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A BROKEN BRIDGE.
to make their escape during the night by availing themselves of a heavy fall of rain.
In A.D. 507 the struggle was renewed with increased fury. Vouti put an army of two hundred thousand men in the field, and entrusted the command to Weijoui, the only one of his generals with any name for success. Yuenyng, the Wei general, began operations by laying close siege to Chongli, which two years before had thwarted the efforts of Ginching Chongli was a strong place, well fortified according to the ideas of those days, and protected on two sides by the Hoaiho. When Yuenyng sat down before it with an army of three hundred thousand men it was not considered probable that it could stand a long siege, and in order to precipitate its fall Yuenyng sent a portion of his army across the Hoaiho and surrounded it on all sides. The garrison held out bravely, and foiled the desperate attempts made to storm the place; and meanwhile Weijoui was approaching with rapid strides. Yuenyng began to entertain doubts of the result, but he trusted to the bridges he had thrown across the Hoaiho to enable him to come to the assistance of the corps south of the river, should Weijoui attempt to overwhelm it. So he still clung to his lines when the relieving force was announced to be close at hand.
Weijoui had taken in the situation at a glance. He saw the fatal weakness in the long line of circumvallation of his over-confident opponent, and that it was only necessary to destroy the bridges to entail the practical destruction of his force. He accordingly collected vessels, which he filled with combustibles, and sent them during the night up the river with the tide against the bridges upon which the safety of Yuenyng's army depended. The result answered his most sanguine expectations. The morning found the Wei army divided into two portions without any means of communication between them, and the southern division in the power of the overwhelmingly superior army of Weijoui. The Imperial army assaulted the lines with the greatest eagerness, and the whole of the southern division of the Wei army was either put to the sword or drowned in the waters of the Hoaiho. Weijoui and his lieutenant, Tsaokingsong, followed up this brilliant feat by attacking the portion north of the river, and after a stubbornly contested battle, succeeded in driving it from the field. More than two hundred thousand men perished, and their standards and baggage became the spoil of the conqueror. This brilliant victory compensated for several years of disastrous warfare, and checked the successful career of the ambitious Prince of Wei. The credit for this triumph was due exclusively to Weijoui, who showed great skill and a profound knowledge of the art of war. Had Vouti followed his advice in other matters, the character of his reign might have been raised, and he might have given solidity to his rule.
Although implored by his general to follow up this advantage, Vouti determined to refrain from further action, and to rest upon his laurels. In order to obtain time for his religious devotions, Vouti refused to avail himself of the golden opportunity for advancing his own interests. Having shattered the military power of his chief adversary, he called off his troops, and permitted him to recover from a shock which, had it been followed up, would have been attended with fatal consequences. Several years of peace ensued after the battle of Chongli, and during these Vouti devoted some attention to the education and internal government of his subjects. At this period a statement showing the number of towns over which he ruled was published, and, according to this, there were twenty-three towns of the first rank, three hundred and fifty of the second, and one thousand and twenty-two of the third within his dominions.
At this time it is stated that Vouti distributed rewards among his generals, who had gained fresh laurels in a war with a rebel force, and endeavoured to promote the welfare of his people by studying their wants, and by mitigating the code of punishment in use. This may be considered the brightest period in Vouti's long reign, the time when he had not yet become the slave of a superstition, which was as violent in its expression and as ineradicable in its nature as that of Philip of Spain.*
* Like Charles V., Vouti retired to a monastery of Buddhists, and
Meanwhile, the internal affairs of the Wei kingdom had not been very tranquil or prosperous. Yuenkio had been succeeded in A.D. 515 by his son Yuenhiu as king of Wei; but the reality of power was held by his wife Houchi, an ambitious woman of considerable capacity. In a short time she went the length of absolutely setting her husband aside, and of ruling herself, in the name of an infant son. Houchi was an ardent devotee of Buddhism, and the new sect under her protection speedily regained the ground it had lost during the persecution of Topasse. One of her first acts was to declare war upon Vouti ; but the result did not answer her expectations. Her principal army was defeated; and, had it not been for the brave defence of Tsetong by Lieouchi, the wife of the commandant, the war would have been marked by nothing but disaster. When the Imperialists appeared before the place, Lieouchi put herself at the head of the troops, and made all the preparations for defending it to the last extremity. After the siege had continued for some days, she discovered that one of her lieutenants was playing the traitor. She invited him to a general council of her officers, when she accused him of treason. On his admitting the justice of the charge, she severed his head from his body with a blow of her own sword. After this no one in the garrison of Tsetong entertained treasonable correspondence with the besiegers. Lieouchi showed not less judgment than courage in all her measures. Her garrison depended for water on a single well, which the enemy succeeded in cutting off. Lieouchi at once took steps to supply the want by collecting rain water in
bound himself to abide by their practices. When the magnates of the Court came to request him to return to his duties, the priests refused to permit his departure until a large sum of money was paid in the form of a fine. It was proposed to destroy the temple and put its inmates to the sword; but Vouti peremptorily forbade it, and ordered the payment of the money. Two years after this episode, in A.D. 529, Vouti again went into seclusion for the purpose of acquiring an intimate acquaintance, he said, with the doctrines of Buddha. He shaved off his hair and beard, and remained several days in a cell, and the earnest entreaties of his ministers barely availed to recall him to a sense of the weakness and imprudence of his conduct. He again had to pay a heavy fine to escape from the incarceration which he had voluntarily imposed upon himself. VOL. I.
vases, and by means of linen and the clothes of the soldiers, and these fortunately proved sufficient, as it was then the rainy season. Lieouchi* thus baffled all the efforts of Vouti's general; but Houchi had, on the whole, no reason to feel gratified with the result of her first war.
Houchi did not remain long in power after the conclusion of this war.
She was deposed and placed in confinement, and Yueny, one of the Wei princes, became Regent. Another turn in the progress of events brought Houchi back to power, and the same wave of party intrigue, turning to its own advantage a phase in popular feeling, carried the dictator Yueny to the block. During these troubles, which were aggravated by a lingering war on the northern frontier with the Getæ and other Tartar tribes, the power of the Wei kingdom greatly declined, and Vouti seized what seemed a favourable opportunity for recovering some of the places which he had lost. The war, once it broke out, went on with fluctuating fortune for several years; but, on the whole, Vouti must be allowed to have enjoyed the greater success. Several towns which he desired to possess surrendered to him, and at the close of the campaign he showed himself more anxious for its renewal than his opponent.
Meanwhile, the internal troubles of Wei were accumulating fresh force. Houchi's power was fast waning; but it did
* This might be called the brightest period for women in Chinese history. Three heroines in three different ways, Mongchi, Houchi, and Lieouchi, figure prominently in the record of these few years, a circumstance without parallel in the history of the country.
† A deed of heroism performed by Housiaohou, a Wei general, and in its main feature reminding us of the incident of D’Assis, deserves a niche in this history. Housiaohou had been sent with a fresh army to the succour of a beleaguered comrade. He failed, however, and was taken prisoner. Vouti's commander thought that it would be a favourable opportunity to show his remaining opponent how hopeless it would be to continue the struggle, and accordingly sent Housiaohou under guard to the outworks to communicate the news of his own defeat. When within hearing, he shouted to his own countrymen : “I was on the point of arriving for your relief when I allowed myself to be taken by the enemy, more numerous and better supplied than my army. Do not se courage ; defend yourselves like brave men, and I assure you that succour will very soon arrive.” He was prevented saying any more by his escort, who slew him.
DROWNING AN EMPRESS.
not appear so clear what was to supplant it. There were popular risings, and intriguing generals figuring in the foreground of rival parties. But the popular risings failed, and it long remained doubtful which of the generals would succeed in establishing his supremacy over the rest. The very disunion in the realm, and the confusion caused by rival claimants, gave a temporary stability to Houchi's position ; and had she turned the situation to more skilful account, she might have foiled her opponents, and compelled them to recognize her as a promoter of, and not an obstacle to, the reforms necessary for the preservation of the state. In these straits,
, the only sure prospect of restoring order lay in the abilities of Erchu Jong, the commander-in-chief of the troops in six provinces; and the necessity for immediate action was brought home to his mind by Houchi's final act, which was to depose her son. Erchu Jong then marched on the capital, which he seized. Houchi became his prisoner, and ended her life and her crimes by being drowned in the waters of the Hoangho.
Erchu Jong appears to have been naturally a man of stern and unrelenting character. For the confusion in the realm he wished to exact a punishment adequate to the crimes of those who had produced it, and, having sentenced Houchi, he proceeded to inflict punishment on her abettors. He assembled two thousand of the notables in a group outside the city, and, having reproached them with their crime in neglecting the welfare of the state, he ordered his cavalry to slaughter them. He carried the same prompt severity into his action against some insurgents who ventured to question his authority; but on the remonstrance of his friends, who pointed out that, the heads being slain, it would be unwise to exasperate the mass of the people, he exhibited a clemency which was perhaps foreign to his nature. It would be tedious to describe in detail the petty wars and quarrels which ensued. Vouti thought the fall of Houchi afforded him a favourable opportunity for resuming the war with Wei, and even went so far as to set up a rival prince to the nominee of Erchu Jong. His general, Chingkingchi, obtained several successes, and made it a boast that he was victorious in forty