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THE BURNING OF THE BOOKS.
but they are, or seem to be, ignorant of what is being done in these later days, of what is passing under their eyes. . . Incapable of discerning that the thing which was formerly suitable would be wholly out of place to-day, that that which was useful, perhaps necessary, in the past would be positively injurious in the time in which we live, they would have everything arranged in exact imitation of what they find written in their books.” Lisseh then went on to denounce the learned classes as enemies of the public weal, and as a class apart and uninfluenced by the national feeling. “ Now is the time or never," he concluded, “ to close the mouths of these secret enemies, to place a curb upon their audacity.”
The Emperor expressed his entire approval of Lisseh's remarks, and ordered him to lose no time in carrying out his propositions. All books were proscribed, and the authorities burnt every work except those treating of medicine, agriculture, etc. By these violent measures Hwangti hoped to root out from the memory of his people the names of the early Emperors. Before condemning this as an inexcusable act of Vandalism, the hostility of the literati to every act from the commencement of his tenure of power must be taken into consideration. Nor can it be truthfully said that this was a struggle between “light” and “ darkness," “ knowledge” and "ignorance,” in which brute force gained the upper hand. For if the situation is thoroughly grasped, if we make allowance for the antipathies of the rival classes, surely it will be admitted that the “light” and the “knowledge” were on the side of Hwangti and his ministers, and not of Chunyuyue and the chroniclers. While the former perceived the necessities and true wants of the nation, the latter were foolishly clamouring for the observance of idle forms with the same breath that they advocated measures inevitably entailing the dismemberment of the Empire. Hwangti's extreme remedy of destroying the written record of his predecessors' virtues was one that cannot be expected to receive the approval of civilized people. On the other hand, there was much to justify such a course in the eyes of Hwangti and his ministers, and although all subsequent generations of Chinese historians have piled obloquy on their heads, they have failed to obscure VOL. I.
the greatness of this Emperor, who founded the political entity known as China.
The peace which had been established within the country by a long series of successes only inspired Hwangti with the desire to render the stability of his triumph the more assured by making his power felt beyond his extreme borders. Strong at home, he would be respected abroad. Drawing his troops from classes peculiarly suitable for a military life—“ from those who were without any fixed profession, and those among the ranks of the people possessed of exceptional physical strength "-he found himself the master of a regular army which was capable of extending his dominions in whatever direction he desired. During these later years his principal successes were obtained in the south, where, after annexing the states of Tonquin and Cochin China, the terror of his arms went before him, it is said, into the kingdoms of Ava and Bengal. His general, Moungtien, about the same time carried on operations against the tribes beyond Kansuh, and there is some reason for believing that the town of Hami, many hundreds of miles distant from Kansuh, fell into his hands, and thus became for the first time a watch-tower for China in the direction of Central Asia, a position which it has often since held.
These victories in the field were the precursors of the great defensive work on the northern frontier, which had been conceived early in the reign, and which has become immortalized as the Great Wall. Hwangti, with the practical good sense which was characteristic of him, perceived that extension of dominion over the barbarian tribes of the north would be attended by quite as many disadvantages as advantages. Having chastised his old foes, he withdrew therefore his forces from their solitudes, and employed his soldiers, and a large number of the male population as well, in constructing a fortified wall from the seacoast to the extremity of Kansuh. He lived long enough to see this gigantic undertaking finished; and, whether this rampart effected everything its originator expected or not, Hwangti had the satisfaction of knowing that he had done everything in his power for the protection of the people whom he had united. In another respect he
THE GREAT WALL.
had put the seal to his own greatness. The educated might continue to sneer at his shortcomings from their standard, and brand him as a reckless destroyer; but in the Great Wall,* which exists now, two thousand years after his death, he left a monument to his own greatness, and one which would impress later ages, better than any words, with a true sense of what manner of man he was.
Hwangti did not long survive these great and crowning acts of his career. Seized with some malady (B.C. 210) which is not specified, he neglected the simplest precautions, and paid the penalty of his rashness. The death of this great ruler roused all the passions dormant during his life, and among the people the belief spread that after his death his estates would be divided among many claimants. In this the popular fancy proved too true. With Hwangti were buried many of his wives, and large quantities of treasurea custom peculiar to the Huns, and, among Chinese rulers, to the chiefs of Tsin. The striking achievements which illustrated his reign are the best evidence of his personal character. Loving splendour, he yet repudiated idle form ; magnificent in his ideas, he left as the record of his reign great public works to testify to the pureness of his taste as well as to his care for his people; and, abstemious in his personal habits, he set an example of simplicity in the midst of the luxury of his court. His favourite exercise was walking, and this alone would mark him out as apart from other Chinese rulers. As a soldier he was not particularly distinguished, but he knew how to select good generals; and as an administrator he was not too self-confident to despise the aid of a minister such as Lisseh. He left an example which the greatest of his successors might seek to follow, and while, in a personal sense, the least Chinese of all the Emperors, he was undoubtedly the first to give form to the national will on what may be called Imperial questions. In that sense none of his successors, down to the present dynasty, were more ardent supporters of Chinese dignity than he was.
* For a description of this work, see Pauthier, pp. 10–13. Du Halde and numerous other writers (including several English travellers, Bell, Fleming, Michie, Williamson, James, and Younghusband) may also be consulted for details of various portions of it.
The death of Hwangti proved the signal for the outbreak of disturbances throughout the realm. Within a few months five princes had founded as many kingdoms, each hoping, if not to become supreme, at least to remain independent. Moungtien, beloved by the army, and at the head, as he tells us in his own words, of three hundred thousand soldiers, might have been the arbiter of the Empire ; but a weak feeling of respect for the Imperial authority induced him to obey an order sent by Eulchi, Hwangti's son and successor, commanding him "to drink the waters of eternal life.” Eulchi's brief reign of three years was a succession of misfortunes. The reins of office were held by the eunuch Chowkow, who first murdered the minister Lisseh and then Eulchi himself. Ing Wang, a grandson of Hwangti, was the next and last of the Tsin Emperors. On coming to power, he at once caused Chowkow, whose crimes had been discovered, to be arrested and executed. This vigorous commencement proved transitory, for when he had enjoyed nominal authority during six weeks, Ing Wang's troops, after a reverse in the field, went over in a body to Lieou Pang, the leader of a rebel force. Ing Wang put an end to his existence, thus terminating, in a manner not less ignominious than any of its predecessors, the dynasty of the Tsins, which Hwangti had hoped to place permanently on the throne of China, and to which his genius gave a lustre far surpassing that of many other families that had enjoyed the same privilege during a much longer period.
RISE OF THE HANS.
This crisis in the history of the country had afforded one of those great men, who rise periodically from the ranks of the people to give law to nations, the opportunity for advancing his personal interests at the same time that he made them appear to be identical with the public weal. Of such geniuses, if the test applied be the work accomplished, there have been few with higher claims to respectful and admiring consideration than Lieou Pang, who after the fall of the Tsins became the founder of the Han dynasty under the style of Kaotsou. Originally the governor of a small town, he had, soon after the death of Hwangti, gathered round him the nucleus of a formidable army; and, while nominally serving under one of the greater princes, he scarcely affected to conceal that he was fighting for his own interest. On the other hand, he was no mere soldier of fortune, and the moderation which he showed after victory enhanced his reputation as a general. Emulating Hwangti in his great qualities, he sought to put himself in a more favourable light before the people by showing respect to men of letters, and by using every effort in his power to save and collect the few books which had been rescued from the sweeping decree of the Tsin Emperor. His task was, however, only half begun when the Tsins were deposed, for there was, besides his own, a second large army in the field under a rival general, not less ambitious than Lieou Pang, but, as the event proved, less equal to the occasion. His rival was Pawang, a sort of brainless Goliath. Their antagonistic ambitions encountered in mortal strife, and