Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

The death of Hwangti proved the signal for the outbreak of disturbances throughout the realm. Within a few months five princes had founded as many kingdoms, each hoping, if not to become supreme, at least to remain independent. Moungtien, beloved by the army, and at the head, as he tells us in his own words, of three hundred thousand soldiers, might have been the arbiter of the Empire; but a weak feeling of respect for the Imperial authority induced him to> obey an order sent by Eulchi, Hwangti's son and successor, commanding him "to drink the waters of eternal life." Eulchi's brief reign of three years was a succession of misfortunes. The reins of office were held by the eunuch Chowkow, who first murdered the minister Lisseh and then Eulchi himself. Ing Wang, a grandson of Hwangti, was the next and last of the Tsin Emperors. On coming to power, he at once caused Chowkow, whose crimes had been discovered, to be arrested and executed. This vigorous commencement proved transitory, for when he had enjoyed nominal authority during six weeks, Ing Wang's troops, after a reverse in the field, went over in a body to Lieou Pang, the leader of a rebel force. Ing Wang put an end to his existence, thus terminating, in a manner not less ignominious than any of its predecessors, the dynasty of the Tsins, which Hwangti had hoped to place permanently on the throne of China, and to which his genius gave a lustre far surpassing that of many other families that had enjoyed the same privilege during a much longer period.

CHAPTER V.

RISE OF THE HANS.

This crisis in the history of the country had afforded one of those great men, who rise periodically from the ranks of the people to give law to nations, the opportunity for advancing his personal interests at the same time that he made them appear to be identical with the public weal. Of such geniuses, if the test applied be the work accomplished, there have been few with higher claims to respectful and admiring consideration than Lieou Pang, who after the fall of the Tsins became the founder of the Han dynasty under the style of Kaotsou. Originally the governor of a small town, he had, soon after the death of Hwangti, gathered round him the nucleus of a formidable army; and, while nominally serving under one of the greater princes, he scarcely affected to conceal that he was fighting for his own interest. On the other hand, he was no mere soldier of fortune, and the moderation which he showed after victory enhanced his reputation as a general. Emulating Hwangti in his great qualities, he sought to put himself in a more favourable light before the people by showing respect to men of letters, and by using every effort in his power to save and collect the few books which had been rescued from the sweeping decree of the Tsin Emperor. His task was, however, only half begun when the Tsins were deposed, for there was, besides his own, a second large army in the field under a rival general, not less ambitious than Lieou Pang, but, as the event proved, less equal to the occasion. His rival was Pawang, a sort of brainless Goliath. Their antagonistic ambitions encountered in mortal strife, and

after a desperate struggle the tactics or the good fortune of Lieou Pang prevailed. The path to the throne being thus cleared of the last obstacle, the successful general became Emperor.

His first act was to proclaim an amnesty to all those who had borne arms against him. In a public proclamation he expressed his regret at the sufferings of the people "from the evils which follow in the train of war," and his desire that all should enjoy under his rule the advantages of peace abroad and tranquillity at home. This act, at once of discretion and clemency, confirmed public opinion in favour of one who had already shown himself to be a successful soldier and a shrewd statesman, and did more to consolidate his position than his assumption of the glowing title of Lofty and August Emperor. During the earlier years of his reign he chose the city of Loyang as his capital—now the flourishing and populous town of Honan—but at a later period he removed it to Singanfoo, in the western province of Shensi. His dynasty became known by the name of the small state where he was born, and which had fallen, early in his career, into his hands. Varied as were the incidents of his reign, none was of more permanent importance than the consolidation of the Imperial power under the Hans. Kaotsou, imitating in his policy his great predecessor, the Tsin Emperor, sanctioned or personally undertook various important public works, which in many places still exist, to testify to the greatness of his character. Chinese historians declare that much of the credit for these great enterprises was due to his general and minister, ChangHang, but all history can do is to associate his name with undertakings which tended to increase the brilliance of the reign.

Prominent among these works must be placed the bridges constructed along the great roads in Western China. The city of Singanfoo was in those days difficult to approach, by reason of the mountainous country which surrounded it on most sides. Long detours were necessary in order to reach it from the south, and while its position possessed apparent advantages for the capital of the Empire, it was imperative that something should be done to render it more accessible. FLYING BRIDGES. 55

One hundred thousand workmen were consequently engaged to construct roads across these mountains, and, where required, to cut through them. Valleys were filled up with the mass of the mountains which had towered above them, and where this did not suffice, bridges supported on pillars were thrown across from one side to the other. In other places bridges were suspended in air, and these, protected on each side by balustrades, admitted four horses to travel abreast . One of the most remarkable of these " flying bridges," as the Chinese call them, measured one hundred and fifty yards in length, and was at an altitude of more than five hundred feet above the valley. It is believed to be still in perfect condition. The Chinese may fairly take great credit to themselves for these wonderful engineering feats, which were achieved nearly two thousand years before suspension bridges were included in the category of European engineers. By these means Singanfoo became easy of access to the Chinese and all their tributaries, who could reach it by some of the grandest highroads in the world. Not content with laying down these roads, post-houses, travellers' rests, and caravanserais were constructed at short intervals along the chief routes, so that travelling over the vast distances of the Empire was made as much a task of pleasure as possible, and no excuse was left for the subject not repairing to the capital whenever his presence was required. The effect produced on trade by these increased facilities for locomotion must also have been very beneficial, and no act of Kaotsou's reign places him higher in the scale of sovereigns than the improvement of the roads and the construction of these remarkable bridges.

Although Kaotsou commenced his reign by evincing a moderation towards his opponents which, while it was prudent, was certainly rare in the annals of the country, it was long before he could be pronounced to be safe from the machinations of his enemies; and in his later years the danger to his family was increased by, in some cases, the discontent, and in others, the disappointed ambition of his generals, who had in earlier days been his comrades, and had assisted to make him Emperor. In all his actions the presence of magnanimity is to be traced, and he appears to have been always peculiarly susceptible to generous impulses. One officer, a devoted follower of his opponent Pawang, had been fined a large sum of money for having spoken treason against the Emperor. Unable to raise the amount, he sold his family into slavery, and took service himself with a silversmith, in order to satisfy the demands of the Emperor. Fortunately, his friends interceded for him, and Kaotsou, struck by the singular harshness of the gallant soldier's misfortunes, not only pardoned and released him and his family, but also gave him a post of honour at his own Court . Kipou proved a devoted minister, and his faithful ^services amply recompensed the clemency of the sovereign.

Notwithstanding that Kaotsou had won his way to supreme authority by the sword, it would appear that contemporary opinion denied him any claim to be considered a great general. He himself frequently declared that he owed his success to his capacity for selecting the best commanders and administrators, and although this affectation of modesty often appeared to be only intended as a studied compliment to his followers, there was perhaps more truth in it than might be supposed. Such, at least, was the opinion of Hansin, one of the first generals of the time, who, in the following conversation, showed that he was the first man in history to draw a distinction between the now admitted radical difference of the ordinary general and the great commander. The Emperor asked him how many men he thought he could lead efficiently in the field ; to which Hansin replied, "Sire! you can lead an army of a hundred thousand men very well, but that is alt." "And you?" said the Emperor. "The more numerous my soldiers, the better I shall lead them," replied the confident general. So far back as this remote period, this conversation would show that the truth of the modern colloquial phrase of there being "generals and generals" was recognized in China.

Another instance of the estimation in which military skill rather than brute courage was held at this period is afforded by the high honours and awards which were conferred on Siaoho, who, without engaging in the active bustle of battle, had planned and drawn up all the Emperor's campaigns.

« AnteriorContinua »