Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

to await examination under torture. In this extremity Hohien made full confession to Ho Kwang, who, to save the family honour, ordered that torture should not be applied to the prisoner. The pressing danger of discovery thus staved off, Hohien's daughter was proclaimed Empress; while Hohien, still unsatisfied, turned again to dangerous plotting. Siuenti showered honours on this family, which Ho Kwang refused for himself, and unwillingly saw bestowed upon his relatives. But if Siuenti was thus anxious to show his appreciation of Ho Kwang's services, he was actuated as much as ever by a love of justice. Hohien's daughter had been recognized as Empress, but when an heir-apparent was proclaimed (B.C. 67) it was the eldest son of Hiuchi, the murdered wife. Soon after this event a design which Hohien formed for the poisoning of the young prince was discovered, and she and all the members of her family were either executed, or commanded “to drink the waters of eternal life.” So was it that the crimes of a woman cast a shadow of opprobrium across the spotless name of Ho Kwang, one of the greatest statesmen China ever possessed.

Siuenti died in the year B.C. 49, at the early age of forty-two, having during his reign of twenty-five years evinced many great and estimable qualities. He had directed much of his attention to the laws which he had simplified, and his eulogist boasts that he had stripped them of everything which could serve as a subterfuge for the elusion of prompt and effectual justice—a statement which, remembering that Chinese intellect is as subtle and acute as any in the world, must be accepted with much reservation. Entitled to respect for what he himself accomplished, there is no doubt that his successful administration was also largely due to the wise acts of the great Vouti.

Yuenti, the son of the deceased Emperor, had the good fortune to ascend the throne at a more mature age than any of his immediate predecessors, but he appears to have been unable to benefit either himself or his people by the fact that he was competent to assume the task of government without any interregnum. His first acts were fairly prudent, and of a kind to make the person of the new prince popular;

[merged small][ocr errors]

but his reign of sixteen years affords little scope for detailed description. A great rising took place in the southern provinces, and a large army had to be sent against the rebels. At first too small a force was sent, and the rebels were successful; but then large reinforcements were despatched, and the rising was stamped out. The reputation won by this victory was enhanced by a great triumph over a chief of the Tartars. Chichi, one of the kings of the Hiongnou, had, in the disruption of the confederate power of his people, gathered to himself a formidable band of devoted followers. He assumed an attitude of semidefiance towards the Chinese, who at first only regarded his movements with suspicion, and then came to the decision to put a stop to them before they could constitute a danger to their peace of mind. For this, however, the credit did not belong to Yuenti.

Chintang, the Chinese commander on the Shensi frontier, was one of those resolute and prescient soldiers who never hesitate when an emergency arises to act in independence of their official instructions. Holding joint command with himself was one of those men who, always respectable, adhere to the minutiæ of their duty when the safety of the state is imperilled, and who postpone action until the favourable opportunity has passed away. On this occasion Chintang, taking all responsibility upon himself, resolved, in spite of the objections of his colleague, who wished to refer the matter to the capital, to attack Chichi before he was fully prepared for war. The boldness of his plan was equalled by the celerity with which he carried it into execution. By forced marches he approached and surrounded the chief camp of the Tartar king, and, although Chichi defended himself valiantly, the Chinese attack succeeded. Chichi died of his wounds, and his head was sent to Changnan. The effect produced by this great victory was felt along the whole of the frontier, and all the Tartar chiefs hastened to renew the expression of their dependence on the Emperor.

The expedition against Chichi was, indeed, the sole event of any importance which marked the reign of Yuenti. That prince proved timid, irresolute, and superstitious. An eunuch swayed his council, and luxury and apathy prevailed in his palaces. The Empire was prosperous because it enjoyed peace, but the peace was not so much due to the vigilance of the sovereign as it was the natural consequence of previous events. Yuenti died in the sixteenth year of his reign, unmourned by the subjects who had welcomed his accession (B.C. 33).

His son Chingti became Emperor, and one of the first acts of the new reign was the disgrace and banishment of the eunuch who had injured the character of Yuenti's administration. But as he replaced him by distributing the higher offices indiscriminately among the relations of his mother, neither the public service nor those representing it benefited by the change. Chingti soon showed that he was not much impressed by the greatness of his position. He neglected the cares of government for the pleasures of the table, and his amours and carousings became the scandal of the well-ordered and decorous Chinese officials. Various calamities fell on the country during his reign. Floods and violent storms were of frequent occurrence; and on one occasion Changnan, the capital, was flooded, and the Emperor and his family had to seek safety in boats. These misfortunes were further aggravated by popular disturbances and by the decline in vigour of the central authority. As if to reflect on the conduct of this prince, the King of Kipin, or Samarcand, who had alone held aloof from China under the previous reigns, sent an embassy to Changnan, where it was honourably received. Chingti saw in this act a testimony to his own greatness, and not the result of the wisdom of his predecessors. Fortunately for China, Chingti died suddenly after he had been on the throne for twenty-six years. Unregretted, save by those who had shared his orgies, this prince has left the name of being one of the worst of Chinese monarchs, a kind of Chinese Vitellius. His death happened in the year B.C. 7.

Chingti was succeeded by his nephew Gaiti, who endeavoured to restore the sinking credit of his House. He had not been an indifferent spectator of the disorders in the palace during the reign of his uncle, and he strove to remove

THE PEACEFUL EMPEROR.

97

the abuses and to generally reform the state administration. But his reign was all too short to afford scope for the amiability of his disposition and to allow of his reform taking root. He surrounded himself with men of his own age, and the nation anticipated that he would establish a new order of things. If time did not allow of any very remarkable achievement being performed, there was at least a return of vigour to the administration, and Gaiti's reign might have taken a high place among the Han Emperors had it been of longer duration. He died one year before the commencement of our era, having occupied the throne only

six years.

Among the great officials who had been displaced by Gaiti was Wang Mang, who had taken a considerable part in affairs during the life of Chingti, but who, on the death of that prince, had thrown up his appointments and retired into private life. He had, however, far from given up the ambitious dreams which he had cherished from his youth, and his powerful influence at court brought him back into public life on Gaiti's death. One of his first acts was to disgrace and overwhelm with ruin the favourites and admirers of the deceased Emperor, when, having accomplished this to his own satisfaction, he entered into a pact with Gaiti's mother for the governing of the state. There was a short interregnum during which these events occurred, and then a young grandson of the Emperor Yuenti was placed by these allies on the throne. As he was only nine years of age, he was unable to assert his rights in matters of state, and the persons who put him forward gave him the name of Pingti or the peaceful Emperor. Pingti began his reign in the first year of our era, but as it closed within five years it need hardly be said that the transactions under his nominal guidance were carried out without either his cognizance or consent.

Beyond incurring blame for his insatiable ambition the administration of Wang Mang deserves praise rather than censure. He preserved the national credit in the necessary dealings with the neighbours of the state. The Tartars were compelled to comply with the letter of their treaties, VOL I.

H

and the kingdoms of the south sent tribute and presents to the capital. In all his acts Wang Mang strove to obtain a popularity which would enable him to shake himself free, when the favourable opportunity should present itself for throwing aside the mask, from the few trammels upon his conduct left to such Imperial authority as remained.

The one element of embarrassment to him was the want of money; and this compelled him to resort to the desperate expedient of stripping the tombs of the deceased princes of the Han family of the jewels and other valuables buried with them. This act was, no doubt, shocking to the higher orders, but by some skilful manipulation, which the records do not preserve, Wang Mang was able to commit this sacrilege without alienating the support of the people, although he was violating one of the most cherished of Chinese customs. Having gone to this length, Wang Mang did not hesitate to take the next step, and get rid of the Emperor. Wang Mang himself handed Pingti the poisoned cup, and when the unfortunate boy was lying in agony in the palace, Wang Mang had the presence of mind to loudly express his grief at the sad fate which had befallen his master.

A child named Jutse Yng was placed upon the throne for the sake of appearances, but Wang Mang was accorded all the prerogatives of supreme power. A party among the great men in the state was formed against him, but after some hesitation, Wang Mang grappled with and crushed them. Jutse Yng had then served his turn, and vanished from history. Wang Mang, after ten years' intriguing, discarded further concealment, and was proclaimed Emperor. He sought to give permanence to his dynasty by taking a fresh name and style. The Han Empire became by his decree that of the Sin, and for a short space disappeared from history; but the later historians have agreed in expunging its name from their works.

« AnteriorContinua »