Imatges de pàgina


superstitious habits * which he had acquired tended to throw an increased gloom over his declining days. The anxiety produced by the Tartar war did not allow of its being mitigated, and when he found his end approaching there was as much of apprehension as to possible dangers, as of satisfaction at what he had accomplished in his survey of the great charge which he was about to leave to other hands. When Vouti's death was announced the Chinese and their neighbours felt that a great prince was no more, and that his death might be the signal for disturbance and change.

There can be no question of the great qualities of the Emperor Vouti. In Chinese history there stand out at intervals, generally far apart, the names and the deeds of rulers as great as any the world has ever seen. Of these we may claim for Vouti that he was, among Chinese monarchs, the second in point of time. The great Tsin ruler Hwangti may fairly be considered the first of these, as in some respects he proved himself to be the greatest prince that ever sat on the Dragon throne. Vouti appears to us to have been a less able ruler than the founder of the Tsins, but it must be remembered in his favour that his conquests proved more durable than those of his great predecessor. Fuhkien, Szchuen, Yunnan, became under his guidance Chinese provinces, and the independent kingdoms south of Kohonor were reduced to the condition of vassal states. In his own habits he was studiously moderate. His chief amusement in early days had been to hunt fierce animals unattended by the great escort customary with Chinese rulers. He was of robust build, and addicted to martial pursuits; but neither his passion for sport nor the desire for martial fame made him

• The Chinese historians have preserved several stories indicative of Vouti's superstition. Of these the following, which tells its own tale and carries its own moral, is perhaps the most striking: A would-be magician pretended that he had discovered an elixir of eternal life, and having obtained audience of the Emperor, was on the point of offering him a draught when one of the courtiers present stepped forward and quaffed tt off. Vouti, enraged, turned upon his minister and ordered him to prepare for instant death. "Sire," replied the ready courtier, " how can I be executed since I have drunk the draught of immortality?" The quck was exposed, and Vouti admitted the folly of the whole proceeding. blind to the true wants of his people. With the Tartars he saw there never could be any stable peace, and his anticipations proved more correct than even he could have imagined. He would have continued to the very end a war which had to partake of much of the character of one of extermination, and when he left it unfinished he impressed on his ministers the duty of continuing and concluding it. His deeds lived after him, the Han dynasty became established and consolidated under his influence, and his memory still survives among the Chinese, who are now, and probably will always be, proud to style themselves "the sons of Han."


THE HAN DYNASTY {continued).

On Vouti's death, Chaoti, the only one of his sons who had

taken no part in the civil disturbances referred to in the

previous chapter, became Emperor; but, as he was only eight

years old, his share in the functions of government was at

first small. The administration was entrusted to and carried

on by the two ministers Tsiun-pou-y and Ho Kwang. As

has often been the case in Eastern countries, the death of a

strong ruler and the accession of a child to supreme power

afforded the opportunity sought by the ambitious for the

advancement of their private ends. So it was when Vouti

died and Chaoti was proclaimed successor, for Lieoutan, one

of Vouti's elder sons by a wife of inferior rank, openly raised

the standard of revolt, and enjoyed for a brief space in his

own principality the attributes of imperial power. But the

movement did not receive popular support, and the measnres

taken by Chaoti's ministers were so effectual that within a

few months cf Lieoutan's first declaration his followers had

been dispersed, and he himself was occupying a prison in the

palace fortress at Changnan. The clemency of the new ruler

was shown by his moderation towards the rebel, whose life he

spared. Another attempt was made by an impostor, a sort

of Perkin Warbeck, who gave himself out as Vouti's eldest

ion, but his career was cut short by Tsiun-pou-y arresting him

with his own hands.

Although Lieoutan had experienced the generosity of his brother he had by no means laid aside his pretensions to the Jferone. Permitted to be at large in the palace, he turned his liberty to account by joining in the intrigues of dissatisfied courtiers against both the minister Ho Kwang and Chaoti himself. He became the centre of these plots which had as their chief object the placing of himself upon the throne. Fortunately intelligence of these schemes reached Chaoti's ears before their preparations had been completed, and we are told that "he took up his red pencil, and signed the order for the arrest of the conspirators with the greatest possible calmness." The whole of the conspirators were publicly executed, with the exception of Lieoutan, who as a special favour was permitted to poison himself. This was the last of the plots formed against Chaoti, who throughout had borne himself in a becoming manner and had given promise of the possession of great qualities.

The relations with the Tartars were on the whole satisfactory, and Chaoti succeeded in effecting the release of Souou, a Chinese envoy, who had been kept in confinement by them for nineteen years. The fidelity of this minister, Souou, long formed a favourite theme with the ballad-makers of his country, who loved to draw a contrast between his fidelity and the falseness of Liling and Li Kwangli. While there was tranquillity on the western border the relations with some of the tributary populations were not equally satisfactory. A rising in Leaoutung had to be put down by the employment of a picked force of Chinese troops, and this happened on two different occasions. Similar events occurred in other parts of the Empire; but in no case did the risings assume serious proportions, and in all they were repressed without difficulty. It was just as all danger to his authority had been dissipated, and when his people were forming the most glowing expectations of his future rule, that the young Chaoti died in his thirty-first year. Beyond question his early death was a serious loss to his country and a grave blow to the prospects of a dynasty which was already undecided as to its legitimate head.

Some hesitation was shown in proclaiming any of his relations Emperor, as Chaoti had left no heir; but the claim of his uncle Lieouho was considered to be the strongest. Whatever hopes may have been formed as to his qualifications A CAREFUL GUARDIAN. 91

were, however, soon dispelled. He developed low tastes, and his conduct brought contempt upon the Imperial dignity. He was speedily deposed, and retired without regret into private life where he could indulge, unobserved and without hindrance, the coarse amusements for which he showed so marked a preference.

It was the great minister Ho Kwang who assumed the conduct of the measures necessary for the deposition of Lieouho, and for the selection of a successor to the throne. The latter was a task not free from difficulty, and after some consideration the choice was made in favour of Siuenti, a prince who was at this time about seventeen years of age, and the eldest of the great-grandchildren of Vouti. Ho Kwang held towards him not only the delicate relations of a confidential minister, but also the more intimate position of an affectionate and solicitous guardian. Ho Kwang strove to make Siuenti the model prince which Chaoti had given promise of being, and the native record runs that " Ho Kwang gave all his care to perfecting the new Emperor in the science of government." Siuenti's early years had been passed in ignorance of his origin, and the official who had been entrusted by Vouti with the charge saw no reason in the troublous times prevailing to divulge the secret of which he became the sole depositary. It was only when Ho Kwang was in search of a prince that Pingki, the official in question, produced the right heir. The first acts of the new Emperor were marked by moderation and a sound appreciation of the wants of his subjects. They furnished the nation with good reason for looking forward to a reign of peace and internal progress and development . Nor were they to be disappointed.

Early in the new reign (b.c. 71) the Tartars, thwarted in their attempts to break through the Chinese frontier, turned their attack against the dependent kingdom of Ousun, which appealed for aid at Changnan. After the usual deliberation, and a fresh declaration of the views of Chinese statesmen on the subject of the Tartars, it was decided to comply with the request of the vassal Prince of Ousun, and to send a large army to his assistance. The generals were appointed, and the army set out in due course for its destination; but these

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