Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

these favours would have been conferred by the most ordinary of princes, Hongwou resolved to show the exceptional nature of his own talents by the bestowal of a peculiar distinction. In the year 1369, the first of his reign, he erected at Pekin a temple, or hall, in which statues were placed in honour of those of his generals who had been slain, whilst vacant places were left for those who still survived the chances of the long war of independence.

Hongwou was much too prudent a man, and too thoroughly acquainted with the idiosyncrasies of his countrymen, to make his army the sole prop of his power and the basis of his authority. The utility of possessing a highly efficient and trustworthy body of troops was incontestable, and Hongwou was happy and secure in the possession. But in China it is necessary to stability of authority that, in addition to the power of the sword, there shall be the expressed approval of the national mind. The force of public opinion is on cherished points irresistible from the unanimity of a great and multitudinous race; and Hongwou showed marked skill, not only in appreciating the drift of his people's minds, but in flattering the ideas which influenced their opinion. In a country composed exclusively of civilians, the new ruler saw how fatal a mistake it would be to unduly exalt the military class. The Mongols had committed that blunder, or rather it formed the distinguishing feature of their system, and consequently their rule never did, and probably never could, contain the elements of durability. Hongwou had no difficulty in reversing this system; and, while he kept several armies employed in the national war, he took every pains to impress upon his new subjects the fact that he was a man of peace, who believed that the national glory could be best advanced by promoting the welfare of the people. In China there are three principal ways of bringing these views home to the public mind. They are, first, by encouraging learning and by rewarding those who show proficiency in the study of the classical writers; secondly, by a pure and impartial administration of justice through the provincial governors; and, thirdly, by the imposition of moderate and fairly distributed taxes, and also THE RULERS DUTIES. 403

by a benevolent attention to the local wants of the people, who, scattered over an enormous extent of country, and living under every variety of climate, are frequently visited with all the horrors due to drought, famine, and pestilence. The key to Hongwou's reign will be furnished. by the manner in which he discharged the duties, thus defined, of a Chinese ruler.

The Mongols, although Kublai himself had set a wiser example, took but scant interest in the literature of the country; partly because they suffered from the inability of "barbarians" to understand or appreciate the beauties of a southern tongue, and also, no doubt, because the supremacy of letters was an idea totally foreign to their system. The wisdom of Kublai had imposed some fetters on their savage inclination; but with his death the inclination to patronize the classics of China passed away from his unworthy successors. There remained, therefore, to Hongwou the possibility of securing a greater amount of popular applause by encouraging learning, and by patronizing the literary classes. His first acts showed that he fully appreciated the opportunity, and they were guided by an excellence of judgment seldom shown by mortals in the shaping of even their own affairs. Much of the State resources had been turned aside from their legitimate objects by the later Emperors of the previous dynasty, to be devoted to purposes of personal indulgence, or for the maintenance of an unnecessary and foolish splendour. Hongwou's first measure was to stop every outlay that could come under the charge of extravagance, and to devote the public money to objects that might fairly be included in the category of national requirements. Not content with stopping the imprudent outlay which had marked the decline of the Mongol power, he even went so far as to destroy some of the costly palaces which had been constructed out of Chinese money to testify to the magnificence of the House of Genghis. In this extreme step we may see the working quite as much of shrewd judgment and of close acquaintance with the character of his countrymen, as of the spirit of an iconoclast. Hongwou-s conduct was based on the best models, and could not (ail to secure the national applause. When he remarked that "the Mongols should have devoted themselves to satisfying the wants of the people, and not to their own amusements," he was well aware that he was appealing to sentiments cherished by the Chinese from their childhood, and ingrained into the national character by centuries of precept.

In the true spirit of the founder of a new family, one of Hongwou's first acts was to entrust to a literary commission the task of writing the history of the preceding dynasty. This was the usual formal notification of the fact that one epoch had closed and that another was about to commence in the national annals. Having passed this decree, which was so emphatically sanctioned by custom that it had come to be regarded almost as binding as a religious rite, Hongwou founded a school for the sons of the greater officials; and to give it a claim to the high consideration it might otherwise have needed, he sent his own sons to be educated there. Nor did his measures for the advancement of learning and for the development of the national mind stop here. They reached their culminating point in two works of the highest magnitude, the restoration of the celebrated Hanlin College, and the codification and revision of the great book of laws.

The Hanlin College had first come into being, or, at all events, acquired definite form, under the wise and beneficent influence of the great Taitsong. That prince had given stability to his authority by the patronage he extended to the learned classes, but his main object had been to elevate the taste and mould the style of Chinese writers. With that object in view, he founded the Chinese Academy; and so completely did he attain the purpose he had before him, that the standard of poetical elegance achieved and laid down by the poets of his day remains the standard still. The verses of Keen Lung, which furnished a theme for the admiration of Voltaire, were based on precisely the same lines as those observed by the poets of Taitsong's reign, although they may exhibit graces to which the older writers had no claim. Having been started on the high road to success by the bounty of the great sovereign of the Tangs, the Hanlin College flourished on the munificence of those who came after him. In this instance, as in much else, each succeeding THE HANLIN. 405

dynasty strove not to outdo, but to perpetuate the work of its predecessor. The Sungs and the Kins continued to show favour to the great institution that embraced within its widereaching folds the literature of the country; and one of the proofs of Kublai's capacity to rule the Chinese was that no sooner had he made himself master of the old Kin capital than he assigned as the abode of the Hanlin doctors one of the most costly and pleasantly situated of the palaces of the conquered. What Kublai had done as a matter of policy, Hongwou confirmed, and continued as a question of natural attachment and national predilection. To him the Hanlin represented an institution intimately associated with the dawn of China's greatness. True it is that it had no claims to go back to that vaguely known period of perfection when the constitution of the country had its origin; nor had it been handed down as a remote tradition, with not only its original merits, but also with all the accumulated imperfections caused by the dangers, difficulties, and responsibilities of centuries. But it was closely connected with the period when China took her place, not only as the most powerful empire in Asia, but also among the polished nations of the world.

And Hongwou was open to all these influences. A visit to the Hanlin College inspired him with the genius of the place, and he felt a national as well as a personal pride in reversing the neglect which Kublai's unworthy descendants had latterly extended to this monument of China's fame. Both at Pekin, and also at Nankin—the favoured city of the earlier Mings—he granted favourable sites for the buildings necessary for the accommodation of its members, and extended to them all the assistance and material support which contributed to maintain the supremacy of its professors among the literary classes of China.

Hongwou's next great work, and one also which still endures, was the codification of the Book of Laws, the Pandects of Yunglo as it has been called. By this act he not only gave definite form and substance to the regulations by means of which society was kept together in China, but he also placed some further hindrance in the way of those who might seek to tyrannize over the people in districts remote from the central authority. By recording in a clear and unequivocal form the statutes of the Empire—a work of immense labour, seeing that they emanated from a considerable number of different systems and opposite customs— Hongwou earned a claim to his subjects' gratitude, not merely because he thereby completed a national monument, but principally because he ensured by it just government and that immunity from official oppression which was, as stated, one of the three essentials to the popularity or stability of any administration in China. Hongwou was careful to do the thing that was not only just and true for all ages, but that which was likely to receive popular approval for the time being.

Nor did his efforts for the benefit of the country showsymptoms of exhaustion with the accomplishment of these two grand schemes, which might be set down by the cynicism of sceptical critics to human vanity as much as to the benevolent desire of a paternal ruler. By one of the first edicts of his reign he had revived the ancient law of gratuitous national education. Under the Mongols the schools which used to exist in every town of any pretension had been allowed to fall into decay. They were now restored, and schoolmasters, properly qualified, were appointed to their charge, under the immediate supervision of the Emperor himself; and in order to place learning before the masses in her most attractive form, he caused public libraries, with books supplied from the capital, or at the expense of the Exchequer, to be placed in all the provincial capitals and larger towns. Indeed, it was his ambition that every village throughout the country should possess its library,* but in this it was not possible for him to attain the full success he desired. He had perforce to rest satisfied with having placed at the disposal of a vast number

* Libraries in China have suffered from the neglect which has fallen over most of the national monuments since the death of the fourth Manchu Emperor Keen Lung at the end of the last century, and very few now remain. Even the celebrated Imperial Library at Pekin has suffered in common with those of less note and importance. There are at this time no general libraries or reading-rooms throughout the country; but, as M. Hue has observed, books can be bought in China at a lower price than in any other country, and thus the evil is to some extent remedied.

« AnteriorContinua »