name and achievements of Ouki lend a lustre to the reigns of Wcili Wang and his successor, Gang Wang, which they would otherwise lack. The latter of these rulers was succeeded (lt.C. 375) by his son Li Wang, whose brief reign would call for no comment, were it not for the growing power of the principality of Tsi, the ruler of which, Wei Wang, was the first among the feudatories to take to himself the title of king. Although there much in this step to shock the sentiments of a people