Imatges de pàgina

interests? It is only necessary to think of virtue and to practise it.” It is scarcely necessary to add that such unworldly wisdom as this was not very palatable to the ambitious ruler of Wei. Mencius continued advocating measures which had a sound moral basis, but little attention was paid to him during his lifetime.

Another philosopher, Soutsin by name, whose proffer of service had been rejected by the Prince of Tsin, took a different course. Finding that devotion to pure ethics only led to his being treated with contumely, he entered the arena of politics, and, travelling from one court to another, devoted all his energy to the forming of a league among the princes of the Empire against the Prince of Tsin, who had received his overtures with expressions of scorn. The last years of Hien Wang's reign witnessed these schemes for the overthrow of one of the feudatories, but even if success had attended them there could have been no change in the relative position of the Emperor. Hien Wang's long reign closed at last, and he left to his son the unmeaning legacy which he had himself inherited from his father (B.C. 320). Of that son Chin Tsin Wang, whose brief reign extended over no more than six years, little need be said. The only change in the country—and it was one affecting its future much more nearly than the mere record of the daily events at the capital-was the steadily growing power of the Tsins, whose authority was extending eastwards and southwards into the heart of the Empire. Neither the league of princes, nor the military prowess of their neighbours appeared able to retard their progress. One of their statesmen asserted at this time that “their country was not sufficiently large, and its people not rich enough” for their ambition.

Nan Wang, the next and, strictly speaking, the last of the Chow Emperors, succeeded his father in B.C. 314; and the death of Mencius occurred in the earlier years of his reign. But the most important circumstance attending the accession of the new ruler was that the Prince of Tsin then perceived that the time had arrived for putting into effect the ulterior schemes which had so long slumbered in the background. The heritage of the Chows was ripe for division among the



numerous claimants; but, if he could overthrow all these candidates, he would be in the position of its sole heir. The first year of Nan Wang's reign saw the Prince of Tsin victorious over his neighbours, laughing to scorn the threats of a league no sooner brought together than dissolved, and mustering larger armies than at any previous time for the execution of his military enterprises. Nor was the policy he pursued for the purpose of advancing the object he had in view less astute than the means he possessed for enforcing it were formidable. Setting one prince against another by promises lavish to excess, but which could be either broken or left unfulfilled as most convenient, he was always able to bring a preponderance of force into the field. He employed against his neighbours and fellow-princes the very weapons which a wise Emperor would have used against himself, and in the end their efficacy was shown by complete success.

The natural consequence of this aggressive policy, carried out in an able and uncompromising manner, was that many ruling families, which had been in possession of their territories for centuries, were deposed, and in many instances also exterminated. About this time the Prince of Tsin, Hwei Wen Wang, died, and his son Wou Wang only ruled for a few months, when another son, the celebrated Chow Siang Wang, became the leader of the fortunes of this kingdom. In his hands the family policy acquired still greater force than before, and, casting aside all reserve, he offered sacrifice to the Lord of Heaven, with those formalities which were the peculiar privilege of the Emperor. The minister of a neighbouring potentate gave expression to the prevalent opinion when he said that the Prince of Tsin was " like a wolf or a tiger who wished to draw all the other princes into his claws that he might devour them." The struggle between the two states of Tsin and Tsi continued with varying fortune during most of the years of the long reign of Nan Wang; but in this instance, as in every other, final victory rested with the former.

For more than fifty years Nan Wang had remained a passive witness of the progress of these events, when suddenly, without any apparent reason, urged by some demon of unrest, he in his old age issued invitations for a league against the

Tsins. On this reaching the ears of Chow Siang Wang, he at once marched an army against the capital. Nan Wang, incapable of offering any resistance, surrendered himself without a blow, and became the dependent of his conqueror. After enjoying the glorious title of Emperor of China during fifty-nine years, he sank into the insignificant position of a vassal of the King of Tsin–a sphere which appears to have been the more suited to his talents. The facts are so expressive in themselves that it is unnecessary to add, as the Chinese historians do, that he died covered with ignominy. Thus came to the end, which had been so long foreseen, the third dynasty established in China. The virtues and the great qualities which had made its first Emperors the benefactors of their race had departed before the House had reached its manhood. The dislike of the people to break with associations intimately connected with the dawn of their political history, and, in a much stronger degree, the fact that the Empire had split up imperceptibly into principalities or kingdoms, practically independent, and each responsible to its subjects without any intervention on the part of a central authority, sufficed to put off the fall of a dynasty, which as a participator in practical affairs had long ceased to exist. The course of the history of China during three centuries would have been barren of profitable inquiry, but that they witnessed the feudal system at its height, the labours and writings of Laoutse, Confucius, and Mencius, and the steady growth of the military power of the Tsins, who were the first, of whom we have tangible knowledge, to discover and carry out a great idea in establishing a supreme and dominant administration over the inhabited portion of Eastern Asia. Brief as was their rule comparatively with the eight centuries and a half during which the Chows bore sway, they left behind them clear and creditable evidence of their capacity for government, whereas to impartial observers it must seem that the Chows accomplished very little indeed. It was their misfortune to have lived too long, and their apparently interminable old age brought to the record of their history many vices and weaknesses with scarcely a redeeming virtue.


DISTRACTED as the country had been for so many generations by civil war, and by the rivalry of the great nobles, the conclusive triumph of the Prince of Tsin furnished the people with some reason for hoping that a period of greater prosperity might now ensue. The more sanguine indulged speculations as to the extension of the Empire, and the scope for brilliant achievements under rulers who had, during centuries, guarded the Western marches against the Tartars; but the mass of the nation were the more satisfied because they anticipated rest. There were, however, solid grounds for supposing that the warlike Tsins, who, from their watchtowers in Shensi and Kansuh, had been the witnesses of many of the troubles which had swept the western and central portions of the continent, would be inclined to employ the forces of the Empire in settling the local questions with which they had long grappled on their single resources. There were not wanting signs, therefore, that the Tsins would not only wield the sceptre with a vigour unknown for many reigns, but that their policy would be conceived in a larger, if also in a more grasping, spirit than that of any of their predecessors. Before them the Chinese rulers had been content to control a single people, and their authority had never ceased to bear a close resemblance to that of the patriarchs; but the Tsins aspired to higher rank. In their eyes nothing less than the dominant position in Eastern Asia was the right of the peoples of the fertile provinces watered by the three great rivers that constituted China Proper; and they imagined it to be their task to accomplish this design. The imperial policy of China originated in this way, and the later dynasties did but expand the original plan of Hwangti, the great ruler of the Tsins. Chow Siang, the victorious prince of the Tsins, did not live long enough to enjoy the fruits of his triumph; and, as his son Hiao Wang died in the same year, the leadership of the family, and the charge of its destiny, passed to his grandson Chwang Siang Wang. This prince, while fully aware of, and not less anxious to realize the great prize at which Chow Siang had aimed, does not appear to have perceived that, when raised to the throne as the first Emperor of the Fourth Dynasty, the game was little more than half won. The Tsins were indeed the most powerful, warlike, and ambitious of the principalities; but, after all, they were only one among many. The Chows had fallen, and fallen by their prowess; but each of the feudatories saw in that event only the removal of the obstacle to the supreme height of his ambition. The long line of the Chows had at length reached its termination, and the last descendant of the great Wou Wang had met with the ignominious fate which his own crimes and those of his predecessors had brought upon his head. But the final settlement had yet to be attained. The first act of Chwang Siang Wang was to order the invasion of the territories of his neighbour the Prince of Wei; and his generals defeating the enemy in the field captured the two principal cities of that state. This striking success, enhanced by minor victories elsewhere, defeated the main object of the Emperor by creating a panic among the other great nobles, for the sense of a common danger led to the forming of a coalition amongst them too formidable for him to cope with. Moreover, they secured the services of Ouki, the best general of the age, and under his leading the tide of war was rolled back from the land of Wei into the territories of Tsin. The campaign closed with complete success for the confederates, and Chwang Siang Wang died a few months later, after a brief reign of three years. It thus seemed as if, before they had fairly commenced their occupation of the throne, the Tsins were to be swept from their pride of place,

« AnteriorContinua »