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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 the 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. IoI
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 P” 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. Fanchong 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 of the struggle he took a step which, perhaps, had a greater effect than any other circumstance in determining the course of the contest. He caused 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 prodamation, “If you meet the ‘Crimson Eyebrows, join yourselves to them: it is the sure road to safety. Wang Kwang (Wang Mang's general) can be opposed without danger; but those who wish for death
Lieou Hiouen, the elder of the Han princes, was placed upon the throne by the victorious soldiery; and one of his first steps was to remove the capital from Changnan to Loyang. The restoration of the Hans was hailed with general expressions of delight throughout the whole of China. The old men wept with joy, says the Chinese chronicler, when they again saw the banner of the Hans waving over the person of the Emperor. Lieou Hiouen afforded the people no solid reason for welcoming the change. He gave himself up to the indulgence of pleasure, and left to his cousin Lieou Sieou the task of restoring the family authority. Lieou Sieou set about his work in an energetic fashion, and, while the Emperor was engaged in court pleasures, this prince employed himself in the reconquest of lost provinces, and in the gradual formation of a party of his own.
The “Crimson Eyebrows” who had taken, under their chief Fanchong, so prominent a part in the delivery of the kingdom from Wang Mang, had now become a source of danger to the public tranquillity. Fanchong was ambitious, and his personal influence served to keep a large number of his followers under his flag. From patriots they became brigands, and the allies of the Hans developed into their most formidable enemies. After a stubbornly contested campaign, however, Lieou Sieou completely defeated them. They were not finally overthrown until some years later, and the Crimson Eyebrows were to again come prominently forward before they passed out of history. The incapacity of Lieou Hiouen, or Yang Wang, was by this time demonstrated beyond all dispute, and the same army which two years before had placed him on the throne, declared unanimously that Lieou Sieou was the only man fit to rule the Empire and to restore the Hans to their ancient splendour. Lieou Sieou, bred to a soldier's life, was proclaimed Emperor amid the clash of arms, under the style of Kwang Vouti.
The new ruler wished to treat the deposed prince with magnanimity, although he had murdered one of his brothers, may join that commander.” The Crimson Eyebrows became not less celebrated in the China of their day than the Camisards were in France. -“Mailla," vol. iii. pp. 248, 249.
THE CRIMSON EYEBROWS.
and sent him a guarantee of personal safety, with an offer at the same time of the principality of Hoai Yang. This proposal the deposed prince indignantly refused, placing himself instead in the hands of the Crimson Eyebrows. Fanchong broke the laws of hospitality, and, after a momentary hesitation, caused his guest to be put to death. Thus ended the short career of the first of the restored princes of the Hans.
The very year marked by the accession to power of the Emperor Kwang Vouti beheld the reappearance of Fanchong's bands as enemies of the public peace, and as fighting for their own hand. While the new ruler was establishing his position at Loyang, the Crimson Eyebrows had seized Changnan, which they pillaged. So long as there was enough to supply all their wants in the deserted capital and the surrounding district, they made it their head-quarters, and indeed it was not until they had reason to dread the approaching army of the Emperor that they withdrew from the city, which had been the scene of the overthrow of Wang Mang, and of the reinstallation of the Hans in power. Their excesses while there had marked them out as public enemies, and although their numbers were computed to exceed two hundred thousand men, they were none the less the objects of national execration.
An army smaller than their own was sent against them by Kwang Vouti as soon as he had succeeded in restoring order in the other districts of the realm; and the command was placed in the hands of Fongy, one of the best generals of the age. By a series of skilful maneuvres he made up for deficiency in numbers, and, having worsted the Crimson Eyebrows in numerous skirmishes, he accepted a general engagement, which resulted in a complete and brilliant victory. In the crisis of the battle Fongy turned the tide in his own favour by bringing up a reserve composed of prisoners he had captured in the previous encounters, who mingled themselves without being observed among their former comrades, when their sudden attack produced a panic, and Fanchong's army was driven in a shattered state from the field. Soon after this Fanchong accepted the terms