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THE EMPEROR'S DEATH. 429
has been made, had not been small, but who had allowed himself to be carried away by the promptings of ambition, was arrested and punished with death. He either gratified his pique or satisfied his private animosities by implicating many brave officers and soldiers in his schemes. Lanyu was the most, if not the only one, guilty; but twenty thousand lives were sacrificed to meet what were thought to be the exigencies of the occasion. The last days of Hongwou's reign were marked by no disquieting events, and although the loss of his eldest son had raised causes of possible dissension by the elevation of a child to the place of heir-apparent, they did not present themselves in any tangible shape during the lifetime of the aged prince, whose long career was now about to close. In 1398 Hongwou's maladies grew worse, and although the skill or attention of his doctors kept him alive for some months, it was evident to all that his end was near at hand. Under these circumstances Hongwou made all the arrangements for the peaceful transfer of power with calmness and decision. He sent his sons, who were known to covet the throne, to their different posts in the provinces, so that his grandson might succeed him without disturbance or opposition; and having thus ensured, so far as he could, the tranquillity of the realm, he resigned himself to his end. In his will he set forth the reasons which induced him to select his grandson, Chuwen, for his heir ; and caused the document to be published before his death in order that the people might know the motives of, and approve, his policy. He lingered until the summer of the year 1398, when he died in the 71st year of his age. Of the character of the illustrious Hongwou posterity has best been able to form an opinion by the deeds which he accomplished. As described by his great successor, the Emperor Keen Lung of the Manchu dynasty, he appears to have had most of the virtues and few of the faults of mankind. But we need not attempt here to analyze his character too closely, for we shall arrive at a more just opinion concerning the man by considering his work. To his credit must not only be placed the expulsion of the Mongols, but also the more difficult task of having created in their place a new machinery of government. Not only had he vanquished in innumerable encounters the chivalry of the Mongols, and dispersed, after long and arduous campaigns, the fragments of their broken power, but he had restored the dignity of the Chinese Empire to as high a point as it had reached under Kublai. The virtue of the man was just as conspicuous in his daily life as king, as his courage, fortitude, and military capacity had been as a popular and national leader in the dark days of Mongol despotism. It may be doubted whether China ever possessed a more beloved ruler, and certainly none had a better opportunity of realizing the national wishes and of supplying its wants than he had. Even now, it is asserted, the Chinese look back with secret longing to their favourite Ming dynasty, and the virtues and achievements of Hongwou form the basis of its fame. Hongwou must be placed among the limited number of the great rulers of China who never allowed themselves to be carried away by the magnitude of their successes, and who could meet the reverses of bad fortune with equanimity and resolution. But in the eyes of a civilized community not the least honourable of his characteristics will be held to be his moderation towards his enemies, and the mercy with which he tempered the severity of his country's justice.
THE EARLY MING RULERS.
WHETHER the cause is to be attributed to the excellence and forethought of Hongwou's arrangements, to the general tranquillity prevailing throughout the state, or to the solid contentment of the people, the fact remains that Chuwen succeeded his grandfather without encountering any open opposition. He then assumed the title of Kien Wenti. But this tranquillity was soon proved, so far as the domestic relations of the Ming family were concerned, to be hollow and deceptive, and only the lull that precedes the storm. For Wenti's uncles, although banished to their provincial posts, still nursed the ambitious dreams that arose partly from their position and partly from their youth; and the new ruler appears not only to have been aware of their dissatisfaction, but to have credited them with a much higher ambition even than they possessed. As these princes were absent from the capital at the time of the late Emperor's death, Wenti felt obliged, out of ordinary decency, to send invitations to them to attend their father's funeral. Some declined and others accepted the summons, and among the latter, to the surprise of the Court, was the most formidable and ambitious of them all, Ty, Prince of Yen. The prospect of Yen's visit to the capital was far from being agreeable to either Wenti or his ministers. The latter had reason to doubt the friendliness of his intentions, and they stood in much fear of his influence with the army. Wenti dreaded his approach as that of his most daring competitor. A council was hurriedly convened to consider what steps should be taken to meet the threatening danger, and at last it was decided to inform Yen that it would be more becoming in him to abandon his purpose and to return to his province. His duty as a son and as a subject were brought into conflict, and he had to sacrifice his respect for the dead to his obedience towards the living. But the slight thus inflicted made no passing impression on the spirit of this proud and vindictive prince, and the wrong of this act was to be atoned for only by a bitter civil war, in which thousands of lives were to be uselessly lost.
At this same council it had also been resolved that, as there could be no doubt of the hostile plans entertained by the Emperor's uncles against his position, if not his person also, immediate steps should be taken to bring them to a proper sense of their duty towards the new ruler. But while Wenti's ministers came to this resolute decision against the whole collective body of the late Emperor Hongwou's sons, they were cautious in their mode of dealing with the Prince of Yen in particular. One minister, indeed, showed sufficient courage to suggest that the proper course to pursue was to engage Yen at once with all their forces as the most formidable of these enemies of the public peace. But this view found no other supporter, and the determination come to was to proceed against the other brothers one by one, and thus deprive Yen of such support as they might be able to afford. Officials were sent to inquire into their conduct, and armies followed in their track to put down rebellion and to assert the Emperor's power and authority. Wenti's measures, so far as they went, were attended with unqualified success. All his uncles, save the one that was most formidable, were deposed from their governorships and reduced to the ranks of the people. One preferred death to that ignominious descent, but Yen alone remained to disturb the peace of mind of Wenti and his satellites, and also to avenge his brethren.
Yen's position was little shaken by these high-handed acts of authority, and it may even have been rendered the stronger because the wholesale proceedings against his brothers had the effect of representing his cause in the light of the injured party. As if to show his contempt for his nephew's
A FORMIDABLE PRETENDER. 433
power, he imprisoned and then executed three officials who had been sent from Nankin to spy upon his deeds. Nor did his hostility cease with this outburst of indignation. An attitude of passive defiance, he felt, was one that could not be long maintained, and the time had evidently come when it was necessary for him to strike a bold blow for his own rights and independence, if he did not wish to be swept aside and share his brothers' fate. He accordingly issued a proclamation calling upon all those who cherished the memory of Hongwou to rally to his side. The Chinese historian appears disposed to regard the collision between these personages as a matter of family quarrel and dynastic pretensions, but the facts justify the assumption that the real point at issue had become a larger one. If Wenti's government could not yet be called hopelessly bad, it was fast tending in that direction, while Yen had the tact to promise and hold out for popular approbation a higher standard of excellence in the administration.
The Imperial Government perceived from this proclamation and the warlike measures of the Prince of Yen that the time had arrived when it would have to make good its position and rights against the formidable pretender who had been goaded into action by its injustice, and who claimed for his cause the support of all those who took as their motto justice and the common weal. At first the hope was entertained that the Prince of Yen would experience some difficulty in maintaining his authority within his own province when once it was realized that he had undertaken so dangerous a task as to pit his strength against the whole force of the empire; but this expectation had soon to be abandoned. The Prince rapidly consolidated his authority over the whole of his province. The fortified towns surrendered for the most part and hoisted his flag, while the few that declared for the Emperor were speedily brought back to a sense of their duty. The Prince's active army was augmented by these garrisons and by large levies raised from the hardy people of the north. While Wenti's ministers remained inactive and blind to the gravity of the crisis, the Prince of Yen was ready to begin an offensive war.
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