Imatges de pàgina

Hwangti was no sooner raised to the supreme place than he was called upon to compete with several rivals. He triumphed over them in battle, and rendered his success the more decisive by the remarkable moderation he evinced when the contest had been concluded in his favour. Recognizing with rare foresight that a beneficent prince has no public enemy among his own people, he carried on his wars not with the misled soldiers, but with their leaders, inspired either by envy at his success, or by the ambition to emulate it. In one of these wars he made prisoner the chief among his adversaries, as well as a large portion of his army. He disarmed the latter, and leading his rival to the top of a hill in full view of his own and the defeated army, executed him with his own hand. That act consolidated the authority of Hwangti, and restored peace and tranquillity to the Empire. Having accomplished the first portion of his task, he devoted his attention in the next place to the reform of the internal administration. He divided his territory into ten provinces, or Chow, each of which was subdivided into ten departments, or Tse, and these again into ten districts, or Tou, each of which contained ten towns, or Ye. He rearranged the weights and measures also on the decimal system, and the reforms attributed to him still form part of the existing order of things in China. It is unnecessary to mention all the inventions with which this great monarch has been credited by his grateful countrymen. Prominent among them was the regulation of the calendar—the Chinese dividing the lapse of time into cycles of sixty years ; and the first of these commences from a date that corresponds with the year 2637 before our

One of Hwangti's principal objects was the promotion of commerce, and, for that purpose, he constructed roads and built vessels to navigate the great rivers and the open sea. His fame was spread throughout Asia, and embassies visited his court, whilst artificers and skilled workmen came from foreign lands to settle within his borders. The extent of the dominions of this ruler may be taken to have been from the vicinity of Shachow on the west to the sea on the east, and from Pechihli on the north to the river Yangtse-kiang on the south. Regarded as the founder of a great Empire Hwangti




appears, even at this interval of time, to have been worthy of the position accorded him; and to his inspiration and example much of the subsequent greatness of China may be attributed. It is not difficult, therefore, to understand that Chinese annalists declare that no reign has been either more glorious or more auspicious than his, and that he was in every way worthy of the assumption of the imperial and semi-deified title of Ti,* or Emperor.

The sceptre of Hwangti passed to his son Chaohow, who reigned long and peaceably, but who died without having acquired much glory. The one achievement of his life was the division of the officials and public administrators into classes, by means of distinctive dresses or uniforms—a task which, if not of the most distinguished, had its difficulties, and required a man of taste. On Chaohow's death his nephew Chwenhio became Emperor. He extended the Empire to the frontiers of Tonquin on the south and of Manchuria on the north, and earned "the glorious title of restorer or even founder of true astronomy." His descendants continued to possess the imperial dignity, and his great-grandson Yao was a ruler of striking ability and considerable reputation. To him the Chinese still look back with veneration, and it is by comparison with his conduct that the native historians often gauge the capacity of his successors. The most extraordinary occurrence of his reign was the overflowing of the Hoangho, which flooded a large extent of country, and caused enormous damage. † The best years of Yao's life were spent in coping with this danger, and in repairing the mischief that had been wrought by it. In this he was only partially successful. His idea of his duty towards his subjects was based upon a high standard ; and he always acted on the principle that what he wanted done well he should do himself. He is reported to have often said, “Are the people cold? then it is I who am the cause. Are they hungry? it is my fault. Do they

Before his reign the sovereigns of China were called Wangs, or kings. The name of the King of Heaven, or God, was Changti, Supreme Emperor, or sovereign. Hwangti means the Yellow Emperor.

† By some this was considered identical with the flood of Noah. Excellent reasons exist for disbelieving this assertion.

commit any crime? I ought to consider myself the culprit.” It is not very surprising to find that the people mourned for such a ruler after his death during three years, and that they lamented his loss as "children do that of their father or mother.”

Another great and wise ruler followed the Emperor Yao. His name was Chun, and for twenty-eight years previous to his accession he had been associated with the Emperor Yao in the administration of the state. Of comparatively humble origin Chun was the architect of his own fortunes. His zeal, assiduity, and integrity in the public service attracted the notice of the Emperor Yao, who had long been seeking a man capable of aiding him in the task of ruling the vast territories under his sway, and one worthy also of succeeding him in the supreme authority. Chun's excellent conduct in the offices entrusted to him pointed him out as the man for the occasion, and the result amply justified the selection. At first Chun wished Yao's son, Tanchu, to be chosen Emperor, and retired to his country residence to avoid the importunities of his admirers. But the notables of the realm saw that Chun was the fittest man for the office, and they refused to make the interests of the Empire subservient to the personal feelings of a family. Chun was proclaimed Emperor ; but also feeling the weight of ruling so large a country more than one man could bear, he selected Yu, the Minister of Public Works, to help him in the task. Yu became associated with Chun in the same manner as the latter had been with Yao; and the glory of the period when the nation was ruled by this triumvirate has been dwelt upon in fervid language by the Chinese historians. In many respects the patriarchal sway of those remote rulers represents the brightest and the most prosperous age in the whole history of the Empire.

It is not surprising to find that the basis on which the authority of these Emperors rested was implicit obedience to the law. “A prince who wishes to fulfil his obligations, and to long preserve his people in the ways of peace, ought to watch without ceasing that the laws are observed with exactitude.” That sentence forms the keynote of the policy of these rulers, and the wise princes who came after them have HEAVEN AND THE PEOPLE.


never hesitated to adopt it for themselves. When Chun died, in the year B.C. 2208, Yu, after some hesitation, allowed himself to be proclaimed Emperor. His reign was brief, as he ruled alone for no more than seven years.


be stated that one of the last of his public acts was to denounce the inventor of an intoxicating drink extracted from rice as an enemy to the state. With prophetic sight he exclaimed on tasting it, “Ah, how many evils this drink will, I foresee, cause China! Let the man who invented it be exiled beyond our frontier, and let him never be permitted to return." With Yu's death this prosperous period reached its close.

It is impossible to pass on from this period without quoting the following remarkable passage from the "Choukin ” (the Chinese history, translated by Gaubil), which gives an instructive lesson in the art of governing as taught in China in these early ages. “What Heaven hears and sees manifest themselves by the things which the people see and hear. What the people judge worthy of reward and what of punishment, indicate what Heaven wishes to punish and to reward. There is an intimate communication between Heaven and the people ; let those who govern the people be watchful and cautious!” To this the comparatively modern Vox populi, vox Dei adds nothing.

Up to this point the Empire had gone to its worthiest servant without distinction of birth, and Yu, on his deathbed, left the succession to the President of the Council, who had been associated with himself in the task of government. But the times were changing. Whether it sprang from a feeling of gratitude to a public benefactor, or whether the sons resented losing the prize which the ability of their sires had secured, is not ascertained; but the fact is clear that on the death of Yu there was a decided revulsion in popular sentiment in favour of his son Tiki. Both the causes mentioned probably operated to produce this result, and the custom of selecting the ablest and most experienced minister was displaced by the son's right to hereditary succession. So it happened that Tiki, the son of Yu, was the founder of the first Chinese dynasty, known in history as the Hia dynasty, from the name of the province over which Yu had first been placed. There were in all seventeen Emperors of the Hia dynasty, and their rule continued down to the year B.C. 1776. It is unnecessary to dwell on the events of these four centuries. The descendants of Yu, who owed their reputation to his splendid achievements, became, in the course of time, tyrants and seekers of pleasure. Their palaces were the scenes of debaucheries carried out on a scale equalling those of either Nero or Vitellius. They themselves became the object of the hatred, instead of the Jove, of their subjects. The great feudatories and the public officers combined against Kia, the last of the Emperors of this family, and at their head they placed Ching Tang, the prince of Chang.

This chief was the founder of the second dynasty, called after the name of his principality the Chang. Twenty-eight Emperors of this House succeeded one another, and it remained in possession of the Imperial throne until the year B.C. 1122. Chang Tang was worthy of being the founder of a dynasty. In his wars with the Hias, whom he expelled from the kingdom, he showed not less skill than moderation ; and his subsequent conduct amply justified the choice which had made him the leader of the popular movement. His reign was marked by a great dearth, which either his prayers or his measures at length removed, and, curiously enough, this was coincident with the famine in Egypt in the days of Pharaoh and Joseph. He appears to have had, like our Cromwell, many doubts and qualms of conscience as to whether he had acted as became a good and wise prince as well as a dutiful subject in deposing the Hias, and declared that it was “in spite of himself that he had taken up arms to deliver the Empire from the tyranny of Kia.”

He had the personal satisfaction of leaving to his grandson, Taikia, the possessions which he had wrested from the Hias, and, although not placed on the same footing as the three great Emperors who immediately preceded the establishment of the first dynasty, Confucius speaks of him in terms of respect. Among his successors, Taivou, who commenced to reign in the year B.C. 1637, may be mentioned

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