Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

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. L 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.

CHAPTER VIII.

THE REVIVAL AND FALL OF THE HANS.

Having cast aside the mask, and assumed supreme authority, Wang Mang hoped to strengthen his position by a policy of violent and sweeping innovation. He divided the Empire into principalities more in accordance with what he considered his interests demanded, and reduced the number of feudal princes by numerous depositions and arrests. The very boldness of his measures unnerved his enemies, and he carried matters with a high hand during the earlier years of his usurped authority. The success of his audacity was not to prove of long duration, and while his subjects were cowering under his implacable resentment, his neighbours saw in the disappearance of the Hans and the rise of an adventurer the opportunity of setting aside the arrangements which wiser rulers had concluded for the purpose of binding them to the Chinese alliance. The Tartars were the first to openly proclaim their resolution to concede no longer to the new ruler the outward marks of respect which they had yielded to his predecessors. They openly set Wang Mang at defiance, and, fostering the agitation among all the bordering tribes, carried their incursions into provinces which had become prosperous and wealthy by their absence during a whole generation. In the face of this irruption, Wang Mang showed the greatest irresolution and weakness. While his frontier garrisons were besieged or destroyed, he did nothing to assert his authority, and allowed the Tartars to continue their raids with impunity. The provinces of the north, which had flourished during thirty years of assured tranquillity, again suffered from th«s depredations of the neighbouring hordes, and the wealth and prosperity which had come in the train of peace vanished from the land.

In comparison with other troubles, which speedily arose, that caused by the Tartars was slight. Wang Mang was threatened by dangers much more pressing and nearer home. Risings in the eastern provinces were soon succeeded by a serious rebellion in the south, where the districts beyond the Great River were but loosely knit to Chinese authority. Wherever Wang Mang turned, there were foes either declared, or only awaiting a favourable opportunity to reveal themselves. Wang Mang had displaced the Hans, and raised himself to a supreme position by a capacity for intrigue in the palace; but it soon became clear that, unless he could make good his position by valour and ability in the field, the Chinese people would not long accept him as their ruler. The apathy which he showed in his movements against the Tartars, who were the first to put forward a proclamation demanding the restoration of the Hans, encouraged his other opponents, and when the prevailing sedition revealed itself Wang Mang failed to act with the necessary promptitude. It was only after the popular resentment had broken out on all sides that Wang Mang began to bestir himself. He had waited too long. The spell of inactivity had warped his strength, and when he appealed to the sword the foundations of his power had been sapped, and his enemies were on the high road to victory.

Sluggish in his movements, his new-found activity was scarcely more happy in its result. Having sent an overwhelming force against a small band of rebels in Szchuen, his general succeeded in enclosing them in a town where they were obliged to yield themselves up "on terms." Wang Mang refused to recognize the validity of the arrangement, and caused them all to be put to the sword. In this act of treachery and cruelty his other enemies saw proof that the struggle was to be one without mercy and to the death. The wave of popular feeling, strong in China with the strength of a free-thinking and self-opinionated people, set in against the usurper, and in favour of that line of kings whose merits were THE WANT OF COURAGE. 101

remembered with regret while their faults and frailties were condoned.

So it happened that after this slight success which had thrown a gleam of brightness over the darkening fortunes of Wang Mang, the popular hostility became intensified, and the confidence of the leaders of the hostile parties rose higher and higher. The descendants of the Han princes came out of the seclusion into which they had been forced, and stood forward in the van of Wang Mang's opponents. Defeat followed defeat, and the circle of his foes drew in closer and closer to his capital; yet Wang Mang, diffident of his own courage, or unnerved in the presence of danger, refused to take the field in person. After twelve years of a war, marked by all the painful and cruel circumstances of civil strife, the usurper was besieged in his capital, which he failed to defend. When the victors had established themselves within the city, and were on the point of entering the palace, Wang Mang retired to one of the upper towers to put an end to his existence; but here his heart failed him, and he was slain by the soldiers of the Han princes. All he could exclaim was, " If Heaven had given me courage, what could the family of the Hans have done?" His body was hacked to pieces, and his limbs were scattered about to be trampled underfoot by the throng in the streets of Changnan. Fourteen years of independent authority, marked by a series of misfortunes and disasters, had failed to give Wang Mang any reward or consolation for the crimes which he had committed in obtaining a position that ceased to be of value as soon as it had been attained.*

• Among the most formidable of Wang Mang's enemies was Fanchong, leader of a band of rebels in the modern province of Shantung. Finchong defeated all the troops sent against him, and became the most popular of the leaders in the war with Wang Mang. In the very crisis at the struggle he took a step which, perhaps, had a greater effect than in? other circumstance in determining the course of the contest. He cac*ed his soldiers to paint their eyebrows red, as expressive of their intention to fight with the last drop of their blood. He gave out as his proclamation, "If you meet the 'Crimson Eyebrows,' join yourselves to than: it is the sure road to safety. Wang Kwang (Wang Manx's geaera!,i can be opposed without danger ; but those who wish for death

« AnteriorContinua »