Imatges de pÓgina


VOL. 1.



[blocks in formation]




THE origin of all great peoples and empires is to be discovered amid the mists of a more or less remote antiquity, made tangible alone for us by the preservation of myths and legends, which afford in their similarity a proof of the affinity of all the races on the earth. The Chinese, like the Jews and the ancient Egyptians alone, claim to trace back their national existence to a period centuries before Solomon erected his Temple, or Homer collected the ballads relating to the Trojan War, and turned them into his immortal epic. From a date anterior to that accepted for the occurrence of the Flood of Noah, the people of China possess a history which preserves the names of kings and conquerors, and describes remarkable events with an appearance of exactitude that would almost compel credence. In comparison with their institutions those of Ancient Egypt and Assyria have only moderate claims to antiquity, and the states of Greece and Rome were but the creation of yesterday. The observer might well stand aghast if he were called upon to follow the exact details in the history of a people and an empire, which were great and definite in form nearly five thousand years ago. It would be not less weak than impossible to demand of the human faculty so severe a strain. The subject would soon become monotonous, as each succeeding cycle of prosperity and military vigour or of depression and decay, following the other with unvarying regularity, was described. But the extreme age of the institutions is one key to the history of the Empire, and the



student, fully impregnated with the spirit of that fact, will have done much towards mastering the rest of the subject. To such a one the later course of the history will present few difficulties. It will be almost as an open book.

If the reader wishes to know what conception Chinese historians had of their duties, the following story will throw some light upon the subject :-“In the reign of the Emperor Ling Wang of the Chow dynasty, B.C. 548, Changkong, Prince of Tsi, became enamoured of the wife of Tsouichow, a general, who resented the affront and killed the prince. The historians attached to the household of the prince recorded the facts, and named Tsouichow as the murderer. On learning this the general caused the principal historian to be arrested and slain, and appointed another in his place. But as soon as the new historian entered upon his office he recorded the exact facts of the whole occurrence, including the death of his predecessor and the cause of his death. Tsouichow was so much enraged at this that he ordered all the members of the Tribunal of History to be executed. But at once the whole literary class in the principality of Tsi set to work exposing and denouncing the conduct of Tsouichow, who soon perceived that his wiser plan would be to reconstitute the Tribunal and to allow it to follow its own devices.” What could be finer, too, than the following reply, given fifteen centuries later, by the President of the Tribunal of History of the Empire to the Tang Emperor Taitsong, who asked if he might be permitted to see what was written about himself in the State memoirs ? “ Prince," said the President, “the Historians of the Tribunal write down the good and the bad actions of princes, their praiseworthy and also their reprehensible words, and everything that they have done, good or bad, in their administration. We are exact and irreproachable on this point, and none of us dare be wanting in this respect. This impartial severity ought to be the essential attribute of history, if it is wished that she should be a curb upon princes and the great, and that she should prevent them committing faults. But I do not know that any Emperor up to the present has ever seen what was written about him." To this the Emperor said, “But supposing I did nothing THE FIRST EMPEROR.


good, or that I happened to commit some bad action, is it you, President, who would write it down ?” “Prince, I should be overwhelmed with grief; but, being entrusted with a charge so important as that of presiding over the Tribunal of the Empire, could I dare to be wanting in my duty ?" These two stories may suffice to show the spirit in which the earlier Chinese historians undertook their work.

The earliest ancestors of the Chinese are supposed to have been a nomad people in the province of Shensi. Among these there appeared several leaders, endowed with high abilities and aspirations, who induced their kinsmen to settle in villages, and to follow the pursuits of trade and agriculture. The germ of the Chinese race and government was, we may assume, to be found among these rude tribes wandering over the province of Shensi. Among them, increasing both in numbers and in power, the necessities of the government of a community produced several rulers, whose lineaments the Chinese historians have depicted for us as being similar to those of animals and other unnatural combinations, until at last there came Fohi, the first great Chinese Emperor. He also to a great extent belongs to the mythical period, being represented as having the body of a dragon and the head of an ox. Still Confucius in his history accepted him as one of the early rulers of the country, and he is generally credited with having instituted the rite of marriage, and numerous other social and moral reforms. His reign (B.C. 2953-2838 ?) is described as having been a succession of benefits to the people. Among his chief exploits may be mentioned the fact that he carried his influence to the Eastern Sea, and he selected as his capital the town of Chintou, which is identified with the modern Chinchow in Honan. To him succeeded Chinnong, who carried on the great work Fohi had commenced, but in a few years he changed the capital from Chintou to Kiofoo, a town in Shantung. According to Mailla, he was succeeded by the celebrated Hwangti, according to other authorities, by several rulers whose names have been almost forgotten ; but in any case it is incontestable that the individuality of Hwangti is much more tangible than that of any of his predecessors.

« AnteriorContinua »