Yezaimon, the governor of the town, protested earnestly against the survey of the waters by the ships, saying that it was against the laws of Japan. He was told that it was commanded by the laws of America, and the soundings went steadily on. On the second day the surveying party proceeded some ten miles up the bay, the Mississippi steaming in their wake. This roused new agitation in the Japanese, government boats meeting them at every point and making earnest signs to them to return. But no notice was taken of these gestures, and the survey was continued, deep soundings and soft bottom being found throughout.
In the evening Yezaimon came on board with a cheerful countenance, saying that he expected good news from Yedo, though he protested still against the doings of the boats. One of the officers speaks of him as a "gentleman, clever, polished, well informed, a fine, large man, about thirty-four, of most excellent countenance, taking his wine freely, and a boon companion."
On the 12th word came that the emperor would send a high officer to receive the letter. No immediate answer would be given, but one would be forwarded through the Dutch or the Chinese. This offer the commodore rejected as insulting. But, fearing that he might be detained by useless delay, he agreed to withdraw for a proper interval, at the end of which he would return to receive the answer.
On the 14th the reception of the letter took place, the occasion being made one of much ceremony. The commodore landed with due formality, through a line of Japanese boats, and with a following of three hundred and twenty officers and sailors from the fleet. Passing through a large body of soldiers, behind whom stood a crowd of spectators, the building prepared for the reception was reached. It was a temporary structure, the reception-room of which was hung with fine cloth, stamped with the imperial symbols in white on a violet background. The princes of Idsu and Iwami awaited as the envoys of the shogun, both of them splendidly attired in richly embroidered robes of silk.
A large scarlet-lacquered box, on gilded feet, stood ready to receive the letter, which, after being shown in its rich receptacle, was placed on the scarlet box, with translations in Dutch and Chinese. A formal receipt was given, ending with the following words: "Because the place is not designed to treat of anything from foreigners, so neither can conference nor entertainment take place. The letter being received, you will leave here."
"I shall return again, probably in April or May, for an answer," said the commodore, on receiving the receipt.
"With all the ships?" asked the interpreter.
"Yes, and probably with more," was the reply.
This said, the commodore rose and departed, the commissioners standing, but not another word being uttered on either side. As if to indicate to his hosts how little he regarded the curt order to leave, the commodore proceeded in the Susquehanna up the bay to the point the Mississippi had reached. Here he dropped anchor, the spot being afterwards known as the "American anchorage." On the following day he sent the Mississippi ten miles higher up, a point being reached within eight or ten miles of the capital. Three or four miles in advance a crowded mass of shipping was seen, supposed to lie at Sinagawa, the southern suburb of Yedo. On the 16th the vessels moved down the bay, and on the following day they stood out to sea, no doubt greatly to the relief of the Japanese officials.
In consequence of the death of the shogun, which took place soon after, Perry did not return for his answer until the following year, casting anchor again in the Bay of Yedo on February 12, 1854. He had now a larger fleet, consisting of three steam-frigates, four sloops-of-war, and two store-ships. Entering the bay, they came to anchor at the point known as the "American anchorage."
And now a debate arose as to where the ceremonies of reception should take place. The Japanese wished the commodore to withdraw to a point down the bay, some twenty miles below Uragawa. He, on the contrary, insisted on going to Yedo, and sent boats up to within four miles of that city to sound the channel. Finally the village of Yokohama, opposite the anchorage of the ships, was fixed upon.
On the 8th of March the first reception took place, great formality being observed, though this time light refreshments were offered. Two audiences a week were subsequently held, at one of which, on March 13, the American presents were delivered. They consisted of cloths, agricultural implements, fire-arms, and other articles, the most valuable being a small locomotive, tender, and car, which were set in motion on a circular track. A mile of telegraph wire was also set up and operated, this interesting the Japanese more than anything else. They had the art, however, of concealing their feelings, and took care to show no wonder at anything displayed.
In the letter of reply from the shogun it was conceded that the demands in relation to shipwrecked sailors, coal, provisions, water, etc., were just, and there was shown a willingness to add a new harbor to that of Nagasaki, but five years' delay in its opening were asked. To this the commodore would not accede, nor would he consent to be bound by the restrictions placed on the Dutch and Chinese. He demanded three harbors, one each in Hondo, Yezo, and the Loochoo Islands, but finally agreed to accept two, the port of Simoda in Hondo and that of Hakodate in Yezo. An agreement being at length reached, three copies of the treaty were exchanged, and this was followed by an entertainment on the fleet to the Japanese officials, in which they did full justice to American fare, and seemed to be particularly fond of champagne. One of them became so merry and familiar under the influence of this beverage that he vigorously embraced the commodore, who bore the infliction with good-humored patience.
At the new treaty ports the restrictions which had been thrown around the Dutch at Nagasaki were removed, citizens of the United States being free to go where they pleased within a limit of several miles around the towns.
The success of the Americans in this negotiation stimulated the other maritime nations, and in the same year a British fleet visited Nagasaki and obtained commercial concessions. In 1858 the treaties were extended, the port of Yokohama replacing that of Simoda, and the treaty ports being opened to American, British, French, and Dutch traders. Subsequently the same privileges were granted to the other commercial nations, the country was made free to travellers, and the long-continued isolation of Japan was completely broken down. A brief experience of the advantages of commerce and foreign intercourse convinced the quick-witted islanders of the folly of their ancient isolation, and they threw open their country without restriction to all the good the world had to offer and to the fullest inflow of modern ideas.
THE MIKADO COMES TO HIS OWN AGAIN.
The visit of Commodore Perry to Japan and the signing of a treaty of commerce with the United States formed a great turning-point in the history of that ancient empire. Through its influence the mikado came to his own again, after being for seven centuries virtually the vassal of the shogun. So long had he vanished from sight that the people looked upon him as a far-off spiritual dignitary, and had forgotten that he was once the supreme lord of the land. During all this time the imperial court had been kept up, with its prime minister, its officials and nobles,—with everything except authority. The court dignitaries ranked, in their own conceit and their ancient titles, far above the shogun and daimios, the military leaders, but they were like so many actors on the stage, playing at power. The shogun, with the power at his command, might have made himself the supreme dignitary, but it was easier to let the sleepy court at Kioto alone, leaving them the shadow of that power of which the substance was in the shogun's hands.
Yet there was always a risk in this. The sleeping emperor might at any time awake, call the people and the army to his aid, and break through the web that the great spider of military rule had woven about his court. Some great event might stir Japan to its depths and cause a vital change in the state of affairs. Such an event came in the visit of the American fleet and the signing of a treaty of commerce and intercourse by the Tai Kun, or great sovereign of Japan, as the shogun signed himself.
For two centuries and a half Japan had been at peace. For nearly that length of time foreigners had been forbidden to set foot on its soil. They were looked upon as barbarians, "foreign devils" the islanders called them, the trouble they had caused long before was not forgotten, and throughout the island empire they were hated or despised.
The visit of the American fleet was, therefore, sure to send a stir of deep feeling throughout the land. During this period of excitement the shogun died, and the power was seized by Ii, the regent, a daring and able man, who chose as shogun a boy twelve years old, imprisoned, exiled, or beheaded all who opposed him, and was suspected of an intention to depose the mikado and set up a boy emperor in his place.
All this aroused new excitement in Japan. But the opposition to these acts of the regent would not have grown to revolution had no more been done. The explosion came when Ii signed a treaty with the foreigners, a right which belonged only to the mikado, and sent word to Kioto that the exigency of the occasion had forced him to take this action.
The feeling that followed was intense. The country became divided into two parties, that of the mikado, which opposed the foreigners, and that of the shogun, which favored them. "Honor the mikado and expel the barbarians," became the patriot watchword, and in all directions excited partisans roamed the land, vowing that they would kill the regent and his new friends and that they were ready to die for the true emperor. Their fury bore fruit. Ii was assassinated. At the moment when a strong hand was most needed, that of the regent was removed. And as the feeling of bitterness against the foreigners grew, the influence of the shogun declined. The youthful dignitary was obliged by public opinion to visit Kioto and do homage to the mikado, an ancient ceremony which had not been performed for two hundred and thirty years, and whose former existence had almost been forgotten.
This was followed by a still more vital act. Under orders from the mikado, the shogun appointed the prince of Echizen premier of the empire. The prince at once took a remarkable step. For over two centuries the daimios had been forced to reside in Yedo. With a word he abolished this custom, and like wild birds the feudal lords flew away. The cage which had held them so long was open, and they winged their way to their distant nests. This act was fatal to the glory of Yedo and the power of its sovereign lord. In the words of the native chronicler, "the prestige of the Tokugawa family, which had endured for three hundred years, which had been as much more brilliant than Kamakura in the age of Yoritomo as the moon is more brilliant than the stars, which for more than two hundred and seventy years had forced the daimios to take their turn of duty in Yedo, and which had, day and night, eighty thousand vassals at its command, fell to ruin in the space of a single day."
In truth, the revolution was largely completed by this signal act. Many of the daimios and their retainers, let loose from their prison, deserted the cause of their recent lord. Their place of assemblage was now at Kioto, which became once more populous and bustling. They strengthened the imperial court with gold and pledged to it their devotion. Pamphlets were issued, some claiming that the clans owed allegiance to the shogun, others that the mikado was the true and only emperor.
The first warlike step in support of the new ideas was taken in 1863, by the clan of Choshiu, which erected batteries at Shimonoseki, refused to disarm at the shogun's order, and fired on foreign vessels. This brought about a bombardment, in the following year, by the ships of four foreign nations, the most important result of which was to teach the Japanese the strength of the powers against which they had arrayed themselves.
Meanwhile the men of Choshiu, the declared adherents of the mikado, urged him to make a journey to Yamato, and thus show to his people that he was ready to take the field in person against the barbarians. This suggestion was at first received with favor, but suddenly the Choshiu envoys and their friends were arrested, the palace was closely guarded, and all members or retainers of the clan were forbidden to enter the capital, an order which placed them in the position of outlaws. The party of the shogun had made the mikado believe that the clan was plotting to seize his person and through him to control the empire.
This act of violence led to civil war. In August, 1864, the capital was attacked by a body of thirteen hundred men of the Choshiu and other disaffected clans. It was defended by the adherents of the shogun, now the supporters of the mikado. For two days the battle raged, and at the end of that time a great part of the city was a heap of ashes, some thirty thousand edifices being destroyed by the flames. "The Blossom Capital became a scorched desert." The Choshiu were defeated, but Kioto lay in ruins. A Japanese city is like a house of card-board, easily destroyed, and almost as easily rebuilt.
This conflict was followed by a march in force upon Choshiu to punish its rebellious people. The expedition was not a popular one. Some powerful feudal lords refused to join it. Of those mustered into the ranks many became conveniently sick, and those who marched were disorganized and without heart for the fight. Choshiu, on the contrary, was well prepared. The clansmen, who had long been in contact with the Dutch, had thrown aside the native weapons, were drilled in European tactics, and were well armed with rifles and artillery. The result was, after a three months' campaign, the complete defeat of the invading army, and an almost fatal blow to the prestige of the shogun. This defeat was immediately followed by the death of the young shogun, who had been worn out by the intense anxiety of his period of rule.
He was succeeded by the last of the shoguns, Keiki, appointed head of the Tokugawa family in October, 1866, and shogun in January, 1867. This position he had frequently declined. He was far too weak and fickle a man to hold it at such a time. He was popular at court because of his opposition to the admission of the foreigners, but he was by no means the man to hold the reins of government at that perilous juncture of affairs.
In fact, he had hardly accepted the office when a vigorous pressure was brought upon him to resign, in which a number of princes and powerful noblemen took part. It was their purpose to restore the ancient government of the realm. Keiki yielded, and in November, 1867, resigned his high office of Sei-i Tai Shogun. During this critical interval the mikado had died, and a new youthful emperor had been raised to the throne.
But the imperial power was not so easily to be restored, after its many centuries of abrogation. The Aidzu, the most loyal of all the clans to the shogun, and the leaders in the war against the Choshiu, guarded the palace gates, and for the time being were masters of the situation. Meanwhile the party of the mikado was not idle. Gradually small parties of soldiers were sent by them to the capital, and a quiet influence was brought to bear to induce the court to take advantage of the opportunity and by a bold movement abolish the office of shogun and declare the young emperor the sole sovereign of the realm.
This coup-d'etat was effected January 3, 1868. On that day the introduced troops suddenly took possession of the palace gates, the nobles who surrounded the emperor were dismissed and replaced by others favorable to the movement, and an edict was issued in the name of the mikado declaring the office of shogun abolished, and that the sole government of the empire lay in the hands of the mikado and his court. New offices were established and new officials chosen to fill them, the clan of Choshiu was relieved from the ban of rebellion and honored as the supporter of the imperial power, and a completely new government was organized.
This decisive action led to civil war. The adherents of the Tokugawa clan, in high indignation at this revolutionary act, left the capital, Keiki, who now sought to seize his power again, at their head. On the 27th of February he marched upon Kioto with an army of ten thousand, or, as some say, thirty thousand, men. The two roads leading to the capital had been barricaded, and were defended by two thousand men, armed with artillery.
A fierce battle followed, lasting for three days. Greatly as the defenders of the barriers were outnumbered, their defences and artillery, with their European discipline, gave them the victory. The shogun was defeated, and fled with his army to Ozaka, the castle of which was captured and burned, while he took refuge on an American vessel in the harbor. Making his way thence to Yedo in one of his own ships, he shut himself up in his palace, once more with the purpose of withdrawing from the struggle.
His retainers and many of the daimios and clans urged him to continue the war, declaring that, with the large army and abundant supplies at his command, and the powerful fleet under his control, they could restore him to the position he had lost. But Keiki had had enough of war, and could not bear the idea of being a rebel against his liege lord. Declaring that he would never take up arms against the mikado, he withdrew from the struggle to private life.
In the mean time the victorious forces of the south had reached the suburbs of Yedo, and were threatening to apply the torch to that tinder-box of a city unless it were immediately surrendered. Their commander, being advised of the purpose of the shogun, promised to spare the city, but assailed and burned the magnificent temple of Uyeno, in which the rebels still in arms had taken refuge. For a year longer the war went on, victory everywhere favoring the imperial army. By the 1st of July, 1869, hostilities were at an end, and the mikado was the sole lord of the realm.
Thus ended a military domination that had continued for seven hundred years. In 1167, Kiyomori had made himself military lord of the empire. In 1869, Mutsuhito, the one hundred and twenty-third mikado in lineal descent, resumed the imperial power which had so long been lost. Unlike China, over which so many dynasties have ruled, Japan has been governed by a single dynasty, according to the native records, for more than twenty-five hundred years.
The fall of the shogun was followed by the fall of feudalism. The emperor, for the first time for many centuries, came from behind his screen and showed himself openly to his people. Yedo was made the eastern capital of the realm, its name being changed to Tokio. Hither, in September, 1871, the daimios were once more summoned, and the order was issued that they should give up their strongholds and feudal retainers and retire to private life. They obeyed. Resistance would have been in vain. Thus fell another ancient institution, eight centuries old. The revolution was at an end. The shogunate and the feudal system had fallen, to rise no more. A single absolute lord ruled over Japan.
As regards the cry of "expel the barbarians," which had first given rise to hostilities, it gradually died away as the revolution continued. The strength of the foreign fleets, the advantages of foreign commerce, the conception which could not be avoided that, instead of being barbarians, these aliens held all the high prizes of civilization and had a thousand important lessons to teach, caused a complete change of mind among the intelligent Japanese, and they quickly began to welcome those whom they had hitherto inveterately opposed, and to change their institutions to accord with those of the Western world.
HOW THE EMPIRE OF CHINA AROSE AND GREW.
From the history of Japan we now turn to that of China, a far older and more extensive kingdom, so old, indeed, that it has now grown decrepit, while Japan seems still in the glow of vigorous youth. But, as our tales will show, there was a long period in the past during which China was full of youthful energy and activity, and there may be a time in the future when a new youth will come to that hoary kingdom, the most venerable of any existing upon the face of the earth.
Who the Chinese originally were, whence they came, how long they have dwelt in their present realm, are questions easier to ask than to answer. Their history does not reach back to their origin, except in vague and doubtful outlines. The time was when that great territory known as China was the home of aboriginal tribes, and the first historical sketch given us of the Chinese represents them as a little horde of wanderers, destitute of houses, clothing, and fire, living on the spoils of the chase, and on roots and insects in times of scarcity.
These people were not sons of the soil. They came from some far-off region. Some think that their original home lay in the country to the southeast of the Caspian, while later theorists seek to trace their origin in Babylonia, as an offshoot of the Mongolian people to whom that land owed its early language and culture. From some such place the primitive Chinese made their way by slow stages to the east, probably crossing the head-waters of the Oxus and journeying along the southern slopes of the Tian-Shan Mountains.
All this is conjecture, but we touch firmer soil when we trace them to the upper course of the Hoang-ho, or Yellow River, whose stream they followed eastward until they reached the fertile plains of the district now known as Shan-se. Here the immigrants settled in small colonies, and put in practice those habits of settled labor which they seem to have brought with them from afar. Yet there is reason to believe that they had at one time been nomads, belonging to the herding rather than to the agricultural races of the earth. Many of the common words in their language are partly made up of the characters for sheep and cattle, and the Chinese house so resembles the Tartar tent in outline that it is said that the soldiers of Genghis Khan, on taking a city, at once pulled down the walls of the houses and left the roof supported by its wooden columns as an excellent substitute for a tent.
However that be, the new-comers seem to have quickly become farmers, growing grain for food and flax for their garments. The culture of the silk-worm was early known, trade was developed, and fairs were held. There was intellectual culture also. They knew something of astronomy, and probably possessed the art of hieroglyphic writing,—which, if they came from Babylonia, they may well have brought with them.
This took place five thousand years or more ago, and for a long time the history of the Chinese was that of the conquest of the native tribes. They name themselves the "black-haired race," but their foes are classed as "fiery dogs" in the north, "great bowmen" in the east, "mounted warriors" in the west, and "ungovernable vermin" in the south. Against these savages war was probably long continued, the invaders gradually widening their area, founding new states, driving back the natives into the mountains and deserts, and finally so nearly annihilating them that only a small remnant remained. The descendants of these, the Meaou-tsze, mountain-dwellers, still remain hostile to China, and hold their own in the mountain strongholds against its armies.
Such was the China with which history opens. Ancient Chinese writers amuse themselves with a period of millions of years in which venerable dynasties reigned, serving to fill up the vast gap made by their imagination in the period before written history began. And when history does appear it is not easy to tell how much of it is fact and how much fiction. The first ruler named, Yew-chaou She (the Nest-having), was the chief who induced the wanderers to settle within the bend of the Yellow River and make huts of boughs. After him came Suy-jin She (the Fire-maker), who discovered the art of producing fire by the friction of two pieces of dry wood, also how to count and register time by means of knots tied in cords. Fuh-he discovered iron by accident, and reigned one hundred and fifteen years. Chin-nung invented the plough, and in one day discovered seventy poisonous plants and as many antidotes. Under Hoang-ti the calendar was regulated, roads were constructed, vessels were built, and the title of Ti, or Emperor, was first assumed. Hoang-ti means "Yellow Emperor," and became a favorite name with the founders of later dynasties. His wife, Se-ling-she, was the first to unravel silk from cocoons and weave it into cloth. Several others followed, all partly or wholly fabulous, until Yao ascended the throne in 2356 B.C. With this emperor history begins to throw off some little of the mist of legend and mythology.
With the reign of Yao the historical work of Confucius begins. His narrative is not trustworthy history, but it is not pure fable. Yao and Shun, his successor, are two of the notable characters in the ancient annals of China. Under them virtue reigned supreme, crime was unknown, and the empire grew in extent and prosperity. The greatest difficulty with which they had to contend was the overflow of the Hoang-ho, an unruly stream, which from that day to this has from time to time swept away its banks and drowned its millions. Yu, the next emperor, drained off the waters of the mighty flood,—which some have thought the same as the deluge of Noah. This work occupied him for nine years. His last notable act was to denounce the inventor of an intoxicating drink made from rice, from which he predicted untold misery to the people.
All this comes to us from the Confucian "Book of History," which goes on with questionable stories of many later emperors. They were not all good and wise, like most of those named. Some of the descendants of Yu became tyrants and pleasure-seekers, their palaces the seats of scenes of cruelty and debauchery surpassing the deeds of Nero. Two emperors in particular, Kee and Chow, are held up as monsters of wickedness and examples of dissoluteness beyond comparison. The last, under the influence of a woman named Ta-Ke, became a frightful example of sensuality and cruelty. Among the inventions of Ta-Ke was a cylinder of polished brass, along which her victims were forced to walk over a bed of fire below, she laughing in great glee if they slipped and fell into the flames. In fact, Chinese invention exhausts itself in describing the crimes and immoral doings of this abominable pair, which, fortunately, we are not obliged to believe.
Of the later emperors, Mou Wang, who came to the throne about 1000 B.C., was famed as a builder of palaces and public works, and was the first of the emperors to come into conflict with the Tartars of the Mongolian plains, who afterwards gave China such endless trouble. He travelled into regions before unknown, and brought a new breed of horses into China, which, fed on "dragon grass," were able to travel one thousand li in a day. As this distance is nearly four hundred miles, it would be well for modern horsemen if some of that dragon grass could yet be found.
It is not worth while going on with the story of these early monarchs, of whom all we know is so brief and unimportant as not to be worth the telling, while little of it is safe to believe. In the "burning of the books," which took place later, most of the ancient history disappeared, while the "Book of History" of Confucius, which professes to have taken from the earlier books all that was worth the telling, is too meagre and unimportant in its story to be of much value.
Yet, if we can believe all we are told, the historians of China were at any time ready to become martyrs in the cause of truth, and gave the story of the different reigns with singular fidelity and intrepidity. Mailla relates the following incident: "In the reign of the emperor Ling Wang of the Chow dynasty, 548 B.C., Chang Kong, Prince of Tsi, became enamoured of the wife of Tsouichow, a general, who resented the affront and killed the prince. The historians attached to the household of the prince recorded the facts, and named Tsouichow as the murderer. On learning this the general caused the principal historian to be arrested and slain, and appointed another in his place. But as soon as the new historian entered upon his office he recorded the exact facts of the whole occurrence, including the death of his predecessor and the cause of his death. Tsouichow was so much enraged at this that he ordered all the members of the Tribunal of History to be executed. But at once the whole literary class in the principality of Tsi set to work exposing and denouncing the conduct of Tsouichow, who soon perceived that his wiser plan would be to reconstitute the Tribunal and to allow it to follow its own devices."
Other stories to the same effect are told. They are very likely exaggerated, but there is good reason to believe that the literary class of China were obstinate to the verge of martyrdom in maintaining the facts and traditions of the past, and that death signified to them less than dishonor. We shall see a striking instance of this in the story of Hoang-ti, the burner of the books.
In the period to which we have now come, China was far from being the great empire it is to-day. On the south it did not extend beyond the great river Yang-tse-Kiang, all the region to the south being still held by the native tribes. On the north the Tartar tribes occupied the steppes. At the fall of the Chow dynasty, in 255 B.C., the empire extended through five degrees of latitude and thirteen of longitude, covering but a small fraction of its present area.
And of this region only a minor portion could fairly be claimed as imperial soil. The bulk of it was held by feudal princes, whose ancestors had probably conquered their domains ages before, and some of whom held themselves equal to the emperor in power and pride. They acknowledged but slight allegiance to the imperial government, and for centuries the country was distracted by internal warfare, until the great Hoang-ti, whose story we have yet to tell, overthrew feudalism, and for the first time united all China into a single empire.
The period that we have so rapidly run over embraces no less than two thousand years of partly authentic history, and a thousand or more years of fabulous annals, during which China steadily grew, though of what we know concerning it there is little in which any absolute trust can be placed. Yet it was in this period that China made its greatest progress in literature and religious reform, and that its great lawgivers appeared. With this phase of its history we shall deal in the succeeding tale.
CONFUCIUS, THE CHINESE SAGE.
In the later years of the Chow dynasty appeared the two greatest thinkers that China ever produced, Laoutse, the first and ablest philosopher of his race, and Confucius, a practical thinker and reformer who has had few equals in the world. Of Laoutse we know little. Born 604 B.C., in humble life, he lived in retirement, and when more than a hundred years old began a journey to the west and vanished from history. To the guardian of the pass through which he sought the western regions he gave a book which contained the thoughts of his life. This forms the Bible of the Taouistic religion, which still has a large following in China.
Confucius, or Kong-foo-tse, born 551 B.C., was as practical in intellect as Laoutse was mystical, and has exerted an extraordinary influence upon the Chinese race. For this reason it seems important to give some account of his career.
The story of his life exists in some detail, and may be given in epitome. As a child he was distinguished for his respect to older people, his gentleness, modesty, and quickness of intellect. At nineteen he married and was made a mandarin, being appointed superintendent of the markets, and afterwards placed in charge of the public fields, the sheep and cattle. His industry was remarkable, and so great were his improvements in agriculture that the whole face of the country changed, and plenty succeeded poverty.
At twenty-two he became a public teacher, and at thirty began the study of music, making such remarkable progress in this art that from the study of one piece he was able to describe the person of the composer, even to his features and the expression of his eyes. His teacher now gave him up. The pupil had passed infinitely beyond his reach. At the next important epoch in the life of Confucius (499 B.C.) he had become one of the chief ministers of the king of Loo. This potentate fell into a dispute with the rival king of Tsi, and an interview between the two kings took place, in which a scheme of treachery devised by the king of Tsi was baffled by the vigilance and courage of the learned minister of Loo.
But, the high precepts of Confucius proving too exalted for the feeble virtue of his kingly employer, the philosopher soon left his service, and entered upon a period of travel and study, teaching the people as he went, and constantly attended by a number of disciples. His mode of illustrating his precepts is indicated in an interesting anecdote. "As he was journeying, one day he saw a woman weeping and wailing by a grave. Confucius inquired the cause of her grief. 'You weep as if you had experienced sorrow upon sorrow,' said one of the attendants of the sage. The woman answered, 'It is so: my husband's father was killed here by a tiger, and my husband also; and now my son has met the same fate.' 'Why do you not leave the place?' asked Confucius. On her replying, 'There is here no oppressive government,' he turned to his disciples and said, 'My children, remember this,—oppressive government is more cruel than a tiger.'"
On another of their journeys they ran out of food, and one of the disciples, faint with hunger, asked the sage, "Must the superior man indeed suffer in this way?" "The superior man may have to suffer want," answered Confucius, "but the mean man, when he is in want, gives way to unbridled license." The last five years of his life were spent in Loo, his native state, in teaching and in finishing the works he had long been writing.
Confucius was no philosopher in the ordinary sense. He was a moral teacher, but devised no system of religion, telling his disciples that the demands of this world were quite enough to engage the thoughts of men, and that the future might be left to provide for itself. He cared nothing about science and studied none of the laws of nature, but devoted himself to the teaching of the principles of conduct, with marked evidence of wisdom and practical common sense.
Of all the great men who have lived upon the earth, conquerors, writers, inventors, and others, none have gained so wide a renown as this quiet Chinese moral teacher, whose fame has reached the ears of more millions of mankind than that of any other man who has ever lived. To-day his descendants form the only hereditary nobility in China, with the exception of those of his great disciple Mencius, who proved a worthy successor to the sage.
It is to Confucius that we owe nearly all we possess of the early literature of China. Of what are known as the "Five Classics," four are by his hand. The "Book of Changes," the oldest classic, was written by a mystic named Wan Wang, who lived about 1150 B.C. It is highly revered, but no one pretends to understand it. The works of Confucius include the "Book of History," the "Book of Odes," the "Book of Rites," and the "Spring and Autumn Annals," all of them highly esteemed in China for the knowledge they give of ancient days and ways.
The records of the early dynasties kept at the imperial court were closely studied by Confucius, who selected from them all that he thought worth preserving. This he compiled into the Shoo King, or "Book of History." The contents of this work we have condensed in the preceding tale. It consists mainly of conversations between the kings and their ministers, in which the principles of the patriarchal Chinese government form the leading theme. "Do not be ashamed of mistakes, and thus make them crimes," says one of these practical ministers.
The Le-ke, or "Book of Rites," compiled from a very ancient work, lays down exact rules of life for Chinamen, which are still minutely obeyed. The Chun Tsew, or "Spring and Autumn Annals," embraces a mere statement of events which occurred in the kingdom of Loo, and contains very little of historical and less of any other value. The "Book of Odes," on the contrary, possesses a great literary value, in preserving for us the poetic remains of ancient China.
Literature in that country, as elsewhere, seems to have begun with poetry, and of the songs and ballads of the early period official collections of considerable value were made. Not only at the imperial court, but at those of the feudal lords, there were literati whose duty it was to collect the songs of the people and diligently to preserve the historical records of the empire. From the latter Confucius compiled two of the books already named. There also fell into his hands an official collection of poems containing some three thousand pieces. These the sage carefully edited, selecting such of them as "would be serviceable for the inculcation of propriety and righteousness." These poems, three hundred and eleven in number, constitute the She King, or "Book of Odes," forming a remarkable collection of primitive verses which breathe the spirit of peace and simple life, broken by few sounds of war or revelry, but yielding many traces of family affection, peaceful repose, and religious feeling.
These are not the only remains of the ancient Chinese literature. There are four more books, which, with the five named, make up the "Nine Classics." These were written by the pupils and disciples of Confucius, the most important being the Mang tsze, or "Works of Mencius." They are records of the sayings and doings of the two sages Confucius and Mencius, whose remarkable precepts, like those of the Greek sage Socrates, would have been lost to the world but for the loving diligence of their disciples.
All this is not history in the ordinary sense. But the men described, and particularly Confucius, have had so potent an influence upon all that relates to Chinese life and history, that some brief account of them and their doings seemed indispensable to our work.
THE FOUNDER OF THE CHINESE EMPIRE.
In the year 246 B.C. came to the throne of China the most famous of all the monarchs of that ancient empire, the celebrated Hoangti,—Tsin Chi Hoang-ti, or "first sovereign emperor of the Tsins," to give him his full title. Various stories are told by Chinese historians of the origin of this great monarch, they denying that he was of royal blood. They say that he was the son of a woman slave who had been bought by the emperor, and that the boy's real father was a merchant, her former master. This story, whether true or false, gave the young emperor much trouble in later years. His mother, after he came to the throne, grew so dissipated that he was forced to punish her lover and banish her. And the merchant, his reputed father, being given a place at court, became eager for a higher position, and sought to influence the emperor by hints and whisperings of the secret hold he possessed over him. Hoangti was not the man to be dealt with in such a fashion, and the intriguing merchant, finding a storm of vengeance coming, poisoned himself to escape a worse fate.
Such are the stories told of the origin of the famous emperor. They may not be true, for the historians hated him, for reasons yet to be given, and made the most of anything they could say against him. All we are sure of is that he ascended the throne at the youthful age of thirteen, and even at that age quickly made his influence widely felt. What lay before him was practically the conquest of China, whose great feudal lords were virtually independent of the throne, and had, not long before, overwhelmed the imperial armies.
Fortunately for the young emperor, the great princes, having no fear of a boy, either disbanded their forces or quarrelled among themselves, two of the most powerful of them declaring war upon each other. Taking advantage of these dissensions, Hoangti gained, step by step, the desired control of his foes. Ouki, a great general in the interest of the princes, was disgraced by the aid of bribery and falsehood, several of the strong cities of the princes were seized, and when they entered the field against the emperor their armies, no longer led by the able Ouki, were easily defeated. Thus steadily the power of the youthful monarch increased and that of his opponents fell away, the dismembered empire of China slowly growing under his rule into a coherent whole.
Meanwhile war arose with foreign enemies, who appeared on the western and northern boundaries of the empire. In this quarter the Tartar tribes of the desert had long been troublesome, and now a great combination of these warlike nomads, known as the Heung-nou,—perhaps the same as the Huns who afterwards devastated Europe,—broke into the defenceless border provinces, plundering and slaughtering wherever they appeared. Against this dangerous enemy the emperor manifested the same energy that he had done against his domestic foes. Collecting a great army, three hundred thousand strong, he marched into their country and overthrew them in a series of signal victories. In the end those in the vicinity of China were exterminated, and the others driven to take refuge in the mountains of Mongolia.
This success was followed by a remarkable performance, one of the most stupendous in the history of the world. Finding that several of the northern states of the empire were building lines of fortification along their northern frontiers for defence against their Tartar enemies, the emperor conceived the extraordinary project of building a gigantic wall along the whole northern boundary of China, a great bulwark to extend from the ocean on the east to the interior extremity of the modern province of Kan-suh on the west. This work was begun under the direct supervision of the emperor in 214 B.C., and prosecuted with the sleepless energy for which he had made himself famous. Tireless as he was, however, the task was too great for one man to perform, and it was not completed until after his death.
This extraordinary work, perhaps the greatest ever undertaken by the hand of man, extends over a length of twelve hundred and fifty-five miles, the wall itself, if measured throughout its sinuous extent, being fully fifteen hundred miles in length. Over this vast reach of mountain and plain it is carried, regardless of hill or vale, but "scaling the precipices and topping the craggy hills of the country." It is not a solid mass, but is composed of two retaining walls of brick, built upon granite foundations, while the space between them is filled with earth and stones. It is about twenty-five feet wide at base and fifteen at top, and varies from fifteen to thirty feet in height, with frequent towers rising above its general level. At the top a pavement of bricks—now overgrown with grass—forms a surface finish to the work.
How many thousands or hundreds of thousands of the industrious laborers of China spent their lives upon this stupendous work history does not tell. It stands as a striking monument of the magnificent conceptions of Hoangti, and of the patient industry of his subjects, beside which the building of the great pyramid of Egypt sinks into insignificance. Yet, as history has abundantly proved, it was a waste of labor so far as answering its purpose was concerned. In the hands of a strong emperor like Hoangti it might well defy the Tartar foe. In the hands of many of his weak successors it proved of no avail, the hordes of the desert swarming like ants over its undefended reaches, and pouring upon the feeble country that sought defence in walls, not in men.
While this vast building operation was going on, Hoangti had his hands so full with internal wars that he adopted the custom of sitting on his throne with a naked sword in his hand, significant of his unceasing alertness against his foes. Not until his reign was near its end was he able to return this emblem of war to its scabbard and enjoy for a few years the peace he had so ably won.
No sooner had the great emperor finished his campaign of victory against the Heung-nou Tartars than he found himself confronted by enemies at home, the adherents of the remaining feudal princes whose independent power was threatened. The first with whom he came in contact was the powerful prince of Chow, several of whose cities he captured, the neighboring prince of Han being so terrified by this success that he surrendered without a contest. In accordance with Hoangti's method, the prince was forced to yield his power and retire to private life in the dominions of the conqueror.
Chow still held out, under an able general, Limou, who defied the emperor and defeated his armies. Hoangti, finding himself opposed by an abler man than any he had under his command, employed against him the same secret arts by which he had before disposed of the valiant Ouki. A courtier was bribed to malign the absent general and poison the mind of the prince against the faithful commander of his forces. The intrigue was successful, Limou was recalled from his command, and on his refusing to obey was assassinated by order of the prince.
Hoangti had gained his end, and his adversary soon paid dearly for his lack of wisdom and justice. His dominions were overrun, his capital, Hantan, was taken and sacked, and he and his family became prisoners to one who was not noted for mercy to his foes. The large province of Chow was added to the empire, which was now growing with surprising rapidity.
This enemy disposed of, Hoangti had another with whom to deal. At his court resided Prince Tan, heir of the ruler of Yen. Whether out of settled policy or from whim, the emperor insulted this visitor so flagrantly that he fled the court, burning for revenge. As the most direct way of obtaining this, he hired an assassin to murder Hoangti, inducing him to accept the task by promising him the title of "Liberator of the Empire." The plot was nearly successful. Finding it very difficult to obtain an audience with the emperor, Kinkou, the assassin, succeeded in an extraordinary way, by inducing Fanyuki, a proscribed rebel, to commit suicide. In some unexplained way Kinkou made use of this desperate act to obtain the desired audience. Only the alertness of the emperor now saved him from death. His quick eye caught the attempt of the assassin to draw his poniard, and at once, with a sweeping blow of his sabre, he severed his leg from his body, hurling him bleeding and helpless to the floor.
Hoangti's retribution did not end with the death of the assassin. Learning that Prince Tan was the real culprit, he gave orders for the instant invasion of Yen,—a purpose which perhaps he had in view in his insult to the prince. The ruler of that state, to avert the emperor's wrath, sent him the head of Tan, whom he had ordered to execution. But as the army continued to advance, he fled into the wilds of Lea-vu-tung, abandoning his territory to the invader. In the same year the kingdom of Wei was invaded, its capital taken, and its ruler sent to the Chinese capital for execution.
Only one of the great principalities now remained, that of Choo, but it was more formidable than any of those yet assailed. Great preparations and a large army were needed for this enterprise, and the emperor asked his generals how many men would be required for the task of conquest.
"Two hundred thousand will be abundant," said Lisin; "I will promise you the best results with that number of men."
"What have you to say?" asked the emperor of Wang Tsein, his oldest and most experienced commander.
"Six hundred thousand will be needed," said the cautious old general.
These figures, given in history, may safely be credited with an allowance for the exaggeration of the writers.
The emperor approved of Lisin's estimate, and gave him the command, dismissing the older warrior as an over-cautious dotard. The event told a different tale. Lisin was surprised during his march and driven back in utter defeat, losing forty thousand men, as the records say, in the battle and the pursuit. What became of the defeated braggart history fails to state. If he survived the battle, he could hardly have dared to present himself again before his furious master.
Hoangti now sent for the veteran whom he had dismissed as a dotard, and asked him to take command of the troops.
"Six hundred thousand: no less will serve," repeated the old man.
"You shall have all you ask for," answered the emperor.
This vast host collected, the question of supplies presented itself as a serious matter.
"Do not let that trouble you," said the emperor to his general. "I have taken steps to provide for that, and promise you that provisions are more likely to be wanting in my palace than in your camp."
The event proved the soundness of the old warrior's judgment and his warlike skill. A great battle soon took place, in which Wang Tsein, taking advantage of a false movement of the enemy, drove him in panic flight from the field. This was soon followed by the complete conquest of the principality, whose cities were strongly garrisoned by imperial troops, and its rulers sent to the capital to experience the fate of the preceding princely captives. The subjection of several smaller provinces succeeded, and the conquest of China was at length complete.
The feudal principalities, which had been the successors of the independent kingdoms into which the Chinese territory was originally divided, were thus overthrown, the ancient local dynasties being exterminated, and their territories added to the dominion of the Tsins. The unity of the empire was at length established, and the great conqueror became "the first universal emperor."
Hoangti the Great, as we may justly designate the man who first formed a united Chinese empire, and to whom the mighty conception of the Great Wall was due, did not exhaust his energies in these varied labors. Choosing as his capital Heenyang (now Segan Foo), he built himself there a palace of such magnificence as to make it the wonder and admiration of the age. This was erected outside the city, on so vast a scale that ten thousand men could be drawn up in order of battle in one of its courts. Attached to it were magnificent gardens, the whole being known as the Palace of Delight. Within the city he had another palace, of grand dimensions, its hall of audience being adorned with twelve gigantic statues made from the spoils of his many campaigns, each of them weighing twelve thousand pounds.
The capital was otherwise highly embellished, and an edict required that all weapons should be sent to the arsenal in that city, there being no longer danger of civil war, and "peace being universal." This measure certainly tended to prevent war, and "the skilful disarming of the provinces added daily to the wealth and prosperity of the capital."
The empire of China thus being, for the first time in its history, made a centralized one, Hoangti divided it into thirty-six provinces, and set out on a tour of inspection of the vast dominions which acknowledged him as sole lord and master. Governors and sub-governors were appointed in each province, the stability of the organization adopted being evidenced by the fact that it still exists. The most important result of the imperial journey was the general improvement of the roads of the empire. It was the custom, when a great man visited any district, to repair the roads which he would need to traverse, while outside his line of march the highways were of a very imperfect character. Hoangti was well aware of this custom, and very likely he may have convinced himself of the true condition of the roads by sudden detours from the prescribed route. At all events, he made the following notable remarks:
"These roads have been made expressly for me, and are very satisfactory. But it is not just that I alone should enjoy a convenience of which my subjects have still greater need, and one which I can give them. Therefore I decree that good roads shall be made in all directions throughout the empire."
In these few words he set in train a far more useful work than the Great Wall. High-roads were laid out on a grand scale, traversing the empire from end to end, and the public spirit of the great emperor is attested by the noble system of highways which still remain, more than two thousand years after his death.
Having said so much in favor of Hoangti, we have now to show the reverse of the shield, in describing that notable act which has won him the enmity of the literary class, not only in China but in the whole world. This was the celebrated "burning of the books." Hoangti was essentially a reformer. Time-honored ceremonies were of little importance in his eyes when they stood in the way of the direct and practical, and he abolished hosts of ancient customs that had grown wearisome and unmeaning. This sweeping away of the drift-wood of the past was far from agreeable to the officials, to whom formalism and precedent were as the breath of life. One of the ancient customs required the emperors to ascend high mountains and offer sacrifices on their summits. The literary class had ancient rule and precedent for every step in this ceremony, and so sharply criticised the emperor's disregard of these observances that they roused his anger. "You vaunt the simplicity of the ancients," he impatiently said; "you should then be satisfied with me, for I act in a simpler fashion than they did." Finally he closed the controversy with the stern remark, "When I have need of you I will let you know my orders."
The literati of China have always been notable for the strength of their convictions and the obstinate courage with which they express their opinions at all risks. They were silenced for the present, but their anger, as well as that of the emperor, only slumbered. Five years afterwards it was reawakened. Hoangti had summoned to the capital all the governors and high officials for a Grand Council of the Empire. With the men of affairs came the men of learning, many of them wedded to theories and traditions, who looked upon Hoangti as a dangerous iconoclast, and did not hesitate to express their opinion.
It was the most distinguished assembly that had ever come together in China, and, gathered in that magnificent palace which was adorned with the spoils of conquered kingdoms, it reflected the highest honor on the great emperor who had called it together and who presided over its deliberations. But the hardly concealed hostility of the literati soon disturbed the harmony of the council. In response to the emperor, who asked for candid expressions of opinion upon his government and legislation, a courtier arose with words of high praise, ending with, "Truly you have surpassed the very greatest of your predecessors even at the most remote period."
The men of books broke into loud murmurs at this insult to the heroes of their admiration, and one of them sprang angrily to his feet, designating the former speaker as "a vile flatterer unworthy of the high position which he occupied," and continuing with unstinted praise of the early rulers. His oration, which showed much more erudition than discretion, ended by advocating a reversal of the emperor's action, and a redivision of the empire into feudal principalities.
Hoangti, hot with anger, curtly reminded the speaker that that point was not open to discussion, it having already been considered and decided. He then called on Lisseh, his minister, to state again the reasons for the unity of the empire. The speech of the minister is one of high importance, as giving the ostensible reasons for the unexampled act of destruction by which it was followed.
"It must be admitted," he said, "after what we have just heard, that men of letters are, as a rule, very little acquainted with what concerns the government of a country,—not that government of pure speculation, which is nothing more than a phantom, vanishing the nearer we approach to it, but the practical government which consists in keeping men within the sphere of their practical duties. With all their pretence of knowledge, they are, in this matter, densely ignorant. They can tell you by heart everything which has happened in the past, back to the most remote period, but they are, or seem to be, ignorant of what is being done in these later days, of what is passing under their very eyes. Incapable of discerning that the thing which was formerly suitable would be wholly out of place to-day, they would have everything arranged in exact imitation of what they find written in their books."
He went on to denounce the men of learning as a class uninfluenced by the spirit of existing affairs and as enemies of the public weal, and concluded by saying, "Now or never is the time to close the mouths of these secret enemies, to place a curb upon their audacity."
He spoke the sentiments of the emperor, who had probably already determined upon his course of action. Having no regard for books himself, and looking upon them as the weapons of his banded foes, he issued the memorable order that all the books of the empire should be destroyed, making exception only of those that treated of medicine, agriculture, architecture, and astronomy. The order included the works of the great Confucius, who had edited and condensed the more ancient books of the empire, and of his noble disciple Mencius, and was of the most tyrannical and oppressive character. All books containing historical records, except those relating to the existing reign, were to be burned, and all who dared even to speak together about the Confucian "Book of Odes" and "Book of History" were condemned to execution. All who should even make mention of the past, so as to blame the present, were, with all their relatives, to be put to death; and any one found, after thirty days, with a book in his possession was to be branded and sent to work for four years on the Great Wall. Hoangti did not confine himself to words. The whole empire was searched for books, and all found were burned, while large numbers of the literati who had disobeyed the edict were arrested, and four hundred and sixty of them were buried alive in a great pit dug for that purpose.
It may well be that Hoangti had his own fame largely in view in this unprecedented act, as in his preceding wall-building and road-making. He may have proposed to sweep away all earlier records of the empire and make it seem to have sprung into existence full-fledged with his reign. But if he had such a purpose, he did not take fully into account the devotion of men of learning to their cherished manuscripts, nor the powers of the human memory. Books were hidden in the roofs and walls of dwellings, buried underground, and in some cases even concealed in the beds of rivers, until after the tyrant's death. And when a subsequent monarch sought to restore these records of the past, vanished tomes reappeared from the most unlooked-for places. As for the "Book of History" of Confucius, which had disappeared, twenty-eight sections of the hundred composing it were taken down from the lips of an aged blind man who had treasured them in his memory, and one was obtained from a young girl. The others were lost until 140 B.C., when, in pulling down the house of the great philosopher, a complete copy of the work was found hidden in its walls. As for the scientific works that were spared, none of them have come down to our day.
We shall now briefly complete our story of the man who made himself the most thoroughly hated of all Chinese monarchs by the literati of that realm. Organizing his troops into a strong standing army, he engaged in a war of conquest in the south, adding Tonquin and Cochin China to his dominions, and carrying his arms as far as Bengal. In the north he again sent his armies into the desert to chastise the troublesome nomads, and then, conceiving that no advantage was to be gained in extending his empire over these domains of barbarism, he employed the soldiers as aids in the task of building the Great Wall, adding to them a host of the industrial population of the north.
In 210 B.C. Hoangti was seized with some malady which he failed to treat as he did his enemies. Neglecting the simplest remedial measures, he came suddenly to the end of his career after a reign of fifty-one years. With him were buried many of his wives and large quantities of treasure, a custom of barbarous origin which was confined in China to the chiefs of Tsin. Magnificent in his ideas and fond of splendor, he despised formality, lived simply in the midst of luxury, and distinguished himself from other Chinese rulers by making walking his favorite exercise. While not great as a soldier, he knew how to choose soldiers, and in his administration was wise enough to avail himself of the advice of the ablest ministers.
Yet with all his greatness he could not provide for the birth of a great son. Upon his death disturbances broke out in all quarters of the realm, with which his weak successor was unable to cope. In three years the reign of his son was closed with assassination, while the grandson of Hoangti, defeated in battle after a six weeks' nominal reign, ended his life in murder or suicide. With him the dynasty of the Tsins passed away and that of the Han monarchs succeeded. Hoangti stands alone as the great man of his race.
KAOTSOU AND THE DYNASTY OF THE HANS.
After the death of the great Hoangti, two of his generals fought for the throne of China,—Lieou Pang, who represents, in the Chinese annals, intellect, and Pa Wang, representing brute force, uninspired by thought. Destiny, if we can credit the following tale, had chosen the former for the throne. "A noted physiognomist once met him on the high-road, and, throwing himself down before him, said, 'I see by the expression of your features that you are destined to be emperor, and I offer you in anticipation the tribute of respect that a subject owes his sovereign. I have a daughter, the fairest and wisest in the empire; take her as your wife. So confident am I that my prediction will be realized that I gladly offer her to you.'"
However that be, the weak descendants of Hoangti soon vanished from the scene, Pa Wang was overcome in battle, and the successful general seized the imperial throne. He chose, as emperor, the title of Kaotsou, and named his dynasty, from his native province, the Han. It was destined to continue for centuries in power.
The new emperor showed himself a worthy successor of the builder of the Great Wall, while he made every effort to restore to the nation its books, encouraging men of letters and seeking to recover such literature as had survived the great burning. In this way he provided for his future fame at the hands of the grateful literati of China. Amnesty to all who had opposed him was proclaimed, and regret expressed at the sufferings of the people "from the evils which follow in the train of war."
The merit of Kaotsou lay largely in the great public works with which he emulated the policy of his energetic predecessor. The "Lofty and August Emperor" (Kao Hoangti), as he entitled himself, did not propose to be thrown into the shade by any who had gone before. On taking the throne he chose as his capital the city of Loyang (now Honan), but subsequently selected the city of Singanfoo, in the western province of Shensi. This city lay in a nest of mountains, which made it very difficult of approach. It was not without advantages from its situation as the capital of the empire, but could not be reached from the south without long detours. Possibly this difficulty may have had something to do with its choice by the emperor, that he might display his genius in overcoming obstacles.
To construct roads across and to cut avenues through the mountains an army of workmen, one hundred thousand in number, became necessary. The deep intervening valleys were filled up to the necessary level by the spoils rent from the lofty adjoining mountains, and where this could not be done, great bridges, supported on strong and high pillars, were thrown across from side to side. Elsewhere suspension bridges—"flying bridges," as the Chinese call them—were thrown across deep and rugged ravines, wide enough for four horsemen to travel abreast, their sides being protected by high balustrades. One of these, one hundred and fifty yards long, and thrown over a valley more than five hundred feet deep, is said to be still in perfect condition. These suspension bridges were built nearly two thousand years before a work of this character was attempted in Europe. In truth, the period in question, including several centuries before Christ, was the culminating age of Chinese civilization, in which appeared its great religious reformers, philosophers, and authors, its most daring engineers, and its monarchs of highest public spirit and broadest powers of conception and execution. It was the age of the Great Wall, the imperial system of highways, the system of canals (though the Great Canal was of later date), and other important works of public utility.
By the strenuous labors described Kaotsou rendered his new capital easy of access from all quarters of the kingdom, while at frequent intervals along the great high-roads of the empire there were built post-houses, caravansaries, and other conveniences, so as to make travelling rather a pleasure than the severe task it formerly had been.
The capital itself was made as attractive as the means of reaching it were made easy. Siaho, at once an able war minister and a great builder, planned for the emperor a palace so magnificent that Kaotsou hesitated in ordering its erection. Siaho removed his doubts with the following argument: "You should look upon all the empire as your family; and if the grandeur of your palace does not correspond with that of your family, what idea will it give of its power and greatness?"
This argument sufficed: the palace was built, and Kaotsou celebrated its completion with festivities continued for several weeks. On one occasion during this period, uplifted with a full sense of the dignity to which he had attained, his pride found vent in the grandiloquent remark, "To-day I feel that I am indeed emperor, and perceive all the difference between a subject and his master."
His fondness for splendor was indicated by magnificent banquets and receptions, and his sense of dignity by a court ceremonial which must have proved a wearisome ordeal for his courtiers, though none dared infringe it for fear of dire consequences. Those who had aided him in his accession to power were abundantly rewarded, with one exception, that of his father, who seems to have been overlooked in the distribution of favors. The old man, not relishing thus being left at the foot of the ladder, took prompt occasion to remind his son of his claims. Dressing himself in his costliest garments, he presented himself at the foot of the throne, where, in a speech of deep humility, he designated himself as the least yet the most obedient subject of the realm. Kaotsou, thus admonished, at once called a council of ministers and had the old man proclaimed "the lesser emperor." Taking him by the hand, he led him to a chair at the foot of the throne as his future seat. This act of the emperor won him the highest commendation from his subjects, the Chinese looking upon respect to and veneration of parents as the duty surpassing all others and the highest evidence of virtue.
Siaho, the palace-builder and war minister, had been specially favored in this giving of rewards, much to the discontent of the leading generals, who claimed all the credit for the successes in war, and were disposed to look with contempt on this mere cabinet warrior. Hearing of their complaints, Kaotsou summoned them to his presence, and thus plainly expressed his opinion of their claims:
"You find, I am told, reason to complain that I have rewarded Siaho above yourselves. Tell me, who are they at the chase who pursue and capture the prey? The dogs.—But who direct and urge on the dogs? Are they not the hunters?—You have all worked hard for me; you have pursued your prey with vigor, and at last captured and overthrown it. In this you deserve the credit which one gives to the dogs in the chase. But the merit of Siaho is that of the hunter. It is he who has conducted the whole of the war, who regulated everything, ordered you to attack the enemy at the opportune moment, and by his tactics made you master of the cities and provinces you have conquered. On this account he deserves the credit of the hunter, who is more worthy of reward than are the dogs whom he sets loose upon the prey."
One further anecdote is told of this emperor, which is worth repeating, as its point was aptly illustrated in a subsequent event. Though he had won the empire by the sword, he was not looked upon as a great general, and on one occasion asked Hansin, his ablest officer, how many men he thought he (the emperor) could lead with credit in the field.
"Sire," said the plain-spoken general, "you can lead an army of a hundred thousand men very well. But that is all."
"And how many can you lead?"
"The more I have the better I shall lead them," was the self-confident answer.
The event in which the justice of this criticism was indicated arose during a subsequent war with the Tartars, who had resumed their inroads into the empire. The Heung-nou were at this period governed by two leading chiefs, Mehe and Tonghou, the latter arrogant and ambitious, the former well able to bide his time. The story goes that Tonghou sent to Mehe a demand for a favorite horse. His kinsmen advised him to refuse, but Mehe sent the horse, saying, "Would you quarrel with your neighbor for a horse?" Tonghou soon after sent to demand of Mehe one of his wives. Mehe again complied, saying to his friends, "Would you have me undertake a war for the sake of a woman?" Tonghou, encouraged by these results of his insolence, next invaded Mehe's dominions. The patient chief, now fully prepared, took the field, and in a brief time had dispersed Tonghou's army, captured and executed him, and made himself the principal chief of the clans.
This able leader, having punished his insolent desert foe, soon led his warlike followers into China, took possession of many fertile districts, extended his authority to the banks of the Hoang-ho, and sent plundering expeditions into the rich provinces beyond. In the war that followed the emperor himself took command of his troops, and, too readily believing the stories of the weakness of the Tartar army told by his scouts, resolved on an immediate attack. One of his generals warned him that "in war we should never despise an enemy," but the emperor refused to listen, and marched confidently on, at the head of his advance guard, to find the enemy.
He found him to his sorrow. Mehe had skilfully concealed his real strength for the purpose of drawing the emperor into a trap, and now, by a well-directed movement, cut off the rash leader from his main army and forced him to take refuge in the city of Pingching. Here, vastly outnumbered and short of provisions, the emperor found himself in a desperate strait, from which he could not escape by force of arms.
In this dilemma one of his officers suggested a possible method of release. This was that, as a last chance, the most beautiful virgin in the city should be sent as a peace-offering to the desert chief. Kaotsou accepted the plan,—nothing else presenting itself,—and the maiden was chosen and sent. She went willingly, it is said, and used her utmost arts to captivate the Tartar chief. She succeeded, and Mehe, after forcing Kaotsou to sign an ignominious treaty, suffered his prize to escape, and retired to the desert, well satisfied with the rich spoils he had won. Kaotsou was just enough to reward the general to whose warning he had refused to listen, but the scouts who had misled him paid dearly for their false reports.
This event seems to have inspired Kaotsou with an unconquerable fear of his desert foe, who was soon back again, pillaging the borders with impunity and making such daring inroads that the capital itself was not safe from their assaults. Instead of trusting to his army, the emperor now bought off his enemy in a more discreditable method than before, concluding a treaty in which he acknowledged Mehe as an independent ruler and gave him his daughter in marriage.
This weakness led to revolts in the empire, Kaotsou being forced again to take the field against his foes. But, worn out with anxiety and misfortune, his end soon approached, his death-bed being disturbed by palace intrigues concerning the succession, in which one of his favorite wives sought to have her son selected as the heir. Kaotsou, not heeding her petition, chose his eldest son as the heir-apparent, and soon after died. The tragic results of these intrigues for the crown will be seen in the following tale.
THE EMPRESS POISONER OF CHINA.
About two centuries before Christ a woman came to the head of affairs in China whose deeds recall the worst of those which have long added infamy to the name of Lucretia Borgia. As regards the daughter of the Borgias tradition has lied: she was not the merciless murderess of fancy and fame. But there is no mitigation to the story of the empress Liuchi, who, with poison as her weapon, made herself supreme dictator of the great Chinese realm.
The death of the great emperor Kaotsou left two aspirants for the throne, the princes Hoeiti, son of Liuchi, and Chow Wang, son of the empress Tsi. There was a palace plot to raise Chow Wang to the throne, but it was quickly foiled by the effective means used by the ambitious Liuchi to remove the rivals from the path of her son. Poison did the work. The empress Tsi unsuspiciously quaffed the fatal bowl, which was then sent to Chow Wang, who innocently drank the same perilous draught. Whatever may have been the state of the conspiracy, this vigorous method of the queen-mother brought it to a sudden end, and Hoeiti ascended the throne.
The young emperor seemingly did not approve of ascending to power over the dead bodies of his opponents. He reproved his mother for her cruel deed, and made a public statement that he had taken no part in the act. Yet under this public demonstration secret influences seem to have been at work within the palace walls, for the imperial poisoner retained her power at court and her influence over her son. When the great princes sought the capital to render homage to the new emperor, to their surprise and chagrin they found the unscrupulous dowager empress at the head of affairs, the sceptre of the realm practically in her hands.
They were to find that this dreadful woman was a dangerous foe to oppose. Among the potentates was Tao Wang, Prince of Tsi, who, after doing homage to the young emperor, was invited to feast with him. At this banquet Liuchi made her appearance, and when the wine was passed she insisted on being served first. These unpardonable breaches of etiquette—which they were in the Chinese code of good manners—were looked upon with astonishment by the visiting prince, who made no effort to conceal his displeasure on seeing any one attempt to drink before the emperor.
Liuchi, perceiving that she had made an enemy by her act, at once resolved to remove him from her path, with the relentless and terrible decision with which she had disposed of her former rivals. Covertly dropping the poison, which she seems to have always had ready for use, into a goblet of wine, she presented it to the prince of Tsi, asking him to pledge her in a draught. The unsuspicious guest took the goblet from her hand, without a dream of what the courtesy meant.
Fortunately for him, the emperor, who distrusted his mother too deeply to leave her unobserved, had seen her secret act and knew too well what it meant. Snatching the fatal bowl from the prince's hand, he begged permission to pledge his health in that wine, and, with his eyes fixed meaningly on his mother's face, lifted it in turn to his royal lips.
The startled woman had viewed the act with wide eyes and trembling limbs. Seeing her son apparently on the point of drinking, an involuntary cry of warning burst from her, and, springing hastily to her feet, she snatched the fatal cup from his hand and dashed it to the floor. The secret was revealed. The prince of Tsi had been on the very point of death. With an exclamation of horror, and a keen invective addressed to the murderess, he rushed from that perilous room, and very probably was not long in hastening from a city which held so powerful and unscrupulous a foe.
The Chinese Borgia's next act of violence found a barbarian for its victim. The Tartar chief Mehe sent an envoy to the capital of China, with a message which aroused the anger of the empress, who at once ordered him to be executed, heedless of the fact that she thus brought the nation to the brink of war. Four years afterwards Hoeiti, the emperor, died, leaving vacant the throne which he had so feebly filled.
It is not to be supposed that Liuchi had any hand in this closing of a brief and uneventful reign. Her son was in no sense in her way, and served as a useful shield behind which she held the reins of government. But she was in no haste to fill the vacant throne, preferring to rule openly as the supreme power in the realm. In order to consolidate her strength, she placed her brothers and near relations in the great posts of the empire, and strengthened her position by every means fair and foul.
It soon became evident, however, that this ambitious scheme could not be carried through. Throughout the land went up a cry for a successor to the dead emperor. In this dilemma the daring woman adopted a bold plan, bringing forward a boy who she declared was the offspring of her dead son, and placing this child of unknown parents upon the vacant throne. As a regent was needed during the minority of her counterfeit grandson, she had herself proclaimed as the holder of this high office.
All this was very little to the taste of the ministers of the late emperor. Never before had the government of China been in the hands of a woman. But they dared not make an effort to change it, or even to speak their sentiments in too loud a tone. Liuchi had ways of suppressing discontent that forced her enemies to hold their peace. The only one who ventured to question the arbitrary will of the regent was the mother of the nominal emperor, and sudden death removed her from the scene. Liuchi's ready means of vengeance had been brought into play again.
For years now the imperious empress ruled China unquestioned. Others who ventured on her path may have fallen, but the people remained content, so that the usurper seems to have avoided any oppression of her subjects. But these years brought the child she had placed on the throne well on towards man's estate, and he began to show signs of an intention to break loose from leading-strings. He was possessed of ability, or at least of energy, and there were those ready to whisper in his ear the bitter tale of how his mother had been forced to swallow Liuchi's draught of death.
Stirred to grief and rage by these whispers of a fell deed, the youthful ruler vowed revenge upon the murderess. He vowed his own death in doing so. His hasty words were carried by spies to Liuchi's ears, and with her usual promptness she caused the imprudent youth to be seized and confined within the palace prison. The puppet under whom she ruled had proved inconvenient, and there was not a moment's hesitation in putting him out of the way. What became of him is not known, the prison rarely revealing its secrets, but from Liuchi's character we may safely surmise his fate.
The regent at once set to work to choose a more pliant successor to her rebellious tool. But her cup of crime was nearly full. Though the people remained silent, there was deep discontent among the officials of the realm, while the nobles were fiercely indignant at this virtual seizure of the throne by an ambitious woman. The storm grew day by day. One great chief boldly declared that he acknowledged "neither empress nor emperor," and the family of the late monarch Kaotsou regained their long-lost courage on perceiving these evidences of a spirit of revolt.
Dangers were gathering around the resolute regent. But her party was strong, her hand firm, her courage and energy great, and she would perhaps have triumphed over all her foes had not the problem been unexpectedly solved by her sudden death. The story goes that, while walking one day in the palace halls, meditating upon the best means of meeting and defeating her numerous foes, she found herself suddenly face to face with a hideous spectre, around which rose the shades of the victims whom she had removed by poison or violence from her path. With a spasm of terror the horrified woman fell and died. Conscience had smitten her in the form of this terrific vision, and retribution came to the poisoner in the halls which she had made infamous by her crimes.
Her death ended the hopes of her friends. Her party fell to pieces throughout the realm, but a strong force still held the palace, where they fiercely defended themselves against the army brought by their foes. But their great empress leader was gone, one by one they fell in vain defence, and the capture of the palace put an end to the power which the woman usurper had so long and vigorously maintained.
THE INVASION OF THE TARTAR STEPPES.
Many as have been the wars of China, the Chinese are not a warlike people. Their wars have mostly been fought at home to repress rebellion or overcome feudal lords, and during the long history of the nation its armies have rarely crossed the borders of the empire to invade foreign states. In fact, the chief aggressive movements of the Chinese have been rather wars of defence than of offence, wars forced upon them by the incessant sting of invasions from the desert tribes.
For ages the Tartars made China their plunder-ground, crossing the borders in rapid raids against which the Great Wall and the frontier forces proved useless for defence, and carrying off vast spoil from the industrious Chinese. They were driven from the soil scores of times, only to return as virulently as before. Their warlike energy so far surpassed that of their victims that one emperor did not hesitate to admit that three Tartars were the equal of five Chinese. They were bought off at times with tribute of rich goods and beautiful maidens, and their chief was even given the sister of an emperor for wife. And still they came, again and again, swarms of fierce wasps which stung the country more deeply with each return.
This in time became intolerable, and a new policy was adopted, that of turning the tables on the Tartars and invading their country in turn. In the reign of Vouti, an emperor of the Han dynasty (135 B.C.), the Tartar king sent to demand the hand of a Chinese princess in marriage, offering to continue the existing truce. Bitter experience had taught the Chinese how little such an offer was to be trusted. Wang Kue, an able general, suggested the policy "of destroying them rather than to remain constantly exposed to their insults," and in the end war was declared.
The hesitation of the emperor had not been without abundant reason. To carry their arms into the wilds of Central Asia seemed a desperate enterprise to the peaceful Chinese, and their first effort in this direction proved a serious failure. Wang Kue, at the head of an army of three hundred thousand men, marched into the desert, adopting a stratagem to bring the Tartars within his reach. His plan failed, the Tartars avoided an attack, and Wang Kue closed the campaign without a shred of the glory he had promised to gain. The emperor ordered his arrest, which he escaped in the effective Eastern fashion of himself putting an end to his life.
But, though the general was dead, his policy survived, his idea of aggression taking deep root in the Chinese official mind. Many centuries were to elapse, however, before it bore fruit in the final subjection of the desert tribes, and China was to become their prey as a whole before they became the subjects of its throne.
The failure of Wang Kue gave boldness to the Tartars, who carried on in their old way the war the Chinese had begun, making such bold and destructive raids that the emperor sent out a general with orders to fight the enemy wherever he could find them. This warrior, Wei Tsing by name, succeeded in catching the raiders in a trap. The Tartar chief, armed with the courage of despair, finally cut his way through the circle of his foes and brought off the most of his men, but his camp, baggage, wives, children, and more than fifteen thousand soldiers were left behind, and the victorious general became the hero of his age, the emperor travelling a day's journey from the capital to welcome him on his return.
This, and a later success by the same general, gave the Chinese the courage they so sadly needed, teaching them that the Tartars were not quite beyond the power of the sword. A council was called, a proposal to carry the war into the enemy's country approved, and an army, composed mostly of cavalry, sent out under an experienced officer named Hokiuping. The ill fortune of the former invasion was now replaced by good. The Tartars, completely taken by surprise, were everywhere driven back, and Hokiuping returned to China rich in booty, among it the golden images used as religious emblems by one of the Tartar princes. Returning with a larger force, he swept far through their country, boasting on his return that he had put thirty thousand Tartars to the sword. As a result, two of the princes and a large number of their followers surrendered to Vouti, and were disarmed and dispersed through the frontier settlements of the realm.
These expeditions were followed by an invasion of the Heung-nou country by a large army, commanded by the two successful generals Wei Tsing and Hokiuping. This movement was attended with signal success, and the Tartars for the time were thoroughly cowed, while the Chinese lost much of their old dread of their desert foe. Years afterwards (110 B.C.) a new Tartar war began, Vouti himself taking command of an army of two hundred thousand men, and sending an envoy to the Tartar king, commanding him to surrender all prisoners and plunder and to acknowledge China as sovereign lord of himself and his people. All that the proud chief surrendered was the head of the ambassador, which he sent back with a bold defiance.
For some reason, which history does not give, Vouti failed to lead his all-conquering army against the desert foe, and when, in a later year, the steppes were invaded, the imperial army found the warlike tribes ready for the onset. The war continued for twenty years more, with varied fortune, and when, after fifty years of almost incessant warfare with the nomad warriors, Vouti laid down his sword with his life, the Tartars were still free and defiant. Yet China had learned a new way of dealing with the warlike tribes, and won a wide reputation in Asia, while her frontiers were much more firmly held.
The long reign of the great emperor had not been confined to wars with the Tartars. In his hands the empire of China was greatly widened by extensions in the west. The large provinces of Yunnan, Szchuen, and Fuhkien were conquered and added to the Chinese state, while other independent kingdoms were made vassal states. And "thereby hangs a tale" which we have next to tell.
Far west in Northern China dwelt a barbarian people named the Yuchi, numerous and prosperous, yet no match in war for their persistent enemies the Tartars of the steppes. In the year 165 B.C. they were so utterly beaten in an invasion of the Heung-nou that they were forced to quit their homes and seek safety and freedom at a distance. Far to the west they went, where they coalesced with those warlike tribes of Central Asia who afterwards became the bane of the empire of Rome.
The fate of this people seemed a bitter one to Vouti, when it was told to his sympathetic ear, and, in the spirit in which King Arthur sent out his Round Table Knights on romantic quests, he turned to his council and asked if any among them was daring enough to follow the track of these wanderers and bring them back to the land they had lost. One of them, Chang Keen, volunteered to take up the difficult quest and to traverse Asia from end to end in search of the fugitive tribes.