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THE EMPRESS WOU.

189

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that it would be prudent to sweep them from her path while yet Kaotsong's passion was warm. At her command they cast these unhappy women into a vase filled with wine, having previously cut off their hands and feet. As it has been tersely put, the Empress Wou willed it, and Kaotsong could only obey.

The new Empress then turned all her attention to the thwarting of the plans formed for her overthrow by numerous enemies. Her son was proclaimed heir-apparent, and those among the magnates who were either hostile to, or lukewarm in, her interests were deposed from their positions and cast into prison, where the steel or the cup very soon freed Wou from apprehensions on their score. Her next object was to assume some of the functions of supreme authority. At first she put herself forward merely as assisting the Emperor in his great labours, and, being quick in comprehending the questions of state that were brought before the Council Board, and deft with her pencil in the cabinet, Kaotsong found her ready wit of great use in grappling with difficulties for which he was incapable of suggesting a remedy. Empress Wou showed no common tact in the skilful manner in which she led the Emperor on from one concession of authority to another, until at length Kaotsong virtually retired from the position of Emperor, preserving indeed the rank, but leaving in his wife's hands the reality of power. The Empress Wou continued absolute ruler of the Empire until her death, more than forty years after the time when Kaotsong resigned his power into her hands.

While such was the course of events at the capital, there had been much of interest and importance happening on the widely extended frontiers of the Empire. The foreign relations of the country resolved themselves under three heads, those with Tibet, with Corea, and with the Tartar tribes of Central Asia and the north-western frontier. The Sanpou who married the Princess Wencheng died the year after Taitsong, and, during Yaotsong's reign, his grandson was King of Tibet. The relations between the Chinese government and this tributary state were not as satisfactory as they had been in the time of Taitsong. The new Sanpou, a young

and warlike prince, carried on several wars with his northern and eastern neighbours who were also dependent on the Chinese. His measures were crowned with success, and the kingdom of Tibet was gradually extending its limits over a wide area, including several districts bordering on the frontier of China Proper. This was very distasteful to the Chinese, who wished all the country to the west of their territory to remain parcelled out among petty potentates, who should always be in a state of greater or less importance, and as often as possible knit by a common tie to the Chinese Emperor. The successes and warlike character of the Tibetan ruler threatened this state of things; and a correspondence of a recriminatory character was carried on between the Singan authorities and the Sanpou of Tibet. In A.D. 670 the dispute reached such a pass that a Chinese army was sent to inflict chastisement on the ambitious ruler who was fast uniting the Himalayan regions under his sway, but it fared badly at the hands of the mountaineers. Defeated in two battles on the Shensi frontier, Kaotsong's general was compelled to beat a hasty retreat into Szchuen. A truce appears to have been then arranged, for a Tibetan envoy is found the following year at Singan, whither he had brought presents or tribute from his master.

The truce proved short-lived. Encouraged, no doubt, by his success, the Sanpou resumed with greater vigour than before his inroads into the neighbouring states. In A.D. 678 a large army, computed to exceed one hundred and fifty thousand men, was directed to invade Tibet, but again the Tibetans were victorious. Only the relics of one division of this great force succeeded in regaining China, while the second had to fight its way back, making good its retreat by its own valour. After this reverse, the Chinese were only able to guard the frontier, and had to leave the Tibetans to their own devices. The Tibetans were repulsed in several attacks on the frontier posts, and the death of their ruler, who was succeeded by a child, predisposed them still more strongly in favour of peace.

The Imperial arms had been attended with better fortune in the direction of Corea, where the task left unfinished by

CONQUEST OF COREA.

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Taitsong was completed by the generals of his son. In A.D. 658, and again in A.D. 660, the Chinese won several battles over the Coreans, and an expedition sent by sea in the latter year effected the conquest of Baiji, the eastern portion of the peninsula. During the ten following years the Chinese carried on a bitter struggle with the inhabitants of Baiji and the patriotic King of Kaoli, who called in the Japanese to his assistance. The Empress Wou threw all her energy into the struggle, and fitting out fleets and fresh armies, concentrated the whole strength of the Empire in overcoming the opposition of the Coreans. The allied forces of the Japanese and the Coreans were defeated in four separate encounters, and the fleet in which the Japanese had crossed the sea was almost totally destroyed.

destroyed. The flames of four hundred of the best war junks of Yeddo lit up the Northern Sea, and it is doubtful if any of the expedition returned to Japan to tell the tale of their defeat. In A.D. 674 the King of Sinlo, having shown great pusillanimity in assisting the Chinese, who came as his allies, was deposed, and his territory was incorporated with the Empire; and from this time for a period of nearly sixty years little is heard of Corea. It remained a Chinese possession, and its people, not forgetting the tradition of their freedom, set themselves to the task of recovering the material prosperity which had been lost during a century of desperate strife. The Chinese government had accomplished its purpose at immense sacrifice, and it may be doubted whether it derived any adequate advantage from its costly victory.

In Central Asia the Chinese authority was maintained at its full height. Souting Fang obtained several decisive victories over the Turks in Western Asia, and in the commotion caused by the campaigns of the Arabs in the countries of the Oxus and the Jaxartes, the Chinese Viceroys in Kashgar adopted an observant attitude towards the belligerents. They claimed to be the arbiters of the question, but peace did not result from their arbitration. The ruler of Persia demanded at this period their assistance against the fanatical warriors issuing from Arabia with the Koran in one hand and the scimitar in the other; but Kaotsong was compelled to reply that Persia was too far distant for him to send an army to her aid. A Persian prince, the son of Isdegard, King of Persia, was for some time resident at Singan, and Kaotsong caused him to be proclaimed king on his father's death. He was driven out of his country by the Arabs, who sent an embassy to Kaotsong about the year A.D. 655. At this epoch it is also recorded that no fewer than three embassies arrived at different periods from the Kings of India. From these facts it is sufficiently clear that the Chinese had the good sense not to throw themselves in the path of the advancing tide of Mahomedanism, but by nursing their strength they were able to maintain their authority undisturbed over their own provinces.

In A.D. 683 Kaotsong's death, after a nominal reign of thirty-three years, produced a break in the progress of affairs, and threatened the position of the Empress Wou. She showed herself equal to the occasion, and asserted herself in the administration of the country more emphatically after her husband's death than she had before.

Chongtsong, the eldest son of Kaotsong, was proclaimed Emperor in accordance with his father's will, but he reigned only a few days. The Empress Wou availed herself of a decree passed in favour of the family of the new Emperor's wife to take steps for his deposition, and, having quickly executed her purpose, she again assumed the supreme power surrendered only with reluctance. Having gone so far, and having banished Chongtsong and his family, she determined to carry matters with a high hand. She put forward, indeed, another prince as nominal Emperor, and ruled in his name, but he was only a shadow. The Empress transacted all public business, received petitions, and disposed of the chief offices in the Empire. She erected temples to her ancestors, wore the robes of state restricted to an Emperor, and offered sacrifice to the great God of all. Though a woman among a people who despised womankind as much as any race on earth, she seized all the attributes of power and authority handed down to a Chinese Emperor from immemorial antiquity, and, if she is to be judged by her acts, it must be allowed her that she triumphed manfully over her

A WOMAN RULER.

193

difficulties, and maintained the dignity of the throne in a manner becoming a great prince.

There were many who resented her arbitrary act in deposing Chongtsong. They could have forgiven her much tyranny within the chambers of the palace, and it would not have grieved them greatly had Chongtsong proved as pliable an instrument in her hands as Kaotsong had been. But that the Empress Wou should stand forth in the light of day as the actual ruler of China, and dispense in her own name the gifts of Imperial favour, was in contradiction of all precedent, and more than many could bear. She did not consider it necessary to dispel the growing opposition to her by any attempt at concealing the objects of her policy. Indeed, she went out of her way to invite hostility by changing the name of the dynasty, and by distributing the great offices of state among the members of her own family, Several risings took place, and plots were formed for her assassination ; but one and all failed. Her measures were too prompt for her opponents, and no matter how eminent the services or great the rank of the individual, she ordered him to the block the moment he incurred her suspicion. Her spies were abroad in all directions, but their very numbers soon tended to defeat her object, as so many false accusations were brought before her. To provide against this evil, she passed an edict punishing with death those who brought false accusations, and it happened one day that out of a thousand charges, eight hundred and fifty were found to be false, when their promoters were executed. Her favourite plan of punishment for great nobles or ministers was death by execution in the streets of Singan, and the inhabitants came to regard these events with feelings very like those of our ancestors at the similar spectacles to be witnessed on Tower Hill and at Tyburn Gate.

The Empress Wou did not neglect other plans for advancing her objects and strengthening her hold upon the people's mind. She ruled the country with wisdom, and spared no effort to maintain the dignity of the nation. Her neighbours showed the same respect for her power as they had for that of her predecessors, and in all essentials

VOL. I.

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