Imatges de pÓgina



none of the political sagacity of Confucius; and he was essentially a man of peace. The wars between the tributary princes went on, and when one had achieved a great victory over his neighbour, the farce was gone through of soliciting by letter, couched in the terms of a superior and not a suppliant, the Emperor's sanction of a revolution within his dominions, which had doubled the territory of a powerful noble, and brought a victorious army to within a week's march of the capital. So it happened that the Prince of Yue overthrew several of his neighbours, and joined their lands to his. Prominent among these was the State of Wou, which, as we have seen, had obtained many triumphs in Chinese territory, and which had enjoyed a line of kings of its own during six centuries and a half. The members of the vanquished family fled, so the story is narrated, to Japan, whither their great progenitor Taipe himself had retired in the twelfth century before our era. They were destined to found there another ruling house of greater fame, as the Emperors of Japan claim these princes as their progenitors. This great success added much to the reputation of Yue, whose prince was named chief of the great vassals, thus provoking the jealousy of the powerful and ambitious Tsins.

Kowtsin, the Prince of Yue, appears to have been a man of exceptional capacity and vigour. Forming a league with the princes disposed to support him, he proceeded to wage war on the Tsins because they refused to pay tribute to him; and such were his activity and skill that they found it prudent to submit to a temporary indignity sooner than continue a contest which might terminate with serious loss. Kowtsin retained to his death possession of the territories won by the sword, and rejoiced in semi-regal privileges. We are told of how he sent to one of the nobles of his country, who had been sentenced to death, a sword with instructions to kill himself, thus anticipating by many centuries the practice of Harikari in Japan. With the death of Kowtsin the predominance of the Yues passed away, and the Tsins then profited by the prudence of their chief in not provoking a premature contest. During the progress

of this strife Yuen Wang died, and was succeeded by his son Ching Ting Wang, who followed very closely in the footsteps of his predecessor.

The Court chroniclers affirm that under the rule of this prince the Empire recovered nearly all its lost splendour, and certainly the private character of the sovereign benefited by comparison with his predecessors. But the disintegrating causes so long at work still remained in force, and the absorption of the smaller principalities by the greater continued. Happy in his life, Ching Ting Wang was unfortunate only in the events which immediately followed his death. Three sons were left to profit by and to emulate the example of a father who had given fresh lustre to virtues long foreign to the purple ; but in their anxiety to obtain the supreme place they forgot the more honourable rivalry that should have been theirs in propping up a dynasty which depended upon the energy and ability of its members to save it from the untoward fate whither it was apparently tending so fast. The eldest son Gan Wang succeeded his father as Emperor; but in three months, before the Imperial mourning had been laid aside, he fell by the hand of his next brother Sou, who was in his turn slain by his younger brother Kao Wang, after enjoying the pageantry of supreme ruler during the brief space of five months.

Kao Wang's reign, though commencing with a crime, venial it must be allowed in the history of his House, was not fortunate in its character. The nobles scoffed at the authority of the Emperor, and refused homage to one whose strength was fully occupied with domestic brawls. He became little more than a puppet in the hands of another brother, who gradually acquired the reins of power, and ultimately secured for his descendant the Imperial title to which he had himself aspired. After reigning fifteen years, Kao Wang died, and was succeeded by his son Weili Wang in those nominal functions which still appertained to the Emperor.

The troubles were now thickening on all sides. Looking back to this period, the Chinese chroniclers have styled it "the warlike epoch,” and although we pass over this portion



of Chinese history with as few details as possible, the title was well applied. This unfortunate Emperor, divested of the last shadow of authority, remained, it is true, in the palace; but the day of his fall was only postponed until one of the great nobles should gain a position that would justify him in standing forward as the claimant for the throne. The brightest topic in the history of China at this period was furnished by the great deeds of Ouki, a general and a statesman of singular force of character. Originally an officer fighting for his paternal state of Loo, his most brilliant successes were obtained in the service of the Prince of Wei. His guiding precept was that "the strength and greatness of a state depended upon the virtues and application of the ruler." Fortunate in the field, he rendered his master as valuable service in the cabinet by showing him that military triumphs are only justifiable as a means towards an end. The jealousy of those small minds, to which true merit is intolerable, as barring the avenue to the promotion they covet, turned the favour of the Prince of Wei from Ouki, who for a second time was obliged to become an exile. The ability of the man triumphed over the outrages of fortune, and the numerous victories which he obtained in the service now of one prince and again of another would have sufficed, if achieved over a foreign foe or in the interest of the Chows, to give stability to the Empire. In the end, however, he fell a victim to the base schemes of his opponents, for he appears to have treated their threats with scorn, and to have neglected all precautions for defending his own person. He paid the penalty of his fortitude or his rashness, being found murdered in his palace one morning, with no trace left of the assassins. The name and achievements of Ouki lend a lustre to the reigns of Weili Wang and his successor, Gang Wang, which they would otherwise lack.

The latter of these rulers was succeeded (B.C. 375) by his son Li Wang, whose brief reign would call for no comment, were it not for the growing power of the principality of Tsi, the ruler of which, Wei Wang, was the first among the feudatories to take to himself the title of king. Although there was much in this step to shock the sentiments of a people like the Chinese, the high personal character and strict morals of Wei Wang shielded him from the censure which would otherwise have been bestowed upon him. Wei Wang seems to have acted on the sound principle of looking after his own affairs, for the story is still preserved of how he rewarded the services of an honest and capable governor, although all the court gossips were engaged in vilifying him because he refused to bribe them, and of how on the other hand he punished an incompetent governor whose praises were sung by all the courtiers, whom he paid heavily for their good word. Within seven years Li Wang's inglorious reign closed, and his brother Hien Wang ruled in his place. No change occurred in the character of the times. The reign of the latter, although Emperor for nearly half a century, was remarkable neither for the personal ability of the prince, nor for the acts carried out under his direction.

The most, indeed the only, remarkable event of this period was the steadily increasing power and military vigour of the Prince of Tsin, who on several occasions overthrew large armies sent by his neighbours to harass his borders. Three princes eventually combined their forces against him, but at the battle of Chemen, where sixty thousand men are stated to have been slain, they had to confess a more skilful general and a braver army. Shortly after this great victory the Prince of Tsin died, but his son and successor, Hiaokong, proved himself well able to take care of the interests committed to his charge. At a general council, summoned early in his reign, he announced to his followers that it would be his first object to raise the glory of his House to a still higher pitch than ever before, and to assist his purpose he proclaimed his want of the services of the most enlightened minister of the day. He obtained his wish in the person of Kongsunyang, who, banished from his own state, took service under him and devoted his best talents to the advancement of the Tsins. He drew up, and his master enforced, principles of government and a code of administration which, in the course of a short time, made Tsin the most powerful and bestgoverned kingdom in the country. The consequences of the reforms he introduced were, we are told, that thefts and

[blocks in formation]

assaults were no longer to be met with, that idleness vanished from amongst the people, and cowardice from the ranks of the soldiery, at the same time that the officials cast aside their former avarice and negligence.

Among those who beheld the steadily increasing power of the Tsins with feelings the reverse of those of pleasure was the Prince of Tsi, who considered the foremost place in the country to be his right; and the further progress of the Empire resolved itself into the rivalry of these two families. An interval of peace followed, but it was recognized on all sides that it was only the precursor of the inevitable struggle. Each potentate was actively engaged in developing his resources and in training his army for the day of battle. A change had in the meanwhile taken place in the affairs of Tsin, where, owing to the death of Hiaokong, the able minister Kongsunyang had lost his influence. His rivals supplanted him in the council of the new prince, and he himself found it prudent to seek safety in flight. Failing in his attempt he was brought back to the capital, and neither the long years of past service nor the promise of future assistance could save him and his family from death and disgrace. If his career had been marked by an unscrupulous zeal for the advancement of the interests of the Tsins, as evinced by his treacherous conduct towards his old teacher Kongtse Niang, there was nothing in it to justify the ungrateful and foolish manner in which the new Prince Hwei Wen Wang treated him. The reforms which he had carried out survived his death to the benefit of the family for which he had toiled so long and with such striking assiduity.

During this reign flourished Mencius, the third great original Chinese thinker. Of noble birth, being closely connected with the princes of Loo, he had from an early age devoted himself to the study of virtue and morals. An ardent follower of Confucian doctrine, he had arrived at the conclusion that good government was not only in itself the first of public virtues, but also the most pressing want of China. When he visited the Court of Wei, he was asked whether he would not toil zealously for the interests of that prince. His reply was, “How comes it that you speak of VOL. I.


« AnteriorContinua »