Imatges de pÓgina


THE HAN DYNASTY (continued).

ON Vouti's death, Chaoti, the only one of his sons who had taken no part in the civil disturbances referred to in the previous chapter, became Emperor ; but, as he was only eight years old, his share in the functions of government was at first small. The administration was entrusted to and carried on by the two ministers Tsiun-pou-y and Ho Kwang. As has often been the case in Eastern countries, the death of a strong ruler and the accession of a child to supreme power afforded the opportunity sought by the ambitious for the advancement of their private ends. So it was when Vouti died and Chaoti was proclaimed successor, for Lieoutan, one of Vouti's elder sons by a wife of inferior rank, openly raised the standard of revolt, and enjoyed for a brief space in his own principality the attributes of imperial power. But the movement did not receive popular support, and the measures taken by Chaoti's ministers were so effectual that within a few months of Lieoutan's first declaration his followers had been dispersed, and he himself was occupying a prison in the palace fortress at Changnan. The clemency of the new ruler was shown by his moderation towards the rebel, whose life he spared. Another attempt was made by an impostor, a sort of Perkin Warbeck, who gave himself out as Vouti's eldest son, but his career was cut short by Tsiun-pou-y arresting him with his own hands.

Although Lieoutan had experienced the generosity of his brother he had by no means laid aside his pretensions to the throne. Permitted to be at large in the palace, he turned his

liberty to account by joining in the intrigues of dissatisfied courtiers against both the minister Ho Kwang and Chaoti himself. He became the centre of these plots which had as their chief object the placing of himself upon the throne. Fortunately intelligence of these schemes reached Chaoti's ears before their preparations had been completed, and we are told that “he took up his red pencil, and signed the order for the arrest of the conspirators with the greatest possible calmness.” The whole of the conspirators were publicly executed, with the exception of Lieoutan, who as a special favour was permitted to poison himself. This was the last of the plots formed against Chaoti, who throughout had borne himself in a becoming manner and had given promise of the possession of great qualities.

The relations with the Tartars were on the whole satisfactory, and Chaoti succeeded in effecting the release of Souou, a Chinese envoy, who had been kept in confinement by them for nineteen years. The fidelity of this minister, Souou, long formed a favourite theme with the ballad-makers of his country, who loved to draw a contrast between his fidelity and the falseness of Liling and Li Kwangli. While there was tranquillity on the western border the relations with some of the tributary populations were not equally satisfactory. A rising in Leaoutung had to be put down by the employment of a picked force of Chinese troops, and this happened on two different occasions. Similar events occurred in other parts of the Empire ; but in no case did the risings assume serious proportions, and in all they were repressed without difficulty. It was just as all danger to his authority had been dissipated, and when his people were forming the most glowing expectations of his future rule, that the young Chaoti died in his thirty-first year. Beyond question his early death was a serious loss to his country and a grave blow to the prospects of a dynasty which was already undecided as to its legitimate head.

Some hesitation was shown in proclaiming any of his relations Emperor, as Chaoti had left no heir; but the claim of his uncle Lieouho was considered to be the strongest. Whatever hopes may have been formed as to his qualifications



were, however, soon dispelled. He developed low tastes, and his conduct brought contempt upon the Imperial dignity. He was speedily deposed, and retired without regret into private life where he could indulge, unobserved and without hindrance, the coarse amusements for which he showed so marked a preference.

It was the great minister Ho Kwang who assumed the conduct of the measures necessary for the deposition of Lieouho, and for the selection of a successor to the throne. The latter was a task not free from difficulty, and after some consideration the choice was made in favour of Siuenti, a prince who was at this time about seventeen years of age, and the eldest of the great-grandchildren of Vouti. Ho Kwang held towards him not only the delicate relations of a confidential minister, but also the more intimate position of an affectionate and solicitous guardian. Ho Kwang strove to make Siuenti the model prince which Chaoti had given promise of being, and the native record runs that “Ho Kwang gave all his care to perfecting the new Emperor in the science of government." Siuenti's early years had been passed in ignorance of his origin, and the official who had been entrusted by Vouti with the charge saw no reason in the troublous times prevailing to divulge the secret of which he became the sole depositary. It was only when Ho Kwang was in search of a prince that Pingki, the official in question, produced the right heir. The first acts of the new Emperor were marked by moderation and a sound appreciation of the wants of his subjects. They furnished the nation with good reason for looking forward to a reign of peace and internal progress and development. Nor were they to be disappointed.

Early in the new reign (B.C. 71) the Tartars, thwarted in their attempts to break through the Chinese frontier, turned their attack against the dependent kingdom of Ousun, which appealed for aid at Changnan. After the usual deliberation, and a fresh declaration of the views of Chinese statesmen on the subject of the Tartars, it was decided to comply with the request of the vassal Prince of Ousun, and to send a large army to his assistance. The generals were appointed, and the army set out in due course for its destination ; but these

unwarlike generals had far different ideas in their heads than those connected with the hardships of campaigning and the dangers of battle. Their instructions were to drive the Tartars beyond the Gobi desert; but after passing a pleasant sojourn in the close neighbourhood of Shensi, they returned, giving out that they had won several victories and accomplished all the objects of the war. This deception could not remain long concealed, and when it was made known the generals were commanded to put an end to their existence. This order they showed no reluctance in obeying, and perhaps they may have consoled themselves with the reflection that, as victory would have been impossible to such as them, they were meeting the inevitable after a more pleasant experience than would have been that of the warlike qualities of the Tartars.

Meanwhile the Tartars were themselves not free from some of those disturbing elements which have been seen at work within the Chinese Empire. Civil strife and conflicting ambitions had set one tribe against another, and chief opposed to chief. Five kings had risen in their midst, and these warred with each other after the bitter fashion of their race. The struggle sapped their strength and exhausted their energy, and several of the chiefs turned towards China in the desire to obtain some guarantee for the preservation of the possessions that remained to them. One prince voluntarily surrendered to the border authorities, and another came in, after a formal arrangement had been drawn up, and was received with open arms by the Emperor. In accomplishing this satisfactory result the well-known character of the Emperor for justice and generosity towards his opponents exercised a great influence, and for the first time in history the Chinese troops became known among the peoples of Eastern Asia as "the troops of justice." They were the police, defending the weak against the turbulent and the strong. It was at this period that all the peoples from Shensi to the Caspian Sea acknowledged in some form, however vague and slight, the supremacy of China. Siuenti determined to celebrate this event by erecting a hall in which portraits of all the generals and statesmen who had helped



to attain this great result should be placed. This hall was named the Kilin or pavilion, and prominent among those whose images stood therein were Souou, Pingki, and, greatest of all, Ho Kwang. Thus terminated for this epoch, in an act of ceremony, the long Tartar wars (B.C. 51).

One circumstance, and one only, had marred the happiness of the young Emperor, and disturbed the tranquillity of his reign. The great minister Ho Kwang, who had done so much for his country, showed his true greatness of mind by the moderation of his conduct. He had played the part of king-maker with the necessary address and courage ; but he had no evil intentions against either the constitution or the person of the Emperor. He was well content that the state should be governed by its legitimate head, and, very shortly after his elevation, Siuenti was practically left to rule the Empire in accordance with his own judgment. But if Ho Kwang was perfectly satisfied with being the chief adviser and minister of a constitutional sovereign, his family were not equally content with a subordinate position. To them it seemed that nothing short of supreme power could reward Ho Kwang's deserts, or satisfy their desires. Therefore while Ho Kwang was himself perfectly satisfied and devoted to his master, there was in the state a party, nearly allied by blood to himself and trading on his name, which was working to effect the overthrow of Siuenti.

At the bottom of this plot, which had for its object the raising of a member of Ho Kwang's family to the Imperial dignity, and which, if it failed, would be sure to have the effect of discrediting that minister, was a woman, goaded by an insatiable ambition, unrestrained by those dictates of generosity that often qualify the acts of the worst men. Hohien, Ho Kwang's wife, had obtained a footing on the threshold of the enterprise she had conceived by the marriage of her daughter with the Emperor; but, although both mother and daughter endeavoured to obtain the concession, Siuenti persistently refused to acknowledge as Empress any except his first wife Hiuchi. Hohien was not to be easily baulked in her desire. Hiuchi fell ill and died; and the physician, a creature in the pay of Hohien, was cast into prison, there

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