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Richard, by the murder of his nephews; but having made good his position, he evinced qualities that went far towards redeeming his character in the eyes of his people. He protected the frontiers in a manner that had not been seen for some generations, and he granted a tribe from Western Asia sanctuary within his dominions. In the province of Shensi his lieutenants gained several successes over a turbulent tribe named Tanghiang; and Voutsong must be allowed to have been, on the whole, an able and vigorous ruler. He was a great huntsman, and much given to military exercises. The measures he sanctioned against the Buddhist priests are commendable, not because they were directed against the representatives of a strange religion, but because they aimed a blow at the drones of society. A bonze was an able-bodied man living a life of idleness, and often one also of immorality, on the credulity of his fellow-men, and it required neither peculiar merit in the creed nor any specially persuasive power in the arguments of its ministers to induce thousands of individuals to seek the retirement and the temporal enjoyments of a Buddhist monastery. It was but the inevitable consequence of this abuse that the government should pass edicts against it, and Voutsong, in A.D. 845, ordered the bonzes and the female devotees to quit their religious houses and return to their families.
Voutsong died the year following this remarkable event, leaving behind him the deserved regret that his reign had been of too brief duration.
Again did the eunuchs figure in the character of kingmakers. It was their nominee, Suentsong, a grandson of Hientsong, that was proclaimed Emperor, and they selected him because he had always had the reputation of being halfwitted. No sooner was he proclaimed than a remarkable change was observed in his character. Far from being a mere tool in the hands of the eunuchs, he showed a hostile disposition towards them, and on this point shared the opinions of his predecessor. His schemes for their punishment fell through, and he, like several of his predecessors, passed his last days in constant apprehension for his personal safety within the walls of his palace. During his reign, the
Kiei Kiasse, the tribe from Central Asia to which he had given shelter, did good service against the Hiuho, and the internal affairs of Tibet were in so distracted a state that the frontiers of Shensi and Szchuen remained undisturbed. The writers of the time record that Suentsong possessed that royal gift, a good memory for faces, which once seen were never forgotten. He also was unfortunately disposed to believe in the possibility of prolonging man's allotted term, and, in A.D. 859, his life was given as another sacrifice on the part of Chinese Emperors to this self-deluding superstition.
To the pride, extravagance, and superstition of the next Emperor, Ytsong, Suentsong's son, must in a great degree be attributed the confusion which fell more heavily upon the realm. In the first year of his reign a rising, headed by a discontented official, broke out in Chekiang. The local garrisons were defeated, and it required a great effort and the despatch of a large army from the capital to repress the insurrection. The rebel was taken prisoner and executed, but even this fate failed to deter others from copying his example. There was a restless spirit abroad that would not be allayed.
Ytsong's success was due as much to the insignificance of his opponent as to the efficacy of his measures. When required to face a more formidable antagonist in the Prince of Nanchao or Yunnan, the result was not in his favour. In A.D. 861 this potentate, who was not only a Chinese vassal, but one at whose court a Chinese officer resided as agent for the Emperor, conceived that a slight had been offered him, and, indignant at the tardy reparation, took up arms and cast off his allegiance. He succeeded beyond the summit of his expectations, plundered Tonquin and most of the surrounding districts, and set up an independent government in Yunnan. Several armies were sent against him, but they were one and all driven back without accomplishing their mission. The barbarians of Yunnan, as they were called, declared themselves free, and the Chinese government, after several abortive attempts to reassert its authority, was too weak to enter upon a protracted struggle with the rebels. At one time it looked as if the Prince of Yunnan would have succeeded in adding Tonquin to his own state; and such might have proved the case but for the victories won in A.D. 866 by Ytsong's lieutenant, Kaopien, one of the most skilful generals of the age. The severance of Yunnan from the rest of the Empire was, however, complete and not to be disputed.
Ytsong was a fervent believer in Buddhism, in support of which he wrote treatises, and he granted large subsidies to the priests of that religion. In A.D. 872 he sent emissaries to India to obtain a bone of Buddha's body, and when remonstrated with he said he should die happy when he had procured his wish. On the return of the embassy with the object of its quest, he received it, surrounded by his court, on his knees. A general pardon and a week's festivities testified to the sincerity of the Emperor's feelings. Unfortunately they were feelings that should have been repressed, not indulged. Only a few weeks after this event, when he had held the sceptre for fourteen years, Ytsong died suddenly. His extravagance had greatly contributed to the aggravation of the evils from which the people had so long been suffering. His son, a boy of twelve years, succeeded him, taking the name of Hitsong.
It was particularly unfortunate that, at a time when the need both of the country and of the dynasty was the sorest, the governing power should rest in the hands of a boy. Hitsong gave himself up to the amusements of youth, and paid slight heed to the landscape darkening on every hand. His reign of fifteen years proved a succession of revolts, intrigues, and their usual termination in wholesale massacres and executions, over which, in a distracted country, there presided the mockery of a justice which was no longer pure or impartial.
Among the principal revolts was that in the southern portion of the country, headed by Hwang Chao, who won over a party by "his liberalities," and speedily made himself formidable to the Emperor by the capture of the important city of Canton. This success was followed by others. The principal cities of Houkwang and Kiangsi surrendered to him, and Loyan and Singan—the two court residences
A DISTRACTED COUNTRY.
shared the same fate. The Emperor was compelled to seek safety in flight, and all the members of the Imperial family who were captured were executed. Having met with rapid success, Hwang Chao's fortunes as rapidly declined.
In this desperate situation, Hitsong found an unexpected friend and champion in Likeyong, the chief of a Turk tribe. Two years after Hwang Chao had established himself at Singan, and proclaimed a new dynasty, Likeyong, assembling a small but chosen army of his own Chato people, marched to the deliverance of his master. Forty thousand men followed his banner, all dressed in a black uniform, and these troops became known to the rebels as “the black crows." It became a common expression, “Unhappy are those who happen to fall under their talons.” With these troops he defeated Hwang Chao, and wrested from him his recent conquests. The rebel fled into Honan, but Likeyong pressed him hard. In A.D. 884 he completely defeated him, and the success of the campaign was finally crowned by the death of Hwang Chao, who was murdered by one of his own followers. Hitsong was restored to his throne to enjoy four more years of nominal authority, but dissensions and strife remained around him on all sides. Likeyong himself had to take up the sword on one occasion against those who pretended to speak in the Emperor's name; but he appears to have been the only man actuated by unselfish motives. Even when in arms he deprecated the insinuation that he was opposing the legitimate authority of his sovereign. In the midst of these scenes of confusion, Hitsong's death occurred (A.D. 888).
The picture drawn of China at this period is a very distressing one. The country desolate, the towns ruined, the capital reduced to ashes. Not a province that had not been visited by the horrors of a civil war, not a fortified place which had not undergone a siege, and which might be esteemed fortunate if it had escaped a sack. With confusion in the administration, and the absence of all public spirit, it was not surprising that each governor should strive to make himself independent, and to fight for his own hand. There was little in such a spectacle as this to awaken joy in the heart of the heir of the Tangs.
Chaotsong, brother of Hitsong, succeeded as the nineteenth Emperor of his family, and he was not wanting in good parts. Indeed, if he had appeared earlier in the struggle, there is no saying but that his energy and courage might have restored the fortune of his House. He had, however, come too late, when no human power could have availed to have turned the bark of state from the course on which it was steadily bent. His accession marked the beginning of the end, and, as Likeyong truly said, "the ruin of the Tangs was not far distant." In view of the widespread disorganization of society, even the crimes of the eunuchs had ceased to attract the old attention. When the nation was split up into numerous hostile camps, it became a point of secondary importance whether an impotent Emperor permitted his proclamations to be dictated by his duly appointed ministers or by a cabal of intriguers within the walls of his palace. It mattered little one way or the other, for the whole proceeding was a farce, destitute of practical importance.
In A.D. 890 Likeyong appeared in arms, and issued a proclamation, announcing his intention to visit the Emperor and throw himself at his feet. His loyalty did not interfere with the measures he adopted against Chaotsong's representatives, whom he defeated with heavy loss when they sought to bar his way to the capital. He had taken up arms, he declared, for the removal of bad advisers. Chaotsong accepted his assurances of friendship, re-appointed him to his former offices, but forbade him to come to the capital. He was one of those friends whom princes prefer to keep at a distance, and as a subject he was too powerful to be an object of affection. Five years later, Likeyong again took the field, this time in support of the Emperor against three rebellious governors. His old success attended his operations. Chaotsong returned to Singan, whence he had fled, and Likeyong proposed a scheme for chastising all rebels throughout the country. But Chaotsong was satisfied with the result attained, and thoroughly distrusted the integrity of the man who had thus for a second time preserved the Empire. Likeyong was created Prince of Tsin, and requested to return to his government.