Imatges de pàgina

Tartars, and the subsequent revolts among his generals. Despite these reverses, there remains much in favour of his character, and, although his reign will not compare in its achievements with that of the greatest of the Tsins, it formed a not unfavourable commencement for the famous dynasty of the Hans. The following opinion expresses what seems to be a fair historical verdict upon his character :

"Kaohwangti, the founder of the celebrated dynasty of the Hans, derived none of his knowledge from study; but he supplied the want by a quickness of intellect and a power of penetration far from common. Prompt, impressionable, and impetuous, his eagerness often led him into faults; but he generally knew how to repair them by deferring to the judgment of those better instructed than himself. Naturally of a good disposition, and affable in his bearing, he treated his soldiers with kindness. These manners gained him the affection of his subjects, whose happiness he always sought to promote. As soon as he found himself master of the Empire, he ordered Siaoho to draw up a code of laws for the better government of the country. To Hansin he deputed the task of writing a treatise on tactics," and to other officials he gave different tasks for the benefit of the nation.

Kaotsou had performed his part in the consolidation of the Hans; it remained for those who came after him to complete what he left half-finished.




KAOTSOU was succeeded by his son Hiao Hoeiti, or Hoeiti, who, in face of formidable intrigues in the palace, made good his father's inheritance. There had been a plan on foot for securing for his half brother Chow Wang the proud position of Emperor, and that prince's mother, the Empress Tsi, had sought to make her influence with Kaotsou turn the scale in favour of the succession of her son. If there was at first some degree of uncertainty in Hoeiti's tenure of power it was soon removed by the energy and terrible measures of his mother, the Empress Liuchi. History has forgotten to mention the gravity of the dangers which may have threatened the position of the second ruler of the new dynasty, while it has presented in all their details the crimes or the stern preventive measures of Liuchi. We are told of the barbarous treatment which she meted out to the unfortunate Princess Tsi, and of how, having first murdered his faithful guardian, she sent the poisoned bowl to Chow Wang; but no similar light is shed on the ambitious schemes nursed by her victims, or on the consequences which would have attended a less resolute mode of dealing with persons who were rebels in thought if not yet in deed. The fact remains plain that, by Liuchi's vigour, Hoeiti was saved from danger, at the same time that the Han dynasty was again placed on a firm basis.

The young Emperor, while profiting by her deeds, repudiated all complicity in them; but while he reproved his mother for acts which certainly were cruel, it does not appear that either her personal influence with him, or her position at



court, suffered on that account. She remained the dominant influence round the young ruler, and when the great princes came to render personal homage to their Emperor they found the Empress-mother practically wielding the sceptre, and guiding the affairs of state. Among these was Tao Wang, Prince of Tsi, and when this potentate feasted with the Emperor, Liuchi not only insisted on being present, but also on being served first to wine-a double breach of etiquette unpardonable in the eyes of any well-educated citizen of China. The Prince of Tsi could not conceal the astonishment with which he beheld any one attempt to drink before the Emperor, and at once Liuchi marked him as her opponent and her prey. With a decision as terrible and relentless as that which characterized Lucretia Borgia, Liuchi dropped the ready poison into a goblet, and offered the Prince of Tsi to drink. Happily the Emperor perceived the act, and comprehended the situation at a glance. Taking the goblet, he was on the point of drinking the wine himself when his mother snatched it from him, thus at once confessing her crime, and revealing the danger from which the Prince of Tsi had so narrowly escaped.

Hoeiti did not long enjoy the possession of the throne, and the lustre of his brief reign was due rather to the ability and integrity of his minister Tsaotsan than to any action of his own.

Tsaotsan showed his great qualities by endeavouring to restore order and a sense of public spirit among the official classes. In this he was fairly successful, and the remainder of this reign passed off in tranquil efforts at internal reform. The Tartar king Mehe sent an envoy to the capital; but either the form or the substance of his message enraged the Empress-mother, who ordered his execution. The two peoples were thus again brought to the brink of war, but eventually the difference was composed, and the Chinese chroniclers have represented that the satisfactory turn in the question was due to Mehe seeing the error of his ways. Four years after this episode, and two years after the death of the minister Tsaotsan, the throne of the Hans was again vacant.

The Empress Liuchi continued to exercise the supreme



power in the country, and showed no anxiety to find an heir or successor to the son whose early death she loudly deplored. Her previous plan had been to retain in her own hands as much of the governing power as possible ; but now that it had become a question of keeping the Imperial seat vacant, she strove to extend and consolidate her influence by placing her brothers and near relations in great posts throughout the country. But the scheme could not be carried on without a nominal Emperor, and therefore this daring woman, stopping at nothing to attain her ends, put forward a supposititious child as the heir of her dead son. It was only the natural consequence that she should cause herself to be proclaimed Regent during the minority of her grandson. However much the ministers of the late Emperor might deplore the turn of events which had placed the destiny of China in the hands of a woman, they were incapable of changing it ; and from the general content among the people it may be inferred that Liuchi governed the country without unduly stretching the supreme authority she had usurped. Years passed on, and the nominal Emperor, whose supposed mother had been murdered because she was not sufficiently compliant with Liuchi's will, was growing up to man's estate. He had given signs of the possession of ability, and there were reports of his having used threats of an intention to avenge his mother's death. These hasty words were duly carried to Liuchi, who, prompt as ever, caused the young ruler to be shut up in the palace prison. Without even the form of trial or an attempt at justification, the Empress got rid of this inconvenient puppet, and set about choosing a successor who would be a more elastic instrument in her hands.

There were not wanting signs, however, that this state of things could not long continue. The discontent among the official classes was widespread, and the indignation of the nobles at the elevation of Liuchi's family intense, and portentous of a coming storm. One great chief had even gone so far as to declare that “he recognized neither Emperor nor Empress," and the reviving courage of the family of the great Kaotsou gave consistency to the plan formed for the overthrow of Liuchi. Perils were gathering

round this resolute woman, but we know not whether she would have succumbed to them, when the whole question was settled by her sudden death. Walking in her palace one day meditating upon how she could best overcome her numerous opponents, she was suddenly confronted, the story goes, by the apparition of a hideous monster surrounded by the victims of her restless ambition, and died from the effects of the fright produced by a too-late consciousness of her crimes. Deprived of the commanding abilities of the Empressmother, the faction of Liuchi did not at once abandon the ambitious dreams which they had cherished and partially realized by means of her energy. But they were fighting for a lost cause, and most of them perished vainly attempting to defend the palace against the army collected for their destruction by the leading princes of the Han family. With the death of the great Empress it may be said that they sank back into their former station, and that the Hans recovered the authority of which they had been temporarily deprived by the energy

of a woman. The successful princes had then to select from among themselves one to be put forward and acknowledged as Emperor, a task often the most difficult for a confederacy. In this instance the dangers of the situation were fortunately avoided, and although the Prince of Tsi had done most for the cause, the claims of the Prince of Tai, an illegitimate son of Kaotsou, were allowed to be superior to and more promising for the public weal than those of any other candidate. Tai took the name of Hiao Wenti on ascending the throne, and his first acts were to appoint able and honest ministers, and to exempt his subjects from one year's taxes. The country, having recently passed through a period of anxiety on the score of a disputed succession, was greatly desirous that all risk of the recurrence of a similar danger should be averted, and although Wenti wished to escape the responsibility, his ministers were firm on the point that he should name an heir. Nor would they agree to his proposition that either his uncle or his brother was the fittest man in the realm to be his successor ; and then was waged in China the grand controversy, which has been carried on in every country

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