« AnteriorContinua »
THE TSIN DYNASTY.
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, A CELEBRATED RULER. 39
and relegated to the insignificant position from which they had sprung.
The title of Emperor, divested of all but nominal meaning by this disastrous war, passed, to Chwang Siang's reputed son, the celebrated Tsin Chi Hwangti. Of his origin various stories are told by the Chinese chroniclers, who unite in denying that he was the late Emperor's son; but as none of them explain how it was that a boy of thirteen years, known to be a substituted child, should have been unanimously selected as the leader of the Tsins at this crisis, their stories can only be received with reserve. If Hwangti was not really born in the purple, he speedily showed that he was equal to the cares of government. His first object was to break up the coalition of the princes who, having removed the immediate danger which threatened them, fancied that there was no longer any necessity for keeping their forces in the field. While several of them disbanded their armies, the two most powerful quarrelled and declared war upon each other. These dissensions afforded the new Emperor a breathing space, which he turned to the best account.
His prime object was to detach the general Ouki from the service of the Prince of Wei, and in this the practices prevailing at the courts of Chinese feudatories greatly assisted him. Bribing a functionary of that prince to poison his master's ear against the faithful Ouki, Hwangti had the satisfaction of seeing the one general he feared in disgrace and driven into retirement . The object of his dread being removed, he gradually seized several of the strong cities be]onging to his neighbours, and when an attempt was made to revive the coalition he defeated his unskilful opponents in battle. The success of his arms, and the reputation he was acquiring by the ability evinced in his administration, were steadily winning public opinion round to his side. The cities which he wrested from his foes remained in his possession, and, while every other province was shrinking, his was extending on all sides. It was practically the conquest of China upon which he had embarked, and the vigour with which he c mmenced the enterprise afforded good promise of ultimate success.
A single instance may be given of the larger views which dictated his policy. On the western and northern borders the Tartar * tribes had long been troublesome, and prominent among these were the Hiongnou, identified with the Huns of a later age. Hwangti set the example, and several of the other princes followed him, of taking precautions against their inroads by the construction of walls, a system of defence which he ultimately expanded into the Great Wall. At this period (b.c. 238) his attention was diverted from affairs of state to domestic troubles which broke out in the palace. These internal brawls are invested with historical importance, because they led to the passing of an edict against foreigners in the following year, which would have become law, but for the able and eloquent pleading of a man who, more than any other, assisted the Emperor in carrying out his great design of making China a united country. Lisseh, such was his name, held a high office at the Court, when the edict threatened him, as the native of another province, with ruin; but on the eve of departure he sent the Emperor a statement of how much previous rulers had benefited by the ability of aliens, winding up with the following appeal, not less forcible than eloquent, to his better judgment: "I do not pause to examine if it may on the present occasion be expedient for private reasons to banish foreigners from your service or to retain them; all that I insist upon is that in banishing them you are not only depriving yourself of useful supporters, but you are handing them over to other princes, jealous of your glory and your power. By offering this insult to these foreigners, you make them your enemies; you put a weapon in their hands against yourself; you inspire them with the desire to serve their princes against your interests. My zeal for your service and your honour compels me, Prince, to make these representations to you, and to entreat you to give them your most serious attention." The Emperor perceived from this address that Lisseh was a
* At this point it will be advisable to state that in these pages the term Tartar is retained and used in its commonly accepted sense ; that is, it is applied generally to all the tribes in North-Eastern Asia, although many of these were of the Turkish stock.
THE UNITY OF THE EMPIRE. 41
man after his own heart, and at once gave orders for the withdrawal of the edict. Lisseh was restored to his post, and taken into the confidence of the ruler. At this moment Hwangti's domestic troubles were smoothed down by the death of Lieou Pou Wei, who had wished to pass himself off as the Emperor's father. In B.C. 235, his hands being thus freed, Hwangti resumed military operations against his neighbours; and assisted and encouraged in his main object by the able Lisseh, he resumed the task of subduing China. The unity of the Empire became the watchword of these two men. It was at this time that Hwangti adopted the custom of sitting on the throne with a naked sword in his hand—a fit emblem of the means by which he would have to attain undisputed supremacy, and also of the severity which he intended to employ. For many years wars and military operations monopolized his attention; and it was not until his reign was drawing to a close that he found it possible to return the sword to the scabbard. His first campaign after this lull was against the Prince of Chow—not to be confounded with the dynasty—whom he at first defeated; but the skill of General Limou turned the scale against him. Reinforcements were sent from the capital, and the year closed with the capture of several important cities by Hwangti's troops. Almost simultaneously with this doubtful war the ruler of Han—who had seen the triumphs of the Tsins with some apprehension, and thought to secure better terms by a timely surrender—was deposed from his seat, and compelled to retire into private life in the dominions of his conqueror. This easy success paved the way towards an effectual settlement of the complication with Chow, whose victorious general, Limou, still kept the field in defiance of Tsin. But Hwangti, too cautious to risk a campaign against a general superior to any in his service, had recourse to the same arts as were successfully employed in the case of Ouki. A courtier was bribed to malign the absent general, and to turn the mind of the Prince of Chow against his sole supporter. The intrigue was more successful than it deserved to be. Limou was recalled from his charge, and, on his refusing to obey the summons, assassinated by hirelings sent from the palace.